Analysts cheer AMD, Dell and Microsoft as x86-64-bit winners

Reg reporters implicated in Itanium hate crimes

AMD, Dell and Microsoft have the most to gain from a large scale move to 64-bit extensions technology, according to analyst firm Illuminata.

In a recent report, Illuminata ranked the major players in the 64-bit computing arena, saying just about every vendor has a chance to thrive with either AMD's Opteron processor or Intel's upcoming Xeon (now enhanced) Extender - er, Extended Memory 64 Technology. But out of all the big boys, AMD, Dell and Microsoft are best poised to profit from a 32-bit to 64-bit server transition. HP and IBM may well have the most to lose.

"x86 wasn't supposed to evolve into the 64-bit world," wrote Illuminata's Gordon Haff. "However, for reasons that include depressed technology spending and heightened risk aversion, consolidations and repositioning among vendors, and early technological missteps by Itanium, x86 has unquestionably moved into the 64-bit sphere. Breathless headlines notwithstanding (Thanks - Ed.), x86-64 isn't likely to kill Itanium, or any other processor for that matter, reckon the analysts.

"And, indeed, it will be those vendors who have the most invested in, and get the most leverage from, their x86 products who will gain the most from the continuing x86 evolution."

For the moment, Illuminata has a "very positive" ranking for AMD's effect on the x86-64-bit market. The chip maker enjoys a time-to-market advantage over Intel and is seen as the major innovator with the technology. While Intel's Xeon processors will certainly heat up the competition, just having Intel on board with 64-bit extensions "legitimizes" AMD's strategy, Illuminata said.

Opteron has boosted AMD's fortunes in a major way. The vendor now has strong ties to IBM, HP and Sun Microsystems - something that could not be said a year ago. The near term gains are obvious.

Microsoft also receives a "very positive" ranking, despite not even having a 64-bit OS for Opteron or Xeon Extender yet. For years, Microsoft has tried to crack into the lucrative part of the midrange and high-end server market dominated by Unix. Now, however, technology trends are pushing at least the midrange of the market toward Microsoft.

The strength of Intel and AMD's processors have made one, two and four processor boxes attractive for a much wider variety of tasks than in the past. Microsoft does well on this class of system and should do even better with Windows Server 2003. In addition, the presence of commodity 64-bit hardware gives Microsoft customers a clear upgrade path and should keep most Beast-friendly users from flocking to Linux or elsewhere for help with memory-hungry apps.

Most of this holds true for the last "very positive" vendor - Dell. In addition, unlike IBM, HP and Sun, Dell has spent very little cash on developing 64-bit chip technology. As always, the research and development efforts of others tumbled right into Round Rock, Illuminata pointed out. Dell doesn't have high-end products it needs to protect.

Compare that to the "mixed" crowd of HP and IBM. "Taken as a whole, x86 extensions are a mixed bag for HP," Haff wrote. "On the one hand, extensions bolster today's x86 leaders; HP's ProLiant business is clearly at the top of this list. On the other, they'll tend to cool adoption of Itanium, at least in a generalized way—especially at x86's margins where tasks may be getting a bit memory-starved but don't necessarily need the full range of Itanium's scalability and reliability features."

In its defense of HP, Illuminata went so far as to charge The Register with Itanium hate-crimes. Embracing hyperbole, they claimed that our humble reporters were "fervent" Itanic "naysayers" who had been "whipped into an 'Itanium is dead' frenzy."

While this verges on slander and probably does not warrant a response, we do recommend reading the following stories for our official position on the Itanium processor: Who sank Itanic; Analyst sees St. Fister in Itanium wafer; Intel toasts Itanium's success by giving servers away; Curse of Itanic doomed MigraTEC; Itanium fends off Opteron for slowest selling chip crown; Dell 14, IBM 0 - quarterly Itanic sales revealed; Itanic: Enron's Golden Albatross; Buster Gonads inspires unfeasibly large Itanic CPU; Itanic: you've seen the movie, now buy the book; Itanic OEM slams Itanic; Miracle cures Berkeley man of Itanic wickedness; Itanic: It's all academic now - Official; Itanic crushes Beeb micro in speed bake-off; Intel airs Itanium underpants in public; HP wears Itanium underpants and sings the Intel song; Itanic Zombies check into Motel of Distinction; Do not feed, poke or disturb the Itanic user; Itanic locked Inattic for IDF; and Intel wants caviar, not cod roe, from IA-64. And that's just the favorable coverage from this decade.

So, say what you will, Illuminata, our record speaks for itself. Now back to HP, Intel and Itanic's woes.

As Illuminata points out, a market for Itanium will exist despite the presence of Opteron and Xeopteron. This market, however, is much smaller than either HP or Intel had hoped. Itanic has been relegated to high-end computing tasks.

HP must now balance Opteron, Xeopteron, and Itanium servers in its product line and explain which product is best suited for customers' 64-bit computing needs. HP's ProLiant business will keep on thriving, but at the expense of a vast Itanic investment.

IBM is also in the "mixed" bag because of its Power investment, says Illuminata.

"However, IBM is also starting to push its own POWER processor family for 64-bit Linux," Haff wrote. "The upcoming broad-based shift to 64-bits will be a disruptive event that - in the absence of a single dominant architecture as x86 became for 32-bit computing - creates a breakout opportunity for POWER. But x86 extensions provide an alternative path-of-least-resistance for potential Linux-on-POWER buyers, just as they do for Itanium customers. That makes Linux-on-POWER as a mainstream option - never an easy strategy to realize - even more challenging. X86-64 may be good news for the xSeries, but remains an obstacle to IBM's ambitions for pSeries and POWER pervasiveness."

Unlike HP and IBM, Sun received a "positive" ranking. Sun does have a SPARC investment to protect, but low-end x86 sales are pure gravy for the company at this point. Should Sun's Opteron bet pay out, it will own the low-end 64-bit market - at least with the Unix and Linux crowds.

Most of all, 64-bit extensions technology is "very positive" for customers. It lets many customers make a smooth transition from 32-bit to 64-bit servers be it on the back of Windows or Linux. Customers will also benefit from stronger competition between Intel and AMD on server processors and from the introduction of new technology such as a 64-bit version of Solaris for x86 chips.

It should be interesting to see how the presence of AMD plays out over time. AMD has several new friends, including Microsoft, and that must give Intel shivers. With HP, IBM and Sun on its side, AMD is quickly becoming a trusted name in enterprise computing, and that's the last thing Intel ever wanted to happen. ®

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