Itanium supporters remain optimistic

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Supporters of Intel's Itanium platform are hoping that the server chip will finally take off this year..

The Itanium Solutions Alliance, an advocacy group with members including Microsoft and Intel, claims that Itanium has become the fastest-growing chip on the market.

The group also claims that the upcoming Tukwila generation of the chip will make Itanium even more popular.

"Microsoft sees a great opportunity to bring mainframe [computing] from elite companies to the masses and make this a volume type," said Ward Ralston, group product manager at Microsoft's server division.

First introduced in 2001, Itanium was intended to lead the next generation of high-performance business servers.

However, sales wobbled after slow adoption, and few companies ported applications. By 2006 some were wondering whether Itanium would ever live up to expectations.

"We recognised that there were a lot of factors that were in our control and some that were not," said Rob Shiveley, worldwide marketing manager at Intel's mission critical server platform group.

Shiveley credits the chip's slow start in part to a "perfect storm" when Itanium's launch ran into the dotcom crash and the resulting economic downturn.

"We [now] feel like we have got our act together, and we are executing the designs very nicely," he said.

The Itanium Solutions Alliance noted that the number of Itanium applications has jumped from 5,000 to more than 13,000 since 2005. Most recently, security firm Sophos joined the Itanium camp.

The group is also optimistic about Itanium's design qualities, including the ability to recover from hardware crashes on the fly and allow administrators to install or remove new hardware without powering systems down.

Itanium advocates also cite the chip's design as an advantage, suggeting that the focus on multi-threading and low frequencies lends itself to a market increasingly fond of lower power and extensive virtualisation.

Once struggling to stay afloat, Itanium's backers see a new kind of "perfect storm" brewing which they feel will sweep the chip to the top of the heap in the server world.
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