Intel: Itanium Will Survive Even Without Microsoft’s Support

Intel Set to Continue Developing Itanium Processors Despite Competition with Xeon

by Anton Shilov
04/06/2010 | 01:59 PM

In spite of rapid increase of performance and feature-set of x86 server microprocessors, Intel Corp. believes that IA64 micro-architecture and Itanium central processing units (CPUs) has long and bright future.


Intel recently launched its new Xeon EX platform that, for the first time, sports a number of reliability, availability and serviceability capabilities, which place it in line with more advanced Intel Itanium platforms. Microsoft Corp. was quick to react and said that the forthcoming Windows Server 2008 R2 would be the last OS to support Itanium. With such factors affecting Itanium, will this platform survive in the long term? Intel claims that yes!

“Windows represents less than 6% of current Itanium sales according to IDC's Q3 2009 server tracker report. Most Itanium users run Unix, specifically HP-UX. Those customers would argue that the combination of HP-UX and the Itanium platform represent a very formidable mission-critical solution, which many of the world's leading companies have chosen,” said Patrick Ward, an Intel spokesperson, who specializes on Itanium lineup of products.

Intel Itanium processors are based on the IA64 architecture, hence, they need specially-developed software and up to recently required special hardware platforms. Nevertheless, Intel Itanium-based system sales run into the billions annually, whereas sales of proprietary servers, such as those based on IBM Power processors are dropping. In fact, sales of expensive servers have been on the decline for many years now, mainly because x86 microprocessors have been rapidly gaining performance. For example, recently announced AMD Opteron “Magny Cours” 6000-series processors include up to twelve processing engines, whereas Intel Xeon “Beckton” 7500-series chips feature eight cores, three and two times more compared to Intel Itanium “Tukwila” 9300-series chips, respectively. As a result, Intel Xeon EX already can provide higher horsepower compared to Intel Itanium and going forward performance difference is only going to increase.

However, Intel claims that customers, who acquire Itanium-based solutions are more interested in ultimate reliability, not maximum performance.

“For pure performance, you might go with Xeon processors, but the mission critical customers Itanium targets are most interested in reliability, serviceability and availability features across the operating system, processors and other aspects of their enterprise computing infrastructure. Processor performance is only one aspect of what interests them,” said Mr. Ward.

At present Hewlett-Packard is the biggest Itanium client. Initially the company used to invest into development of Itanium processors, however, several years ago the firm decided to drop IA64 CPU development and concentrate on creation of actual servers along with HP-UX operating system.

“The Itanium line has a rich and growing set of RAS features that HP-and other operating systems fully utilize to deliver a mission critical solution. If a customer wants Unix on a mission-critical hardware platform, along with all of the other mission critical features that HP and others have developed for it, then Itanium is the way to go. X86 makes sense for users who want to run a Windows server environment, for example,” the spokesman for Intel said.

At present Intel’s most powerful Itanium processor is model 9300 previously known as Tukwila that has four cores and is made using relatively old 65nm fabrication process. It is projected that in 2012 the world’s largest maker of chips will release 32nm eight-core IA64 chip code-named Poulson, which will also feature micro-architectural enhancements, including new instructions. In 2014 Intel plans to release code-named Kittson chip. Unfortunately, Intel does not make official claims about the future of Itanium at this point.

“As for the future, look for some exciting systems announcements by Itanium OEMs in the next few months,” concluded Mr. Ward.