IBM readies Itanium-based workstation

Making sure it gets a running start at the Intel Corp.-based 64-bit desktop market, IBM Corp. is readying its first Itanium-based workstation and currently has 209 applications certified to run on the system.

Code-named Rattler, the system is expected to be positioned at the top of IBM’s Z-Pro workstation line, with company officials expecting to ship it in on the first day the 64-bit chip is available. That is now expected to be in late January or early February.

The upcoming system can hold up to two processors and will be available with Microsoft Corp.’s Windows 2000 and its successor, Whistler, when the latter becomes available sometime next year.

IBM also plans to offer the system with versions of Linux from the top four providers: Red Hat, Caldera Systems, Turbolinux, and SuSE. IBM is also testing it with its AIX 5L operating system, formerly known as Monterey.

With the 64-bit Itanium’s ability to directly address up to 16GB of memory, IBM intends to target the system at compute-intensive applications such as data warehousing, large Web sites, CAD applications, and computer animation.

But IBM officials said they believe its biggest advantage going to market will be the more than 200 applications it has certified and tested for the platform. That figure is about four times that of its nearest competitor, company officials claimed.

”The success of this product isn’t predicated just on the getting the hardware to market. It is also predicated on get the viable applications work done out there. The value-add for us with Itanium is the certification and testing that will give users the confidence in the platform,” said Rick Rudd, product manager for the Intellestation Z-Pro workstation.

IBM is also testing its system with a range of peripheral makers – most notably graphics card makers – to make sure software drivers are being ported to the operating systems the company plans to support.

While Rudd believes that Itanium’s successor – the more powerful McKinley processor, due a year after Itanium – will end up being Intel’s bigger seller, he thinks Itanium is the best platform for developers and users to first dip their toes in the 64-bit development waters.

”No one will throw their production environment on [Itanium] on day one. But it will be a great platform for people to get their feet wet in the environment and position themselves for 64-bit computing environment, Rudd said.

Sometime this week, IBM will release early versions of the system as part of a pilot program to help users with their development and porting work. The primary objective of the pilot program is to help corporate users develop new and adapt existing applications to exploit the 64-bit system.