Server Market Changes Lead to End of Itanium Development at Microsoft

By Andy Patrizio (Send Email)
Posted Apr 5, 2010


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Microsoft has announced it will no longer support further development for Intel's Itanium processor, putting the products it currently has in the server market into maintenance status for the next three years and ending support in eight years. The arrival of Intel's Nehalem-EX has pretty much signaled the end of Microsoft's support. The high-end x86 server market is changing, with many servers now sporting features previously available only in Itanium.

Dan Reger, senior technical product manager at Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), made the announcement in a blog post on Friday. Windows Server 2008 R2, SQL Server 2008 R2 and Visual Studio 2010 will be the last versions of those products to support the Intel Itanium architecture.

Current support for Itanium will remain unchanged. Mainstream support for Windows Server 2008 for Itanium-Based Systems (and R2) will end on July 9, 2013 while extended support will continue until July 10, 2018.

"Why the change? The natural evolution of the x86 64-bit ("x86") architecture has led to the creation of processors and servers which deliver the scalability and reliability needed for today’s 'mission-critical' workloads. Just this week, both Intel and AMD have released new high core-count processors, and servers with 8 or more x64 processors have now been announced by a full dozen server manufacturers. Such servers contain 64 to 96 processor cores, with more on the horizon," Reger wrote in his posting.

Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) earlier this week introduced the Xeon 7500, a.k.a. Nehalem-EX, an eight-core high-performance processor with many reliability and scalability features it had offered only in the Itanium. AMD (NYSE: AMD) has released its eight- and 12-core "Magny-Cours" Opteron 6000 processor line as well. Both companies had broad support from the server market OEMs, including big iron vendors like SGI, NEC, IBM and Fujitsu.

Itanium has never been a big volume seller and lagged behind while Intel put more and more effort into the x86 server market. Originally a multivendor venture, it's now primarily an Intel and HP joint venture and HP accounts for the majority of Itanium product sales. But those sales have been slipping. Last year they fell 20 percent, from $5 billion to $4 billion.

Intel recently launched the quad-core Itanium 9300, known as the "Tukwilla" family of processors. It has promised at least two more generations of processors that are currently under development with the codenames "Poulson" and "Kitson."

Calls to Intel for comment were not returned by press time.

Losing Microsoft would seem like a bad blow, but it's not, notes analyst Joe Clabby, president of Clabby Analytics. He estimates around 80 percent of Itanium sales are from HP, which runs HP-UX, NonStop or OpenVMS. Windows and Unix are a small portion of the business.

"Here's what really happens: Microsoft has invested in x86 architecture. People don't want Windows on Itanium. They want HP-UX on Itanium and maybe some NonStop and OpenVMS, but they have not done jumping jacks over Windows on Itanium. Microsoft is saying its committing heart and soul to x86 multicore and that's what the market wants," Clabby told InternetNews.com.

He figures HP will eventually give up on Itanium as well.

"HP has to invest a lot in a system's design to support Itanium. They have to design what the memory architecture looks like, what the bus is going to look like. They can't afford to keep investing in system designs for Itanium" when the bigger opportunity is putting more investment in system designs for Xeon, Clabby added.

Andy Patrizio is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

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