Advanced Micro Devices Inc., which recently moved its Opteron chip line to dual cores, presents the addition of the so-called RAS (reliability and stability) features as an important step forward.
AMD is working to add RAS features to the Opteron in an effort to stay competitive with rival Intel Corp. The company said it is also hoping the add-ons will boost the Opterons status in the eyes of corporations.
"Obviously, dual core was a major launch for us," said Kevin Knox, vice president of AMDs commercial business, in an interview with Ziff Davis Internet News earlier this week. "But well have to continue [adding new features] because we have to compete."
Because new server chips come out less frequently than desktop and notebook processors—and the frequency of chip releases from both AMD and Intel has slowed of late, according to Knox—AMD has been more "focused on where we can add value," he said.
"What were looking at is trying to improve reliability, availability and serviceability of servers in general," Knox said. "Were trying to do as much as we can to make the processor architecture more reliable, which in turn makes servers more reliable."
One such feature AMD has already made available is support for ECC (error-correcting code) memory. Earlier this week, AMD announced that its Opteron 100 series, a family of chips designed for single-processor servers, now supports unbuffered ECC memory that tests the data that passes through it for errors.
The chip maker plans to continue updating Opteron in the future, beefing up RAS features over the next couple of years, according to Knox, and introducing hardware virtualization, or the ability to partition a server to simultaneously run different types of software for different jobs. AMD will add virtualization to Opteron next year, it has said.
Aside from countering Intels developments, the extra features generally serve to make standard x86 servers more powerful and thus potentially more popular among businesses, a measure that could increase the size of the available market for AMD, Knox said.
Features such as dual cores, 64-bit addressing and virtualization allow the lower-cost, standard machines to swim upstream and "eat more quickly into whats traditionally been the Unix [server] world," he said.
Lately, AMD Opteron servers have been competing in bids that include Intel-based hardware as well as IBM Unix machines based on IBMs Power processors or even servers with Sun Microsystems Inc.s UltraSPARC processors, Knox said. IBM and Sun both offer Opteron servers as well.
Given their cost advantages, "What we see is that a lot of [AMD and] Linux implementations are replacing Unix."
AMD saw its Opteron shipments increase during the second quarter, allowing it to surpass 10 percent of x86 server processor shipments for the first time in a given quarter.
Overall, AMD lost share to Intel during the quarter. But AMDs server shipment increase was considered a victory for the chip maker, because Intel has long dominated that space.
Despite its second quarter gain, AMD faces fierce competition in the future from rival Intel, which has begun seeding the first generation of its dual-core Xeon server chips.
Dell Inc., for one, has said its impatiently awaiting the new Xeons, which it said it believes will allow it also to win sales versus high-end Unix servers. Dell does not sell systems with AMD chips.
Going forward, AMD will look to additions such as RAS features to help it make more inroads in the server market. It has also launched a new program to promote Opteron in vertical markets.
The program, which is still in its infancy, has begun targeting special marketing programs at industries such as financial services, oil and gas, transportation and telecommunications. AMD has begun working with software developers on industry-specific issues as well, Knox said.