Microsoft Follows Red Hat In Ending Itanium Development

Microsoft said it is ending its development support for the Intel Itanium processor after Windows Server 2008 R2, a move which its partners said results from the low incidence of Windows users using the Itanium architecture.

The move follows a similar move by Red Hat in January to end development for the Itanium platform after the latest release of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.

Dan Reger, senior technical product manager for Windows server, wrote on a blog post on Friday that Microsoft will end support for the Intel Itanium architecture after the release of Windows Server 2008 R2, SQL Server 2008 R2, and Visual Studio 2010.

The decision comes on the heels of the release last week of Intel's "Nehalem-EX" 8-core Xeon 7500 series processors and AMD's "Magny-Cours" 12-core Opteron 6000 series processors.

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Reger cited the Intel and AMD multi-core processor releases as a key reason for the change, and wrote that new x86-based servers now come with up to 96 processor cores, a core density that will increase over time.

"Windows Server 2008 R2 was designed to support the business-critical capabilities these processors and servers make available. It supports up to 256 logical processors (cores or hyper-threading units), so it's ready for the ever-increasing number of cores. It supports technologies such as Intel's Machine Check Architecture, which allow for the detection and correction of bit-level hardware errors," Reger wrote.

An Intel spokesperson told that the news should not really impact the Itanium architecture momentum.

Citing and IDC report from about third quarter 2009 server shipments, the Intel spokesperson said that of all sales of new Itanium-based servers, only 5 percent run Windows. The vast majority are Unix servers, primarily from HP.

HP is by far the largest user of Itanium processors, which form the core of its Superdome servers, which run the HP-UX Unix operating system. HP became heavily invested in the Itanium platform after it abandoned development of its own PA-RISC processor technology in 2001.

Other server vendors working with Itanium in Unix, Linux, and Windows environments include Fujitsu, GroupeBull, Hitachi, NEC, SGI, Unisys, and Supermicro.

Next: HP's response

An HP spokesperson told in an e-mailed statement that the impact of Microsoft's decision is minimal because HP is converging its servers into a common, modular architecture under which customers with mission-critical demands can continue deploying HP-UX on its Integrity servers.

Microsoft and HP will work together to ensure that clients can continue to run Integrity servers, including future Integrity servers based on the Intel Itanium processor 9300 "Tukwila" series, with Windows Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008, including the R2 versions." Clients will continue to receive support consistent with Microsoft's support policies until 2018," the spokesperson wrote.

Mark Gonzalez, president of Nth Generation Computing, a San Diego-based solution provider and HP partner, said the decision by Microsoft to not support Itanium development, following a similar decision by Red Hat, is not good news for the long term viability of the Itanium.

However, Gonzalez said, it will have no material impact on HP. Instead, the main result will be that HP's Integrity systems will only run HP's own operating systems, including Open VMS and HP-UX.

"People who need new Integrity systems will be people who absolutely cannot go down," he said. "They are people running Open VMS or HP-UX. If you look at the marketplace today, the highest level of availability is on HP's Integrity platform."

That level of availability depends on running applications written for Open VMS or HP-UX, but there are few commercial applications for those platforms, Gonzalez. For commercial applications, the Integrity servers can be run in clusters. Customers looking for reliability can also run Solaris x86 or Linux on HP ProLiant servers, he said.

The decision by Microsoft and Red Hat to stop developing new software for the Itanium makes sense, Gonzalez said. "Microsoft and Red Hat are interested in selling software," he said. "They need high volumes. From an economic perspective, it doesn't make sense for them to support Itanium."

Brian Payne, senior manager for PowerEdge server planning at Dell called Microsoft's decision a positive endorsement of the capabilities of Intel's Nehalem-EX architecture.

"This also endorses the ability to move data center processing from proprietary platforms and unique systems," Payne said.

Reger wrote that, while Microsoft will end future development of its software for the Itanium architecture, it will continue to follow the Microsoft Support Lifecycle Policy.

That translates to the company offering mainstream support for Windows Server 2008 for Itanium-Based Systems (and R2) until July 9, 2013, with extended support continuing through July 10, 2018.