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Itanium On The See-Saw

Is the Itanium market cratering or flourishing? You may think there'd be a clear answer to that, and it's not at all an unimportant question -- the direction in which Itanium is headed is going to influence a lot of big-bucks budget decisions for many of you.
But figuring this one out is like trying to plan your next five years by reading wet tea leaves at the bottom of a cup -- some psychic out there may be able to do it, but I sure can't. On the one hand, we have reports that say the Itanium platform is facing huge challenges from the low end, in the form of x86 machines and more capable software that -- especially in a clustered environment -- can handle a lot of what you'd like a high-end Itanium server to do. The push toward increasingly efficient blade server racks, being led most recently by IBM in the shape of its recent blade announcement, doesn't help. And my Network Computing colleague Tim Wilson accurately notes that Intel itself has whacked several Itanium and Itanium 2 processors from its lineup recently, which could be good business streamlining for Intel but doesn't help purchasing matters any for you -- or indicate the strongest market placement.

But then we also have a new report from IDC that sees the Itanium market growing 35 percent over the next five years, driven by high customer satisfaction, solid intent-to-purchase ratings for Itanium-based servers, and an expected heavy migration from Hewlett-Packard's proprietary PA-RISC servers. And we also have Intel and HP, the Itanium's developers, and a consortium of high-end server manufacturers dropping $10 billion into Itanium R&D and resources to grow the market. That's not chump change, and it's not from companies accustomed to throwing away good money after bad.

So which way does this break? Is there still the market for a higher-end server platform that IDC obviously thinks is there? Or can you all get it done with smaller platforms these days? We may not have that answer for a few more years, but I'd love to know what you think while we wait.