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Commentary: A well-timed server debut

The new rp8400 from Hewlett-Packard looks to be an impressive machine that carries on and improves upon HP's solid tradition of midrange Unix servers.

By Andrew Butler, Gartner Analyst

The new rp8400 from Hewlett-Packard, code-named Keystone, looks to be an impressive machine that carries on and improves upon HP's solid tradition of midrange Unix servers.

See news story:
HP boosts Unix server line

It offers a 16-way, rack-optimized platform with multidomain capability at a very competitive price, further moving the "sweet spot" for midrange servers away from eight-way boxes.

HP's introduction of the rp8400 at this time will, however, fuel speculation about the future of the vendor's midrange N-Class server, the eight-way rp7400, which has been a mainstay of HP's server line.

The N-Class was marketed as eventually being capable of a board-level Itanium upgrade. But the availability of Itanium processors was slower than expected, making those upgrades for the N-Class unlikely before the McKinley launch date next year. At that point, the N-Class line would have been four years old.

This forced HP into a corner. Should the company back down on its marketing promises by not offering an Itanium upgrade for the N-Class--which is really the sensible thing to do--or shoehorn a new processor into a near-obsolete platform?

HP recently decided to do the former and canceled the planned Itanium upgrade for the N-Class. Now the shiny new rp8400, with attractive pricing and features, is available to help cushion the blow. As HP was in the process of shifting its whole product line to Itanium, the N-Class wasn't really equipped to make the trip. Gartner believes HP will be happy to see the rp8400 cannibalize market share from the N-Class. At the other end of the server spectrum, the new product may cannibalize market share from HP's high-end Superdome server as well.

The rp8400 will help convince customers that HP can still build an excellent midrange Unix server, but the machine cannot by itself reverse the recent decline in HP's Unix fortunes. HP is now in the "quiet" period of its proposed merger with Compaq Computer and will continue to compete with Compaq, in addition to usual rivals Sun Microsystems and IBM, for the next six months or more. Until the full implications of the merger of the HP and Compaq server lines become clear, many customers will likely remain cautious and probably confine themselves to tactical purchases.

Gartner believes that the rp8400 is likely to survive the merger. Even so, during a period of such uncertainty HP's chief competitors will likely be aggressive in sowing the seeds of fear, uncertainty and doubt. At the moment there's little HP can do about that.

But the rp8400 fills a void in the HP product line and should set the new benchmark for 16-way Unix serving. Companies should consider this platform where affordable scaling beyond eight-way is required.

(For a related commentary on what might be ahead for HP and Compaq in the server arena, see Gartner.com.)

Entire contents, Copyright © 2001 Gartner, Inc. All rights reserved. The information contained herein represents Gartner's initial commentary and analysis and has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. Positions taken are subject to change as more information becomes available and further analysis is undertaken. Gartner disclaims all warranties as to the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information. Gartner shall have no liability for errors, omissions or inadequacies in the information contained herein or for interpretations thereof.