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Alpha Lives! But Who Will Market It? 269

Posted by Hemos
from the return-from-the-dead dept.
chriton writes "The Inquirer is running articles about HP's and new "Marvel" server which will arrive Tuesday, Jan 14th and the expectation that HP will try to keep it's performance quiet. Not because it's bad like Itanic I, but because it's too good! It's built on Alpha EV78 processors connected by a switched fabric and promises blazing performance. "Marvel has, apparently some rollickingly good benchmarks that HP wants to underplay, just in case people start comparing the performance of the Alpha Marvel architecture with the Itanium 2 it also sells, and perhaps more importantly, the SuperDome machines." Alpha offers the kind of choice and competition the processor market will sorely miss when it goes. The FTC was sleeping when they allowed HP to acquire it."
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Alpha Lives! But Who Will Market It?

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  • But... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 12, 2003 @11:16PM (#5069981)
    I'd try, but I wanna wait till it comes out in at least beta form.

    (DA du CH)

    oh, and FP!

    - cornjchob
  • Alpha rules. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MisterQ (60710) on Sunday January 12, 2003 @11:36PM (#5070074)
    Indeed, now let me see. I could buy a PA-Risc... (Not!), or an IBM/Motorola Chipped thingie (Small market, bounded technology), or a Sparc box - small market bounded technology, arrogant supplier, single source.

    Or I could buy an Alpha. A commitment of at least a Decade of support (What was I using 10 years ago, and what land fill is it in now..) A proven track record of meeting or beating the promises on performance.

    Oh no, wait. I'll get an itanic. What you mean they are only available in limited quantities, and at vastly inflated prices. Oh, and the ones that everyone is raving about aren't going to me around for another 2-3 years. Hey, it takes that long to get orders through purchasing, who is worried...

    And what's that. Adaptive partitioning within the box, (dynamically changable SMP and Clustering). Clustering that is more than Me and a standby mini-me. Couldn't be? When dod they get that working...

    Note that the new Alpha moves the ES40/ES45 range out to GS (Big MF) nomenclature...

    The one saving grace, is that scuttlebutt says that based on the intel thef acquisition of Alpha, that post-Madison Itanics will actually look more like an Alpha than a traditional Intel.

    More things to file in my "I told you so" list, for later...
  • by tcc (140386) on Sunday January 12, 2003 @11:37PM (#5070083) Homepage Journal
    Yey, 500th post, on a subject I like :)

    I remember when Compaq bought the Alpha technology. I was invited to a demo for their new workstation machine, that was back in the late 90s, I remember the workstation they were demoing in front of everyone, nice audience, people that worked on the movie Titanic were there to explain how they used the alpha technology to render those huge datasets, manipulate large 3d models, etc etc...

    They were so EVASIVE when people would specifically ask them to compare the Alpha Workstation to intel workstation. I mean everything looked professionnal up to that precise moment. Why on earth are you getting yourself in so much trouble to advertise your alpha workstation, invite people to costly hotel floor, serve them good food, etc, if you don't want to address the PRIMARY concern of your target audience? What "non-alpha" people (new customers) want to know is why would they go alpha if it's not for the proprietary software?

    (In this case, Lightwave was one of the tools and it was cross-platform, every Lightwave users KNEW that the alpha crushed the PC in rendering, so hiding this fact looked very suspicious for this small portion of the people that were there. Then you add the fact they they didn't want to give any comparing numbers, being evasive and all. The only positive thing they mentionned is the FX32 emulator and the fact that they could run non-native software like photoshop in their alpha workstation. Now who the hell would buy a workstation like this if it doesn't show any appeal outside from the people that already know about it? If you say "3x faster rendering, only 1.5x the price" now there's an apeal! They didn't! How on earth are they going to gain sufficient marketshare with mouth-to-ear strategy, where amiga, for example, failed. With a CPU R&D buisness, you need a LOT of sales to cover you expenses, they had a bomb on their hands, and while I understand that they had to play nice with Intel, they could have thrown the bomb at intel instead of blowing up with it.

