It is easy to forget that while Hewlett-Packard had the inside track with the Itanium architecture and stands to benefit the most as Itanium ramps up. Unisys is also a big player in the high-end X86 server market with its ES7000 enterprise servers. While Unisys is eager to embrace the new Xeon-64 chips, the company believes, as does Intel and HP, that over the long haul the enterprise server future will be one dominated by Itanium.
For one thing, if you want a high-end ES7000 server with 8, 16, or 32 processors and a large main memory that scales beyond 64GB, you can’t choose the 32-bit Gallatin Xeons because they can’t address more than 64GB and you can’t choose the Potomac Xeon MP processors with 64-bit extensions that will allow them to address more than 64GB because the Potomacs will not be delivered until some time in the first half of 2005.
So, for big jobs requiring lots of bandwidth and main memory, that leaves the ES7000 Aries servers, can have up to 16 of Intel’s 1.5GHz Madison Itanium processors and support for 128GB of main memory, or the ES7000 Orion processors, which span to 32 Madison chips (partitioned into two 16-ways) and support for 256GB of main memory (partitioned into two 128GB memories). Or, if you can cram your workload into a 64GB space, you can opt for an ES7000 using the Gallatin processors, but you will need roughly twice as many Gallatins to do transaction processing as it would take Itaniums.
With software being priced by processor, not by the amount of performance processors actually deliver, there are some strong incentives to go with the fastest chip possible. Microsoft’s Windows Server 2003 Datacenter Edition only supports a maximum of 512GB of main memory at the moment, although with 64-bit memory, a much larger memory space is theoretically possible.
This is probably one reason why the uptake for Itanium-based ES7000s has been stronger than Unisys expected. According to Mark Feverston, vice president of platform marketing for enterprise servers at Unisys, last year Itanium-based ES7000s accounted for about 30% of sales, about twice what the company expected. Like other IT suppliers in the server racket, Unisys has known for quite some time that Intel had a 64-bit Xeon contingency plan.
How long, Unisys will not say, but Feverston says that Intel usually lets server vendors in on what is coming at least 18 months in advance, sometimes even earlier. These briefings are usually about the options that Intel might use to beef up its servers, and then no one says anything for a while, and then suddenly Intel has made a decision and server makers have to react rather quickly. If the Xeon-Opteron-Itanium quandary presents a problem for customers, suffice it to say that that it also presents one for server makers.
That said, Unisys has designed the ES7000s to support whatever processor architecture it seems necessary to drive revenue, including its Sperry and Burroughs Clearpath mainframes and Xeon and Itanium processors. Feverston says that for the companies that Unisys is chasing with Windows Datacenter Server who already have RISC/Unix servers in the datacenter, going with what is most like what they currently have is what they will choose.
This article is based on material originally published by ComputerWire