HP brings Unix to blades with Itanium

Hewlett-Packard Co. is expected on Tuesday to unveil its first blade server based on Intel Corp.’s Itanium 2 processor, allowing customers to run HP-UX on one of the company’s blade servers for the first time.

The dual-processor BL60p had been expected to arrive in 2005, but it will not start shipping until early next year. It is available for order right now at a starting price of US$5,695. Detailed specifications were not immediately available.

Blades are thin servers designed to fit into tight places. Several blades can fit into the same space occupied by a rack server, reducing the amount of space required in a server room and simplifying the cabling process needed to connect the servers to a network.

The BL60p is using a version of Intel’s Madison Itanium 2 processor that runs between 1.4GHz and 1.6GHz and uses 3M bytes of cache memory, said Brian Cox, director of server marketing for business critical servers.

That chip consumes up to 99 watts of power under maximum operating conditions, according to Intel’s Web page. Hefty power requirements like this are one reason why many initial blade servers have used cooler-running processors from Intel and AMD, rather than Itanium.

A more powerful version of Itanium is available for servers with four or more processors, but that chip consumes 130 watts of power. The BL60p will fit into the same thermal profile used to build HP’s existing chassis for blade servers using Intel’s Xeon processor or Advanced Micro Devices Inc.’s Opteron processor, meaning customers can run blade servers using HP-UX servers in the same chassis as Xeon or Opteron blade servers running Windows or Linux, Cox said.

If they choose, customers can also run Windows or Linux on the BL60p and HP will support them, an HP spokeswoman said. However, the servers will only ship with HP-UX, she said.

HP is the primary customer for Intel’s Itanium 2 processor, a chip that Intel once hoped would pave the road to 64-bit computing. However, customers were slow to embrace early versions of Itanium because the chip uses a different instruction set than the Xeon or Opteron processors, requiring potential customers to make changes to their software.

After AMD took a different path to 64-bit computing with the Opteron processor, which features 64-bit extensions to the x86 instruction set, Intel followed suit with Xeon and Itanium settled into a role as a high-end data center processor.

Intel had been expected to introduce a dual-core version of Itanium this year, but quality issues delayed the introduction of that chip until the middle of next year, Intel said last week. HP will develop a blade for Montecito, the dual-core Itanium processor, in 2006, Cox said.

NEC Corp. and Hitachi Ltd. also sell blade servers that use the Itanium processor. IBM Corp., which is the top blade server vendor, sells blades using its own PowerPC processors to run AIX and the Opteron and Xeon chips to run Windows and Linux.

Related links:

HP details Itanium development strategy

HP unveils new Itanium servers

Intel unveils Itanium 2 processors with faster bus

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