Agencies take bitty steps toward Itanium

Agencies take bitty steps toward Itanium

Despite a dearth of 64-bit applications and the abundance of cheap 32-bit servers, vendors haven't given up on finding a market for Intel Corp.'s 64-bit Itanium platform.

The relatively few government purchases have been for testing and application development, according to server vendors. They hope demand will rise for the high-end systems later this year when a second-generation chip comes out.

The 64-bit Itanium and 32-bit Pentium product lines are aimed at different users, Intel spokeswoman Barbara T. Grimes said.

Intel will continue to update its Pentium processors for desktop computers and small to midrange servers, whereas Itanium CPUs are for 'beefy, powerful servers' and high-end workstations, Grimes said.

The first-generation Itanium, originally code-named Merced, comes in two clock speeds, 733 MHz and 800 MHz. Grimes said it's misleading to compare the rates with those of 32-bit chips because the architectures are so different.

The McKinley processor, which will initially have a clock speed in the 1-GHz range, will run Itanium-optimized applications up to twice as fast as the first-generation Merced, Grimes said.

Stick with 64-bit apps

To get the most out of Itanium, agencies should use it for applications designed for the 64-bit platform. 'Thirty-two-bit applications do run, but you don't get the performance gain,' Grimes said.

About 400 software vendors are developing for Itanium, but only about 50 now have software in production, Grimes said. More apps are likely to come to market around the time of McKinley's debut.

Itanium operating systems include Microsoft Windows Advanced Server Limited Edition 2002, a client version of Windows XP, Hewlett-Packard HP-UX 11i and four distributions of Linux. Microsoft Corp. will release its .Net services for the 64-bit platform later this year, and Compaq Computer Corp. has committed to porting its OSes, Grimes said.

Although many analysts say an Itanium market won't take off until McKinley arrives, several computer makers are delivering 64-bit servers and workstations to software developers and other early adopters.

Compaq started production of its ProLiant DL 590/64 servers in December 2001 and began to ship them in mid-January, Compaq spokesman Tim Willeford said. The ProLiant DL 590/64 can hold up to four 733- or 800-MHz Itanium CPUs, though two processors are standard. The server has a maximum 64G of memory and 146G of disk storage in a 12.25-inch-high rackmount unit.

Limited market

Dell Computer Corp. spokeswoman Carmen Maverick said Dell is still selling its Itanium desktop system, the Precision Workstation 730. But unlike most of the company's other products, it is not for sale through Dell's Web site.

The 730 is sold mostly to users involved in software development or in porting 32-bit applications to the 64-bit platform, Maverick said.

'As you can imagine, it's a limited audience,' she said.

So far, Dell sells one Itanium server, the PowerEdge 7150, said Jon Pollock, Dell's government enterprise brand manager. It can handle up to four processors, and it lists for $15,000 to $90,000 depending on the number of CPUs, amount of RAM and other options.

'I probably brief four or five high-level government customers per week' on Dell's Itanium products, Pollock said. The few purchases agencies have made so far are for testing or porting existing applications, he said.
'They're kicking the tires,' Pollock said.

Tim Simon, Itanium program manager for Hewlett-Packard Co.'s public-sector organization, said HP makes a 16-way Itanium system, the HP rx9610, and a four-way server, the rx4610.

Steve Kan, a professor at George Washington University's National Crash Analysis Center in Ashburn, Va., said his laboratory has been evaluating HP Itanium servers in modeling the crashworthiness of cars.

The center, established in 1992, gets funding from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Highway Administration to consolidate the government's research on automobile and guardrail safety.

'We're probably the world's largest vehicle-model creator outside the auto industry,' Kan said. Car makers have their own proprietary computer simulations and don't share them with independent researchers, he said.

Kan and his colleagues evaluated a four-way HP rx4610 server for about six months last year and were happy with it.

The crash simulations, which involve 2 million data elements, took from 24 to 50 hours on the Itanium server, Kan said.

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