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Oracle: Reports of Itanium's life greatly exaggerated

"HP has secretly contracted with Intel to keep churning out Itaniums so that HP can maintain the appearance that a dead microprocessor is still alive," Oracle says in a recent court filing.

A wafer of Itanium 9300 processors. Intel

Oracle filed court papers this week alleging that a "secret" deal between Itanium developers HP and Intel is the only reason for the continued existence of the long-troubled chip--for which the business-software giant is ending its support.

"HP has secretly contracted with Intel to keep churning out Itaniums so that HP can maintain the appearance that a dead microprocessor is still alive," reads the filing, which All Things Digital's Arik Hesseldahl describes as a routine affair about the discovery process and timing in HP's lawsuit against Oracle for dropping the chip.

HP alleges that Oracle's motivation for ending Itanium support is the latter company's acquisition of Sun Microsystems and its server business, which relies on Intel x86 chips. Oracle, HP claims, is simply trying to convince Itanium customers that the chip isn't long for this world and to get them to switch to x86-based servers like Sun's.

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Oracle, on the other hand, says HP's desire to keep customers on Itanium is based on the fact that the Itanium-reliant HP UX operating system commands more in service fees than would a system based on x86 chips. This "led HP to craft a top-secret plan to create a false perception that Itanium still had a future," Hesseldahl quotes the Oracle filing as saying. "HP understands that the future prospects of IT products drive customer purchasing decisions. A buyer who knew that Intel saw no future for Itanium, and was only continuing to invest in the line pursuant to a contractual obligation, would devalue the future prospects of Itanium servers and be less inclined to buy."

In a statement to Hesseldahl, HP fires back. "This filing is just the latest in [Oracle's] ongoing campaign to shore up its failing Sun server business and starve thousands of existing Itanium customers who rely on their Itanium processors for mission-critical activities.

"As Oracle well knows, HP and Intel have a contractual commitment to continue to sell mission-critical Itanium processers to our customers through the next two generations of microprocessors, thus ensuring the availability of Itanium through at least the end of the decade. HP is resolved to enforcing Oracle's commitments to HP and our shared customers and will continue to take actions to protect its customers' best interests."

HP filed its lawsuit in June of this year. And in August, then-CEO Leo Apotheker acknowledged that the Itanium flap was hurting business, saying, "Revenue in business-critical systems declined 9 percent year over year. This decline is sharper than expected as our ability to close deals has been impacted by Oracle's decision and orders are being delayed or canceled. We are working diligently to enforce the commitments that Oracle has made to our customers and to HP."

The Itanium chip was introduced in 1996 and has long been the butt of industry jokes owing to its failure to live up to its developers' hopes--instead of becoming the server market's "unifying architecture," spanning many server lines and operating systems, it's been relegated to a high-end niche.

Intel had no comment for Hesseldahl, but the company has said before that it stands behind Itanium. When Oracle announced, in March, that it was dropping support for the chip, Intel CEO Paul Otellini said, "We remain firmly committed to delivering a competitive, multi-generational roadmap for HP-UX and other operating system customers that run the Itanium architecture."