The moves come as Intel Corp. officials insist that the 64-bit Itaniums will constitute a key product line well into the future, with their road map unfolding beyond 2008. So far, however, only Itanium codeveloper Hewlett-Packard Co. has completely embraced the chips, and even that support could change when HP finds a new CEO.
While IBM and Dell Inc. focus on systems using Intels Xeon, vendors such as NEC Solutions America Inc., Fujitsu Computer Systems Corp., Silicon Graphics Inc. and Unisys Corp. plan to stick with the Itanium, including launching systems with "Montecito," the dual-core chip due later this year.
"This is our primary focus," said Larry Sheffield, executive vice president of the Solutions Platform Group for NEC, of Rancho Cordova, Calif. "A lot [of Tier two vendors] are betting our business on Itanium."
Gartner Inc., of Stamford, Conn., expects Itanium sales to grow 20 percent over the next five years, with most of that growth coming from high-performance computing and through HP.
More than 26,000 Itanium systems were shipped last year—a jump from 14,168 in 2003—with HP accounting for 19,859 of the shipments. By comparison, SGI sold 1,015, NEC 322, Fujitsu 233 and Unisys 124.
Itanium adoption has been hampered recently by 64-bit-enabled x86 chips from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices Inc.
NECs Sheffield said its relative. IBM and Dell might see the Itanium as a niche product, but if NEC can sell one Itanium-based system per month, those sales will be sufficient for his company.
By midyear, NEC will bring Linux support and clustering capabilities—through hardware, software and services—to its Itanium blade system, the Express5800/1200Ba, he said. In addition, by years end, NEC, whose Express5800/1000 scales to 32 Itanium 2 chips, will introduce a server that can scale to 64 chips.
Fujitsu, which entered a development and marketing partnership with Intel in 2003, is preparing to roll out this spring a 64-way Itanium 2 system—and later in the year a 128-way system.
Sage Telecom Inc. runs its production operations on a Xeon-powered ES7000 system from Unisys, but it is using an Itanium 2 ES7000 system to ready its in-house applications for a migration to 64-bit, which most likely will be on a Unisys server, said Russell Clarkson, vice president of IS for Sage.
The Allen, Texas, company also runs an Itanium 2-based HP Superdome for data warehousing.