Thursday, April 15, 2010

x86 Server Market Directs Microsoft to End Itanium Development

Itanium serverMicrosoft has announced that it will no longer support development for Intel's Itanium processor effectively placing current Itanium products into maintenance status for the next three years with support ending entirely in eight years. Microsoft also stated that the current versions of Windows Server 2008 R2, SQL Server 2008 R2, and its developer tool Visual Studio 2010 will be the last versions to support the Itanium architecture. For those wondering exactly why Microsoft would make this move, Joe Clabby, President of Clabby Analytics, offers his thoughts on the decision.

"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,"

While the move is yet another blow to the Itanium line, losing Microsoft is not as painful as one would think. Approximately 80 percent of Itanium sales are from HP, which runs HP-UX, NonStop or OpenVMS. Windows and Unix are merely a small portion of their business. However, the marketplace continues to gravitate towards the architecture proposed by Advanced Micro Devices, which added 64-bit extensions to the x86 processors used by many mainstream servers and PCs. Although Microsoft has offered 64-bit versions of Windows Server for both types of chips, the x64 versions have proven to be far more popular than the Itanium ones. Microsoft's reasoning for the decision seems to be sound.

"The natural evolution of the x86 64-bit ('x64') architecture has led to the creation of processors and servers which deliver the scalability and reliability needed for today's 'mission-critical' workloads," Reger said in a blog post. "Just this week, both Intel and AMD have released new high core-count processors, and servers with eight 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."

Despite waning mainstream support and the fact that Itanium has never been a big seller, the chip remains as an importance figure in the market seeing as its the processing power backing HP's high-end server line. In addition, Intel continues to develop new versions of the processor, most recently the Itanium 9300 which was introduced in February, and has promised at least two more generations codenamed "Poulson" and "Kitson". While the immediate future seems secure for the Itanium series of processors it remains to be seen just how far they will be able to go.

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