May 30, 2006

The Processor Market – Confusion or Ennui?


Joyce Becknell
The processor market used to be relatively simple.  Customers mostly chose RISC or CISC and then purchased the fastest system they could get within their budgetary guidelines.  But now processors come in multiple forms – there is the underlying architecture still – CISC, RISC, and EPIC (Itanium) – but there are also issues of multithreading, mult-cores, and issues around cache sizes.  Understanding which technology to use, and how to compare vendors using variations of nomenclature has made processor decision-making a trickier undertaking.  

I believe that the vendors are not helping to simplify issues in this market, and that this confusion far from being irrelevant technical detail in the end, will have an impact on how companies purchase not only hardware, but software as well.  I’ve written a paper on this recently that delves into these issues more deeply, but I’m wondering how much IT managers really care, and whether they feel they understand the impact of changing processor architectures to their IT infrastructure.  I’d like to know if it makes a difference to customers, if they feel like they can make valid comparisons between vendors, and if it’s affecting how they purchase software.

Tony Lock
The issues raised here by Joyce do have relevance in the everyday world of CIOs, IT Managers and those charged with the procurement of business systems. The decisions taken can have profound impacts on systems performance and the cost of service delivery. Unfortunately it is fair to say that the majority of professionals making processor selection tend today not to consider chip architecture at all; most people do not have the time to consider these questions.  However, the processor architecture selected can impact directly on the quality of service delivered to the customer / user, which software architectures work effectively, the cost of software license acquisition and a number of other matters.

This is an area where confusion reigns, often instigated by the processor designers and the server manufacturers making use of the chips, but as in nearly all such cases, the confusion created helps no one, least of all the business users. Indeed, it is fair to say that the lack of understanding of the different processor characteristics does not even help the suppliers themselves.

1 comment:

Rob Smyth said...

Hi Joyce, I just picked up on your article about the processor market. My customer is having exactly the debate you highlight. They are trying to work out how to compare an IBM p595 to a Sun E25K and it is hard to do. Performance is imperative to them and they are having to try both out to get a true figure