That sinking feeling: Itanic spat's back as HPE Oracle trial resumes

Ex-friends in Intel's old Itanium alliance reboot hostilities


Oracle is back in court, this time fending off a $3bn case brought by Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

A week after it lost to Google on Java, Oracle is now resuming its fight with HPE over damages relating to HPE's claims that Oracle back-tracked on a commitment to put its software on HP servers running Intel’s Itanic chips.

HPE alleged Oracle reneged on its promise shortly after the latter bought Sun Microsystems in 2010 for $8.5bn. A year after the deal, Oracle said it would not make a version of its database to run on Itanium hardware. That was when this particular suit was filed, in 2011.

In August 2012, the court ruled that Oracle must port its software to HP’s Itanic hardware, saying the giant was obliged to do so until HP stopped selling the machines. The company appealed against the decision, but lost.

The damages phase of the trial was delayed then but resumes now.

HPE has argued Oracle’s decision robbed it of $1.7bn in sales before the trial and a further $1.3bn post-trial sales. Oracle had argued it was under no obligation to put its software on HP’s Itanic hardware and says HPE doesn't deserve damages.

Struggling to place Itanic? Let me help.

Itanic, or IA-64, or Itanium, was Intel’s project that began in 1991 to build a powerful x86 alternative to the RISC brutes such as IBM’s Power and Sun’s SPARC.

By 1999, Intel persuaded the most important operating systems makers of the time to port to IA-64 – Microsoft, SGI, Compaq, HP, Novell, Sun Microsystems and IBM.

Their backing was critical, because IA-64 demanded they write their software differently.

IA-64 used VLIW (very large instruction word) architecture that put the onus of optimizing the code onto the compiler writer.

The pressure was on the compiler to ascertain how the code should best run. If it guessed wrong, then software would run slowly, no matter what was added to the hardware in terms of expensive large on-die caches to improve performance.

Half a decade later, most had mothballed or sidelined their IA-64 work with just HP pushing hard to step out of its own proprietary Unix chip business.

IA-64 is marketed today as Itanium and is targeted at mainframe-like performance and multi-threading, but its future has always been uncertain. Itanium runs on HP’s Integrity Superdome family, being pitched for hyper convergence and massive real—time workloads.

HP’s UX 11i v3 supports the Itanium 9500 series and has fully committed (PDF) to Intel's successor Itanium, codenamed Kittson, until 2025. ®

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