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After a tough year, Intel and HP push ahead on Itanium

After a tough year, Intel and HP push ahead on Itanium

HP says new Itanium chip, system improvements boost performance by factor of three

It has been a rough stretch for Itanium. HP and its customers were startled after Oracle in March, 2011 announced -- and without warning, according to court records -- its intent to discontinue software development on HP's Itanium servers. Oracle said Itanium was nearing the end of its life.

HP sued Oracle. Between about 80% and 90% of HP Itanium customers use Oracle's database, according to court documents. In August, HP reported that its Business Critical Systems revenue declined 16% year-over-year to some measure due to its battle with Oracle.

But in August, HP prevailed in court. Judge James Kleinberg of the Santa Clara County Superior Court, in San Jose, issued a preliminary ruling that said that prior agreements obligated Oracle to keep porting its software. Oracle said it would comply.

Neither HP or Intel has backed away from Itanium, and Thursday's announcements appear to affirm that. Intel's Poulson Itanium 9500 chip was released and HP said its new systems running this chip will deliver a three times performance boost. Intel even announced a Poulson next generation successor, Kittson.

As it moves ahead on Itanium, HP and Intel are migrating Itanium's capabilities to Xeon under its Project Odyssey project. HP, in particular, wants to create a platform that can deliver mission critical parity for any system, whether it's supporting Linux, Windows, HPUX, OpenVMS or NonStop operating systems.

Kirk Bresniker, HP vice president, chief technologist and HP fellow in computer hardware, said there are technology elements, in areas such as error containment and availability that have not yet migrated over. "That's part of what we're committing ourselves to in Project Odyssey, is effecting the completion of some of those technology migrations," he said.

HP has no plans to support HPUX on an x86 platform. The goal is to create a mission critical line in which it won't matter whether a customer decides to pick Windows, Linux, HPUX, said Bresniker. This does not mean that HP is setting a path to migrate away from its Unix systems running on Itanium.

"Intel committed to an Itanium roadmap through 2020 -- that's a long way out in IT terms," said Charles King, an analyst at Pund-IT. As long as HP's Itanium line, its Integrity servers, continues to be profitable King can't imagine the companies changing course on the system.

If anything, Intel is working to bring its Itanium and Xeon production closer together to share features and make them socket compatible. Intel says this will results in "an even more sustainable path to bring future Itanium processors to market."

King said Intel is trying "to leverage their investments more efficiently and make it less expensive to support the (Itanium) platform."

Two years ago, HP announced Project Odyssey for its Integrity line by unifying its Unix and x86 architectures around blade systems. But HP says this isn't an effort to create a migration path off Itanium but to extend mission critical capabilities available on Unix-based systems to x86 platforms.

"From our perspective we see it as additive," said Kate O'Neil, product marketing manager in server business management at HP. "The requirements for mission critical never go away they just now get applied more broadly across more environments and more workloads."

The HP Integrity line supports HPUX, OpenVMS and NonStop, a fault-tolerant system is used to support 911 systems, ATMs and other high availability systems.

HP said that the performance gains from the Poulson Itanium 9500 chip or also the result of changes in system design and kernel enhancement. This chip supports eight cores, up from four. The upgrades to OpenVMS and NonStop system will roll out next year.

The first new HP Integrity systems, the Superdome 2 systems, will be available next month at a starting price of $6,490 per blade.

Patrick Thibodeau covers cloud computing and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed. His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

See more by Patrick Thibodeau on Computerworld.com.

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