The Itanium decision makes economic sense for Red Hat, according to Chris Ingle, research director for IDC's European Systems Group.
The number of Itanium-based servers sold is likely not high enough for Red Hat to justify spending its resources on supporting a version of Enterprise Linux for this processor. Instead it will focus on support for x86-based servers, Ingle said.
Today, Red Hat also offers support for version 5 on systems based on IBM Power, System z and S/390 processor architectures.
For users, Red Hat's plan to drop support for Itanium won't result in much of a difference, because most of them already get support from OEMs (original equipment manufacturers), according to Ingle.
Red Hat will still offer support for Enterprise Linux version 5 on Itanium-based servers until March 2014, and it will add new features to version 5 on Itanium and support new hardware in accordance with its standard product lifecycle policy, the company said.
Some OEMs will also offer extended support for Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 on Itanium until March of 2017, according to the Red Hat statement.
OEMs could also choose to offer support for Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6, Ingle said.
Today, Unix dominates the Itanium market. In Europe, 61 percent of Itanium-based servers shipped in 2009 used Unix, compared to 29 percent using Linux and 5 percent Windows, according to estimates made by IDC.
Itanium will continue as a migration path for RISC-based systems and as an alternative when consolidating databases, according to Ingle.