IBM readies new Opteron cluster system

This fall, IBM Corp will ship its first cluster server based on Advanced Micro Devices Inc.’s 64-bit Opteron microprocessor, according to IBM officials at the ClusterWorld Conference & Expo in San Jose.

The new system, which IBM was demonstrating to press, analysts and customers in a private booth off the ClusterWorld show floor on Tuesday, uses the same chassis as IBM’s Intel Corp. Xeon-powered eServer Cluster 1350 system. The demonstration model was a dual-processor rack-mounted system containing two 1.8GHz AMD 244 Opteron processors. IBM executives say that when the system ships it will come in a variety of configurations based on AMD’s 200 series Opteron chips.

IBM began work on these systems this spring, around the time the company first announced support for AMD’s new processor, said IBM Vice-President of Deep Computing Dave Turek.

The new systems will come with as much as 12GB of memory and will include 2 SCSI (Small Computer System Interface) disk drives. Like the Cluster 1350, they will ship with Linux and IBM’s Cluster Systems Management for Linux software, Turek said.

IBM’s Opteron demo comes the week before Intel is expected to launch the third generation in its line of Itanium processors, code-named Madison. Although Turek said his company plans to deliver an Itanium 2-based cluster system, he clearly was more bullish on Opteron.

“The simple fact of the matter is that the uptake on Itanium has been slow,” said Turek. He blamed Itanium’s slower-than-expected adoption in part on the fact that ISVs and customers have been reluctant to port their applications to Itanium’s 64-bit instruction set. “It is a bad thing to do when you introduce a new technology to tell customers, ‘by the way, everything’s new,'” he said.

Both Opteron and Itanium can run 32-bit Intel applications, but because the Opteron processor appears to outperform Itanium when running 32-bit programs, and because developers can more easily change their applications to take advantage of Opteron’s 64-bit instruction set, AMD’s new processor is beginning to get traction in the market, according to Giga Information Group Inc. analyst Stacey Quandt. “If you just want raw power, the Itanium is a good selection,” said Quandt, “but if you’re looking at price performance and the ease of porting an application to a 64-bit architecture, Opteron is the right choice,” she added.

“The marketplace tends to embrace technologies that are reasonably easy to digest. And the point of view of our customers is that (Opteron) is easy to digest,” Turek said.

Pricing for the new systems has not been determined, but Turek said they will be priced “in the ballpark” of the Cluster 1350.