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Microsoft Nixes Intel's Itanium Chip

An upcoming Microsoft (MSFT) software product for clustered servers won't run on Intel's (INTC) high-end Itanium 2 chip, according to a report first published on Instead, it will be optimized for a more mainstream type of server chip from Intel and rival Advanced Micro Devices (AMD).

Itanium, which debuted in 2001, has long been rapped for failing to gain a level of market acceptance proportional to its high design costs. The latest news signals that Itanium will at least initially be left out of a server market that has gained increasing sway in the computing world.

Clustered servers -- linked networks of servers, which each contain only two or four processors -- were first viewed as a low-cost alternative to bigger, more expensive hardware. But they have quickly scaled the ladder to become important in high-powered academic and industry settings as well.

Of the world's 500 most powerful supercomputers, 296 systems were categorized as clusters, according to twice-yearly rankings released last week .

Microsoft's Windows Server 2003 Compute Cluster Edition, which is expected to be released in the second half of 2005, is the first product the company has designed specifically for clusters, according to a company representative.

Microsoft's decision not to run the software on Itanium comes after earlier news that Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) will stop offering Itanium-powered workstations .

"It does show how Itanium is increasingly being redefined as a niche market solution for mainframe-class datacenter applications," said Krishna Shankar, an analyst at JMP Securities. "Itanium seems to have had the most success in very data-crunching intensive applications."

But he called the decision "not necessarily negative for Intel. What they lose in Itanium they make up with more Xeons." Intel's Xeon chips dominate the server chip market, though AMD has recently shown some momentum with its competing Opteron server chip. Opteron is a chip that scales up to take advantage of software optimized for high-end data crunching.

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