    This is another situation where Money and Monopoly is bad for evolutions and revolutions, try to find ONE SINGLE alpha user that bitched about the architecture (before it got left out dying, obviously), make a percentage (you'll probably get something close to 0%), then compare that percentage with Intel users. Not that Intel technology is bad, but it sure isn't revolutionnary, heck I'm still waiting to get that 7505 chipset board with 2 2.8Ghz Xeon on it, everything is back order or N/A yet. If compaq would have had a clue, I'd have a box probably 4x more powerful today with win2k support and good driver support for about the same price... shame.

  • by TeknoHog (164938) on Sunday January 12, 2003 @11:39PM (#5070088) Homepage Journal
    I bet Alpha still has a larger software base than Itanium.
  • by Wakko Warner (324) on Sunday January 12, 2003 @11:43PM (#5070100) Homepage Journal
    The only significant computer purchases made these days by businesses and consumers alike contain the words "Dell", "Intel", and "Microsoft".

    Yeah, those 12 brand-new IBM P-series 630 servers we have sitting in our server room waiting to be installed must be an illusion.

    You don't actually work in the tech industry, do you?

    - A.P.
  • Re:Hmm (Score:5, Insightful)

    by silentbozo (542534) on Sunday January 12, 2003 @11:46PM (#5070109) Journal
    In a rational world, management would own up to their mistakes (whoops, Alpha IS better than Intel) and work to make things right. When I was in a business simulations class (we were grouped into teams, and our "yearly" decisions as to the mix of funds devoted to r&d, marketing, production amounts, pricing, etc. for each of our respective companies, were fed into a sim every week), my team made the mistake of trying to eliminate an existing product line in favor of a more profitable "premium" product.

    While it was more profitable, the market was actually bigger in the more mature market - something that none of the teams had taken into account. However, because our team invested heavily into reducing production costs (retooling, R&D into improving production efficiency and unit quality, strategic partnership with suppliers) we were able to shift some of our capacity back into the "classic" product, price it lower than the competition, and royally kick ass in the simulated market in the following year.

    What does this have to do with HP? Well, if you have a superior product, one that will dominate for a pretty good while, and you have the sole source for it, WTF would you want to sell an inferior, lower-margin commodity product in direct competition with a whole boatload of competitors? I mean, isn't that what is killing SGI? The fact that they're trying to compete in the commodity market, but without a superior selling point (either tech, or price), they're getting hammered.

    Florina was death to HP. I'm going to miss their R&D and their printer line when they go under, and only can hope that HP's board members never sit on any other company's boards in the future. Well, any company except maybe Microsoft...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 13, 2003 @12:09AM (#5070187)
    Has anyone here actually tried to program alphas ?

    It's memory model is so weak (on purpose) that code can and does appear to execute out of order.

    If you are fast but not correct, then you are
    not fast at all.
  • by Oswald (235719) on Monday January 13, 2003 @12:51AM (#5070332)
    I'm completely O-fucking-T here, but look at what Slashdot moderation comes down to. This person expresses their one-line, unsubstantiated opinion (never claiming to be doing anything more--no offense to you, TeknoHog), and because he appears to be on the side of the angels, BOOM, +4 Insightful. This is stupid; what good does viewing at +3 or higher do with ridiculous moderation like this? (Well, it will save you seeing this post, I guess ;)
  • by The B (546495) on Monday January 13, 2003 @12:58AM (#5070352)
    We use a DEC alpha at work great machine. The problem with a platform that is not marketed and promoted well is due to the increasing price VS return factor.

    DEC equipment is EXPENSIVE. Even more so now. Itanium or AMD 64bit platform may not be quite as fast "yet". and still green and untested, but the price vs return factor compared to performance will be much higher on the newer platforms. This is why Apple Computer lost its war to Microsoft and PC's. Today, PC's with NT rival and even topple G4 performance for a lot LESS money.

