Intel’s Itanium is about to sink

Yesterday’s launch of the 15-core Xeon E7 v2 chip may be the incentive that Chipzilla needs to pull the plug on its high-end Itanium chip.

Itanium is found mostly in Hewlett-Packard servers running HP-UX, OpenVMS or Linux. The Xeon E7 v2 chip is based on the x86 instruction set architecture and it can run Windows or Linux and with a better performance.

The new Xeon E7 v2 chips have the throughput and performance to run in-memory applications, and also reliability, availability and serviceability features, which were originally introduced in Itanium. All up, it means that the advantages of Itanium are disappearing.

The maker of expensive printer ink, HP is the only one interested in flogging the stuff and it does have contracts for the chips. Ironically some of them are porting Itanium for x86 anyway, which makes the whole thing look silly.

Intel’s most recent Itanium chip, code-named Poulson, was released in late 2012 and the next one named Kittson, is due for release in 2015, and that may be the last product in the line. But Intel has already scaled back its plans for Kittson, saying it would be made using the older 32-nanometer manufacturing process, so the question is why would it bother.

Most analysts will tell you that HP’s customers are better off switching to x86 and getting it over with.

Obviously, we are not the only one who thinks this. Oracle decided in 2011 that the chip “was nearing the end of its life” and decided to stop supporting the architecture which caused HP to file a lawsuit against Oracle seeking damages and continued software support. Microsoft has stopped software development for Itanium.

Intel is insisting in the teeth of all the evidence that the Itanium is an important part of Intel’s portfolio, but it has said these things before and still pulled them before. However, about the only use the chip has is for those who are running Unix-based systems and supported application stacks and moving to x86 is too expensive.

HP has promised to continue to invest in Unix-based Integrity NonStop servers running on the Itanium chips, even if it noticed that more x86 servers are being adopted by more customers. It launched the Proliant DL580 Gen8 server with the latest Xeon E7 v2 chip. Integrity NonStop servers, which have traditionally been based on Itanium chips.

Still it is hard to see why Intel would put any of its much needed cash keeping the technology alive. It would be better off cancelling it, creating paths for its customers to move to x86 and spending the dosh on a nice holiday.