Jockeying for 64-Bit Server Position

Latest crop of HP, IBM, Sun Systems tout companies' fastest chips.

Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM and Sun Microsystems Inc. late last month rolled out 64-bit mainframe servers in a renewed battle to control a space that features some of the most expensive systems on the market.

HP improved its 64-processor Superdome, which is the Palo Alto, Calif., companys most powerful computer system, by installing 875MHz PA-RISC 8700 chips, which officials said deliver a significant boost in performance over the previous 750MHz processors.

While HP upgraded its high-end product, Sun and IBM introduced low-end four-way servers, the Sun Fire V480 and the eServer p630, respectively.

Suns V480, capable of running as many as four 900MHz, 64-bit UltraSPARC III processors, is being positioned against soon-to-be-released servers based on Intel Corp.s new Itanium 2 processors. Officials with Sun, of Palo Alto, said the V480 will cost about $1,000 less than comparable Itanium 2-based systems from IBM and Dell Computer Corp., which wont be released until later this month.

Prices for the V480, code-named Cherrystone, start at about $23,000 for a two-processor configuration. A more fully equipped system featuring four processors, 16GB of RAM and two 36GB hard drives will cost about $47,000.

IBMs four-processor p630 marks the first integration of IBMs most powerful processor, the 1GHz Power4, into a server other than the high-end, 32-way p690 and the 16-way p670.

The move also marks a new packaging of the Power4, with the p630 for the first time featuring the Power4 in a single-processor module. In the p690 and p670, four Power4 processors were integrated into a single module with shared memory caches.

IBM, of Armonk, N.Y., said its new offering will extend the availability of former high-end features, such as system partitioning, into lower price ranges. Entry-level prices start at $12,498 for a single-processor system and $30,000 for four-chip systems.

Sixty-four-bit servers are known for their ability to address vast amounts of memory and handle thousands of simultaneous transactions, as well as their reliability, with such systems being among the most fault-tolerant available. Such servers run most of the worlds stock exchanges, ATM networks, credit card companies and airline reservation systems.

Ed Tobin, CIO for Colgate Palmolive Co., in New York, said 64-bit systems, such as the IBM 32-way p690s his company recently bought, are well-suited to address the growing workload in his data center.

"We went with IBM because of their systems performance, reliability and the scalability," Tobin said. "The systems not only meet our needs today, they should be able to handle the increasing demands well put on them."

Sun has largely been the leader in 64-bit computing, but recent product line upgrades by HP and IBM have eroded Suns performance advantages. Intel increased the pressure last year when it vowed to produce less costly and more powerful Itanium chips.