HP Has Options in Wake of Oracle's Itanium Move: Forrester

By Jeffrey Burt  |  Posted 2011-03-24

HP Has Options in Wake of Oracle's Itanium Move: Forrester

Hewlett-Packard and its HP-UX customers stand to take the biggest hit if Oracle sticks with its decision to end support for Intel's Itanium platform, though the server maker does have options for easing the situation, according to an analyst.

In particular, HP relatively easily could port HP-UX to its x86 server platform and already has high-end systems based Intel's Xeon chips that could handle much of the HP-UX workloads, Forrester Research analyst Richard Fichera said in a March 23 blog post.

The company also could build a version of its Itanium-based Superdome systems based on x86 chips, Fichera wrote.

However, despite these options, both HP and its customers will feel the pain of Oracle's decision, which-regardless of Oracle comments to the contrary-was in part made to hurt HP, he said.

"All in all a very rough move on Oracle's part," Fichera wrote. "Oracle claims that the move was not motivated by competitive issues with HP, and HP has been very vocal in decrying it as destructive and unfair to major enterprise Oracle customers. While it is always difficult to unravel the decision process of major shifts like this one, my gut feel is that HP's claim probably has some merit."

Oracle not only made a decision for its own longterm future, but that decision "had a potential negative tactical impact on a major competitor, and as such was probably much easier to make," Fichera wrote.

Oracle officials announced their decision in a brief statement late March 22, saying that after several conversations with Intel executives, "Intel management made it clear that their strategic focus is on their x86 microprocessor and that Itanium was nearing the end of its life."

Intel quickly issued a statement disputing Oracle's assertion, saying that the company has a strong roadmap for Itanium, including the next two releases, codenamed Poulson and Kittson.

HP officials were even harsher in their reaction, blasting Oracle for sacrificing customer concerns to pursue a cynical competitive strategy.

"Oracle continues to show a pattern of anti-customer behavior as they move to shore up their failing Sun server business," David Donatelli, executive vice president and general manager of HP's Enterprise Servers, Storage and Networking business, said in a statement. "We are shocked that Oracle would put enterprises and governments at risk while costing them hundreds of millions of dollars in lost productivity in a shameless gambit to limit fair competition."

Oracle is trying to prop up the data center hardware business it inherited from Sun Microsystems by forcing customers to choose the Sun products, HP officials said in their statement. They noted that since Oracle first announced its intention in 2009 to buy Sun, HP has jumped over Oracle to claim the No. 2 spot in the Unix market.

HP Has Options in Wake of Oracle's Itanium Move: Forrester

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Oracle's decision will have a ripple effect in the industry, Fichera said. For Intel, it will be more of a nuisance-a loss of some credibility for Itanium, though Oracle was the third top-tier software maker, behind Red Hat and Microsoft, to abandon the platform, and "only a token loss of revenue." Microsoft could profit by promoting its SQL server as a solid database alternative.

IBM also could be helped, again by pushing its Power-based servers running AIX as an alternative to HP-UX, and by promoting its DB2 database on AIX. However, Fichera also said that given IBM's competition with Oracle on servers, Big Blue could find itself the next target of Oracle's aggressive competitive nature.

Meanwhile, HP-UX customers will see their options shrink and their budgets grow, whether going the expensive route of migrating from an Oracle database or having to prematurely refresh their systems for need of a newer version of Oracle on Unix, which would make Oracle's Sun SPARC-based hardware platform a viable option, Fichera said. He estimated that up to half of HP's Itanium-based Superdome systems run Oracle.

"We should note that this does not equate to either wholesale abandonment of HP platforms or an immediate dip in revenue," he said. "Oracle versions tend to live for years after their successors are announced, so many HP customers with current Oracle versions (which Oracle will continue to support on HP-UX/Itanium) will still buy additional capacity for years after the next non-Itanium versions are introduced."

Fichera said HP does have the options of bring HP-UX to x86-based systems and putting x86 chips into such high-end Itanium systems as Superdome, something the company has been reluctant to do. Still, Oracle's move may force the issue.

Still, businesses running HP's Itanium system shouldn't feel any impact in the short-term, he said.

"From a customer perspective, there is no real need to consider abandoning a strategic HP relationship," Fichera said. "The company has a good track record in bridging generations of hardware for its HP-UX users, and there is no reason to think that the transition to an x86 system would be different-current Itanium customers should expect multiple years of parallel availability, and HP has said they will support Itanium systems for at least a decade."

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