64-bit solutions

Our first head-to-head test of low-cost, high-power computing

It’s no accident that Intel’s 32-bit Xeon processor dominates the low-end to midrange server market. The Xeon’s mix of good performance and low price has helped make it the workhorse of corporate datacenters — including, very likely, many of those at your company.

If that’s the case, you won’t want to miss Tom Yager’s tale of two interesting and very credible Xeon challengers.

Yager, technical director of the InfoWorld Test Center, has been tracking the emergence of low-cost 64-bit computing for some time now. It was slightly more than a year ago when he first peeled the lid off AMD’s then-new Opteron chip and liked what he found inside. This week, he pits two of the newer platforms — one based on the Opteron, the other on IBM’s 64-bit PowerPC 970FX — against each other.

Although Yager concludes both platforms offer a reasonable Xeon alternative, he finds the differences instructive. The dual Opteron server takes advantage of that processor’s onboard memory management circuitry to excel at tasks involving memory throughput. The PowerPC model, on the other hand, a dual-processor Apple Xserve G5, was more efficient at communicating with peripheral devices such as enterprise storage arrays and high-speed server interconnects — probably thanks in part to Apple’s customized chip set and I/O controller.

You might expect to have seen Intel’s 64-bit Itanium 2 somewhere in this comparison. Indeed, Yager originally hoped to include it in the test. Unfortunately, the closest comparable model — the low-voltage Itanium 2 — runs at only half the clock speed of the AMD and IBM chips, making a fair comparison impossible. Yager concludes that the Itanium may require advances in software to bring out its true potential, but you can bet it will figure in a future product comparison.

Elsewhere in this issue, Senior Contributing Editor Oliver Rist tackles the complex and increasingly critical problem of deploying periodic patches to keep your software secure and up-to-date. His report appears as our cover story, “Applying Patch Management.”

Most companies start out handling updates manually, but the job quickly grows too large. At the Federal Reserve Bank’s New York location, for example, there are more than 10,000 different devices to manage, including many that are carried by mobile users. Rist examines the possible solutions for such complex situations, and he offers a step-by-step decision guide as well as some suggested vendors to consider.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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