Oracle drops Itanium development

Joining the crowd, Oracle says it will stop software development for flagging Itanium chip.

Oracle will stop development for Intel’s Itanium chip.

In what may be the software giant’s least controversial move lately, Oracle said today that it is cutting bait on Itanium software development.  With that move, it follows Red Hat and Microsoft, which last year said they would phase out Itanium support for their server operating systems.

For example, Microsoft last April said Windows Server 2008 R2 will be its last server OS to support Itanium.

Industry observers were not surprised at Oracle’s move. “It’s rather expected news. Itanium has always been a low-volume processor.  It doesn’t surprise me at all that Oracle would rather invest its research and development monies elsewhere,” said independent analyst Dan Kusnetzky of Kusnetzky Group LLC.

HP offers several Itanium servers, which represent the majority of the Itanium-based segment, and some observers cast this latest news in the context of continuing friction between HP and Oracle.

“This will probably piss off HP, but no one else has any skin left in this game as far as I know,” said the CTO of a large Midwestern financial institution.

But Matt Eastwood, group vice president of enterprise servers at IDC, said Oracle’s decision represents a double standard for Oracle.

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison “made a big deal saying that HP and Oracle need to stand by their mutual customers, and now Oracle seems to be forcing those customers to make a choice,” Eastwood said.

That decision may end up helping IBM more than Oracle, he added.  “IBM has the strongest non-x86-based roadmap, in my opinion,” he noted.

HP probably makes 80% of the Itanium servers on the market, with the rest coming from Fujitsu and Hitachi, Eastwood said.

The Itanium architecture, once also known as IA-64, was initially developed by HP and then became a joint development project by HP and Intel. But in late 2004, HP relinquished its part in developing and manufacturing the chip, ceding that work, and its Itanium engineers, to Intel.

Intel announced its latest Itanium chip, the Tukwila, last year, but popular support for the chip has flagged in the face of the Intel x86 behemoth. HP still offers several Integrity and Superdome servers based on Itanium.

Early Itanium promise faded

In the early part of the last decade, Itanium showed great promise. “People forget that Itanium was once a very big deal -- it was the go-to chip on all the HP roadmaps after HP bought Compaq [in 2001],” said one long-time integrator executive in the Boston area.

“Itanium was ahead of its time and one of the big claims was it could run Windows, Linux and Unix natively on the same hardware,” this integrator said. 

But repeated delays to Itanium put server vendors -- especially HP -- in a tough spot.

Given Itanium’s minor market share, Oracle’s decision to forego further development is not surprising, he and others said.

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