Welcome!

XML Authors: Carmen Gonzalez, Ignacio M. Llorente, David Dossot, Yeshim Deniz, Elizabeth White

Related Topics: Linux

Linux: Article

Opinion: Linux May Be the Main Life Support for Intel's Itanium

"If Intel Truly Believes in Itanium, Then It Has To Do Away With Windows"

There was a report last week at the “The Inquirer” that gave us a little insight into the prospects for the future arc of Intel’s Itanium server chip line.
 
For the past two years with the advent of the Opteron line of server chips that offer 32 and 64-bit native capability for the X86 code base, there have been loud rumbles about where Itanium now fits in the CPU landscape.  And even Intel has acknowledged that Opteron has created problems for Itanium in the market place as reported in September 2004 saying "I would be remiss to say the impact was zero, but the impact was mostly noise and confusion," Talwalkar (Abhi Talwalkar, general manager of Intel's Enterprise Platform Group) said of the decision, referred to as EM64T. "It set us back a few months, I think, with the general audience."
 
Yesterday’s report from The Inquirer adds a little resolution to the picture.  It reports that at the ceremony where the Intel CEO reins were handed from Craig Barret to Paul Otellini, “A former employee asked what Intel's plans were for the Itanium. Paul Otellini said it was a RISC replacement processor, typically running Linux. There are a number of companies who run SAP on Windows where the Itanium fits into the infrastructure nicely. Intel wasn't walking away from the Itanium, he said.”
 
Itanium is running Windows in some cases but it’s “typically” running Linux according to Intel.  Though there are some Itanium servers running Windows, Windows on Itanium is a dead-end path as Microsoft pointed out in 2004 saying then that Itanium just doesn’t run the Microsoft stack very well and it never will.   I guess growing up on X86, as Microsoft has, will do that to a code base.
 
If Itanium’ s future is pinned mainly to Linux, that says an awful lot.  It’s probably not likely that Itanium has much future unless Linux makes massive gains in market share over the next 5 years.  While that’s entirely possible, Itanium will still be just one of many architectures chasing a share of the market and it will be starting from a price/performance point that is not nearly as attractive as AMD’s Opteron for nearly all but a very few number crunching applications and even those are looking very challenged with the recent dual core Opterons from AMD.
 
Taking the more reasonable route that Linux will continue to along its growth curve in the server, cluster, workstation space and take somewhat longer to reach the desktop and laptop client space, then you have to wonder even more loudly about the future of Itanium.  Can an entire architecture survive on a very small fraction of the Linux server market?  Probably not but that’s a bridge we will cross when the time comes.
 
The most interesting aspect of this story to me is that Linux is nearly single handedly providing life support to the Itanium.  If Itanium ‘typically’ ships with Linux, what would Itanium be shipping with if Linux were not around?  Do you think this was Intel’s plan when it was rallying Sun, HP, IBM, Fujitsu, and the rest to follow it down the Itanium road in 1996 and 1997?  I think it’s safe to say ‘no’ to this question.
 
All along, Itanium’ s biggest problem has been software.  It’s enough of a different architecture that traditional X86 code runs poorly on it even after some massaging.  And it presents enough of a programming challenge for software folks that not a lot serious porting activity has taken place or what activity has taken place has run into problems and had to cut bait.  Microsoft went after a Windows product for Itanium but it just did not work out as X86 performance continued to scream upward in the late 1990s breathing new life into Windows on the client and now, in the server room. 
 
As usual, in rides Linux. Our little Linux brings with it top-shelf credentials for being easily ported and for being a good performer.  Linux, you would think, is not the enterprise match for Itanium that Intel had in mind in 1996. The proprietary Unix operating systems from Sun and others are probably better aligned with who Intel thinks Itanium should be used for but one by one, all the other players have dropped away.  Linux is the only player that can’t leave the table and so it remains, as a crutch for Intel’s 64-bit server chip.
 
An interesting aside, if Intel truly believes in Itanium, then it has to do away with Windows.  Windows is not coming to Itanium.  While killing off Windows is probably a pipe dream, even for a company with the resources of Intel, that’s what would need to happen to bring the industry to the point where Itanium is running the most widely used code base.  But that’s not really in Intel’s plan either.  The whole reason for Itanium, aside from moving the industry to a 64-bit platform, was to eliminate competition in the x86 CPU space by eliminating x86.  To eliminate x86, Intel needed Microsoft to embrace Itanium fully at which point Intel could move the industry to Itanium as volumes increased and prices decreased.  Intel would have been in a nice position of having an entire CPU space all to itself and as long as it maintained a value proposition that would steer the x86 code base toward legacy status. To do this however, Intel needed Windows.  With Windows, Intel has a proprietary code base that, eventually, only runs and gets maintained on Itanium.  Without Windows, Itanium is running on Linux and Linux runs on anything which means Itanium is one of many instead of THE one.
 
