Oracle Ends Itanium Support, Draws Ire of Intel, HP

 
 
By Jeffrey Burt  |  Posted 2011-03-23
 
 
 

Oracle became the latest major enterprise software maker to say that it will stop developing products for Intel's line of high-end Itanium processors.

Oracle, with its announcement late March 22, joins Microsoft and Red Hat in dropping software development for Itanium. Both companies over the past two years have noted that as both Intel and smaller rival Advanced Micro Devices have added high-end features to their respective x86-based chips, the need for Itanium-which is based on the EPIC architecture and requires software makers to create different versions of their product-has disappeared.

Oracle officials further said that their decision came after multiple meetings with their Intel counterparts, during which those Intel officials indicated that the giant chip maker was looking to wind down Itanium development.

"Intel management made it clear that their strategic focus is on their x86 microprocessor and that Itanium was nearing the end of its life," Oracle officials said in a brief statement.

That drew the ire of Intel CEO Paul Otellini, who said in a statement that his company was pushing forward with an aggressive Itanium roadmap that includes the next generation, dubbed "Poulson," which will be built on a new microarchitecture that company officials have said will carry Itanium development for several more years.

"Intel's work on Intel Itanium processors and platforms continues unabated with multiple generations of chips currently in development and on schedule," Otellini said. "We remain firmly committed to delivering a competitive, multigenerational roadmap for HP-UX and other operating system customers that run the Itanium architecture."

Intel's Poulson will be a 32-nanometer chip offering up to eight cores and will double the performance of the existing quad-core Tukwila chip, according to Intel officials. In addition, they said that the follow-up to Poulson, dubbed "Kittson," is in development.

Oracle's move also stirred up the company's bitter relationship with Hewlett-Packard, one that already had been strained due to Oracle's entrance into the server business with its $7.4 billion acquisition of Sun Microsystems last year and the hiring last year of Mark Hurd, the former HP CEO who was forced to resign amid questions of his personal conduct. Hurd now is president at Oracle.

HP, the primary user of Itanium processors, in a statement said Oracle's move not only lowers competition but also hurts customers of Itanium-based systems. HP called Oracle's decision a continuation of a "pattern of anti-customer behavior" aimed at boosting "their failing Sun server business." HP noted that since Oracle announced in 2009 its desire to buy Sun, HP has moved into the No. 2 spot in the RISC server space, while Oracle's Sun business fell to third.

"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," David Donatelli, executive vice president and general manager of HP's Enterprise Servers, Storage and Networking business unit, said in a statement.

Oracle said it will continue to support customers with existing Oracle products that run on Itanium. HP officials also said they will support Oracle users running software on HP Itanium-based systems.

Itanium has been a controversial product since the early days of its development in the 1990s, when Intel and HP partnered in its creation. Intel, which has since taken over all of the development of the processor, initially saw Itanium as the platform to succeed the x86 architecture as the industry shifted from 32-bit to 64-bit computing.

Much of that changed when AMD introduced its first Opteron server processor in 2003, an x86 chip that could run both 32- and 64-bit workloads. Intel eventually answered with similar capabilities in its x86 Xeons, and over time Itanium has become a niche product that has enabled Intel to play in high-end environments with the likes of Sun's SPARC and IBM's Power platforms. That ability to run high-end workloads is important to Intel, according to officials, even though the company sells just over 100,000 Itanium chips a year, compared with the tens of millions of Xeons that ship annually.

In addition, Itanium essentially has one primary customer, HP, which uses the processor in its high-end Integrity and Integrity NonStop servers. Oracle's announcement came the same day that HP announced it was putting in a new quad-core processor from Intel's Itanium 9300 "Tukwila" line into a new NonStop blade.

However, in their statement, Oracle officials also noted that new HP CEO Leo Apotheker "made no mention of Itanium in his long and detailed presentation on the future strategic direction of HP." That said, in announcing the new NonStop BladeSystem NB54000c March 22, Bob Kossler, director of strategy and planning for the NonStop Business Division of HP's Business Critical Systems unit, called Itanium a steady business with growing interest in such business segments as financial services, health care and government.

Oracle's announcement also comes as the company looks to expand the development of the SPARC chip technology it received in the Sun acquisition. Officials said the company will focus on the high end of the server market-an area that includes Itanium-based systems-and have boasted about the high performance of systems that tightly integrate Oracle software with SPARC-based systems.

In its written response to Oracle's decision, Intel officials noted that Itanium's industry momentum will be talked about during a keynote at the Intel Developers Forum in Beijing in April. However, it won't be a topic of discussion at the IEEE/ACM International Symposium on Code Generation and Optimization in France a week before the Intel show. A workshop scheduled to discuss Intel's development of the Itanium platform scheduled for April 2 or April 3 was cancelled for unstated reasons.


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