IBM has taken a step toward Advanced Micro Devices' (AMD's) Opteron processor and a step back from the Itanium chip produced by Intel.
At Big Blue's PartnerWorld conference in Las Vegas this week, attendees were given a sneak peek at the company's first Opteron blade server. The system was briefly shown on stage during a keynote address by William Zeitler, senior vice president of IBM's Systems and Technology Group.
Though IBM did not provide technical details on the system, in the past company executives have hinted that this server will support AMD's upcoming dual-core Opteron processor, which is expected in the second half of this year. "There are clearly customers who have asked for AMD blades," said IBM General Manager of xSeries Susan Whitney in a December interview with IDG News Service. "AMD has their own product road map for dual-core. That might be a good time to bring a new product to market."
IBM was the first major vendor to ship an Opteron-based system, but the company's Opteron systems have been designed for a narrow range of uses, and rivals Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems now offer a much broader portfolio of Opteron systems.
"IBM clearly was the first guy in the pool with Opteron, " said Nathan Brookwood, an analyst with Insight64. "But I think they've tried to stay in the shallow end. For whatever reason they've never moved the Opteron product into their mainstream xSeries line."
It's significant that IBM is readying what will be its first Opteron server targeted at the enterprise, and may even presage a broader line of Opteron products from the company, Brookwood said. "An Opteron blade from IBM says maybe they realize that their enterprise customers do want this," he said. "Who knows, maybe we'll see an Opteron-based xSeries box eventually."
The Opteron blade preview came just one week after IBM unveiled its new X3 server architecture, which, unlike its predecessor, does not support Intel's Itanium processor. Without an X3 chipset for its Itanium servers, analysts say it is unlikely that IBM will bring a new system to market before Intel releases its next Itanium chipset, expected sometime after 2006.
"IBM has elected not to spend a lot of money developing their own Itanium chipset," said Gordon Haff, an analyst with Illuminata. "Frankly Itanium is not a strategic product for IBM today."
Still, IBM's Whitney disputed the notion that her company is abandoning Itanium altogether. "There is a market opportunity for Itanium," she said in an interview at PartnerWorld this week. "Some of the largest SAP systems are running on IBM Itanium systems."
Whitney declined to say whether or not IBM plans to develop new systems based on Itanium.
Haff agreed that IBM has not completely abandoned Itanium, and suggested that demand for 64-bit systems running Microsoft's Windows operating system could prompt Whitney's division to invest more heavily in Itanium or Opteron. "I'm sure the xSeries options are all open with respect to Opteron and Itanium," he said.