HP brings high tech to low servers

In an attempt to give customers more bang for their bucks, Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) has pushed some of its high-end technology down into its entry-level servers. It’s an important move for the box builder, says one industry analyst.

The Palo Alto, Calif.-based high-tech firm in October unveiled the ProLiant ML570, an Intel-based server featuring technology formerly found only in more expensive devices, according to HP.

The 570 offers “Hot-Add” memory, HP’s term for technology that lets users increase a server’s memory while the box is running.

According to Parag Suri, a category business manager with HP Canada in Mississauga, Ont., Hot Add isn’t new, although its inclusion in an entry-level server certainly is.

“[Customers] do not have to buy expensive servers now,” he said. “They can get the technology in a lower-ticket product.”

Suri explained that Hot Add spells less time-consuming server enhancements. With the 570, users need not turn off the box to add more memory, but merely plug in the requisite modules on the fly.

Suri said HP is targeting e-commerce companies, application service providers, data centre operators and others for whom “downtime” is a dirty word.

The 570 comes shaped like a tower or a rack-optimized box (dubbed the 580) as users require, Suri said. It employs four Pentium III-based Xeon processors from Intel Corp., but that will change in the near future. Suri pointed out that HP plans to use Intel’s upcoming Pentium 4-based chip, code-named “Gallatin,” in the 570 to improve performance.

Gallatin promises a 400MHz front-side bus (FSB), which Suri said represents a “huge jump” compared to the current Xeon’s 133MHz FSB. The increase addresses the classic bottleneck of squeezed I/O processing in the server, he said.

That HP is pushing high-end functions south is important, said Alan Freedman, research manager, infrastructure hardware with IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto. For one thing, the move endears HP to its customers, such that users turn to the company for margin-rich infrastructure support in the future.

“The overall goal is to create a higher level of customer loyalty,” Freedman said. “They want to be the [enterprise’s] soul supporter of not only the servers, but also…services.”

The Gallatin plan suggests HP is committed to Intel-based technology, Freedman said. “It’s crucial for HP that the Intel servers provide the performance customers are looking for.”

Glen Fullerton, who works in Talisman Energy Inc.’s network architecture department in Calgary, said vendor commitment is crucial for his firm. Talisman chose Compaq Computer Corp.’s servers in the early ’90s. Compaq created the ProLiant series, which became part of HP’s stable when the two high-tech firms merged.

That HP continues to support the ProLiant line suggests the firm is committed to Talisman’s preferred servers, Fullerton said, adding that his company would probably stick with HP, now that it has merged with Compaq.

“We want to keep with one vendor unless that vendor fails to meet our needs,” he said. “Compaq always kept up with our needs.”

But as for the Hot-Add technology, Fullerton said Talisman isn’t interested. The company switches out servers every 18 months, so “I can’t remember the last time I added more memory.”

The ProLiant ML570 with Pentium III-based Intel Xeon processors is priced at $10,534. HP will not announce a price for the Gallatin-based server until Intel unveils the chip later this year. For more information, see HP Canada’s Web site, www.hp.ca.