Solving the Itanium saga

In what’s shaped up as something of a cliffhanger episode of The Housewives of Silicon Valley, Oracle’s decision in March to end software development for Intel’s Itanium platform still has everyone in the industry hot and bothered – and not in a good way.

No one – except maybe Oracle – is exactly sure why it dropped support for Itanium. Some believe it’s simply an economic decision – the number of Itanium-based servers sold isn’t high enough for Oracle to justify spending resources on supporting versions of its software on the processor. Others with a more conspiratorial bent see the move by Oracle as an attack on HP’s high-end server business in favor of its own SPARC/Solaris servers, which it acquired last year from Sun Microsystems. As for Oracle itself, it simply says it’s focusing on Intel’s x86 processor line and that Itanium was nearing the end of its life.

To be continued….

Whatever the reason, Oracle promises to continue providing customers with support for existing software running on Itanium. But support isn’t development and customers will likely become increasingly irritated as Oracle rolls out new applications and database features that aren’t available on Itanium, not to mention concerned with questions about security alerts, data fixes or critical patch updates. In other words, Oracle’s suspension of future development could raise user investment risks, with HP-UX users needing to re-evaluate their platform and life cycle support options.  

Options, options, options.

What to do? First off, organizations running Oracle on Itanium that plan to do so for several years should upgrade to Oracle Database 11g Release 2 as soon as possible to maximize the time available with Premium Support — officially until 2015. For customers running Oracle on Itanium that plan to move shortly to a new Itanium platform, they need to ensure their ROI is realized by 2015 – or choose another avenue.

Longer term, Itanium users need to decide between three fundamental options:

  1. Switch platforms to an alternate Unix environment for mission-critical and performance reasons, something like Sun Solaris/SPARC or IBM, which not only can run Oracle software on its Power servers but also has a strong Oracle database alternative in DB2 .
  2. Switch platforms to Linux on x86, particularly in light of Intel’s high-end Xeon E7 chip launch.
  3. Switch business applications and databases to those supported on Itanium. There’s more risk and cost associated with moving to different applications and database than simply making server platform changes. Although databases are portable, programs possibly require code changes and testing, ergo the risk and costs. Hardware upgrades — even with a processor switch — are often considered less complex than a software migration, especially with relatively portable software, such as databases.

If customers choose Option 1 and want to stay on Unix and to remain loyal to Oracle software, they can move to Sun Solaris/SPARC, now part of the Oracle family. However, many including Gartner have less confidence in the SPARC road maps because Oracle is new to the processor business and SPARC’s market share has declined significantly.

IBM Power 7 and AIX, on the other hand, have the industry-leading UNIX solution. IBM has built a steady track record in Power’s road map and has gained steady market share. As well, its performance results on the new Power7 systems are significantly better than its closest competition, and IBM Power enjoys a total cost of ownership (TCO) advantage by way of its excellent price per unit of performance and reduced software license costs modeled on a per-CPU basis. 

Now what?

Whatever move Itanium customers make, it should start by leveraging technical and financial assessments of their existing environment to fully understand their options. They should also lean on manufacturer-agnostic organizations that can provide them with multiple server platform and software options (x86, UNIX, business software and database). At the end of the day, they need to not only understand the platform or software options, but also need a clear understanding of server and software migration risks and costs to ultimately make this Itanium shift work in their favor.

Related Posts:

Dealing with the Itanium Fallout – Part 1 & Part 2

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About Doug Sekus

Doug Sekus has over 20 years experience in the information technology industry, most recently as the Director of Softchoice Corporation’s Business Development, Servers and Virtualization sector.