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HP Threatens Legal Action Against Oracle On Itanium

Tension escalates between former partners as HP seeks to force Oracle to continue development for HP Integrity servers.

Charles Babcock

June 9, 2011

4 Min Read

Slideshow: Apotheker Takes The Stage, Paints An HP Cloud Vision

Slideshow: Apotheker Takes The Stage, Paints An HP Cloud Vision

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Slideshow: Apotheker Takes The Stage, Paints An HP Cloud Vision

The tension between two former, close Silicon Valley partners escalated Wednesday when HP sent a letter to Oracle threatening legal action if it doesn't reverse its position on ending software development for Itanium hardware.

HP declined to make the letter public, saying it contained confidential information, but it said it intends to hold Oracle to its commitments to HP and its customers. HP said in a statement that Oracle's decision "violates legally binding commitments Oracle has made to HP and the more than 140,000 shared HP-Oracle customers," according to chief HP spokesman Bill Wohl.

Asked if the letter has a deadline for an Oracle response, an HP spokeswoman, said it didn't. It was intended to put Oracle on notice that HP has legal rights that it expects to be honored. Oracle will be given a chance to respond, she said.

Oracle's move March 22 was a blow to both the HPUX and former Digital Equipment Corp. VMS segments of HP's customer base. Its largest user group, Connect, issued statements in April urging Oracle not to drop Itanium from its list of targeted platforms to be included in its development of future database and application products. HP builds Integrity servers with the Itanium chip, and in the 1990s co-developed successive iterations of the chip with Intel. Intel assumed all Itanium development in 2004.

"A large contingency of our community is made up of users running HP-UX and OpenVMS on Integrity servers. They are clearly disturbed by Oracle's decision to stop developing applications for Intel Itanium processors," said Connect CMO Nina Buik in a statement April 13.

The most damaging part of Oracle's move may have been its claim that it was based on background conversations with Intel engineers. "Intel management made it clear that their strategic focus is on their x86 microprocessor and that Itanium was nearing the end of its life," Oracle said in a statement at the time.

The statement drew a sharp response from HP, pointing out that Oracle is now a competitor of the Itanium platform with its Sparc chip set, which was acquired when it closed its deal to buy Sun Microsystems for $7.4 billion in early 2010.

It also drew a sharp reaction from Intel. CEO Paul Otellini soon issued a statement that Intel continued to have an ambitious roadmap for Itanium that included a next-generation chip, "Poulson," with a new microarchitecture that would keep Itanium competitive in the marketplace for several years.

HP summarized the events in its letter as "an unlawful attempt to force customers from HP Itanium platforms to Oracle's own platforms," a statement from Wohl's office said. As a result, HP "made a formal legal demand on Oracle to reverse its decision" in its June 8 letter. "HP believes that Oracle is legally obligated to continue to offer its software product suite on the Itanium platform and we will take whatever legal actions are available to us necessary to protect our customers' best interests."

Wohl reaffirmed HP's commitment to its "long-term, mission-critical server roadmap, including Intel's Itanium processor." Intel has likewise "reinforced" it ongoing commitment, he said.

Oracle named former HP CEO Mark Hurd as an Oracle co-president after he resigned from HP amid accusations of misconduct in composing expense accounts and violations of the company's business policies. He was allegedly covering up a relationship with an HP contractor, the HP board said in explaining its decision. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison criticized the way the HP board of directors had conducted its investigation and hired Hurd soon afterward.

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About the Author(s)

Charles Babcock

Editor at Large, Cloud

Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive Week. He is a graduate of Syracuse University where he obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism. He joined the publication in 2003.

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