Dell tries again with four-way Itanium

Dell Inc. is giving its four-way Itanium server a second chance. A year and a half after ceasing shipments of its PowerEdge 7150 — the first four-way Itanium system sold by a major vendor — the company on Monday announced that it had begun shipping a new four-processor system based on Itanium 2 chips.

The PowerEdge 7250 is a 4U (17.8 centimetre) system designed to support as much as 32GB of memory. It will be priced starting at US$12,499 in a single-processor configuration, and will ship with processor offering clock speeds between 1.3GHz and 1.5GHz, Dell said.

Though Dell ships only two Itanium-based systems, the company now says it sees a growing niche for Itanium, particularly for database users looking to get around the memory limitations of 32-bit systems, which can physically support only 4GB of memory.

“It’s a matter of market evolution more than anything,” said Tim Golden, Dell’s director of PowerEdge server marketing. “A couple of years ago there was a single operating system that was supporting Itanium.”

With more application support and with Microsoft Corp., Red Hat Inc., and Novell Inc.’s Suse Linux now supporting the processor, Itanium is becoming an attractive alternative for customers using Reduced Instruction Set Computing (RISC) architectures like UltraSparc and PowerPC, Golden said.

“For those customers, they are looking to migrate to an Intel, standards-based system for cost reasons primarily, but they view 32-bit systems as a step backward.”

One such Itanium customer is Hillco Ltd., a nursing-home operator in Kinston, N.C., that uses Dell’s dual-processor PowerEdge 3250 to run a timekeeping database that measures the hours worked by its 9,800 employees.

Hillco moved to an Oracle database running on the 3250 after consolidating the company’s 60 timekeeping databases on to a single server in 2002. The company is about to begin evaluation of a four-way 7250 server because the amount of data being processed is now simply too great for the two-way system to handle, said Bobby Jefferson, Hillco’s director of information technology.

“In the past four years, my databases have continually grown and grown and the amount of data that people want to analyze and compare is just ballooning,” Jefferson said.

Because the Kronos Inc. Workforce Timekeeper application that Hillco uses is not currently certified to run in an Oracle Real Application Clusters (RAC) environment, simply adding a second 3250 and clustering the two systems together is not an option, Jefferson said. “I would be more than happy to build an Oracle RAC but my software vendor is not supporting it yet,” he said.

Dell’s PowerEdge 7250 is available immediately. In a four-processor configuration, with 2GB of memory and a single 36GB hard drive, the systems are priced starting at US$22,099, Dell said.

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