New, competing servers marked by similarities

Although IBM and HP say servers each company announced Wednesday are unique to the market, their strategies seemed to be colliding.

Mississauga, Ont.-based Hewlett-Packard (Canada) Ltd. announced a suite of new products and servers that the company says enhances its IA-32 based server and storage product lines.

The charm of HP’s latest servers is manageability, said Parag Suri, the category business manager for netservers at HP Canada. For example, each box offers “tool-less” entry for easy upgrades and servicing. Matched with the company’s customer services, this feature speaks to the nature of the IT industry, he said.

“The feedback we’ve been getting from customers worldwide is, a lot of them have limited IT resources,” Suri said. “Even if the resources are available, people don’t have large IT budgets. They want to be able to deploy more technology, but at the same time they want to be able to manage it easily.”

Mirroring HP’s release, Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM Corp. also announced a new server system, the eServer, on Wednesday. The company says the IBM eServer x440 with Enterprise X-Architecture technology is a less expensive, high-performance option for corporate data centre computing.

While both servers feature obvious qualities that set them apart – IBM’s server boasts up to 16-way SMP and 64 GB of memory while HP is touting the first Intel Pentium 4-based server and a more user-friendly experience – the companies’ strategies seemed to echo one another.

Frank Morasutti, manager of Intel high-performance e-server and x-series at IBM, said the announcement is part of a bigger goal to leverage the company’s mainframe skills in the enterprise space. “There are three main features. (The first) is a pay-as-you-grow strategy…you build a box as you need it. It’s the building block approach,” Morasutti said about the IBM offering.

HP’s servers also offer buildable options. The tc6100 with two Intel Xeon microprocessors, for example, is upgradeable to a 4-way configuration. “The pieces that we are announcing today compliment each other, providing the building blocks of a good IT infrastructure backbone,” Parag said.

Morasutti explained that active memory with memory mirroring and memory protection in the IBM server helps keep systems running through failures that might otherwise bring them down.

“Where we see this type of technology playing is in the consolidation arena,” Morasutti said. “You have to take numerous small machines and consolidate them into a footprint. As part of this mission, we have a much higher directive.”

That higher directive is the “self-healing project eLiza.”

“Part of that project is to have servers configured, designed and built in such a way that they will stay on forever,” Morasutti said. “Most of the technology that we are contributing or putting into the servers must contribute to the on-forever initiative.”

HP also bragged of its servers’ “always-on Internet infrastructure.” Along with software and services the boxes comprise a sort of ecosystem for IT, Suri said, “to basically provide all of the elements of a backbone for the customer, so they can maximize their uptime, have high availability, deploy and redeploy technology without spending a lot of time.”

HP’s new line starts with the tc2110, a sibling for HP’s 2100 server. The company says the 2110 is the industry’s first server to use the Intel P4 microprocessor. This tower is meant for small to medium-sized business and light applications such as e-mail and Internet connections. The tc3100 tower offers dual PIII processors, but is also meant for smaller businesses, light applications and e-mail.

The tc4100 speaks to corporate workgroups and remote offices in need of file and print services. It comes in tower or rack-mountable configurations. The tc6100 has two Intel Xeon chips for use in enterprise departments, messaging and small databases. According to Suri, it’s upgradeable to a four-way design – similar to the tc7100 with four Xeons – without having to upgrade the motherboard. The rc7100 rounds out the line, simply a rack-mountable version of the tc7100. The tc6100 and 7100 ship with the Toptools remote management card for access, offering upgrades, diagnostics or image replication. The card is also available as an option on the 3100 and the 4100.

The servers have a new naming convention as well, wherein the first two letters denote the shape (“t” for “tower,” “r” for “rack optimized”) and the numbers ramp upwards according to capacity. It makes sense, said Alan Freedman, an industry analyst with IDC Canada in Toronto. He said in the past it was hard to know which HP server to buy.

“Before, it was all over the board, a real jumble in the way they named things. Now there’s some consistency and customers can see where they’re slotted for their applications, their workloads and where the next option is,” Freedman said.

He added that HP’s new servers confirm the company’s commitment to Intel technology, which may be important for future customers and potential partners such as Compaq Computer Corp., which HP hopes to merge with.

“It really shows that HP, whether the merger goes through or not, is going to concentrate on fulfilling customer demand and…investment protection,” Freedman said. “Whether you buy an HP Intel server now or if it’s Compaq technology down the road, they’ll have a product for you.”

The IBM eServer is aimed at e-businesses where it can be used as a single big server that might run a large database or is capable of supporting many small virtual servers.

“You can build it from a two-way, to a four-way, to an eight-way box in the same footprint,” Morasutti said. “This is going to be in the high-end … with mission critical applications. We have already predisclosed this to a number of our Fortune 500 accounts and right off the bat, they know they can condense their hardware into a single footprint.”

“You can start small and you don’t have to buy the 16-way configuration,” he said. “You can leverage the entry-level configuration and get massive performance.”

Powered by the new XceL4 Server Accelerator Cache, which places frequently used data close to the microprocessors for better throughput, the xSeries 440 is optimized for performance on e-business applications.

“No one will have that in the P4 space and you see some tremendous performance from the extra level of cache,” Morasutti said.

IBM in Armonk N.Y. is at

Hewlett Packard Canada in Mississauga, Ont. is at

IDC Canada in Toronto is at

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