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AMD exec: Opteron makes enterprise Linux compelling

Advanced Micro Devices stepped up the 64-bit computing race late last month when it introduced its Opteron processor, a 64-bit compatible 32-bit chip that AMD, analysts and users have touted a natural fit for Linux. Not only does Opteron present a challenger to Intel's 64-bit option, Itanium 2, it comes into the game with several noteworthy benchmarks in hand and the blessing of IBM. IBM, a huge Linux player, has already certified its DB2 database for Opteron and has committed to building a platform based on the processor. Marty Seyer, vice president and general manager of AMD's microprocessor business unit, details the advantages of Opteron for enterprises either using or considering a move to Linux in this interview.

Why would an enterprise using Linux take a liking to Opteron?
We're compatible with the 32-bit world and we fall in line with where Linux falls in line. Opteron's price-performance is too compelling a reason not to run Linux on the platform. Couple that with the 64-bit compatibility there and that gives enterprises incremental value. Why are enterprises embracing Linux?
They're not latching onto the 'cool' factor that Linux can afford them. They are past that. The want what will allow them to do more on a fixed budget year over year. We look at Linux and Opteron as a lock-step. Can you detail the advantages of having 32- and 64-bit capabilities in the same processor?
You know what the value proposition is with Linux -- its focus on its capabilities to lower total cost of ownership of computing power. One way to do that is to run Linux on a dated server. When you think of the low volume of coding, it performs nicely on dated technology. Customers are capable of extending the life of a server. You can run Linux on a back-revved 2-year-old server, for example. Linux prolongs the life of the hardware configuration of a server.

The bulk of our installations outside of high-performance computing environments, will start at 32 bits then over time, migrate to 64 with 64-bit already built into the hardware. Look at Linux running on an earlier hardware platform and the cost is compelling. Elongating the life of a server is music to the ears of a Linux shop.

Secondly, if you look at the cost of a four-processor system, customers are going to have concerns. It's beyond their reach economically. There's no reason in many cases to buy a four-processor system over a two-way system. We have changed that. Customers can now be very aggressive and go up to eight ways. We have changed the dynamics and the sweet spot, which has been the two-processor system. Now there are four-way systems and we have opened the number of applications an enterprise can run in a Linux environment. We've given Linux more headroom with 64-bit computing and economically. Several notable benchmark results were announced on Opteron's launch day? Which, in your opinion, were the most significant for enterprises either currently using Linux or considering a migration to Linux?
The most noteworthy benchmark Opteron hit was the TPC/C. Why is that significant? No. 1, we delivered new performance capability for a 32-bit environment. What we also did was set new boundaries for price-performance. The best TPC/C dollars-per-transaction benchmark was $2.78 per transaction -- and that was on a one-processor server. We came in with a four-processor server configuration and did $2.76 per transaction. We changed the economics of the four-processor space. This is significant for the database world. All front-end applications tie back to the database. The TPC/C is a significant milestone and it's turning heads in the industry.

The Web-application benchmark for 64-bit secure sessions Opteron set was also important. We hit two key areas for every enterprise. Can you provide some insight into the early days of Opteron's development? Was SuSE the first to hop on the bandwagon?
We've been in the server business six quarters now, a year and a half. Our engineering team came up with the AMD 64 architecture and told is it would do great things for our 64-bit business and be destructive for our 32-bit business. We looked to the Linux community and shared our plans with the key players. SuSE saw an opportunity and seized it first. They shared our vision and stepped forward and created a partnership.

Linux is a key OS for us. If we look at where we've been successful with it in the enterprise, it's been in high-computing centers -- all enterprises have one going now. The dominant OS is Linux. These computing centers are focused on performance and they try to get the absolute best performance first, knowing all along that price-performance is a key point. They maximize performance then focus on price-performance. Opteron's revamped integrated memory controller has gotten a lot of attention and has been hailed as the reason for the performance boost in the processor. Could you provide some details?
With the integrated memory controller in your CPU complex, you've got a north bridge where you memory controller is housed and your south bridge where your I/O and disk drives are housed. Between them is the bus. What we've done is incorporated the north bridge into the CPU complex. When you do your memory fetch over the old architecture, there are delays in time and latency there because you've got the bus speed to deal with. By incorporating it, we've removed 90% of the latency and now you've got minimal waiting during a memory fetch. As you scale the speed of the processor in Opteron, you scale the performance of your memory controller. Under the old architecture, you were limited by your bus speed. With Opteron, it's automatic -- faster processor, faster memory speed.

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Observers have said IBM cannot afford to allow Linux to fail. How important is it to have a Tier 1 player like IBM aboard so early with Opteron?
We needed a Tier 1 player to enhance Opteron. We want to equate Opteron with the enterprise. IBM sees the value proposition of Opteron and it's doing several things. On the software side, it certified DB2 database on Linux on 64 bits. And that's significant in and of itself when their database runs on your platform. Also, they committed to developing a platform that runs on Opteron and Linux. Third, they are going to use Opteron in their supercomputing services.

You see the need for 64-bit capabilities in supercomputing circles. Opteron provides very compelling economics and fulfills the demands of X86 computing on either 32-bit or 64-bit. Customers are demanding 32- and 64-bit computing. With the old architecture, you had a bank of 32-bit servers and a bank of 64-bit servers, you were doubling your expenses.

The economic equation is dramatic. We've changed the economic dynamics by having 32-bit and 64-bit capabilities in the same system. I think it was Giga who said that IT shops would save 25% using Opteron. If you've got 2,000 servers, you can either save on 500 servers or add 500 servers to your farm.

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