Windows + Itanium: Mainframe killer?

By Tom Henderson, ITworld.com |  Hardware

At best, these platforms lagged three to six months behind in development. Add market
mismatch, changes in application structure, and the unwillingness of Unix (and other)
developers to port to the new platforms. Then couple that mess to prices that were
designed to recoup investment costs and mighty few being sold, and you get Silicon
Valley landfill fodder.

The Itanium bullet: Intel's and HP's IA-64

Intel announced development of a 64-bit chip quite some time ago as the logical
progression from the Pentium family. The chip went by several different code names,
generally drawing on Oregonian geography. Meanwhile, Hewlett-Packard was in the midst
of upgrading its PA-RISC family. In what will certainly prove to be a wise move, HP and
Intel joined efforts to produce the IA-64.

Finally, after several years of development, trials, and missteps, Intel is about to
bring the IA-64 into production. Itanium is designed as a weapon -- a bullet Microsoft
and other OS vendors are already aiming at Sun and IBM.

Right now, the Pentium family is largely crippled compared to CPUs offered by both of
these two companies. In particular, memory model restrictions prevent Windows from both
running huge databases and crunching the data used by Web transaction and indexing
engines -- applications that are becoming increasingly popular. The Itanium removes the
Pentium model's 32-bit constraints, while providing what will be crucial competitive
CPU horsepower.

Although Microsoft announced support for IA-64 long ago, it did so with no established
timetable. Now, if you want to believe the story, an initial port will take place this
year, with a more strongly integrated port finalized likely in 12 months.
Single-processor machines will be able to utilize the CPU at that point. Support for
multi-CPU machines will take longer.

The DataCenter edition of Windows 2000 server is designed to take advantage of up to 32
Intel Pentium-family CPUs per machine. (Deployments of the maximum number will likely
be rare. Instead, 4, 8, 12, and 16 CPU platforms will probably be popular.)

But don't expect to take DataCenter and run it on anything but approved
platforms -- the "Gold Hardware Compatibility List," or "Gold HCL." There's a reason
for this: Microsoft has to achieve a fairly intimate relationship with a hardware
vendor to guarantee that the combination hardware and software will work. Don't look
for a wide variety of platforms for DataCenter, as it will take work on a hardware
vendor's part to support ongoing development for it.

Is Itanium the fuel?

So does Itanium signal the death of current high-end Pentium platforms? Or will the
marketplace become distracted, torn between the various combinations of clustered/SMP
platforms supported by DataCenter versus the perceived musculature of the new chip?

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