Dell shuttering Itanium server business

The writing was on the wall for Dell and Itanium once Intel started aiming the processor at large multiprocessor systems.

Dell is phasing out Intel Itanium-based servers, a move by one of the chipmaker's closest allies that reflects Dell's emphasis on low-cost servers and the processor's failure to spread into the mainstream.

A representative with Round Rock, Texas-based Dell said Thursday that an Itanium transition is under way now. Itanium servers are no longer promoted on Dell's Web site, which now directs attention solely to servers using Intel's Xeon. But Itanium-based models such as the PowerEdge 7250 can be found by searching.

Though Dell remains the largest seller of Intel processors, the decision to drop Itanium has not caused widespread panic at Intel.

"Losing Dell as an Itanium customer is unfortunate, but frankly, we see their impact as negligible," Intel representative Erica Fields said.

Hewlett-Packard is by far the biggest in the Itanium server market, but Fujitsu, NEC, Hitachi, Unisys and SGI also sell their own high-end Itanium servers.

The writing was on the wall for Dell and Itanium once Intel started aiming the processor at large multiprocessor systems instead of the broader server market. For one thing, Dell has publicly spurned massive "big iron" computers as "less and less interesting." Indeed, in 2002, the company scrapped a deal to sell a 32-processor Xeon server built by Unisys.

Microsoft moves sway Dell
More recent decisions at Microsoft also reinforce Dell's direction. A coming version of Windows Server 2003 called R2 is geared for smaller servers and won't support Itanium, and the next Windows server operating system, code-named Longhorn server, will only be geared for high-end server tasks, Microsoft said this month.

Dell's interest in Itanium has ranged all the way from lukewarm to complete indifference. In November 2001, Joe Marengi, the co-manager for Dell Americas, explained that interest among customers for Itanium servers was "effectively zero."

"The investment involved in the transition in huge," he said at the time. "I don't see the speed and benefit to what the processor brings to the equation," he added. Itanium had also been subject to several delays.

In the summer of 2002, Dell was still in wait-and-see mode. But, by November 2002, Marengi said, Dell had a change of heart and would begin to produce Itanium 2 servers. However, Dell was also phasing out a line of Itanium workstations. Intel also designed and partly manufactured the Itanium 2 servers Dell sold, which reduced the time, money and effort Dell was required to spend.

Dell isn't the only one to turn its back on Itanium. IBM this year decided against Itanium support for a high-end server chipset that as a result only works with Intel's Xeon chips. IBM has its own Power processor to promote for high-end servers.

Itanium allies have also withdrawn from other markets. In 2004, Microsoft canceled a workstation version of Windows for Itanium after HP canceled its workstation.

Itanium shipments fell short of Intel goals in 2004. The company had hoped to double 2003 shipments.

Still-active developments
Despite the problems, allies are still plugging away at Itanium. A number of companies are expected to announce an Itanium market development alliance later this month to try to help with software support and other activities.

The alliance made up of Intel, HP, Microsoft, Oracle and others is expected to sponsor porting events to help programmers bring their software to the processor and find combinations of Itanium hardware and software for various tasks.

And there are years of new Itanium chips planned from Intel, starting with the first dual-core model later this year. That chip, code-named Montecito, will more than double performance over the current "Madison" generation of Itanium processors, Intel has said.

After Montecito comes a derivative called Montvale, as well as a new four-core design called Tukwila and another four-core design called Poulson.

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