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Itanium line delays another chip's arrival

When HP chose a partner to help build its enterprise-grade processors, the company picked the market leader more than a decade ago. But HP hardly could have imagined a world of 2006, when delays at Intel's chip foundries would keep customers from making the move to HP's latest business computers.

In summary, that's what Intel's announcement last week means to the HP 3000 customer looking forward to moving up to faster, more price-competitive servers. Intel announced that it will be delaying not only its Montecito generation of Itanium chips, but the next two generations beyond. Tukwilla, the chip that knows how to idle at extemely low power, as well as an in-between improvement to Montecito, Montvale, have also been delayed.

The holdup looks to be about six months of delivery, according to Intel's report. But that can turn out to be a crucial six months for the HP 3000 customers. Those who need to stick with HP for support, well, they've been looking at the second half of 2006 as a very important period of installation for 3000 alternatives. The Intel news appears to be a factor in kicking Montecito-based HP Integrity servers into 2007 delivery. That's a significant six months for many HP 3000 sites.

About a year ago we reported from a survey that the HP 3000 community seemed to have little focus on Itanium, Integrity or anything unrelated to PA-RISC-based HP alternatives. But while I attended the HP Technology Forum last week, I observed a good deal of interest about the Itanium-based line from HP. The questions that came up in the new Integrity SIG meeting — until last week, a group called SIG Itanium — where about "when?" Not "how?" or "how much?"

Even HP was eager to know when it could begin to sell Montecito-based Integrity servers. The lead on HP's sales team to FedEx — already an HP-UX site — wanted a released date he could tell his customer. HP answered those questions last week by saying mid-2006. HP's Brian Cox, worldwide product line manager for business critical servers, said that a Montecito-based demo Integrity server was running up in the Confidential Disclosure suite at the show. That system, and about 40 running throughout HP as similar demos, will apparently be all of the Montecito rollout HP will enjoy during 2006.

How much difference can six months really make to a 3000 customer looking over new hardware during 2006? Itanium 2 hardware, in any configuration, will seem faster to the 3000 site which is accustomed to Series 9x9, PA-8500 processors. Even the fastest generation of 3000s, the N-Class servers, are going to run a lot slower when a customer is using an N-Class that's been hamstrung by HP's MPE/iX processor-slowdown code. But knowing that HP and Intel's roadmap could have delivered a dual core revision of Itanium in time for a migration purchase? That's a coulda-been that might have some impact on migration schedules, at least for customers who have the elbow room in their deployment schedules. Some sites might take all of 2006 to finish, especially those which need stability in the last quarter to manage holiday commerce.