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2011: Oracle Drops Itanium Support, Loses Interest for x86 Chips

It looks like there is no place for proprietary processor architectures even in the mission-critical segment of the market.

Oracle, the world's largest designer of business software, said in March that it stopped development of all software designed for Intel Corp.'s Itanium platform. The company said that the decision was made due to Intel's focus on x86 and the fact that Itanium was nearing the end of its life. However, the company has clear reasons not to support Itanium: after the acquisition of Sun Microsystems, it obtained its own mission-critical server platform. Towards the end of the year, Oracle said it was not interested in selling x86 servers as well.

What are ramifications for the industry? At present there are three highly-integrated mission-critical software/hardware platforms on the market: IBM Power, Oracle SPARC and HP Superdome/Integrity as well as HP NonStop powered by Intel Itanium. Until early this year, Oracle supported all three of them until early this year with its Oracle DB and other extreme software for enterprises. However, there will be no more Oracle software for Intel/HP business-critical platforms.

Loads of software and hardware partners have been ceasing support for a while now. Many server makers dropped Itanium platform, including Dell and IBM and so did loads of software developers, including Microsoft and Red Hat. Even SGI reduced its focus on Itanium back in 2009. Essentially, it means that Intel's plan to make proprietary IA64 mission-critical systems widely available has failed.

The world's largest chipmaker understands that Itanium will never shine and will never replace neither Power or SPARC. As a result, Intel has been adding RAS (reliability, availability, serviceability) features into the Xeon microprocessors and thus at present Itanium and Xeon are equally reliable in terms of hardware. However, Itanium is also supported by HP Unix, OpenVMS and NonStop platforms that were made for business-critical machines. It is possible for HP to redesign the aforementioned programs to run on Intel Xeon chips (HP's project Odyssey is very close to that), but the question is whether Oracle is actually interested in supporting HP-UX and NonStop at all.

It looks like Itanium has a number of years ahead of it, but the future belongs to Intel's x86 solutions when it comes to enterprise-class systems. Perhaps, this is exactly what Oracle is afraid of? After making comments about negligibility of x86 servers in its own shipments, rumours about dropping support for non-Oracle Linux distributives and ceasing development of new programs for Itanium, it is clear that Oracle wants to concentrate on its own SPARC platform for different classes of servers and make it the best in the world.

Why? Because once Itanium is dead, the market of mission-critical machines will be redefined again. In fact there are signs of this showing up already. Oracle wants to meet the new challenges fully armed and without established rivals like Itanium. But changes are coming into the universe of mission-critical computing.

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