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Intel drags feet on Itanium quad-core (again)

No Tukwila this Tuesday. Or even this year

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"A special cause for optimism"

Sun Microsystems was first, then Dell and IBM, and now Unisys is on the fence and emphasizing Xeons and mainframe iron. NEC and Hitachi are awfully quiet about their Itanium plans as they are suffering huge losses, and Fujitsu has put it plain as it ate the Siemens systems business in Europe at the end of March that Xeon servers would be its preferred platform, with Sparc and mainframes getting honorable mentions and Itanium getting less than that.

No wonder, then, that a few weeks ago the Itanium Solutions Alliance, the club of Itanium hardware and software suppliers that acts as the official cheerleader for the Itanium chip, was saying that the Itanium was "a special cause for optimism". This was the ISA doing damage control ahead of the delay they knew about.

I don't think Itanium is going away, but I do think that continuing delays with Tukwila are hurting HP. As did the delays in IBM's Power5+ and Power6 processors, and the anemic performance boost that IBM got from Power6+, as did Sun's delays and then killing off of the "Millennium" UltraSparc-V and the delays with the "Rock" UltraSparc-RK processors.

Fujitsu's Sparc64 roadmap has been rewritten lots of times, too, and that hurt both Sun and Fujitsu. The good news for Intel and HP is that everybody seems to be screwing up their chips at the high-end; this, of course, is situation normal in the chip business. Companies are always tempted to add too many features, and then the chips don't work.

By Haff's back-of-the-envelope estimates, Intel is generating somewhere between $1.5bn and $2.5bn in Itanium processor sales a year, with about 100,000 chips being pumped out each quarter and chips ranging in price from between $2,000 and $3,000 as they ship to OEM server makers. And the Itanium Solutions Alliance is pegging Itanium system sales at around $5bn per year (these being dominated by HP's Integrity line, of course).

"If we were talking about Xeon, this would be an unmitigated disaster," says Haff, quite correctly. "But Itanium is not a hellacious money pit in terms of investment and they will have to soldier on."

This is particularly true of HP, whose HP-UX customers have gone through an eight-year ordeal getting their applications ported to Itanium, whose OpenVMS customers are in the process of moving to Itanium, and whose NonStop servers actually need hardware features relating to system reliability that are on Itanium but are not on Xeon chips. HP has said that it has not ported HP-UX to Xeon chips, and while this may sound stupid in terms of the long-term survival of the HP-UX Unix distro, I actually believe HP when it says it doesn't have a skunkworks somewhere with HP-UX running on Xeons.

How smart or stupid this strategy is, time will tell. ®

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