February 25, 2005 4:00 AM PST
IBM server design drops Itanium support
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Since 1998, Big Blue has been developing its family of Enterprise X Architecture chipsets, vital components that connect central processors to memory and other parts of a computer. These chipsets could be used either with Intel's Xeon family of processors or with the chipmaker's higher-end but less widely used Itanium 2 models.
In a shift from its predecessors, the new generation of IBM's Enterprise X Architecture chipset family doesn't support Intel's Itanium chip.
Big Blue's step away from Itanium is further evidence that customers generally prefer Intel's Xeon family, especially since it now includes 64-bit extensions that previously were a major Itanium advantage.
"We did forgo (Itanium support) on X3. It is a function of the market acceptance of Itanium," Bradicich said in an interview Tuesday. However, Itanium support could be reinstated with a successor called X4 if there is demand, he added.
It's not a surprise that IBM isn't the strongest Itanium supporter, given its promotion of its own Power processors--one of the top two major RISC, or reduced instruction set computing, chip designs at which Intel is aiming Itanium. Even so, IBM's step away from Itanium is further evidence that customers generally prefer the Xeon family, especially since it now includes 64-bit extensions that previously were a major Itanium advantage.
"The migration strategy Intel once imagined--which was at the point where Xeon users started knocking up against the limited headroom of Xeon...(and) would naturally want to migrate to Itanium--has largely been blown apart by the 64-bit extensions capability of (Advanced Micro Devices') Opteron and now 64-bit Xeon," said Pund-IT analyst Charles King.
Intel sees things differently, pointing out that 40 of the world's 100 largest companies use Itanium servers. "There is significant opportunity for Itanium in the $21 billion market for RISC replacement, mainframe migration and high-performance computing," said spokeswoman Erica Fields.
And several others besides Intel have their own Itanium chipsets: Silicon Graphics, NEC, Fujitsu, Hitachi, Unisys and Itanium co-developer Hewlett-Packard.
The second generation of IBM's EXA chipset family links as many as 16 Itanium 2 processors in the x455 server, introduced in 2003, and as many as 32 Xeon processors in the x445.
The new X3 chipset will be used in conjunction with Intel's Potomac and Cranford versions of Xeon. Another chipset, called X4, is in development and is scheduled to arrive roughly 18 months from now with the next generation of Xeon chips, Bradicich said.
With X3, code-named Hurricane, IBM combined several previously separate chips into one, Bradicich said. Preceding chipsets had an easier time dealing with either Itanium or Xeon processors because a
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