HP, Intel unveil sweeping EPIC program

HP and Intel have shot back at critics of their EPIC architecture strategy, committing billions of dollars towards the long-term development of high-end Integrity servers running the Itanium processor and gaining software support from Oracle. HP chief executive Mark Hurd pledged US$1 billion a year for the next five years on Integrity hardware and services, including a plan to grow the Itanium ISV community and the release in a few weeks of a chipset, the SX2000, with improved memory latency and 33 per cent better performance.

Intel chief executive Paul Otellini, meanwhile, focused on the human resources the chipmaker is dedicating to Itanium, including hundreds of engineers working on compilers that he said would make the product more popular than Sun’s UltraSparc or IBM’s Power chips.

Oracle said it will bring out a version of its E-Business Suite to support HP’s Itanium-based Integrity servers, running HP-UX 11i. “Oracle has no more important partners than HP and Intel,” Ellison said, citing more than 100,000 joint customers. “From the very early days of working with Intel on Itanium, we have had fantastic performance.”

Reasonable grounds
Oracle’s endorsement comes after years of criticism by processor analysts and competitors that Itanium has failed to break into the high-end of the data centre as easily as Intel and HP hoped. Itanium is based on explicitly parallel instruction computing (EPIC) architecture, which the two companies developed as a successor to reduced instruction set computer (RISC), in particular HP’s PA-RISC as well as the x86.

Since its delayed launch in 2001, however, Itanium has encountered a number of setbacks. Major OEMs including Dell and IBM have dropped the chip from their product lines, and the forthcoming version of Itanium 2, code-named Montecito, has also been delayed for three months.

Otellini said Montecito’s new mid-year launch date was on track, and that it would feature hyperthreading, a way to optimize the performance in the core of a processor. Montecito will also be the first dual-core Itanium, which means it will effectively have two “brains” to handle multiple computing tasks. Otellini promised that Montecito will boost performance over its predecessor by a factor of two, and conserve power by two and a half times. “We are looking at a US$28-million RISC mainframe replacement market with Itanium, larger than the entire market for enterprise servers targeted by Xeon,” he said.

While Hurd said 50 per cent of the Fortune 100, including Pepsi, run Itanium-based Integrity servers, Otellini said that growth should reach 70 per cent by the end of this year. He said Intel has already sketched out a clear roadmap for at least four future versions of Itanium. Hurd, meanwhile, said he wanted to clear up “misconceptions about Integrity adoption in the marketplace,” boasting of 94 per cent growth for the machines in the first quarter. 

“Integrity has already become a strong contender in the very beginning of its lifecycle,” he said.
Intel and HP are emphasizing the Itanium-based Integrity’s features around virtualization and partitioning.

Despite its setbacks, Intel and HP formed an “Itanium alliance” last fall in which Hitachi, Fujitsu, NEC and others pledged hardware and support support for the chip.

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