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June 2003

Itanium SIG works to remove roadblocks

Group starts with MPE stalwarts, but pursues cross-platform advocacy

A Special Interest Group (SIG) is assembling around the processor technology which HP will bet the company’s enterprise future upon, as Interex’s SIG-Itanium took its first steps during the latest e3000 Solutions Symposium.

The SIG drew more than two dozen attendees to its first organizational meeting in San Jose, filling most of the seats with developers, HP Itanium officials and ISVs aiming at the PA-RISC replacement. Jeff Vance, the HP engineer who’s a liaison to the OpenMPE board of directors, said he hopes the new SIG will provide the power of numbers to its members to improve the exchange of information about the new chip.

“We want the SIG to be able to interact with HP, and have a voice of many for the needs we want to address, instead of a voice of one or two,” Vance said. “That’s the power of a SIG — we can collectively represent your needs on issues.”

HP was already listening during the one-hour meeting which Vance organized by penciling in a Birds of a Feather (BOF) group around Itanium. Steve Hayes, the director of Customer Advocacy and Quality for HP’s TCE and Support Division, spoke to attendees. The meeting also included comments from Ram Appalaraju, Director of Worldwide Marketing for HP’s Enterprise Systems and Storage.

Interex SIGs begin as Birds of a Feather organizations, then graduate to SIG status as the user group’s board approves them. BOF-Itanium became SIG-Itanium about a month after its first meeting, with Vance and 3000 NewsWire editor Ron Seybold volunteering to serve as co-chairmen. A formal election for the SIG’s officers will take place in Atlanta at the August HP World conference. The SIG has a meeting tentatively scheduled for the morning of Aug. 13 with presentations from HP and other SIG members.

Vance said that he hoped “whatever would slow you down in adopting [Itanium], I hope this forum will be able to address those issues. HP can’t make this SIG successful; we can only support it. The users have to see value in it.”

During the San Jose meeting, the SIG’s members spoke frankly about what they wanted from the group. “What we’ve found after building our stuff for Itanium is that Itanium is pretty much ready,” said Michael Marxmeier, whose software company develops and sells the Eloquence database management system. Marxmeier AG took over its own marketing and sales of Eloquence from HP, a move that came just after the company released a version of Eloquence which runs on Itanium.

Marxmeier hoped the SIG would be able to “get beyond the marketing bull, and openly discuss the issues and how they apply to conversion — what does it take to get from having the technology in your hands to making it useful for customers?”

Marxmeier, one of the few ISV members of the SIG at the San Jose meeting who’d already had development experience with Itanium, added that “Contrary to common beliefs, the Itanium performance is not bad. We have something that’s a reasonable technology replacement for PA-RISC. I want to know how do we get customers and ISVs over this psychological barrier [of adopting it].”

HP has positioned the Itanium architecture as central to the company’s success in the server marketplace. Company messages to all of its customers — including those looking to move from the PA-RISC HP 3000s to other HP servers — now stress that an evolution to Itanium is underway.

Some part of the market’s slow adoption of the architecture may come from those concerns over performance. HP’s Hayes noted at the SIG meeting that competitors “have been spreading misinformation” about the chip. Hayes was replying to a published report which was quoted at the meeting, a report that claims Intel will introduce a software compatibility translation layer with the 1.5 Ghz Itanium processors — a change which will shift Itanium’s x86 32-bit emulation code out of the next generation of chips.

Gavin Scott of Allegro Consultants said at the SIG meeting he didn’t know why HP would be moving the emulation code, unless it could help the processor’s performance. He compared the Itanium design to the object code translation in the HP 3000’s PA-RISC implementation, where translated code runs only as fast as it did on the old architecture.

Scott noted in contrast that a new 64-bit competitor to Itanium from AMD, Opteron, claims to run old 32-bit code faster. “That seems to be the biggest technical hurdle for Itanium,” Scott said. “That’s what’s keeping a lot of people from adopting Itanium in the x86 world.”

The SIG is reaching for membership outside of the HP 3000 community. Duane Percox, an member of the SIG’s advisory board, said his company’s educational software has Itanium as “our stated architecture goal.” The QSS apps currently run on HP 3000s. QSS will offer its customers a Linux version of the K-12 apps in a few years, and Percox said he’s seeking information from the SIG about binary compatibility and APIs.

Interex board member Denys Beauchemin suggested that the new SIG “could be a sounding board for HP when they come up to decision points” about the Itanium architecture, using a mailing list that’s been set up for the SIG.

“I think you’ve been pretty much running blind up now, and not talking to very many customers while you’ve been trying to get this stuff up and running. Perhaps it’s time to get a dialogue going, and we’ll be happy to do that.” Beauchemin also volunteered to serve on the SIG’s advisory board.

HP’s Appalaraju said the input will be welcome. “It’s crucial to have bi-directional communications. Hearing from the ISVs and customers about business drivers and needs will let us benefit from this.”

Joining the SIG is as simple as signing up at the Interex Web site to receive the e-mail communications between SIG members. New members can sign on by selecting the Itanium SIG at www.interex.org/advocacy/listservers.html. Members at the San Jose meeting stressed they want participation from outside the 3000 community as well as from MPE veterans at the first meeting.

HP’s Hayes said after the meeting that dispelling the fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) over adopting Itanium is just where HP expected to be in its Itanium mission.

“This is exactly, from a marketing point of view, where we know it should be now,” Hayes said. “You want your competitors to be taking enough notice that they’re sending FUD out there. It’s also a very fragile time, where the FUD could not only damage us, but the third party software community.”

We don’t want this SIG to turn into a marketing forum,” Hayes added. “At the same time, if there’s conscious misinformation at hand, you need to rectify that. We have very extensive plans about prioritizing the tool chain pieces — but now is the time to be listening for whether we’ve got those priorities correct, in the HP World timeframe.”


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