Oracle stopping development on Itanium -- slap at HP or obvious decision?

Oracle pulling support on its products running Intel Itanium chips draws angry reaction from HP, which ships most of the servers that are based on the processor

Oracle's decision to stop supporting its products on Intel's Itanium chips drew a particularly harsh response from Hewlett-Packard, which ships the vast majority of servers that are based on the processor. An HP statement said the company was "shocked." HP has about 90 percent of the Itanium market, according to IDC.

On Tuesday, Oracle said it had decided " to discontinue all software development" on Itanium. In doing so, it cited discussions with Intel, as well as earlier decisions by Microsoft and Red Hat to end Itanium support. The company also claimed it was the last major developer to end Itanium support.

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Oracle followed up its announcement with a support termination schedule for Itanium. In some cases, product support may end relatively swiftly. For instance, the last version of PeopleSoft that Oracle will support on Itanium is 9.1. The company plans to ship PeopleSoft Version 9.2 next year. The current Version 11gR2 of the Oracle database will be the last to support Itanium.

"Why is Oracle making this statement right now?" asked an analyst at IDC Crafword Del Prete. "If you are an Itanium customer, you've got to be left scratching your head here. What's going on, and what's the motivation behind this? I don't have an answer for that rhetorical question." Oracle issued a statement saying, " Oracle has an obligation to give our customers adequate advanced notice when Oracle discontinues development on any software product or hardware platform so our customers have the information they need to plan and manage their businesses."

Charles King, an analyst at Pund-IT, said that as Oracle moves away from Itanium support, "whatever performance customers can wrest out of their current systems is about as good as it's going to get. Customers that have invested on Itanium and Oracle together are going to have to start investigating other options for maximizing their performance."

For its part, Intel on Wednesday reaffirmed support for Itanium and disputed Oracle's contention that Itanium was "nearing the end of its life." In a statement, Paul Otellini, CEO of Intel, said the company remains "firmly committed" to Itanium and is continuing to work on the technology.

Although Oracle and HP have long talked about an alliance, the relationship between the firms cooled considerably when Oracle bought Sun Microsystems last year and then hired former HP CEO Mark Hurd after he was ousted last year.

Earlier this month, the Itanium Solutions Alliance drew attention to a white paper from HP and Intel, claiming 41 percent total cost savings for users who move from older Sparc servers to the Itanium platform. But as aggressive as that white paper might be, vendors have always tried to woo customers away from one another, even as they pledge cooperation on certain platforms.

In its decision last year to end SQL Server support for Itanium, Microsoft cited improvements in the x86 64-bit chips as the basis for its decision. But neither company necessarily lost. HP touted customer migrations from Itanium to its x86 server platforms.

In an interview just before Oracle's announcement, Bob Kossler, director of strategy and planning for HP's NonStop Enterprise division, was asked whether HP would ever offer NonStop on an x86 platform. It now runs on Itanium. "If our business demanded it, we would make that shift," said Kossler. But "at this point, Intel has a solid road map that we can rely on, so there is no need to make that kind of a change." He said customers have been "very happy" with the Itanium.

HP this week announced improvements to its NonStop platform, a fault-tolerant system, that includes upgrading its blades to support Tukwila, the latest Intel quad-core Itanium processor.

Customers have asked whether NonStop can move to x86, said Kossler. "We've changed microprocessors before -- we went from MIPS technology to the Itanium family, so we know how to move from one microprocessor technology to another," he said. But "at the moment we don't see a demand for that," said Kossler.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov , or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is .

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