Intel's Gelsinger: Dempsey Viable Product For Channel

As Intel prepared to ship its new dual-core Itanium processor, Pat Gelsinger, Intel's Senior Vice President General Manager, Digital Enterprise Group, talked to CRN Hardware Editor Kristen Kenedy about Intel's server plans in the fourth quarter.

Intel may have been too "zealous" with Itanium in the beginning but there is now a wide-range of hardware and software available for the architecture, and now is the time for solution providers to take another look at the high performance (HPC) and mission critical computing space, he said.

Additionally, Gelsinger defended Intel's decision to release the "Dempsey" Xeon processor just weeks before the more powerful "Woodcrest" Xeon processor, and insisted the "Dempsey" chip remains a viable channel option.

CRN: I think some of our readers were surprised at how close together Dempsey and Woodcrest [Intel's Xeon 5000 and 5100 server processors, respectively] were released. Now there is some question about just how valid Dempsey is as a product. I think the channel-exclusive SKU was priced in the $170 range but the lowest cost Woodcrest is around $200 or $230.

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Gelsinger: First, yes, they got closer together. The Bensley platform moved out a little bit so Dempsey moved out a little bit. Woodcrest pulled in quite a bit.

So what was expected to be a much bigger gap between them became a much smaller gap between them. Obviously, when we had the internal discussions about that, it was like, 'Well, this is good news, we are pulling in Woodcrest, but really it almost steps on the toes of Dempsey.'

In retrospect, if we had known all that, we might have chosen different strategies, but I think it worked out very well. It allowed us to get the platform started -- and very quickly. Essentially, when we launched the Dempsey platform we said it works for Dempsey and Woodcrest. They were so close together many customers were able to starting qualifying those and looking at those almost simultaneously. So it worked out even better this way.

Now, the Dempsey value proposition going forward is not all markets need power performance. In that sense, we see that Dempsey will be the price/performance leader and Woodcrest will be the power/performance leader. [and Intel will price Dempsey accordingly] and we think the channel will find it to be a very valuable product. It's differentiated because the OEMs " the big OEMs " are largely taking Woodcrest. So it's a differentiated play and our commitment is to have it be a price/performance leader. So it will always be a great priced product.

CRN: Are OEMs taking Woodcrest primarily because " whether it is true or not " there seems to be a perception in the industry that everyone needs low power? Has it become such a part of the conversation that people think that's what they need to have, whether they need it or not?

Yeah. Whether they need it or not. In many cases the channel is servicing the midmarket, the smaller customers. In those cases, they don't have a big data center. They aren't worried about the power cost of a 1000-rack configuration. They are worried about, 'give me a great priced solution that meets my needs for this " 98 servers.' Power is not an issue for those customers today. In that regard, we think Dempsey is a great product.

CRN: But some of those customers may have limited space to put those servers. They may have a closet and now they have to get more processing power, more servers, into the same space. They can't expand. In that case, heat becomes an issue.

Gelsinger: Some may or may not. But for the most part, the power consumptions and the difference between the product " the 50 or so watt difference depending on the configuration is not that big of a deal.

It really becomes a big deal when I'm talking about putting 1,000 servers in a rackmount 1u or 2u or a blade server.

For most of the configurations, a small number of systems, a closet, pedestal systems -- it's just not that big of a factor. And that's why we think Dempsey is a great product for the channel. It meets the customers they service, it will be the price/performance leader and it has all the other system characteristics. It has the same Bensley platform, the same memory, the same reliability " all of those other things. And, of course, we have Woodcrest for the channel as well.

Up next: Gelsinger Talks Itanium Pricing And Itanium Whitebox

CRN: How is the Itanium whitebox effort going? I understand you have refreshed the motherboards for the Itanium 2 9000 release.

Gelsinger: We have Itanium whiteboxes in the market already and Itanium motherboards in the market already. Since Montecito [Itanium 2 9000 series] is a drop-in for those systems, so we can continue to leverage that market today. So from a reseller channel perspective this is a wonderful product, it's an immediate upgrade to the things they are already doing.

