Itanium. It sounds like it could be the ultimate weapon against a superhero or that one element you could never remember from the periodic table, but in fact, Itanium is Intel’s 64-bit RISC microprocessor that several major players are incorporating into their business plans.
Itanium is based on the Explicitly Parallel Instruction Computing (EPIC) design philosophy and is primarily used to drive large applications that require more than 4GB of memory. After nearly seven years in the making, the release of Itanium-based products marks a new direction for the way that companies will compete with one another, as Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Compaq will all market products that contain an identical processor.
According to Greg Ambrose, a research analyst at IDC Canada in Toronto this common chip will challenge companies to focus on applications and other aspects of their hardware in order to obtain a differentiated niche in the marketplace.
“Before, Hewlett-Packard, Compaq and others each had their own proprietary system based on their own proprietary hardware,” Ambrose explained. “Now with the 64, Intel is trying to put up a beach head in there and build up around that. HP’s been on board for a long time. The recent Compaq announcement that they’re ending Alpha and moving to standardized-run Itanium is a really great sign for Intel and indicative of what we could expect moving forward.
“I think that Intel’s poised to move into the 64-bit computing space with Itanium and try and establish Itanium as the building block processor much as they’ve done in the entry level systems,” Ambrose continued. “Itanium will allow them to move into the higher end applications that require more robust servers and hardware, like Internet security, scientific computing, high-end technical computing that Intel hasn’t really been able to break into.”
Steve Shaw, the solutions marketing manager for Hewlett-Packard in Mississauga, Ont., believes that his company will have a leg up on their competition because of the close relationship that Hewlett-Packard shared with Intel in Itanium’s development.
“We are really focusing on a multi-operating system strategy with choice,” Shaw said, explaining other areas in which Hewlett-Packard will differentiate itself from its competitors. “We offer the ability to choose to switch operating systems based on needs and maintain the same server. Today an operation may run best on Unix, but if they (a company) have to grow, they may redeploy the system running Windows or Linux.”
Another differentiator for Hewlett-Packard, according to Shaw, is its customer service area.
“We provide consulting to get customers up to speed in training and education, support services and financing,” Shaw said.
Compaq’s business development manager for ProLiant and Tasksmart servers, Olin Ramprashad, is undaunted by the competition.
“We have a decided advantage from a numbers standpoint,” Toronto-based Ramprashad explained. “We are the largest server vendor worldwide. We created the PC server category and therefore have a longer history of development. The other factor is that this is a primary business that is core to Compaq, so the innovation continues.
“Obviously the competition is releasing products based on Intel’s design and is using their hardware to put that into the marketplace with the Itanium processors,” Ramprashad continued. “Compaq has decided to design our own so that we gain better experience in dealing with thermal issues, air flow, etc. within the system. The chassis that we designed – most people who have seen it say that it does appear to be a superior design. Our chassises have easier access to the product when it’s on the rack, easier access to the processor’s memory and all the important parts. This is typical of our design. We don’t design servers around marketing specs, but really around people to use them.”
Chris Collucci, IBM’s national marketing manager for the e-server Xseries in Toronto believes that now that their product has reached general availability, the next step is to focus on building software around the Itanium processor. With the releases of the McKinley, Madison and Deerfield versions and of the processor on the horizon, IBM promises to be timed to market.
“Software drives the industry,” Collucci said. “We’re going to see applications optimized for the 64-bit processor, because it’s really positioned as a development platform. We’re looking forward to taking the next step and being out in the market as a player. It’s an interesting time in the marketplace.”
To find out more about the Itanium products from each of these companies, visit their Web sites at www.hp.com/products1/itanium/index.html, www.compaq.com/hps/ipf-enterprise/index.html, and www.ibm.com/eserver.