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Compaq Exec Says Alpha Phase-Out Won t Impact Life Science Business

NEW YORK, July 5 - Compaq Computer's recent decision to sell its Alpha integrated circuit chip technology to Intel, and to eventually standardize on Intel's Itanium chip, "has been very warmly accepted by the life science market at large," said Lionel Binns, worldwide life and materials science group manager for high-performance technical computing at Compaq. 

"I haven't heard one dissenting voice" from Compaq's current life science computing customers about the decision, said Binns. While some industry observers have speculated that the switch away from Alpha chips may have contributed to Myriad Genetic's recent decision to go with Sun Microsystems--instead of Compaq--to supply its proteomics processing power, Binns said he was unaware of any recent orders being pulled as a result of the scheduled phase-out of the chips. 

Compaq's decision to consolidate its entire 64-bit family of servers onto the Itanium microprocessor architecture by 2004 came as a surprise to many in the industry. Compaq has maintained a strong position in the competitive market for life science high-performance computing largely due to the popularity of its AlphaServers, which it has touted as being the best performing system for bioinformatics applications. 

Compaq's AlphaServers currently power some of the field's most high-profile genomics and bioinformatics projects at Celera Genomics, GeneProt, The Sanger Center, The Whitehead Institute, Genentech, and The Institute for Genomic Research.  

But Binns said that these clients, as well as future life science customers, would benefit from the adoption of the Intel architecture, which he said should decrease the cost of processors. In addition, he reassured Alpha proponents that "the assumption that Compaq is abandoning the Alpha processor in favor of the Intel Itanium processor is not true. The Alpha processor will live on for many years yet."

While Compaq intends to make the next generation of the Alpha family, the EV7, its last, the Alpha technology will be incorporated into the new generation of Itanium microprocessors scheduled to appear in the 2004-2005 timeframe. Compaq said that Alpha design features like SMT, on-chip interconnects, and high-speed I/O processors should remain in the new Itanium chips. 

"We fully expect the new Itanium processor family to exceed the performance and functionality we were planning in EV8," wrote William Blake, Compaq's vice president of high performance technical computing, in a letter to all of Compaq's high performance technical computing customers. Blake added that Compaq is committed to ensuring a smooth transition to the new technology for its customers.

While conceding that the Itanium chip "is not yet proven in the life sciences market," Binns said that "Alpha will continue to serve our life science customers better than any competing processor until our newly announced joint development collaboration with Intel comes to fruition."

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