A win and a struggle
The Itanium victory for HP might ring hollow in the end
Blogs | 02 Aug 2012 :
HP appears to have won a major round of its battle with Oracle
for continued software support of the Itanium line of processors from Intel.
At first glance, one might wonder why HP would bother going to court to force support for a line of processors that it does not make, but it used to. That is to say, back in the day, the Itanium line was a HP design that was eventually jointly developed by Intel and HP, but later handed over in its entirety to Intel.
This was at a time when the x86 march was at a crossroads and people were wondering just how far the technology could be pushed, especially as that crossroads appeared to be a straight decision between 32 and 64-bit architectures.
Materials developments meant that clock speeds for x86 were hitting a wall and it looked as if the combination of heat and power consumption would mean that x86 development would soon come to an end. Itanium looked well placed to be the power chip of choice for a processing power hungry industry.
HP based its high-end Integrity line on the Itanium, despite certain wags in the industry (I'm looking at you El Reg!) dubbing it the "Itanic"! However, soon Microsoft and then Red Hat announced that they would no longer support the Itanium line. All of which HP could handle, but when Oracle announced it would no longer support it in March of 2011, that was, as they say, not a horse of different colour, but a different horse altogether.
HP was left with the prospect of a niche but high-end product being left high and dry. So, the lawyers were taken out, dusted off and set to work.
So, this week saw a judge expressed the view that HP, having paid Intel a substantial amount to continue development of the Itanium line (which it has done with a 2012 release codenamed "Poulson" announced last year), after making a settlement with Oracle, could have reasonably expected a "business as usual" situation to have continued which covered the continuing support of the Itanium line in Oracle software products. This was based on a more or less three-decade relationship.
While that is a win for HP, it may be something of a Pyrrhic victory. Not only has the entire process revealed much of the inner workings of HP and Oracle, not all of which are respectively flattering, it has also shown just how small a market there is for Itanium. So despite the fact that it still occupies a space in the high performance compute arena and in certain high-end applications where it offers advantages over the x86 architecture, it will never be a major commercial success. One can't help but think that in such circumstances ‘winning' support for it is a bit like a court ordering someone to be friends with someone else-awkward!
Exactly what quality of support can HP realistically expect from Oracle? Even with the highest professional standards being provided by Oracle, and one would not expect anything less from a company of Oracle's standing, one can't help thinking that it might be a one-sided affair with HP making all the suggestions and Oracle being a passive and reactive partner. This is hardly the ideal situation for a company trying to sell a high-end, expensive platform to support the most processor and, potentially, investment intensive applications.