Red Hat Pledges Support for x86-64

Optmizing for Opteron

When Advanced Micro Devices Inc. first announced its 64-bit competitor to Intel Corp.’s IA-64 architecture used in the Itanium processor, many observers wondered if major software and server vendors would support the processor. However a number of vendors have pledged support for the fledging product, including Red Hat Inc, which said today it would port its Linux Advanced Server distribution to the chip.

Although x84-64 can run software written for today’s 32-bit processors, since it retains the x86 instruction set used from the earliest PC to today’s Pentiums and Athlons, without vendor support, software cannot take advantage of the potential performance gains the chips may offer. Since Opteron, the forthcoming x86-64 server chip, is targeted at enterprise customers, AMD needs enterprise software to be optimized for it.

Today’s Red Hat announcement gives Opteron the backing of one of the established names in enterprise Linux. With over half of Linux revenue, Red Hat dominates the business Linux market, and its Advanced Server is one of only a few Linux distributions that support failover clustering out of the box.

Currently, Red Hat does not offer a version of Advanced Server for the IA-64 Itanium processor, although it does have a distribution optimized for the chip. The addition of clustering may give AMD an edge over Intel in selling servers to enterprises that need highly available platforms at a relatively low cost.

Red Hat is far from the only established enterprise vendor to pledge support for Opteron. Last month, IBM said it would optimize its DB2 database server for the chip. Yesterday, Sun CEO Scott McNealy hinted Sun would use AMD chips in future products. Speaking at a product launch in San Francisco, he said, “I think the right answer is x86-64.”

About the Author

Chris McConnell is Product and Technology Editor for Enterprise Systems.