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Alliance aims to drive Itanium in Asia

With fresh funding, vendors backing the Intel processor hope to extend its Asian deployment beyond Japan.

Spurred by the growth of the Intel Itanium processor in the region, the Asian arm of the Itanium Solutions Alliance (ISA) is confident of securing a fair share of the $10 billion recently pledged by group members.

William Wu, who chairs the ISA Asia-Pacific committee formed late last year, said the alliance has not determined how much of the new funds will be made available to Asia-Pacific. But he said he is confident the region will be allocated "a fair share," thanks to the rapid growth of the Itanium processor in China, India and Japan. Wu is also Intel Asia's regional marketing manager of server platforms.

The ISA aims to provide resources to help programmers write and optimize software for Itanium-based systems.

Citing figures from research company IDC, Wu said that Itanium's market share in the Asia-Pacific region, excluding Japan, more than doubled from 4 percent in the third quarter of 2004, to 9 percent during the same quarter last year.

In Japan, the Itanium processor has an even bigger footprint, he said. Wu added that Itanium server revenues outgrew IBM's and Sun Microsystems' server revenues by 60 percent and 20 percent, respectively, in the third quarter of 2005. The success of the Intel chip in Japan is further underscored by the strong Japanese contingent in ISA, which includes members Hitachi, Fujitsu and NEC, he added.

However, Itanium shipment numbers have not been impressive, compared to figures from competing chips. According to research company Gartner, 7,845 Itanium-based servers were shipped worldwide during the third quarter of last year. That number pales in comparison to 62,776 machines with Sun's UltraSparc and 31,648 with IBM's Power chip shipped over the same quarter.

Asked if part of the problem could have stemmed from Itanium's early hiccups, Vish Mulchand, business development director for enterprise storage and servers at Hewlett-Packard (HP) Asia-Pacific, acknowledged the issues could have been a factor. HP is the co-developer of the Itanium processor.

Intel has had to deal with a delayed road map, as well as performance issues.

But Mulchand noted that road map delays are common in the industry, citing product delays in Microsoft's Windows Vista and Sun's servers. He added that Intel has since fixed performance issues with Itanium 2.

Once touted as the chip that would grab market share from the x86 platform, Itanium has been repositioned for high-end computing tasks undertaken by data centers and business intelligence systems, rather than low-end servers. This was evident when Intel scrapped on-chip support for x86 codes, opting for software emulation to run x86 software on Itanium.

Rajnish Arora, associate director for IDC Asia-Pacific, said: "Intel's commitment to Itanium, in terms of sustained technology investments and strong execution of its marketing strategy, has underpinned the platform's rapid adoption across the Asia-Pacific region in recent quarters."

"An improving performance, multi-operating system capability and strong ISV (independent software vendor) momentum have been pivotal in fueling its rapid acceptance in the enterprise space," he said.

Last month, the ISA announced that 6,000 applications have been written for Itanium-based systems, Wu said. Of the ISVs that currently contribute to the platform's software pool, about 300 are from the Asia-Pacific region, he said, adding that plans are underway to conduct Itanium developer workshops in Asia this year.

Wu noted that China and India, apart from Japan, have been earmarked as growth markets for Itanium due to the lack of legacy systems in both countries. This helps to drive adoption because companies do not have to worry about system migration, he said.

To drive the adoption of Itanium in the region, Wu said five Itanium Solution Centers were set up in Bangalore, Shanghai and Singapore over the last three years. These centers are charged with helping businesses migrate to Itanium and offer services such as application testing.

Aaron Tan reported from Singapore for ZDNet Asia.