Intel pledges commitment to Itanium

Citing HP-UX's dominance in Itanium-based systems, chipmaker says Microsoft's decision to end Itanium support will not impact future demand or the Itanium roadmap.
Written by Vivian Yeo, Contributor

Despite Microsoft's decision to end support for the Itanium processor within a decade, Intel is sticking to its roadmap for the chip family that powers mission-critical computing.

Last Friday, Microsoft announced plans to stop supporting Itanium for future versions of Windows Server, SQL Server and Visual Studio. Dan Reger, Windows Server senior technical product manager, said in a blog post the move was due to the "natural evolution" of 64-bit x86 architecture that has resulted in multicore processors with the scalability and reliability required to support mission-critical workloads.

In an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia, Eddie Toh, platform marketing manager for Intel's Asia-Pacific data center group, said the chipmaker "remains committed to Itanium" and its roadmap.

The impact of Microsoft's announcement, he added, would not be significant.

Toh explained: "Most Itanium customers run Unix, primarily HP-UX, and the proportion of Itanium users running Unix has been increasing, according to industry data. In fact, less than 5 percent of Itanium system sales in the most recent quarter were matched with the Windows OS.

"For customers who desire Windows Server, SQL Server, .NET Framework or Visual Studio, or are looking for scalable x86-64-based Windows solutions, the Intel Xeon-based server platform is the best path forward."

Rajnish Arora, IDC's Asia-Pacific research director for enterprise server and workstation research, also told ZDNet Asia in a phone interview the latest development is not a major blow to the viability of Itanium.

According to the analyst, while IDC is expected to revise downward its growth forecast for Itanium in June, the projections will not change dramatically.

Arora noted that Microsoft's announcement was unexpected but not surprising.

Over the last four to five years, Windows on Itanium has remained a niche platform, he said, noting that the addition of 64-bit extensions to x86, multicore development and the virtualization push meant the value proposition of Windows on Itanium "diminished significantly".

According to IDC figures, Windows last year accounted for 1.6 percent of Itanium server revenues in the Asia-Pacific region, excluding Japan. This figure was lower than the 3.9 percent in 2008 and 5.5 percent in 2007. Worldwide, Windows' play on Itanium dipped to 3 percent in 2009, from 5.4 percent in 2008 and 10 percent in 2007.

Arora explained: "[There] has been the waning interest in the platform in the light of the rejuvenated x86 platform that tends to drive the majority of the Windows market. The emergence of multicores, blades and the rapidly expanding usage of virtulization technologies have made the x86 platform an extremely compelling platform for Windows users who were previously looking at Itanium due to greater scalability, resiliency and security features."

Moving forward, he added that Itanium would be a largely "HP-Intel play" with some opportunities for niche systems vendors such as Bull in Europe, and NEC and Fujitsu in Japan.

The 5 percent to 10 percent contribution from Windows to the global Itanium growth would go toward the x86 platform, he said.

Roadmap to roll as planned
Microsoft's move follows Intel's February launch of Itanium 9300, dubbed Tukwila. The new generation of Itanium chips was manufactured on the 65-nanometer process and released after a series of delays from its original launch date of end-2008.

The Itanium roadmap also comprises previously announced Poulson and Kittison. Plans for these two chips are unaffected and will proceed as scheduled, said Toh.

In December 2009, Red Hat also said it would end support for Red Hat Enterprise Linux version 6 on all Itanium systems, according to The Register.

HP declined comment for the story, instead pointing ZDNet Asia to its media statement released during the launch of Tukwila.

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