HP cuts prices with new line of Unix servers

Hewlett-Packard Co. Tuesday launched a new line of Unix servers aimed at cost-conscious buyers, as it tries to inject new life into its flagging high-end hardware business.

HP, based in Palo Alto, Calif., has brought out three new servers, dubbed the 05 series, that use slower processors than its mainstream Unix line and are only available in a few standardized configurations. The new systems are available immediately in configurations with one to eight processors and come with 10 percent to 40 per cent price reductions compared with the faster Unix servers offered by HP, said John Miller, server marketing manager in HP’s business critical systems group. The discounted 05 series could attract customers facing tight budget constraints and help HP compete against Sun Microsystems Inc. on low-end Unix products.

“Two years ago, customers were really focused on getting the latest and greatest performance and management tools,” Miller said. “Today, you have companies that are struggling to be profitable. Price has become paramount in the customer’s buying decisions.”

The major trade-off with the new HP Server rp2405, rp5405 and rp7405 systems is their use of 650MHz PA-RISC chips. HP currently ships 875MHz chips with the majority of its Unix hardware.

In addition, users will have to pick from a pre-configured list of hardware with the new systems.

HP will ship the less expensive servers with all of the same core technology found on its base Unix line, which the vendor claims is an advantage over rival Sun. For example, the servers come with dynamic partitioning capabilities and can support future PA-RISC and Intel Corp. Itanium processors using the same chassis.

Sun’s popular four-processor V480 and eight-processor V880 servers do not come with many of the high-end features found in its more expensive Sun Fire line of servers. However, one analyst said the V480 and V880 compete more directly with the likes of Dell Computer Corp. and IBM Corp. that sell Intel-based systems.

“Whenever you make a decision to focus on price, you have to throw some things out,” said Gordon Haff, an analyst at Nashua, N.H.-based Illuminata Inc. “From Sun’s point of view, they are focused on competing in the high-end Unix market with the Sun Fire systems, whereas their focus on the lower end up through the V880 is competing with Intel-based systems.”

The high-end features that HP has kept in its lower cost servers are appealing but not necessarily valuable to most users, Haff said.

“It makes for nice marketing spin, and certainly there are many features that users will like, but things like dynamic partitioning, for example, do become less important the smaller the systems get.”

HP is looking to counter some of Sun’s success with the V480 and V880 and boost its Unix sales, Miller said. Company executives said last week during a third-quarter financial conference call that HP’s Unix business has struggled recently.

The rp2405 with one processor, 512MB of memory and 36GB of storage will start at US$4,795. The rp5405 and rp7405 will cost US$29,026 and US$50,595, respectively.