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Oracle's decision to stop development of its software for the Itanium platform is viewed by many in the industry as a chance to drive part of the shrinking Unix business to its Sun platform while getting a chance to turn up the heat on the Hewlett-Packard-Oracle rivalry.
Oracle also runs the risk of not only further eroding its own falling server business but also opening up parts of its market to other rivals, including Microsoft, Red Hat, and even IBM.
Oracle on Tuesday said it plans discontinue all software development on the Intel Itanium microprocessor, citing what it called indications from Intel management that it is focusing on the x86 processor line and that Itanium was nearing the end of its life.
HP, which uses nearly all of Intel's Itanium processors, bases its Integrity Unix servers, its NonStop servers, and its OpenVMS servers on Itanium. Oracle applications are the most common software run on HP's HP-UX Unix platform, and so a move by Oracle to stop development for the Itanium would be a serious blow for this part of HP's business.
Both HP and Intel have come to the Itanium's defense in statements.
Dave Donatelli, executive vice president and general manager for HP's enterprise servers, storage, and networking business, called the Oracle move part of a "pattern of anti-customer behavior" to shore up its "failing Sun server business" and a "shameless gambit to limit fair competition."
Intel in its statement quoted Intel President and CEO Paul Otellini as saying Intel is committed to a multi-generational roadmap for HP-UX and other operating systems that run on the Itanium.
The move comes after an intense rivalry heated up between Oracle and HP following Oracle's acquisition last year of Sun Microsystems, which gave Oracle a fully-developed server business that competes with HP and IBM.
Since then, Oracle has moved to break the 20-year-plus relationship with HP under which HP was Oracle's primary go-to partner for its software.
HP customers are confused about the Oracle message, said Peter Katz, CTO of PKA Technologies, a Suffern, N.Y.-based solution provider and long-time HP partner.
"I've gotten a number of frantic calls from existing HP-UX customers wanting to know what it means for the future of HP-UX and Itanium," Katz said. "Other customers I reached out to don't care what Oracle does, and say that they will stay with HP-UX if they need Unix."
HP has a long-term commitment to Itanium, Katz said. Not only does HP still have a strong HP-UX business, it also has a long-term commitment to government customers with its OpenVMS line. "Between HP and Intel, they're not going to let Itanium go away," he said.
The cutting of Oracle software development on the Itanium could mean the death knell for HP's Integrity server platform, said Dhruv Gulati, executive vice president at Lilien Systems, a Larkspur, Calif.-based solution provider and HP partner.
"Most of the applications running on Integrity are Oracle," Gulati said. "To me, reading between the lines, this is Oracle saying, 'this is how we take out Itanium because we have the Sun line.'"
The dispute between Oracle and HP over the future of Unix goes back for years when Sun and HP battled over the future of the operating system.
Scott McNealy, who was CEO of Sun before it was acquired by Oracle, in 2006 proposed that HP merge its HP-UX with Sun's Solaris operating systems to form a single offering.
Next: HP's Itanium Business Slipping, Oracle's Server Business Crashing