Itanium losing support from ISVs
Oracle has deciding to discontinue all software development on Itanium. Oracle says it will continue to provide customers with support for existing versions of Oracle software products that already run on Itanium. Previously Red Hat pulled the plug on development in December 2009, and Microsoft in April 2010.
HP issued an acerbic reaction to the news, accusing Oracle of conspiring to force HPUX customers to buy Sun SPARC servers. HP has a right to be sore at being dumped, and Larry Ellison would love it to be true that HPUX users would flock to SPARC. However, the HP conspiracy theory does not stand up to scrutiny; there is no hurry to move, and there are many more likely landing points that Solaris/SPARC, including HP's excellent set of x86-based servers and blades. The only thing missing is HPUX running on them.
Itanium’s Chequered History
When HP first announced its intention to move from its proprietary PA-RISC architecture to the IA-64 Merced platform in 1999, I was a dissenter because it forced an expensive conversion on its users. The promise was cheaper chip development for HP and faster performance for its customers. However, the EPIC architecture was highly parallel, making commercial programming a nightmare, and HP and Intel put the cost of moving to the new platform squarely on its customers. Over ten years HPUX customers forked out billions of dollars to make the conversion. They had to freeze system development during the conversion, adding to user loss of productivity and dissatisfaction. Nobody is rushing to make another conversion anytime soon.
At the time, Intel was under the illusion that it could force the world to convert from x86 to IA-64. Then AMD introduced its 64-bit extensions to X86 in 2000 and showed a way to migrate to x86 64-bit computing without huge conversion costs. Intel came to its senses and backed the x86 extensions, and ever since then the IA-64 (renamed Itanium) has been adopted almost exclusively (95%) by HP for its HPUX UNIX operating system.
The Future for Itanium Users
HP has recently started discussing some neat ways of bringing the x86 and Itanium servers closer together, and this approach makes sense. There is no urgency to move well-functioning systems off HPUX, and the Intel/HP partnership claim have promised and will almost certainly deliver future chip improvements. Conversion from Itanium to x86 is not easy, not the least because Itanium/HPUX runs as big-endian, while x86 is little-endian.
However, HPUX users will hope that HP will provide much stronger support for the inevitable migration and that HP will provide support for little-endian HPUX on x86, in the same way that Oracle/Sun provides big-endian support for SPARC/Solaris and little-endian support for x86/Solaris.
Action Item: Wikibon expects that HP will do a good job of providing hardware for HPUX, and bringing the Itanium and x86 architectures closer together. Users should feel no hurry to move well functioning HPUX systems. However with the thinning support of ISVs, senior IT executives should pressure HP to look after its customers and announce x86 support for HPUX earlier rather than later.