Itanium fails to drive 3000 migrations
Without customer clamor, HP narrows systems to
The HP World meeting room was filled to capacity-plus
for this summers Itanium Special Interest Group. But the
SIGs SRO status also conveyed a telling snapshot of interest in
HPs enterprise processor platform. More than 80 percent of
those 50 seats in Chicago were filled by HP engineers and managers,
Itanium interest could scarcely be higher among
HPs enterprise computing managers. The HP 3000 computer
customer represents the opposite end of Itanium enthusiasm.
Processors dont matter much to the 2,700 customers we queried
this summer about Itaniums prospects to replace their PA-RISC
HP 3000s. Few of those moving to Unix, however, appeared to have
drawn the conclusion that HPs Unix future is wedded to a chip
which is struggling to reach commodity status. HP-UX runs on only two
processors: Itanium, and HPs PA-RISC chips of todays HP
3000s and HP 9000s.
Now HP has begun to pass over Itanium, too. Last
month the vendor announced it was dropping its line of workstations
which use Itanium 2 chips. HP officials said that the workstations
didnt represent a significant market for Itanium; the vendor
believes the chips future lies on enterprise-class systems,
such as the Integrity servers HP is pushing as replacements for the
HP said in September that its workstation customers
prefer systems built around Intels other chip family, a 64-bit
extension to the X86 Xeon processors. In a ironic mirroring of
HPs commodity computing strategy, computer managers and
developers have been relegating Itanium and its IA-64 architecture to
niche status this year.
Offered as the Valhalla of HP 3000 futures just five
years ago, IA-64 now appears to have little chance at the broad
popularity HP promised during the 1990s. This spring Intel told
analysts that Itanium will be positioned as a high-end box
designed to run data-intensive applications such as recognition,
synthesis, and mining, said analyst Joe Clabby, as well
as high-transaction rate applications.
HP told its 3000 customers for years that IA-64,
which HP and Intel developed into the Itanium chips, represented the
future for the 3000s growth. The vendor at first declined to
include IA-64 as a 3000 growth path, and then changed its mind. One
developer said that HPs slow pace about revising MPE/iX for
Itanium tipped him off that HP would be closing out its 3000
business. But nearly three years after HP rang down its curtain on
the 3000s future, Itanium is showing shorter legs, too.
HP 3000 managers who were polled before HP withdrew
its Itanium workstations couldnt muster much ardor for Itanium.
Few had installed Integrity servers, and none had replaced an HP 3000
with an Itanium-based unit.
Instead, the customer base is adopting Itaniums
predecessor, the PA-RISC processors which also drive the HP 3000
line. HPs Unix systems can employ a more advanced generation of
PA-RISC: PA-8800s instead of the PA-8700. HP tells 3000 customers
that the vendor can convert their HP 3000s to HP 9000s, a strategy
that will keep 3000 sites using PA-RISC, rather than Itanium
HP once had a program in place to let some 3000
customers acquire Itanium-based Integrity servers at a discount to
replace new HP 3000s. But this e3000 Investment Protection program
found a very limited audience before HP ended the program early this
year. Customers had to register their new HP 3000 with HP to get
those discounts on future Integrity servers.
Our poll of customers turned up more sites which have
replaced HP 9000 systems with Integrity servers than HP 3000
replacements. At Hughes Network Systems, where an HP 3000 continues
to serve the satellite equipment makers manufacturing needs,
Chuck Ciesinski said the Integrity server smoked its predecessor: an
HP 9000 running PA-RISC.
Ciesinski, one of only a handful of customers who
spoke at that SIG-Itanium meeting, said Hughes replaced its 4-way
N-Class HP 9000 with a 2-processor Integrity rx5670 box for a data
warehousing application. Performance improvement was everything
Hughes hoped for, he said.
The machine is screaming, and its the
same application and same IO, Ciesinski said. It gets
hammered every month and its kicking butt. The
application needs less than one third of the CPU capacity that it
required from the PA-RISC HP 9000.
The average workload for those four CPUs was
about 4.5. Now its under 0.6 on both [Itanium] CPUs, he
said. The system runs like a bat out of hell.
But the promise of Integrity performance hasnt
moved HP 3000 sites a group that is still formulating its
migration targets to pledge commitments to the Itanium family.
