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Ellison drops iceberg in front of HP's unsinkable Itanic

Oracle users rush for the lifeboats

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HP vs Oracle Oracle has announced that it has stopped development for all its software on Intel's high-end Itanium server processor.

Oracle works on its own cycle and does what it wants - which is why it waited until a week after Leo Apotheker's coming out party as president and CEO of Hewlett-Packard, and until 8pm Pacific time when Californians were probably settling down for their second drink of the day, to drop the news.

This may not be a big deal for all of the other server vendors that have abandoned the good ship Itanic - IBM, Dell, Sun Microsystems, Unisys, Fujitsu, NEC, Bull, and others - but this is a huge deal for Hewlett-Packard, which runs its flagship HP-UX Unix operating system on Itanium-based Integrity servers.

"After multiple conversations with Intel senior management Oracle has decided to discontinue all software development on the Intel Itanium microprocessor," the statement from the software giant explained. "Intel management made it clear that their strategic focus is on their x86 microprocessor and that Itanium was nearing the end of its life."

This statement directly contradicts statements that Intel executives have made time and time again, most recently ahead of the IEEE's International Solid-State Circuits Conference in San Francisco back in February.

In a prebriefing attended by El Reg, Rory McInerney, vice president of Intel's Architecture Group and director of microprocessor development, ended his preview of the eight-core "Poulson" Itanium chip slated for next year, by saying that "Intel's commitment, as evidenced by this development effort, is strong and it is unwavering."

Intel has a follow-on to the Poulson Itanium slated for around 2013, which would be available for at least two years, if not more. That gets you to 2015 or 2016, which is about as far out as any chip roadmap in the server racket goes. Including Oracle's own Sparc roadmap, by the way.

"Both Microsoft and Red Hat have already stopped developing software for Itanium," Oracle's statement continues. "HP CEO Leo Apotheker made no mention of Itanium in his long and detailed presentation on the future strategic direction of HP."

True enough. But Apotheker made no mention of Xeon or Opteron processors either, which Oracle might have also pointed out in its statement. Apotheker presented a high-level strategy to expand HP into cloud building and services and to get a more aggressive software business cooking.

Oracle finished its Itanium death sentence by reminding customers that it would continue to support existing versions of its software that already run on Itanium products.

Red Hat was the first to pull the plug on Itanium, saying back in December 2009 that its Enterprise Linux 6 operating system, which was released last summer, would not be supported on Itanium processors.

Prior RHEL 4 and RHEL 5 releases continue to run on Itanium chips. Microsoft followed suit in April 2010, saying that Windows Server 2008 R2 and SQL Server 2008 R2 would be the final releases supported on Itanium.

Losing Windows and RHEL on Itanium is a big deal, and moreso for HP than others because some HP-UX customers run Windows and Linux on partitions of their entry and midrange Integrity and high-end Superdome systems, which have been based on Itanium processors for the past decade. This hurts, but Oracle pulling the plug on Itanium is a kick right in the vitals of HP.

As is the case among other Unix vendors, a substantial portion of HP-UX sales are driven by Oracle's eponymous databases. IBM, Oracle, and HP are for all intents and purposes the remaining Unix vendors in the market.

And while the Oracle 11g database and Oracle's middleware and application stacks will continue to be supported on HP-UX and the current Itaniums for many, many years, this announcement by Oracle will absolutely freak out HP-UX customers that use the Oracle database.

And that, of course, is Oracle's intention. Whether or not this will drive customers to Sparc-based systems, which must be the plan, is unclear. If anything, it may drive HP-UX shops into the loving arms of IBM - unless Oracle makes the same statement about IBM and its commitment to its Power Systems and their homegrown Power family of processors.

HP and Intel were not available at press time, but we are tracking down the Integrity people at HP and the Itanium people at Intel now to get their sides of the story. Stay tuned. ®

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