Intel, Microsoft intensify Itanium relationship

The chipmaker engages Microsoft further to drive the adoption of its 64-bit processor, as Itanium celebrates its fifth anniversary.

SINGAPORE--This week marks the fifth year since the 64-bit Itanium chip made its debut in the market. Its maker Intel is now on a quest to broaden the chip's footprint in the Asia-Pacific region, and has turned to software powerhouse Microsoft to do that.

Despite Itanium's somewhat shaky history, Intel has high hopes for the chip's future in anticipation of the introduction of dual-core Montecito systems, due out in the next couple of months. The chip giant is also looking to tap the huge Windows installed base to expand Itanium's opportunities.

Microsoft, too, is hoping for the recognition it desires in the high-performance, mission-critical computing environment.

Together, the two vendors have cranked up the engines to get more Microsoft applications on the Itanium platform. According to Simon Piff, regional solutions manager of enterprise server marketing group, Microsoft Asia-Pacific and Greater China, both vendors recently finished a joint six-country road show in the region.

Piff told ZDNet Asia: "We ran 25 three-day hands-on labs across the region, accompanied by an average of 25 to 30 partners for each of these events. We're really helping them understand the difference between running [applications] on Itanium platform versus anything else."

In an interview with ZDNet Asia, Gary Willihnganz, Intel's Asia-Pacific director of marketing, said: "The enablement piece of it is critical because it divulges the momentum [of Itanium]… It's a stepping stone into emerging markets as well."

Of the 7,600 applications now ported to Itanium, 300 were developed in Asia. The Itanium Server Alliance, formed last year with partners such as Fujitsu, HP, Hitachi and NEC, has been developing applications for Itanium as well, and doing a lot of "enablement work", said Willihnganz.

According to IDC's Asia-Pacific Enterprise Server Tracker report, a total of 4,765 EPIC (Explicitly Parallel Instruction Computing)--Itanium 1 and 2 servers--worth US$264.7 million were sold in the Asia-Pacific region, excluding Japan, in 2005.

IDC classifies EPIC servers as part of the enterprise-class, non-x86 server segment--together with RISC (reduced instruction set computer) systems which include servers that run on Sun Microsystems Sparc, IBM Power and Hewlett-Packard PA-RISC and Alpha, and CISC (complex instruction set computer) systems, which are IBM zSeries mainframes.

Within the non-x86 servers segment, EPIC servers accounted for 6.7 percent of the total server shipments and 7.5 percent of the total spending in 2005 for the Asia-Pacific region.

HP is the primary vendor selling EPIC systems in the region, accounting for 85.8 percent of total unit shipments and 83.4 percent of revenues sold in 2005. With the launch of Visual Studio 2005, Microsoft is now a native compiler for Itanium. This means developers can build Windows applications to run directly on Itanium, ensuring full product compatibility, and further increasing the Windows-on-Itanium momentum, Piff noted.

He also emphasized Microsoft's ambitions to wrangle its way into the high-performance computing arena.

Pointing out that Windows has already dethroned Unix as the top server operating system, he said: "We're targeting key ISV (independent software vendor) applications, the really high-end mission critical opportunities, the ones we've never been considered with before.

"We're going to change the market... The fifth year anniversary [of Itanium] is just a stepping stone to push Microsoft deeper into the mission critical [computing space] and move people off the mainframe," he said.

Piff added that in a recent benchmark test that HP ran on its Integrity servers, with SAP running on Windows, HP demonstrated that it could support 93,000 users concurrently. "SAP doesn't know anybody who needs to run 93,000 concurrent users. It's way, way above requirement," he said.

Hopes of EPIC proportions
Meanwhile, although Itanium systems make up only a small proportion of enterprise servers shipped in this region, IDC expects its momentum to pick up in the next five years.

The research company predicted that Itanium will be the fastest growing non-x86 server platform in the Asia-Pacific region, excluding Japan, with unit shipments and spending increasing at a compound annual growth rate of 64 percent and 44.5 percent from 2005 to 2010.

As a result of the strong growth, IDC expects Itanium server shipments and spending to total 46,597 units and US$1.67 billion, respectively, in 2010. The growth will enable Itanium servers to account for 48.8 percent of the total non-x86 servers and 38 percent of the spending in 2010, the analyst said.

According to Rajnish Arora, IDC Asia-Pacific's enterprise server and workstation research director, much of Itanium's growth over the next five years will come from user migration of HP's Alpha, PA-RISC and MIPS-based Non-Stop (Himalaya) servers, to Itanium systems.

Arora explained: "In 2010, a little more than 60 percent of the EPIC servers spending will be driven by HP-UX, while the balance spending will be driven by Windows, Linux, and a small proportion of HP's OpenVMS and Non-Stop operating system deployments."

For now, Intel and its OEM (original equipment manufacturer) partners are on the right track to push Itanium in the Windows space, he said, noting that by growing the Windows ecosystem, these vendors can tap into the huge installed base of x86 Windows customers seeking highly scalable platforms for mission critical and compute-intensive applications.

"Intel, Microsoft, and key Itanium vendors such as HP, will need to aggressively invest in enabling the ISVs to port their applications onto the Windows EPIC platform," he said.

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