IBM, Others Back Up Opteron

OEMs will base gear on AMD's 64-bit chip.

Advanced Micro Devices Inc. showed up with substantial backing from computer hardware and software makers last week as it set the stage for a showdown with chip rival Intel Corp. with the formal introduction of its 64-bit Opteron processing architecture.

The brightest name on the marquee was IBM, which took the stage at a press event here and announced plans to ship in the second half of the year servers based on the Opteron. The servers will be aimed at the high-performance computing field, where the chips ability to run both 32-bit and 64-bit workloads is in demand, according to an IBM official.

Opteron-powered servers will be introduced into IBMs supercomputing-on-demand program, in which users in temporary need of supercomputing power can tap into an IBM hosting facility, paying only for resources they use. In addition, IBM, of Armonk, N.Y., launched a public beta of its DB2 database technology powered by the Opteron, with plans to make it generally available in a few months.

Many other OEMs announced hardware support for the Opteron, including Fujitsu Siemens Computers GmbH, which said it is building workstations based on the chip. Support from IBM and Fujitsu Siemens —as well as major software makers such as Microsoft Corp. and Oracle Corp. (see story, below)—is a crucial step in driving the Opteron into the enterprise. Mohawk Industries Inc. has standardized on Intels Xeon chips, but Jevin Jensen, director of technical services, said he is interested in evaluating AMDs 64-bit architecture for servers and desktops because of the backward compatibility of AMDs products.

"Our financial and [enterprise resource planning] systems run on the IBM iSeries, which has been 64-bit [with IBMs Power chips] for many years," said Jensen, in Calhoun, Ga. "It will be nice to drive that type of performance and scalability into the server and desktop space."

Initially, the Opteron will compete primarily with Intels 32-bit Xeon architecture. But the primary battle will be with Intels 64-bit Itanium. Because the Itanium has a different architecture than the Xeon, enterprises using it need to rework their applications to take full advantage.

Intel, however, is not ready to roll over. The Santa Clara, Calif., company is readying technology to improve the performance of the Itanium on 32-bit code. The IA-32 Execution Layer is a software layer designed to accelerate 32-bit code on the 64-bit Itanium. Intel officials said the software will be released this fall.

Additional reporting by Mark Hachman,