OEMs Hail Advent of Intel Montecito Chip for Latest Servers

By Jeffrey Burt  |  Posted 2006-07-18

OEMs Hail Advent of Intel Montecito Chip for Latest Servers

For Hewlett-Packard, the long-awaited launch of Intels "Montecito" chip will mean finally being able to pair its new chip set technology with the first dual-core Itanium 2 processor.

The result will be greater performance, availability and cost efficiency for HPs largest customers.

"Customers will effectively be able to get the work of two copies of … software for the price of one," said Brian Cox, worldwide director of server marketing for HPs Business Critical Systems group. "And youre going to see a dramatic jump in performance."

Intel is hosting an event July 18 in San Francisco to announce the official launch of the chip, which will be called the Itanium 2 9000 Series. HP, of Palo Alto, Calif., will be on hand, as will other systems makers—including Fujitsu and Unisys—that have opted for the controversial architecture as the processor for their high-end platforms.

Read more here about why top computer manufacturers are spending billions to make Itanium the top processor for servers.

"The new dual-core Itanium 2 processor helps Unisys create server solutions superior to proprietary Unix/RISC offerings," said Mark Feverston, vice president of enterprise servers for the Blue Bell, Pa., company. "Key factors are the dual-core Itanium 2s enhanced support for virtualization and additional performance, which Unisys has engineered into the ES7000 line, along with integrated system management, since the beginning. This enhanced support will make it easier for Unisys customers to consolidate application workloads onto a smaller number of servers and reduce associated power costs and system management overhead."

Unisys will put the Montecito chips into its current ES7000/one server, as well as future systems within that server family, Feverston said.

The 9000 Series—which was set for release in early 2006 but delayed in October 2005 by Intel because of quality concerns—brings several key enhancements to an architecture that has been trying to find its footing since it was first introduced 10 years ago. Not only is Montecito the first dual-core Itanium chip, it also features Intels on-chip Virtualization Technology. The chip contains 1.7 billion transistors, offers 24MB of cache—triple the current amount—and consumes 104 watts, less than the 130-watt envelope of the current single-core "Madison" chip.

Montecito also comes with Intels Cache Safe technology. The processor can detect when errors are occurring within the cache, and it can isolate the errors and write them out to protect the rest of the cache from exposure, said David Myron, Itanium product line manager for Intel, of Santa Clara, Calif.

Such high-end features, combined with the ability to run 10 different operating systems—including variants of Unix, Linux and Windows—give RISC and mainframe customers "unmatched freedom of choice," Myron said.

Montecito comes at an important time for Intel and its Itanium plans. The chip that Intel once said would replace most other processors—including x86 technology—now is more narrowly focused as a high-end and RISC-replacement architecture. In that space, Itanium faces a number of competitors, including not only its own x86 Xeon processors, but also the Opteron family of chips from rival Advanced Micro Devices.

At the same time, both Sun Microsystems and IBM are growing their own RISC platforms—SPARC and Power, respectively. Sun, also of Santa Clara, is developing two new SPARC families—Niagara and Rock—while working with Fujitsu in creating another SPARC line, the Advanced Product Line, due later this year. IBM is outfitting systems with Power5+, and it is working on Power6 and Power7.

In addition, outside of HP, there is no support for Itanium among the top-tier systems makers. Both Dell and IBM have backed away from it, and Sun has opted for Opteron instead.

Click here to read why proponents of the Itanium chip see Linux as an important factor to future use of the processor.

However, proponents say that there finally is steady momentum behind Itanium, such as a growing number—now up to 8,000—of applications ported to the platform, $10 billion in money dedicated to the architecture from the Itanium Solutions Alliance, a group of vendors supporting Itanium and figures from analyst company IDC that show a $6.6 billion Itanium market by 2010.

HPs Cox said his company has seen 93 percent revenue growth year-over-year of its Itanium business in the second quarter of 2006, and $1.6 billion in Itanium solution sales—servers, software and services—in 2005.

The company, which is standardizing its high-end servers on Itanium, is looking to combine its own technology with the 9000 Series to give customers a cost-effective alternative to mainframes and proprietary RISC platforms, he said. Within the next few months, HP will roll out a number of announcements of Itanium-based Integrity systems powered by Montecito. HP currently is in the process of validating Montecito on its Integrity platform, Cox said.

Next Page: Building mainframe-scale platforms.

Multilevel Servers

In addition, the company also will announce a new chip set designed for low-end Integrity servers. In March, HP unveiled its sx2000 chip set—code-named "Arches"—designed to enable users to get 30 percent more work done across multiple workloads. Initially scheduled for release in conjunction with Montecito, HP decided to roll it out anyway when Intel delayed the chips launch.

Cox said the Arches chip set, combined with such HP technology as its Virtual Server Environment, will give users great performance and flexibility for high-end workloads.

Click here to read why Intel removed 32-bit capabilities from the Montecito processor.

HP customers will see even more options, he said. Platform Solutions, a new company developing a Montecito-based mainframe computer, also is a reseller of HP systems, Cox said. Platform Solutions new mainframe, which currently is in beta but will ship with Montecito processors, will not only run Linux and Windows, but also IBMs z/OS mainframe operating system.

"That even lessens the hurdle" for businesses looking to migrate from mainframes to Itanium by removing the work of having to port applications from their mainframe environments, Cox said.

At the July 18 event, Fujitsu Computer Systems is unveiling the PrimeQuest 500 series of servers, with the three systems—the 520, 540 and 580—scaling from eight to 32 sockets and offering 2.5 times the performance of the current models, said Richard McCormack, senior vice president of marketing at Fujitsu, in Sunnyvale, Calif. The systems, which will be available in September, also will offer up to 2TB of main memory, twice what is currently offered.

Like HP, Fujitsu is expecting its own technology—such as the eXtended Partitioning technology—and the new Itanium 2 chip to offer users greater capabilities than competitive systems, in this case a more robust virtualization environment. Through the XPAR technology, users can partition not only CPU and memory, but also I/O, McCormack said.

Service provider Electronic Data Systems is using the PrimeQuest platform with the current single-core Itanium as a way of offering clients a cost-effective architecture for their high-end workloads. Officials expect that to improve with the addition of the new dual-core Itaniums.

"Were continuously challenged by clients … to reduce [their] costs," said Tim Hazzard, director of hosting solutions for EDS, in Plano, Texas. "What we found is that with minimal investment, [customers] could migrate off the mainframe and onto a Fujitsu PrimeQuest running Itanium, and see their operating expenses reduced."

Hazzard said customers were seeing a 30 to 60 percent reduction in costs.

The PrimeQuest servers answer most CIO concerns for migrating off of mainframes, given their reliability, scalability and performance, he said. EDS has been testing systems with the Montecito chip for about a month and will roll them out for clients later this year, Hazzard said.

Itanium will be a key technology in Unisys future server architecture plans, which were announced in June, according to Feverston.

"It offers significant performance and cost advantages for customers using Unisys ES7000 servers," he said. "We also believe that its underlying micro architecture will yield future generations of multicore Itanium 2 technology that will be highly beneficial to Unisys next-generation server architecture."

Like the current ES7000/one, these future systems will run on both Itanium and Intels Xeon processors. The first of these new systems are due in late 2007.

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