Opteron Tapped for Expansion

IBM and Sun are set to roll out Opteron-based offerings they hope will broaden their reach in the marketplace.

IBM and Sun Microsystems Inc. are turning once again to Advanced Micro Devices Inc.s Opteron processors to add to the breadth of their offerings in ways that Intel Corp. chips do not yet offer.

IBM this week will roll out a two-processor workstation powered by the Opteron and is considering releasing a four-processor workstation next year. Sun, which last month unveiled its first Opteron-based system, is likely to bring the 64-bit processor into its line of Netra rack-optimized and blade servers targeted at the telecommunications industry.

Both companies offer Intel- and RISC-based systems. But the Opteron, with its ability to run 32- and 64-bit applications equally well, allows IBM and Sun to cover their bets when addressing a broad range of customers and computing needs.

"It allows us to go out and address those customers that have a mix of applications," said Bob Lenard, director of IBMs IntelliStation workstations, in Raleigh, N.C. "Thats what we heard loudest from our customers: Protect the investment [in 32-bit computing] that we have and let us move [to 64-bit] over time."

Although it initially spurned the Opteron two years ago, IBM was the only OEM to stand up with the Sunnyvale, Calif., chip maker when it launched the Opteron last year.


The new Opteron-based offering from IBM is the IntelliStation A-Pro, which will ship in early May with one or two Opterons running at 1.8GHz, 2GHz or 2.2GHz, Lenard said. New features include an integrated Serial ATA drive and Gigabit Ethernet, one 133MHz PCI slot and four 100MHz PCI slots, as well as an easy migration path for graphics, from Accelerated Graphics Port 8x today to PCI Express, when it becomes available later this year.

Although Sun has offered Intel-based systems for several years, officials at the Santa Clara, Calif., company have plans to use the Opteron to court users who havent bought its entry-level Intel-based systems. Sun offers eight Netra servers running on its SPARC/Solaris platform. Arlen Vanderwel, vice president of Suns Netra line, said adding Opteron processors to the mix would make sense for numerous reasons, including giving Sun the ability to offer Linux support in the systems.

In less than a year, the Opteron has found its way into the lineups of three of the top four OEMs, including Hewlett-Packard Co., which co-developed the 64-bit Itanium chip with Intel. With those endorsements, the AMD chips are making a strong move into the enterprise.

In addition, the interest that the Opteron generated among customers and OEMs persuaded Intel, also of Santa Clara, to announce last month 64-bit extensions for its Xeon processors, which will enable those chips to run both 32- and 64-bit applications. The company said that a Xeon processor code-named Nocona will be available next quarter with the Extended Memory 64 Technology, or EM64T, extensions.

IBM is expected to offer Nocona-based workstations next quarter. But Sun, which has found the Opteron religion, said it does not have plans to add Nocona chips to its systems.

Threshold Digital Research Labs Inc., an animation and visual effects studio in Santa Monica, Calif., runs about 120 Intel-based IntelliStations for jobs that put a heavy strain on the processors, said George Johnsen, chief animation and technology officer. Although he likes the performance he gets from systems that use Intels 64-bit Itanium chips, Johnsen was frustrated by not being able to run existing 32-bit applications on Itanium as well as 64-bit software. As a result, Johnsen plans to test A-Pro workstations as soon as they become available. "Its going in a migration path where we can continue to use the [32-bit] apps we have," he said.

Chip Burke, network engineer for MedCost Recovery Systems Inc., said he would like to see his server vendor of choice, Dell Inc., expand its server offerings to include systems powered by the Opteron or the Intel EM64T. Dell officials have said they will use EM64T and are evaluating the Opteron but have no immediate plans to use it in commercial systems.

"Im like most customers—I dont care if its AMD or Intel, as long as it works," said Burke in Columbus, Ohio.