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Intel, Server Vendors Team Up To Push Itanium

The idea behind this week's alliance announcement: to lure mass-market software vendors to help make Itanium attractive outside of its traditional RISC base.

Intel and eight server vendor partners are looking to breathe new life into the Itanium platform with the official rollout this week of the Itanium Solutions Alliance.

Members Hewlett-Packard, the Itanium market leader, along with Bull, Fujitsu, Fujitsu Siemens, Hitachi, NEC, SGI and Unisys aim to make it easier for ISVs to bring their applications to the Itanium platform, which in turn should fuel growth in the Itanium server business, said Mike Mitsch, director of alliances at NEC Solutions America.

Jeffrey Hewitt, research director at Gartner, said the alliance is a good step toward that goal.

While Itanium has done well penetrating the RISC processor-based server market, it has yet to develop into a real mass market, Hewitt said. For instance, the research firm estimates the market for Itanium-based servers to currently be about 42,000 units, worth about $2.6 billion. It is projected to grow to 234,000 servers, worth about $7.7 billion, in 2010, according to Gartner. However, the firm last year had projected 2005 sales of 74,000 units, worth about $2.7 billion, Hewitt said. “We thought there’d be a lot more lower-end Unix servers sold,” he said.

Not joining the alliance are three of the top four server vendors: IBM and Sun Microsystems, which continue to develop their proprietary RISC processors, and Dell, which confirmed that it recently dropped Itanium development because of the slow market.

Dan Molina, CTO of Nth Generation Computing, a San Diego-based HP solution provider, said the Itanium platform is not as strong as it could be because of a lack of applications. “Getting the server vendors and ISVs together could make the market move faster,” Molina said. “This adds some credibility to the architecture of those ISVs that are willing to pitch in and help with the platform.”

Mitsch said there is some momentum for the Itanium platform, with more than 75 vendors shipping Itanium-based systems and more than 5,000 applications ported, double the number of applications last year.

Of the ISVs initially signing up to work with the alliance, the one to watch most closely is Microsoft, said Gartner’s Hewitt. Until now, growth in the Itanium space has come mainly from Unix, with some strong growth in Linux as well.

“There could be some real volume movement in Itanium, depending on whether Microsoft is actively involved or passively involved,” Hewitt said.

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