AMD has a friend in HP

HP's enthusiasm for the Opteron chip is palpable, and AMD is clearly loving the attention. Now, all eyes will be on the shipment figures

So HP is now shipping Opteron servers. They are the same, familiar chunks of Proliant iron, but with Opteron chips instead of Intel inside, denoted by a trailing five in place of a zero on the model number.

So what's the big deal? Customers buying Proliant servers can now buy exactly the same servers but with Opteron inside. Well that is exactly the deal: one of the world's best-selling server lines is now being offered with a choice of Intel Xeon or AMD Opteron processors.

HP says it is not a replacement strategy, and points to increasing sales of the Intel versions, but nevertheless the executives who launched the AMD versions did so with a remarkable amount of enthusiasm -- they were almost breathless with talk of better performance, lower prices and lower power consumption relative to the Intel versions.

That enthusiasm even spread to the workstation product managers (there's a new dual-Opteron workstation too), one of whom could barely contain his excitement having sold one on prescription. The customer in question had, we were told, bought the workstation for an employee who had been made ill by the heat and noise pumped out their old Intel unit. It's enough to bring tears to your eyes.

Certainly, it is the first time HP has outwardly appeared so excited about a non-Intel processor since the Alpha (which is on its way out) and Itanium (which is reserved in HP's collective mind for servers with eight sockets or more).

There are a number of factors at work here: AMD cutting prices while Intel is, well, not; all the spare processing power left over from the dot-com bubble being consumed; server rooms left half-full because the air-con and power supply are at full load already; and a rapidly growing market for dual-processor servers, both rack-mounted and blade.

And what makes HP think business customers will go for the Opteron, a processor from a company virtually unknown in the server rooms and data centres until just two years ago? Because, the company says, buyers are less resistant to change than they were three or even two years ago, and because AMD provides enough of an advantage over Intel to make them at least consider the change. Because HP is offering both, this gives AMD the most level playing field it has ever had in the server market, and will be first real test of whether AMD does have what it takes to make it in the data centre. We'll be watching HP's shipment figures with interest.

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