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The 7.4 Percent Solution

On the face of things, I would say Advanced Micro Devices has had a pretty good year-and-a-half, and apparently so would a lot of other people. At the LinuxWorld Expo conference in Boston a couple of months ago, it was hard to find anyone who wasn't chatting up the company's Opteron chip line for servers. And it's not just mindshare gains that AMD has been making; according to market researcher Mercury Research, it has recorded some boosts in actual market share numbers, adding 3 percent to its overall x86 market share and seeing its x86 server market share rise from 6 percent to 7.4 percent.

Given how the chip maker struggled not so long ago, it's little wonder that my brethren at InformationWeek headlined their recent look at AMD "Can AMD Keep Its Hot Streak Going?" But is that really a "hot streak"? Not to be unfair, but a 1.4 percent leap in server market share is closer to an incremental gain. If the Baltimore Orioles reel off a five-game winning streak in July that still leaves them 10 games behind the behemoth New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, baseball fans will take notice, but it's not going to lead the sports pages. That's more or less what we have here right now: AMD is on a commendable growth path, but it's very slow and steady, not the sort of thing that will have Intel quaking in its boots just yet.

As should be the case, that's not deterring AMD chief Hector Ruiz, who says in a recent interview that he thinks the company can capture a third of the business market by three years from now. Anything close to those numbers would represent a massive market change that would get Intel's attention and then some, because it would mean that an awful lot of you had decided over that time that AMD servers and desktops would work just fine for your business -- better, in fact, than Intel-based machines. And why not? AMD has driven a lot of real advances in such areas as four- and eight-way setups, dual-core chips, and 64-bit processing -- all areas that make life a lot better for anyone running a sizeable server installation. Opterons aren't just an afterthought anymore: Major vendors such as IBM, HP and Sun are committing product lines to them, and a sneak preview of the new dual-core Opterons shows that there's a lot to like.

But...a third of the market?!? That's a seriously lofty goal that will require getting around some pitfalls, such as manufacturing capacity and the fact that Intel isn't going to twiddle its powerful thumbs while AMD steals its customers. But it's the kind of goal that any responsible CEO should be setting, given the kind of response and results that AMD has gotten lately. So, good for Ruiz. And I'll just note that as I write, with a quarter of the Major League Baseball season done, those Baltimore Orioles are leading their division.