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Red Hat pulls plug on Itanium with RHEL 6

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Exclusive If you run Itanium-based servers in your data center, 2010 has a surprise for you. The dominant supplier of commercial Linux, Red Hat, is not going to be supporting its future Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6 on any Itanium platforms, old or new.

An intrepid reader of El Reg sent us an email saying that some of the Bugzilla reports closed with a message saying that Red Hat were no longer supporting IA-64 - also known as Itanium and a bunch of other names, most of which you can't print in a family news site. Intel has been mum on the subject, as has Itanium's biggest cheerleader, Hewlett-Packard.

Here's what Red Hat had to say, officially:

Red Hat is committed to protecting Itanium customers' investments and to providing these customers with enterprise class support for Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 through March 2014. During this period, Red Hat will provide support, deliver new features, and enable new Itanium hardware in Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 exclusively in accordance with the published RHEL product lifecycle (http://www.redhat.com/security/updates/errata/). In addition, extended support for Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 for Itanium is available up to March 2017 from selected OEMs.

The next major release of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (v6) will not provide support for the Itanium architecture; consequently, all Itanium related development will be incorporated into Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 exclusively.

Strike another blow for at Intel's Itanium processor, which was supposed to support Solaris and AIX but doesn't and which has been relegated to a database server on Windows.

The upshot is this: If you like RHEL 5, which is a perfectly fine operating system, and you have Itanium machines and like them in production running Linux, you are going to be liking it for a long, long time.

Unless Novell plans to continue to continue to support Itanium boxes with SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 12, of which, by the way, Novell has said very little. For all we know, SLES 12 wasn't going to support Itanium chips either. Perhaps Red Hat pulling the plug on Itanium with RHEL 6 will give Novell a niche it can support, much as it already does on IBM's System z mainframes: Novell claims to have sold 85 per cent of the Linux licenses on Big Blue's big iron.

By the way, RHEL 6 will be supported on IBM's Power-based servers and its mainframes, which have been supported with RHEL 4 and 5, as well as x64 servers. It is hard to say how much (or how little) support money comes to Red Hat through Power and mainframe platforms, but if Novell has the share it claims to on the mainframe, it would not have been at all surprising to see Red Hat drop IBM mainframes with RHEL 6 as well. But that's not the plan.

IBM, Red Hat, and Novell have never given any kind of shipment or revenue figures for Linux on Power, so it is just as difficult to figure how much money is at stake. But the plan is to support IBM's Power Systems with RHEL 6.

What IBM needs to do - and should have done a long time ago - is buy Novell, milk NetWare for every penny it still has left (there are some, but not a lot), embrace SLES as its preferred Linux on all of its platforms, and compete head-to-head with Red Hat. Acquiring Citrix as well would give IBM an x64 hypervisor (Xen) and application streaming platform, too, with which to compete with Red Hat and VMware in the enterprise and on clouds.

Someone will buy Novell and/or Citrix before too long, or the companies will merge if they have any sense at all. ®

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