took 20 years for Intel to conquer the 32-bit processor
platform. It is now moving to a different battlefield
and hopes to gain supremacy for high-end 64-bit servers.
Here's the battle plan. by Brian Pereira
are trying to create a lead time before the actual
product is launched, says William Wu.
putting the finishing touches to our March 2002 cover
story, 'The 64-bit question: Will enterprises bite the
bait?' we wondered what strategies Intel had to establish
itself in the high-end enterprise server space. After
all, this space had long been dominated by those who
manufactured proprietary RISC/Unix systems. Intel made
an entry into this segment last year with the launch
of the first generation Itanium processor, but few companies
came forward to buy Itanium systems. By the time Intel
launched Itanium 2 in July 2002, it put together a compelling
strategy to sell more Itanium 2 systems, and increase
market share for high-end enterprise servers.
All along Intel has played the price/performance card
to maintain leadership in the 32-bit processor space,
and it plans the same for IA-64 (Intel Architecture
for 64-bit computing).
strategy is to maintain the price band yet put more
value into the next generation of processors. If you
look at our P-III Xeon product, we used to have a 700
MHz chip with two cache sizes and later a 900 MHz chip
with 2 MB cache. We kept the price similar. So we add
more value like increasing cache size and processor
speed but keep the pricing almost the same across a
specific processor family," says Philip Wee, Marketing
Manager, Enterprise Business Development, Intel Technology
Another strategy for Intel is to develop the platform
and even the whole ecosystem.
Early Access Program
Intel long ago realized that the success of a
processor or technology depends on the development
of the platform. And for this there are two key
things that are necessary:
Availability of software applications, operating
systems and services for the platform
To accelerate this, Intel launched its Early Access
Program (EAP). Some see this as a quick path for
porting applications to the Itanium 2 platform.
But EAP gives developers fast access to the Itanium
(and other Intel processor) platforms. EAP is
available for Pentium, Xeon and Itanium processors,
and also for Intel's Communications and Telecom
In India, there are close to 20 companies (mostly
ISVs) participating in EAP. The list includes
Persistent Systems, Infosys, Bindview, Pramati,
i-flex and TCS.
According to GB Kumar, General Manager, Internet
Solutions Group, Intel Asia, more than 500 ISVs
participating in the EAP program and over 300
applications have already been ported or optimized
The program allows partners to get 24-hour Web-based
Intel premier support accounts, expert consulting
at a discounted price and online training courses.
Intel has set up a data center in Mumbai to facilitate
24-hour access for its partners.
In addition, EAP partners have access to expert
marketing tools, the latest development systems,
new software and tools.
EAP partners get a 10 percent discount on Intel's
software tools apart from the discounts offered
by OEMs like HP, IBM and Dell.
For more details on EAP log on to: www.intel.com/IDS/eap
The first generation Itanium was not so successful because
there weren't enough applications for that processor
and companies could not port their applications fast
enough to the IA-64 platform. What's more, production
versions of operating systems were not yet available
for Itanium, which embodied an entirely new architecture
called EPIC (Explicitly Parallel Instruction Computing).
Learning from its past mistakes, Intel took several
initiatives to develop the Itanium platform to ensure
there were enough applications available by the time
Itanium 2 was launched. One such initiative is the Early
Access Program (See box).
are trying to create a lead time before the actual product
is launched. So ISVs develop applications and porting
work happens before the processor is actually launched.
The Early Access Program is an initiative towards this.
ISVs and enterprise customers can come to our porting/testing
centers and test their applications on the new platform.
Depending on the case, we may also take the box to the
customer's site and do the testing in his environment,
with his applications," says William Wu, Intel's
Asia Pacific Marketing Manager for the Itanium Processor
It seems this initiative is finally beginning to pay
off. Today there are at least three operating systems
platforms ported to IA-64: Windows, Linux, HP-UX. Over
300 applications have already been ported or optimized
for Intel architecture. New applications are in the
final stages of development and are expected to be available
in the first quarter of 2003. To accelerate this process,
Intel is offering ISVs tools like compilers, and assistance
through porting centers around the world.
Intel is also leveraging on its engineering strengths
and investing heavily in R&D. It knows that it also
has to be strong in technology to gain the upper hand
in high-end servers.
The fruits of all this investment are technology innovations
like hyper-threading, which makes the operating system
believe there are two processors in the system, thereby
boosting performance. From Itanium 2 onwards, all future
processors will include hyper-threading technology.
Intel is also incorporating this technology into the
Pentium and Xeon processor families.
All along Intel has strived to boost processor performance.
In its labs it created various techniques like branch
prediction, pipelining and NetBurst microarchitecture.
