It’s been a long time coming but the steady progress of x64 technology from both Intel and AMD has finally impelled Microsoft to drop future support for Intel’s variant Itanium 64-bit processor family.
Windows Server 2008 R2 will be the last version of Windows Server to support the Intel Itanium architecture. SQL Server 2008 R2 and Visual Studio 2010 are also the last versions to support Itanium.
Current support for Itanium remains unchanged. Each of these products represent the state of the art of their respective product lines. Each fully support Itanium, support the recently-released Itanium 9300 (“Tukwila”) processor, and Microsoft’s support for these products will continue – following the Microsoft Support Lifecycle Policy. Mainstream support for Windows Server 2008 for Itanium-Based Systems (and R2) will end, in accordance with that policy, on July 9, 2013, while extended support will continue until July 10, 2018. That’s 8 more years of support.
Why the change? 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.
Microsoft will continue to focus on the x64 architecture, and it’s new business-critical role, while we continue to support Itanium customers for the next 8 years as this transition is completed.
Once upon a time, Windows NT (the precursor to Windows Server) supported a variety of microprocessor architectures, but they have been steadily whittled down over the years. Itanium remained as long as it did because of its early promise of an industrial strength 64-bit Intel architecture. Now it mainly exists to power some Hewlett-Packard HP-UX (Unix) servers.