Through a partnership with Hewlett-Packard, Red Hat said it has committed to releasing a version of its Red Hat Linux Advanced Server operating system that will be offered on HP's Proliant servers, as well as its workstations, that use Itanium 2 chips.
The companies said they expect to be the first to offer servers running Linux on Itanium 2-based systems, but HP could not say when the systems would be available. HP worked with Intel to develop its 64-bit processors.
"[With] Red Hat with Advanced Server, we are seeing most of that success come from customers making the Unix-to-Linux migration, and they are used to having 64-bit capabilities," said Mike Evans, vice-president of business development at Red Hat.
"They want the comfort of Linux as they move off of Unix and it leads us to believe that there is a sizable market for Itanium," he said.
Intel has pitched Itanium 2, formerly known as McKinley, as a processor for servers that can offer a lower-cost alternative to Unix machines from Sun Microsystems, IBM and others.
A variety of Linux vendors are tuning versions of their software to run on Itanium 2. In May, four Linux vendors including Caldera and Germany's SuSE Linux pledged to create a single distribution of the open source operating system, UnitedLinux, which will also be tuned to run well on Itanium 2.
"All the major distributions will need to support Intel's 64-bit platform," said David Freund, an analyst with research firm Illuminata.
Microsoft is preparing a "limited" version of Window Advanced Server for Itanium 2 servers, Intel has said. This will be more of a test vehicle for Windows on Itanium, Freund said. A future version of that server operating system designed around Microsoft's .net technology is expected later this year and will be better tuned to run on the 64-bit chip, according to the Illuminata analyst.
The .net release will be "the preferred operating system for Itanium 2 from Microsoft's perspective," he said.
A version of HP's Unix operating system, HP-UX, will also be tuned for the new chips, Intel has said.
Advanced Micro Devices is working on its own 64-bit chip to compete against the Itanium family. In March, AMD said it was working with SuSE Linux to tune a version of its operating system to run on servers with 64-bit AMD's chips.
Itanium 2 will be the second of Intel's 64-bit processors. The first version did not perform as well as expected, analysts said, and came to be regarded as a test vehicle for developers and system makers. Intel recently announced the results of internal tests which it said show that Itanium should offer as much as twice the performance of its predecessor.