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Windows & Linux Edition
Volume 2, Number 26 -- July 9, 2003

Dell Starts Out Small with Madison Itanium Commitments

by Timothy Prickett Morgan

If you were expecting Dell to roll out an impressive line of Itanium-based workstations and servers just because Intel launched the third generation "Madison" Itanium 2 processors last week, you were probably disappointed. Dell is not yet ready to make a lot of noise in the 64-bit computing space and is sticking to its 32-bit knitting, with the exception of using two-way Itanium 2 servers it pigeon-holes into the high-performance-computing (HPC) market.

Not that Dell won't sell to customers outside of the HPC market, where the high floating point performance, like that which the Madison chip can provide, is one key component in a buying decision. Dell is very keen on supporting Intel's plans with Itanium over the long haul, but appears to be waiting for the ecosystem around the processor to develop more before diving in. Hewlett-Packard had a vested interest in getting its HP-UX ISV partners on board with Itanium, since it will sunset its PA-RISC and Alpha RISC-based servers with the Integrity Itanium-based server line within the next five years or so. But with Microsoft just starting to really support Itanium, and Linux not really scaling well beyond 8-way servers, Dell's attitude is that Itanium can wait.

"I think demand will continue to grow," says Darrell Ward, manager of the PowerEdge server product line at Dell. "We're just on the very tip of this market." When pressed about why Dell only offered the two-way PowerEdge 3250 server using the Madison chip, and did not roll out a four-way or larger machine, Ward gave the impression that that was just a matter of time. "We fundamentally believe that two-way and four-way 32-bit and 64-bit servers are the way to build out the data center."

Dell isn't against four-way Itanium servers. In fact, the PowerEdge 7150, which Dell sold three years ago, was a four-way, first-generation "Merced" Itanium box, and was the first such four-way machine on the market. But Dell never saw this as more than a development box when it came to commercial computing, and with the PowerEdge 3250, Dell seems to think the only machines that HPC customers and the development organizations within ISVs and commercial enterprises will need are two-way Madison boxes for now. HP, which is selling two-way and four-way entry Itanium boxes as well as a huge Superdome machine that scales from 16 to 64 processors, does not agree.

Ward says that the middle of 2003 looks to be an inflection point in the history of Itanium. Madison offers performance that is as good as any RISC processor on the market. He says further that there is tremendous interest in the HPC community to move from 32-bit to 64-bit architectures and away from 64-bit Unix iron. These academic and government institutions own their own code and have some of the smartest programmers on the planet to port them to a new architecture. But, Ward says, there is considerable caution among corporate customers that Dell talks to concerning Itanium, regardless of the hoopla surrounding the Madison chip. Many customers have a mix of legacy and off-the-shelf code, and making the jump to any new processor--Itanium or otherwise--would be a big deal. "When the enterprise customers come along, we'll examine what the right Itanium platform is to support their applications," says Ward. That's about as strong an endorsement as you are going to get from Dell at this point.

At first, the details are a little sketchy on the PowerEdge 3250. All Dell would say is that it would be a two-way machine that supports up to 16 GB of DDR-SDRAM and has two internal disk drives (146 GB each) and an integrated RAID disk controller. It will fit into a 2U, rack-mounted form factor and will support Red Hat Enterprise Linux AS, Red Hat Enterprise Linux WS (for customers wanting to use the machine as a workstation), and Windows Server 2003 Enterprise Edition (which is a bit overkill for a two-way machine). Dell started talking about its new machines a few days before launching the Itanium and Xeon MP processors, so it could get the news jump on the competition. But on June 30, Dell said that the PowerEdge 3250 was available worldwide, with a base configuration price starting at $5,999, and with an eight-node cluster costing only $88,600. This is very aggressive pricing for Itanium servers.

Dell reckons that a 16-node cluster of the two-way PowerEdge 3250 servers will offer slightly more number-crunching performance than the current big boy of Unix iron, the 32-way pSeries 690 using 1.7 GHz Power4+ processors from IBM, at about one-third of the cost. Dell will sell the PowerEdge 3250 in configurations with 8, 16, 32, 64, and 128 nodes. Specific pricing and availability was not given by Dell for this machine.

According to a separate announcement, Dell obviously will be supporting the new faster "Gallatin" Pentium 4 Xeon MP processors in the four-way PowerEdge servers that already support the slower Gallatin chips. The new Gallatins run at 2 GHz, 2.5 GHz, and 2.8 GHz. Specifically, these chips are available in the PowerEdge 6650 and 6600 servers. A base PowerEdge 6650 with a single 2.0 GHz Gallatin processor costs $5,999, while the machine with a single 2.8 GHz Gallatin costs $7,998.

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Intel Counts on Third Time Charms, Performance with Madison

Intel Cranks the Clock, Ups the Cache on 32-Bit Xeon MPs

HP Debuts Integrity Itanium Boxes, ProLiant Gets New Xeons

Dell Starts Out Small with Madison Itanium Commitments

IBM's Summit-II xSeries Supports Madisons, Fast Gallatins

Unisys Adds New Intel Chips to ES7000 Wintel Servers

Timothy Prickett Morgan

Managing Editor
Shannon Pastore

Contributing Editors:
Dan Burger
Joe Hertvik
Shannon O'Donnell
Victor Rozek
Hesh Wiener
Alex Woodie

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Kim Reed

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