64-bit Chips

The Economist writes:

With Opteron, AMD’s approach was to take an Intel-compatible 32-bit chip, and add special 64-bit extensions to it. The resulting chip is able to support more than four gigabytes of memory, and can run new, faster 64-bit software. Crucially, it can also run existing 32-bit software in the usual way. Intel’s approach, in contrast, was to start with a clean sheet and design an entirely new 64-bit chip, called Itanium. The project is in fact a joint venture with HP, which began work on the chip in 1988. Since its launch in 2001, years late, Itanium has sold slowly: a mere 100,000 chips were sold last year. Itanium systems are powerful, but they are expensive and cannot run existing 32-bit software efficiently. To get the full benefit from Itanium, software must be extensively rejigged.

Fred Weber, technology chief at AMD, likens Itanium to Esperanto. Nobody wants to learn a new language, he says, no matter how elegant it is. Hence the appeal of AMD’s chip, which offers cheap 64-bit power without compromising the performance of existing 32-bit software. HP’s announcement that it will use Opteron chips, and Intel’s announcement of an Opteron-like Xeon chip with 64-bit extensions, therefore appear to be very bad news for Itanium, and a vindication for AMD.

Intel denies that Itanium is doomed, however, with some justification. Itanium is intended to compete with other 64-bit chips (such as those made by Sun and IBM) at the very top end of the market, says Lisa Graff of Intel. That is a totally separate market from the low-end servers powered by Xeon and Opteron chips. Around 85% of servers sold cost less than $6,000. But the 15% that cost more account for 50% of server sales by revenue. Itanium is aimed at this low-volume, high-end market. HP, for its part, says that it remains committed to Itanium in its high-end systems.

Another factor in Itanium’s favour is that its performance is expected to improve dramatically over the next few years, notes Dean McCarron of Mercury Research, a market-research firm based in Scottsdale, Arizona. By 2007, Intel expects Itanium and Xeon chips to cost about the same, but the Itanium chip will be twice as fast. In other words, Itanium will start at the high end, and will slowly move down towards the mass market. The trouble is that Intel’s previous predictions about Itanium have been wide of the mark.

Corporate Software Strategy

E-Commerce News writes that most software installations in corporates start with an ERP solution:

A good business-application portfolio touches many pieces of an organization and must be able to tap into many repositories of information. As a result, most enterprise portfolios begin with an ERP solution.

“The first thing a business starts with [is] accounting and financials,” said according to Katherine Jones, managing director for enterprise business applications at Aberdeen Group. “You need something to help you keep track of money, whether you are using an Excel spreadsheet, QuickBooks or Oracle. You don’t have a business if you do not manage money.”

As a reuslt, according to Bruce Hudson, program director for enterprise applications at Meta Group, ERP software started in financials to track and monitor such items as company ledgers, accounts payable and investment management, and in human resources to manage the company’s workforce. These two core pieces often intersect in such areas as employee payroll, where data from both departments cut across the whole business.

Later, CRM branched out from the ERP core and became a separate category of software used to manage customer data, determine pricing and promotions, and service customers in other ways. Another category, PLM, developed to describe and manage the content of whatever product or service an enterprise is offering.

“If you make telephones, each model has a list of components, build materials, specifications in the type of plastic used,” Hudson explained. “PLM software catalogs and manages this product information so that suppliers and the sales force are all working from the same list.”

Meanwhile, ERP offshoot SCM concerns itself with moving things — finding the most efficient means to bring supplies to the enterprise and, in turn, move finished products to market.

No matter how they evolve, all of these new software categories must be able to plug in to the core ERP system to obtain needed financial information. Moreover, they must be able to communicate with one another. After all, a customer-service representative using a CRM system can perform his or her job more effectively if he or she can access information about a product from the company’s PLM solution.

China’s Technology-for-Market Strategy

WSJ writes about how China extracts its price from international companies seeking access to its markets:

Chinese scientists call it “technology for market.” Instead of selling toys, textiles and television sets, China wants to compete in telecommunications, health care, power generation and a range of other advanced manufacturing sectors. So it’s pushing for crown jewels of technology from companies that want access to China’s exploding marketplace.

“That’s the trade-off they have to deal with — short-term sales for long-term competition,” says William Reinsch, president of the Washington-based National Foreign Trade Council, a lobbying group for U.S. multinationals.

No party to the deals has accused China of violating WTO rules, and the Beijing government has consistently maintained that it fully complies with its trade agreements. At the same time, the lure of mammoth Chinese markets makes multinationals hesitant to raise the issue.

[For example], to be considered in the bidding for equipment contracts totaling several billion dollars, GE and its competitors were required to form joint ventures with the state-owned Chinese power companies. GE was also required to transfer to their new partners technology and advanced manufacturing guidelines for its “9F” turbine, which GE had spent more than a half billion dollars to develop.