Oracle Designates HP-UX on Itanium a Strategic Platform
Published: March 2, 2006
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
Hewlett-Packard's president and CEO, Mark Hurd, and Intel's president and CEO, Paul Otellini, hosted an hour-long Itanium Luv-In today where upcoming support for Itanium from database and application software provider Oracle was the centerpiece of the actual announcement. While HP was expected to announce its "Arches" chipset for its Integrity servers, all it got was a brief mention as an impending announcement.
The Itanium Solutions Alliance, a consortium of Itanium enthusiasts, has been aggressive in recent weeks in getting the positive message out there about the Itanium processor and its long-term prospects, mainly because Itanium has become the punching bag for the server industry. It's not easy being positive about any technology that is hazed so much, but Hurd and Otellini did a pretty good job of outlining why they believe in the Itanium processor and its future prospects in enterprise computing. And, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison was piped in via tape while he was visiting Japan, and he also committed Oracle to fully support HP's Unix variant, HP-UX, with Oracle's entire software stack. Ellison said that HP had 100,000 customers in common, running Oracle database and/or applications on ProLiant, Integrity, and other past Compaq, Digital, and HP server brands, making it Oracle's largest customer base. And Intel architecture chips are, of course, the dominant platform for Oracle deployments these days. This is all well and good and true. But what Ellison did not say is that, to date, Itanium platforms in general and HP Integrity platforms in particular make up a very small piece of its business.
According to Judson Althoff, vice president of platform and distribution alliances at Oracle, the past of Itanium is not what matters, but rather the future. "We think it is important to tell people publicly about our Itanium support, since we've never really drawn the line in the sand," he explains. "As Oracle acquires a broader footprint in the market, we have had a lot of customers asking us about Itanium. For us, Integrity is a fairly significant platform for data analytics, and we have already seen a lot of growth. We are also seeing a lot of demand for grid computing. A good portion of our grid customers are doing it with partitioned Superdome machines or with higher-performing Itanium building blocks." He could not, of course, be specific about Itanium-specific sales for Oracle software, or customer installations.
What was surprising about the announcement--which wasn't actually in the announcement materials--is the fact that the Oracle 11i application suite is not already supported on HP-UX 11i v2, the current HP implementation of Unix, when it is running on Itanium-based Integrity servers. Customers who have been running Oracle applications on Tru64/AlphaServer or HP-UX/HP 9000 combos have been in limbo because these Unix customers are being told to move to HP-UX on Integrity machines, and yet their applications were not supported there. According to Don Jenkins, vice president of marketing for HP's Business Critical Servers division, the upcoming Oracle 12i application suite will be ported to HP-UX 11i v2 on Integrity machines by the end of the year. The good news is that although HP is expecting to ship the next update of its Unix, HP-UX 11i v3, in either late 2006 or early 2007, the move to the then-current Oracle 12i applications will not require a triple whammy move, jumping to Arches servers and Montecito chips, the HP-UX 11i v2 operating system, and the Oracle 12i apps. Such a move would be extremely unpalatable to most customers. HP intends to support HP-UX 11i v2 for a minimum of another seven years, so companies can deploy the move to HP-UX 11i v3 at their leisure.
With this announcement, Oracle is designating HP-UX on Itanium as a strategic platform, right alongside Solaris on Sparc and Opteron and AIX on Power. Oracle is committing to deliver its Oracle 10g database, its Fusion middleware, Oracle Enterprise Manager application management, and E-Business Suite 12i on HP-UX. And, Oracle is pricing its software on Itanium cores exactly the same as it does for Intel Xeon and AMD Opteron processors (you count the cores, multiply by 0.5, and then round up), compared to other RISC/Unix processors (where you count the cores, multiply by 0.75, and then round up). Oracle said it will also offer special pricing for Integrity Virtual Machine virtual partitions and Secure Resource Partition hardware partitions on the Integrity boxes; customers will only have to pay Oracle for the number of cores where the software is running, not on the total number of cores in the machine. HP's Integrity servers are already a lot less expensive than the HP 9000 and AlphaServer lines, which have been frozen in time for three years from a technology and pricing standpoint, and this favorable Oracle pricing will only make Integrity machines that much more attractive to the HP faithful.
