Intel: Itanium Tweaks on Deck

Adjustments will result in lower chip prices.

Intel Corp. plans to create a smaller core, add new power management features and reduce the price of its 64-bit Itanium processor. But the 4-year-old chip could still fail to meet earlier projections for its uptake by customers due to competition and a less robust server market than previously forecast.

New technologies such as common chip sets and smaller cores will work to bring prices in line with Intels 32-bit Xeon chips within the next few years, said Mike Fister, senior vice president and general manager of Intels Enterprise Platforms Group, during a conference call last week.

In addition, new capabilities will enable the processor to manage power consumption. For example, technologies rolling out over the next two years will enable Intel users to define power thresholds and will allow IT administrators to manage consumption remotely.

"Were driving the archetypes of systems in the industry," Fister said.

In addition, Intel last week released its IA-32 Emulation Layer software to enable Itanium servers to better run 32-bit Windows applications. The software will be followed later this year by a version for Red Hat Inc.s Red Hat Linux operating system.

Specifically, the software will enable Itanium systems to run 32-bit applications at 50 to 70 percent of the performance of 64-bit applications, or about equal to a server powered by a 1.5GHz Xeon MP processor, Fister said.

Rival Advanced Micro Devices Inc., of Sunnyvale, Calif., touts its Opteron chips ability to run both 32-bit and 64-bit x86 applications equally well. While AMD currently positions the Opteron against the Xeon, it eventually will find itself competing more directly with the Itanium.

It was the Opterons ability to run 32-bit and 64-bit applications that persuaded pharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. to use Opteron-based IBM 325 servers to build a supercomputer cluster for research.

"We have a large number of 32-bit applications, but we need 64-bit computing as well. The genomics guys are champing at the bit to run large 64-bit applications," said Tom Crayner, director of informatics for the companys Pharmaceutical Research Institute, in Hopewell, N.J.

For some Itanium users, however, 32-bit compatibility isnt an issue. The Cornell Theory Center at Cornell University runs a SAS Institute Inc. application and Microsoft Corp. SQL Server database on an ES7000 server from Unisys Corp. powered by Itanium 2 processors.

"Those two applications are optimized for Itanium and run really well on Itanium," said Dave Lifka, CIO for the center, in Ithaca, N.Y.

Competition from Opteron and other architectures will be a key challenge to the Itanium over the next few years, according to analysts at IDC. The Framingham, Mass., research company last week bumped up its outlook for the Itanium chip this year to $1.6 billion but downgraded projections for 2007 from $8.7 billion to $7.5 billion because of declining server sales.

However, officials with Intel, of Santa Clara, Calif., are optimistic about the future of the Itanium. Intel shipped more than 100,000 units of the Itanium last year, and Hewlett-Packard Co. plans a two-way Itanium server for later this year, according to Intel.