There will be some refreshes, some incremental system capabilities, but fundamentally it builds on what the channel is already delivering.

CRN: How is the whitebox for Itanium going? It's a very high end space, in my mind, for whitebox.

Gelsinger: It is very interesting because I would have the exact same reaction you would. 'That's high end, does it seem like the [custom systems] channel could go and do that?' What we find is there is--maybe its high performance computing--someone is building a system integration of a 128 node high performance computer. Well, where do they get the basic nodes from? Then the whitebox availability of those becomes a great offering.

In some cases, it may be more of a workstation type of play, or something like that, for certain segments of the market where a certain integrator or channel VAR will have a great position or relationship [with a customer], so that becomes part of their solution that they offer. It isn't a huge piece of the business today, the majority of the business is the HP plus the seven other OEMs, Fujitsu, NEC, etc. But [Itanium] whitebox is a sustained and solid, consistent part of the business that we see as important going foward.

CRN: Is the Itanium whitebox market more important overseas than in the United States?

Gelsinger: Clearly in emerging markets where the big guys don't have a big presence this becomes the way to participate in the business. For instance, in Russia, Itanium is the mission computing, high performance, high-end architecture of choice. It is bigger than IBM Power and probably 5x the size of Sun. Why is that? A lot of it is delivered because of the channel and the whitebox solutions into that market today.

CRN: Could you talk a little bit about pricing strategy for Montecito. Pricing has been very competitive for the other dual-core products you've launched this year, and I'm wondering what you are doing with the Itanium line. I think some solution providers were under the impression you would put Montecito out at three-fourths the price of existing Itanium chips.

Gelsinger: No. I'm not sure where that would have come from. Basically we have a set of price point from just about $4,000 to $669. That's based on frequency as well as cache size, and down at the lowest price point we have single core vs. dual core. It's a range of price points. So basically those price points are the same price points we had for Madison. So the same single core product is now being replaced nominally at the same price with the dual core products.

CRN: And that would be consistent with Intel's strategy overall to move the market to dual core?

Gelsinger: Yes.

CRN: What are features are important for Itanium in the future as you look to the next versions.

Gelsinger: Clearly that market is concerned about performance, so per core performance as well as overall per socket performance. Power performance is important but not the biggest factor. These are big machines and they have big cooling systems, etc.

Then, what we call RAS--reliability, availability, serviceability--features, are very critical. The data integrity, like memory mirroring, memory scrubbing, memory compartmentalization, etc. Security is very critical. Scaleability: People buying this class of machines, they may buy an eight-node, eight processor machine, but they want to be able to scale up to 32 over its lifetime.

CRN: Is there one feature you think is particularly interesting?

Gelsinger: The whole data integrity area, what we are doing for memory protection, memory mirroring, everything on the die for ECC and reliability features " that is an important part of what differentiates the product line.

CRN: Do you think that's an area that a chip like [AMD's x86] Opteron, which has done well in the HPC market, just can't come up and compete?

Gelsinger: We look at Xeon and we can touch on Opteron as well. We could go build a number of those features into Xeon. But it's a very different design. It's a much larger die, a more expensive die, and thus the high volume market doesn't reward you for those features.

So if a product costs double, you don't get any more revenue for it in that segment of the marketplace. So, we've chosen several years ago to make this our design for this other segment of the marketplace. It's like saying " Nissan and Lexus. Well, I could have done one product but I chose to do two different ones because of the characteristics of the marketplace.

CRN: Anything you want to add?

Gelsinger: Our simple message is that Itanium is credible and it has reached critical mass. Now, I think, becomes a very good time to look again. It is open an open architecture " [solution providers] might not before have believed there was enough momentum there. There clearly is momentum now. And we would hope that some of them would say it's a good opportunity to step into the marketplace. To say, 'There is an inflection point that I can participate in.'