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Unisys splits Intel server line

The specialist in high-end servers is coming out with a new lower-cost line of Intel-based servers as it gears up to promote the Itanium 2 chip.

Unisys, a specialist in high-end servers, is coming out with a new lower-cost line of Intel-based servers as it gears up to promote the Itanium 2 chip.

Unisys' new Aries servers accommodate as many as 16 Itanium 2 or Xeon processors and cost between $75,000 and $300,000, said Mark Fevertson, Unisys' vice president of server marketing. It joins forces with the 2-year-old Orion line, which can use up to 32 Xeon or Itanium 2 processors and is priced between $140,000 and $700,000.

For the guts of the new lower-end server line, Unisys adapted technology from Intel beyond just the processor, Fevertson said. To join the processors to each other, to memory and to communications components such as network cards, Unisys uses a modified version of Intel's E8870 chipset. Unisys augmented the chipset with its own components to permit communication among 16 processors; Intel's standard design permits up to eight processors.

Unisys is backing Intel's sustained effort to become the dominant manufacturer of chips for servers, networked systems that typically run 24 hours a day and whose administrators have little tolerance for crashes or data corruption. The Itanium 2, a 64-bit chip that can handle vastly more memory than 32-bit processors such as Xeons or Pentiums, is being built into servers that will compete against machines from Sun Microsystems and IBM that can cost more than $1 million and contain 16 or more chips. The first Itanium 2 servers are coming out this month.

By contrast, Xeon chips, which are enhanced versions of the desktop Pentium III and Pentium 4 chips, sell in servers that cost less, but account for far more volume. Most Xeon servers contain four or fewer processors.

Unisys tried unsuccessfully to encourage other Intel server makers to sell its ES7000 designs under their own labels. The company signed agreements with Compaq Computer, Hewlett-Packard and Dell Computer, but all those agreements fell by the wayside.

Most other Intel server companies have so far used Xeon more conservatively, using them in smaller machines while using their own RISC processors in their most complex boxes. The closest competitor to Unisys today in this regard is IBM, whose Enterprise X Architecture (EXA, code-named "Summit,") design currently is used in eight-processor Xeon servers and later will be in 16-processor Itanium and Xeon servers.

Hewlett-Packard has delayed work to build an eight-Xeon server. Dell is working with Intel on a new version of the E8870 chipset for eight-processor Xeon machines.

The high-end Intel server market gets spicier when looking at Itanium designs, though. Itanium co-inventor HP has extensive plans for high-end Intel servers based on its "Pinnacles" design. And Itaniums are at the heart of several higher-end Intel servers from SGI, NEC, Groupe Bull and Hitachi. Dell has spurned Itanium 2 for now.

Unisys' Xeon models are available immediately, and the Itanium 2 models will be available in September or in early October, Fevertson said. They support Windows 2000 and will support Windows .Net Server coming later this year.

The Unisys systems can be partitioned to run independent operating systems, a useful feature when consolidating several servers into a single centralized machine. Partitioning first arrived in high-end mainframes and in recent years has trickled down to Unix servers, with Intel servers the next vanguard.

The Orion series can be split in to as many as eight four-processor partitions, but the Aries may be split into a maximum of two partitions, Fevertson said. While Orion systems with Xeon chips can run as a single 32-processor partition, the largest Itanium 2 partition has 16 chips, Fevertson said.