Of course, what HP and Intel really need to do is get the dual-core "Montecito" Itanium processors and the related Arches chipset from HP out the door. Otellini was perhaps a bit apologetic when asked about Montecito, which has been delayed several times and is now expected in mid-2006 with some of its features trimmed out. "There are more than 1.7 billion transistors on this chip. Every one of them has to work right, and getting them right has taken some time," he explained. "People need to understand that this is not the PC space. You don't just move like you did from Pentium III to Pentium 4." To demonstrate Intel's commitment to Itanium, Otellini said that Intel has thousands of engineers working on four different Itanium generations that go out past 2010, and it has hundreds of software engineers working on the compilers that will access features put into those chips. The Itanium Solutions Alliance, which Intel is a member of obviously, has been bragging that the collective Itanium ecosystem would be investing $10 billion in research, development, marketing, and sales between now and 2010 to chase a high-end server market that was worth $28 billion in 2005 alone. What Otellini did not say is how much of that tab would be paid by his company.
But Hurd did. Right at the beginning of the announcement, Hurd said that HP would spend $1 billion annually on the Integrity server line for the next five years, and he said that to try to quell the notion that some of HP's competitors have been trying to lodge in the minds of IT managers that HP was backing off on its Itanium and HP-UX investments. Now, think about that. HP is investing half of the ecosystem money to create and promote the Itanium between now and 2010, which comes to $5 billion. That means HP is doing more than Intel, and the question you have to ask is whether or not this would have been cheaper than the PA-9000 processor that HP might have otherwise created and let someone else make in their foundries, as it did with the PA-8800 and PA-8900 chips. Hurd explained that HP feels much more comfortable being a part of the Itanium ecosystem than going it alone, but you have to wonder if HP is footing more than its fair share of the bill. It almost doesn't matter, though, because with 7,100 applications running on Itanium today and its five strategic operating systems also on the box--that would be HP-UX, Windows, Linux, OpenVMS, and NonStop--HP is not about to backtrack now. And neither is Intel, no matter how much IBM and Sun Microsystems protest otherwise. If the worldwide economy suffers a 2001-class shock, and IT spending plummets, then Sparc, Power, and Itanium are all called into question, and you will see a lot of emulation on 64-bit Xeon and Opteron processors. But short of that, Itanium appears to be here to stay, with increasing, not decreasing, investments by hardware and software suppliers and by end user companies.
Hurd also said that in a few weeks, the Arches chipset, HP's third generation of Itanium chipsets for servers, would launch, and he said that it would have 400 percent more bandwidth than the current "Pinnacles" chipset used in the high-end Integrity server line and would deliver about 30 percent more performance--presumably using the existing "Madison" Itanium processors. Otellini restated what Intel has been saying about the performance of the Montecito chips, saying that the 1.6 GHz Montecito would offer about twice the performance and 2.5 times the performance per watt as the current Madison chips. If the performance improvements of the Montecito chips and Arches chipset are additive--and there is no reason to believe they are not--then an Arches Integrity server should deliver about 2.6 times the performance of the current Integrity rx Series and Superdome machines from HP.
"The Integrity machine running Montecito is really the machine we have been waiting for," said Otellini. "It is a combination of technologies that is a game changer--and that is what is fun for me." When asked when IBM would join the Itanium Solutions Alliance, drop Power, and embrace Itanium, Hurd got a laugh from the crowd. "I tell you, I think that's a much better question for IBM than me." It will have to be a pretty cold day in Armonk, New York, before IBM dumps Power for Itanium. Very cold, indeed.