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New Intel Itanium processor halts dead-chip talk

Intel's quad-core Itanium processor -- aka Tukwila -- may be late, but devotees say, 'Better late than never.'

After Intel formally launched its new Itanium 9300 processor on Monday, the sometimes-moribund Unix market saw its third major news flash in two weeks.

For more on the Unix server market:
IBM, HP's open season on Sun Microsystems shops ends

Sun users heartened by Oracle's pledge to support Sparc, Solaris

And Unix admins and other IT pros were happy to see that Intel won't abandon the Itanium processor after repeated delays caused speculation that Intel would cast off the chip. At the same time, some users didn't seem too eager to upgrade to the new Itanium 9300 processor, code-named "Tukwila."

Unveiled at an event in San Francisco, Intel Corp.'s Itanium 9300 is a 65-nanometer, quad-core chip. It is smaller and sports more cores than its predecessor, a 90 nm, dual-core chip. It's unclear exactly when servers with the new Itaniums will appear. Martin Fink, Hewlett-Packard Co.'s senior VP and GM of business critical systems, would say only that HP will make an Itanium systems announcement in the next 90 days.

"It is on our radar," said Diederick de Buck, the technical architect at Dutch bank Rabobank, about the new Itanium processor. "But frankly, at the moment the dual core is enough for Rabobank. Four years from now, we absolutely will need the quad core."

De Buck explained that in 2012, Europe will go to a new banking payment system that will require substantial XML parsing and, therefore, a lot of processing capacity. By then, Rabobank may transition to the new chip.

The Itanium 9300 news comes the same day IBM debuted new Power7-based systems and a week after Oracle outlined plans for its new Sun Microsystems franchise, including a pledge to support Sun's Sparc chip and Solaris.

Itanium users say, 'Better late than never '
The Itanium 9300 was originally due out in 2007. Then ensuing delays had users wondering whether to stick with Itanium or go with other options, such as IBM Power or Sun/Fujitsu Sparc. Despite the speculation, however, Itanium has gained share in the multibillion-dollar Unix market, mainly at the expense of Sparc, which was damaged by uncertainties about Sun Microsystems Inc.'s future and regulatory delays to the Oracle takeover.

Delays in the shipment of the Itanium chip prompted users to wonder whether to stay with Itanium at all.

Itanium's revenue share in the Unix market now stands at about 28%, according to the most recent figures from research firm Gartner Inc. IDC estimates that Itanium-based servers were expected to account for 9.3% of all server customer revenue in 2009, including x86, RISC/EPIC and mainframes.

That said, the total Unix market has contracted. Between the first quarter and the third quarter of 2009, the Unix share of total server revenue decreased from 32% to 27%, according to Gartner.

Though Itanium processors run in many vendors' systems, they are mainly processors for HP servers running HP-UX. Many customers have migrated from HP's older PA-RISC architectures. According to Gartner, some 95% of all Itanium server shipments went to HP in the third quarter last year but NEC, Hitachi and Fujitsu also offer Itanium-based systems.

Pella, the door and window manufacturer based in Pella, Iowa, runs Itanium-based HP Superdome servers and Jim Thomas, Pella's director of IT operations said the new chip may help him save money on software licenses if more capabilities are built onto a single processor.

"If anybody has seen what the housing industry has done in the last three, four years, it hasn't been a stellar curve upwards," he said, adding that the company is "focusing on investments that matter" both in and out of IT.

"We are a fairly lean IT organization," he said. "I don't have a lot of people to run my systems, so we need to use our resources effectively."

Mark Fontecchio can be reached at

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