Oracle: We'll Level With You About Itanium, but HP Won't

Published on March 23, 2011
by Arik Hesseldahl

What at first seemed like a relatively minor decision by Oracle to stop creating software meant to run on machines containing Intel’s technically sophisticated but not widely used Itanium processors has escalated into a full-blown war of words between Oracle and Hewlett-Packard.

First came the initial announcement. Then came responses, first from Intel, indignant at Oracle’s suggestion that the Itanium processor was on a death watch, then from HP, saying it was “shocked” at Oracle’s decision. Later it went on to describe Oracle’s move to Bloomberg as a “shameless gambit” to harm competition.

Now Oracle is firing back, in a statement that just arrived. Basically, Oracle is accusing HP, which sells pretty much all of the servers that use the Itanium chip, of not being straight with its customers about what it thinks is really going on: Specifically that the Itanium chip is going to be killed, sooner rather than later, despite Intel’s insistence to the contrary. It’s not an unreasonable thing to suspect.

Despite the fact that Intel’s development work on Itanium dates back all the way to the late 1980s, the chip simply never caught on in large volumes. The best guess–in this case from the market research firm IDC–is that Intel sold no more than 125,000 Itanium processors last year versus nearly 15 million Xeons. When you consider that most servers have several processors, the number of actual systems sold containing an Itanium processor is at best a five-digit number. That makes it fair to wonder how much longer Intel intends to keep the product around. Still, Intel insisted rather strenuously today that it is committed to producing at least two more, one codenamed Poulson expected in 2012, and Kittson, expected some time after that.

Oracle’s position is that by cutting off software support for the chip now, it is doing the responsible thing for its customers and helping them move on. This of course is colored by the fact that Oracle now owns Sun Microsystems, an HP rival in the server business.

If nothing else, the back-and-forth has made the day an interesting one and gotten the world talking about a chip that had once been a significant focal point of debate among computer scientists, but which until today had been almost forgotten, except by those few who use it.

Here’s Oracle’s full statement:

“When Oracle announced it was stopping development of software for the Itanium microprocessor, HP Executive VP in charge of HP’s enterprise hardware business David Donatelli responded by saying, “Oracle would put enterprises and governments at risk while costing them hundreds of millions of dollars in lost productivity.” Just the opposite is true. Oracle has an obligation to give our customers adequate advanced notice when Oracle discontinues development on any software product or hardware platform so our customers have the information they need to plan and manage their businesses. HP is well aware that Intel’s future direction is focused on X86 and that plans to replace Itanium with X86 are already in place. HP is knowingly withholding this information from our joint Itanium customers. While new versions of Oracle software will not run on Itanium, we will support existing Oracle/Itanium customers on existing Oracle products. In fact, Oracle is the last of the major software companies to stop development on Itanium.”

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