Within two years of the initial release of Intel's 64-bit chip, the IA-64 chip - also called Merced - together with its predecessor, IA-32, will overtake RISC (reduced instruction set computer) chips in the worldwide server market, predicts research organisation, International Data Corp (IDC).
The researcher expects that IA-32 and IA-64 will grab 68.8 and 22.2 per cent of worldwide server unit shipment respectively in 2002, while RISC chips will hold only 8.8 per cent.
If IA-64 is released in 2000 as is widely predicted, and if market projections come true, jumping from zero marketshare to a double-digit figure in just two years or under, will be a "tremendous" achievement for Intel, according to Daniel Ng, senior marketing manager, IBM.
Intel expects to see most major enterprises take up its IA-64 Merced chip when it is launched because it is slated to ease the transition from the IA-32 environment to future IA-64 processors, according to Peter van Deventer, server marketing manager, Intel Asia-Pacific.
The chip giant also recently announced Merced's successor, McKinley, slated for release six months to a year after Merced's own unveiling. But it will not affect the take up rate for Merced, van Deventer said.
"McKinley's introduction will most certainly enhance the IA-64 platform, with performance projections that are approximately double that of Merced," van Deventer said. "The adoption of IA-64 will take time, as enterprises, applications, and operating systems make the migration over time. Companies that require the IA-64 benefits immediately will likely make the transition as soon as possible with Merced."
But unless there is a clear-cut business justification for moving off the 32-bit platform, there is no reason to upgrade to 64-bit, said James Vessey, marketing manager, Sequent Asia South.
Offering systems that run on both Sun Microsystems' Sparc processors and Intel's chips not only confuses users, but will also involve some problems in the integration process where the system may not run as smoothly as an all-Intel, or all-Sparc data centre, Vessey added.
"Sun's Sparc chips are fast and reliable, but the bottom line is it's just not cost-effective for them to continue (manufacturing both Intel and Sparc chips)," he explained, and predicted that Sun will eventually move towards Intel.
Another issue that users will have to decide on is whether to run the chip with Windows 2000 (formerly Windows NT 5.0) or Unix operating systems.
It is still too early to say if vendors will utilise IA-64 for the Windows 2000 or Unix platform because the 64-bit processor has first to prove itself, according to Avneesh Saxena, research manager for systems and servers, IDC. "(IA-64) is new, and we'll still need to see if it's good," Saxena added.
IDC anticipates that over 245,000 IA-64 chips will run in Unix servers 2002, while 501,000 will be used for NT servers.
Unix is more ready to handle IA-64 than Windows 2000 because there is already Unix on 64-bit now but Windows 2000 has yet to have this capability, Saxena said.
"But Microsoft has indicated that it will be (adding this capability) soon. So while initially, Unix will have the margin above Windows 2000, it will still depend on Microsoft's strategy and the performance of IA-64," he said.
All on 64-bit processors
Microsoft announced Windows 2000 support for IA-64 in 1996, with a plan for the operating system, all system services, and application programming interfaces (APIs) to run on 64-bit processors and above, said Yong Yun Seong, Back Office product manager, Microsoft Singapore. Yong however, did not reveal exactly when this plan will be realised.
"We believe that 64-bit Windows 2000 will be the most comprehensive and functional operating system in the industry," he said. "Customers find that Windows NT integrates best with their desktop systems, is very cost-effective, offers a more comprehensive solution and is easier to install and manage."
"We see Unix/NT as being almost a 50-50 split," said Sequent's Vessey. He referred to the recent IBM/Santa Cruz Operation (SCO) announcement to co-develop a consolidated Unix platform as an indication that there are major players in the industry who are throwing their weight behind Unix.
But attempts to consolidate Unix have been a challenge before, are now and will continue to be so, according to Yong. "Unlike Windows NT, there are numerous variants of Unix out there," he said. "I believe that (Microsoft's network operating system), with its single image and consistent Win 32- and future 64-bit APIs, definitely has a strong advantage."
"There's no denying that Windows 2000 is growing by leaps and bounds, and that it's going to be the 'flavour-of-the-month' throughout the year 2000," Vessey added.
He added that it was for this reason that Sequent has married Unix and NT in its NumaCenter, a control console that allows simultaneous use of both Unix and NT applications.
"It's Windows 2000 and Unix, not Windows 2000 or Unix," quipped Dan Kusnetsky, director of operating environments, IDC.
A large number of major corporate users, including most of the Global 1000 companies, already utilise Unix as their primary enterprise operating system, according to Intel's van Deventer.
"I would expect that many will continue to use Unix as their platform of choice," he said.