We've had major announcements from AMD and Intel in the server and workstation space, but across most of the vendors there doesn't seem to be a lot of differentiation between products that utilize the two technologies. However, there is actually a great deal of difference between how Intel and AMD approach an OEM partnership, which should result in more highly differentiated products than we are generally seeing. IBM stands out with its offerings in that it seems to be exploring these differences and optimizing unique products. The result should be offerings that are better optimized against the unique differences that exist between the two vendors. Let's talk about what makes Intel and AMD different and then move into how IBM is leveraging that difference with System x and BladeCenter.
Intel: Power, Volume, Stability
Intel is the big kid on the processor block; it has the largest market share, the most R&D money, and arguably the most technically advanced offering. It builds products that are highly standardized and developed around Intel policies and guidelines. It also has the largest manufacturing capacity, which gives it volume advantages. This means products that leverage Intel's strengths will be very similar across vendors, because Intel keeps relatively tight control over its offerings, and will typically be differentiated by software, services, and the containers (cases) the technology resides in.
AMD's strength really resides in its willingness to let the OEMs drive the development cycle; it is willing to work more collaboratively on solutions. I've even had one OEM tell me that they can actually influence the instructions that go into the processor. This is the way most markets actually work, where the company building the solution dictates what the supplier will provide and both work together on the result. You get less consistency between vendors, but products that better target unique and specific needs. In short, AMD-based offerings, done properly, are best when used to target the fringes, or unique needs that a more generic offering can't effectively meet. You can still wrap them with similar software, containers, and services, but you trade off absolute performance on any vector against a more customized solution.