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Intel Corp. on Tuesday again reaffirmed that even though Xeon microprocessors are gaining RAS [reliability, availability, serviceability] capabilities, Intel Itanium platform, which was mainly designed for mission-critical servers with RAS features, will remain important part of Intel's offerings.

“Instead of Itanium at the top and Xeon at the bottom of the lineup, we are going to have them side by side. With server vendors including Windows, Linux and Solaris now running on the Xeon architecture, there’s no workload in the world today that Xeon can’t handle," said Kirk Skaugen, vice president and general manager of Intel’s data center group.

Recently Oracle announced that it would stop designing new software for Intel Itanium-based servers, which are available from HP and SGI only at the moment. The company noted that, on the one hand, Intel adds RAS capabilities to the Xeon platform, which means that the chip giant wants x86 architecture to serve top-to-bottom of the lineup; on the other hand companies like Microsoft and Red Hat also had dropped developing software for IA64. Both Intel and HP said that the Itanium roadmap extends for more than ten years.

Unfortunately for Itanium, Intel Xeon is not only supported by a broad amount of applications and software, but it also offers higher number of cores and outperforms Itanium in a lot of cases. Intel retorts that the evolution of Itanium is not on the company's typical tick-tock schedule.

“Itanium is on a two-year beat rate. Xeon is delivering up to 40% performance, which is a world record. Since Itanium is not on a tick-tock schedule, Xeon and Itanium will leap-frog each other," said Mr. Skaugen.

One of the things that Intel wanted to do sometimes in 2003-2004 was to unify Itanium and Xeon platforms, which would make it easier for manufacturers to assemble servers on both. Although both platforms now use QPI [QuickPath Interconnect] bus and share a number of other technologies, they are not socket compatible, which causes a lot of headaches for those, who use IA64 chips. Moreover, with little support from server makers (IBM and Dell dropped Itanium years ago) and software designers, Itanium-based mission-critical machines will hardly get affordable, something which contradicts to Intel's current Xeon multi-processor approach.

“We want to democratize mission-critical computing and fundamentally change the economics in that space. The largest software vendors have embraced this [x86] technology, bringing four- to eight-socket systems gluelessly into the architecture. [...] The days of IT organizations being forced to deploy expensive, closed RISC architectures for mission-critical applications are nearing an end," said Mr. Skaugen.

Sales of Intel Itanium-based machines are growing. According to Intel (which cites figures by IDC), revenues of Itanium-based servers totaled $102 million in 2002 and $4 billion in 2010. By contrast, x86-based server sales increased from $19.53 billion in 2002 to around $33.3 billion in 2010. Nonetheless, given the fact that the x86 server market is eight times larger compared to IA64 server market, it makes less and less sense even for Intel to invest into its development.

Tags: Intel, Itanium, IA64, Oracle

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