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Oracle on Itanium customers breathe sigh of relief

IT pros running Oracle on Itanium are happy Oracle will now support software on Itanium, but a crucial decision still awaits them down the road.

IT professionals running Oracle software on Intel Itanium processors no longer have to decide between Oracle and HP, the vendor that sells most Itanium-based servers. But it may just be a temporary fix.

In the wake of a recent court order, Oracle announced it would again start supporting customers running its software on Itanium-based hardware, something it said a year-and-a-half ago that it would stop doing. Stopping support meant future iterations of Oracle's software, such as Fusion Applications or Oracle Database 12 coming out next year, would not have been supported on Itanium. Oracle's decision to stop supporting Itanium in early 2011 led to a lawsuit from HP, which claimed Oracle had pledged to support Itanium platforms. HP won the case, and Oracle has not yet filed an expected appeal.

"Our members are most hopeful for a mending relationship between HP and Oracle, and between both companies and their customers," said Nina Buik, former president of HP user group Connect. "It was like Mom and Dad were getting a divorce and the customers were the kids caught in the middle."

Olaf Leonhardt, OpenVMS and storage-area network manager for multi-billion dollar Swiss department store chain Manor, said he was happy about recent developments, but it really doesn't change his mindset too much. He thinks that eventually he will have to migrate off Itanium or Oracle. Leonhardt has beefs with both vendors -- Oracle for balking on supporting Itanium, and HP for not porting OpenVMS, a legacy HP Unix operating system -- to x86 servers. OpenVMS and another HP Unix operating system, HP-UX, are only supported on Itanium or older HP processor platforms, such as PA-RISC.

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Leonhardt said last year that Oracle and HP should graduate from kindergarten

"I'm definitely glad that we can now go forward with Oracle and OpenVMS," he said. "But I still don't have a roadmap, and I'm not sure Oracle will update [on Itanium] in a timely manner."

In the announcement, Oracle said it will release updates on Itanium at about the same time it releases updates on IBM's Power platform.

From Leonhardt's perspective, both vendors are playing games. Oracle is balking at developing for Itanium because it's a dwindling legacy processor platform that doesn't have as many customers as IBM Power or x86. In his eyes, HP is balking at porting OpenVMS to x86 because it would mean more people migrating off Itanium, which HP has sunk a lot of money into.

"My wish is that HP would say that we can have Itanium if we want, but we can have x86 (for OpenVMS) as well," he said. "Then we could work together for a long, long time. But I have no idea at this time if we'll move off Unix or not."

Dan Olds, principal analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group in Beaverton, Ore., called the Oracle announcement a temporary reprieve for Itanium customers. They will still have to eventually decide, because Olds doesn't think the Oracle-HP reunion will last.

Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group in San Jose, Calif., said he expects Oracle to be "dragged kicking and screaming" to support Itanium customers. If Itanium customers receive significant pushback from Oracle, they could contact HP, which could contact the court and force the issue that way. But like Buik, Enderle likened the situation to a broken household.

"They're going to have to pick a house to live in and then live with the outcome," he said. "Both companies are capable enough."

Mark Fontecchio is the editor of Follow him on Twitter @markfontecchio.

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