The processors that were once seen as the future of computing power have now been laid to rest as new technologies take the stage. This demise was foreshadowed in HP’s 2014 announcement of its new Superdome X and Nonstop X servers coming with Intel’s Xeon processors, a bold move given HP’s loyalty to the Itanium processing series. The support for Itanium for the next few years did not whither away, however, until Intel officially announced the end of an era this Thursday with the decree of termination of its long-reigning Itanium 64-bit micro processing series through the discontinuation of the 9700 series Kittson processors.
The Kittson processors were the last Intel chips running on the trademark IA-64 architecture. They are now scheduled to be removed from the market, with last orders being accepted till the January of next year and the chips’ last shipment going out to long-time partner Hewlett Packard by July 2021.
The initial designs of the Itanium architecture came out of the minds at HP, who then developed these processors jointly with Intel. The plans for this can be traced back to 1995 when the two companies announced a partnership with intentions of developing a high-volume UNIX OS for 64-bit networking upon the HP & Intel computing structure. As other computing companies hopped aboard the bandwagon accepting the IA-64 designs, predictions of the worth of this venture grew to figures of multiple billion USD per year.
The first of these chips, however, were expected to roll out in 1998, but due to the complexity of the processors’ design, it appeared to be a near impossible task to produce these chips whilst ensuring competitive market prices as well. Intel delayed the release of these processors for years to find a work around for this issue. Soon with the announcement of its competition, the AMD64, Intel debuted the Itanium processing series in the July of 2001 with its Merced 180nm processor, and subsequently released the Itanium 2 in the summer of the following year.
Unfortunately, the Itanium processing family struggled to stay afloat in its initial years and did not succeed at wholly attracting the customer base and business that it was hoping (and expected) to.
Then came AMD’s Opteron and Intel’s Itanium Madison 2 as well as several developments to both products’ architectures soon after. Dell eventually pulled out of the Itanium ventures in 2005, to be followed by CentOS and RedHat as well. Intel produced the Poulson 32nm processors in 2012, and then released an amped up version of the processor maintaining the same fundamental architecture five years later in 2017.
Despite several computer manufacturers pulling out over the years, the main consumer of the most recent Itanium chips and Intel Itanium’s most loyal computing client over the years has remained HP which has stuck by its conceived design through the thick and thin of booming and fading business.
HP has always accommodated the Itanium chips, gearing the development of its technology heavily around the support of the Itanium technology. Intel and HP have also been caught in multiple lawsuits where HP has been shown to pay Intel rewardingly for the continued production of the Itanium processors till 2017. This is why the demise of the Itanium series was expected as soon as HP drastically turned away from the Itanium processors with the support of only Xeon in its 2014 Superdome X and Nonstop X releases, foreshadowing a harrowing end of its Itanium ventures.
The vulnerabilities discovered in Hyper-Threading last year also did not help the case for the continuation of the Itanium series which was heavily dependent upon the hyper-threading mechanism. This rendered the Itanium processors vulnerable to malicious attacks, two such of which were observed on Hyper-Threading processors last year. HP, its loyal and invested partner, has however announced support for Itanium based servers until 2025 despite the official cease of production and shipment by 2021.