IBM proceeds, HP retreats on Xeon servers

IBM Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) are taking two different approaches to building servers based on Intel Corp.’s latest generation of Xeon MP processors, executives from the companies said Tuesday during the formal launch of the new processors at a press event in San Francisco.

While IBM is readying a follow-up to its xSeries 455 server that will scale to as many as 32 processors, HP on Tuesday revealed that it intended to stop selling its high-end Xeon servers, saying that the high end of the market was being “marginalized” by smaller 2-way and 4-way systems.

Intel’s new chips, which come in five configurations, were unveiled as part of a new line of components for multiprocessor servers, which also includes a new chipset, called the E8500.

With the new products, Intel has added a much larger memory cache to Xeon, and it has re-designed the chipset architecture so that the processors can more quickly communicate with other components on the chipset. The E8500 will have a 667MHz bus speed, compared with 400MHz for Intel’s previous Xeon chipset.

The processors will be at the heart of new servers from a number of vendors, including Dell Inc., IBM and HP.

At the high end, Intel is selling 3.33GHz and 3.0GHz processors with 8M bytes of L3 cache, as well as a 2.83GHz chip with 4M bytes of L3 cache. At the lower end, Intel announced its 3.66GHz and 3.16GHz processors, each with 1M bytes of L2 cache.

As vendors adopt the new processors and begin eyeing the next generation of the Xeon family, which will have two processing engines, called cores, on each chip, some changes are ahead for enterprise customers.

“The data center computing space has been reasonably boring for the last five years,” said Pat Gelsinger, general manager of Intel’s Digital Enterprise group. “I think we’ve come to a space where this will be getting reasonably exciting,” he said.

One change revealed Tuesday is that HP has decided to cease production of its eight-way ProLiant DL740 and DL760 systems when Intel’s dual-core Xeon MP processors become available in 2006. With 4-way dual-core systems expected next year, HP no longer sees the need to design its own systems for the relatively low-volume 8-way server market, company executives said this week.

“We’re expecting the eight-socket market to be consumed by the four-socket dual-core market,” said Colin Lacey, director of platform marketing for industry standard servers at HP. “Such an enormous percentage of the customer requirements are covered by the 4-way market place that the 8-way and beyond marketplace is going to get very marginalized,’ he said.

HP announced that it is now shipping the next generation of its 4-way ProLiant 570 and 580 servers with the new processors. The 6U (27 cm high) 570 G3 is priced starting at US$5,249, while the 4U (18 cm) 580 G3 starts at $6,849.

IBM is taking a different tack. The company has designed its own chipset and server architecture for the systems, called X3, and its servers will be able to run one copy of an operating system on as many as 32 processors, said Jay Brezman, a product marketing manager with IBM.

Big Blue uses X3 and the new Xeon chips in its 4-way xSeries 366 server, which was announced last month, but Brezman says that his company also sees a market opportunity for Xeon beyond the two-processor and four-processor space. Like IBM’s current high-end Xeon server, the x445, IBM’s upcoming servers are designed to let customers gradually scale their systems up to larger and larger servers.

Microsoft Corp. said Tuesday that it plans to announce a 64-bit version of the Windows Server 2003 operating system for x86 systems at its WinHEC 2005 developers conference in Seattle next month. The release of Windows support for 64-bit Xeon processors will further drive the demand for Intel servers such as IBM’s big iron products as a platform for enterprise applications, Brezman said.

“I think it changes the entire mentality about Windows,” he said. “Now everybody starts thinking about these Intel systems as not just being for file and print.”

The commercial release of this Windows Server 2003 x64 Edition will also improve things for customers running 32-bit applications, said Andy Lees, corporate vice president with Microsoft’s server and tools business. “If you run a 32-bit application on 64-bit Windows on 64-bit hardware, you’ll get about a 5 percent bump in terms of performance,” he said. “If you go ahead and add 64-bit capabilities, then things get dramatically better.”

Other vendors announcing support for the new Xeon MP platform include Dell, which is now shipping the 6U PowerEdge 6800 and 4U PowerEdge 6850 servers with the processors, and Unisys Corp., which is using the chips in its ES7000 line of servers.

Pricing for Intel’s new processors varies from $722 to $3,692, when purchased in 1,000-unit quantities, Intel said.

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