AMD’s Opteron and 64-bit client chips effectively took X86 Windows into the 64-bit space in a way Windows never would have with Itanium.  Windows performance in 64-bit mode is generally 5-10% better and in some cases is over 100% better where a large memory footprint is needed, like in terminal services and large databases.  Just as importantly, application developers can now take advantage of huge memory spaces and this should lead to nice gains in the next few years as application software catches up with hardware and now OS.
 
So, I put it to Intel this way: if Linux is the crutch propping up Itanium, let’s get after it and put some major development dollars into making Linux an unstoppable force on the client and on the server.  Oh, but wait, if you do that, then it will be an open playing field where the best CPU will have a chance to win because … Linux runs on everything.

In the end, I don’t think Intel has any hope here of winning with its Itanium.  Top shelf X86 is where the lion’s share of engineering focus is happening on design and process technologies.  X86 is probably where the future is for at least the next 5 years.  Linux will open up the playing field in the CPU space when it becomes the dominant code base and at that time, Microsoft will begin to start looking more like Apple does today than anything else – a quirky old OS for users that don’t mind a lot of hassles, a difficult to maintain product, and like something different – what a change that will be! 

But in the meantime, Intel should decide if being a bit player in a niche server market with no hope of proprietary control of the OS is really the road it wants to travel.  I would say no, Intel says yes.  I am betting it will change its mind before I change mine.
 
 

More Stories By Paul Nowak

Paul Nowak first used Linux in 1995 while migrating from Sun to Linux at the University of Michigan. He used Linux in subsequent IT projects including web, telecom, telemetry and embedded projects and is currently CIO of a small professional association based in Washington D.C.

