This is the fifth in a short series of articles that Techworld is publishing this week about multi-core processing and its ramifications. Read the first article here.
Regardless of the licensing schemes that software vendors adopt, chip makers report that by the end of next year, the vast majority of servers sold will include dual-core chips.
But while dual-core technology could soon dominate the server market, users aren't likely to rush out and purchase dual-core chips for the performance gain, says John Humphreys, an analyst at market research firm IDC. "It doesn't seem like most users are capacity-constrained, so there's not a lot of need to add capacity quickly," he says. Humphreys says the dual-core adoption pattern among most users will be similar to transitions to chips with higher clock speeds, like a move from 1GHz to 3GHz, for instance.
Both Intel and Advanced Micro Devices expect that greater than 85% of the servers shipped by the end of 2006 will have dual-core chips.
Officials at AMD and Intel say market pressure in the form of decisions by big software vendors such as Microsoft to treat dual-core as one chip, as well as customer demands, will ultimately drive vendors to treat dual-core chips as a single chip.
"Fundamentally, dual-core isn't necessarily replacing a platform that may have had two discrete processors earlier; dual-core is the evolution," says Jeff Austin, desktop product marketing manager at Intel in Austin.
However, the unknown question, says Humphreys, is whether software licensing terms on dual-core chips will prompt some users to move to applications that count a dual-core as one chip, not two.
That's what rivals of Oracle and other software vendors hope will happen.
For example, Zack Urlocker, vice president of marketing at open-source database services company MySQL AB in Uppsala, Sweden, says dual-core "will hasten people's evaluation of open-source software" because anytime there is a shift in architecture, users tend to look at their software and infrastructure at the same time.
But in those cases where software vendors count dual-core as one chip, the licensing cost may be offset in other ways. For instance, if a company consolidates applications onto a larger server that is running dual-core chips and improves processor utilisation, it may also be able to cut administration and hardware costs.
Joanne Kossuth, CIO at Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering says licensing ultimately does have an effect on the college's product purchases. But for now, she sees a disconnect between the hardware and software vendors in the way they sell their products.
At some point, Kossuth says, these vendors "will have to come up with some sort of solution" so that licensing by a software vendors "does not negatively impact the sale of new technologies."