Itanium 2 Boosts 64-Bit Performance - InformationWeek

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Hardware & Infrastructure
06:28 PM

Itanium 2 Boosts 64-Bit Performance

Intel hopes its new processor, code-named Madison, sways business users

As companies press to better align their technology investments with their strategic goals, Intel is trying to prove the business value of its 64-bit Itanium 2 processors. The latest Itanium 2, code-named Madison, debuts this week running on new servers from Dell Computer, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and others, and touting better application compatibility than its predecessors.

Madison arrives about a year after Intel's last Itanium 2 release, code-named McKinley. It's designed to deliver up to 50% better performance: a 1.5-GHz processing speed and as much as 6 Mbytes of Level 3 cache. The chip is also expected to eliminate a flaw in McKinley that requires server manufacturers to decrease the processor's frequency.

Intel's bet that its Itanium series would lure companies off aging 64-bit RISC systems "has met the reality of reduced spending in the market," says IDC analyst Mark Melenovsky. Moving from one platform to another requires up-front investment and long-range planning. "Companies are focused more on the short term right now," he says.

But the key to Itanium's success has been the increased availability of applications and development tools as well as the arrival of Microsoft's 64-bit Windows Server 2003. Late last year, financial-services provider Raymond James Financial began developing a data warehouse using Microsoft .Net that could analyze many years' worth of customer data. When it's completed in October, the system will let the firm analyze customer spending and help salespeople track product profitability and client accounts.

Raymond James' selection of an Itanium 2 server was an easy decision: The firm's IT staff was most comfortable working in a Microsoft environment, but the warehouse app needed 64-bit throughput. After looking at Itanium-based servers from Unisys and HP, the company chose a 16-processor HP Superdome server, which can scale up to 64 processors.

The 411
A look at the Itanium 2 server market
Model Availability Starting price
PowerEdge 3250 June 30 $5,999
Integrity rx2600 July $5,400
Integrity rx5670 July $27,000
Integrity Superdome August $262,000
x450 July 18 $25,999
x382 Aug. 20 $26,589
ES7000 410 July 21 $55,000
ES7000 420 July 21 $115,000
ES7000 430 July 21 $220,000
Data: Dell, HP, IBM, and Unisys

"One of the issues with any project that large is you need the machines to handle it, in terms of processing power," says Tim Eitel, CIO of Raymond James, which drew $1.5 billion in revenue last year.

HP is using Madison's debut to launch its line of Integrity 64-bit servers. The company this week begins selling entry-level rx2600 and rx5670 Integrity servers as well as its high-end Integrity Superdome. Eight- and 16-processor Integrity servers will be available in the fall, as will a High Performance Technical Computing cluster, followed by an Itanium NonStop system next year.

IBM's Madison line includes the scalable x450 and entry-level x382 servers. The x450 features IBM's Enterprise X-Architecture, which lets the server scale up to four Itanium 2 processors. The x382 runs up to two processors and is designed for Linux cluster configurations.

Unisys' new Itanium 2 offering, the ES7000/400, runs up to 32 processors and lets companies add or subtract them.

Dell last week introduced its first Madison-based server. The PowerEdge 3250 will run dual Intel Itanium 2 processors with a maximum memory of 16 Gbytes and 292 Gbytes of internal storage. While the initial uses for the new server are likely to be crunching numbers in research labs and educational facilities, "we fully expect maturation of this market into the corporate mainstream," says Darrel Ward, Dell's senior manager of PowerEdge servers.

That, of course, is what Intel believes, too.

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