HP knifes Itanium, cans IA-64 workstations

The boat that refuses to float loses star passenger

Intel has lost the biggest customer for its ailing Itanium chip: Hewlett Packard's workstation division. HP is instead opting for total commitment to the 64-bit x86 chip market.

"In working with and listening to our high-performance workstation partners and customers, we have become aware that the focus in this arena is being driven toward 64-bit extension technology," HP said in a statement. "The decision to discontinue HP’s Itanium workstation investment is limited to the workstation market and has no impact on HP’s success with Itanium-based Integrity servers."

This is a stunning vote of no-confidence from the company that jointly developed the processor with Intel. HP has dominated the dismal Itanium market, moving well over 90 percent of all Itanium-based tin. Workstations long made up the bulk of HP's Itanic shipments and were key to the company's software porting efforts. HP, Intel and others "helped out" ISVs with free and discounted Itanium kit to get them to move software over to Intel's EPIC instruction set.

Despite its Itanium leanings, HP has become a huge supporter of AMD's Opteron processor and Intel's 64-bit Nocona chip. The company clearly sees much more demand for systems based on these processors and must, to some degree, believe that the majority of software porting to Itanium is complete. Either that or it has lost all faith in Itanium.

Graph showing constantly falling IDC Itanium sales predictions.

Hats off to HP though for making the tough decisions. It swallowed some pride in picking up Opteron and promoting its strength over HP's own Xeon-based server in various benchmarks. Now, it's downed some more by declaring that Itanium really should be confined to the niche most pundits envisioned for it - as a high-end PA-RISC replacement for big iron.

Itanium, however, requires companies to face these kinds of brutal realities. IBM recently reminded everyone of the chip's bad fortunes. Intel's product has embarrassed analyst powerhouse IDC by goading it into sales forecasts that were 96 percent wrong.

As Intel's server chief Abhi Talwalkar said at the recent Intel Developer Forum, "The key (to Itanium) is choice. You don't have to go to one single OEM such as Sun or IBM."

Now there's one less choice for Itanium workstations. It remains to be seen how hard the other IA-64 workstation vendors will try to grab the void left by HP. A quarter's worth of IA-64 sales equals about a week's RISC shipments from IBM or Sun. Look out Itanium ecosystem - HP's dumping acid. ®

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