Motorola Picks Linux-on-Itanium for Cellular Switches
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
In a somewhat surprising move, telecommunications equipment maker Motorola announced this week that it has chosen a variant of Hewlett-Packard's Itanium rack servers and Carrier-Grade Linux as the foundation of two of its next-generation lines of mobile telecom switching equipment. The announcement is surprising mainly because Motorola's new CEO, Ed Zander, was ambivalent about Linux and a well-known Itanium-basher when he was president of Sun Microsystems two years ago.
For the past decade, network equipment providers such as Motorola, Alcatel, Lucent, Ericsson, Northern Telecom, and others have traditionally taken NEBS-compliant versions of low-end Unix servers and had them modified to run DC power and fit the different form factors in use in the telecom industry. (At 20 inches, telecom servers are less deep than rack-mounted commercial servers.) But in the past few years, as X86 iron has become less expensive and as powerful as RISC/Unix boxes and Linux has been ruggedized to take on telecom applications, network equipment providers have started embracing X86 iron running Carrier-Grade Linux. The adoption of that variant of Linux by Motorola was no surprise, but the choice of the cx2600 NEBS-certified variant was a bit surprising, especially since 64-bit "Nocona" servers that are NEBS certified are probably not that far off into the future.
Nonetheless, HP is obviously very happy with Motorola's choice, since it at least partially vindicates its contention that the Itanium platform is ready for primetime. The cx2600 is certified to NEBS Level 3, and uses the 1.3 GHz Itanium 2 processors from Intel. It can have up to two of these in a single chassis. Joy King, HP's director of worldwide marketing and communications, says that Motorola chose the Itanium platform for its CDMA and iDEN switching equipment because it was concerned about performance and that it wanted to be able to get the price of network equipment down do it could bring its cellular switching software down in price to appeal to tier two customers in the telecom market. She says that a NEBS-certified RISC/Unix server in the same power class as the cx2600 Itanium-Linux solution would cost anywhere from 3 to 3.5 times the cx2600. When you add that difference up over hundreds or thousands of servers, soon it becomes real money.
Motorola will roll out the cx2600 running its own clustering and application software on the iDEN platform (which is used by Nextel and other carriers) by the end of 2004 and on the CDMA platform (which is the standard cell network in the U.S. and certain Asian countries thanks to Motorola's political connections) in the second quarter of 2005. HP is providing its OpenCall variant of the Signaling System 7 (SS7) software, the standard software in the telco space for linking switches into the network, as part of the deal.