SMB class of x86
x86 and x86-64 servers are emerging as the ideal server platforms for Indian
SMBs running enterprise applications. Large enterprises have also started using
them for deploying applications that aren't quite mission-critical. by Anil
x86 platforms are yet to prove their mettle in running
mission-critical applications. However, they are catching up as is evident
from the impressive year-on-year growth that x86 servers have witnessed
Considering the scale of operations of Indian
SMBs and their concerns on the cost front, RISC or IA-64 can be an overkill.
This is where x86 and x86-64 platforms offered by AMD (AMD64) and Intel Extended
Memory 64 Technology (EM64T) offer unbeatable value for money. These are also
being used to run non-critical applications by Indian enterprises.
The x86 platform has maintained a lead over RISC platforms for quite a while
in terms of sheer numbers. x86 has always had the advantage of costing less
than RISC due to larger volumes and resultant developments in fabrication technology.
If affordability is the key, the x86 platform comes into the picture.
In terms of TCO and long-term savings, the x86 market is definitely growing,
said Jyothi Satyanathan, CMpSeries & OpenPower, IBM India.
x86 platforms are yet to prove their mettle in running mission-critical applications.
However, they are catching up as is evident from the impressive year-on-year
growth that x86 servers have witnessed. According to IDC (India) figures, Indian
x86 market revenues grew by 22.1 percent (AMJ, 2005 over AMJ, 2004).
In part, this can be attributed to the entry of x86-64 and more importantly
to the upgradation of existing 1-way servers to 2-way and higher. As of now,
the price point has dropped enough to make 2-way 64-bit x86 servers an entry-level
|SMB class of x86
Indian organisations are experimenting with x86 and x86-64 platforms.
Opt for x86-64 platforms instead of plain x86 for better future proofing.
The dark horse
For quite a while the RISC players managed to keep x86 platforms away from the
server space by providing better performance and reliability for critical applications.
32-bit servers based on Intel Xeons (Xeon and then Xeon MP) and Pentiums (Pentium
3 followed by Pentium 4) were the first from the x86 stable to make their presence
felt in the enterprise. These managed to fit perfectly into the SMB space, which
had neither the budget nor the requirements for RISC machines. However, these
are facing severe competition from 64-bit Itanium and Opteron-based servers.
On track 64
Of late, mainstream
applications demand more memory than the traditional 32-bit limit of 4
extension to be able to
address up to 64 GB
Technical Support South Asia Intel
While 64-bit is a new buzzword in the x86 segment, RISC went
64-bit a long, long time ago. RISC processors had the advantage of being able
to address up to 64 GB of memory whereas x86 was limited to a maximum RAM addressability
of 4 GB.
This created deployment issues in enterprise applications that demanded more
than the 4 GB limit, but still did not warrant the higher costs associated with
a RISC option. Of late, mainstream applications demand more memory than
the traditional 32-bit limit of 4 GB. This necessitated memory extension to
be able to address up to 64 GB, said Rajesh Gupta, General Manager, Technical
Support South Asia, Intel.
x86 vendors who were still stuck at the entry level server space spotted this
opportunity and this resulted in the x86-64 platforms development. See
Box: Behind the scenes for more on the work that x86 vendors did to scale up
the 32-bit x86 platform to x86-64
Although 64-bit applications are slow in making their debut on the x86 platform,
improved memory addressability for 32-bit applications is driving x86-64 adoption.
64-bit Linux came first with support for x86-64 a while back. The Windows 2003
Server x64 with the capability to support memory extensions made its entry only
Features such as multithreading and dual core on the newer x86-64 processors
are also driving adoption. So far dual core is available only on the AMD Opteron.
Intel is yet to offer a dual core processor for servers. A dual core Itanium
2 is slated for Q4, 2005.
AMD64 processors are available in 1- to 8-way configurations. This is a limitation
for Intel Xeon MP servers which can go only up to 4-way. However, this should
not be a barrier for many a SMB from going in for the Intels since 4-way servers
are in themselves an overkill of sorts for them.
At present both AMD64 and EM64T are faring well on the SMB server front. Intel
is also keen on migrating 32-bit Xeon buyers to the 64-bit Xeon MP. This is
one of the reasons why most server vendors have already stopped or plan to stop
selling 32-bit Xeon in favour of the 64-bit Xeon MP.
As of now, the biggest backers of AMD Opteron include the big fourIBM,
Sun, HP, and HCL. Xeon servers are available from HP, IBM, and Dell to name
a few heavyweights.
AMD Opteron servers are being used by the likes of Zee Telefilms. Some of the
users or evaluators of Intel Xeons at present include Tata Motors, Bombay Stock
Exchange (BSE) Larsen & Toubro (L&T), and Sun Pharma. Tata Motors uses
64-bit Intel Xeon MP servers for their mathematical applications (Matlab) and
for running Citrix applications.
Unix vs Tux vs Microsoft
AMD Far East (India)
The x86 market, being comparatively nascent, has a larger
percentage of non-Unix users than in the traditional RISC world. This is because
by the time x86 server technology matured, Linux and Windows server technologies
had gained acceptance among the user community.
Sun is pushing Solaris on Opterons which will be a great
boost for proprietary Unix on x86. However, none of the other proprietary Unix
vendors are interested in pushing their wares on x86 which is quite understandable.
Linux is quite popular in the x86-64 and x86 space. One of the main reasons
behind this is the fact that Linux had support for the x86 platform much before
any of the proprietary Unix vendors, since Linux grew primarily on this platform.
Windows sole focus area has been the x86 (and now Itanium as well) platform
for all these years too.
However, according to Mukund Ramaratnam, Director, Marketing, AMD Far East (India),
the situation in operating system adoption on AMD Opteron servers has been a
mixed bag. We have customers in the EDA vertical who have been using Linux
on AMD Opteron. We have also seen customers implement SAP on Windows on Opteron.
Some of our banking customers continue to run their Unix-based applications
on AMD hardware as well, said Mukund Ramaratnam.
This is an interesting scenario indicating that x86-64 is going prime time.
If the claims from AMD and Intel are to be believed, many SMBs have started
using x86-64 for running mission critical core applications as well.
Anil Patrick R can be reached at