IBM, BEA, HP eye Itanium

High-end software will soon be running on commodity chips from Intel as companies including IBM, BEA Systems, and Hewlett-Packard optimise their marquee application server products for the Itanium processor.

The move by BEA, IBM, and HP to support Intel's Itanium chip will spawn application server platforms that are less expensive than equivalent platforms running on Unix-based processors, experts said. Itanium's availability in the application server market could also threaten Sun Microsystems Inc., particularly if the majority of Sun customers running BEA's WebLogic software begin using non-Sun hardware.

IBM is currently in the process of optimizing its Java-based WebSphere line of application server software to the 64-bit Itanium chip, said Scott Hebner, director of marketing for IBM's WebSphere technology in Somers, N.Y. Big Blue has been publicly demonstrating its Java technology running on Itanium for more than 14 months.

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

Beating the competition to an official announcement, BEA said last week that the pure software company would optimize its immensely popular WebLogic software to Itanium.

Approximately 70 percent of BEA's WebLogic customers are on Sun's proprietary UltraSparc platform, a Sun representative said.

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

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's iPlanet application server technology that runs on Sun's UltraSparc chips.

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

"Sun has done a good job," said Evan Quinn, an industry analyst at Hurwitz Group in Framingham, Mass. "It is not going to be easy for someone to walk in and dislodge them, they've had the market momentum."

With Sun committed to selling its own iPlanet application server software to its customers, the best BEA could have hoped for with Sun was to be the No. 2 choice for Sun customers, Quinn said. With Itanium, BEA now has the opportunity to re-create its success with Sun's UltraSparc platform on Intel's industry-standard chips. "Itanium gives [BEA] a platform to try to stand out on. There is no standout [application server] right now on Itanium," Quinn said.

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