HP hits 64-bit arena with Integrity brand

Hewlett-Packard Co.(HP) last month fired the latest salvo into an already heated high-end computing arena with Intel’s release of Madison, its newest 64-bit Itanium processor.

The new 64-bit processors will fall under the new “Integrity” brand, the Palo, Alto, Calif. company said, which includes the HP Integrity Superdome system, Itanium 2 workstations, and planned enhancements to the ProLiant server line.

The third generation Intel Itanium processors – and the speed and cache gains that come along with it – are expected to lend weight to the argument that 64-bit processor architectures have overcome past performance and poor reception. HP’s high-end server strategy has lined its horses fully in front of the Itanium cart; Mississauga, Ont.-based Steve Shaw, business development manager for business critical systems at HP Canada noted that HP’s Integrity strategy is to slowly phase out the PA-RISC and Alpha chips within the next two years.

In Itanium’s corner is that it supports Windows and Linux as well as HP-UX. HP has also said it has allied with ISVs to optimize application performance on the Itanium 2 architecture and tier-one Computer Aided Engineering (CAE), adding that ISV codes are ported, optimized and released on HP Integrity servers and HP Itanium 2-based workstations.

Much like how RISC prevailed in the past, EPIC is now the new standard for the next 20 years, Shaw said. “We’ve been exploiting RISC now and we now need to use the Itanium chipset to be able to allow us to grow, in terms of performance and price, a new era of computing.”

But are the average enterprise users ready? Despite HP’s best laid plans, PA-RISC will probably be supported for at least the next 8 or 10 years. There is a lot of power left in RISC yet, according to Larry Karnis, senior consultant for Application Enhancements, a Toronto-based UNIX, Linux and Internet consulting firm. “I don’t have a single client who has made the switch yet.” Enterprises don’t typically buy larger 64-bit servers, Karnis noted, just because it is new technology it’s because it needs to run a particular business application. “There are a lot of pieces that have to fall into place before business will buy this technology,” Karnis said. “People will migrate as the value proposition for Itanium becomes obviously better than RISC – right now I’m not sure that it is.”

Vendors including SAP, PeopleSoft Inc., Siebel System Inc. and Microsoft Corp. have rallied around the latest Itanium-based offerings and shown support for Intel’s EPIC (explicitly parallel instruction computing) instruction set. As other vendors such as Sun Microsystems, Dell, and IBM Corp jockey for position within the high-end computing market, HP is betting its latest high-end 64-bit Itanium processor stacks up. But the competition is stiff: Sun and IBM, for example, are trying to prove to Alpha and Tru64 users that IBM’s AIX version of Unix and Sun’s Solaris are an easier shift than HP-UX.

Sun recently outlined its “HP Away” initiative to entice Alpha and Tru64 Unix users to its Solaris-on-Sparc platform; last June IBM took the wraps off its own Itanium-based server and simultaneously released Transaction Processing Performance Council’s (TPC-C) benchmark results touting its own IBM’s Power4 processor chip ahead of a HP Itanium-based server. According to IBM Canada’s Paul Ruttan, business unit executive, eServer pSeries, in Mississauga, Ont., IBM strategy is to point its pSeries and Power processor technology towards its top-end Unix and Linux servers while positioning Itanium in its less expensive machines.

Overall, industry support from such bigwigs as IBM, Dell Corp., SAP AG and Oracle Corp. will provide an added boost to this new release of Itanium, said Alan Freedman, research manager infrastructure hardware at IDC Canada in Toronto.

“This iteration of Itanium is going to benefit from the improved technology and the large built-in cache to the processor,” he said, “but people are also more comfortable with the Itanium now. It’s not strictly about test and development anymore.”

Freedman said the first few versions of the chip didn’t have the benefit of having companies such as Oracle and SAP writing applications for it. “So now they do and so it’s a two pronged approach. They are getting more software and better hardware,” Freedman explained.

“Stay tuned,” noted Shaw, discussing the recent IBM benchmark tests. It seems that vendors are leapfrogging each other every week and “time will tell” when it comes to performance “It’s not just about benchmarks,” Shaw said, and more about server consolidation, multiple workloads on fewer servers, and reducing costs.

PA-RISC and Alpha are excellent hardware platforms but OS dependent – what Itanium brings to the party is support for HP-UX, Linux and Windows, said Kees denHartigh. That said, the systems analyst for the University of Alberta in Edmonton noted it’s unlikely there will be any widespread adoption of the chip until there is some critical mass of OS vendors and or application vendors that adopt and port to the platform. Most users don’t even need more than 32-bit Linux or Windows for primary apps such as Web, e-mail, database and file servers. “The (high-end) user may start looking at it again for price/performance but also has to be assured that all their present applications that they may be using on other high end platforms are available on Itanium,” denHartigh said.

While RISC customers are loyal, they’re not fanatically loyal, Karnis said. “So that if HP exerts undue pressure, they may in fact, drive customers to their competitors. They have to make the migration as gentle and as painless as possible, which means letting the customer choose the path that suits them best.”

– with files from ITWorldCanada.com