32-bit remains chip of choice

In 1994, the Beowulf Project (www.beowulf.org) spawned the prototype commodity server-based cluster. It used Intel Corp. DX4 processors, the fastest member of the company's second-generation 32-bit processor family.

Nearly a decade later, 32-bit technology still rules in the clustering market, despite the advent of such 64-bit offerings as Intel's Itanium line and Advanced Micro Devices Inc.'s Opteron processors.

"Where customers are deploying is all around 32-bit architectures," said Steve Norall, general manager of Linux solutions at PolyServe Inc. PolyServe has been shipping Linux clustering software for a little more than a year and is beta testing a Microsoft Corp. Windows clustering product. "I really think the economics of 32-bit architecture...are really compelling to customers today," he said.

"What we are finding is that people talk a lot" about 64-bit, added Paul Barker, vice president of marketing at RLX Technologies Inc. "But practically speaking, when you take a look at high- performance computing clusters, it's still very much a 32-bit world."

Industry executives said 32-bit chips enjoy a price/performance edge over 64-bit technology. Barker noted that porting and testing are more affordable in the 32-bit realm.

Norall said 64-bit architectures are getting the closest look from customers who have memory-intensive applications. "Some customers are kicking the tires on 64-bit architectures," he said.

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