Arik Hesseldahl

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Filing: Without Itanium Chip, HP Is “Strategically Screwed”

Last night, a California judge made some key rulings in the ongoing litigation between Hewlett-Packard and Oracle over the latter’s decision to stop supporting Intel’s Itanium chip.

One thing Judge James Kleinberg did was dismiss a fraud claim by Oracle that said HP had been all sneaky when it concluded a settlement with Oracle that included an agreement to continue building software for systems using the Itanium chip. The settlement was struck only a few weeks before HP hired Léo Apotheker as its CEO and Ray Lane as its chairman.

But that’s not the important part of what Judge Kleinberg did. The most important aspect of yesterday’s action in Hewlett-Packard v. Oracle was the release of the unredacted version of Oracle’s cross-complaint. And it’s a juicy read.

I’ve posted the redacted version before. Now you can read all the bits that were blacked out.

What you’ll find is a lot of information that goes to the core of Oracle’s argument that HP has a lot to lose if the Itanium chip goes end of life, which is exactly what Oracle has said Intel plans to do. As the only major server vendor who sells boxes running Itanium chips, HP makes a lot of money — billions of dollars, according to a newly unredacted statement in the filing — on service-and-support contracts with its Itanium customers. As one HP executive is quoted on page four of the filing, without Itanium, HP would be “strategically screwed.”

Intel, on the other hand, was more or less ready to let the chip die. Having spent billions, dating back to 1989, to develop the Itanium chip, which outside of HP never saw any market success, Intel had to be convinced to keep building them. To do that, HP, the filing reads, paid Intel $440 million to keep Itanium chips in production for a few more generations, through 2014. The deal didn’t even cover the cost of the chips, as HP had to pay for them, as well, the filing reads. Oracle calls the arrangement a “pure pay-off to induce Intel to keep churning out processors that it really wanted to kill.”

And while there’s nothing specifically wrong with the arrangement by itself, Oracle’s point is that HP was misleading the marketplace about the true status of the keystone product in its Business Critical Service business. That unit, in no small part because of the uncertainty wrought by this lawsuit, saw its sales fall by 23 percent in HP’s most recent quarter.

Having won the release of the unredacted complaint, Oracle claimed something of a victory in a statement:

“Oracle is delighted that the Superior Court of the State of California, Santa Clara County, has rejected HP’s attempt to hide the truth about Itanium’s certain end of life from its customers, partners and own employees. We look forward to seeing all of the facts made public that demonstrate how HP has known for years that Itanium is end of life.”

It all sounds very reasonable, until you take into account the fact that Oracle acquired Sun Microsystems in 2010 and is now a big server vendor that competes with HP, and would by no real stretch of argument benefit from an exodus of HP’s Itanium customers toward other vendors. HP called the decision by Oracle to cease support for Itanium part of a “calculated business strategy” to mess up HP’s Itanium business and capture those customers. Yet the evidence so far suggests that the one benefiting from this fight is actually IBM.

HP claimed victory of its own, in a statement:

“HP is pleased that the Superior Court of the State of California, Santa Clara County, has rejected Oracle’s attempt to use a fraud claim to undo its contract with HP. We look forward to seeing the facts made public that demonstrate how Oracle’s March 2011 announcement to no longer develop software for Itanium servers was part of a calculated business strategy to drive hardware sales from Itanium to inferior Sun servers. This further demonstrates the fact that Oracle breached its contractual commitment to HP and ignored its repeated promises of support to our shared customers.”

HP has portrayed itself as the defender of the interests of Itanium customers, under attack by Oracle. As HP puts it in its statement, Oracle tried to induce customers running Oracle software on HP Itanium systems into replacing that hardware by limiting support and withholding software patches and bug fixes. “Customers were left without options to address bugs and other defects in their Oracle software,” HP says.

For HP, this is all a simple argument over whether or not Oracle can be held to the contract they agreed to in 2010.

The agreement stems from the circumstances of former HP CEO Mark Hurd’s resignation, and his subsequent hiring by Oracle as its president. HP sued Hurd and Oracle, and soon they settled. HP says that a clause in that settlement included a provision that Oracle would continue to port its database software to HP servers running the Itanium chip. Oracle has argued that this clause is not part of the final agreement. The settlement document itself remains confidential, but its details will likely emerge in the trial. Expect lots of arguing over different versions of the agreement.

I have embedded two documents below, for your reading pleasure. The first is Oracle’s unredacted cross-complaint, with all the blacked-out bits from the previous version now fully revealed for the world to see. Below that is a Case Management Conference Statement filed by HP lawyers, also unredacted, where it seeks to expose Oracle as making cold-blooded moves that would appear to be attempts to spur Oracle’s own software customers to abandon HP hardware. It’s not quite as juicy as Oracle’s document, but it has its moments, too. Enjoy them both:

HP v Oracle – Amended Cross Complaint

0077a 2011121 Hp Cmc Stmnt Unredacted

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There was a worry before I started this that I was going to burn every bridge I had. But I realize now that there are some bridges that are worth burning.

— Valleywag editor Sam Biddle