Intel's New Bid to Downplay 'RISC'

The chip maker challenges top companies to come on over to the Itanium side.

Intel Monday launched a bid to entice Global 500 corporations with a free trial period to "try-and-buy" the latest microprocessor techniques built into its Intel Itanium processors.

The Itanium lines deploy a new 64-bit processing architecture that includes cutting-edge microprocessor techniques, including long instruction words (LIW), instruction predication, branch elimination, and speculative loading.

It is built on the EPIC (Explicitly Parallel Instruction Computing) design philosophy, which states that the compiler should decide which instructions be executed together, an advance of the proprietary RISC, or simpler method of reduced instruction set computer architecture .

Under the promotion, Intel said qualified customers will have access to Itanium 2-based systems and services for up to 90 days to evaluate the results.

The campaign appears targeted primarily at Sun Microsystems , which holds the lion's share of RISC-based architecture with its installed server base in many corporate data centers. But the promotion is also positioning against other manufacturers such as Hewlett-Packard's Alpha and PA-RISC chips and IBM's PowerPC line.

"We look against a cross section of the Fortune 500 accounts of which 35 percent are running from Sun," Intel Itanium Group director Lisa Graff told "HP already has their plan to grab customers away from Sun. We are augmenting that."

A Sun spokesman was not immediately available to comment.

Recently, HP and Sun have launched counter promotions offering customers a chance for a "Linux Lifeline" or risk being whisked "away" by the competition.

Sun parries Intel's usual pitch by noting that as a systems vendor, it has been deploying 64-bit processing for seven years, compared to Intel's two years of offering 64-bit systems. In addition, it has said that if Itanium server shipments don't reach levels that are economically sustainable for HP, the company could be forced to consider migrating its Alpha/Tru64 customers to still another platform such as AMD's Opteron 64-bit processor. Sun recently adopted AMD chips for its low-end servers.

Intel's promotion may also have some residual impact for Sunnyvale, Calif.-based AMD as Global 500 customers begin to take a look at the next-generation EPIC-based Itanium lines.

In addition to HP and IBM, Intel has employed the likes of server manufacturers LangChao, Lenovo, NEC, Samsung, SGI, and Unisys, as well as regional system builders to further its cause. Intel said it will also work with a number of companies that supply software for Itanium 2, such as BEA, i2, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, and SAS, as well as such system integrators as Avanade and Unisys. In addition to the top 500 players, Intel said its partners can also recommend end-user customers for the Challenge.

"We are bullish on the Itanium 2 processor's performance and price advantage versus proprietary offerings," Graff said. "Intel, along with our industry partners, wants CIOs to experience the difference an Itanium 2 architecture-based server can make."

Intel boasts some 1,000 software applications that have been ported to its Itanium 2 processor. The company also waxes poetic about its commercial installations, including Bell Canada, CBS Broadcasting, CFE, ChevronTexaco, CitiStreet, CNA, CompUSA, Cox Communications, Eckerd Drug, The First American Company, First Trust, Fortis Health, Fuji Film, ING, Jet Blue Airways, Metro AG, Raymond James, Sabre Holdings, SK Telecom, Telecom Italia, Van Heusen and Wells Fargo.

The Itanium processor family already powers the operating systems of Microsoft's Windows Advanced Server, Limited Edition, and Windows XP 64-Bit Edition; Red Hat, SuSE, and TurboLinux.

Going forward, Intel said it has shipped all of its upgrades to its Itanium 2 processor family for 2003. Next year, however, the company is planning a cavalcade of improvements. Intel said that by the first part of 2004 it will deliver its Itanium Multi-core Processor, and Dual-core Processor "Madison" with 9 Megabits of cache as well as an upgrade to its low-power Itanium "Deerfield". In 2005, Graff confirmed that Intel would migrate its Itanium family to the 90-nanometer process and debut its multi-threaded Multi-core and Dual-core "Montecito" with 24 Mg of cache.

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