Itanium has what is known as the "six-wide" instruction issue. The chip was designed to exploit parallelism in programs, but the most it could issue were six instructions at a time. Poulson is the first Itanium to be able to issue 12 instructions at a time. "That, in theory, will enable applications to run faster at the same basic clock speed," he said.
But the capabilities of the x86 systems proved themselves to Armour.
Armour moved his Windows Server operating system and SQL Server from HP's Itanium-based Integrity line to HP's ProLiant, Xeon-based DL980 servers with eight sockets and a total of 64 cores.
Armour said his firm's investigation of the Itanium and x86 benchmarks left him confident that the x86 systems, with 512GB of memory each, could handle the workload. That work includes processing payroll and HR services for some 19,000 clients, representing about 700,000 employees.
The x86 systems, which were also less costly, have been running since November. "They are definitely as reliable" as the Integrity systems, said Armour.
In announcing its decision to end Itanium support, Microsoft cited the "natural evolution" of the x86 64-bit multi-core processors, and their improved scalability and reliability.
Microsoft will continue support mainstream support for Itanium to July 2013 and extended support to July 2018.
Matt Eastwood, an analyst at IDC, doesn't see Microsoft's decision hurting Itanium. Microsoft use on that platform has been declining, and "the primary Windows workload, SQL Server, runs very well on x86 systems," he said.
Similarly, George Weiss, an analyst at Gartner, said Microsoft's decision is "of no great consequence of the general position of the platform. But he did note that being able to show that the Itanium supported multi-platforms would have had marketing value.
"We continue to see a decline in Unix over the decade and a zero-sum game in market share among the RISC/Itanium vendors," said Weiss. "Each vendor will be pressed to come up with sustainability strategies for their non-x86 business."
Katie Curtin-Mestre, director for software planning and marketing, Business Critical Systems, at HP, said Windows on Itanium "represents a small percentage of HP's overall Integrity sales."
The changes in Windows support for the Itanium architecture will not impact the roadmap for Integrity hardware or the roadmap for HP-UX, OpenVMS and NonStop running on those servers, she said.