Eyes Above The Waves

Robert O'Callahan. Christian. Repatriate Kiwi. Hacker.

Saturday 2 July 2016

Itanium Zombie Claims Another Victim

Oracle owes HP $3B for (temporarily) dropping support for Itanium CPUs in 2011. This is the latest in a long line of embarrassments caused by that architecture. Its long, sad and very expensive story is under-reported and under-appreciated in the industry, probably because Intel, thanks to its x86 near-monopoly, ended up shrugging it off with no long-lasting ill effects. I'm disappointed about that; market efficiency requires that companies that make such enormous blunders should suffer. Ironically Intel's partners who jumped on the Itanium bandwagon --- HP, SGI, DEC, and even software companies such as Microsoft and Oracle --- ended up suffering a lot more than Intel did. Someone should do a proper retrospective and try to tally up the billions of dollars wasted and the products and companies ruined.

It was all so forseeable, too. I was in graduate school during Itanium development and there was massive skepticism in the CMU CS department that Itanium's explicit ILP would ever work well in the face of the unpredictable runtime behavior of real code. People correctly predicted that the compiler advances required were, in fact, unachievable. Corporate agendas, large budgets, and some over-optimistic academic researchers trumped common sense.

This amusing graph is a fine illustration of the folly of trusting "industry analysts", if any were needed.


Kyle Huey
That INTC survived the Itanic shows just how strong a market position they had at the time. The supreme irony is that with their immense cashflow, manufacturing ability, and cross-licensing agreements Intel was able to take more advantage of amd64 than even AMD itself.