Advanced Micro Devices Inc. has persuaded three more top OEMs to use the Opteron, but it has a long way to go in persuading many big-enterprise customers to switch from systems that use Intel Corp. processors.
To help make that leap, AMD has laid plans to enhance the processor and at the same time has enlisted server makers Hewlett-Packard Co. and Sun Microsystems Inc. to expand their Opteron-based offerings with existing chips.
HP this week will unveil a Linux server cluster that includes the LC3000 Series, which features the Opteron-based two-way ProLiant DL145 server. The cluster is targeted at high-performance computing applications. In addition, HP, of Palo Alto, Calif., will announce the availability of its ProLiant DL585 system, which features four Opteron processors.
Later this year, HP will ship more blade servers powered by the Opteron, and next year HP will expand its Opteron offerings further, officials said.
Sun this week will roll out an updated Web server reference architecture based on its two-way Sun Fire V20z system, the first of the Opteron servers the company will offer. The Santa Clara, Calif., companys architectures enable users to order pretested and preintegrated systems. The Secure Web Server Reference Architecture will include a pretested offering that includes the V20z, Java System Web Server and hardened Solaris.
AMD, of Sunnyvale, Calif., has positioned the Opteron as an avenue for enterprises to transition from 32- to 64-bit computing because it does both natively. The Opteron line, which runs from low-power embedded chips to processors for eight-way servers, boasts performance enhancement capabilities such as embedded memory controllers and HyperTransport technology.
AMD engineers are looking to improve the performance of the Opteron even further, from increasing the speed of the embedded memory controller to reducing the latency in the HyperTransport technology, said Ben Williams, vice president of AMDs server and workstation business unit. Later this year, AMD will ramp up the 90-nanometer manufacturing process for the Opteron, which will result in more efficient and less costly manufacturing.
But AMD is most interested in expanding the Opterons footprint into arenas where the chip isnt competing now, such as blade servers and four-way systems, Williams said.
One Opteron user welcomes the addition of four-way Opteron systems because it will enhance the chips main selling point: a better price/performance ratio over Intel systems.
“Boosting up the … number of processors per cubic inch is definitely helpful while keeping costs down,” said Steve Johnson, senior systems analyst for the mathematics department at Texas A&M University, in College Station. “If you can throw a few more processors at a single node, youre going to get an improvement in the price/performance [over clustered two-way systems].” Johnson runs applications on a 128-node cluster made up of Appro International Inc.s two-way Opteron-based HyperBlade systems and said he expects to get a four-way Appro system to test this spring.
IT departments and analysts see a slow but definite move to 64-bit computing. Chip makers such as AMD and Intel expect to see sales jump as more 64-bit software hits the market.
For instance, over the next 18 months, EMC Corp.s VMware unit will tune its virtual machine software to support 64-bit extended applications. Starting later this quarter, VMware will release an early trial edition of that in an update to its Workstation 4.5 offering, said VMware officials in Palo Alto.
AMD may have gotten the jump on Intel in putting 64-bit extensions into x86 processors with the release of the Opteron a year ago, but the company has a way to go in chipping away at Intels dominance in the processor race. According to analysts at IDC, of Framingham, Mass., about 35,000 Opteron-based servers shipped last year, which was a fraction of the total sales of 4.7 million x86 servers, the bulk of which were powered by Intels Xeon or Pentium chips, IDC said.
Later this quarter, Intel, of Santa Clara, will ship the first of its 32-bit Xeon processors with 64-bit extensions, code-named Nocona. In addition, several Intel chip sets will support such technologies as PCI Express and DDR2 memory this year, officials said.
Still, AMD is making inroads to the enterprise. VeriSign Inc. is moving several applications and databases off IBM, HP and Sun Unix servers and onto two- and four-way systems from Newisys Inc. running Opteron chips. These applications—which include the Mountain View, Calif., companys Domain Name System—require a lot of memory, and VeriSign was looking for a way to port them to a 64-bit platform that was less expensive than Unix systems, said Ari Balaugh, senior vice president for operations and infrastructure at the company.
After a six-month trial, Balaugh liked the price/performance of Opteron servers, he said. A Newisys system with four Opteron chips is 1.8 times faster than an eight-way Unix server, which for large applications requiring 16GB to 32GB of memory can translate into a fourfold to sixfold cost difference, he said.
“We were a little leery of [the Opteron] initially,” Balaugh said. “But you get good enterprise features from Newisys, and the Opteron is just fast.”