Itanic: Enron's Golden Albatross

Shipping volumes

There's a dark specter of doom looming from Itanic's past.

The history of Itanic is dotted with various foibles, follies and disasters (Itanium 1 - Ed), so it's easy to miss a snafu or two. It would, however, take the dullest of eyes to overlook the word ENRON on the Intel 64 Fund Web site.

The $250 million Intel 64 Fund was first announced in 1999 and provided some indication that people did, in fact, care about Itanic. A number of companies chipped into the fund to help nudge Itanic-related projects along.

The list of investors on Intel's Web site is outdated to be sure. Readers will find Compaq named along with Dell and Hewlett-Packard. But the star attraction is not the IT guys. Right there between Circuit City and Ford Motor are our friends at Enron. The big E was not on the list of original investors but joined up with the fund later on, Intel confirmed.

Enron threw a lot of money around a lot of places. Sometimes the cash arrived; other times it wound up in the accounting equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle. Wherever and whenever the money landed, it left a nasty stain.

In this case, Enron's cash has been dragged across the deck of the Itanic, leaving a mark that could well be an indicator - an omen even - of things to come. It's no secret that a lone, black albatross careened over passengers' heads as the Titanic set sail.

The chip has already started to take a toll on the few Itanic users out there. Guru66 - the lone reviewer of Itanium Rising - has fallen so far that he must to listen to Sounds of Earth: Frogs for comfort.

"The recording and mastering quality is excellent," writes the Itanic user. "This is the best recording I have heard of frogs so far. The sounds come in waves."

Right.

And what of Itanium, Guru66?

"This book helped me get (Itanium servers) approved with management, and helped us reject a more expensive Sun-based system," he said. "It's great to give to your managers to explain the new technology."

For those who don't know, Itanic Rising walks users through the ins and outs of Intel's 64bit chip and talks about the economic benefits of having an industry standard high-end chip.

What the book does not address is that volume is required to take advantage of volume economics. Itanium 2 has managed to generate more than four-digit unit sales, but singing frogs or not, that does not a volume product make.

Add a lack of software and a down economy to the mix, and the story does not get much better.

With "Itanium 3", Madison, around the corner Intel may yet be able to shake the chip's tainted past. However, speculating about Itanic's future success is as fruitless as trying to balance Ken Lay's checkbook. ®

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