A slew of leading server vendors next week will announce machines based on Intel's long-awaited Itanium processor, but the promised advantages may not be dramatic enough to generate huge demand from the outset.
Compaq, Dell, Hewlett-Packard and IBM will be among the companies shipping servers this summer based on Itanium, which observers say will put Intel-based machines on a performance par with Reduced Instruction Set Computing (RISC) servers. The Itanium-powered boxes are aimed at increasing the performance of data mining, database and other processor-intensive graphics and scientific applications.
The Itanium processor - seven years in the making and expected out in 1999 - uses an architecture that lets each processor execute up to 20 operations simultaneously, while maintaining full backward compatibility with existing 32-bit applications. Testing at Intel showed that an Itanium server running at 800 MHz could surpass existing RISC servers in transaction processing operations and could encrypt and decrypt secure data transactions 10 times as fast as similarly configured RISC servers.
However, users say that they'll wait to implement the servers until they've completely shaken them out with the new applications and operating systems and until prices approach the cost of the 32-bit servers they already use.
"We'll start deploying Itanium servers when we can't get other processors or the price comes down," says Chip DiComo, network manager for shipping company Hellman Worldwide Logistics.
DiComo says there are places in his organization where Itanium servers could fit.
"In the area of data warehousing, the Itanium could make some ground with us by letting us replace RISC-based servers like Sun Microsystems Inc. systems and [IBM] AS/400s," he says.
Pricing for the Itanium machines has yet to be announced, so it is hard to make comparisons. But vendors indicate the machines won't cost too much more than 32-bit machines, which themselves can cost up to 50 percent less than 64-bit RISC machines.
As for software support, Intel says there are more than 400 applications, including the Oracle 8i database and Microsoft SQL Server, being developed to run on Itanium. IBM, Microsoft and Red Hat are among the vendors that will have versions of their operating systems available for Itanium near term.