A berated Itanium begins to find feet

Despite wearing its fair share of industry criticism for sluggish uptake and a dearth of ISV support, Intel's Itanium2 64-bit processor has proven good value for a national distribution company which undertook a system upgrade.

Fashion and sporting goods distributor True Alliance began a SAP upgrade earlier this year and in the process decided it was time to make the leap from its 32-bit HP server.

Anne Kremer, True Alliance's business technology manager, said the company invests in best-of-breed systems to ensure its staff are adequately supported by technology.

"The upgrade was largely a strategic business benefit," Kremer said. "It's a platform for future growth and enables staff to provide better customer service."

Established in 1982, True Alliance has nine sites around the country - including retail stores - all linked over a WAN, and according to the company's technical manager Regan MacDonald, pure 64-bit was "clearly the direction for us to go".

"We wanted to make the technology leap as there was no benefit to compromising with 64-bit extensions," MacDonald said. "There's more timely distribution of information such as sales analysis and the speed of reporting - the reports fly through!"

True Alliance purchased a four-way HP Integrity system with 8GB of memory and 1TB of storage running Windows Server 2003 with an Oracle 9.2 database.

At this stage True Alliance will dedicate the system to Windows, but the fact that Itanium is capable of running Unix and Linux "didn't go unnoticed" as "it's nice to know it's capable".

Kremer was "pleasantly surprised" at how Itanium fitted within the upgrade budget which totalled $280,000 - including the software upgrades and consulting.

"Also, because Itanium runs Windows, the upgrade to 64-bit was transparent which was important," she said.

Kremer said this upgrade has paved the way for more adoption and the company is looking to extend its Itanium use.

The project took five months and went live in late October.

Peter Hall, HP's Asia Pacific director of business critical systems, said the criticism Itanium has attracted, for reasons like price performance, operating system support and application availability, is unjustified.

"Itanium has better OS support than other 64-bit architectures because it can run Unix, Windows and Linux," Hall said. "That's a big part of our message - you never know when you might need an application that only runs on one of those operating systems. This type of flexibility reduces risk in server purchasing."

Hall said the price performance of Itanium has improved aggressively in comparison with proprietary RISC processors and it's already only a 10 to 15 percent premium over x86 processors.

Regarding ISV support for Itanium, Hall said there are now about 2700 available applications and all the big names are there.

In the second quarter of this year shipments of HP's enterprise systems with Itanium processors was at 55 percent - already above PA-RISC-based systems at 45 percent, Hall said.

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