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The gap between performance, feature-set and capabilities of Intel Xeon and Intel Itanium central processing units (CPUs) is closing. Nonetheless, IA64 microprocessors will still be needed by certain customers, according to the manufacturer.

Last week Intel Corp. unveiled its code-named Knights Corner chip, which is specifically designed to accelerate high-performance computing (HPC) tasks, and earlier this year the company unleashed its Xeon-series microprocessors that support reliability, availability and scalability (RAS) features, which are essential for mission critical applications that are served by the Itanium chips. Nonetheless, the world’s largest maker of chips is confident that the Itanium products will still be needed both in mid- and long-term future.

“Itanium enables Intel and HP to compete in the high-end, mission-critical UNIX market.  Many in the industry believe that the combination of HP-UX and the Itanium architecture provides an exceptionally strong mission-critical solution, suitable for mainframe replacement. The Itanium architecture is at the base of a multibillion dollar business for HP, as well as being an important business for Intel,” said Patrick Ward, an Intel spokesman for Itanium business unit.

Last Monday Intel unveiled its Knights Corner device that targets high-performance computing segments, such as exploration, scientific research and financial or climate simulation, which will be made on Intel's 22nm manufacturing  process and will feature “more than 50 processing cores” on a single chip, something that promises exceptional performance. The vast majority of workloads will still run best on Intel Xeon processors, and the Knights Corner will only help to accelerate select highly parallel applications. Earlier this year Intel launches Xeon CPUs that support Machine Check Architecture (MCA) Recovery, a feature that allows the silicon to work with the operating system and virtual machine manager to recover from otherwise fatal system errors, a mechanism until now found only in the company's Intel Itanium processor family and RISC processors.

“The recent Intel announcement of many integrated core (MIC) chips targets high-performance computing, not the mission-critical market that Itanium-based systems target.  As you know, customers in the mission critical markets value the stability, reliability, and the vendor ecosystem backing their mission-critical solution.  The latest, fastest processor is not their priority. Running the software their business depends (often UNIX-based) on a highly stable and reliable platform is crucial for them.  Supplying that high-end mission critical market is a very big business for HP as well as other companies like Bull in Europe and Itanium OEMs in Japan and China. That is where Itanium-based systems earn billions of dollars,” added Mr. Ward.

Tags: Intel, Itanium, IA64, Nehalem, Knights Corner

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