HP, Intel unveil sweeping EPIC program

HP and Intel shot back at critics of their EPIC architecture strategy on Thursday, committing billions of dollars towards the long-term development of high-end Integrity servers running the Itanium processor and gaining software support from Oracle.

In an event from California, 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.

The event also featured an video appearance from Oracle chief executive Larry Ellison from the company’s OpenWorld conference in Japan. Oracle on Thursday 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.”

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 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.

“Getting it right has taken us some time,” Otellini admitted. “The history of computing is about standardization driving volume, which drives cost down. . . . As systems on Itanium move into this space, volume will drive cost, cost will drive competitiveness and competitiveness will drive efficiency.”

Hurd agreed, adding that HP is counting on Itanium, and would be building “value above the chip” such as manageability features.

“You can’t make a bet on your business on a six-month basis,” he said. “People like low price, but once something doesn’t work, people don’t care about the price.”

Intel will likely outline more information about Montecito at its annual Developer Forum, which is scheduled to run next week in San Francisco.

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