Vendors Join Forces to Boost Itanium

In a move they hope will prevent Itanium from becoming the Edsel of the processor world, nine vendors have banded together to form the Itanium Solutions Alliance. The consortium's goal is to grow the Itanium community, in terms of both end users and software developers.

A collection of OEMs and ISVs have come together over Itanium. Will the Itanium Solutions Alliance bolster the beleaguered chip?

To date, there are 70,000 Itanium deployments, according to IDC's quarterly server tracker, and 5,000 applications. This averages out to about 14 servers per application. The primary goals of the Alliance is to increase the chip's momentum and grow these numbers — a goal that at first blush may seem less attainable in the wake of Dell's recent decision to drop Itanium from its PowerEdge line

Founding Alliance members include HP, Fujitsu, Intel, NEC, SGI, and Unisys. Charter members are BEA, SAP, and SAS, which are providing much of the enabling technology, including the compiler, Mike Mitsch, director, alliance/system integrators for NEC told, ServerWatch. Other Alliance members include Microsoft, Red Hat, Novell, and Oracle.

Mitsch emphasizes that the consortium is not Intel-driven. The processor vendor has voting power equal to that of the other members.

Part of the Alliance's mission is to set the record straight on Itanium. It is not, as Chas Weber, director enterprise server market development systems & technology, for Unisys, explains, a souped-up commoditized solution for all computing needs. Rather, it is an "enterprise standard" solution that is an alternative to RISC or mainframe architectures, Weber said.

Mitsch adds that the enterprise-class solution is aimed not at commodity servers performing back-end tasks, but at those performing business-critical tasks in "scale up" high-performance-computing-intensive environments.

Bearing this positioning in mind, Dell's decision to drop support for the chip is perhaps less of a death knell than some assumed.

Of the more than 10 operating systems that currently run on Itanium, the Alliance has opted to make Linux and Windows its sweet spots, Joan Jacobs, Integrity partner Development, TSG Solutions Alliances, told ServerWatch.

Analysts are of mixed opinion on how attainable this will be. Gordon Haff of Illuminata notes, "Revenue drives developer and ISV behavior, not organizations. The alliance could assist some by centralizing resources and contact points for Windows and Linux — which run on multiple vendors' hardware — but the effect will be modest. For one thing, it's largely irrelevant to vendor-specific OSs, like HP-UX, or largely vendor-specific environments, like truly Big Iron high-performance computing at SGI. For another, the aims of this alliance seem fairly modest compared to what companies, like HP, are already doing to encourage Itanium ports."

HP, it should be noted, is heavily invested in Itanium, both in the development effort and in its Integrity line, into which it has migrated its PA-RISC servers. It thus has much to lose should Itanium not succeed.

IDC's Vernon Turner, on the other hand, sees the consortium as a win for all involved, "Being focused to deliver solutions across a wide range of industries and a consolidates catalog of applications should make the Itanium industry better off. At IDC, we saw approximately $3 billion of Itanium sales in the past four years being met with nearly $3 billion in the next 15 months, which shows that there is market acceptance and potential momentum. Being fragmented meant that individual members of the Alliance could be targets and picked off by their competitors, but now there should be a focused effort across all major geographies."

The Itanium Solutions Alliance's Strategy

The consortium has a three-fold strategy for growing the Itanium base: developer education through seminars, a solutions center network of testing centers, and a fully searchable directory of all Itanium solutions.

The Alliance is already planning hundreds of Developer Day events for 2006. The events will be between one and three days and will consist of hands-on porting time with assistance available, as well as classroom time where discussions of how to optimize for Itanium will be held. The first Developer Day will be held in Santa Clara, Calif. in November. Two more will follow in Tokyo, and Paderborn, Germany.

The Alliance is planning 19 Solution Centers throughout the world, from Paramus N.J. to Bangalore India, and from Sunnyvale, Calif to Paris and Tokyo. There are two components to it: The Test Drive Program and the Member Lab Program. Participation in the Solutions Center Network will be available free of charge to interested developers. The hope, of course, is that they will bring Itanium-compatible products to market and join the Alliance. The goal of the Member Lab Program is that participants port their applications to Itanium and contribute to the Solutions Catalog.

The program's goal is to support 50 ISVs within the first six months. The test Drive Program is available now. The Member Lab program will be available in October.

The Solutions Catalog, which will be a fully searchable directory of solutions that notes application compatibility and solutions options, will be available by year end, Mitsch said. He said the Solutions Catalog is "a key deliverable of the organization," and is designed for end user organizations and ISVs.

IDC's Turner believes the consortium is on the right track. He told ServerWatch that the application porting centers and developer days will provide added incentive for the ISV industry.

This article was originally published on Sep 26, 2005
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