Dell demos Itanium 2 server, but keeps lid on details

Dell Computer Corp. publicly demonstrated an Itanium 2 server for the first time at Microsoft Corp.’s Windows Server 2003 launch event in San Francisco Thursday, and said it will release such a system later this year.

Dell has expressed support for Intel Corp.’s Itanium 2 processor in the past, but has been reluctant to share details about its plans for the chip. Thursday’s demonstration didn’t mark a change in that strategy, as Dell spokesperson Bruce Anderson declined to comment about the server’s price, configuration, or specific launch date.

It was also unclear whether Dell is waiting for Madison, the next version of the Itanium 2, to launch in the middle of this year before it releases a system using a chip from the Itanium processor family. Anderson also declined to comment on whether the performance benefits expected from Madison’s higher clock speed and larger cache were the reason for Dell’s year-long hesitation in deploying an Itanium 2 server.

Itanium 2 is a 64-bit processor launched last July that uses an entirely different instruction set than 64-bit reduced instruction set computing (RISC) processors or 32-bit processors from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD). It was developed in conjunction with Hewlett-Packard Co., which has been the primary backer of Itanium 2. The chip has won praise for its performance, but it requires IT managers to recompile all of their applications for the new instruction set to take advantage of that performance.

Dell and IBM Corp. have been reluctant to release servers using the chip. IBM announced this week it would release a server using a competing 64-bit chip, AMD’s Opteron.

Dell, based in Round Rock, Tex., expects to sell Itanium 2-based servers to the high-performance computing market, Anderson said. Intel released benchmarks Thursday claiming an HP server with 64 Madison processors, Windows Server 2003 and Microsoft’s new 64-bit SQL Server database achieved the highest-ever single-system transaction processing score as measured by the TPC-C benchmark for high-performance online transaction-processing computers. However, benchmarking claims are notoriously unreliable, according to one analyst.

“In general we don’t tend to pay a lot of attention to benchmarks. They show a vendor’s dedication to a particular area, but we advise our clients to look at actually running a database within their own application environment. Is the database going to support their applications? Is the packaged application available? Those are the sort of questions they should ask,” said Betsy Burton, an analyst with Gartner Inc.

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