    For a platform to succeed it not only need good performance it needs vast support and competitive pricing. The old VHS vs Beta thing.
  • Re:Sad but true (Score:3, Insightful)

    by binaryDigit (557647) on Monday January 13, 2003 @01:14AM (#5070401)
    when they COULD have sold the chip to use in apples (instead of PPC) they declined (morons)

    I've never heard this, do you have any links to articles that talk about this? I don't know that I'd go as far as calling them "morons", without knowing the details, but if Apple were looking for something along the lines of their deal with IBM/Mot, I could see how DEC wouldn't want to get into such a intimate deal. Plus the monikor "morons" has to be reserved for Motorola and their handling of RISC and the cpu market in general. Makes any blunder that DEC made look small chips in comparison.
  • by haggar (72771) on Monday January 13, 2003 @02:40AM (#5070684) Homepage Journal
    ..the Alpha CPU, but I'm sure many are attached to Linux. As a small aside, know that RedHat Linux Advanced Server will have an important role in the undoing of the Alpha vs. Itanium II.

    You might be surprised now, but in a couple of months you'll know why I said this.
  • by DABANSHEE (154661) on Monday January 13, 2003 @03:18AM (#5070746)
    Samsung has full right to manufacture & develop Alphas, no matter what Intel or HP do.
  • Re:it is sad (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dmp95 (640686) on Monday January 13, 2003 @03:27AM (#5070768)
    The Alpha has long been the best RISC chip, and probably best overall chip on the market. What may be more sad isn't just the loss of the Alpha, but the loss of innovation that DEC was responsible for. Ethernet, major SCSI improvements, Alpha, RDB, DLT and clustering a'la VMS. Many people don't realize how far ahead DEC was on their products. The quality of engineering that DEC put into its products may never be seen again. DEC would acutally specify that Seagate should change the RPM of the DEC drives they manufactured, so the vibration frequency would be better for the longevity of the drives. (Not to mention the cooling, power, etc...) DEC systems worked and worked well. People without DEC experiences may not realize the level of engineering and quality that went into DEC products. (Of course, having DEC personel with an office in the back of your computer room didn't hurt, but DEC's incredible customer service organization is worth another post entirely :-) Which brings me back to the clustering. Why is it that Linux or 2000 doesn't have the incredible clustering capabilities of OpenVMS? (This is rhetorical, I know about the ci and ssi stuff for Linux on source forge and I know how DEC (West) held back on moving their full clustering to NT because of pressure from Microsoft. They actually had NT and Alpha systems running Digital Clusters for Windows, but wouldn't release it.) Why can't we have a real distributed lock manager like VMS with a single system image on a cluster that isn't a total kludge? It is 2003 for Christ sake. Did I mention that Unix was orginally coded for a DEC PDP???? Sure DEC stuff was expensive, but as I learned, it was worth every penny. Hardware is a minor part of TCO, and DEC hardware kicked ass. Then Compaq bought DEC and managed to ruin themselves and DEC. What a bunch of mangement morons. Now HP, a bunch of bigger management morons, will kill the remaining legacy of DEC. Too bad the families lost the lawsuit to stop the merger. The burying of the EV7 is the final nail in DEC's slow death. So long EV7, so long VMS clusters, so long world-class engineering... The only hope left is IBM, the only company left with the true R&D strength, but I'm not betting on that no matter how much they tout Linux in ads.
  • Re:Hmm (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Eric Smith (4379) <eric@NosPAm.brouhaha.com> on Monday January 13, 2003 @03:45AM (#5070840) Homepage Journal
    The reason why HP favors the itanium is because they spent billions of dollars co-creating it with Intel. [...] They want a return on their investment.
    So you're basically saying that HP management doesn't understand the concept of "sunk costs"?

    The fact that they've already spent billions of dollars on it doesn't necessarily mean that continuing to push it is the best business decision. Sometimes you have to realize that you made a bad choice, and write off the investment. Otherwise you may just lose many billions more.

