Intel’s Itanium finally makes it to market

Intel has finally made its move into the high end server market with the Itanium processor, the initial release of its IA-64 family. But it could be considered somewhat of a muted launch following delays, and a lack of compatible software and applications.

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By  Zoe Moleshead Published  July 3, 2001

Itanium — Ready at last|~||~||~|Intel has finally made its move into the high end server market with the Itanium processor, the initial release of its IA-64 family. But it could be considered somewhat of a muted launch following delays, and a lack of compatible software and applications. Analysts are urging caution and predicting that the next 12 months should be used as a testing and transition period for Itanium.

According to Intel, 25 vendors have developed 35 different Itanium-based machines. HP, IBM, Dell and SGI have all been quick to announce their Itanium offerings. The potential of Itanium cannot be denied with Intel promising to bring its cost effectiveness to the high-end server market and touting significant cost reductions as a prime benefit of Itanium.

“People are beginning to look at Intel,” says Jack Gold, Meta Group analyst. “As IT budgets tighten, people are more willing to go with lower cost solutions if they can get away with it. With Itanium, they are beginning to get away with it.”

Intel is also touting faster processing capabilities with Itanium boasting EPIC (explicitly parallel instruction computing) architecture enabling the chip to process multiple instructions at once.

“Looking at some independent figures, online transaction processing is 1.3 times faster and performance calculations on workstations 1.9 times faster,” claims Ferhad Patel, e-Business manager, Middle East & North Africa, Intel.

Intel is also stressing the security performance of Itanium. “If you are transacting on the Internet you want to make sure your transactions are secure, and this is where Itanium actually excels. It has outperformed others [proprietary RISC systems] by up to 10 times on security transactions,” reveals Patel.

Intel is also promising functionality, scalability, availability, investment protection and choice as the other key features of its Itanium family.

“We have about 400 tools and applications in development, some will be ready during the course of this year,” adds Patel. “We’ve also got a quarter of a billion dollars in a fund for IA-64. This fund doesn’t just come form Intel and HP, its comes from outside, from potential users.”

The majority of RISC vendors have also announced their Itanium-based servers, with HP keen to leverage on its position as co-developer of the Itanium family. HP has developed both workstation and server offerings ranging from two processors to 16.

“The Intel Itanium processor technology is yet another building block in HP’s development in the enterprise sector,” says Dr. Ali Ferling, HP’s general manager, Middle East.

SGI’s Silicon Graphics 750 system, however, looks set to be the first to market in the Middle East, targeting primarily government departments for deployment of the system. SGI is perhaps taking a more realistic approach to the development of Itanium, and insists that its Unix servers are not in direct competition with its Itanium-based servers.

“The IA-64 is still in its preliminary stages, and we need to develop the compilers, we need to develop the applications, the tools everything for it, but we believe there is a market for it regionally,” explains Fadi Abi Akl, business development manager, IA-32, SGI, Middle East & North Africa.

IBM and Dell have also jumped on the Itanium bandwagon with their eServer x380 and PowerEdge 7150 servers respectively.

||**||Future additions|~||~||~|Sun is the only major vendor which has not yet announced any plans to port to the Itanium family. Initially Sun agreed to port Solaris to Itanium, and had a mutual agreement up to the end of 2000 with Intel, but the contract wasn’t renewed by mutual consent of both parties.

“Sun when they started, they openly said they wanted vendor lock in, so you buy Sun, you have it in your front end to your back end. But we’re giving you [customers] a choice, a choice of operating system, vendor and applications, its about choice not lock in,” explains Patel.

Sun, however, remains bullish about Intel’s move into the 64-bit market, citing migration costs and the maturity of its own architecture as prime reasons for sticking with UltraSPARC/Solaris machines.

“There is no hiding the fact that Intel’s marketing machine has its target on Sun’s SPARC microprocessor,” says Johann Muller, product sales manager, Sun Microsystems, Middle East & Africa. “However, this cannot change the basic fact that Itanium may take years to get to the level of SPARC in terms of reliability and availability.”

Analyst groups also suggest the move to Itanium will be a cautionary one. Gartener Group reccommends rigorous testing of Itanium servers for early adopters, and predicts that RISC technology will retain its server market lead in the high-end through to 2005. Meta Group doesn’t expect Itanium to really make its mark in the market until the year end of 2002.

Pilot sites for McKinley, the second generation of the Itanium family, are expected at the end of this year, and with the platform release of McKinley just a year away many potential customers may chose to wait for this release before considering a move to IA-64.

With the Itanium family finally launched, Intel intends to act quickly with its future product releases.

“Madison and Deerfield will be the follow up to McKinley and we’re looking at 2003,” says Patel. “Again Madison and Deerfield are products that are being developed today, and they will be available for pilot release round about the end of 2002.”

The main stumbling block to the adoption of Itanium is the lack of developed applications, operating systems and software.

While the HP-UX operating system is ready others developers are lagging behind. Microsoft looks like it will be the earliest to migrate with its release of Windows 2000, but this 64-bit Windows isn’t expected until the first quarter of next year.

Gartner Group is predicting that a Linux 64-bit system will not be available until the first half of 2002, while IBM’s AIX 5L system remains in the early adopter stage according to the analyst body.

Meta Group compounded this view: “Of the Linux vendors, we expect Red Hat to concentrate on low end and embedded solutions, and TurboLinux to provide clustering and scalability. However, Linux currently lacks any compelling applications for the mainstream server marketplace.”

Intel however remains confident about the take up of Itanium, describing the release of Itanium as ‘a rollout not a launch,’ and claiming the two year delay has not deterred ISVs. Intel launched pilot projects of Itanium late last year, and has identified pilot sites for the Middle East among the region’s telcos, oil & gas and finance sectors.

“IDC predicts we will sell 26,000 data systems this year, by 2004 they expect we will sell 540,000,” says Patel. “We’d like to see 26,000 this year, and to get more customers and early adopters running.”
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