Itanium Treading Water

Microsoft pulls processor support in some O/Ss

Intel Corp.’s flagship Itanium processor suffered a setback last month when Microsoft Corp. said that it will no longer support Itanium 2 processor in its workstation and low-end server operating systems.

Also last month, Intel took over all further development of the Itanium processor family, which previously had been shared with Hewlett-Packard Co. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed but Intel was expected to hire HP’s Itanium chip design team, which is located in Fort Collins, Colo.

On the Windows front, Microsoft is expected to steer customers shopping for midrange 64-bit computing solutions toward its Windows x64 editions running on AMD64 and Intel EM64T—i.e., 64-bit Xeon—microprocessors. The software giant will offer Itanium support exclusively on its high-end Windows Server 2003 operating systems—Enterprise Edition and Datacenter Edition.

"Because Windows on x64 systems delivers excellent flexibility and choice, while also enabling a smooth migration from 32-bit to 64-bit applications, Microsoft believes Windows for Itanium-based systems is a stronger offering in the high-end server market," a Microsoft spokesperson said last month.

That sounds an effective death knell for Windows Server 2003 Standard Edition for Itanium 2, which Microsoft first touted in October of 2003. "Both Intel and Microsoft are aligned in targeting Itanium and Windows Server 2003/SQL Server at the high-end server market segment, traditionally dominated by RISC-based servers. Windows Server 2003 Standard x64 Edition is the focus of development efforts for the mainstream server market," the Microsoft spokesperson said.

Elsewhere, the hand-off of Itanium development responsibilities to Intel solves a big problem for HP, which got into the Itanium business in the first place to get out of the RISC microprocessor business. Chip design and manufacturing is an expensive proposition, and has caused many long-time RISC/Unix players, such as Sun Microsystems Inc., to exit the chip-making business. In this respect, the hand-off was to be expected. In fact, some analysts note, it leaves HP comparatively well positioned, in spite of Itanium’s uptake woes.

“HP will be able to basically turn off the development of PA-RISC and turn off the development of Alpha, and focus all of its efforts on Itanium-based systems,” said Nathan Brookwood, a principal with microprocessor consultancy Insight64, in November. “That in itself will be an achievement, because if you look at other computer companies who have merged in the past, they have never been able to get rid of those proprietary product lines.”

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.