HP WORLD: HP’s Orca plan calls for 8-way servers in 2003

LOS ANGELES – Hewlett-Packard Co. will wait until 2003 to bring out servers that use eight or more Itanium processors, part of a plan code-named Orca to shift from its own PA-RISC chips to Intel Corp.’s 64-bit processors.

HP, in Palo Alto, Calif., has already launched systems based on the second version of Itanium, including a workstation, and servers that use up to two or four processors. It plans to wait for the third version of Intel’s 64-bit chip, code-named Madison, before delivering eight-way, 16-way, 32-way and 64-way systems, said Vish Mulchand, worldwide product line manager for the HP 9000 high-end servers. These servers eventually will replace systems based on HP’s own PA-RISC chip.

HP is using the name Orca as a broad term to cover its transition from its PA-RISC chips to Itanium. Next year it plans to release a new PA-RISC chip called Mako, which will be offered alongside its Madison-based servers. It will follow Mako with one more PA-RISC chip before transitioning all of its servers to Itanium, Mulchand said.

“This is not a surprise,” said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst with the consulting company Insight 64, in Saratoga, Calif. “HP has said that larger systems will arrive by mid-year

and the second half of 2003. In this timeframe, we ought to have Madisons out there.”

HP has placed a large bet on Itanium – a chip it co-developed with Intel – and plans to make it the centerpiece of its midrange and high-end server line. HP’s RISC (reduced instruction set computing) chips compete with offerings from Sun Microsystems Inc. and IBM Corp.

Itanium chips use a new EPIC (Explicitly Parallel Instruction Computing) instruction set, which requires developers to rewrite their software code to take advantage of it. This requires significant work on the part of software vendors, and is one of the reasons why HP will wait to roll out its larger Itanium-based systems, Mulchand said.

So far, Itanium has been popular for running custom-scientific applications and Linux software, which are well suited for smaller servers or server clusters. As companies like Oracle Corp. and BEA Systems Inc. roll out business applications for Itanium, HP will bring out Itanium-based servers similar in size and power to its higher-end PA-RISC systems.

The HP servers that use Madison will take advantage of a chipset code-named Pinnacle, Mulchand said. HP uses its zx1 chipset in its current Itanium systems.

At its HP World conference here last week, HP had been scheduled to demonstrate a Madison-based system running Microsoft Corp.’s Windows .Net Server 2003 operating system, but decided at the last minute not to show the system, according to an HP employee working at the company’s booth here. The high cost of the system played a part in the decision not to move it from HP’s labs, he said.

Using Intel’s chips as opposed to its own RISC processors calls for HP to make some technology trade-offs, said Rick Becker, chief technology officer of HP Software.

“You do have less control with IPF (Itanium Processor Family) than PA-RISC,” Becker said.

HP, Sun and IBM all have enjoyed close links between their processor, operating system and server design teams. Tight work between these groups can help vendors make well-rounded servers. Despite having worked closely with Intel, HP, by using Itanium, will be giving up some of the architectural insights it has benefited from in the past using its own PA-RISC products, Becker said.

Insight 64’s Brookwood, however, said HP’s close involvement with Itanium, and the cost savings it will get from using the chip, will outweigh those trade-offs.

“I can understand why an engineer who had worked in a proprietary environment would not want to lose that type of control,” Brookwood said. “In an industry standard environment, you don’t have all those degrees of freedom.”

“HP, by being very early and aggressive in moving to industry standards, has managed to get more freedom than other players who have come in later,” he said.

Brookwood complimented HP on its roadmap for moving from PA-RISC to Itanium.

The systems that HP rolls out in 2003 will be able to run PA-RISC or Madison in the same chassis. In addition, users will be able to pull out processor boards that have PA-RISC chips and replace them with Madison boards without having to buy a new chassis, HP’s Mulchand said.