This week the California courts handed down a nice present for HP — a verdict confirming that Oracle was required to continue to deliver its software on HP’s Itanium-based Integrity servers. This was a major victory for HP, on the face of it giving them the prize they sought — continued availability of Oracle’s eponymous database on their high-end systems.

However, HP’s customers should not immediately assume that everything has returned to a “status quo ante.” Once Humpty Dumpty has fallen off the wall it is very difficult to put the pieces together again. As I see it, there are still three major elephants in the room that HP users must acknowledge before they make any decisions:

  • Oracle will appeal, and there is no guarantee of the outcome. The verdict could be upheld or it could be reversed. If it is upheld, then that represents a further delay in the start date from which Oracle will be measured for its compliance with the court ordered development. Oracle will also continue to press its counterclaims against HP, but those do not directly relate to the continued development or Oracle software on Itanium.
  • Itanium is still nearing the end of its road map. A reasonable interpretation of the road map tea leaves that have been exposed puts the final Itanium release at about 2015 unless Intel decides to artificially split Kittson into two separate releases. Integrity customers must take this into account as they buy into the architecture in the last few years of Itanium’s life, although HP can be depended on to offer high-quality support for a decade after the last Itanium CPU rolls off Intel’s fab lines. HP has declared its intention to produce Integrity-level x86 systems, but OS support intentions are currently stated as Linux and Windows, not HP-UX.
  • Software at the point of a gun. My impression is that the court has blazed new ground here in requiring the development of a product that Oracle was not intending to produce. This is different than requiring Microsoft to divulge interfaces it had built or was intending to build to its competitors, or forcing a vendor to license an architecture or OS code to a competitor. This is compelling new development, and it is not clear the courts are particularly well-equipped to monitor and enforce a major software deliverable. Does Oracle have to deliver it at the same date as other versions? Oracle can make plausible claims that it has destaffed the effort and needs additional time to restart this effort. Will there be a mandated bug count? What are the penalties for missing these metrics? In effect, the court is mandating that a development organization deliver a complex product under duress — never a recipe for bolstering morale, nor would I guess, quality.

So the game is not over, and before HP Integrity users relax and return to business as usual, they need to wait for the final resolution of the legal actions, as well as closure and specificity on what will be delivered and when in the case of an eventual HP victory.