Intel likens Itanium to high-tech superstore

Intel took the one-stop-shop metaphor to new heights in a Webcast outlining the advantages of its Itanium architecture.

In what looked like a Shopping Channel-style infomercial crossed with an episode of Larry King Live, Intel of Canada country manager Doug Cooper attempted to explain in layman’s terms the benefits of the three-month-old processor and how it could kick-start a new wave of e-business.

Until now, most businesses have focused on enabling e-commerce or online transactions for their customers. Many of these sites were built piece by piece with simple to develop browser-based functions, he said. But there’s more to e-business than that.

“Instead of focusing narrowly on e-commerce transactions, in this scenario, all business functions will be executed seamlessly online,” he said, ticking off aspects of internal processes such as ERP, real-time inventory management and accounting. “It’s important to engage vendors today.”
Intel used a video in the Webcast to literally draw a picture of Itanium’s strengths. It used the analogy of an intelligent superstore that took advantage of the chip’s addressability, speculation, prediction and parallelism.

The Itanium architecture can address up to 16 million terabytes of memory to enables high-performance databases and keep up with growing demand, for example. This would be like a superstore that has everything you could want, all within easy reach.

Speculation, which uses early execution to reduce the need to wait for memory, would be like a store’s ability to provide a personal assistant for each customer.

Predication, meanwhile, would give shoppers the ability to pursue two shopping lists simultaneously — in other words, allowing the computation of two options to eliminate the time applications have to wait, enhancing overall performance in branch-intensive applications. Finally, parallelism lets Itanium executive multiple sets of instructions at the same time. This is the equivalent of multiple checkout lines in the same store all serving the same customer.

Eric Packman, chief technical officer, Coradiant Research, said Intanium’s Explicitly Parallel Instruction Computing (EPIC) architecture could have considerable security advantages over reduced instruction set computing (RISC) chips. The company has already conducted a series of benchmarks to assess Itanium’s ability to ease the considerable CPU pressure caused by the the complicated math involved in maintaining secure socket layer (SSL) based systems.

“By and large, they all yield about the same performance — they yield about 90 to 180 connections a second before they max out,” he said. “It’s a good idea to do it in hardware today because without this, your site will be reduced to sub-Intel performance. But we found that every processor that you add on an Itanium machine can do about 300 connections a second. Therefore it’s possible you might not need SSL acceleration at all.”

Greg Ambrose, server analyst at IDC Canada, pointed out that the existing server market has been dominated by proprietary RISC products like IBM’s Power Chip, HP’s PA-RISC and Compaq’s Alpha. “What Intel is trying to accomplish is to establish the Itanium processor family as the de facto building block standard upon which 64-bit standard can then be based,” he said, pointing out that HP, as a co-developer of the IA-64 platform, was first to deliver an Itanium server roadmap.

“HP will have to show strong product differentiation, both in terms of hardware features and software performance in order to maintain its advantage.”

Emery John Bodnar, HP’s marketing manager for North American enterprise systems operations, said HP believes it has domain expertise in three key areas where Itanium should see adoption. These include application development, where a common platform could reduce support costs and secure Web serving.

“It’s a race out there between the good guys and the bad guys,” he said. “When you have to encrypt all of the network data on either a server or client level, that puts a significant strain on the processor.” Itanium, meanwhile, promises to encrypt 10 times faster than RISC processors.

Bodnar also saw some potential in the technical computing market. “They have the aptitude, the expertise and the willingness to gravitate towards technologies like Itanium, to put them into play and really exploit the benefits that they offer,” he said.

Intel’s Itanium broadcast will be replayed on Sept. 12.

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