Intel Changes Itanium Plans, Jeopardizing HP's Unix Servers
CRN, Feb 15, 2013

Intel's move to keep the 32-nm manufacturing technology for its Kittson Itanium processor casts doubts on the future of HP Itanium servers

Intel has quietly changed its roadmap for the next version of its Itanium processor, code named Kittson, throwing into doubt the future of HP's Integrity and Superdome server lines.

The company, in a small online update to its Kittson Itanium processor roadmap dated January 31, dropped plans to manufacture the Kittson using its advanced 22-nanometer technology, and instead will manufacture it with the same 32-nm technology used to build its current Itanium 9300 and Itanium 9500 Poulson processors. 

Intel in that update also said it is reevaluating the modular model under which the Kittson was expected to be socket-compatible with future Xeon processors. 

The company, in its Kittson update, wrote, "Intel has updated the definition of the next generation Itanium processor, code name 'Kittson.' Kittson will be manufactured on Intel's 32-nm process technology and will be socket-compatible with the existing Intel Itanium 9300/9500 platforms, providing customers with performance improvements, investment protection and a seamless upgrade path for existing systems. The modular development model, which converges on a common Intel Xeon/Intel Itanium socket and motherboard, will be evaluated for future implementation opportunities." 

The change in the processor roadmap could result in further uncertainty over the future of HP's Unix line of Integrity and Superdome servers, which are built around the Itanium processor. HP is nearly the sole customer of Intel's Itanium processors, with a small number being sold to other server manufacturers. 

HP reportedly paid Intel almost $700 million over several years to further the development of the Itanium processor line. 

That uncertainty is magnified by doubts about the future of the HP Itanium server platform in the wake of a series of lawsuits between HP and Oracle over Oracle's decision to stop developing its software for those servers. 

Those lawsuits culminated in the August decision by a California superior court judge who ruled that Oracle is obligated to continue developing its software for the HP Itanium-based servers as long as HP continues to manufacture the servers. 

Oracle, in September said it will comply with the Court's order to continue developing its software for those servers. 

The partial settlement in the dispute between HP and Oracle over Oracle's decision to stop developing software for HP's Itanium-based Unix servers had little if any impact to the declining Unix server market. 

Shipments of Unix-based servers in the third quarter of 2012 fell by 31.1 percent, while revenue for such servers fell 16.4 percent, according to analyst firm Gartner. Of the top three Unix server vendors, IBM saw shipments fall 15.5 percent while revenue fell 2 percent, Oracle saw shipments fall 45.3 percent while revenue fell 35.5 percent and HP saw shipments fall 38.1 percent while revenue fell 28.2 percent, Gartner said. 

Intel in November said that its Itanium 9500 processors going forward will include what it termed a modular development module starting with Kittson that will allow a single motherboard to be configured with either a Xeon or an Itanium processor. 

The modular development model was touted as a way to enable the sharing of silicon-level design elements and socket compatibility between the two processor families, thereby enabling the development of a single motherboard platform that will work with both. 

An Intel spokesperson told CRN that a move away from the modular development model would mean making the Kittson version of the Itanium processor socket-compatible with the existing Poulson Itanium processor, allowing customers to easily upgrade existing servers to Kittson without requiring a platform upgrade. 

The decision to change the Kittson roadmap came after an evaluation of the Unix market as a whole and the requirements of server partners who told Intel it would be better to make the Kittson socket-compatible with the Poulson, the spokesperson said. 

The spokesperson also said that moving away from plans to using Intel's 22-nm manufacturing technology should not signal a lack of innovation in the new Kittson processors as Intel is continually upgrading its 32-nm technology. 

HP declined to comment on the Itanium processor roadmap update other than to issue a statement that said HP and Intel have a long history of working together on Itanium processors and Integrity systems. 

"HP is committed to the Integrity product line, including ongoing innovation and development of a new line of Kittson-based Integrity systems in the future, working closely with Intel. The recent statement by Intel has no impact on those plans or on HP's ongoing commitment to our mission-critical customers," HP wrote in its statement. 

Also read: HP Intros New Intel Itanium-based Servers Even As Intel Works To Combine Itanium, Xeon Platforms
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