  • by Paul Komarek (794) <komarek.paul@gmail.com> on Monday January 13, 2003 @04:43AM (#5071013) Homepage
    CPU R&D is *really* expensive. That's probably why Intel doesn't seem to do much CPU R&D and sticks mainly to manufacturing (note: Itanic arch came mainly from HP, StrongArm and XScale came from other outside sources). It takes very special companies to support this cost, and there aren't many that want to stay in the CPU R&D business anymore (much less get into it).

    A large part of the reason GNU/Linux is doing so well compared to other UNIX and UNIX-like systems today is that it runs well on cheap *commodity* hardware. Nobody is going to be impressed if GNU/Linux runs better than WIntel on really expensive equipment. Not to say that people aren't impressed by GNU/Linux running on the IBM S390 for its own sake. =-)

    It's not even clear that people *want* better hardware. After all, better hardware has been losing to cheaper hardware for at least 5 years now. It is suprisingly hard to explain to someone why adding an $1800 (or $5400 full-retail) cpu card to a Compaq ES40 is better than buying a new Athlon XP or P-IV since many of the costs aren't easy to account for. But the sysadmins using the scalable ES40 know just how much easier that machine is to care for (esp. remotely) than a uniprocessor $1800 commodity x86 box.

    -Paul Komarek

    -Paul Komarek
  • Re:Sad but true (Score:4, Insightful)

    by evilviper (135110) on Monday January 13, 2003 @06:05AM (#5071168) Journal
    is basically a linear factor for all processors

    That is absolutely NOT TRUE. If nothing else, you can compare the heat from a (say) Intel, 1GHz Processor, with that of the earliest 1GHz processor.

    But power consumption is only a relatively minor factor in the purchase decisions

    Gee, thanks for telling me. And here I was thinking that a company might be willing to pay a few bucks more for a system that consumed a fraction of the power, while performing just as well, thus lowering their Total Cost Of Ownership, and making the lower-power machine a much better value. What was I thinking? You're right, I'm sure you'd never TCO in a corporate meeting.

    The main criterion is Gflops/dollar.

    If that was the case, there wouldn't be anything even resembling mainframes, as they would need a large ammount of space and heavy-duty cooling systems for all of their AMD Duron processors.
    When you have one computer in your house, it can run very hot without causing real problems. When you have hundreds of processors in a rack the size of a small closet, you need something that runs incredibly cool, while giving you good performance.

    That must be why Google's setup is so famous, because they are doing the same thing as everyone else, and disregarding the issue of heat.

  • by arivanov (12034) on Monday January 13, 2003 @06:19AM (#5071200) Homepage
    PA-RISC brings better support revenue. The support contracts are much higher for similar services. It is also more popular with telcos, banks, etc - people who buy and pay support contracts. On the contrary Alpha has been popular in the engineering market which usually does not even like paying for extended warranties. There are exemptions to this rule like older Nortel softswitches, BT, etc but they are not that many.

    Overall, in the big wide world performance does not really matter when it comes to revenue in the big iron (unix or mainframe) market. What matters is the services and recurring revenue.

    IBM has understood this long ago. HP understood it a while ago. DEC and then Compaq never caught up. And payed the ultimate price. Having better chips it lost to the people having a better (more profitable) business model
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 13, 2003 @10:22AM (#5072071)
    So what does this news mean ?

    Presuming you mean the news about good EV7 performance, it means Compaq was correct when they decided to continue with EV7 even though in the longer term they will be moving VMS to Itanium.

    Just trying to sell some more alphas ?

    The goal is to have VMS on the fastest possible system. The plan was that that would be EV7 for a while, until Itanium catches up.

    How long will they support this system ?

    Their standard is that they will support a system for at least five years after they stop selling it. They say they will continue to sell Alpha as long as there is a demand, but at least until 2006. If customers keep buying new Alphas (likely until Itanium catches up), they will sell the new ones. As for the 5 year support after sales end, that might be a bit misleading, as they still support machines sold 20 years ago (although at a steep price).

    If it is not obvious, some of us have been following this rather closely :-)

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