The Intel Itanium is set to enter a strong growth phase, according to industry analyst IDC.

The chip hasn't done as well as Intel and co-developer HP had expected during its 11-year existence. Originally aimed at the mainstream, the Itanium now sells to those wishing to build high-end Unix servers - with market leader HP reporting $1.6 billion worth of sales in 2005.

IDC interviewed 501 server administrators and found that the chip evokes high levels of customer satisfaction, with most planning to buy Itanium-based servers in future. In addition, more than two-thirds of HP PA-RISC server customers interviewed plan to migrate to Itanium.

According to IDC, the market for Itanium-based servers will grow to approximately $6.6 billion by 2009. Over the next five years, the compound annual growth rate for Itanium-based servers is expected to be 35 per cent - albeit from a lower base - compared to 3.4 per cent for the overall server market.

“IDC’s research revealed positive attitudes in the marketplace regarding the Itanium platform, specifically around awareness, purchase intent and current customer satisfaction among IDC’s Enterprise Server Customer Panel,” said IDC's Matthew Eastwood. “Strong perception and awareness is a testament to the brand that Intel and HP have established. This foundation provides a solid basis for the Itanium Solutions Alliance to build broader understanding among IT buyers and encourage new customers and new partners to join the ecosystem.”

The report indicates that the formation of the Itanium Solutions Alliance and the recent commitment by the alliance’s founding members to invest $10 billion in developing the Itanium platform will be “significant elements” in future Itanium adoption by customers.

The report also notes that Itanium is more clearly positioned for mission-critical applications such as enterprise resource planning, customer relationship management and business intelligence.