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HP, Unisys tout Intel servers

High-end Intel servers take two steps forward as Hewlett-Packard demonstrates an Itanium version of its top-end server and Unisys charts new territory for Xeon servers.

High-end Intel servers took two steps forward Monday as Hewlett-Packard demonstrated an Itanium version of its top-end server and Unisys charted new territory for servers using the Xeon processor.

HP has been the most vocal advocate of Intel's Itanium processor, the foundation of an HP plan to unify its server lines. The computer maker on Monday demonstrated one key promise of its Itanium strategy, a single system simultaneously running three operating systems: Microsoft Windows, Linux and HP-UX. HP-UX is HP's version of Unix.

Although companies such as now-extinct Sequent have tried to build high-end Intel servers, the systems haven't caught on widely with banks, retail stores and other customers with heavyweight computing jobs. That's changing with the arrival of more powerful processors such as Itanium and of less crash-prone versions of Windows--Windows 2000 and its successor, .Net Server 2003, due for release in April 2003.

While Itanium is at the forefront of Intel's challenge to processors such as Sun Microsystems' UltraSparc and IBM's Power, it was Intel's comparatively lowly Xeon chip that helped Unisys achieve the sixth-highest score yet in a much-watched server speed test.

The ranking, posted Monday, is the second-highest an Intel server has achieved in the Transaction Performance Council's TPC-C speed test. In addition, the Unisys system was the least expensive on the list at $2.7 million.

Intel servers have traditionally been lower-end, lower-priced systems that ship in larger quantities than do more powerful Unix servers. Intel servers now are creeping up the ladder, however, with Microsoft warming to the high-end server market and Intel servers sales poised to outpace Unix systems using RISC (reduced instruction set computer) chip rivals such as UltraSparc and Power.

HP, which showed its Itanium high-end system at the Gartner Data Center Conference Monday in Las Vegas, demonstrated its top-end Superdome system with 28 Itanium 2 processors. This system can be "partitioned" into several independent pieces, each with its own operating system. Superdome already ships with HP's own PA-RISC processors, but a version with 64 Itanium 2 processors and supporting 512GB of memory is due in 2003.

In the demonstration, a 20-processor partition ran Windows and Microsoft's SQL Server database software, a four-chip partition ran HP-UX Unix and Oracle's database software, and a four-processor partition ran Linux with desktop software, HP said. Although a single Superdome cabinet can accommodate 32 chips, four processor slots were left unused in the system, said John Miller, director of server marketing for HP's business-critical systems group.

Competing higher-end servers from Sun, Fujitsu and IBM can all be partitioned. However, servers from Sun and Fujitsu can run only Solaris--Sun's version of Unix--while IBM's servers can run IBM's Unix and Linux. Dell Computer is rising in the ranks of server sellers, but doesn't have a server that can be partitioned.

However, Unisys is shunning Unix, pitching its ES7000 line with Windows or a mainframe operating system. NEC, meanwhile, has a 32-processor Itanium 2 system that can be partitioned. The server runs Linux and will be able to use Windows when the next version arrives in April 2003.

SGI, which focuses on the technical computing markets, plans in January to begin selling a 64-processor Itanium 2 sever running Linux that also can be partitioned.

Unisys achieved its sixth-place result with an ES7000 Orion 230 server using 32 2GHz Xeon MP processors running a preliminary version of .Net Server 2003. The system clocked is one notch below an NEC system.