long the high-end server space has been dominated by a handful
of players (namely Sun, IBM, HP and Compaq), having proprietary
RISC-based hardware coupled with their own OS (usually a proprietary
Intel, the leader in desktop and low-end Windows-based servers,
has been trying to get a foothold in this high-end server
space, long dominated by the big four. The Itanium (also called
IA-64) is the first move in this direction. Co-developed along
with HP, the Itanium is the first in its line of high-end
processors based on the EPIC (Explicitly Parallel Instruction
Computing) architecture. The Itanium is to be followed by
McKinley (to be launched in mid-2002), Madison and Deerfield.
With the launch of McKinley, the IPF (Itanium Processor family)
is bound to play a significant role in the high-end server
space. Here are some statements from a recent Gartner report
to support this theory.
will have a significant impact on the high-end Unix server
market. By 2006 new Unix servers will be either built on the
IBM Power, Sun's Sparc or IPF. Also, the mid-range and high-end
Windows server space will be increasingly built on IPF than
on IA-32. By 2006, IPF based servers will have a 20 percent
market share by revenue."
What does this mean for enterprises?
This raises several questions for enterprises, especially
those using servers based on proprietary architecture. Which
platform should enterprises place their long-term bets on?
Already, three of the four vendors in the proprietary high-end
server space have announced (or already launched) servers
based on the Itanium architecture. But migrating to Itanium
may turn out to be a bumpy ride. It may involve moving to
a new OS and porting existing applications onto the new platform
to benefit from new IA-64 architecture. It will take some
time for Intel to convince enterprises to give up their existing
proprietary servers for IPF.
In the short term, say over the next three years, we are bound
to see IPF-based servers placed alongside IA-32 and other
RISC-based servers. Enterprises are unlikely to dump their
existing technology in favor of Itanium. The real key to the
success of IPF in the high-end enterprise server space will
be the OS and related applications fined-tuned for IA-64.
What about the low-end and mid-range server space? Will IA-64
grab IA-32's market share? That seems unlikely. IA-32 processors
along with Windows OS are unlikely to be hit soon due to the
advent of IA-64. IA-32, with an array of new enhancements
like hyperthreading (a technology that makes a single processor
look like two processors to the OS), ultra-low power consumption
and so on, will continue its dominance in the low-end and
mid-range server space. Or at least till Intel decides to
phase out these chips and replace them with IA-64 chips.
Ajgaonkar, Assistant Editor