Comments (6)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@ThingsExpo Stories
The 3rd International Internet of @ThingsExpo, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo - to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY - announces that its Call for Papers is now open. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the biggest idea since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago.
Cultural, regulatory, environmental, political and economic (CREPE) conditions over the past decade are creating cross-industry solution spaces that require processes and technologies from both the Internet of Things (IoT), and Data Management and Analytics (DMA). These solution spaces are evolving into Sensor Analytics Ecosystems (SAE) that represent significant new opportunities for organizations of all types. Public Utilities throughout the world, providing electricity, natural gas and water, are pursuing SmartGrid initiatives that represent one of the more mature examples of SAE. We have s...
The security devil is always in the details of the attack: the ones you've endured, the ones you prepare yourself to fend off, and the ones that, you fear, will catch you completely unaware and defenseless. The Internet of Things (IoT) is nothing if not an endless proliferation of details. It's the vision of a world in which continuous Internet connectivity and addressability is embedded into a growing range of human artifacts, into the natural world, and even into our smartphones, appliances, and physical persons. In the IoT vision, every new "thing" - sensor, actuator, data source, data con...
The Internet of Things is tied together with a thin strand that is known as time. Coincidentally, at the core of nearly all data analytics is a timestamp. When working with time series data there are a few core principles that everyone should consider, especially across datasets where time is the common boundary. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Jim Scott, Director of Enterprise Strategy & Architecture at MapR Technologies, discussed single-value, geo-spatial, and log time series data. By focusing on enterprise applications and the data center, he will use OpenTSDB as an example t...
How do APIs and IoT relate? The answer is not as simple as merely adding an API on top of a dumb device, but rather about understanding the architectural patterns for implementing an IoT fabric. There are typically two or three trends: Exposing the device to a management framework Exposing that management framework to a business centric logic Exposing that business layer and data to end users. This last trend is the IoT stack, which involves a new shift in the separation of what stuff happens, where data lives and where the interface lies. For instance, it's a mix of architectural styles ...
An entirely new security model is needed for the Internet of Things, or is it? Can we save some old and tested controls for this new and different environment? In his session at @ThingsExpo, New York's at the Javits Center, Davi Ottenheimer, EMC Senior Director of Trust, reviewed hands-on lessons with IoT devices and reveal a new risk balance you might not expect. Davi Ottenheimer, EMC Senior Director of Trust, has more than nineteen years' experience managing global security operations and assessments, including a decade of leading incident response and digital forensics. He is co-author of t...
The Internet of Things will greatly expand the opportunities for data collection and new business models driven off of that data. In her session at @ThingsExpo, Esmeralda Swartz, CMO of MetraTech, discussed how for this to be effective you not only need to have infrastructure and operational models capable of utilizing this new phenomenon, but increasingly service providers will need to convince a skeptical public to participate. Get ready to show them the money!
The Internet of Things will put IT to its ultimate test by creating infinite new opportunities to digitize products and services, generate and analyze new data to improve customer satisfaction, and discover new ways to gain a competitive advantage across nearly every industry. In order to help corporate business units to capitalize on the rapidly evolving IoT opportunities, IT must stand up to a new set of challenges. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jeff Kaplan, Managing Director of THINKstrategies, will examine why IT must finally fulfill its role in support of its SBUs or face a new round of...
One of the biggest challenges when developing connected devices is identifying user value and delivering it through successful user experiences. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Mike Kuniavsky, Principal Scientist, Innovation Services at PARC, described an IoT-specific approach to user experience design that combines approaches from interaction design, industrial design and service design to create experiences that go beyond simple connected gadgets to create lasting, multi-device experiences grounded in people's real needs and desires.
Enthusiasm for the Internet of Things has reached an all-time high. In 2013 alone, venture capitalists spent more than $1 billion dollars investing in the IoT space. With "smart" appliances and devices, IoT covers wearable smart devices, cloud services to hardware companies. Nest, a Google company, detects temperatures inside homes and automatically adjusts it by tracking its user's habit. These technologies are quickly developing and with it come challenges such as bridging infrastructure gaps, abiding by privacy concerns and making the concept a reality. These challenges can't be addressed w...
The Domain Name Service (DNS) is one of the most important components in networking infrastructure, enabling users and services to access applications by translating URLs (names) into IP addresses (numbers). Because every icon and URL and all embedded content on a website requires a DNS lookup loading complex sites necessitates hundreds of DNS queries. In addition, as more internet-enabled ‘Things' get connected, people will rely on DNS to name and find their fridges, toasters and toilets. According to a recent IDG Research Services Survey this rate of traffic will only grow. What's driving t...
Scott Jenson leads a project called The Physical Web within the Chrome team at Google. Project members are working to take the scalability and openness of the web and use it to talk to the exponentially exploding range of smart devices. Nearly every company today working on the IoT comes up with the same basic solution: use my server and you'll be fine. But if we really believe there will be trillions of these devices, that just can't scale. We need a system that is open a scalable and by using the URL as a basic building block, we open this up and get the same resilience that the web enjoys.
Connected devices and the Internet of Things are getting significant momentum in 2014. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Jim Hunter, Chief Scientist & Technology Evangelist at Greenwave Systems, examined three key elements that together will drive mass adoption of the IoT before the end of 2015. The first element is the recent advent of robust open source protocols (like AllJoyn and WebRTC) that facilitate M2M communication. The second is broad availability of flexible, cost-effective storage designed to handle the massive surge in back-end data in a world where timely analytics is e...
We are reaching the end of the beginning with WebRTC, and real systems using this technology have begun to appear. One challenge that faces every WebRTC deployment (in some form or another) is identity management. For example, if you have an existing service – possibly built on a variety of different PaaS/SaaS offerings – and you want to add real-time communications you are faced with a challenge relating to user management, authentication, authorization, and validation. Service providers will want to use their existing identities, but these will have credentials already that are (hopefully) i...
"Matrix is an ambitious open standard and implementation that's set up to break down the fragmentation problems that exist in IP messaging and VoIP communication," explained John Woolf, Technical Evangelist at Matrix, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
P2P RTC will impact the landscape of communications, shifting from traditional telephony style communications models to OTT (Over-The-Top) cloud assisted & PaaS (Platform as a Service) communication services. The P2P shift will impact many areas of our lives, from mobile communication, human interactive web services, RTC and telephony infrastructure, user federation, security and privacy implications, business costs, and scalability. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Robin Raymond, Chief Architect at Hookflash, will walk through the shifting landscape of traditional telephone and voice services ...
Explosive growth in connected devices. Enormous amounts of data for collection and analysis. Critical use of data for split-second decision making and actionable information. All three are factors in making the Internet of Things a reality. Yet, any one factor would have an IT organization pondering its infrastructure strategy. How should your organization enhance its IT framework to enable an Internet of Things implementation? In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, James Kirkland, Chief Architect for the Internet of Things and Intelligent Systems at Red Hat, described how to revolutioniz...
Bit6 today issued a challenge to the technology community implementing Web Real Time Communication (WebRTC). To leap beyond WebRTC’s significant limitations and fully leverage its underlying value to accelerate innovation, application developers need to consider the entire communications ecosystem.
The definition of IoT is not new, in fact it’s been around for over a decade. What has changed is the public's awareness that the technology we use on a daily basis has caught up on the vision of an always on, always connected world. If you look into the details of what comprises the IoT, you’ll see that it includes everything from cloud computing, Big Data analytics, “Things,” Web communication, applications, network, storage, etc. It is essentially including everything connected online from hardware to software, or as we like to say, it’s an Internet of many different things. The difference ...
Cloud Expo 2014 TV commercials will feature @ThingsExpo, which was launched in June, 2014 at New York City's Javits Center as the largest 'Internet of Things' event in the world.