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IBM, HP Reveal Itanium Workstation Strategy

Although Microsoft doesn’t plan to release a 64-bit version of Windows until the second half of next year, Itanium users may see the Start button as soon as March. IBM Corp. and Hewlett Packard Co. plan to support Windows on their Itanium workstations once Intel Corp. releases the chip.

IBM and HP both plan to begin shipping Itanium workstations the day Intel formally releases the processors, which they now believe will be in March. HP also plans to ship Itanium servers under its HP9000 line of HP-UX Unix servers.

IBM plans to support three operating systems on its Intellistation workstation: Windows, Linux, and its AIX 5L Unix flavor. Big Blue will offer four different distributions of Linux, Redhat, Caldera, TurboLinux, and SuSE to appeal to a broad variety of Linux users.

HP, which aided Intel in the design of the Itanium processor, plans to support HP-UX, RedHat Linux, and 64-bit Windows. Barry Crume, business line manager for Itaniuim workstations at HP, says Itanium presents unique possiblilties for HP-UX. “We’ve put hooks in the [processor] code to help run HP-UX,” he says.

“We expect that there will not be final versions of many of these operating systems,” says Rick Rudd, product manager for the IBM z-Pro workstation. Although the 64-bit version of Linux is publicly available today, its developers consider it a beta release.  Since Linux is open-source and free, users can run a beta version of Linux unconcerned about licensing, although it may not be as stable as a final release.

What is trickier is IBM’s commitment to Windows on the Itanium workstation. Because Microsoft will not ship a production version of Itanium until at least the second half of 2001, users will not have a supported version of the operating system. However, Microsoft has provided OEMs like IBM and HP with a beta version to distribute to preferred customers for evaluation purposes. Vendors have distributed about 50,000 evaluation machines to customers. “We have customers hungry to get their hands on machines,” Rudd says.

Rudd says that IBM will install AIX and Linux on the workstations it sells, but will not ship machines with Windows installed. However, users interested in 64-bit Windows, more than half of IBMs customers, may have another option. “We will be more than happy to help customers get their hands on beta code,” he says. Rudd expects that some customers will use the beta code in production environments.

HP is taking a different tack in releasing its low-end Itanium workstations. Although HP expects the bulk of its sales to be HP-UX related, Crume expects Windows and Linux demand to be great. “Our workstations will be shipping Windows betas in the box,” he says. HP and IBM are both waiting for Microsoft to solidify its plans for distributing 64-bit Windows betas after Itanium is released, Crume says, so vendors are waiting to make final decisions,”This is not done yet.”

Both IBM and HP will use Intel’s 460GX chipset in motherboards. “We will be using Intes’ supported technology and commodity hardware, so to speak,” Crume says. Interestingly, Intel is departing from its aggressive support for RamBus technology on its motherboards, to standard SDRAM and a 100MHz front side bus. IBM says it plans to install Matrox Electronic Systems’ G450 video card and an analogous card from Nvidia Corp.

Both Rudd and Crume are optimistic about Windows’ future on the Itanium plaform. “The Unix world is gradually moving to Windows 2000 and NT,” Crume says, believing that Itanium will allow Windows to find a new place in the enterprise. – Christopher McConnell

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.