Intel tunes processors for 64-bit computing transition

SAN FRANCISCO – Sixty-four-bit computing will move from the data centre to the client, while dual-core will span server architectures and communications will become more modular, Intel Corp. executives told the firm’s annual Development Forum this week.

In a keynote speech late Tuesday, Pat Gelsinger, senior vice-president and co-general manager of Intel’s recently-formed Digital Enterprise Group, said the industry is evolving toward multi-core platforms with added benefits to silicon, such as virtualization and faster server networking approaches to 64-bit memory.

Abhi Talwalker, vice-president and general manager of the Digital Enterprise Group, said the company is positioning its Itanium 2 processor as a RISC replacement, while Xeon is the next step up from the IA-32 architecture (providing 64-bit support via the Intel EM64T). This is targeted as a platform for database, ERP and BI applications.

Talwalker said companies are starting to make the transition from RISC to Itanium, but was unable to provide any specific numbers.

The 64-bit Xeon processor is being redesigned for the company’s dual-core technology, which he said is optimized for server usage trends, such as a virtualized environment or for improved compute density in the data centre.

Sixty-four-bit processing is not new — it’s been in the RISC world for some time. But it’s on the verge of going mainstream, said Gordon Haff, senior analyst with Nashua, NH-based Illuminata, in an interview with

Originally, Itanium was going to be Intel’s 64-bit computing platform when it was released a couple of years ago, he said, but it didn’t really take off because spending had dropped and IT buyers weren’t ready to make the move.

Now the environment is changing, he said. “A lot of 64-bit infrastructure is already in place,” he said. Microsoft will be providing support for 64-bit in an updated release of its Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1, a 64-bit edition of Windows XP and a 64-bit edition of Windows Server 2003 (due for release in the first half of this year). In the open source world, Red Hat is already supporting 64-bit in Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4.

Haff said Intel’s “RISC replacement” strategy is a realistic one, since it has a much narrower positioning than the original Itanium. Its main competition in this space is the Power architecture from IBM, which is supported by IBM and Dell. Intel’s Itanium architecture is being supported by Hitachi, Hewlett-Packard and Silicon Graphics.

AMD’s dual-core server technology will be available later this year, while Intel’s Xeon processors for the server space will be available later this year or in early 2006. This means AMD will have a six-month lead-to-market in the server space, Haff said.

Intel is also putting more emphasis on the storage space, aiming solutions at the residential, SOHO, SMB and enterprise markets (ranging from Intel Matrix Technology to Intel RAID Controllers). “This will be a focus area for the future,” said Gelsinger. Added Talwalker: “Intel’s silicon penetration in storage is not where we want it to be.”

“Intel has inconsistently put energy into storage,” said Haff. “It hasn’t had a real comprehensive strategy in the past.” It’s now attempting to develop a more coherent strategy and build partnerships around storage solutions.

Intel is taking a more holistic approach, said Doug Cooper, Intel Canada’s country manager, in an interview with He said it’s about the overall ecosystem, about the software and firmware experience.

“IT organizations want control from a manageability and security perspective,” he said. “Businesses are going to struggle with how they manage information.” He said multi-core technology will help deliver these business productivity benefits.

Gelsinger also announced a set of silicon technologies that will speed the interaction between network data and server applications by up to 30 per cent. This technology will be supported in Microsoft’s upcoming OS release, Longhorn. (If Longhorn is delayed, Intel will wait to deploy the technology.) The Intel I/O Acceleration Technology (I/OAC) is designed for environments where Web commerce, messaging, storage and server clustering slow down server responsiveness.

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Vawn Himmelsbach
Vawn Himmelsbach
Is a Toronto-based journalist and regular contributor to IT World Canada's publications.

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