Software seen as key to Itanium 2 success

Hardware and software makers lined up in droves to support Intel Corp.'s Itanium 2 processor launch Monday. While the servers and workstations will be important for the chip's success, equally vital will be the software programs being written to take advantage of the new design.

"Having the hardware is only a piece of the overall equation," said Dean McCarron, president of Mercury Research Inc. in Scottsdale, Arizona. "What it really is going to come down to is how quick the systems and software solutions will be available as a package."

Like the RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computing) chips it will compete with, Itanium 2 is a 64-bit processor, meaning it can address data in chunks that are 64 bits wide. The chips process roughly twice as much data and address larger amounts of memory than Intel's 32-bit Pentium 4 and Xeon processors, making Itanium 2 suitable for running large databases and other enterprise applications.

Intel hopes the improved capabilities will give it a leg-up into the market for powerful servers and workstations where RISC chips from Sun Microsystems Inc., IBM Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. currently dominate. But the new design means that software vendors must rewrite operating systems and applications in order to take advantage of the increased performance available.

Analysts expect the pieces to fall into place over time, and many don't expect Itanium 2 sales to reach a significant volume before 2003 at the earliest. Meanwhile, software vendors Monday revealed their plans to support the new chip. Following is a sampling of them.

-- Microsoft Corp. offered a commercial version of Windows for the first Itanium chip last year, and later this month will deliver Windows Advanced Server Limited Edition 2.1, which is tuned for Itanium 2. The software is based on the code for its family of Windows .Net Server operating systems, which will ship to server manufacturers by the end of the year, said Velle Kolde, lead product manager for Windows Enterprise Servers.

"Limited edition" means that the software is available only through server makers, and can't be bought separately.

When the Windows .Net Server products ship, two versions will be offered for Itanium 2 -- Windows .Net Enterprise Server, for systems with up to eight processors and 64G bytes of memory, and Windows .Net Datacenter Server, for systems with up to 64 processors and 128G bytes of memory, he said.

Microsoft expects to release a 64-bit version of its SQL Server database at the same time as the .Net Server family, a Microsoft spokeswoman said; that product is currently in beta. Information is at http://www.microsoft.com/sql/evaluation/64bit/default.asp One analyst said the readiness of Microsoft's 64-bit software is one of the big questions hanging over Itanium's future.

"Corporate America is pretty much still running on Windows 2000, and it will take some time for them to get to (Microsoft's .Net Server operating systems), so that'll be something of a constraint," said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst with Insight 64 in Saratoga, California. "Microsoft's ability to run on those platforms, scaling to eight or 16 processors, has yet to be fully demonstrated," he added.

-- Hewlett-Packard Co. Monday announced the availability of its HP-UX operating system for Itanium 2, along with versions of Windows Server Management, Linux Server Management, and its OpenView systems management products. Versions of its OpenVMS and Non Stop Kernel operating systems are in the works, the company said.

-- On the Linux side, Red Hat Software Inc., SuSE Linux AG, TurboLinux, Caldera and MSC.Software Corp. each have released versions of their open source operating systems for Itanium 2, according to Intel.

-- IBM offered a version of its DB2 database for Itanium last year, for Linux and Windows systems, and is now offering the same product for Itanium 2, said Jeff Jones, director of strategy for IBM's data management group. It may tweak the software released last year to take advantages of improvements over the first Itanium, but, even if it doesn't, the software will still perform far better on Itanium 2, he said.

"We're thrilled to death with Itanium because it allows us 64-bit memory addressability, which means more data can be managed and applications perform faster. It's a bigger, better value proposition for DB2 customers," he said. "As we continue to upgrade and deliver new DB2s we will continue to be in lock step with (Itanium 2)."

-- Oracle Corp., another early Itanium backer, offered a developer version of its 9i database for the chip last year, although it has yet to offer a commercial product. It expects to have a production release of Oracle9i database available for Itanium 2 by the end of November, for Windows, Linux and HP-UX, said Doug Kennedy, Oracle vice president for platform alliances.

Oracle Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Larry Ellison has been a big Intel proponent of late, Kennedy noted. Oracle this year began replacing the RISC-based servers that run its global business applications with clusters of Intel-based servers. The systems accessed by its sales teams to offer browser-based product demonstrations are also being moved to Intel-based servers, Kennedy said.

"What's new and exciting is the volume economics of what could be driven based on IA-64," he said. Aside from claims of faster performance, Intel's pitch for Itanium 2 is that systems will cost less than comparable RISC-based servers from Sun, IBM and others.

Oracle has no immediate plans to offer versions of its application server or business applications for the chip, although they are likely to follow over time, Kennedy said.

-- BEA Systems Inc. does plan to have a version of its application server ready for Itanium 2 by the end of the year, for HP-UX, Linux and Windows, said Gamiel Gran, BEA vice president for strategic alliances. It's also tuning its recently acquired JRocket Java Virtual machine for Itanium 2, he said.

-- SAP announced its first customer using SAP R/3 on Itanium at this year's CeBit trade show in March, and plans to have some of its ERP products available for Itanium 2 later this year, a company representative said. Some of SAP's supply chain management products use an "in-memory database," which means the company requires the additional address space provided by the 64-bit platform. It hopes to offer an Itanium 2 version of its supply chain management software by the end of the third quarter.

-- Baan Co. NV has tuned some of its enterprise applications for Itanium, but not all of them will benefit from the new chip design, a company spokesman said.

"The planning and scheduler modules of (Baan's) supply chain applications are memory intensive. They make use of the extended memory addressing possibilities of Itanium, which speeds (performance) significantly," said Leen van der Maas, vice president of global alliances at Baan in Voorthuizen, the Netherlands.

(Martyn Williams, Peter Sayer, John Blau, Ashlee Vance, Laura Rohde and Matt Berger contributed to this report)

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