Intel is using a team of Russian engineers in its Moscow-based Intel Solutions Centre as a secret weapon in the cold war between Intel's IA-64 processors and established Risc systems.
Intel's Solutions Centres, of which there are 20 worldwide and four in Europe, are mainly used to make it easier for OEMs to sell Intel-based systems to enterprises. But they are also used to help convince large customers of the benefits of IA-64 -- which is sold under the brand name Itanium -- over proprietary Risc-based systems such as those sold by IBM and Sun Microsystems.
Each centre has its own strengths because of the different talent pools in different countries, according to Simon Muchmore, director of marketing for Solution Centres and Services in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. For example, the Stockholm operation has several engineers specialising in wireless.
Moscow's engineers are particularly good at software tuning, because of a history of having to work with industry-substandard equipment, Muchmore said. Since it so happens that the lack of fine-tuned software is a major stumbling block to IA-64 adoption, the work of customising software for Itanium has become the lion's share of the work done at the Moscow Solutions Centre.
"Let's face it, the only reason Itanium is not out there everywhere in the world is the lack of software," Muchmore said.
The Russian engineers are mostly former military scientists who left for the private sector when the Soviet army was scaled down following the end of the cold war around 1989. Like Russian fighter pilots, they were used to working with near-obsolete equipment, from which they had to squeeze the maximum possible performance. Itanium is more cutting-edge, but the Russians still take software-tuning as a personal challenge, and expect to double or triple performance.
The UK centre tends to specialise in databases, Muchmore said, and has already helped sell Itanium systems to two large customers in the few months since it opened. The customers were interested in Itanium not because of its performance, but because of its ability to address large databases.
The Swedish centre has also helped sell Itanium systems to a large telecommunications company.
Muchmore said that the solutions centres are a key part of Intel's plans for selling customers on IA-64, which was launched only this year. The centres do not install systems themselves, but always work with OEMs and systems integrators.
Each centre has a team of about six engineers, though the Swedish base has an extra four because of the demand for wireless specialists.
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