New Intel Itanium Offers Greater Performance, Memory Capacity

It may be two years late, but Intel's Itanium processor code-named Tukwila offers twice the number of cores as the current version code-named Montecito, with significant upgrades in memory and network bandwidth, features it shares with Intel's high-end Xeon server chip, and greater virtualization capabilities. The Itanium 9300 series comes as IBM is rolling out four new Power7-based servers and Oracle is integrating Sun into its business.

It took a little longer than expected, but Intel officials have finally released "Tukwila," the next-generation Itanium processor that offers significant advances in performance and scalability and a host of features that improve everything from virtualization capabilities to reliability.

A week after announcing that the company had begun shipping Tukwila-now called the Itanium 9300 series-Intel officials on Feb. 8 officially released the processor, which had been delayed several times over the past couple of years.

However, in the end what businesses will be getting when systems powered by the new Itaniums roll out in the next three months are chips with 2 billion transistors, double the number of cores-from two to four over the current "Montecito" chips-that can run eight instruction threads each, an 800 percent improvement in interconnect bandwidth, 500 percent more memory bandwidth and up to 700 percent more memory capacity.

At a news conference announcing the release, Kirk Skaugen, vice president of the Intel Architecture Group and general manager of the vendor's Data Center Group, admitted that Tukwila had been a long time coming, but said businesses would see that it was worth the wait.

"We know there were a few delays over the years, but we felt it was better to get this right for those mission-critical customers, and we think we have," Skaugen said.

He added, "We're showing a road map that's ... better than our competitors'."

The 9300 series is coming as competition in the high-end server market begins to ramp up. At the same time that Intel was unveiling the new Itaniums, IBM at an event in New York was announcing systems running its newPower7 platform, with IBM officials predicting that more Hewlett-Packard customers will migrate off their Itanium-based technologies to Power7.

In addition, Oracle, on the strength of its $7.4 billion acquisition of Sun Microsystems, is promising to pump more marketing and R&D dollars into Sun's SPARC/Solaris platform.

Skaugen and Martin Fink, senior vice president and general manager of HP's Business Critical Systems unit, said they expect adoption of Itanium to continue to grow.

"More and more and more, as systems become more powerful, customers have raised their expectations of what they want from these systems," Fink said, adding that the systems become more mission-critical as more workloads are placed on them.

Skaugen said some businesses started receiving seed systems with Tukwila in the first half of 2009, "so we expect a very fast ramp."