For those who cheer -- or fear -- Linux's steady push into the enterprise, the game is about to become more interesting. The new 64-bit Itanium 2- and Opteron-powered servers are here, and in this issue our Test Center analyzes both the hardware and server software -- a twin package that will be particularly valuable to anyone planning the next-generation datacenter.
Linux's appeal is clear. Several vendors now offer dual-processor 1U servers with two Opteron processors and 2GB of memory, two drive slots and two 10/100/1000 Ethernet ports for a ballpark $2,000. That’s pretty attractive if you’re on a budget (who isn’t?). And the more boxes you need, the better it sounds.
The matchup gets even more interesting when you consider the chip battle that underlies it. In our hardware tests, we evaluated models from Appro International, Newisys, and Pogo Linux powered by AMD’s Opteron, and one from Hewlett-Packard that runs on Intel’s Itanium 2.
Because these devices often wind up in server farms, we evaluated their efficiency as Web servers using the venerable open source Apache as well as proprietary server software from U.K.-based Zeus Technology. In this setting, the Opteron-powered boxes had a clear performance edge, although reviewer Logan Harbaugh points out that this result may flip-flop with the next Itanium release in the perpetual game of leapfrog between Intel and AMD.
The more intriguing finding is the importance of choosing the right software. For example, the Opteron boxes running Apache could handle 500 or more simultaneous users before their latency rose above five seconds; the Itanium 2 hit five-second latency at only 150 users on Apache. When the boxes were running Zeus, however, this disparity all but disappeared -- every machine handled roughly 500 users with only two seconds of latency.
“The reason is that the Zeus product is 64-bit optimized,” Harbaugh explains, “whereas these versions of Apache may not be. It shows how important it is to have 64-bit optimized code -- and that’s going to be true for other kinds of software.” (See “Linux servers battle for enterprise recognition.”)
So it’s disappointing that enterprise software vendors are showing only lukewarm support for the new hardware. SAP is the only major player so far to announce plans to port its entire line to 64-bit Linux. Oracle will move its database but not its applications. Many others are sitting on the sidelines to see how things play out.
Although our Test Center notes that there is still plenty of room for proprietary solutions, there’s also no doubt that 64-bit Linux will be a hit -- and we can only hope that more software vendors hop on board soon.