For No. 2 chip maker Advanced Micro Devices Inc., the launch of its 64-bit Opteron server processor this week signals the beginning of what may prove to be a long, difficult march deeper into the enterprise. The chip, initially scheduled for release last year, offers the unique capability to run both 32-bit and 64-bit applications. In contrast, enterprises that use systems equipped with chip leader Intel Corp. processors must choose between the 32-bit Xeon and the 64-bit Itanium, which have different architectures.
AMD is offering several versions of the Opteron chip at prices similar to those for Intels Xeon processors. According to AMD, the 240 model will sell for $283 per 1,000-unit quantity. The 2.6GHz Xeon sells for $284. The 242 model will sell for $690, the same price as the 3.06GHz Xeon, while the 244 model will sell for $794.
Joshua Levine, chief technology officer at E-Trade and president of E-Trade Technologies, part of E-Trade Group Inc., said he likes the Opterons ability to run under a unified architecture and doesnt understand the decision by Intel, of Santa Clara, Calif., to create a new architecture for 64-bit computing.
“I dont know whether I want to go to a new architecture to go to 64-bit,” Levine said. “Itanium is just not something that makes any sense to us. Itanium is just another proprietary chip set. Who cares? Porting from one chip to another doesnt make sense.”
AMD, of Sunnyvale, Calif., has made headway in creating an ecosystem of hardware and software products necessary for its Opteron technology to thrive. Microsoft Corp. committed to release versions of its Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 operating systems that will support the Opteron, and IBM said it will offer its DB2 database for Linux running on the Opteron.
But while a number of smaller server makers are rolling out products powered by the Opteron, most larger OEMs are taking a wait-and-see approach. Sun Microsystems Inc. and Dell Computer Corp. said they are evaluating the Opteron. Hewlett-Packard Co. officials said they are standing firmly behind Intels 64-bit Itanium technology, which HP helped create. E-Trades Levine said some top-tier OEMs told him they will eventually roll out servers powered by the AMD chip. But the bulk of support is coming from smaller vendors. Newisys Inc. and RackSaver Inc. have announced plans for Opteron-based servers. At AMDs launch event in New York this week, Einux Inc., of Milpitas, Calif., will unveil an in-memory database cluster, a workstation, a cluster supercomputer and a blade server featuring the Opteron. Appro International Inc., also of Milpitas, will announce the availability of its HyperBlade Server Cluster—1U (1.75-inch) and 2U (3.5-inch) dual servers based on the Opteron.
Application support will also be critical. (See what eWEEKs John Taschek has to say on this.)
“Few products are instant hits in the multiprocessing space,” said Shane Rau, an analyst with International Data Corp., in Mountain View, Calif. “This really is for the long term, and in the long term, its about software support.”
Furthermore, Rau said, the Opteron will first have to prove itself in the 32-bit arena, where it will compete with the Xeons in one- to eight-way servers.
Meanwhile, users interviewed by eWeek said that the Opteron is an attractive technology but that it may not be enough to make them switch platforms.
Jason Robohm, director of technical services at Crossmark Holdings Inc., said his company uses only Intel-based HP ProLiant servers. Unless HP offers Opteron-based systems, he will stick with what he has. That said, the Opterons support for both 32-bit and 64-bit applications is attractive, he said. “AMDs really got to find a way to sell [the Opteron] to a traditional server manufacturer in the Wintel environment,” said Robohm, in Plano, Texas. “They have to sell to the enterprise, but havent been able to yet.”
Corey Corrick, director of operations for Flamenco Networks Inc., said his company wont move to 64-bit computing for about a year. “When we make that leap to 64-bit, well probably consider Opteron pretty seriously,” said Corrick, in Alpharetta, Ga. “One, were a Linux shop. And two, Im more comfortable with the [Opteron] architecture because we dont have to necessarily throw out the baby with the bath water. We can continue to run our [32-bit] applications.”
Still, a key part of that decision will be whether a major OEM steps up and offers Opteron-based systems.
“Id want to go with a company with a big name on them,” Corrick said.
(Editors Note: This story has been updated since its original posting to include Opteron pricing.)
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