IDC's missing Itanium report found at rival analyst firm
Clabby gets crabby
On the competitive front, Clabby points out that both IBM and Sun have dual-core RISC chips already. In fact, IBM has been shipping a dual-core product since 2001.
The analyst notes that IBM's Power and Intel's Itanium have stood as the clear performance leaders, putting Sun to shame on most occasions. Clabby then goes on to point out that Sun has endured product slips and that IBM has been forced to push back the release of its Power6 chip. This raises obvious questions about whether or not Intel's Itanium delays will really hurts its position in the competitive landscape.
Clabby addresses these questions by looking at how much actual investment Intel puts into Itanium. Like other members of the ISA, Intel pledged to funnel millions into boosting interest around the chip. And yet it has let Itanium products slip way behind competitors, while rushing new Xeon products out ahead of schedule in order to try and stay competitive with AMD. This strategy makes sense, given that Intel relies far more on Xeon than it likely ever will on Itanic. Unlike years past, Intel has fewer resources to spare on pushing Itanium forward given that it's still trailing AMD on the x86 technology front. This likely means that Intel won't make Itanium a top priority, and that's bad news for Itanic server vendors, according to Clabby.
"For vendors that sell high-end Itanium-based SMP solutions, constant roadmap schedule slippage and functionality slippage puts these vendors in a competitively disadvantageous position (because Sun and IBM own their own microprocessor development and can assign resources as they deem necessary to meet competitive challenges)," Clabby writes.
"Failure to own microprocessor resources gives leading HPC vendors HP and SGI little control on when they get their next respective spins of Itanium. Meanwhile, IBM and Sun can exploit this to their respective advantages - assigning even more resources if they so desire to pull way-out-in-front of Itanium."
Even on the ISA front, Clabby remains a skeptic and remarks that members of the club "would be loathe to open their books to show us what they're spending now - and what they plan to add to that spending." The idea there being that not a whole lot of "new" money is coming out of the ISA. (Contrast that with IDC, which took the $10bn pledge at face value.)
To Clabby's point, the financial backing of Itanium has long been murky. HP has tossed out an unknown quantity of gear for free to ISVs willing to port their code over to EPIC or to big name customers willing to give the Itanic a try. Myriad software funds have been started up to encourage the likes of Oracle and BEA to embrace Itanium. HP has also made its own $3bn pledge to Itanium but never clarified if this money has already been earmarked as part of the overall $10bn ISA commitment.
You can also look at "customer wins" such as the massive Columbia system at NASA Ames. The street value of the SGI Itanium-based cluster with more than 10,000 processors goes well past $200m. Yet, NASA paid only $50m for the box, as Intel and SGI fronted the rest of the costs hoping to brag that Columbia was the fastest computer on the planet. They were crushed when IBM's BlueGene system took the honor instead.
Can you really believe that the ISA "pledge" will improve Itanium sales that much given these massive, past investments?
IDC would do its clients a service by reading over some of the information in Clabby's report and then maybe regurgitating the highlights. Another suggestion would be for IDC or Clabby to investigate Itanium as an expensive but worthwhile sideshow. Imagine where IBM's Power processor might be today if the company didn't have to worry about Itanic. IBM could possibly have pushed its Power.org agenda forward earlier and tried to march Power into a broader ranges of servers, computers and devices. And let's not forget that Itanic killed off PA-RISC and Alpha.
We can't help but wonder sometimes if Intel didn't trick HP into taking quite the wild ride with Itanium. Intel, after all, has largely survived the Itanium era in style, making money off Centrino and Xeon. Meanwhile, HP has struggled to align its Unix business around Itanium. We'd love to see IDC or Clabby tackle these issues.