Hewlett-Packard Co.s announcement last week that it will release a new version of its Unix platform for Intel Corp.s highly touted Itanium 2 was much-needed good news for the chip, which has attracted only modest interest from major vendors.
HP, which co-developed the 1GHz 64-bit chip, next month will release a version of its proprietary HP-UX operating system for the processor, which sources said will ship next month. The new HP operating system should offer customers a stable Unix platform for use with the Itanium. Earlier this month, D.H. Brown Associates Inc., of Port Chester, N.Y., ranked HPs operating system as the best Unix platform on the market.
HPs decision comes at a time when other major vendors, including IBM and Sun Microsystems Inc., have delayed support for the Itanium 2. IBM, of Armonk, N.Y., last month said it will not support the processor in an upcoming version of its Unix software called AIX 5.1, even though it will offer Itanium 2 systems. Sun, of Palo Alto, Calif., has also shelved plans to port its popular Unix operating system to the Itanium chip.
Although Intel first launched the Itanium line last year, the next-generation Itanium chip is widely viewed as Intels first product to truly compete with IBMs Power4 and Suns UltraSPARC III. And while third-party benchmarks are not yet available, Intel, of Santa Clara, Calif., said the new processor will offer as much as double the performance of its predecessor.
The original Itanium so far has struggled to gain acceptance, shipping in less than 1 percent of servers last year, according to International Data Corp., in Framingham, Mass. Spotty support from server makers has added to its problems, as Compaq Computer Corp. delayed the launch of its Itanium server for five months and Dell Computer Corp. pulled the plug on its Itanium system after slow sales.
However, the Itanium still enjoys the unflinching backing of HP, the worlds second-largest 64-bit vendor. The Palo Alto company is phasing out production of its rival PA-RISC and Alpha processors and migrating all its platforms to the Intel chip. The Itanium also has the support of Microsoft Corp. and the Linux community. Yet, even early adopters of the Itanium acknowledge mixed feelings about the processor.
"If Intel intends this to be a commodity chip, then Id like to see more vendor support," said Mahlon Stacy, system administrator for Mayo Foundation Medical Science, in Rochester, Minn. "Our beta partner was Dell, but they dropped out of the Itanium workstation game."
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