Microsoft will phase out Itanium support

— 6:00 AM on April 8, 2010

Could this be the end of the road for Intel's IA-64 architecture? According to a post on the official Windows Server Division blog, future versions of Windows Server, SQL Server, and Visual Studio will drop support for Itanium processors.

For now, folks with Itanium-based servers—even systems running freshly released Itanium 9300-series CPUs—can keep using Windows Server 2008 R2, SQL Server 2008 R2, and Visual Studio 2010. Microsoft also notes that it will continue to provide support for Windows Server 2008 on Itanium until July 10, 2018, although "mainstream support" will end on July 9, 2013. Still, that's a decent stretch of time to plan out a platform switch.

Here's how the blog post addresses Microsoft's rationale for giving Itanium the cold shoulder:

The natural evolution of the x86 64-bit ("x64") architecture has led to the creation of processors and servers which deliver the scalability and reliability needed for today's "mission-critical" workloads. Just this week, both Intel and AMD have released new high core-count processors, and servers with 8 or more x64 processors have now been announced by a full dozen server manufacturers. Such servers contain 64 to 96 processor cores, with more on the horizon.

Windows Server 2008 R2 was designed to support the business-critical capabilities these processors and servers make available. It supports up to 256 logical processors (cores or hyper-threading units), so it's ready for the ever-increasing number of cores. It supports technologies such as Intel's Machine Check Architecture, which allow for the detection and correction of bit-level hardware errors. And NEC just published a new world record TPC-E benchmark for online transaction processing of 3,141.76 tpsE on a system with 8 x64 processors – a result more than 50% higher than the previous record.

To Microsoft's credit, x64 server processors like the new eight-core Xeon 7500 series with their 24MB of L3 cache, quad DDR3 memory channels, and Itanium-style security and reliability features have only marginalized the actual Itanium family further. Intel seems unlikely to discontinue the Itanium immediately, though, especially with the new 9300 series just out of the door and the aforementioned Microsoft products still the latest and greatest.

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