by Todd R. Weiss

Shades of SCO-IBM Lawsuit as HP Sues Oracle Over Itanium?

Jun 17, 20116 mins
Enterprise Applications

Will HP do more harm than good to its own reputation by taking Oracle to court in this fight?

Hewlett-Packard caused quite a ruckus on Wednesday as the company fired a lawsuit at Oracle, essentially alleging that Oracle dropped critical bug update support for Intel’s Itanium processors in an effort to harm HP.

HP, of course, has included Itanium processors in much of its high-performance enterprise server line for years, making it sensitive about such matters as the dropping of support by other key vendors. The HP lawsuit argues that Oracle’s move is aimed at convincing HP customers to switch over to Oracle’s own hardware lines, according to an IDG News Service story.

“The accusation follows Oracle’s decision in March to stop developing new versions of its software for Intel’s high-end Itanium processor,” according to the story. “HP’s Integrity servers run on the Itanium chips, and the lawsuit accuses Oracle of violating legal commitments to HP in order to undermine the sale of its products.”

In its lawsuit, HP states that “Oracle’s sudden departure from its commitment of long-term support for the Itanium platform is a calculated effort to thwart competition from HP and harm its customers.”

There’s more to this battle than meets the eye, of course. “The lawsuit escalates an ugly brawl between the companies that was triggered by Oracle’s purchase of Sun Microsystems early last year, and which intensified when Oracle hired former HP CEO Mark Hurd, one month after he was forced to resign from HP,” IDGNS reported.

Relationship problems are never simple, are they?

Oracle, of course, issued a statement on Wednesday refuting the allegations and tossing back some of its own venom:

“Today HP filed a lawsuit claiming that Oracle had breached an agreement to support the Itanium microprocessor,” the Oracle statement said. “It just takes a few minutes to read the early drafts of the agreement to prove that HP’s claim is not true. What is true is that HP explicitly asked Oracle to guarantee continued support for Itanium; but Oracle refused, and HP’s Itanium support guarantee wording was deleted from the final signed agreement.”

All of that jostling, according to Oracle, occurred because HP quietly knew that Intel was planning to discontinue the Itanium line and was seeking a long-term commitment to support Itanium because of HP’s investments in the technology. “At that time Oracle did not know that there was a plan already in place to end Itanium’s life. Oracle did not learn about that plan until six months later, in March 2011. We believe that HP specifically asked Oracle to guarantee long-term support for Itanium in the September of 2010 agreement because HP already knew all about Intel’s plans to discontinue Itanium, and HP was concerned about what would happen when Oracle found out about that plan.”

Intel has not apparently laid out its plans for Itanium, but that’s expected to change now, according to the Oracle statement. “Intel’s end-of-life Itanium will be revealed in court now that HP has filed this utterly malicious and meritless lawsuit against Oracle.”

This latest public battle of IT titans has me reminiscing about a similar case I covered some years back.

You’ll probably remember it – when the former SCO sued IBM in March of 2003 for $1 billion, alleging that IBM illegally contributed key parts of SCO’s UNIX code to the then-fledgling Linux project.

Those legal claims were later amended to seek more than $5 billion and began a legal fight that stretched until late last year, when SCO’s case effectively dissolved following a series of countersuits, appeals and legal procedures.

SCO was left bankrupt and essentially finished as a viable business after it so publicly dragged its competitor to court.

And even more incredible – in 2004 SCO went on to sue some early Linux adopters, including the former DaimlerChrysler AG and AutoZone Inc., alleging that their use of Linux violated UNIX licensing agreements.

It made me wonder, could we start seeing HP suing customers who move away from Itanium to other hardware options? I sure hope not.

The blog world is alive with opinions on the HP suit against Oracle.

“Hewlett-Packard is doing what all losers in the IT industry do these days when it loses a technology bet: It’s trying to sue its way into relevance,” writes longtime open source and IT activist Joe Brockmeier in a Network World post on the lawsuit. “Here’s a hint: If you have to sue to convince a company to support your platform, it’s game over and customers should be running away from that platform as quickly as possible.”

“While I have some sympathy for HP, this suit is really about trying to strong-arm Oracle into supporting a competing, dying platform,” Brockmeier writes. “Red Hat and Microsoft have already kissed Itanium goodbye. Sales of Itanium systems are down, and they’ve never been that great to begin with.”

“Rather than suing Oracle, which held out on Itanium longer than some of HP’s other (unsued) partners, HP should be working to provide a bridge to platforms that have a viable life,” Brockmeier argues. “HP says it puts customers first but it’s really just encouraging its customers to put good money after bad. HP needs to start moving away from Itanium and admit that it made a technology bet (along with Intel) that didn’t pan out.”

Well-known IT analyst Rob Enderle writes on that the HP lawsuit could help determine the future for Itanium as it is used by enterprises around the globe.

“This is the first shot in what likely will be an interesting fight because … Oracle appears to be operating tactically, which suggests that it had not fully thought through the implications of a large public lawsuit,” Enderle writes. “If played right, and Oracle is exposed since Itanium is not any more obsolete than IBM’s Power or Oracle’s SPARC, then HP could end up in a much better position against Oracle and IBM than when it first started.”

What all of this could do, Enderle says, is reframe the Itanium issue entirely. “Both Intel and HP are forced to either decide to abandon Itanium or to double down on it and HP has decided to double down,” he writes. “The litigation will now serve as a vehicle to reaffirm Itanium, effectively removing the cloud from it, and this alone should put it in a better position competitively against Power and SPARC. Long term, I expect it will now get more development resources because of this as well as both Intel and HP are forced to rethink priorities and move Itanium higher up the list.”

Ah, yes, we have another intriguing IT vendor lawsuit to keep our attention for some time. Will there be a victor and a loser, or will no one win and everyone look silly in the end?

I’d love to hear your impressions and thoughts about HP’s stand and Oracle’s reactions.

Drop me a note at and let me know what you think.