These features help software vendors enhance the performance
of applications and operating systems running on Intel-based
processors will incorporate smaller structures thanks
to 90 nanometer process technology. This technology
enables smaller processors at faster speeds and allows
for additional performance enhancements such as increased
cache size. Already Itanium and Xeon processors have
the cache memory integrated on the chip core itself.
Intel is also considering multi-core and multi-die designs
for future processors.
Xeon and Itanium processor families are key elements
in Intel's enterprise strategy. It has defined future
timelines for these processors. Xeon will be positioned
at entry-level to mid-range servers; Itanium is for
high-end servers and will move down to the mid-range.
course, there will be overlap areas, but Xeon and Itanium
will co-exist for a long time," says Wu.
During a presentation at the Nasscom-Gartner Summit,
recently held in Mumbai, Gartner Analyst Mathew
Boon said that RISC/Unix systems "will survive
as a profitable, niche through 2010." Boon
said RISC systems will co-exists with Intel 64-bit
Itanium servers, in the high-end power-driven
segment. "RISC/Unix systems will be used
for large CPU complexes, while Itanium will be
preferred for small CPU complexes," said
This means that RISC/Unix systems would continue
to be used in 'Big iron' systems that use multiple
processors and offer massive computing power.
Such systems are generally high-availability,
high-reliability systems used for critical tasks
that run round the clock. There are three major
players in this segment: HP, IBM and Sun. Eventually,
Intel could also join this list as it gets into
verticals, beginning with Telecom.
So, the RISC/Unix players are not going to abandon
their (proprietary systems) but have chosen to
offer Intel Itanium servers as well.
IBM is investing heavily in Linux and in the long-term,
we can expect it to aggressively sell Itanium
servers loaded with Linux. HP has a strategy of
offering customers a choiceso it will offer
a choice of operating systems for its Itanium
systems: Windows, Linux and also HP-UX. HP has
already ported HP-UX 1.5 to Itanium and will eventually
port OpenVMS and non-stop kernel as well.
So the real battle then is not RISC/Unix Vs IA-64,
but RISC/Unix Vs IA-64/Linux and RISC/Unix Vs
processors in the Itanium Processor Family include Madison,
Deerfield, Montecito and Chivano. Madison (expected
in 2003) will be a smaller chip than Itanium 2 as it
will be manufactured using smaller 0.13 micron process
technology. It will have 6 MB integrated cache. Deerfield
(also expected in 2003) will be a low-powered, more
affordable Itanium chip. Montecito and Chivano (expected
in 2005-2006) will incorporate technology from Compaq's
"We are actually targeting Itanium at the high-end
space where RISC processors have been dominant. Our
strategy is to migrate customers from proprietary to
open architecture, rather than from 32-bit to 64-bit
systems," says Wee.
Intel sees two migration paths. One, it hopes RISC vendors
(like HP, IBM, Unisys etc), who are now designing Itanium
systems, will eventually abandon RISC and commit totally
to Itanium. Secondly, there's application migration.
For instance customers running a particular application,
say Microsoft Exchange, in a 4-way 32-bit environment,
may need more power and switch to 4-way 64-bit computing.
HIGH PERFORMANCE COMPUTING
But high-end RISC systems are known for their high-availability,
high-reliability features. Intel will have to match
this, so it is working closely with High-Performance
Computing (HPC) users especially in the research and
HPC solutions are used for scientific research and for
industry applications, ranging from petroleum and aerospace
to finance and bioinformatics. Intel's HPC solution
offerings include processor, platform and interconnect/networking
technology, software tools and middleware, and solution
services. Some institutions are using Itanium-based
'supercomputers' for such applications.
are showing people how to build HPC systems. There are
two drivers for HPC: the floating-point performance
and the open source code. Most users are able to do
their own porting," says Wu.
Intel's HPC wins include the National Center for Supercomputing
Applications (NCSA), Cornell Theory Center (CTC), and
the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN).
strategy is to maintain the price band yet put more
value into the next generation of processors, says
Besides focusing on semiconductors, Intel is doing much
to advance the platform and plays a catalyst in nurturing
The Enterprise Platform Group has devised a Building
Blocks strategy to ensure that new processors can take
advantage of specific platforms (See next story).
also has initiatives directed at specific verticals
like Banking & Finance and Telecom. The Keystone
initiative, for instance, aims to accelerate the adoption
of Intel architecture-based systems and solutions in
the highly-specialized financial industry by providing
a customized program of information and services.
Going a step further, Intel wants to develop ecosystems
and has created a set of Solution Blueprints for this
With all these strategies in place, it looks like Intel
can grab more territory in the high-end server segment.
A new report from Gartner Dataquest indicates that in
2003, revenues from servers built on Intel processors
will, for the first time, exceed revenue generated from