Server blades, Itanium at Intel Developer Forum

Next week's Intel Corp. Developer Forum in San Jose will spotlight some of the coming year's hot technologies, including server blades, the new Pentium 4 processor - and Itanium, Intel's 64-bit processor packed with more power and memory.

These new technologies aren't yet mainstream, but there are a number of reasons IT managers will want to take a look at them. For example, Tualatin processors, aimed at server blades, are likely to be the next rage, as users look to them for lower power bills, space savings and simplified management.

Intel isn't the only vendor in the blade market. It's been more than a year since Transmeta Corp. announced its power-saving Crusoe chip and several months since RLX Technologies began shipping its ultradense servers based on it.

Another start-up - Racemi - plans to announce what it claims will be the first diskless ultradense server. The Race5 Ultradense Server will be based on Intel's Pentium III Tualatin processor and will be formally announced at the Intel Developers Forum on Aug. 27. Racemi says its Race5 Ultradense Server will let companies doing Web hosting put as many as 200 servers in a single 42-unit rack. A traditional thin server takes up an entire rack unit. RLX's System 324 allows users to put up to 336 blades in a 42-unit rack.

The reasons for a network manager to be interested in ultra-dense servers extend beyond lower power bills and space savings, says Bob Sutherland, an analyst with Technology Business Research. "If a server goes down, you just pull the card and hot-swap it, which means you don't have to take down the whole system," he says.

Other potential advantages include the ability to create a distributed network of the ultra-thin servers that help prevent network downtime. The concept, according to John Humphreys, an analyst at IDC, is that the servers do not present as much risk of being a single point of failure as when multiple processors are relied upon in a single box.

Of the major vendors, only IBM is currently shipping ultradense servers. It is reselling RLX systems. However, Compaq Computer Corp. and Dell Computer Corp. have also said they will ship systems in the coming months. Compaq has said those systems will be available later this year, while Dell will reportedly come out with systems in 2002.

Another highlight of the show will be the Itanium processor. Alex Szalay, a computer science professor and the Alumni Centennial Chair at Johns Hopkins University, plans to talk about the use of Itanium-based servers in a project that will map the galaxies.

Johns Hopkins is in the process of porting its scientific number-crunching applications from Tru64 Unix on Alpha to Windows XP 64-bit to run on Itanium. Szalay says the benefits of moving from Compaq's Alpha to Compaq on Itanium are many. In addition to expected improvements in price/performance, Itanium will offer memory bandwidth of 8G bytes per second versus 2G bytes per second on Alpha, or 600M bytes running a typical Pentium 32-bit processor-based server.

"We have about 100 million points to map, something which would take us months to accomplish using past technology," Szalay says. "With the large memory capabilities that Itanium offers, we will be able to do it in hours."

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