AMD Clusters its Opteron Agenda

AMD Wednesday began tooting its own horn when it comes to how well its new Opteron processors do in high performance computing (HPC) and clustering environments.

The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based semiconductor maker announced two major projects within a week of each other that would put its three-month-old chips in the top five fastest machines as ranked by the independent TOP500 List of Supercomputers.

AMD Enterprise Business Development Rick Indyke said the company is finding itself holding its own against its main rival’s Itanium processors. The boast is based on speed, configurations and price comparisons.

“What we find there is the value for AMD,” Indyke told “We see ourselves fitting between Xeon and Itanium with additional benefits. For example, if a system spreads out over multiple processors with a memory intensive application, we do better. It really has been a case, by case basis though.”

Two Supercomputer spots doesn’t do much for toppling Intel’s reign as chipmaker with the most TOP500 systems. But if the Opteron-based Chinese “Red Grid” and Japanese IBM eServer Linux units break into the Top 10, AMD could push out Intel’s Itanium configuration at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Supercomputing aside, AMD says it has bigger fish to fry.

“Right now, early adopters are using the Opteron. They are taking the risk to get them into their platforms,” Indyke said. “But what will validate it as a technology is moving it from the HPC market to the enterprise and the public sector, including the U.S. government.”

Indyke says companies are really kicking the tires on Opteron and surveying the chip’s claims of 64-bit processing and 32-bit backwards compatibility. Some are beginning to produce custom applications for the chip. As a validation, AMD says it has more than 50 “Proof of Concept” requests compared to 33 when Opteron first launched.

“What is interesting is the end user community is going to the manufacturer community and they are interested in what IBM is doing with AMD Indyke said. “We’ve got Oracle, IBM, Microsoft all looking at our chips to use on the Web server side, in development tools. People don’t buy hardware for hardware’s sake.”

The company is currently in the middle of a 32 city road trip to educate companies about the benefits of Opteron.

When the chip was first being scrutinized back in April, analysts like Gartner’s Joe Byrne told the people who are attracted to Opteron are the same that are attracted to AMD today.

“The beauty of the AMD strategy is that success is not contingent on how fast they run but on how they allow old code to run faster,” Byrne said. “There has to be systems based around the Opteron and it has to be stable. Ideally the Microsoft and IBM would have compatible software and hardware available today. The second best scenario is to have support, which is what they did. It does look like they are being aggressive in pricing, but it will be awhile before we see the true industry impact.”

Indyke says it won’t be much longer, predicting major news in the next three months that will center on open source and Windows environments. Beyond that, Indyke says expect to see a lot of activity in the next six months.

“We have a number of bids we are working on including a couple with 512 node opportunity and at least two that are double that, all within in the United States,” he said.

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