First Itanium to have short shelf life

Itanium servers for the telco market will be largely symbolic until the arrival of the chip's successor
Written by Matthew Broersma, Contributor

Despite multiple delays and the stringent requirements of much of its target market, Intel still says its Itanium processor launch this year will be one of the biggest introductions of its kind. But a senior executive admitted enterprises and telcos won't be tempted to switch their existing 64-bit systems over to IA-64 until next year.

The chip giant is in the midst of rolling out the first IA-64 chip, Itanium, for workstations and servers -- and now telecommunications servers, it emerged on Thursday. But Gordon Graylisch, Intel's director of e-business and communications solutions, admitted on Friday that Itanium will mainly be used as a development platform for IA-64 while companies wait for Itanium's successor McKinley next year.

"With McKinley people will start taking existing environments and moving them over," said Graylisch. He said Itanium will mainly be bought by companies who happen to be in the market for new servers and workstations, and are interested in the new platform. "But I don't see that as particularly limiting for Itanium," he said.

Intel is entering unfamiliar territory with its move into servers for the telecommunications industry. Such servers face far more strict reliability requirements, which will make it even more difficult for Intel to sell the brand new and untested Itanium processor. The market is now dominated by the likes of Sun Microsystems, which is also a major player in the high-end servers Intel originally designed IA-64 to run.

Intel's main selling point is the notion that IA-64 will be one of the few platforms that will be running high-end servers, and that it could eventually also become the standard for lower-end servers, desktop PCs and even mobile and embedded devices. Because of Intel's massive manufacturing base Itanium is also far less expensive than its competitors.

Graylisch admitted that Itanium's rollout will be "small by PC standards" but said it will be "one of the strongest introductions from anybody". Industry observers consider that Itanium's multiple delays have partly destroyed its attractiveness by giving it a short shelf life before it is replaced.

"The first version will get a very respectable rollout, and people will be deploying around that," Graylisch said. "McKinley makes it an absolute no-brainer."

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