For a while, it looked as though HP would find itself in an unrivaled position, the closest ally of the world's leading chip producer, Intel, thanks to a landmark deal struck 10 years ago. The joint collaboration between the two computing giants on a next-generation microprocessor known as Itanium was supposed to produce the chip to power Corporate America for the next decade and beyond. Funny how things turned out.
After two revs of Itanium, the microprocessor family, promising though it may be, has yet to set the world on edge. One reason was the ongoing success of Intel's own Xeon processor. Another, of course, was the competition. While Intel and HP toiled, IBM and Sun continued to make progress with their microprocessors, the PowerPC and UltraSparc, respectively. And that's not counting the work they were doing with Intel rival AMD, which staged one of the industry's more remarkable comebacks with its own Opteron processor. Even Sun, which long relied on its own proprietary chips, committed to AMD's promising Itanium alternative.
So it came as no real surprise in December when the two companies called off their collaboration. The work on the chip and its importance goes on, of course -- Intel will add many of the HP engineers that worked on the project -- but the official alliance ends.
In retrospect, several things hurt acceptance of the chip, which has seen some success in high-end, super-computer segments where only a handful of channel companies compete. For starters, the chip shipped late. And by then, the market seemed more interested in scaling up by scaling out;it turned out the customers were more interested with creating powerful servers that got their horsepower from a bunch of lower-cost processors working in tandem than one single, all-powerful processor. So, too, did specialty chips become more popular. Also, the outward appearance of the tight-knit relationship between HP and Intel may have limited the success of the Itanium processor. Though several companies pledged support, none had as much skin in the game as HP.