HP plugs Itanium server gap

Hewlett-Packard filled in an important gap in its Itanium server line Monday, releasing models that accommodate eight and 16 of the high-end Intel processors.

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Hewlett-Packard filled in an important gap in its Itanium server line Monday, releasing models that accommodate eight and 16 of the high-end Intel processors.

The Palo Alto, Calif.-based company already sells its top-end Superdome with as many as 64 Itaniums, as well as two- and four-processor models. But the release of the new eight-processor Integrity rx7620 and 16-processor rx8620 will help HP shore up the midrange products, where the company historically has been strong.

HP is the biggest backer of the Itanium line, which it began designing in 1988. Ten years ago, it signed a deal under which Intel took over the design and built the chips itself. The company is in the process of trying to switch its Unix customers from systems based on HP's PA-RISC processor to those using the Itanium, which can run Windows and Linux as well as the HP-UX version of Unix.

HP, the No. 2 player in the Unix market, should be able to maintain its midrange stronghold through the transition, said Illuminata analyst Gordon Haff. "Most current PA-RISC customers won't be in a big hurry to make the jump, but HP should be able to translate their current Unix product line strengths as they roll in Itanium," he said.

Itanium got off to a slow start, in part because of delays and in part because software written for other Intel processors must be rewritten before it will run well on an Itanium computer. In the meantime, rivals IBM and Sun Microsystems made significant strides with their own competing processors.

Itanium is on the brink of broader use, said Vish Mulchand, director of business-critical systems marketing. "We expect 2004 to be a very strong watershed year," he said.

Although Dell, IBM, NEC, Unisys, Silicon Graphics and others build Itanium servers, HP has the most at stake with the new processor. It's unifying several server lines to use the processor. While it's not clear whether HP will succeed in its goal of having the chip as widely used in the industry as Intel's Xeon and Pentium processors are today, the chip appears to have settled comfortably at HP, Haff said.

"Whatever questions there are around Itanium gaining broad acceptance in the market as a whole, there's no real reason to think it won't serve HP well as a PA-RISC replacement," Haff said.

HP has two more generations left in its PA-RISC line. The PA-8800 "Mako" chip, which combines two of the current PA-8700 onto a single slice of silicon, is scheduled to arrive early next year, Mulchand said.

The Itanium Integrity servers share many PA-RISC components, a deliberate strategy to let customers upgrade easily to Itanium.

One Itanium customer is CitiStreet, a Citibank subsidiary that records financial transactions for corporate contribution plans such as 401(k)s, which has two Superdomes and five midrange HP Unix servers. CitiStreet switched to the HP Unix line in 2001 from IBM mainframes, has upgraded them through several PA-RISC processor generations and now will perform the "brain transplant" move to Itanium, Chief Information Officer Barry Strasnick said.

Now that the five software packages the company needs are available for Itanium and have been tested, the company is switching processors, one server per weekend, he said. The result, based on in-house tests, will be nearly doubled performance, he said.

An rx7620 with two 1.3GHz processors costs about $17,000, with average configurations probably in the $70,000 range, said Sanjiv Patel, worldwide manager for midrange products. An rx8620 has a starting price about $65,000, with most customers expected to pay between $175,000 and $200,000.

HP also released several other products Monday:

•  A new four-processor system, the rx4640, that ultimately will replace the current rx5670, Mulchand said. Its price ranges from about $10,000 to $40,000, with many customers expected to buy configurations costing between $12,000 and $15,000, he said. The new system, a rack-mountable model, is 7 inches tall, compared with 12.25 inches for the rx54670.

"We've priced this significantly lower than the rx5670," he said, partly because component costs have decreased and partly because "we're trying to be aggressive in getting more adoption."

•  A new lower-end line in the ProLiant family of Intel servers. HP has offered the lower-end 300 series, midrange 500 series and high-end 700 series; now the company is beginning a 100 series. HP customer costs for the new series by stripping out features such as sophisticated remote management, high-end disk drives, spare cooling fans or "hot swap" components that can be changed without shutting the system down, said Paul Miller, vice president of industry standard server marketing.

The first 100-series product will be the dual-processor DL140 for grouping into a high-performance technical computing cluster. Each system has a starting cost of $1,299 and runs Linux from SuSE Linux or Red Hat.

Later this year, HP will introduce another 100-series product, a bottom-end server for small and medium businesses. "The competition is going to be primarily whitebox guys," Miller said, referring to the low-cost unbranded systems many small-business customers buy.

•  Two new preassembled collections of Linux servers joined in a high-performance technical computing cluster. The XC3000 uses the DL140 and has a starting price of $171,500 for a 17-node cluster; the XC6000 uses the dual-Itanium rx2600 and has a starting cost of $365,700 for a 17-node cluster.

The clusters have a choice of two high-speed interconnects, Myricom's Myrinet or Quadrics' QsNet.