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Itanium to largely skip telecom market

Itanium-based servers for the telecommunications market will be largely symbolic until the arrival of the chip's successor, says a senior executive at Intel.

Itanium-based servers for the telecommunications market will be largely symbolic until the arrival of the chip's successor.

Despite multiple delays and the stringent requirements of much of its target market, Intel still says its Itanium processor launch this year will be one of the biggest introductions of its kind. But a senior executive admitted that telecommunications companies and other businesses won't be tempted to switch their existing 64-bit systems over to IA-64 until next year.

The chip giant is in the midst of launching the first IA-64 chip, Itanium, for workstations and servers--and now for telecommunications servers. But Gordon Graylisch, Intel's director of e-business and communications solutions, admitted on Friday that for telecom users, Itanium will mainly be used as a development technology for IA-64 while companies wait for Itanium's successor, McKinley, next year.

"With McKinley people will start taking existing environments and moving them over," said Graylisch. He said Itanium will mainly be bought by companies that happen to be in the market for new servers and workstations and are interested in the new technology. "But I don't see that as particularly limiting for Itanium," he said.

Intel is entering unfamiliar territory with its move into servers for the telecommunications industry. Such servers face far more strict reliability requirements, which will make it even more difficult for Intel to sell the brand-new and untested Itanium processor. The market is now dominated by the likes of Sun Microsystems, which is also a major player in the high-end servers Intel originally designed IA-64 to run.

Intel's main selling point is the notion that IA-64 will be one of the few platforms that will be running high-end servers and that it could eventually also become the standard for lower-end servers, desktop PCs, and even mobile and embedded devices. Because of Intel's massive manufacturing base, Itanium is also far less expensive than its competitors.

Graylisch said Itanium's release will be "small by PC standards," but it will be "one of the strongest introductions from anybody." Industry analysts believe that Itanium's multiple delays have partly damaged its attractiveness by giving it a short shelf life before it is replaced.

"The first version will get a very respectable rollout, and people will be deploying around that," Graylisch said. "McKinley makes it an absolute no-brainer."

Staff writer Matthew Broersma reported from London.