HP, Oracle Itanium Fight Heads to Court

HP is suing Oracle over its decision to end support for Intel's Itanium platform, saying the move breached a contract between the two.

Hewlett-Packard's rapidly disintegrating relationship with Oracle is threatening to spill over into the courtroom again, now that HP is suing the software giant over its abandonment of Intel's Itanium processor platform.

A week after HP officials sent a "demand letter" to Oracle essentially warning of a lawsuit over the issue, they followed through June 15 by filing suit in California, claiming Oracle breached an agreement with HP to work together for the benefit of their many mutual customers.

HP officials also reiterated their claim that Oracle's decision in March to no longer develop software that supports Itanium is nothing more than a transparent ploy to force Oracle customers to adopt its own SPARC hardware, which Oracle inherited when it bought Sun Microsystems last year. HP also aired new allegations of Oracle misdeeds.

Oracle executives had said their decision was based on conversations with Intel engineers that indicated that Intel was planning to end Itanium development to focus on its Xeon processors. In a response to the lawsuit released June 15, Oracle officials reiterated their belief that Intel is ending Itanium development, and further accused HP of knowing about these end-of-life plans.

They also said while HP asked for guaranteed Itanium support from Oracle as part of an agreement between the two companies, Oracle refused. "HP's Itanium support guarantee wording was deleted from the final signed agreement," Oracle said in the statement.

The lawsuit is the latest step in what's become an increasingly bitter and personal feud between the once strong partners. Oracle's purchase of Sun-including the SPARC hardware business-put it in direct competition with HP in the data center. HP then forced its CEO, Mark Hurd, to resign, only to be publically ridiculed by Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, who a month later hired Hurd as president. HP replaced Hurd with Leo Apotheker, the former CEO of Oracle software rival SAP, which also has its legal entanglements with Oracle.

Now comes the Itanium issue. Intel executives, including CEO Paul Otellini, have disputed Oracle's contention, saying they have a strong roadmap for Itanium, including a new architecture that will keep the platform moving well into 2015. HP accused Oracle of using Itanium to prop up its struggling SPARC hardware business, and in the lawsuit, claims that Oracle has refused to fix "critical bugs" in Itanium. That, combined with new Oracle software that doesn't support Itanium and low-price deals on SPARC systems for customers who migrate to the Oracle systems, are key points in HP's lawsuit.

It feeds into HP's ongoing claims that Oracle's move is designed more to force users to move onto Oracle hardware and less about what's best for the customers, many of whom currently run their Oracle software on Itanium-based Integrity and NonStop systems from HP, which is, by far, the largest user of Itanium chips. HP estimates that the two companies share about 140,000 customers.

HP over the past few months has worked to get channel partners and customers to put pressure on Oracle to reverse its decision.

In their statement, Oracle officials claim it's HP that hasn't been honest with customers, saying that HP has known since September 2010 that Intel was ending the Itanium platform.

"We believe that HP specifically asked Oracle to guarantee long-term support for Itanium in the September of 2010 agreement because HP already knew all about Intel's plans to discontinue Itanium, and HP was concerned about what would happen when Oracle found out about that plan," Oracle said in the statement. "Knowing this, HP issued numerous public statements in an attempt to mislead and deceive their customers and shareholders into believing that these plans to end-of-life Itanium do not exist.

But they do. Intel's plans to end-of-life Itanium will be revealed in court now that HP has filed this utterly malicious and meritless lawsuit against Oracle."