Server Architecture: Past, Present, and Future – Part 2

Other companies that produce x86 processors include Cyrix, AMD, and VIA. AMD, in particular, has become Intel’s biggest competitor.

At the turn of the century, Intel introduced their high-powered 64-bit processor line called IA-64 or Itanium. Originally produced at HP, Intel later joined in the development with the intention of making server-class processors to compete with IBM PowerPC and Sun SPARC processors. The Itanium mainly powered servers running the HP-UX operating system (HP’s UNIX-like OS), but Microsoft and others also supported it.

AMD’s release of their 64-bit extension for x86 processors (called x86-64), however, put a serious dent in the Itanium market, one that would eventually lead to its demise. Recently, Microsoft announced that it would stop supporting Itanium processors.

In order to compete with AMD’s server processors, such as their Opteron, Intel decided to join in on AMD’s party and create their own x86-64 processors, based on their previous Xeon server models.

Today, multi-core Xeon and Opteron processors are very popular choices for dedicated servers, particularly those that power web applications. Current clock speeds reach as high as 3.8 GHz. Although PowerPC, SPARC, and other architectures still exist, they have only become prevalent in more specialized markets.