No rush expected to Itanium 2

Intel Corp.'s new Itanium 2 processor, unveiled earlier this month, will not gain widespread acceptance among federal users until many of the commercial software applications they use are designed to take advantage of it, according to industry experts.

The Itanium 2 processor sports, among other features, improved price performance and greater memory bandwidth than its predecessor, making it even more attractive to users in the technical and scientific arenas.

The previous version of Itanium, released last year, marked Intel's first foray into the 64-bit high-end computing market, but it received limited acceptance because of merely adequate performance and memory bandwidth constraints.

Sixty-four-bit chips like those in the Itanium family are better suited than 32-bit chips for many complex computing tasks because they can process data in much bigger pieces, which cuts down the number of steps required.

However, the first Itanium processor's performance for floating-point operations running in a cluster of Linux-based servers was adequate, but "comparable with a whole class of other high-end performance processors," said Scott Studham, group leader with the molecular science computing facility at the Energy Department's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

The Itanium 2 has the potential to improve the performance and scalability of a wide range of applications, including business intelligence, enterprise resource planning (ERP), databases, scientific research, security, simulation modeling and supply chain management, among others.

But to achieve this potential, software vendors must jump on the Itanium 2 bandwagon and develop products that will run on the new chip. The vast majority of users will wait until off-the-shelf applications support Itanium 2, a spokesperson for Intel said.

"There are few advantages moving to a 64-bit architecture until software run and used by government applications supports it," said John Kost, an analyst with market research firm Gartner Inc.

However, that work is ongoing. For instance, the SAS Institute Inc., a developer of business intelligence and customer relationship management software, is preparing a version of its software suite for release later this summer that will run on Itanium 2. Other vendors, such as BEA Systems Inc. and PeopleSoft Inc., are working on products that should hit the market during the next three to nine months, the Intel spokesperson said.

To spur application development, Oracle Corp. has announced an Itanium 2 beta program to let customers and partners to test and validate enterprise-class applications for the Oracle9i Database Release 2 on Microsoft Corp.'s 64-bit operating system, Windows .Net Server. Many Itanium 2-based software products will most likely ship throughout next year, industry experts said.

Meanwhile, a handful of hardware vendors have released Itanium 2 systems or announced intentions to do so soon, including Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp. and Unisys Corp.

Another aspect of the Itanium architecture that will benefit government users looking to cut server costs is its ability to run multiple operating systems such as Windows, Linux and Unix.

"Itanium 2 will eventually get tremendous acceptance [in the government] because it can run multiple operating systems," Gartner's Kost said. "It gives users a lot more flexibility," especially with the push for server consolidation.

But not all computer makers are jumping on the Itanium 2 bandwagon.

Dell Computer Corp. will not build Itanium 2-based servers "until there is stronger customer demand," a Dell spokeswoman said.

Dell incorporated the original Itanium into the company's PowerEdge 7150 servers, but the limited interest in the product has been mostly in application development, not production, environments.

"We think [Itanium's] a good technology," she said. But federal customers like to make sure that a technology is tried and tested before buying it, she added.

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Primed for processing

Vendors and industry experts say Intel Corp.'s 64-bit Itanium 2 processor will appeal to customers for several reasons:

* Better performance for scientific and technical applications, in part because of more parallel processing and larger memory capacity.

* Better scalability for business applications, enabling organizations to provide a larger number of users with access to enterprise resource planning and other systems.

* Support for multiple operating systems, including Microsoft Corp. Windows, Linux and Unix.

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