NEW YORK—On this cold and drizzly Manhattan morning Advanced Micro Devices Inc. got a warmer reception for its brand new than anyone had expected: a hardware endorsement from IBM.
From the time AMD began discussing its x86 64-bit “Hammer” architecture ideas, industry observers and IT administrators said that for the chip to succeed, it would need the support of top-tier OEMs.
AMD got that support when IBM took the stage here and announced plans to ship in the second half of the year servers based on the Opteron, citing increased performance and streamlined and “seamless” migration from 32-bit to 64-bit computing. It will also offer Opteron-based supercomputers as part of its Supercomputing On Demand initiative that will provide customers with access to huge supercomputer clusters on demand, said Mark Shearer, vice president of IBMs eServer products group.
IBMs announcement came moments after Fujitsu Siemens Computer said it is building workstations based on AMDs much-anticipated chip.
“At IBM we believe Opteron offers compelling performance at an affordable price,” Shearer said.
“Opteron provides customers with a natural evolutionary path for todays 32-bit computer environments … into the 64-bit world,” he added.
The news set the tone for an upbeat press conference that included speeches from company founder and Chairman Jerry Sanders and company CEO Hector de Ruiz.
“We are so pumped!” exclaimed Ruiz during his opening comments. For his part, Sanders jumped on the sheer muscle of the Opteron, repeating several times that “100 million transistors is an awesome number.”
Going After Intel
And while AMD will take a performance lead with Opteron, company officials could not resist a passing shot at its dominant rival, Intel Corp.
In going over a series of SPECint slides showing three Opteron chips, models 240, 242 and 244, Marty Seyer, vice president and general manager at AMDs Microprocessor Business Unit, told the audience, “Watch out—even the paranoid may not survive,” in a jab at Intel Chairman Andy Grove and his book “Only the Paranoid Survive.”
And in a press briefing after the launch, Sanders said, “Hector says [Intel is] big and strong. I say theyre big, strong and wrong,” regarding Intels 64-bit architecture philosophy.
Until now, AMD, of Sunnyvale, Calif., had received support from smaller systems makers, such as Einux Inc., Appro International Inc., RackSaver Inc. and Newisys Inc. Several of those companies already had started taking pre-orders for Opteron-powered systems.
But the support from IBM and Fujitsu Siemens—as well as major software makers such as Microsoft Corp. and Oracle Corp.—was a crucial step in driving Opteron into the enterprise. Research and educational institutions—which are more concerned with performance than with the name on their systems—already had begun embracing Opteron. But many enterprise IT administrators who had standardized their data centers on systems from such players as IBM, Hewlett-Packard Co., Dell Computer Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc. were unwilling to bring in servers from smaller companies no matter how good the AMD processor was.
But with the launch of the chip, and the support of IBM and the others, AMD officials said they expect sales of Opteron-powered systems to climb over the next few months. Seyer predicted that more Opteron-based servers will be sold by the end of the year than systems armed with Intels 64-bit Itanium chip have sold since Itanium was first rolled out.
“With todays launch, AMD is making one simple promise,” Seyer said. “We promise the AMD Opteron will simplify business.”
While some have criticized AMD for its lack of marketing muscle in garnering a better level of support leading up to the launch, some in the audience here today said such criticism wasnt necessarily fair.
“You have to be realistic about expectations,” said Phil Hester, co-founder and CEO of NewIsys Inc., of Austin, Texas.
For NewIsys, that means between about 10,000 and 20,000 units shipped in the remainder of 2003, according to Hester.
NewIsys also manufactures systems for other Opteron supporters on hand here, including Appro, RackSaver and Angstrom Microsystems.
Opteron currently is designed for one- to eight-way systems. On Tuesday, the company released three chips optimized for two-way systems—the 240, 242 and 244 processors. In May, AMD will release three eight-way processors—the 840, 842 and 844—and a one-way chip in the third quarter, the 144, Seyer said.
Bridging the Gap
AMD is promoting its 64-bit Hammer architecture—now named AMD64, and which will include the Athlon 64 chip for desktops and mobile devices when it launches in September—as the bridge between x86 32-bit and 64-bit computing. The chips will run both 32-bit and 64-bit applications, giving enterprises a cost-effective way to migrate from one to the other, Ruiz said. Enterprises will not have to dump their 32-bit applications as they begin their move to 64-bit computing, he said.
“With todays announcement, youre being given a view of the future,” Ruiz told an audience of more than 200. He called Opteron “a new class of technology that leaves no one behind.”
Sanders said Opteron “will bring PC economics” into the server world. It will provide “a seamless, simplified migration path to 64-bit computing.”
Initially, Opteron will compete primarily with Intels 32-bit Xeon architecture. But the differentiator will be with Itanium, which is a new architecture optimized for 64-bit applications. Enterprises using Itanium need to rework their applications to take full advantage of Itanium.
Opteron, manufactured via the 0.13-micron process, includes 100 million transistors and up to three links for HyperTransport connectivity. Athlon 64 will provide one link.
Opteron also features up to 1MB of Level 2 cache.
AMD officials said the prices for the chips will be about the same as those of the 32-bit Xeons, but also will give users 64-bit capabilities.
On the hardware side, Sun and Dell officials have said they are evaluating Opteron; HP—a co-developer of Itanium—said it firmly supports that architecture.
On the software front, Opteron is gaining a growing number of supporters, including Microsoft, IBM, SuSE Linux A.G. and Oracle. During the launch, Brian Valentine, senior vice president of Microsofts Windows Division, reiterated his companys intention of releasing versions of its Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 operating systems that will support Opteron.
IBM is launching a public beta of its DB2 database technology powered by Opteron, with the plan to make it generally available within the next few months, according to Bob Picciano, DB2 director of database technology for IBM Canada. During the conference, Picciano presented Ruiz with a plaque and announced, “DB2 on Opteron is ready for business.”
And Brom Mahbod, vice president of Oracles Enterprise Platform Group, said that Oracles 9i Real Application Clustering technology will support Opteron. Computer Associates International Inc. also said its software will support Opteron.
The Opteron launch also included testimony from such people as Robert Ballard, the ocean explorer most famous for discovering the wreck of the Titanic, and scientist Craig Vettner, whose work is helping map the human genome, as to the value of Opteron and 64-bit computing.
And as has become custom at events like these, a celebrity made a cameo appearance. Sportscaster Bob Costas took the audience down an extremely short history of “breakout performances,” which ranged from Julius Ervings basketball style to the original cast of “Saturday Night Live” to Billy Jean King. Ruiz presented Costas with a custom-made Gibson electric guitar. Gibson is an AMD customer.
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