Welcome!

Linux Containers Authors: Liz McMillan, Kevin Sparenberg, Karyn Jeffery, Elizabeth White, Yeshim Deniz

Related Topics: Linux Containers

Linux Containers: 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
"DX encompasses the continuing technology revolution, and is addressing society's most important issues throughout the entire $78 trillion 21st-century global economy," said Roger Strukhoff, Conference Chair. "DX World Expo has organized these issues along 10 tracks with more than 150 of the world's top speakers coming to Istanbul to help change the world."
While the focus and objectives of IoT initiatives are many and diverse, they all share a few common attributes, and one of those is the network. Commonly, that network includes the Internet, over which there isn't any real control for performance and availability. Or is there? The current state of the art for Big Data analytics, as applied to network telemetry, offers new opportunities for improving and assuring operational integrity. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jim Frey, Vice President of S...
"We provide IoT solutions. We provide the most compatible solutions for many applications. Our solutions are industry agnostic and also protocol agnostic," explained Richard Han, Head of Sales and Marketing and Engineering at Systena America, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
"We are focused on SAP running in the clouds, to make this super easy because we believe in the tremendous value of those powerful worlds - SAP and the cloud," explained Frank Stienhans, CTO of Ocean9, Inc., in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
DX World EXPO, LLC., a Lighthouse Point, Florida-based startup trade show producer and the creator of "DXWorldEXPO® - Digital Transformation Conference & Expo" has announced its executive management team. The team is headed by Levent Selamoglu, who has been named CEO. "Now is the time for a truly global DX event, to bring together the leading minds from the technology world in a conversation about Digital Transformation," he said in making the announcement.
"We've been engaging with a lot of customers including Panasonic, we've been involved with Cisco and now we're working with the U.S. government - the Department of Homeland Security," explained Peter Jung, Chief Product Officer at Pulzze Systems, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
The financial services market is one of the most data-driven industries in the world, yet it’s bogged down by legacy CPU technologies that simply can’t keep up with the task of querying and visualizing billions of records. In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, Karthik Lalithraj, a Principal Solutions Architect at Kinetica, discussed how the advent of advanced in-database analytics on the GPU makes it possible to run sophisticated data science workloads on the same database that is housing the rich...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Massive Networks will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Massive Networks mission is simple. To help your business operate seamlessly with fast, reliable, and secure internet and network solutions. Improve your customer's experience with outstanding connections to your cloud.
Everything run by electricity will eventually be connected to the Internet. Get ahead of the Internet of Things revolution and join Akvelon expert and IoT industry leader, Sergey Grebnov, in his session at @ThingsExpo, for an educational dive into the world of managing your home, workplace and all the devices they contain with the power of machine-based AI and intelligent Bot services for a completely streamlined experience.
Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place October 31 - November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 21st Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. 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 devic...
"The Striim platform is a full end-to-end streaming integration and analytics platform that is middleware that covers a lot of different use cases," explained Steve Wilkes, Founder and CTO at Striim, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Calligo, an innovative cloud service provider offering mid-sized companies the highest levels of data privacy and security, has been named "Bronze Sponsor" of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo ®, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Calligo offers unparalleled application performance guarantees, commercial flexibility and a personalised support service from its globally located cloud plat...
SYS-CON Events announced today that DXWorldExpo has been named “Global Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Digital Transformation is the key issue driving the global enterprise IT business. Digital Transformation is most prominent among Global 2000 enterprises and government institutions.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Datera, that offers a radically new data management architecture, has been named "Exhibitor" of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo ®, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Datera is transforming the traditional datacenter model through modern cloud simplicity. The technology industry is at another major inflection point. The rise of mobile, the Internet of Things, data storage and Big...
"MobiDev is a Ukraine-based software development company. We do mobile development, and we're specialists in that. But we do full stack software development for entrepreneurs, for emerging companies, and for enterprise ventures," explained Alan Winters, U.S. Head of Business Development at MobiDev, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
SYS-CON Events announced today that DXWorldExpo has been named “Global Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Digital Transformation is the key issue driving the global enterprise IT business. Digital Transformation is most prominent among Global 2000 enterprises and government institutions.
In his opening keynote at 20th Cloud Expo, Michael Maximilien, Research Scientist, Architect, and Engineer at IBM, discussed the full potential of the cloud and social data requires artificial intelligence. By mixing Cloud Foundry and the rich set of Watson services, IBM's Bluemix is the best cloud operating system for enterprises today, providing rapid development and deployment of applications that can take advantage of the rich catalog of Watson services to help drive insights from the vast t...
SYS-CON Events announced today that EnterpriseTech has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. EnterpriseTech is a professional resource for news and intelligence covering the migration of high-end technologies into the enterprise and business-IT industry, with a special focus on high-tech solutions in new product development, workload management, increased effic...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Massive Networks, that helps your business operate seamlessly with fast, reliable, and secure internet and network solutions, has been named "Exhibitor" of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo ®, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. As a premier telecommunications provider, Massive Networks is headquartered out of Louisville, Colorado. With years of experience under their belt, their team of...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Cloud Academy named "Bronze Sponsor" of 21st International Cloud Expo which will take place October 31 - November 2, 2017 at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Cloud Academy is the industry’s most innovative, vendor-neutral cloud technology training platform. Cloud Academy provides continuous learning solutions for individuals and enterprise teams for Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform, and the most popular cloud com...