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IBM touts own chips over Itanium

Big Blue formally announces its own Itanium-based server, but also trumpets benchmarks that put a machine using its own chip ahead of an HP server based on the Intel processor.

IBM formally debuted its own Itanium-based servers Monday, but made its priorities clear by simultaneously announcing test results that put a machine using its own chip ahead of an Itanium server manufactured by Hewlett-Packard.

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IBM's top-end p690 "Regatta" Unix server, which uses IBM's Power4 processor, bumped aside a Hewlett-Packard machine using Itanium for the top spot on the Transaction Processing Performance Council's widely watched TPC-C test.

IBM's score of 768,000 transactions per minute edged ahead of the score of 707,000 that HP posted in May. In addition, IBM's cost per transaction was slightly less expensive than the HP Superdome machine and considerably better than Big Blue's previous result.

"The notion that HP's Itanium 2 processor-based servers are less expensive than IBM's widely popular Unix eServer systems is a myth," said Adalio Sanchez, general manager of IBM's pSeries Unix server line, in a statement. The statement came just hours after IBM announced its new x450 Itanium server.

Itanium, a 64-bit design with features for data protection, encroaches onto IBM's high-end server turf further than any previous Intel chip. One analyst saw IBM's Unix server announcement as an indication that the company's own products will stay on top of its own product lineup, but also that Big Blue is feeling pressure.

"IBM clearly intends to keep its Power processor and pSeries machines positioned as their top-end Unix and Linux servers, with both Itanium and Windows positioned as appropriate for less demanding roles," analyst David Freund said. "Of interest to customers, though, is the price pressure that Intel and Microsoft have injected into the 64-bit computing arena."

IBM said during a conference call Monday that the timing of the announcements was coincidental. "We finished at around 5 a.m.," said Nick Bowen, head of IBM's AIX version of Unix that runs on its pSeries line and the executive in charge of the benchmark.

And HP, which co-developed the Itanium line, said IBM's announcement shows that the competitive landscape has shifted.

"This announcement from IBM is a great validation that HP's Integrity servers based on Itanium are the standard to beat in the marketplace, and this truly is a two-horse race for the enterprise market," said Mark Hudson, vice president of HP's Enterprise Storage and Server group, in a statement.

IBM countered that HP's Itanium Superdome results have used Windows, which has a much less mature collection of software, and that HP has yet to post a Superdome result with HP-UX and Itanium. In addition, "the Power architecture allows you to perform more work with half the processors," which saves on software licensing costs and increases reliability, IBM's Sanchez said on the conference call.

Intel on Monday released its third-generation Itanium chip, code-named "Madison". The high-end processor is designed to compete with IBM's Power line and Sun Microsystems' UltraSparc line, initially in higher-end machines but gradually in less-expensive models as well.

The initial Itanium product was hampered by delays and poor performance, but Intel and its allies now are building the collection of software and hardware partners necessary to carry the chip closer to mainstream use.