Even before Intel launched "Montecito" processors to much fanfare last month, the Itanium Solutions Alliance has been cranking up its engines in anticipation of strong demand for the platform. And, Hewlett-Packard is proving to be its biggest supporter so far.
By the end of the year, the Itanium Solutions Alliance (ISA) expects to have 10,000 applications available on Itanium systems, up from 8,200 currently. The ISA is a partnership formed by major tech companies with the aim of speeding up the development and adoption of software for Itanium-based platforms.
William Wu, who chairs the Asian arm of the ISA, told ZDNet Asia: "The rate of ported applications is phenomenal and a real sign that the industry's appetite for Itanium is getting larger than ever."
In the first six months of 2005 alone, he said, Intel added 1,000 applications onto Itanium, including Oracle's e-Business Suite and Fusion middleware, SunGard's financial services applications, Microsoft's SQL, SAS' v9 and Symantec Storage Foundation.
Currently, ISA has 11 global centers for ISVs to access development tools and Itanium hardware systems. By the end of the year, there will be 20 such centers, said Wu.
However, Rajnish Arora, IDC Asia-Pacific's enterprise server and workstation research director, noted that while Intel may claim to have big numbers in application support for Itanium, the true picture may be clearer if one discounts the applications previously available on the HP-UX operating system running on PA-RISC and Alpha machines.
According to IDC, HP is the primary vendor selling Itaniums systems in the Asia-Pacific, excluding Japan region, accounting for 95.2 percent of total unit shipments and 91.8 percent of revenues sold in the first quarter of 2006. Other Itanium vendors include Silicon Graphics (SGI), Unisys, Samsung and Bull.
In total, 1, 914 Itanium systems were shipped in that quarter, raking in revenues worth US$73.6 million for the region.
Arora said: "I would ask how many, out of all Windows, Linux and Unix ISVs, [has Intel] never had an engagement [with previously]. The number of new ISVs would be a good indicator in gauging how much new success [Intel has] broken with Itanium."
It is one thing to get existing ISVs running software on HP-UX or Alpha Unix and move them to Itanium, and another to encourage "brand new ISVs" which had never previously offered their applications on HP systems to port their applications on to HP-UX running on Itanium systems, he pointed out.
"It's largely a HP play in the market," he said. "Apart from HP, there are not many other vendors which can design, market and sell [enterprise-class Itanium] systems."
Arora added that in the Asia-Pacific region, Itanium-based Unix server sales are primarily driven by existing PA-RISC/HP-UX and Alpha/Tru64 Unix enterprise clients that are either migrating existing workloads or deploying new ones.
"The number of customers migrating off Power and Sparc to Itanium is still a fairly small number," he said.
According to IDC, Itanium-based systems grew 41.8 percent year-over-year worldwide in the first quarter of 2006, generating US$640 million in revenue. This segment now represents 11.2 percent of all non-x86 server revenue.
In addition, there are other key players in the overall server market apart from HP.
According to IDC, in the first quarter of 2006, HP and IBM tied for number one position with 28.1 percent and 27.9 percent share, respectively, in terms of global server revenues.
Dell Computer maintained third place with 11.1 percent market share in the same quarter. Although the company's year-over-year revenue growth slowed to 3.6 percent for the quarter, Dell managed to gain new market share.
Sun experienced a 5.8 percent year-over-year revenue growth, and increased its overall market share to 10.8 percent, from 10 percent in the same quarter last year.
Intel, which pits Itanium processors directly against Sun Microsystems' Sparc and IBM's Power chips, claims the company has made headway against its competitors.
Citing IDC figures, Intel's Wu noted that in the first quarter of 2006, global revenue from Itanium systems represented 45 percent of revenue from Sparc systems and 42 percent of revenue from Power systems. In fact, he added that Intel's fourth quarter-2005 Itanium system revenue surpassed Sparc in both Japan and Korea.
Arora noted though that uptake for Itanium servers on Windows and Linux has slowed down significantly, primarily due to the performance boost that x86 servers have had with the introduction of new technologies such as 32-/64-bit hybrid systems and dual-core systems from AMD and Intel, in the past two years.
IDC Asia-Pacific figures found that in 2005, 58 percent of Itanium systems were sold with the Unix operating system. In the first quarter of 2006, this number increased to 72.2 percent.
In comparison, about 30.4 percent of all Itanium systems sold last year were on Linux. By the first quarter of this year, this dropped to 18.4 percent. Similarly, 11.6 percent of Itanium systems sold last year ran on the Windows platform, but this number dropped to 9.4 percent in the first quarter of 2006.
Without the support of other major server vendors such as Dell and IBM, it seems that for now, at least, HP will remain Intel's biggest ally in pushing Itanium.
Arora explained: "HP's large share of Itanium server sales both in the Asia-Pacific region and worldwide, has further expanded in the past one year after IBM and Dell decided to exit, at least temporarily, due to lackluster demand for Windows and Linux workloads on Itanium."