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HP overhauls Integrity server line

Intel's new "Montecito" chip gives HP a dual-processor Itanium server to counter competitors IBM and Sun.

Hewlett-Packard plans to announce Thursday that it is upgrading its high-end Integrity server line with Intel's new "Montecito" Itanium processor--a move to counter a resurgent Sun Microsystems and 2005's Unix server top dog, IBM.

By the end of October, the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company will upgrade almost all its Integrity servers with the dual-core chip, ranging from two-processor models to the top-end 64-processor Superdome, said Rich Marcello, general manager of HP's Business Critical Server group.

And HP will introduce two lower-end family members: the dual-processor rx3600 and the four-processor rx6600, which connect to the rest of the system with HP's new zx2 chipset.

The only holdouts will be the bottom-end rx1620--which won't be upgraded with Montecito, but rather will be replaced with a new rack-mounted system--and the BL60p blade server. Those new systems will arrive by the end of the year, HP said.

Itanium's rocky start in 2001 led its backers to scale back their ambitions for the chip. But, it's now reasonably well-established as a higher-end processor alternative to IBM's Power and Sun's UltraSparc, which have been available in dual-core models for years. Most Itanium systems use HP's version of Unix (HP-UX), but they also can run Linux, Windows and HP's OpenVMS operating system. Several second-tier server makers also sell Itanium servers.

"According to our research, the majority of HP customers are either actively migrating to HP Itanium-based systems or have decided to make the move in the near future," said Gabriel Consulting analyst Dan Olds. "At this point, Itanium seems to have built a large enough ecosystem, at least in an HP-UX context, to support virtually any customer workload."

Still, Itanium has had its troubles. In 2005, IBM and Dell canceled their Itanium product lines, and Intel delayed Montecito's launch from 2005 to 2006. Its compatible successor, "Montvale," was pushed back from 2006 to 2007. A more ambitious new generation beyond that, "Tukwila," was delayed from 2007 to 2008.

Because of the Montecito delay, HP introduced its current generation of new systems in a two-phase plan called "Lightning" and "Thunder." With Lightning came new higher-end server designs that featured faster internal communications with the sx2000 "Arches" chipset, but still had the last-generation "Madison 9M" Itanium chips. With Thunder, those models are being upgraded with Montecito.

The Montecito delay came at an awkward time for HP, which is dropping its earlier Unix server processors, PA-RISC and Alpha, for Itanium. For its quarter ended July 31, HP's high-end server revenue dropped 6 percent. A 76 percent increase in revenue for its Integrity servers was not enough to offset the declines with PA-RISC and Alpha.

During the second quarter, the overall server market grew 0.6 percent to $12.3 billion, according to research firm IDC; Sun was the only one of the big four server makers to see a revenue increase.

HP said starting prices for the Montecito-based systems are as follows: $4,884 for the dual-processor rx2620; $10,531 for the dual-processor rx3600; $15,614 for the four-processor rx4640; $14,771 for the four-processor rx6600; $33,058 for the eight-processor rx7640; $74,725 for the 16-processor rx8640; and $209,389 for the 32- or 64-processor Superdome.