Intel’s Itanium family of processors for enterprise servers has spent the better part of a decade as contractually undead. The platform has experienced practically negative enthusiasm for most of its existence, and is commonly derisively referred to as “Itanic.” But Itanium’s slow march toward its eventual demise officially began Thursday, with Intel announcing that shipments of Itanium 9700-series CPUs will end on July 29, 2021-just over two years away.
Intel’s order deadline for the parts is just one year away, on January 30, 2020, though this deadline is only particularly relevant for the sole Itanium customer, HP Enterprise. Support for HPE’s Itanium-powered Integrity servers, and HP-UX 11i v3, will come to an end on December 31, 2025, though it’s unclear exactly when new sales will be wrapped up.
SEE: Hardware decommissioning policy (Tech Pro Research)
New enterprise deployment of Itanium-powered hardware is likely minimal at best, as practical software support for Itanium has been in doubt since 2011, due to Oracle’s snap decision to stop support for the platform-potentially motivated by their 2010 acquisition of Sun Microsystems, which included the competing SPARC architecture as part of the deal.
Oracle lost the resulting lawsuit in 2012, requiring the company to “continue porting its software to Itanium computers for as long as HP sells Itanium computers,” though the damage had already been done to HP’s server business. HP was awarded $3 billion in damages in a 2016 verdict due to Oracle’s announcement, though Oracle then announced that an appeal was pending.
Even by the time that legal dust-up occurred, Itanium’s lack of popular support was apparent, with Oracle claiming in court filings “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,” due to higher profitability relative to x86-64 chips.
Itanium was originally developed a clean slate, 64-bit replacement to Intel’s 32-bit Pentium processors, which trace their lineage to the Intel 8080 introduced in 1974. (Modern 64-bit computers using Intel or AMD processors are, likewise, part of that lineage.) Itanium was designed with a security-first mindset, with explicitly parallel, in-order computation, requiring the compiler to define what can be done in parallel. Lacking speculative execution, Itanium is the only CPU microarchitecture used in the enterprise to be completely immune to Spectre and Meltdown.
Users seeking to migrate away from Itanium are not forced to move to x86-64, with POWER9 and Arm making significant gains in enterprise computing, particularly as Amazon released their own Arm-powered Graviton CPUs for use in Amazon Web Services (AWS).
The big takeaways for tech leaders:
- Intel announced shipments of Itanium 9700-series CPUs will end on July 29, 2021, though HP Enterprise, the last remaining vendor, will continue to support the platform until December 31, 2025.
- Itanium is the only CPU microarchitecture used in the enterprise to be completely immune to Spectre and Meltdown, but this also made it uncompetitive compared to other CPUs.