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Itanium Alliance Invests in Linux

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Itanium Solutions Alliance still won't say much about its plans to spend a $10 billion kitty announced in January, but it did identify one project it's spending a tiny fraction of that money on.

In a collaboration with Gelato, the ISA said it's giving money to help optimize open source compilers for Linux-based Itanium platforms.

Gelato is a global technical community focused on advancing Linux on the Intel Itanium platform. It was co-founded by HP and seven research institutions.

"The Linux community has lacked compiler performance on Itanium, so we've formed a little funding effort to help optimize that area," Stephen Howard, an ISA official from HP, told internetnews.com.

"From what we've seen with the fixes they have planned, there could be as much as 50 percent improvement in these open source compilers, and that will really help the universities, research labs and government developers."

Howard wouldn't say how much the ISA is spending on this or other projects. He did say the $10 billion is an amount agreed upon by the core members of the ISA, which includes Intel, HP, Bull, Fujitsu, Hitachi, SGI and Unisys, and that all will contribute to the fund.

"The money is really going to support the Itanium ecosystem in areas like developer support and marketing," said Howard. "It's a significant commitment."

But Illuminata analyst Gordan Haff sees the $10 billion as more of a publicity gimmick.

"Sure it represents a fair amount of money being spent on Itanium, but it's money those companies would have spent anyway," Haff told internetnews.com. "HP is the real key. It has the lion's share of the Itanium market, and, not that this is going to happen, but if HP walked away from the Itanium, Intel would stop development on it the next day."

Haff said one of the reasons Itanium has been gaining momentum is it fits well as a replacement or upgrade to several lines of Risc-based systems based on earlier Alpha, MIPs, and HP's own PA-Risc. "It's a very good processor for that purpose."

Itanium has weathered criticism from competitors and analysts ever since it went from being Intel's future mainstream chip in the 1990s to more of a high-end play for so-called mission-critical applications. Howard points to IDC estimates that this part of the market represents a whopping $140 billion hardware opportunity over the next five years.

IDC research also indicates that about half the systems used for these mission-critical applications are at least three years old.

"There is a fairly large contingent of folks looking to deploy new systems," Tony DeVarco, another representative from ISA, told internetnews.com.

DeVarco, a senior manager at Itanium systems vendor SGI, said that since 9/11 and the Katrina disaster, more companies are looking to high-end systems like those based on Itanium to manage their data and ensure continuous operation.

Itanium has also seen some recent successes in Japan where systems vendors Hitachi and NEC are based.

"Japan has been on the vanguard of Itanium adoption," said DeVarco. "Power consumption is a big concern there and Montecito will be a real winner."

Montecito is Intel's name for the first dual-core version of Itanium, which was supposed to come out in late 2005 but has been delayed until this summer.

HP recently announced its status as the primary technology provider to ChinaGrid, a massive project run by the education ministry of China that includes Itanium-based HP ProLiant servers.

ChinaGrid is currently deployed at some 20 universities in China with plans to add hundreds more. The goal is to make computing resources available to some 290 million students and researchers.

Sara Murphy, an HP official responsible for grid computing in its high-performance computing division, said Chinese developers are using open source software from HP Labs to create one of the world's largest online museums. "The content comes from a different museums," said Murphy.