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Oracle to expand Itanium support

Software giant plans to release E-Business Suite for HP Unix on Itanium by the end of 2006.

PALO ALTO, Calif.--Oracle will expand its support for Hewlett-Packard's Itanium-based Unix servers, bringing a version of its E-Business Suite to market by the end of the year, the software giant said Thursday.

Oracle's core database software has been available for years with HP's Integrity line of Itanium servers, but the E-Business Suite for finances and other corporate operations has been missing. But HP and Intel, which jointly designed the Itanium chip, have been working to expand the number of software partners in an attempt to fix a major problem that hampered the chip's debut.

Oracle's Itanium boost

To emphasize the significance of the expanded partnership, with mutual customers at HP headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif. Mark Hurd and Paul Otellini, the respective chief executives at HP and Intel, announced the partnership at the meeting, while Oracle Chief Executive Larry Ellison made a video appearance.

"We're trying to put more energy into our relationship," Hurd said. "If you're a customer, the key message I want you to hear is you can sleep well tonight, knowing you've got tremendous energy, power and investment behind this."

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Otellini says Itanium on track

Intel CEO hypes new dual-core chipset

IBM and Sun Microsystems continue to take on Itanium strongly, but Hurd and Otellini said they'll be taking the offensive with the chip. "We're going to go get aggressive in the marketplace. We put a lot into this, and we've got a lot more coming," Hurd said. Itanium allies have pledged to spend $10 billion advancing the Itanium technology and market in the next five years, and $1 billion a year of that is from HP, he said.

And Otellini said HP Integrity servers using the next-generation "Montecito" Itanium chips will be the turning point. "The Integrity machine based on Montecito is really the machine we've been waiting for, the machine our collective sales forces can get behind," Otellini said. "I think you'll see customer adoption rates much faster than you'd expect."

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Video: Hurd's commitment to Integrity
During a live Webcast of executives from Intel and Oracle, HP CEO Mark Hurd discusses his company's $1 billion annual commitment to Integrity servers.

Ellison, too, offered superlatives in his video appearance. "There is no more important platform for Oracle than HP and Itanium," he said.

A key part of the Oracle move is to release software not just for powerful back-end systems, but also to midrange servers, Judson Althoff, vice president of platform and distribution alliances at Oracle, said in an interview. HP welcomed the move.

"Our customers at HP-Oracle shops have been saying, 'We want the complete portfolio.' We had bits and pieces, but we didn't have the entire thing," Rich Marcello, head of the Integrity products, said in an interview before the event. HP didn't want to wait for Oracle's Project Fusion, which merges components from Oracle's software with products from major companies it has acquired, including PeopleSoft and J.D. Edwards.

One such customer is Scott Womer, the manager of systems engineering at Atmos Energy. He just installed the Oracle E-business Suite on HP Linux systems using Intel Xeon processors. He would have preferred Itanium models, he said, but the systems had to be running in March.

"We just failed to get our E-Business Suite on Itanium because of the timing issue," he said. "The presentation today makes me feel a lot better about that."

For the computing industry, Itanium has been a cautionary tale. The chip once was expected to dominate the computing industry, but that grand vision fell victim to product delays, poor performance and software incompatibilities with mainstream x86 chips such as Intel's Pentium.

Itanium is central to HP's effort to remain powerful in the high-end server market and for Intel's effort to penetrate it. The two companies are leading a multiple-company alliance that has pledged to spend $10 billion on Itanium product development, marketing and software company recruitment through the end of the decade.

Many companies are in the alliance, but HP is the only representative of the top four server makers. IBM, HP, Dell and Sun collectively accounted for 80 percent of the $51.7 billion in server sales in 2005, according to Gartner, but only HP sells Itanium models.

It's not all bad news for Itanium, though. The chip runs not just HP's version of Unix, called HP-UX, but also Windows, Linux and two relatively rare HP operating systems, OpenVMS and NonStop Kernel. And second-tier server companies, including Unisys, Silicon Graphics Inc., Hitachi, NEC, Groupe Bull and Fujitsu, design and sell their own Itanium models. The Itanium server market is expected to grow to $6.6 billion in 2009, according to IDC--a significant number though one vastly smaller than earlier, more-bullish forecasts.

There are currently 7,100 applications available for Itanium, Marcello said.

"We're getting close to being done. We've identified that when we get around 9,000, we've done all the homework," Marcello said.

Also at Thursday's event, HP drew attention to favorable pricing moves by Oracle. In December, Oracle lowered software prices for multicore chips--those that employ multiple processing engines on the same slice of silicon. Oracle no longer charges twice as much for dual-core Intel processors, including Montecito, the first dual-core Itanium model, which was delayed but is due later this year.

Oracle prices software based on how many processors a server has. In the past, Oracle counted a processor core as a full processor. But now for multicore Intel and AMD chips, the license fee is half the full-processor amount per core. By contrast, the license fee for IBM's dual-core Power models is three-quarters the full-processor fee for each core.

"We are partnering with Oracle to take on IBM and DB2," IBM's database software, Marcello said.

Oracle is making another new pricing move. HP servers can be carved up into multiple partitions, and now Oracle will charge based on the number of processors in a partition running its software, Marcello said. Previously, Oracle counted all the processors even if many were devoted to other tasks.