Microsoft Dumps Itanium As Business Shifts

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Changes in its business and consumer focus suggest that Microsoft could be moving out of the Dark Ages and preparing a comeback

Microsoft is repositioning to take advantage of IT trends such as cloud computing, with moves like ending support for Intel’s Itanium chip in its servers. Meanwhile, on the consumer side, meanwhile, Microsoft is making a bid to regain ground lost over the past couple of years to Google.

Microsoft plans to end support for Intel’s Itanium chip in its server software, apparently based on the belief that later advances in chip technology – and in particular Intel’s Xeon family – have made Itanium dispensable. As a result, Windows Server 2008 R2 will likely be the last version of Windows Server to support Itanium.

Intel’s EPIC (Explicitly Parallel Instruction Computing) architecture chips will receive their last go-round from Microsoft in the SQL Server 2008 R2 and Visual Studio 2010 products.

x64 evolution beats the rest?

“The natural evolution of the x86 64-bit (‘x64’) architecture has led to the creation of processors and servers which deliver the scalability and reliability needed for today’s ‘mission critical’ workloads,” Dan Reger, a Microsoft senior technical product manager, wrote earlier in April on the Windows Server blog. “Both Intel and AMD have released new high core-count processors, and servers with eight or more x64 processors have now been announced by a full dozen server manufacturers. Such servers contain 64 to 96 processor cores, with more on the horizon.” Examples of the new x86 servers include machines from IBM and Cisco.

Extended support for Itanium-based systems and R2 will continue through July 2018, added Reger. “Microsoft will continue to focus on the x64 architecture and its new business-critical role, while we continue to support Itanium customers for the next eight years as this transition is completed.”

Although Intel’s plans for Itanium ostensibly extend well into the future, Intel executives have publicly stated that they expect many mainframe and HP-UX-based machines to migrate to eight-core Xeon 7500 “Nehalem EX” processors over time – and are vocal about the next steps for Xeon. The Xeon 7500 processors, which offer three times the performance of previous Xeons, are targeted at high-end servers currently powered by RISC processors, and mainframes that currently leverage Itanium for their architecture.

The end of Essential Business Server

Microsoft’s fine-tuning of its business offerings, the better to adjust to a changing landscape, was also evident in its announcement that it will discontinue future development of its Windows Essential Business Server (EBS), effective at the end of June. Although it had been meant as an IT infrastructure option for midsize businesses, EBS found itself apparently outpaced by advances in cloud computing and virtualisation. Tools in those areas were already integrated into offerings such as Windows Server 2008 R2 and BPOS (Business Productivity Online Suite), leading Microsoft to finally terminate EBS.

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