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HP, IBM unveil new servers

Hewlett-Packard describes its first four-processor "blade" system as IBM overhauls a midrange product line with a new processor and a method to accommodate computing surges.

Top server makers announced a bevy of new servers Monday as Hewlett-Packard describes its first four-processor "blade" system and IBM overhauls a midrange product line with a new processor and a method to accommodate computing surges.

Blade servers began as thin, lower-end systems that would stack side by side within the same chassis--the way books are arranged in a bookshelf. HP's new four-processor blades, though, similar to the "modular computing" products from rival Dell Computer, are more like bricks.

Two of the BL40p systems can fit side by side in an enclosure 19 inches wide and 10.5 inches tall, an enclosure that also could be used to house eight of HP's existing two-processor BL20p blades, said James Mouton, vice president for platforms in HP's Industry Standard Server group.

Blade pioneers and RLX Technologies took different perspectives on the new system. Egenera, which has been selling four-processor blades since March, touted its approach, in which each blade loses its individual identity so that tasks can easily be shuffled from one blade to another.

And RLX, the first to the blade market, doesn't plan to release any blades larger than two-processor systems, saying that the price, size and features of four-processor systems remove them too far from the blade idea of numerous, easy-to-switch-out computers. Dell and IBM, however, are headed the same direction as HP and Egenera.

Servers, the machines running round-the-clock to handle everything from bank transactions to e-mail, are pricey, powerful systems. With the collapse of the Internet mania, server sales have been shrinking for the past two years, but researchers at Gartner Group expect the market to return to growth in 2003.

The new four-processor systems use Intel's new Xeon MP processors, code-named Gallatin, and will be available to order on March 11 with a starting price of $8,999. The company also announced a new BL20p blade server using the Pentium 4-based Xeon chip instead of the Pentium III, with prices starting at $3,399.

Finally, the lower-end, single-processor BL10e--20 of which fit into a 5.25-inch tall enclosure--now has a 900MHz Pentium III processor where the previous model ran at 800MHz. The new BL10e costs $1,859 and up.

The new blade systems come with the ability to connect with the Fibre Channel high-speed network technology to link to remote storage systems, an important stage in making blade servers more versatile and in weaning designs from the necessity of including their own hard drives.

IBM, meanwhile, will begin start selling on Feb. 21 an overhauled iSeries line, systems that share processors with IBM's pSeries Unix line but with many of architectural features of Big Blue's top end zSeries line. The overhaul brings the top-end Power4 processor that previously was only on the 32-processor i890 to several lower-end systems, the eight- or 16-processor i870 with a $550,000 starting price and the three- or six-processor i825 with a $125,000 starting price.

The i890, i870 and i825 will sport a new "capacity upgrade on demand" feature, which will let customers buy a system with more processors installed than typically are needed, paying for the extra processing power as it's needed to accommodate spikes in usage, said Al Zollar, newly appointed general manager of IBM's iSeries servers.

IBM also introduced two low-end models, the single processor i800 and i810, with starting prices of $10,000 and $22,000, respectively.

IBM also began a program to ship its server software built into the systems at a significant discount to buying it separately, Zollar said. The program includes WebSphere e-commerce software, the DB2 database software, the Tivoli management software and other packages.

The price tag can increase anywhere from $10,000 to $3 million for the software, depending on what's selected and what server it's running on, but for high-end configurations that's a discount of about $400,000, Zollar said.

HP also made moves at the high end of a server line it inherited through its acquisition of Compaq Computer. It released a new GS1280, a 64-processor Unix server using a major new version of the Alpha chip called EV7. The EV7 and a faster derivative called EV79 coming in 2004 will be the last in the Alpha line as HP tries to switch customers over to Intel's Itanium processor.

Customers include Dollar Rent A Car Systems, which uses them for Oracle databases that handle 10 million to 20 million transactions per day.

Eight- and 16-processor GS1280s are shipping now, with a 32-processor version due midyear and the full-bore 64-processor model by year's end. HP also announced the eight-processor ES80 and the four-processor ES47 models using the EV7 chip. All the new models can be split into several independent "partitions" as small as two processors and each running its own copy of the operating system.