NEC Gains Ground in Blade Runner Race

NEC Solutions America Wednesday became the first major
manufacturer in the U.S. to unveil a blade server based on the
Intel Itanium 2 architecture.

The Express5800/1020Ba blade server, set to be released in September alongside
the arrival of the new Madison 9M chip from Intel, is based on Intel’s 64-bit computing platform.
The blade server enables users to run high-performance computing applications that
require multi-thread processing, Scott Schweitzer, product manager of NEC’s
Itanium 2 Server family, said Wednesday.

The Santa Clara, Calif., subsidiary of Japan’s NEC Corporation designed the Itanium blade to serve the intensive computing
efforts of financial companies that need to perform real-time portfolio
analyses. The thin blade is also suited for crash-test analysis, drug
research in the pharmaceutical space and genome mapping.

Blade servers were created to occupy less
space and power in data centers, but manufacturers, such as NEC, IBM and HP, are testing blade boundaries by offering
ones that work in clusters to assume the power of large, monolithic
servers or mainframes.

Schweitzer said the new product’s focus is to provide Linux
clusters for customers concerned about cost. The blades are primed to
support Red Hat Linux Advanced Server workstation software.

The server will house two Intel Madison 9M 1.6 gigahertz chips per blade for
12.8 gigaflops of performance, and it will contain possibly
two SCSI hard
drives. There are 12 memory sockets on the blade, which means a possible 24
gigabytes of expandable memory for one blade.

There is also diskless support with a PCI-X slot that holds a
TopSpin InfiniBand adapter, which is a 10 gigabit-per-second
network interface for routing data efficiently. There are nine blades to a 1U
(1.75 inch) chassis, instead of the usual eight, to provide a “hot spare.”

Schweitzer said one of the attractive options of the Itanium chips is that
they are attached to the Express5800/1020Ba board, allowing users to pop
them out to replace them with new, more powerful chips.

NEC sees two major chip competitors in the blade computing space: IBM’s
PowerPC 970 1.6 GHz and Opteron’s 2.0 GHz chip. Schweitzer said the Itanium
delivers 12.4 gigaflops for the pair, while the PowerPC 970 does 7
gigaflops, with Opteron closing at 6.5, making Itanium’s value proposition

Express5800/1020Ba will cost $79,000
for the chassis, nine two-way blades — each with 2GB of memory — 136GB of hard
drive storage and redundant power. Software, installation and
maintenance are priced separately.

NEC isn’t known as the computer server power that rivals IBM, HP, Sun
Microsystems and Dell are. The
company specializes in niche markets, providing fault tolerant servers and
such. NEC hopes to change that with its clout in the Itanium space,
Schweitzer said.

“In the Itanium space in the U.S. NEC hasn’t done a good job getting its
message across,” Schweitzer said. “But in Japan, they’re the leader in
Itanium technology. As a matter of fact, the first Itanium server built using
Intel’s own chip was done by NEC for Intel.”

Itanium has been getting quite a lift of late. Earlier this week, Dell unveiled
a 4-processor PowerEdge 7250 machine based on Itanium, while VERITAS
Software added
Itanium support for its Foundation Suite and Cluster Server software.

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