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Intel Launches Itanium 2

Intel on Monday formally launched the Itanium 2.

The much-anticipated processor is the second-generation of Intel's 64-bit processor technology and the one that many industry participants have predicted would mark the entrance of indows/Intel servers to the 64-bit space that RISC and Unix have occupied for years.

The first 64-bit processor from Intel, Itanium or Itanium 1 as some now call it, was marked by slow adoption with buyers primarily among software developers interested in playing with the chip and getting ready to port their software to Intel's 64-bit architecture.

"I would say fully 80 percent of the Itanium workstations that I sold were to software developers. Lots of companies bought a small number of systems," says Barry Crume, product manager for HP's workstation business. Dell even pulled some systems based on the first Itanium from the market due to low demand.

Crume says the trend is already different for Itanium 2, which was formerly known by the code-name "McKinley". "But with Itanium 2, a small number of companies are already buying a huge number of systems. Some companies are ready to go," Crume says.

The Itanium Architecture is a multi-operating system platform, but, as in the 32-bit world, Microsoft Windows is where the volume is. Just ask Crume from HP, which offers three operating systems with its workstations and servers: Windows, Unix (HP-UX) and Linux.

"It's really the Microsoft operating system that is the key to volume on this architecture," Crume says.

If Microsoft had held to original shipping schedules, 64-bit versions of Windows .NET Enterprise Server and Windows .NET Datacenter Server would be available now. Since pushing the RTM for the whole Windows .NET Server family back to late 2002, Microsoft had to come up with an interim solution.

Redmond's solution was to promise a version 1.2 of the 64-bit Windows Advanced Server, Limited Edition, that it first shipped in 2001. Although it is based on Windows .NET Server code, the operating system is fully supported by Microsoft. The Limited Edition designates that it can only be obtained from OEMs through the purchase of complete server systems -- users can't buy it off the shelf at CompUSA.

The new version will support the Itanium 2, which is not board- compatible with the original Itanium processor.

In addition to the surface difference of a maximum clockspeed of 1 GHz in Itanium 2 up from 800 MHz in Itanium, more significant changes have gone in under the hood. For one thing, five pieces of silicon have become one integrated chip. So while the cache has decreased from 4 MB in the top-of-the-line Itanium to 3 MB in the top-of-the-line Itanium 2, the Itanium 2 cache is faster because it's on die. The front-side bus is goosed to 400 MHz from 266 MHz while the pipe has been fattened from 64-bit to 128-bit.

Systems should start to appear pretty quickly. HP, which has had a special relationship with Intel in delivering Itanium, is ready to go with a pair of workstation and a pair of servers. Other vendors should have systems ready to ship shortly thereafter.

Intel says Itanium 2 is for bet-the-business kinds of applications like large databases, business intelligence, ERP and supply chain management.

"Itanium is really going for the big iron systems and the OEMs get that," says Mike Graf, product line manager for Itanium 2.

Intel says 20 vendors will be ready with servers in the 4-way space and more than 10 systems will be available in the 8- to 32-processor space in the next year. To be sure, far from all of those high-end systems will target Windows. All of HP's 8-way or greater systems, for example, won't support Windows deployments until at least 2003.

Application support is ramping up as well. Major database, ERP and business intelligence vendors among others have beta or evaluation versions available and are working on pushing final code out the door.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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