A startup is working on new architecture that will offer something not seen before in large enterprise-class servers—64-bit Opteron processors from Advanced Micro Devices Inc.
Newisys Inc. is designing products ranging from two-processor, entry-level servers to 32-way, "big iron" systems that it plans to sell to major vendors, such as IBM and Dell Computer Corp., which would resell them under their brand names.
Newisys CEO Phil Hester, former vice president of development for RS/6000 at IBM, said AMDs upcoming Opteron chip, due in the first half of next year, will win over customers. AMDs 64-bit Hammer architecture offers flexibility at a lower cost than Intel Corp. will be able to match with its 32-bit Xeon or 64-bit Itanium processors, Hester said.
"The Hammer architecture and our system designs are aimed at price points more typical of todays 32-bit servers and thus will provide 64-bit capability essentially for free," said Hester, who first learned about AMDs processors when he was chief technology officer for IBMs PC division in the late 90s.
While AMD, of Sunnyvale, Calif., has largely been in Intels shadow for more than 20 years, Hester said the Opteron will bring AMD into the light. The Opteron will let users run existing 32-bit applications or more robust 64-bit software on the same platform, something no other server can match. Intels own history shows the wisdom of AMDs processor design, he said.
"Back in the mid-80s, when Intel introduced the 32-bit 386, all the applications at that time were either 8-bit or 16-bit," Hester said. "But since the 386 could also run those older applications, you saw a groundswell of support for it. The same will be true for Hammer."
Newisys plans to parallel the way Intel markets its enterprise processors by offering reference designs or "bare-bone boxes" to vendors, which they can add their branding to—along with additional hardware and software—and then resell.
Major computer makers are sampling Newisys first product, a two-processor system due early next year, Hester said, although he declined to elaborate.
Along with Hester, management and employees of Newisys, of Austin, Texas, were culled from IBM, Hewlett-Packard Co., Compaq Computer Corp. and Texas Instruments Inc.
"These are folks with years of experience in designing enterprise-class systems, and I think most companies will seriously consider what they have to offer," said Nathan Brookwood, an analyst at Insight 64, in Saratoga, Calif.
HP, of Palo Alto, Calif., which co-developed Itanium, said it has no plans to use AMDs 64-bit chips. But one customer attending HP World in Los Angeles last month said hed be willing to buy such servers.
"I think in the last three or four years, AMD has made some great improvements. I believe theyre almost equal to, if not equal to, the processors from Intel," said David Newkirk, IT manager for the Producers-Writers Guilds Health and Pension Plan, in Burbank, Calif. "I have a couple of AMD boxes were testing now, and I havent seen any issues with them."