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Stephen Shankland

Staff Writer, CNET

Fujitsu is expected to announce a major new server design in coming weeks, a refrigerator-size machine that uses up to 64 Itanium 2 processors and promises high-end features incorporating the company’s mainframe expertise.

The system is the culmination of a Fujitsu-Intel partnership announced in 2003. However, it’s a few months late–the 64-processor model was due by the end of 2004, with a 128-processor successor scheduled to arrive by the end of 2005.

Fujitsu declined to comment on the system. But in a presentation at last week’s LinuxWorld Conference and Expo, an executive said in a presentation that the system is “coming soon.” One source familiar with the plan said the Fujitsu system is scheduled to arrive in April.

The server is expected to run both Windows and Linux. Fujitsu has signed partnerships with Microsoft and Red Hat to help bring high-end server features to Windows and Linux.

The Itanium machine is one major part of Fujitsu’s work to transfer its expertise in mainframes–high-end systems that are flexible, reliable and able to process high volumes of transactions–to more mainstream server designs. At the same time it’s supporting Itanium, though, Fujitsu has a partnership with Sun Microsystems to bring mainframe features to jointly designed systems that uses Sparc processors.

Among mainframe features coming with the Itanium line will be the ability to divide the system into as many as 16 partitions, each with its own operating system. It also will have a Fujitsu-designed “crossbar” switch for routing traffic internally among different processors and the input-output subsystem, Fujitsu said.

Fujitsu already sells Itanium machines, but they’re relatively undistinguished four-processor models based on an Intel design.

Intel’s Itanium–developed with Hewlett-Packard–hasn’t met Intel’s scaled-back goals. However, several companies still sell in-house Itanium designs–chiefly HP but also Silicon Graphics Inc., NEC, Hitachi, IBM and Unisys. Dell also sells Intel’s Itanium server designs under its own name.

The biggest competitor for the system is HP’s Superdome, which can accommodate as many as 128 Itanium 2 processors. Although SGI sells Itanium servers with hundreds of processors, those products are geared for the high-performance technical-computing niche.