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Itanium processor delays put HP's plans in question

Repeated Intel Itanium delays have some HP Integrity server shops wondering whether the company should re-think its processor options.

LAS VEGAS -- While many HP users appear indifferent to repeated delays of Intel's Itanium chip, one said that Hewlett-Packard Co. should just ditch the processor and port its Unix business to Xeon.

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The next Itanium chip, a quad-core processor code-named "Tukwila," was originally slated for delivery by the end of 2008. Now it's not expected until the first quarter of 2010. And with reports that Sun Microsystems Inc. scrapped development of its next-generation UltraSparc chip code-named "Rock" -- which also experienced repeated delays -- it's not surprising that some HP Unix users wonder exactly when the next Itanium chip will arrive.

"The delay worries me a lot," said Ernest Cody, a senior systems architect at Raytheon Co., at the HP Technology Forum this week. "I would be happiest if HP would take the same path Sun did with Solaris and just port HP-UX to Nehalem. It costs so much to build a fab [chip fabrication plant]. I just don't see the advantage of Itanium."

Intel can tweak Itanium as much as it wants, but at some point, horsepower matters, Cody added. The maximum clock speed on a current Itanium chip is 1.66 GHz. Meanwhile, Xeon processors are almost twice as fast as that.

"At some point, someone has to look and see that there's only so much optimization you can do. Then you need more horsepower."

While other users quietly expressed disappointment at the repeated Itanium delays, not everyone was dismayed. Tony Bergen, the director of technology solutions at the North West Co., a Winnipeg, Canada-based food retailer, said his company wants to migrate off about 25 old PA-RISC-based HP servers. They're trying to decide whether to go to IBM's AIX and Power processor duo, or HP-UX and Itanium.

"I'm not really concerned about the delays," Bergen said, shrugging his shoulders. "I'll probably just take whatever is available."

One factor that has pushed him toward Itanium is its server virtualization technology. Bergen said server virtualization on HP-UX Itanium is a lot more similar to VMware ESX than AIX Power is. Since the company has plenty of expertise in x86 server virtualization, Itanium seems like a better fit.

Ed Kosten, an infrastructure architect manager at Priority Health, a Grand Rapids, Mich.-based health care company, added that processor delays don't necessarily mean a death knell.

"We're certainly not overly concerned," he said. "We are eager. This isn't unique to Itanium. It's the same in the x86 environment."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Mark Fontecchio, News Writer.

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