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Elite server makers open up for Shanghai Opterons

Upgrading is a snap - selling servers, not so easy

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In the ramp ahead of the launch of the new "Shanghai" quad-core Opteron processors for servers and workstations, Advanced Micro Devices lined up some niche players in dense rack and blade servers for commercial data centers and high performance computing clusters often used at government and academic supercomputing centers. But none of the tier one server partners were at the Shanghai pre-launch event.

Fear not, fans of competition in the x64 server space, the big boys are indeed ready and eager to sell Shanghai Opterons. Then again, if they could sell your grandmother in a metal box to do calculations on the cheap, the major server makers would try to in this recessional IT environment.

Having messed up the "Barcelona" quad-core Opteron launch this year, from the point of view of running a business (as opposed to trying to cram as much features as possible into a chip to leapfrog rival Intel), AMD clearly did the right thing when it revamped its Opteron roadmaps in May and threw the "Sandtiger" eight-core Opterons on the scrap heap and made Shanghai a quad-core kicker to Barcelona, able to plug into existing AMD platforms but delivering significant thermal and price/performance benefits nonetheless. That shift, which was done because a move to 45 nanometer water-immersion lithography from the 65 nanometer processes used to make the Barcelona quad cores was complex enough without having to get a whole new chip design out the door in a timely fashion. Ditto for the six-core "Instanbul" kickers to Shanghai, due in the second half of 2009, which will also plug into current Rev F 1207-pin server sockets.

If you were expecting a lot of interesting new engineering for the Shanghai Opterons, there won't be a lot as part of today's launch among the tier one server players. But there is some, and a little bit of rejiggering in the product catalogs, too.

As the volume leader in the x64 server space, Hewlett-Packard says that it is plunking Shanghai chips into three blade servers and six rack-mounted machines, its entire Opteron-based server lineup. HP says that it expects "customers to respond well" to the chip and that early benchmark tests have been "impressive" and have boosted the performance per watt considerably on the ProLiant rack and BladeSystem blade server lines; HP is also keen on the hardware assists that Shanghai has for supporting server virtualization.

As for new engineering in servers using Shanghai chips, HP says to keep an eye out for "a new virtualization-tuned rack-based server leveraging Shanghai imminently".

At Sun Microsystems, Arvie Martin, group marketing manager of x64 systems, says that Sun will obviously put the Shanghai chips in its existing blade and rack Opteron servers in the "Galaxy" server lineup, which also sports gear using Intel Xeon processors these days.

"We will begin to start shipping product in the next 30 days and we will be refreshing our product line," says Martin. Sun has not decided on pricing for Galaxy machines using Shanghai chips yet, but Martin says that Sun will probably keep the same or similar prices and give customers the extra performance and better thermals of the Shanghai chips. But, given the state of server sales and profits at Sun, the company might be tempted to charge a little premium for Shanghai machines.

Martin says that Sun will not be rolling out any new platforms just because Shanghai is here, but hinted that Sun is working on future Opteron server designs. This is probably machinery employing AMD's future "Fiorano" platform, which is a homegrown SR5690/SP5100 chipset made by AMD and employing Socket F processors that will initially support Shanghai chips in mid-2009 or so and then the Istanbul six-core kickers towards the end of 2009, if roadmaps are drawn to scale.

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