The step is a critical one in the race to have new server computers ready in time for the release of the Merced chip, the first in Intel's line of "IA-64" family for servers and other high-powered computers. The first servers based on the Merced chip are due in the second half of 2000.
HP's version of Unix, called HP-UX, is one of a dwindling number of Unix varieties expected to be available on Merced. Unix is the brawny operating system that is used for a variety of functions, such as running big Web sites.
Intel wants its IA-64 chips to be the "unifying architecture"--in other words, it wants to see Merced, and its successor McKinley, incorporated into as many high-end servers as possible, regardless of the operating system. Historically, most Intel-based servers have run operating systems from Microsoft or Novell.
HP's Unix OS will have competition. Versions of Unix from IBM, Santa Cruz Operation, and Sequent have been merged into a single edition called Monterey-64, which has been running on Merced for two weeks. Compaq Computer has withdrawn from the race. It too will sell Monterey-64, abandoning its plan to translate its version of Unix to IA-64 chips.
And SGI has put its IA-64 effort into working with the upstart Linux OS, instead of moving Irix to IA-64 chips.
Sun Microsystems, whose Solaris version of Unix is very popular with Internet service providers and e-commerce sites, isn't yet working on Merced prototypes, a spokesperson said last week. Though Solaris runs on Intel chips, Sun emphasizes its own UltraSparc chips as the preferred hardware.
Though SGI and HP have announced plans to phase out their own CPU designs over the next few years, alternatives to Intel are still available. IBM has its Power architecture chips, Sun its UltraSparcs, and Compaq its Alpha chips.
Microsoft Windows also will be available for the IA-64 family, Microsoft has said. Linux, a clone of Unix, will also be compatible. HP, IBM, SGI, Cygnus, Intel, and VA Linux Systems are working on a project called Trillian to fire up Linux for IA-64.
HP initially invented the architecture that has become Intel's IA-64, and that familiarity gives HP an edge, the company said.
"HP understands how to best optimize software and system architectures to take full advantage of the scalability, availability, and computing power that IA-64 offers," the company said in a statement.