The three four-processor servers fulfill a promise made by Intel chairman Andy Grove in August that Linux programmers would be able to write software for the new Itanium chips even if they lacked their own machines. The machines will be accessible over the Internet.
The Itanium chip, due to arrive in computers later this year, is a totally new design, the first in Intel's "IA-64" family that the chipmaker hopes will carry it into the most serious computers as well as today's beefed-up desktop machines.
Eric Sindelar, IA-64 product manager at VA, will select the projects for the machines to ensure that the machines are put to serious work. "The goal is that everybody who submits a viable proposal gets on," Sindelar said.
Intel has been going through contortions to meet the unusual needs of the open-source community, the global collection of programmers who produce the Linux operating system. These people don't fit easily into the secretive preparations for past product launches.
Intel has to be accommodating, though. It has declared that Linux is one of three operating systems that will be a major force on Itanium. The other two are Windows and a version of Unix called "Monterey" being developed by IBM and Santa Cruz Operation.
Intel isn't the only company working to help Linux programmers convert their software for Itanium. Sources have said that Hewlett-Packard will release software that allows an ordinary Intel computer to act like an IA-64 machine. And SGI has released its own programming tools for Linux.
Intel has a vested interest in seeing Linux succeed. In addition to the chipmaker's investments in TurboLinux, Red Hat, SuSE, Cobalt Networks, eSoft and other Linux companies, Linux gives Intel an operating system that's not controlled by companies with competing hardware such as Hewlett-Packard, Compaq Computer, IBM or Sun Microsystems.
The three Itanium systems use TurboLinux' version of Linux for Itanium.
Sindelar said the company expects to upgrade the Itanium systems and add new ones in the future.
VA is one of the members of the project to bring Linux to the IA-64 design. The effort formerly was known as "Trillian," but the group dropped it when Trillium Digital Systems complained that the similarity between the two names was causing confusion.