AMD Hopes Blades Will Slice Into Intel

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AMD is sharpening its dual-core chips for blade servers in hopes of hacking away at Intel's majority market share. HP, Sun and IBM look to be critical partners once the dual-core Opteron chips ship.

Ben Williams, vice president of servers and workstations at AMD, said the company may have only 5 percent of the server industry in its pocket now, but that may change once HP, IBM, and Sun Microsystems begin shipping next-generation blade servers powered by AMD's dual-core 64-bit Opteron processors.

The long-awaited chip is expected later this year -- long before Intel's dual-core Xeon processors hit the market in 2006. The dual-core Opteron is expected to increase performance over AMD's fastest chip, the 2.6GHz Opteron, because both cores will run at 1.8GHz. In addition to speed bumps, Williams said the dual-core chips take advantage of AMD's HyperTransport technology and Direct Connect architecture.

"What this does is create an opportunity for the blade markets, as you can have one core crunching numbers while the other one is handling a security problem or a firmware update," Williams told internetnews.com.

Dell remains the only major vendor that has not announced plans for AMD products.

HP BladeSystem servers are powered by one, two, or four Intel Xeon or AMD Opteron processors for either Windows or Linux environments. Steve Cumings, a group manager for HP's ProLiant and Opteron systems, said the company likes having both processor families available. HP's Opteron blade products include the recently introduced BL25p and half-height BL35p. Both are strong sellers, he said.

"We are the leader in the market when it comes to selling x86-based servers," Cumings told internetnews.com. "As soon as the dual-core processors are shipping, HP will include them in our product line. Eventually, we will transfer the entire blade family to dual-core, because it has huge potential for customers looking to get more computing power with less wattage."

Recently, HP has been supplementing its corporate accounts with an increased focus on small to medium-sized businesses. As part of the Blades for Business program, which will launch on May 2, HP will offer a new 1U power supply for single HP BladeSystem enclosures designed especially for smaller implementations. Williams said AMD expects to be at the forefront of HP's SMB blade plans as well.

Sun, which sells a massive amount of volume servers based on Opteron, has said that it is developing a broad portfolio based on AMD products, from eight-way servers to blades. Sun Co-founder and Chief Architect Andy Bechtolsheim is reportedly behind blade development for the Galaxy project, Sun's next-generation server architecture.

Blade computing is clearly on the rise and very popular among ISPs and ASPs for applications such as e-mail, Web hosting and domain name serving. Analyst firm IDC recently forecast the market to reach $3.7 billion in revenue by 2006 and $6 billion by 2007.

Also in its favor, AMD has an installed base with telecommunications and financial services providers, which have been snatching up Opteron blades en masse.

"These guys are seeing advantages in one hundredth of a tenth of a second," Williams said. "If they even think they can provide services that much faster than their competition, they will go with that product."

But one thing Williams said AMD is trying to avoid is becoming a niche player. That is why the upcoming dual-core processors have the same pin count as the single-core processors. The executive points out that this has been a huge benefit for companies like Angstrom Micro, Rackable Systems, and Egenera, which Williams said was a company offering only Intel products until this past February.

"Having the same pin count has been historically huge in the infrastructure," Williams said. "We allow manufacturers to drop in single-core and dual-core processors, and all you need is an upgrade to the BIOS firmware. You don't need different chipsets, and you don't need to update the drivers."

Williams said AMD is also working on management software to help organize applications and systems running on those racks of blades

He said AMD will be entertaining hardware reviewers next week to educate them on AMD's next-generation virtualization technology, code-named Pacifica. The technology is scheduled to arrive in processors in 2006, later than Intel's Virtualization Technology. AMD did not say whether or not the two technologies would be compatible.

In a 2004 IDC report, analysts predicted system management software will play a key role in moving blades into enterprise data centers.

This article was originally published on internetnews.com.

This article was originally published on Mar 29, 2005
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