Microsoft will not support Itanium processors with future releases Windows Server according to the Windows Server Division blog. So Windows Server 2008 R2 is the last release of Windows on Itanium, with support ending in July 2013 (extended support continues to 2018). It’s no coincidence that this announcement comes in the same week that Intel announced the Xeon 75xx family which brings the Itanium’s reliability features to the x64 commodity server platform (see here for more information). For Microsoft, reliability was the only thing that Itanium had going for it, the number of Windows licenses sold on Itanium is negligible compared to the x64 business. So the decision to drop Itanium was probably a relatively easy one.
For the Itanium platform, the news is bad, but not disastrous, at least for now. The vast majority of Itanium processors go into systems running HP-UX, so losing Windows support isn’t the end of the world. The problem is that Microsoft isn’t the only vendor abandoning the Itanium platform, Redhat made a similar decision at the end of 2009, announcing that it would not support Itanium on the 6.0 release of Redhat Enterprise Linux (see here). That leaves only Novell (Suse Enterprise Linux), HP (HP-UX, OpenVMS), and Groupe Bull (GCOS) in the operating system business for Itanium. There are other LINUX distributions that support Itanium, but none of them have much in the way of enterprise ready credentials. Of those operating system platforms, only HP-UX and OpenVMS actually require Itanium. GCOS and SEL are both supported on x64 processors, which will probably hasten the end of support on Itanium now that x64 can match Itanium for reliability.
So HP is likely to be the last man standing in the Itanium systems business, but the new features and scalability of the 75xx Xeon beg the question, “will HP adapt its Itanium hardware to support the Xeon 75xx and port HP-UX or OpenVMS to the x64 platform?”
Technically, adapting the Integrity Superdome server platform probably isn’t that hard. The 93xx Itanium and 75xx Xeon processor families share the same memory controller and quick path interconnects, simplifying the task considerably, and porting HP-UX and OpenVMS to new architectures is nothing new. Right now, I expect that HP is at least taking a look at this and talking to some of their larger customers and independent software vendors to gauge their reaction. The big question for HP is whether those customers and ISVs would find jumping ship to Power or SPARC to be a more palatable alternative than following HP to Itanium-less future?
Posted by: Nik Simpson