Itanium still strong on Unix, not Windows

IT chief at Bucks County Community College says he supports the struggling Itanium chip because of its performance but wishes it played better with Windows.

Intel Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) have had a hard time making the case for Itanium, the beleaguered chip architecture they codeveloped . The microprocessor was designed for high performance, but slow sales and Intel's failure to meet roadmap deadlines have resulted in IBM and Dell Inc. dropping the architecture.

Related news:

Intel delays dual-core Itanium

Dell drops Itanium

The confusion has left Itanium users and potential customers in the lurch. We spoke with one Itanium user who has a plan for dealing with the uncertainty . Doug Burak, director of IT security at Bucks County Community College (BCCC) in Newton, Pa, is an Itanium supporter. BCCC currently has six Itanium-based servers as the backbone for its IT operations, two running Windows 2003 and HP-UX running on the other four.

Burak said when it comes to running Unix, he'd definitely recommend Itanium servers. But for companies that want to run Windows, he's more hesitant. "Right now I'm holding off on Itanium if I'm looking at Windows," Burak said. "I'm hoping for the future that I don't have to do that."

Burak said his problem with running Windows on Itanium has to do with printing. Itanium doesn't have the driver support for printing to certain machines, including printers from HP. "We just run them on our Proliant machines, but I'd rather run all of my printing on one server. Plus, some places don't have that luxury."

But the Itanium roadblocks aren't just on printers. Burak has had to buy Opteron-based machines from HP recently to meet his software requirements. BCCC also has some PA-RISC servers doing heavy lifting because the applications they needed them for didn't support Itanium at the time.

The problems aren't through any fault in the hardware, rather it's a lack of popularity and support. Burak said overall he's happy with the performance despite the setbacks. "I was excited about the performance gains [with Itanium] and we've always prided ourselves on being leading edge," he said. "Those Itaniums are fast."

The college supports 20,000 students and faculty in a semester, plus runs spam filters and antivirus, and the Itanium server has never had a problem with the load. Burak said he also notices how much faster print spools come off on the Itanium machines.

"In three years we've only had one disk failure [on an Itanium server]. Since then I just added another disk and if one fails, the server keeps working," Burak said.

Despite the impressive performance, analysts have been hard on the platform, dubbing it "Itanic." Burak said he's been watching the bad press for Itanium very closely. "I was concerned a year or two after [buying them] that my end of life for the servers might be sooner than I expected."

But the platform saw a bright spot last month when the Itanium Solutions Alliance (Intel, HP, Silicon Graphics Inc., NEC Corp., Hitachi Data Systems Inc., Bull SA, Fujitsu Ltd. and Unisys) pledged $10 billion to improve Itanium's position in the market. Weeks later, IDC reported that its research found positive attitudes in the marketplace regarding Itanium and gave a favorable outlook to the latest investment.

But IDC has been grossly inaccurate in the past. It reported Itanium server sales would reach $33 billion in 2002 and then revised its position predicting $28 billion by 2004. But Itanium only hit $1.4 billion in sales in 2004.

HP, the last major server manufacturer still supporting the chip, is reported to announce new Itanium servers today -- without the new chip they were designed to contain, thanks to Intel delays.

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Matt Stansberry, Site Editor

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