IBM to optimize WebSphere for Intel Itanium chip

IBM Corp. will soon announce that it has optimized its flagship application server software to run on Intel Corp.'s Itanium processor, a source familiar with Big Blue's plans said Tuesday.

IBM's Java-based WebSphere application server software platform will add Intel's 64-bit Itanium chip family to its list of suitable compute platforms, the source said.

BEA Systems Inc. on Monday announced similar plans to optimize its WebLogic software to Itanium.

Later this year, Hewlett-Packard Co., which co-developed Itanium along with Intel, will release HP Bluestone Total-e-Server products also optimized to Itanium, an HP source said.

The decisions by BEA, IBM, and HP to tune their separate Java-based application server technologies to Intel's Itanium processor collectively threaten Sun Microsystems and its Sparc computing architecture. The option to run IBM's WebSphere or HP's Bluestone on Itanium will give IBM and HP the advantage of lower cost compared to Sun Microsystems Inc.'s iPlanet application server technology, which runs on Sun's UltraSparc chips. BEA's decision to support Itanium could hurt Sun even worse, as Sun customers running BEA's WebLogic on UltraSparc will now be able to scale their networks out on less expensive Intel-based computers, according to Evan Quinn, an industry analyst at The Hurwitz Group, based in Framingham, Massachusetts.

Sun officials believe the moves by BEA, IBM, and HP leave the application server market "unchanged," a Sun spokesperson said. Defiantly, Sun believes its UltraSparc platform is significantly more mature and reliable than Intel's fledgling Itanium chip, which hit the market earlier this year.

Quinn believes that Sun's maturity in the application server space will make it a tough competitor to topple.

"No question about it, Sun has become competitively rather strong [in the application server market]," Quinn said. "So if you're in HP's shoes, you view Itanium as a nice opportunity to try and get HP-UX -- HP's operating system -- and the rest of the solution stack HP now owns to post itself up against Sun and their entire stack. And IBM is in a similar situation, that they've got their own hardware and their own operating system and their own services to sell against Sun."

"Then you've got BEA, arguably the market leader [in application server software], and what do they not have? They don't have the full solution stack inside of their own four walls, so they've had to partner with Sun to run on UltraSparc, but they don't want to be too beholden to Sun because Sun has got iPlanet, and that's going to be Sun's first choice for Sun customers," Quinn said.

"Sun has done a good job," Quinn said. "It is not going to be easy for someone to walk in and dislodge them; they've had the market momentum. From a chip perspective, Itanium gives Intel a way fight back against UltraSparc. In the operating system space, it gives HP's early allegiance to Itanium a way to fight back against [Sun's operating system] Solaris, and in the case of BEA it gives them a platform to try to stand out on. There is no standout [application server] right now on Itanium."

BEA's WebLogic software will be optimized to both Intel's 64-bit Itanium processors and future 32-bit chips like Intel's Xeon processors, said Deborah Conrad, the vice president and general manager of Intel's solutions market development group.

"For BEA customers that are on Sun, I think this is certainly the beginning of a very long term migration towards more of an Intel, or commodity, market for application servers," said Nick Gall, the vice president and director of Meta Group, an industry think tank based in Stamford, Connecticut.

Representatives from both BEA and Intel said they believe the alliance will significantly expand the market share for WebLogic deployments on Intel architecture.

The announcement represents another significant endorsement of Itanium, which is the first in a long road map of 64-bit processors expected from Intel. Last June, Compaq embraced Itanium with news that the computer maker would begin the slow transition to an exclusively Intel-based product line.

However, with Itanium viewed by most experts as merely proof-of-concept for Intel's 64-bit architecture, users will likely wait for a second-generation Itanium chip called McKinley before deploying any mission-critical applications atop an Itanium chip.

"Everybody we've talked to so far, people that would be buying into the Itanium family, have indicated that the real product starts in the McKinley time frame," Gall said.

Until then, Gall said most companies will use Itanium-powered servers to migrate applications and prepare for the arrival of McKinley. McKinley is expected in early 2002, according to Intel.

WebLogic is already optimized for 32-bit Intel Xeon processors, Intel's marquee 32-bit server chip. Future 32-bit Intel chips will be optimized to run BEA's software as well, according to Intel officials.

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