Many sites dont plan to take delivery of HP-UX servers for at
least another year or more. What they will install remains to be
seen. HP will have to prove Itanium to these 3000 migrators primarily
My decision will be based on requirements of
the software, said Dan Buckland, whose Hickory Farms shop uses
the Ecometry multi-channel retail application. I believe that
Oracle 9i and 10g require 64-bit processors. This does not
necessarily mean that I have to purchase Integrity. They do have
64-bit processors in PA-RISC. Price and performance will be the
Although PA-RISC has a much longer track record with
HP 3000 sites that have been using it, PA-RISC isnt keeping the
door open for Itanium. HPs lost some 64-bit Integrity business
to Sun, too. Suns SPARC architecture will be moved out to
Fujitsu for manufacture next year, but Suns SPARC-based Unix
servers got the nod over Itanium at Californias Yosemite
Community College District.
The software we selected could run on either
IBM, Sun, or HPs Unix gear, so we went to bid and Sun
won, said Edward Berner of IT Operations. This was back
in early 2003. At the time we were considering PA-RISC based HP
systems, feeling that Itanium was still a bit young.
If the HP 3000 customer base has been non-plussed
about Itanium alternatives, members of the 3000 developer community
have given good notices on the chips. I have been very
impressed with HPs newer Itanium 2 systems, said one VP
of development at a 3000 software vendor and support supplier.
If you have native Unix applications, these are the fastest and
best HP-UX machines around.
But such developers could also recognize the
counterweight of limited market acceptance for Itanium. Outside
the HP-UX world, Itanium has more negative-mindshare than
positive, said one developer, adding that the Windows
world hates the idea of having to deal with an incompatible
architecture which probably dooms Itanium to never succeed as
a Windows server platform. The AMD Opteron and Intel x86-64
announcements have just nailed the coffin closed there.
Developers see better alternatives for hosting their
Linux applications than an architecture that differs so much from the
AMD and Intel Xeon families. Those who work with and recommend Unix
systems from HP see Itaniums advantages. But that doesnt
give these systems a leg up at ScreenJet Ltd., a supplier of 3000
migration tools and an interface suite.
We dont care what platform or operating
system people choose, said president Alan Yeo. If
ACUCOBOL runs there, we run there. And they run more places than
anybody. ScreenJet has been recompiled for Itanium without a
hitch, Yeo added.
HPs devotion to Itanium has remained unwavering
in the enterprise markets, despite the disappointing sales of its
workstations. The vendor deflects Suns criticism of
Itanium-HP-UXs much smaller application base it is just
getting beyond 1,800 native-version applications and tools this year,
after two years of release by saying that Itanium has the
right applications, not just a lot of them.
We are not in a race to see who has the most
Unix applications or even the most applications, said HPs
Jim Barclay, Manager of Technical Alliances. We are in a race
to solve customers real problems.
But more than 1,000 of those Itanium applications run
under Windows which gives Sun ammunition to challenge the
future of HP-UX, since Itanium represents the only platform which HP
is migrating its Unix customers toward. HP hopes for one third of its
high-end server revenue to come from Itanium systems by years
end, but says 2007 is the earliest that Itanium could have system
cost parity with Intels X86 Xeon line.
Even Itaniums advocates in the 3000 community
recognize that limited sales of any HP system could signal a shift in
a products future. HP recently estimated that one server out of
four that it ships to enterprise customers uses Itanium. HPs
goals for the platform were limited to database servers this spring,
after Intel announced it would develop another 64-bit chip from the
Xeon X86 design.
Whether that captive HP enterprise business, in the
3000s, Unix servers, and the OpenVMS line, along with Linux
opportunities will be enough to sustain Itaniums future
remains to be seen. Its detractors like to dub the architecture
Itanic, while customers who have invested in Itanium rave
about its performance relative to PA-RISCs earlier generations.
This year marked the first one where HP could say Itanium
outperforms PA-RISC. HP did admit at the HP World SIG meeting that
applications which use PA-RISC, non-native-Itanium code will still
run faster on PA-RISCs latest generation.
Sales in HPs commodity model depend on value
for performance. The lessons of dwindling sales have been retained by
the 3000 community. At a 3000 software company where Itanium is
scheduled to step in for migrations of a Web server and database
server, the founder said, Invest little in proprietary
solutions which can be cancelled because of disappointing
That vendors comments were offered about the HP
3000 but differences are already appearing to developers
looking close at Itaniums architecture, variance that could
make the chip struggle to catch on against surging 64-bit
alternatives from both Intel and AMD. While HPs Itanium string
may play out longer than the 3000s, the end of that rope could
feel the same for those who choose to run HP-UX on the chip.