Citing the high-end scalability and reliability of new x86 chips from Intel and AMD, Microsoft plans to end support for Intel's Itanium processors after the current versions of Windows Server, SQL Server and Visual Studio. The announcement comes days after Intel launched its eight-core Xeon 7500 chips and AMD unveiled its 12-core Opteron 6000 platform.
Days after Intel and Advanced Micro Devices launched new
high-end x86 chips
that drive the architecture higher up the server chain,
Microsoft officials announced they are ending support for Intel's Itanium chip
in their server software.
In an April 2 post on the Windows
Dan Reger, a Microsoft senior technical product manager, said
the capabilities Intel and AMD put into
their latest high-end server chips-and OEM interest in putting these processors
in four- and eight-socket servers-essentially have made the Itanium
"Why the change? The natural evolution of the x86 64-bit
('x64') architecture has led to the creation of processors and servers which
deliver the scalability and reliability needed for today's 'mission-critical'
workloads,'" Reger wrote. "Just this week, both Intel and AMD
have released new high core-count processors, and servers with eight or more
x64 processors have now been announced by a full dozen server manufacturers.
Such servers contain 64 to 96 processor cores, with more on the horizon."
Reger said Windows Server 2008 R2 will be the last version of
Windows Server to support Itanium, and likewise SQL Server 2008 R2 and Visual
Studio 2010 will be the last versions of those products to support Intel's EPIC
(Explicitly Parallel Instruction Computing) architecture chips.
The transition will take eight years, he said. Each of the
current products supports the latest iteration of Itanium, the
formerly code-named Tukwila, released in February following
Microsoft, in accordance with its Support Lifecycle Policy,
will end support for Itanium-based systems and R2 on July 9, 2013, though extended support
will continue until July
"That's eight more years of support," Reger said.
"Microsoft will continue to focus on the x64 architecture and its new
business-critical role, while we continue to support Itanium customers for the
next eight years as this transition is completed."
Intel's Itanium architecture has been under the microscope
since the chip maker and Hewlett-Packard began working on it in the late 1990s.
Delays and performance issues dogged it in its early years, and more recently
the rise in the scalability and capabilities of x86 offerings from both Intel
and AMD have had analysts questioning
Intel officials have laid out a road map for Itanium looking
several generations down the road. However, at the March 30 launch event for
the eight-core Xeon
"Nehalem EX" processors, even company officials
sounded a bit skeptical about Itanium's long-term viability. Kirk Skaugen, vice
president of the Intel architecture group and general manager of its data
center unit, was asked directly about the Xeon 7500 series' impact on Itanium.
"These are two distinctly different architectures,"
Skaugen said. "There is room for them at this time. That said, 90 percent
of our Itanium business is mainframe and HP-UX-based. Intel expects to migrate
a lot of those machines to Xeon over time, but for now, it [Itanium] is still a
very good business for us."
Intel officials in 2009 said they were taking
aim at the high-end server market
with Nehalem EX-made for systems with
four or more sockets-targeting workloads traditionally reserved for RISC
systems and mainframes. Those also are the workloads that run on Itanium.
The Xeon 7500 launch didn't disappoint. The processors offer
three times the performance of previous Xeons, can run in servers that scale
from two to 256 sockets, and have a memory capacity of up to a terabyte. Intel
also added 20 new reliability features that until now were only found in RISC
and mainframe systems, including Machine Check Architecture Recovery, which
works with the operating system and virtual machine manager to recover from
what otherwise would be fatal system errors.
The new Xeon chips also were designed with virtualization and
consolidation in mind. Businesses can take the workloads from 20 four-socket
systems running single-core Xeon MP chips and put them onto one four-socket
Xeon 7500-based system.
Intel officials are now focusing on mission-critical systems,
and "targeted workloads include virtualization, database [and] business
apps including workloads migrating from Unix/RISC to Linux or Windows on
x86," IDC analyst Matt Eastwood said in
an e-mail to eWEEK right after the launch.
Intel listed almost a dozen OEMs planning to launch
eight-socket servers powered by Nehalem EX chips.
The day before the Xeon 7500 launch, AMD
rolled out its Opteron
6000 "Magny-Cours" chips,
with eight to 12 cores. While AMD
officials said they are aiming the new Opterons at the more mainstream
computing space, the new Opterons give the chip maker's server products a
scalability that they hadn't seen before. They also should make it easier and
less expensive for businesses running two-socket servers to make the move up to