Itanium's growing pains

Last week I had the chance to hear Hewlett-Packard (HP) give their views on why you should join them and Intel on Itanium when you're looking to purchase your next generation of servers. The event was HP's Business Critical Systems conference in Macau, and it was squarely directed at HP customers on x86/x64 servers who are looking to upgrade.

Last week I had the chance to hear Hewlett-Packard (HP) give their views on why you should join them and Intel on Itanium when you're looking to purchase your next generation of servers.

The event was HP's Business Critical Systems conference in Macau, and it was squarely directed at HP customers on x86/x64 servers who are looking to upgrade.

HP and Intel both admit Itanium starts behind the eight-ball when it comes to competitors IBM and Sun. IBM, with its AIX platform running on its Power chip, and Sun, with Solaris powered by SPARC, are already well ahead market share-wise, as documented by Intel's own presentation at the event.

Intel quoted IDC figures for the second half of last year that revealed Itanium system revenue was only 58 per cent of the amount Sun made on its SPARC hardware, and just 28 per cent of the amount IBM made from its Power systems.

It was interesting to hear HP rubbish the Solaris operating system at every opportunity, but show a healthy respect for SPARC and UltraSPARC as Sun sets new standards on how many cores and threads a processor can be packed with.

Clearly Intel and HP have some ground to catch up. But Intel told us they had won 2,000 deals in direct competition to IBM and Sun over the last two years, and were growing market share rapidly.

Still, I couldn't help but get the impression that Intel has been forced to settle for a "best of the rest" approach with its Intel Solutions Alliance (ISA). ISA is a consortium of vendors that make products for Itanium.

IBM and Dell both tried to sell servers based on Itanium, and gave up. As a result, Intel has since resorted to using HP as its major partner to promote Itanium. This is probably because fellow ISA members Fujitsu, SGI and Hitachi hardly capture the imagination of the server-buying community.

Such is the niche market-share of some of these Itanium server vendors, many of you will feel you're basically limited to HP when it comes to choosing Itanium hardware.

Software is a different story though, and arguably where Itanium's strength lies.

Intel has the support of some major middleware players like Oracle, SAP, Microsoft and Red Hat, who all reach a good cross-spectrum of customers.

Intel also told us, several times, that Itanium allows you to choose your operating system. With all the supposed migrations to Linux that are going on, I wonder how strong a factor that may be. If you're thinking of jumping to Linux, but know you'll still have to run legacy Windows applications somewhere, is Itanium the answer you've been looking for?

It seems to me then that for all the choice Itanium can offer in software, its one major server hardware partner may be the stumbling block. That's not a criticism of HP, just Intel's lack of partnerships with Dell or IBM.

Do you feel your future is more open with Itanium? Or do you think IBM and Sun have already run away with the game, and you're not concerned about any vendor lock-in?

Let us know.

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