February 25, 2005 4:00 AM PST

IBM server design drops Itanium support

IBM has cooled its already none-too-warm support for Intel's Itanium processor, a server chip that competes with Big Blue's own Power family, CNET News.com has learned.

Citing tepid market demand, the world's largest server seller has for the time being ceased development of an electronics package called a chipset that's at the heart of Big Blue's Itanium servers.

Since 1998, Big Blue has been developing its family of Enterprise X Architecture chipsets, vital components that connect central processors to memory and other parts of a computer. These chipsets could be used either with Intel's Xeon family of processors or with the chipmaker's higher-end but less widely used Itanium 2 models.

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What's new:
In a shift from its predecessors, the new generation of IBM's Enterprise X Architecture chipset family doesn't support Intel's Itanium chip.

Bottom line:
Big Blue's step away from Itanium is further evidence that customers generally prefer Intel's Xeon family, especially since it now includes 64-bit extensions that previously were a major Itanium advantage.

More stories on Itanium

But the third generation of the EXA chipset family--called X3 and launched Tuesday--only supports Xeon, said Tom Bradicich, chief technology officer of IBM's xSeries line of Intel-based servers.

"We did forgo (Itanium support) on X3. It is a function of the market acceptance of Itanium," Bradicich said in an interview Tuesday. However, Itanium support could be reinstated with a successor called X4 if there is demand, he added.

It's not a surprise that IBM isn't the strongest Itanium supporter, given its promotion of its own Power processors--one of the top two major RISC, or reduced instruction set computing, chip designs at which Intel is aiming Itanium. Even so, IBM's step away from Itanium is further evidence that customers generally prefer the Xeon family, especially since it now includes 64-bit extensions that previously were a major Itanium advantage.

"The migration strategy Intel once imagined--which was at the point where Xeon users started knocking up against the limited headroom of Xeon...(and) would naturally want to migrate to Itanium--has largely been blown apart by the 64-bit extensions capability of (Advanced Micro Devices') Opteron and now 64-bit Xeon," said Pund-IT analyst Charles King.

Intel sees things differently, pointing out that 40 of the world's 100 largest companies use Itanium servers. "There is significant opportunity for Itanium in the $21 billion market for RISC replacement, mainframe migration and high-performance computing," said spokeswoman Erica Fields.

And several others besides Intel have their own Itanium chipsets: Silicon Graphics, NEC, Fujitsu, Hitachi, Unisys and Itanium co-developer Hewlett-Packard.

The second generation of IBM's EXA chipset family links as many as 16 Itanium 2 processors in the x455 server, introduced in 2003, and as many as 32 Xeon processors in the x445.

The new X3 chipset will be used in conjunction with Intel's Potomac and Cranford versions of Xeon. Another chipset, called X4, is in development and is scheduled to arrive roughly 18 months from now with the next generation of Xeon chips, Bradicich said.

With X3, code-named Hurricane, IBM combined several previously separate chips into one, Bradicich said. Preceding chipsets had an easier time dealing with either Itanium or Xeon processors because a

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Intel need to pack up Itanium
The Itanium fiasco is only costing Intel more and more $$$. They tried to get away from the x86 so they can charge premium $$$, but it failed to work. The software available for Itanium is limited too. Intel should give it a good burial and move on.
Posted by bobby_brady (765 comments )
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Doubt it
I don't think that the entire purpose of making Itanium was so they could charge more money. I think that they were trying to make a true server chip to replace their Xeon line, and eventually make it the desktop chip. But I do agree that Intel should consider cutting their losses and moving on. I think that AMD have won this round with their "evolution not revolution" angle.
Posted by Andrew J Glina (1673 comments )
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