Itanium-based servers won't take off commercially until databases and other applications come out that work with them, driving demand for the chip, according to many industry watchers. The lack of customer interest so far in the chip is at least in part due to the lack of Itanium-ready applications.
Database software, in particular, is vital to businesses and Web sites because it stores, manages and retrieves vast amounts of data, forming the foundation on which other applications run. Oracle is the database market leader.
Oracle announced support for Itanium on its 9i database software as part of its Oracle OpenWorld conference in San Francisco. The company is using this week's conference to announce new versions of its database and application-server software--technology that runs e-commerce or Web site transactions.
The developer version of Oracle's 9i database, available as a free download on Oracle's developer Web site, supports Linux 64, HP-UX and Windows XP operating systems. Dell Computer, Compaq Computer and Hewlett-Packard are among the hardware makers supporting Oracle's database software designed for Itanium. Separately, Linux seller MandrakeSoft released its version of Linux 64 for Itanium on Monday.
"The issue that we face in general is the software support," Tom Bradicich, director of architecture and technology for IBM's Intel server group, said in a recent interview. "That will be the key to the adoption rate."
The developer version of Oracle 9i allows software programmers to start testing and developing with the new version of the database. If they decide to use it for their business needs in the future, however, they will have to pay Oracle for its use, Oracle executives said.
Intel is currently selling the "Merced" version of Itanium, which has primarily been used in test systems so far. A new, higher-performance version of the chip, called "McKinley," will start to appear in test systems soon and in commercially available systems by the middle of 2002.
During a keynote speech at OpenWorld on Monday afternoon, Intel Chief Executive Craig Barrett trumpeted the partnership between Oracle and Intel. The Internet is helping drive communications, commerce, information access and entertainment--and Intel and Oracle play a big role in the Net's infrastructure, he said.
"This requires more and more processing power and more and more reliable data storage," he said.
During Barrett's speech, Oracle executives demonstrated forthcoming unified messaging features built into the Oracle 9i application server. Unified messaging offers the ability to check voice mail, e-mail and faxes from a PC, phone, or other device. For example, people can have e-mail read to them over the phone. Barrett said the two companies collaborated on the new technology.
In related news, Oracle announced that nine customers have begun using its "clustering software" built into the 9i database. Clustering lets businesses harness multiple servers to run a very large database, allowing servers to share work or take over from one another if one fails.
Oracle executives have claimed the clustering software would make the company's database perform faster and more reliably than rival clustering technology by IBM and Microsoft. And because companies using Oracle's clustering technology can use multiple servers rather than one large server, they can also save money, Oracle executives said.
Customers using Oracle's clustering technology, called Real Application Clusters, include American Airlines, Gas Authority of India, South African Police Service, security company VeriSign and Vector SCM, which is building a business-to-business Web site for carmaker General Motors.
Sun Microsystems and Dell also announced support for Oracle's clustering technology in its servers. Dell, for instance, will make the clustering software available on its PowerEdge 6400 server in January. Dell's product will support Windows and Linux operating systems. Sun's Fire 280R Server system with Sun StorEdge T3 Arrays will be available this month and support Sun's Solaris operating system.
Oracle executives on Monday also demonstrated new software that allows companies to manage all their files housed in a cluster of databases. The new software called a file system, previously available on Compaq's Tru64 operating system, will soon be available for the Windows and Linux operating systems, said Bob Shimp, vice president of Oracle database marketing.
News.com's Michael Kanellos contributed to this report.