When Intel announced recently that the delivery of its dual-core Itanium chip would be delayed by three months, from the first quarter of 2006 to the middle of the second quarter, even the keenest ear couldn’t discern much disappointment. But if you listen just right, you can hear the chirping of the cellphones carried by AMD, IBM and Sun reps worldwide.
The whole of the computing world isn’t perched on the edge of its collective seat in anticipation of dual-core Itanium. But in the science, technology, supercomputing and massive enterprise markets, where pockets are bottomless, most applications are custom-written to standards and the appetite for computing performance and throughput is insatiable. Every six- or seven-figure purchase order is an opportunity to identify and invest in the new leading edge. In many cases, getting the most firepower for the dollar is a purchasing imperative. A three month delay for dual-core Itanium means that during that time, Intel and its Itanium OEMs won’t be at the table looking for high-performance computing purchases.
Don’t downplay the significance of this. Unlike most of IT, buying cycles in high-performance computing are driven as much by the debut of new, faster technology as by need. To snag this high-dollar, high-profile business, a vendor has to bring exciting new gear to the table. Not only will Intel miss out on performance-driven buys for three months, it will also suffer the ignominy of having its flagship microprocessor arrive last. Direct and indirect losses from Intel’s delay will tally in the millions of dollars, not counting continuing revenue from services, upgrades and support. There’s no way to count the OEMs and customers that will just give up waiting because it seems as if Intel is less and less serious about making Itanium a real contender.
The setback is the latest in a string of events that raise questions about Intel’s ability to deliver on its innovative R&D, a commodity of which it, undoubtedly, has plenty but which it hasn’t been able to get to market. There has always been a tug-of-war at Intel between x86 and Itanium over budget, staff resources and scheduling priorities. Time and time again, Itanium loses out to the can’t-miss x86. Intel’s latest focus on low-end and power-efficient systems, including digital entertainment technology, reflects a campaign to carve out new volume niches that arch-rival AMD can’t attack quickly. Even if the dual-core Itanium delay has nothing to do with these other factors, Itanium is certainly a poor fit with those elements of Intel’s new strategy.
Although analysts will debate the relevance of the delay in the release of dual-core Itanium, this latest setback prolongs Intel’s long-awaited return to form.
Yager is chief technologist at the InfoWorld Test Centre. Email him at email@example.com