Vendors Clamber Aboard for 'Lindenhurst' Launch

OEMs thundered out of the gate with new servers based on Intel's Xeon processors with 64-bit extensions as Intel formally launched the server platforms for the long-awaited chip this week.

The processor, code-named "Nocona," is Intel's answer to the AMD challenge of 64-bit processors that use the x86 instruction set. The AMD approach represents a significant challenge to Intel's original plan to forklift the commodity server market from 32-bit to 64-bit on its Itanium platform, which uses a different instruction set. Intel launched the Nocona processors in June at speeds of 3.6 GHz. On Monday, Intel unveiled its "Lindenhurst" dual-processor chipsets for Nocona, clearing the way for server vendors to start offering systems in the sweet spot of the x86-based market.

The dozens of vendors rolling out Nocona-Lindenhurst systems include Acer, CA Digital, Ciara Technologies, Compusys, Datanet, Egenera, Fujitsu, Gateway, HCL, Hitachi, NEC, Quanta, Samsung, Rackable Systems and Toshiba. The first tier vendors -- Dell, IBM and HP -- all have big plans for the platform.

Windows Delay a Problem

Microsoft last week played advance wet blanket to Intel’s launch festivities when it announced that the 64-bit extended editions of Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP were delayed until the first half of 2005. The company tried to make amends by announcing a newly available beta for extended systems and a swap program. The swap promotion is for customers who buy Nocona systems or 64-bit AMD systems now with 32-bit Windows Server 2003. Those customers can exchange their license for 64-bit Windows Server 2003 when it is released to manufacturing.

Stuart McRae, manager of xSeries product marketing with IBM, acknowledges Microsoft's delay puts a damper on things. “Having OS support is an important part of the ecosystem for 64-bit, but migration to 64-bit is really a staged thing. Customers rarely change their hardware and their OS at the same time,” he argues. “Obviously, we would like the Microsoft operating systems to be available next week, but I don’t’ think it will impact 64-bit adoption. Linux support for 64-bit will be available.”

Chipset Bug Not Necessarily a Show-stopper

The Windows delay isn't the only problem with the Nocona story. Intel has confirmed the existence of a bug in the Lindenhurst chipsets, the E7520 and E7320. The problem causes some systems to hang when used in with certain PCI Express peripherals.

The chip giant is expected to release an updated version of Lindenhurst in Q4. In the meantime, customers are advised to disable PCI Express in their systems or to buy only PCI Express cards that have been certified for Lindenhurst.

IBM Touts Mainframe Technology in Nocona Systems

IBM is touting dual-processor, Nocona-powered systems enabled by technology it claims it originally developed for its mainframes.

IBM officials argue that the jump from 32- to 64-bit processors -- which draw more power and can access more banks of memory -- requires more sophisticated cooling. Enter IBM’s eXtended Design Architecture (XDA), and – more to the point – a feature called Calibrated Vectored Cooling (CVC), which optimizes the path of cooled air flow through the system.

IBM says that CVC lets it offer denser Nocona-powered systems than its competitors. To that end, Big Blue is introducing eight new Nocona-based systems, including a blade server, the JS20. That’s a substantial commitment from a vendor (IBM) that was comparatively slow to embrace Intel’s full-fledged 64-bit chip, Itanium 2.

IBM’s reasoning, says McRae, is that the Intel server market, while commoditized, is receptive to value-added innovation. “There’s this perception that the Intel server market, certainly the uni- and two-way space, is commoditized. But our company is treating it like it’s not a commoditized market, because we believe that innovation is alive and well,” he argues.

“We’re incorporating the things we’ve learned in the mainframe space, as well as the Top 500 computing space,” McRae says. “So the big thing customers in this [x86 space] are dealing with -- the new things they’re incorporating in servers are very hot. Once they get into the data center, managing these servers, managing this heat, is a big problem.”

Other features that Big Blue is positioning as “innovations” in its new Nocona-powered systems include an externally visible version of its LightPath diagnostic technology, along with a new version of IBM Director, its management and provisioning tool for Intel-based systems. LightPath allows administrators or repair technicians to consult an LED control panel mounted on the surface of IBM’s xSeries systems to identify hardware failures. IBM Director 4.2 now boasts expanded support for Linux, color-coded system health status updates and enhanced security for remote console and power control.

McRae says IBM’s Nocona-powered xSeries systems also support double the memory of their predecessors (16 GB); hot-swap redundant cooling and power supplies; and simple swap Serial-ATA drives.

Dell, HP Prep Nocona-based Entries

Dell is expected to release four Nocona-powered models: two stand-alone systems (the PowerEdge 1800 and PowerEdge 2800), as well as two rack-mountable servers (the PowerEdge 1850 and PowerEdge 2850).

HP plans five new Nocona-based products: two rack-mounted servers (the 1U ProLiant DL360 G4 and the 2U DL380 G4), as well as the ML350 G4 and ML370 G4 standalone servers. In early September, HP will introduce a Nocona-powered blade system, an updated version of its BL20.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.