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Fujitsu launches Itanium server

The new system, which packs up to four Itanium chips, gives a modest boost to Intel's bid to take on Sun and IBM in the high-end processor market.

Fujitsu's U.S. computer subsidiary has begun its first major foray into the Itanium server market, with the launch of a system that modestly boosts Intel's push for the high-end processor.

Fujitsu has begun taking orders for the Primergy RXI600, which comes with up to four Itanium chips, and will begin shipping the systems in January, Jon Rodriguez, Primergy server's product manager, said in an interview Tuesday. The Japanese company is a recent convert to Intel's pitch of Itanium as a competitor to other high-end processors, chiefly to Sun Microsystems' UltraSparc and to IBM's Power.

Itanium systems have got off to a slow start with server manufacturers, hampered by chip delays and by the incompatibility of Itanium with software written for the vast number of machines based on Intel's Xeon and Pentium processors.

According to research firm IDC, 4,957 Itanium-based servers were sold in the third quarter of 2003. That compares with sales of about 769,000 for Xeon servers and of 10,746 for systems using Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron, a 64-bit chip introduced in April that can run Xeon software.

IDC analyst Jean Bozman said Itanium server shipments look likely to increase, given that HP began selling its full line of the machines in November. "We should begin to see the numbers move up," she said.

Fujitsu expects the Itanium situation to improve because Microsoft began shipping an Itanium version of Windows in April. The company also believes that Intel software called IA32-EL, which lets an Itanium better emulate a Xeon processor, will make Itanium more useful to customers who have Xeon servers.

Although Itanium hasn't caught on as fast as Intel hoped, the chipmaker has succeeded in convincing several companies besides Hewlett-Packard, the initiator of the Itanium idea and the processor's loudest backer, to sell systems using the chip. Other companies that offer Itanium servers include Unisys, IBM, Dell, NEC, Hitachi and Silicon Graphics.

Fujitsu is selling the Primergy RXI600 with two 1.3GHz Itanium 2 processors and 8GB of memory for $26,500, Rodriguez said. A system with four 1.5GHz processors and the maximum 32GB of memory has a list price of $69,500.

The RXI600 is based on Intel's Itanium server design "Tiger" but includes Fujitsu's own management and set-up software, Rodriguez said.

However, Fujitsu plans to offer a more powerful Itanium server of its own design in 2005, according to Rodriguez. At first, that system will accommodate as many as 32 processors, though a 128-processor machine is also in the works.

Fujitsu sells Primergy servers using Intel's Xeon processors for midrange and low-end jobs. For higher-end tasks, it builds Primepower systems with its own Sparc64 processor that can run Sun Microsystems' Solaris operating system.

Fujitsu Computer Systems, Fujitsu's Sunnyvale, Calif.-based subsidiary that sells servers in the North America, was formed from a merger this year of Fujitsu's U.S. server and PC sales divisions.