All Revved Up, Nowhere to Go

With too few apps to gauge performance, 64-bit Itanium is still garaged.

Servers that harness Intel Corp.s Itanium processors started to ship in the past few weeks, and, sooner or later, these servers will be at the core of many of todays enterprise-class applications. For now, however, Itanium servers are still in a "development phase" in which it is difficult to gauge the real-world performance of this new platform.

Like many developers and technology preview customers, eWeek Labs has found that trying to test Itanium-based servers the last few weeks has been like trying to test a hot rod without tires. The proverbial rubber cannot hit the road just yet because there are few enterprise-class applications ready to run on this platform and no cross-platform benchmarking tools.

Our test subject, a rack-mountable Dell Computer Corp. PowerEdge 7150, has arrived in the Labs beefed up with four 64-bit Itanium processors and is ready to run 64-bit Linux or the preview version of 64-bit Windows.

Over the next few weeks, we are hoping to add a Hewlett-Packard Co. server to the mix so we can get a peek at the new version of HP-UX that was designed to run on the IA-64 platform. Considering that HP played a major role in the development of Itanium, it will be interesting to see if the company has a head start compared with Windows and Linux platforms.

Traditional Tests Wont Work

Although it would be possible to run traditional server benchmarks to test 64-bit Itanium Web server and file server performance, these tests, more likely than not, would show no improvement compared with IA-32 platforms because these tests wont take advantage of Itaniums floating-point performance capabilities or its ability to address large memory sets.

Two security-based benchmarks are now available for testing: RSA Security Inc.s Secure Operations Benchmark for Windows XP 64-bit edition tests an Itanium servers ability to decrypt secure signatures to show how many decryptions per second the server is capable of processing. And on the Linux side, Coradiant Inc.s Coradiant Research arm has developed the SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) Solution-level Security Benchmark, which is designed to test the secure transaction capacity of a server in a real-world, multiclient environment.

However, these two benchmarks are platform-specific, so it is impossible to use these tests to get an apples-to- apples comparison of the two platforms, not to mention HP-UX.

The other benchmark tests that are available are primarily hardware-level tests that can show off Itaniums potential but not its finesse with applications. The STREAM benchmark test measures sustainable memory bandwidth (in megabytes per second) and the corresponding computation rate for simple vector kernels. (For more information on the STREAM benchmark, visit stream.)

Another hardware benchmark that could do Itanium justice is Linpack 1000, a floating-point-intensive benchmark that uses a collection of Fortran subroutines to analyze and solve linear equations and linear least-squares problems. (For more information, go to