Dell details plans for mid-year Itanium server launch

Dell on Tuesday became the first vendor to detail plans for a server based on Intel's long-awaited 64-bit Itanium processor, a PowerEdge system that should be available to customers by mid-year, Dell officials said.

The PowerEdge 7150 will support up to four Itanium processors running at 733Mhz or 800Mhz and sport up to 64G-bytes of memory, Gene Austin, vice president of worldwide marketing in Dell's enterprise systems group, said during a briefing here with press and analysts.

As expected, the server will be available with either Microsoft Corp.'s Windows 2000 operating system or Red Hat Inc.'s distribution of Linux. More than 30 of Dell's customers have been testing the server, and about 400 compatible software applications are "either ready or close to being ready," according to a Dell spokesman.

Itanium-based servers are expected to help Intel and its server partners compete with powerful Unix-based servers from the likes of Sun Microsystems Inc. and IBM Corp. Such Unix systems, which use 64-bit RISC-type microprocessors, currently dominate the lucrative markets for midrange and high-end servers. A slew of Itanium servers and workstations are expected to be announced in the coming weeks by other Intel partners, including Hewlett-Packard Co., Compaq Computer Corp. and IBM Corp.

"True to Dell's style they want to be first," said William Revellese, a financial analyst and vice president at D.H. Brown Associates Inc., an investment firm in Port Chester, New York.

Dell is Intel's biggest customer so it makes sense for them to be first out of the gate with an Itanium announcement, he said. Dell officials here said they expect the server to be available to customers during "the summer," which in the U.S. means the end of the second calender quarter or the beginning of the third.

Intel plans to officially launch its Itanium processor next week, Austin said. Various industry sources have said the date will be May 29, so it's possible a different server vendor will bring an an Itanium server to market before Dell. [See "Intel gearing up for Itanium launch," May 11]While Intel's first 64-bit processor has been highly anticipated, both Dell and industry pundits here agreed that not too many Itanium servers are likely to be sold this year.

"It is not going to be a significant part of the overall Dell server business" initially, Austin said during a presentation here.

Tough economic conditions and anticipation for Intel's follow-on 64-bit processor, named McKinley, have led some analysts to predict that Itanium servers will be used by many for software compatibility tests. Vendors will try their applications on the new hardware, see how it works out and then decide how much they should commit to Intel's 64-bit plans, both Dell executives and industry analysts here said.

"When times are tough economically, customers have to ask whether they want to spend money on something like this right now," Revellese noted.

Some customers, however, have been working hard preparing their Itanium systems for launch and working on application testing.

Gafar Lawal, the director of architecture for the U.S. technology group at investment bank Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc. in New York City, has been beta testing an Itanium system from HP.

"We've been running test applications (on SQL Server), getting ready for deployment," which could happen as early as the third quarter of this year, Lawal said.

Lawal, who manages Merrill Lynch's Windows based network, said he's not worried about the number of applications currently available. As the Itanium platform progresses onto second-generation chips like McKinley, plentiful applications will follow, he predicted.

Expected in early 2002, McKinley will further optimize the 64-bit Itanium family, according to Intel.

In separate news Tuesday, Dell expanded the number of partners involved in its Infrastructure Accelerators program for tying business software with Dell hardware.

The company announced that BEA Systems Inc.'s WebLogic Server can now be factory installed on Dell's PowerEdge line of servers. Additionally, Dell unveiled a similar deal with Microsoft Corp. for the installation of Application Center 2000 software -- a Web farm deployment and management tool -- on Dell hardware.

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