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IBM Toys with Itanium

IBM Toys with Itanium

IBM, the company that swore it didn't want to go into the Itanium 2 business because there was no market for it and besides an Itanium 2 box would upset its starlet Xeon interests, and its proprietary 64-bit Power interests, and validate HP's strategy, announced the Itanium 2 x450 four-way, the so-called Man O' War, the other day. It's been kicking around the company for, oh, the last year or so. One gathers it was the subject of an internal factional divide.

Intel said a couple of weeks ago that it was expecting IBM to finally make a move, but then it's said that before. Why exactly IBM is making the move now isn't exactly what you'd call crystal clear. Three months ago Bill Zeitler, the head of IBM's Server Systems Group, was basically calling Itanium a "science project."

The 450 is based on the current McKinley crop of Itanium 2s that will die on the vine this summer when Madison, the more versatile and spiffier next-generation Itanium 2, comes out. Dell, which is not exactly an innovator and has also been a fence sitter on the issue of the Itanium 2, is expected to finally make its move in the Madison timeframe.

Apparently we are supposed to understand that with the new Windows Server 2003 finally out, IBM sees the beginnings of an Itanium ecosystem even if IBM would be quick to say that the world isn't exactly going to Itanium. Of course the Itanium runs Linux, and IBM is very fond of Linux, but that doesn't seem to feature in the conversation for some reason.

The x450 is based on IBM's Enterprise X-Architecture (EXA) - which means a species of IBM's own Summit chipset - used in its Xeon servers, which it's working to get to 32p while it says it'll get the 450 to 16p probably using Madisons later this year. A 16p system would press heavily on IBM's Power line.

Tellingly perhaps, the mixed-message press release IBM issued announcing the 450 spoke as much and more glowingly about its Xeon-based 440, raising questions about the depth of IBM's commitment to the 450 and the extent to which it will contribute to the budding Itanium ecosystem.

IBM has quietly been supplying an Intel-provided Itanium white box and has lately sent the 450 out to ISVs and early access accounts. It also been bidding Itanium 2s to Verisign, the Internet security house, trying to win it away from HP, also with Itaniums, which may explain why IBM says it's been noticing some market demand.

IBM calls the 450, priced to start at $26k with one 900MHz McKinley, "ideally suited to optimized applications" - said to be databases, HPC and business intelligence - while secretly scoffing at how few real apps run on the thing yet. Because of its novel architecture, Itanium apps need to be built from the ground up.

IBM's cubby holed the thing in a niche, we take it, just like it did last week with the AMD hybrid 32/64-bit Opteron box it's promising to bring out in the second half. It consigned that to HPC and on-demand supercomputing despite the fact that IBM is contributing to the technical advance of Opteron, trying to help solve AMD's critical yield problems.

A more popular 450 configuration is expected to be the $38k two-way using 1GHz chips. HP has been selling two-way and four-way McKinleys. Unisys, for one, says it is would be more worried if IBM was mixing Xeons and Itaniums in same package. Its watchtowers have observed no such inclination on IBM's part. Unisys expects to benefit from any moves IBM makes to push Microsoft-as-scale-up-environment and break down market perceptions of Microsoft as a low-end provider.

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More Stories By Maureen O'Gara

Maureen O'Gara the most read technology reporter for the past 20 years, is the Cloud Computing and Virtualization News Desk editor of SYS-CON Media. She is the publisher of famous "Billygrams" and the editor-in-chief of "Client/Server News" for more than a decade. One of the most respected technology reporters in the business, Maureen can be reached by email at maureen(at)sys-con.com or paperboy(at)g2news.com, and by phone at 516 759-7025. Twitter: @MaureenOGara

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