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Vendors hold Itanium bake sale

Bull commits $175m to promote HP gear

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A cavalcade of the Itanium processor's biggest supporters gathered last week at a fundraiser for the struggling processor. At stake is the processor's very existence, and the vendors vowed not to let their warm, large friend die before meeting its full potential.

The Itanium chip is the last of a rare breed known as "single-core server processors". It was raised in a lush ecosystem funded by HP and Intel and once showed promise as a real marvel in the processor market. In fact, market researcher IDC predicted that a voracious Itanium would eat up all the other 64-bit processors.

Sadly, the Itanic ecosystem was poisoned by the likes of IBM and Dell. These companies took joy rides through Itanicville, celebrating the chip after all night keggers. Then, they abandoned the processor, leaving nothing but a trail of vomit and tears in their wake.

Now, the Itanium Solutions Alliance (ISA) has said "enough is enough". At a fancy San Francisco shindig, HP, Intel, Hitachi, Fujitsu, Fujitsu-Siemens, NEC, SGI, Bill and Unisys pledged an astonishing $10bn over the next five years to save the chip. A call to arms on this scale has not been seen since the Northern Reticulated Chipmunk crisis of 1969.

But are these processor environmentalists as generous as they seem?

Around $2bn per year will be pledged to Itanium from the nine vendors. That works out to about $222m per vendor per year, depending on how you count Fujitsu and Fujitsu-Siemens. If you factor in HP's already announced $3bn Itanic investment, then this per-vendor average drops to about $175m per year.

But is it new money? The vendors didn't comment on whether or not it is. The $175m per year would equal what one might expect a large server vendor to spend already on product development, marketing and support activities for its high-end server line. None of the ISA players declared this $10bn as being new, so you can safely assume these are just existing funds. The ISA simply got together, totalled up their Itanium spend and held a press conference around that figure.

And what a press conference it was.

"Innovation is slow to proprietary architectures," said Intel's Digital Enterprise Group general manager Tom Kilroy.

We think he was trying to knock the likes of IBM and Sun with that statement. That, however, is hard to do when you're sitting on a single core chip and have just delayed your first dual-core version of Itanium, Montecito, by nine months to a year. Montecito, expected in the summer of '06, will come in at 1.6GHz instead of 1.8GHz and without performance boosting technology known as Foxton.

A Bull executive also spoke during the press conference, touting Itanium wins.

He pointed to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, San Diego State University and Procter and Gamble as prominent Itanium customers. We looked these sites up and have HP taking the exchange, and SGI owning the other two accounts. Now, this was either a serious moment of camaraderie around Itanium or a signal that Bull's own wins aren't that impressive.

Of course, it's easier to find flashy wins at HP, which sold $620m worth of Itanium servers in the third quarter, according to Gartner, rather than scrounging through Bull's $15m in sales for a decent customer. Incidentally, no other member of the ISA shipped more than 335 Itanium servers in the third quarter, according to Gartner, while HP shipped 6,200 systems. Does ISA really spell PA-RISC/Alpha replacement?

If, like us, you weren't invited to the fundraiser, you can catch the web cast here. ®

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