Welcome!

XML Authors: Elizabeth White, Carmen Gonzalez, Jnan Dash, Pat Romanski, Mike Kavis

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) View Comments

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.


Most Recent Comments
Brent Emery Pieczynski 06/15/05 04:19:15 PM EDT

This zealotic group which loves Microsoft, will deserve to get sued by Microsoft; as a result of, attempting to make the OS work. The market for patch kits must be protected, through a subscription fee to prevent, the Self-Destruct.

Warren Spencer 06/13/05 04:40:13 PM EDT

Interesting article, but you left out the 'big iron' OS's that run on Itanium. If you will recall, the Itanium was never meant to be an x86 killer, but rather a replacement for PA-Risc, and later, Alpha. OpenVMS and HP-UX are where the real Itanium action, and big corporate dollars, are.

Louis HR Muller 05/21/05 12:32:19 AM EDT

I suspect that IBM will do all it can to replace the present IBM PC with a new generation based upon Linux running on the PowerPC. IBM's PC has made more money for Intel and Microsoft than it has for IBM. Linux is the perfect way for IBM to sell more hardware and services if they could have a new line of computers based upon the PowerPC. Who would even need the Itanium under those circumstances?

Vasileios Anagnostopoulos 05/20/05 07:03:53 PM EDT

I think that the initial planning of INTEL for Itanium was bull.... . It should embrace all BSDs also along with Linux and it is here to stay. I don't find curious that SGI ships Itanium/Linux. Maybe Intel should also start playing with other OSs like ZetaOS and SkyOS. Itanium is a great (and expensive) piece of hardware. If they follow the OpenRoad they will succeed. OpenSolaris has a lot to offer also. They even have a gcj/SWT option for java. Not to mention TCL/TK , Python , Perl etc... AND the MIGHTY GnuStep. Intel should try very hard to fail with all these forces on its side. We will see. Are they clever enough ??? If not , I will turn to PowerPC

rnt78 05/20/05 04:09:05 PM EDT

Intel + Linux = pprofits, that's why the discussion is so hot at Yahoo! Finance

Paul Nowak 05/20/05 12:24:12 PM EDT

There seems to be a lot of discussion on this article here (you'll have to paste the long url together:

(http://messages.yahoo.com/bbs?.mm=FN&action=m&board=4687810&tid=amd
&sid=4687810&mid=1188697&thr=1188697&cur=1188697)

Paul

@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.
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...
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...
There's Big Data, then there's really Big Data from the Internet of Things. IoT is evolving to include many data possibilities like new types of event, log and network data. The volumes are enormous, generating tens of billions of logs per day, which raise data challenges. Early IoT deployments are relying heavily on both the cloud and managed service providers to navigate these challenges. In her session at Big Data Expo®, Hannah Smalltree, Director at Treasure Data, discussed how IoT, Big Data and deployments are processing massive data volumes from wearables, utilities and other machines...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Gridstore™, the leader in hyper-converged infrastructure purpose-built to optimize Microsoft workloads, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Gridstore™ is the leader in hyper-converged infrastructure purpose-built for Microsoft workloads and designed to accelerate applications in virtualized environments. Gridstore’s hyper-converged infrastructure is the industry’s first all flash version of HyperConverged Appliances that include both compute and storag...
The Internet of Things promises to transform businesses (and lives), but navigating the business and technical path to success can be difficult to understand. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Sean Lorenz, Technical Product Manager for Xively at LogMeIn, demonstrated how to approach creating broadly successful connected customer solutions using real world business transformation studies including New England BioLabs and more.
WebRTC defines no default signaling protocol, causing fragmentation between WebRTC silos. SIP and XMPP provide possibilities, but come with considerable complexity and are not designed for use in a web environment. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Matthew Hodgson, technical co-founder of the Matrix.org, discussed how Matrix is a new non-profit Open Source Project that defines both a new HTTP-based standard for VoIP & IM signaling and provides reference implementations.
DevOps Summit 2015 New York, 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 it is now accepting Keynote Proposals. The widespread success of cloud computing is driving the DevOps revolution in enterprise IT. Now as never before, development teams must communicate and collaborate in a dynamic, 24/7/365 environment. There is no time to wait for long development cycles that produce software that is obsolete at launch. DevOps may be disruptive, but it is essential.
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...
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...
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.
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 ...
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 ...
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...
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 ...
"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.
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...
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...
The 3rd International @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 it is now accepting Keynote Proposals. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the most profound change in personal and enterprise IT since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago. All major researchers estimate there will be tens of billions devices - computers, smartphones, tablets, and sensors - connected to the Internet by 2020. This number will continue to grow at a rapid pace for the next several decades.