BEA Systems has partnered with Intel to develop a version of its application server software to run on Intel's 64-bit Itanium processor.
BEA's application server, WebLogic, already runs on Intel's 32-bit Pentium III Xeon processors. Yet limits to how far those chips can scale, mean few customers actually deploy the software on Intel-based servers. Instead, most run it on more powerful servers from the likes of Sun Microsystems and Hewlett-Packard, which use proprietary RISC (reduced instruction set computing) processors.
Intel's Itanium chip is designed to change that. Its 64-bit architecture allows it to address the large amounts of memory associated with enterprise applications, and it can scale to build more powerful servers than the Xeon. Intel hopes to combine the power of Itanium with its mass-market production methods to undercut the vendors of RISC-based servers who currently dominate the high-end market.
Itanium servers are generally priced lower than the RISC-based systems they compete with, which in turn will "vastly lower the price point" for businesses that want to deploy an application server, Coleman said. In addition, Itanium servers will be on sale from 25 vendors by the end of the year, providing customers with greater choice than they have in the Unix market, he said.
The first Itanium servers were rolled out in the past two months from Dell Computer, Compaq Computer and others.
The partnership between BEA and Intel is a non-exclusive one, an Intel spokeswoman said, meaning Intel can cut similar deals with other application server vendors including IBM and Oracle.
Intel and BEA said they will pursue joint sales and marketing initiatives to encourage customers to use BEA's software on Intel-based servers, and to encourage third-party software makers and systems integrators to support the combination.
BEA is focused on porting WebLogic to 64-bit versions of Linux and Microsoft's Windows operating systems, Coleman said. The company won't cut back its support for the versions of Unix running on the RISC-based servers from Sun, HP and IBM.
If Intel's Itanium servers prove successful - questions about performance and manageability still remain - they will pose a challenge to Sun's server business, but "won't change anything overnight," Coleman said.
"The world has counted Sun out at least a dozen times in the last 19 years and they're still doing pretty darn good," he said. "If this makes the J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) market grow a lot more rapidly and brings a lot more applications a lot quicker, it's going to increase the pie. How much of that pie Sun owns is going to be based on their ability to compete with their product set."