HP unveils new servers based on Itanium chip

Hewlett-Packard Co. Monday reinforced its Itanium strategy with new servers based on the Intel Corp. chip, part of the company’s commitment to building an architecture around industry-standard technology and processes. But HP, which hopes to transition its users to Itanium, said it won’t move them abruptly and released a new PA-RISC chip it said will significantly boost performance.

That chip, the PA 8800, will deliver a 50 per cent performance increase over the PA 8700 if the servers are running the same number of processors. But that performance boost could be as much as 250 percent when upgrading an existing server to double capacity, the company said.

The new chip is a dual core version, although its size is no larger than an older single core processor. That means that what is now a four-way processor could become an eight-way chip if the PA 8800 processors are used.

HP is planning to ultimately phase out its RISC chips and migrate users to Itanium, although it still plans at least one more upgrade for this chip in 2005. The company also has a version of its Unix operating system, HP-UX, configured for Itanium.

HP is “continuing to make some level of investment in a couple more generations of (the) PA processor to essentially address the need(s) of their install base,” said Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata Inc. in Nashua, N.H. To not do so, he said, would risk user defections.

HP will continue to introduce PA-RISC products through 2006-07 and support those products at least five years from that point — and possibly longer, depending on customer needs, said Don Jenkins, vice-president of server marketing for business critical systems at HP. “We are committed to that, so our customers have a nice long runway…that they know will not get shorter, but could get longer.”

Another looming Itanium swap is the move of HP’s NonStop server line from its MIPS processor. The company said today that it is making the new architecture available for customer review and intends to release its first Itanium-based NonStop server later this year.

HP also detailed new Itanium server configurations, including two low-end products: the HP Integrity rx 1600, priced at US$2,800, and a dual-processor box, priced at US$5,600.

The push toward Itanium is part of HP’s focus on industry standards, the development of reusable components and consistent implementations. It includes support for standard interconnect technologies such as InfiniBand, or SAN-based storage, as well as standard application programming interfaces.

HP’s announcement does not include any plans for the Opteron processor, and the company has not addressed speculation that it is considering offering the chip. HP’s two largest competitors already offer the chip, which is made by Advanced Micro Devices Inc.

In fact, Sun Microsystems Inc. on Tuesday announced new Opteron-based server offerings and is expected to ultimately deliver an eight-way Opteron serverpport for the Opteron that’s capable of running 32- and 64-bit applications.

IBM began offering the Opteron last summer, focusing on the high-performance computing (HPC) users, but it is beginning to get broader use. “We have seen it spread outside of HPC,” said Doug Oathout, director of IBM’s eServer, xSeries high-performance products. Even so, he said, most of the deployments remain “high computational” type uses.

HP has been in discussions with AMD about its chip, even as Intel has recently hinted it may develop 64-bit extensions on its chips. Intel’s developer conference is scheduled for next week.

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