Who Really Shot (And Killed) Itanium?
Roughly a decade ago, Intel’s Itanium chip was expected to emerge as the 64-bit standard for next-generation computing. Fast forward to the present, and neither Microsoft nor Red Hat plan to support Itanium on future operating system releases. Have software companies essentially killed Itanium? Certainly not. The deadly shot came from a surprise gunman: Advanced Micro Devices (AMD). Here’s what happened.
First, some background: Itanium continues to have a niche following in the very high-end IT market, where operating systems like Hewlett-Packard’s HP-UX continue to chug along. But the original HP-Intel dream of Itanium becoming a mainstream server processor is dead. Microsoft confirmed it. Red Hat confirmed it. And AMD — yes, AMD — actually destroyed Itanium’s mainstream dreams roughly six years ago.
Around 2004, AMD’s Opteron processor caught the attention of IT managers and CIOs. From the start, Opteron was designed to run 64-bit and 32-bit applications very smoothly. In stark contrast, Itanium’s original design was all about 64-bit computing. Many customers balked at Intel’s 64-bit vision, and instead chose to continue running 32-bit applications. And quite a few customers chose AMD’s view of the world, choosing the Opteron architecture to smoothly run 32-bit and 64-bit applications in tandem.
A lot has changed since the original Opteron launch. Intel finally got its server story straight, bolstering Xeon processors while continuing to develop Itanium. But the original vision — Itanium as a mainstream 64-bit server platform — is dead. And you can thank AMD for ensuring customer choice — and 32-bit/64-bit flexibility. Sometimes a killer strategy can be a good thing.