HP unleashes lawyers on Oracle over Itanium support

The company says Oracle has broken a contract with HP by cancelling support for its software on Intel's Itanium microprocessor, and it wants the court to force Oracle to change policy
Written by Jack Clark, Contributor

HP has sued Oracle, saying the database leader has reneged on a deal to support the Itanium microprocessor used in HP's high-end enterprise servers.

The complaint (PDF), filed on Wednesday in California Superior Court in Santa Clara, accuses Oracle of breaching contractual commitments to HP and deploying "tactics... to force customers to shift from HP's Itanium server hardware to Oracle's own server hardware".

"HP believes that Oracle is legally obligated to continue to offer its software product suite on the Itanium platform, and we will take whatever legal actions are available to us necessary to protect our customers' best interests and the significant investments they have made," HP said in a statement.

Itanium servers face waning market share in the face of competition from those based on typical x86 architectures, while rumours abound that Intel is dropping support for its beleaguered platform. In its suit, HP is looking for Oracle to re-instate support for Itanium, as well pay damages to make up for lost profits, costs of mitigation, loss of goodwill and injury to HP's business reputation.

The spat started in March, when Oracle abandoned support for future versions of its database products on the Itanium platform and claimed that Itanium's main designer and manufacturer, Intel, would do the same.

This dealt a blow to the chip architecture, as the expensive HP-UX Integrity servers Itanium runs in are billed by HP as "perfect for data-intensive workloads" and "enterprise databases". Oracle's database software, which is dominant in the enterprise, has more market share than its four closest competitors combined, the company has claimed.

HP believes that Oracle is legally obligated to continue to offer its software product suite on the Itanium platform.
– HP

"The intent of [Integrity] is high-availability, non stop-type computing. It makes perfect sense for transactional databases to be running on it," Mark Fabbi, a Gartner analyst, told ZDNet UK. He suggested Oracle's dropping of Itanium support is an attempt to cannibalise HP's customers for its own platform.

Oracle wants customers to migrate from Risc-based Itanium over to its own Sparc-based Sun servers and appliances, such as the Exadata and Exalogic appliances, according to Fabbi. "There's a lot of gamesmanship between Oracle and HP," he said.

HP leads in the worldwide server market, with IBM placed second, according to figures reported by IDC published in May.

The Superior Court complaint alleges Oracle broke a history of supporting Itanium so that it could gain business from HP's clients. "There is no legitimate business justification for Oracle's conduct, which is designed to harm competition and eliminate customer choice," HP said.

Prior to launching the suit, HP sent Oracle a formal legal demand letter in a bid to force it to re-instate Itanium support. "The silence from Oracle is deafening. We are very disappointed it has to come to this," Bill Wohl, HP's chief spokesman, told Reuters.

Oracle response

Oracle reacted by saying that HP's management team, including chief executive Leo Apotheker, knew about Intel's plans before Oracle did.

Intel's plans to end-of-life Itanium will be revealed in court now that HP has filed this utterly malicious and meritless lawsuit against Oracle.
– Oracle

"Intel's plans to end-of-life Itanium will be revealed in court now that HP has filed this utterly malicious and meritless lawsuit against Oracle," it said in a statement in response to the suit.

In March, Intel's chief executive Paul Otellini said that the chipmaker is "firmly committed" to supporting Itanium in the future. However, at a recent press event in Antwerp, the company stressed that its focus for the cloud is on its Xeon architecture.

This is not the first time Oracle and HP have fallen out. In September, HP's former chief executive Mark Hurd was appointed president of Oracle, reporting directly to chief executive Larry Ellison. In its filing, HP said that while employed at the company "Hurd developed, acquired and utilised in-depth knowledge of HP's valuable trade secrets" and that the companies' relationship "began to sour" after he jumped ship.

Refusing to patch bugs

HP also noted that as a consequence of dropping support, Oracle has refused to provide Itanium customers with patches to fix critical bugs in its database software. This means the software does not work as it should, it said.

"In essence... Oracle renders customers' existing Itanium hardware unusable with Oracle's software by refusing to fix bugs in the software they are currently running, forcing customers instead to buy new software that Oracle says will not run on Itanium servers," the company argued in its filing.

Fabbi believes it will be easy for Oracle to draw the case out for two or three years. He also predicted that whatever emerges in court, it will not sort out the situation.

"The end result is just going to be more confusion and more uncertainty around the future of Itanium specifically, but also the future of Unix systems running on more hardware platforms," Fabbi said. "That's the end result, regardless of who wins and who loses."

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