IBM Itanium 2 servers appear in massive NCSA cluster

IBM Corp. won’t say a word about its Itanium 2 servers, but a cluster of more than 800 of them at the U.S. National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) is speaking for itself.

The NCSA has started work on a massive cluster that will combine the computing power of 3,300 Itanium 2 processors from Intel Corp., said Rick Herrmann, head of the high-performance computing office at Intel. IBM has provided the servers that make up the cluster, giving the NCSA hundreds of four-processor systems, he said

IBM has yet to announce when its Itanium 2 servers, code-named Man-of-War, will arrive on the market, but one source who is close to the matter said users could expect to see the systems announced by the end of November.

An IBM spokesperson confirmed that the NCSA is working with its Itanium 2 servers to build the giant system. She declined, however, to provide the name or shipping date for IBM’s servers.

The deal with the NCSA is a boost for Intel’s Itanium 2 processor, continuing the success for the chip in the scientific computing space. The NCSA calls the Linux cluster its TeraGrid system. It is housed at the University of Illinois, according to the NCSA Web site.

The news would appear to confirm IBM’s commitment to support Itanium 2. Based in Armonk, N.Y., IBM has held off announcing any systems based on the chip even though its rival Hewlett-Packard Co. has already delivered a number of Itanium 2 systems.

However, IBM earlier this year allowed a system dubbed the x450 to slip on to the showroom floor at the LinuxWorld conference in San Francisco. At the time, an IBM representative said the x450 would arrive this year and would hold between 4 and 8 processors.

IBM has been reluctant to give the Itanium chips vocal support as they compete directly with its own Power4 processor-based Unix servers, according to one analyst.

“IBM wants to leverage its own proprietary technology,” said Gordon Haff, an analyst at Nashua, N.H.-based Illuminata Inc. “For this reason, they are not enthusiastic promoters of Itanium, but I fully expect to see systems from IBM.”

IBM is expected to base its Itanium 2 servers on the same chipset currently used in its xSeries line of Intel-based servers. The chipset, code-named Summit, will allow customers to use either Xeon or Itanium 2 processors in the same chassis, which could give IBM an edge over the competition, Haff said.

“Because of the strength of Summit, I expect IBM’s Itanium 2 servers to be among the stronger pieces of big iron in the marketplace,” Haff said.