RealTime IT News

Itanium Alliance Charges Forward

In a concerted effort to give Itanium systems a higher profile and rev up developer support, hardware competitors, software providers and, of course, Intel are teaming up.

The Itanium Solutions Alliance officially launches today as a non-profit consortium after months of behind-the-scenes work and planning. "We were only getting so far as individual companies and realized we could be more successful if we tackled this together," Tony DeVarco, senior manager of global technology partnerships at SGI told internetnews.com.

Charter member include Intel, system manufacturers HP, Bull, Fujitsu, SGI, NEC and Unisys. The software members include BEA, Microsoft, Red Hat, Oracle, Novell, SAP and SAS.

The alliance has scheduled "Developer Days" events designed to provide hands-on help to companies looking to port their applications to Itanium. The first one is slated for November in Santa Clara, CA, with others in Japan, Germany and elsewhere across the U.S. and worldwide to follow.

The 1-3 day free events are for commercial applications and patterned after programs that some individual companies in the alliance already have in place. For example, HP will continue with its own separate programs intended to aid HP-UX developers, but will offer some of its facilities to the alliance for Windows and Linux developers.

"Our experience has been that companies often can do a complete port to Itanium within two days. Not complete with all the quality checks but most of the way," Stephen Howard, director of enterprise solution alliances at HP, told internetnews.

However, some users have complained their applications are not getting ported quickly enough to Itanium. At the Oracle Open World conference in San Francisco last week, an Itanium customer asked Oracle CEO Larry Ellison about slow upgrades of Oracle software to Itanium.

Ellison didn't deny his company has been slow to port the latest versions of its software, and said the reason is the relatively low volume and demand. "But I'm a big Itanium fan, it's a terrific chip," said Ellison. "We believe it will be successful and expect to support it indefinitely."

Howard said Oracle's mainstay database software has been on Itanium right along and that any delays are related to Oracle's application suites. "That area is more daunting because Oracle invented some applications, bought others and they're still buying," said Howard. "Any one application would be easy to port, but it's a lot more work to bring them all over as one integrated suite which is how Oracle operates."

The latest information on software for Itanium will be available from a solutions catalog. It will be available at the non-profit group's itaniumsolutionsalliance.org website which launches today.

"Companies like HP and SGI have bet the farm on Itanium and they need to do everything they can to make sure it remains a viable alternative," Nathan Brookwood, analyst at Insight64, told internetnews.com. "The volumes for Itanium-based systems are pretty low, maybe a few hundred thousand a year, versus all the millions in the x86 sever market. But if companies like HP can sell some at the high end in the two to three hundred thousand dollar price range and then sell those customers storage and consulting services, it's a pretty good business."

HP's Howard claims Itanium has been getting a bum rap ever since it fell from being the heir-apparent to Intel's mainstream Pentium processor. HP and Intel co-developed Itanium but Intel took over sole development reins a few years ago and has repositioned it as an alternative or competitor to high end RISC-based servers. Itanium also powers a number of supercomputers.

There are some 5,000+ applications and 75 vendors offering Itanium-based systems, according to the Alliance and 70,000 enterprise class Itanium deployments, according to IDC. "We want to get the news out about where Itanium has been succeeding," said Howard. "We've seen a lot of pickup in telecom, financial services and manufacturing segments as well as in the business intelligence and large database areas."

SGI switched over years ago from developing RISC-based systems to purely Itanium running the Linux operating system. Customers for its visual design systems range from NASA to consumer product companies like Procter & Gamble. Devarco said P&G uses SGI systems to study the "fluid dynamics" of making an effective Pampers diaper, and to insure its Pringle's potato chips keep their shape and don't break. "We're fully committed to Itanium," said DeVarco

Intel has announced plans to release the first dual-core version of Itanium, code-named Montecito, later this year. "That will give a kick to everything," said Howard.