Partners line up for AMD's Opteron 64-bit CPU launch

As chip maker Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) prepares to launch its new 64-bit Opteron processors Tuesday, a host of software and hardware vendors are joining the bandwagon to show off their related products to enterprise buyers.

Offerings from AMD partners including SuSE Linux AG and chip set vendor Nvidia Corp., as well as software from IBM Corp. and Oracle Corp., will share the stage as companies try to offer compelling reasons for budget-strapped IT departments to buy into the new Opteron 64-bit platform.

SuSE Linux is apparently the first major enterprise server operating system to be ready for the new CPUs with its release this week of SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 8 for AMD64, Powered by UnitedLinux. The Nuremberg, Germany-based company has been working with Opteron since early 2000 and created a backward-compatible operating system that also allows businesses to run existing 32-bit applications as they move to 64-bit software in the future.

SuSE built the new operating system out of the same code as other SuSE enterprise operating system products for Intel Corp. Itanium and x86 processors, IBM zSeries mainframes and iSeries and pSeries servers, said Markus Rex, SuSE's vice president of development. That will make it easier for independent software vendors to build applications for all six platforms in one swoop, he said.

"It's really a competitive advantage for us," Rex said. "We worked with AMD, and we looked at their specifications and talked to their hardware designers to make sure that Linux would run well."

Early in the process, AMD sent SuSE one of the first Opteron chips; SuSE had Linux running on it in 64-bit mode in just three days, a remarkably short time in the typical development process, Rex said.

Linux vendor Red Hat Inc. in Raleigh, N.C., won't have its Opteron-supported operating system ready until the fall, and Microsoft Corp.'s Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 products for Opteron won't be ready until mid-year.

IBM said it will have an Opteron version of its DB2 Universal Database for Linux ready this summer. Oracle is still working on its Oracle9i Database on Opteron product, which is set for release later this year.

Santa Clara, Calif.-based Nvidia's new Opteron-inspired nForce3 Pro motherboard chip set is the company's first move into the professional workstation and 64-bit markets, said product manager Michael Lim. It brings built-in features such as RAID configurations and networking to the high-end AMD workstation segment.

David Schlosser, a spokesman for Sunnyvale, Calif.-based AMD, said the new Opteron chips for servers will be joined by the company's new line of 64-bit Athlon 64 processors for the desktop market in September. The Athlon 64 processors will be offered in addition to AMD's existing line of 32-bit Athlon XP processors.

Server and cluster computer manufacturers including Polywell Computers Inc., M&A Technology Inc. and Penguin Computing Inc. are already signed up to use the new chips, and AMD is engaged in ongoing talks with other PC and server vendors.

Sam Chu, technical engineer for sales and marketing at Polywell Computers Inc. in South San Francisco, Calif., said his company is building four high-end workstation models running Opteron and SuSE Linux.

"We're seeing lots of people moving into the Linux world" because of reduced costs for development and operations, Chu said. "To be able to compete with Dell, HP and IBM, certainly this will be our big opportunity."

Analysts are cautiously optimistic about AMD's approach to the new line of CPUs.

One thing AMD has been doing well is getting large numbers of partners involved in the process early so complementary products can be ready at launch, said analyst Ted Schadler at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. "AMD is trying hard, and they're doing things right in a partner-driven world," he said. "That's an important industry dynamic. If you don't partner well, you don't get leverage."

Also important, Schadler said, is AMD's decision to allow Opteron to run existing 32-bit applications. "That's pretty powerful and obviously a decision Intel didn't make" with its 64-bit Itanium CPU family. "That's the place I think AMD is really starting to show some muscle."

Bill Claybrook, an analyst at Aberdeen Group Inc. in Boston, said the new chips give AMD its first real chip entry into the server market and offer an advantage over the Itanium 64-bit chips because of their support for 32-bit applications. "With Itanium, you have to port them and it's not necessarily an easy port," Claybrook said. "I think we're going to see big things from AMD."

Dan Kusnetzky, an analyst at IDC in Framingham, Mass., said that while the new capabilities sound good, the announcements don't automatically translate into immediate inclusion in products from original equipment manufacturers or purchases by user companies. "It puts SuSE out there as a technology leader," Kusnetzky said. "Will it make a great difference with their revenue? I don't think so immediately."

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