Can Oracle kill off Itanium?

At the end of March, Oracle announced it would no longer be developing its software for the Intel Itanium chip.

At the end of March, Oracle announced it would no longer be developing its software for the Intel Itanium chip. The database giant also said that other software makers would no longer support the 64-bit processor.

"After multiple conversations with Intel senior management, Oracle has decided to discontinue all software development on the Intel Itanium microprocessor. Intel made it clear that its strategic focus is on the x86 microprocessor and that Itanium is nearing the end of its life," Oracle said.

Competing for server business

Industry observers see Oracle's decision as a direct attack on HP, since HP's flagship enterprise server family, Integrity, uses the Itanium processor.

IDC's fourth quarter 2010 market share data ranks HP as the biggest server company in Emea, with 38% share. HP's Emea server revenue for the fourth quarter 2010 grew 8.8%, compared with the same quarter in 2009.

Oracle, which acquired Sun Microsystems last year, has a 9.7% share of the Emea server market, and its fourth quarter 2010 server revenue dropped 38.3% on the fourth quarter 2009.

Detrimental effects on HP/Oracle users

In a Gabriel Consulting Group survey of 450 enterprise IT customers, 77% of respondents said they believe Oracle stopped Itanium support to kill HP's Itanium server product lines.

Gabriel Consulting Group noted: "If Oracle software is not available on these systems, the workloads would naturally migrate to Oracle's Solaris Unix variant. This is not unprecedented. In the 1990s, several Unix vendors gave up on the business when Oracle either withdrew support or made them second-tier ports. However, it is a vastly different world today, and customers have many more options."

Given that HP is the leading server manufacturer and Oracle is the leading database software provider, a large number of organisations use HP/Oracle systems, and will therefore be adversely affected by Oracle's plans to stop developing applications for Itanium.

Responding to Oracle's decision, Dave Donatelli, executive vice-president and general manager for the enterprise server business at HP, said: "We are shocked that Oracle would put enterprises and governments at risk while costing them hundreds of millions of dollars in lost productivity. Oracle continues to show a pattern of anti-customer behaviour as it moves to shore up its failing Sun server business."

Decline of Unix

Analyst firm Gartner warns that Oracle's move may accelerate the decline of Unix.

In a recent report, the analyst noted: "Gartner believes there is less than a 10% probability that Oracle will reverse its decision. If, as we believe, the Oracle decision will not be changed, then users should consider next-generation Oracle products and new projects on HP-UX as a non-viable approach with high risk. In new business situations, HP will be more likely to promote hybrid Itanium/x86 or all-x86 solutions, with Oracle workloads targeted at Linux. Oracle's actions may also accelerate the pace of overall RISC/Itanium Unix market decline."

One-stop shop

In February, Oracle clamped down on third-party Sun hardware support. Now it is stopping development of Itanium software. It would seem that Oracle is repositioning itself to take ownership of both the application stack, with its database server, WebLogic middleware and eBusiness suite, and the hardware stack.

An Oracle-only strategy only benefits Oracle. In the real world, organisations run diverse, heterogenous IT systems. Itanium is likely to be part of that environment for many years to come.

Photo: Peter Kaminski/Flickr

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