AMD's Opteron faces uphill battle

Advanced Micro Devices' 64-bit Opteron processor, a potential competitor to Intel's Itanium, isn't getting a particularly warm welcome at the big end of town.

Of the top three enterprise systems vendors, only IBM intends to make Opteron-based systems available, and then only for users of niche high-performance and technical computing applications.

At HP World here this week, company officials said they had no plans to use Opteron and thereby help it compete against the 64-bit Itanium, which HP co-developed with Intel.

"It would just add a complication that is completely unnecessary," executive vice-president of HP's enterprise systems group, Peter Blackmore, said.

Under its "adaptive enterprise" strategy, HP maintained that users were more concerned with choice of operating systems and the ability to manage those systems as one than they were with the underlying processing technology.

But not every HP user approves of the Itanium-only strategy.

"I think they should offer both," senior Unix systems administrator at The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co, Bill Thompson, said.

Thompson's company is interested in moving some 64-bit applications to Linux, and he expected Opteron-based systems to be more economical than Itanium-based systems.

"So we would like to see (HP) go to AMD," he said.

Sun Microsystems also said it has no plans to offer Opteron-based systems.

A key differentiator of AMD's Opteron is its ability to run 32- and 64-bit applications on the same machine, which proponents argue can help ease a transition to 64-bit applications. But high-performance users, not mainstream business customers, will be among the early adopters.

AMD, in fact, announced that the Los Alamos National Laboratory has selected the Opteron for two Linux clusters, including one running 2,800 processors.

IBM, which decided earlier this month to begin offering Opteron-based systems, said that the high-performance market is "an excellent breeding ground" for the Opteron, vice-president of products and strategy at IBM Deep Computing, Debra Goldfarb, said.

Whether Opteron becomes available on IBM's general-purpose business servers will depend on the market response and the availability of tools and applications tuned for it, said Goldfarb. So far, there has been little indication that anyone will be beating down the Opteron door.