HP to unveil new Itanium, Unix servers

Hewlett-Packard is expected to announce its new PA-8800 processor and an accompanying Unix server line Monday, as well as a new system built with Intel's Itanium 2 for technical computing, according to sources.

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Hewlett-Packard is expected to announce its new PA-8800 processor and an accompanying Unix server line Monday, as well as a new system built with Intel?s Itanium 2 for technical computing, according to sources.

Ultimately, the Palo Alto, Calif.-based computing company will have a simpler product line as it gradually phases out the PA-RISC chips and moves to Itanium for its more powerful servers. But for the next few years, HP is contending with multiple blood lines for its high-end systems--and with low-end systems complicated by the arrival of new 64-bit chips from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices.


What's new:
HP is expected to announce a new PA-8800 processor and accompanying Unix server line Monday, along with an Itanium 2 system for technical computing, sources say.

Bottom line:
Ultimately, HP will have a simpler product line as it phases out the PA-RISC chips and moves to Itanium. But for the next few years, it must contend with multiple blood lines for its high-end systems--and with 64-bit complications on the low end.

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Sources said HP plans to announce a broad suite of PA-8800-based servers Monday, including a new version of the top-of-the-line Superdome. Last year, HP predicted that its top-end PA-8800-based 128-processor Superdome would debut by early 2004.

The PA-8800 combines two PA-8700 chips onto a single slice of silicon, boosting the processing performance that can be plugged into a single socket.

On the Itanium front, sources said HP plans to introduce the rx1600, a system with dual 1GHz Itanium 2 "Deerfield" processors, a low-voltage model that uses less power and produces less waste heat than other Itaniums. The rack-mounted system, just 1.75 inches thick, is geared for high-performance technical computing, where clusters of such servers are linked to solve computing challenges.

In addition, HP is bringing new lower-priced Itanium processors to the existing rx2600 line, a 3.5-inch-thick dual-processor server. The system now is available with 1GHz and 1.4GHz Itanium 2 processors, with prices starting at $5,730 and $6,230, according to HP's Web site.

No Opteron appearance
One future server line won't be making an appearance Monday, though: a model using AMD's 64-bit Opteron processor. Opteron's AMD64 architecture has blurred a major distinction between the "x86" family of chips such as Intel's 32-bit Xeon and the 64-bit Itanium. HP is expected to announce those servers later this month.

Intel is following suit with its own 64-bit extensions, formerly called Yamhill but now called CT, which is short for Clackamas Technology, according to sources. Intel expects to demonstrate the technology and unveil an official name at its Intel Developer Forum later in February, sources said.

HP believes Opteron and CT are a comparatively minor addition to x86 designs. Mark Hudson, vice president of marketing for HP's Enterprise Storage and Servers group, called the 64-bit extensions "a natural evolution of that architecture...It's no different from x86 having other enhancements."

Hudson declined to comment on plans to ship x86 servers with 64-bit extensions beyond saying that the company will ship them when customers want them, and that it will be best for the computer makers, software companies and customers if Intel's 64-bit extensions are compatible with AMD's.

Others see the changes at Intel and HP as more dramatic.

"If Intel's Itanium plans (or) efforts slow due to a greater thrust on x86/64-bit efforts, it could have a negative impact on HP's efforts to improve profitability in its enterprise business," Bear Stearns analyst Andrew Neff wrote in a Thursday report.

And the fact that HP has said it's exploring 64-bit x86 options is "stunning," Illuminata analyst Jonathan Eunice said in a research note Tuesday. "If Intel's most important...customer--the long-term leader in x86 servers, the one that helped co-develop Itanium and has spent years being its standard-bearer--if this company would even consider Opteron, then AMD64 clearly presents a strategic threat to Intel."

Itanium still central
HP may be making room for new x86 chips in its ProLiant line, but the company expects, and Intel promises, major improvements for Itanium. One next-generation model, code-named Tukwila, includes a design with as many as 16 processor cores on one slice of silicon. And Intel expects Itanium prices to drop.

The Itanium processor was a driving force behind the merger of HP and Compaq Computer. Like HP, Compaq planned to phase out its own high-end chip, Alpha, in favor of Itanium. Compaq's exotic NonStop servers, which use MIPS processors today, will begin moving to Itanium in early 2005, Hudson said--a slight delay over the 2004 deadline HP set in 2002.

"When you look at our strategy, it's going down from five architectures to two," Hudson said. "Our plans aren't changing. We'll support two key industry-standard architectures in the long term," referring to Itanium and x86.

Itanium hasn't been as successful as Intel once hoped; market researcher IDC in January lowered its Itanium server sales forecast to $7.5 billion for 2007. But analysts praise the chip's performance, and it's featured in servers from Dell, IBM, NEC, Fujitsu, Hitachi and others.

For now, HP Unix server sales are "much more heavily weighted on the PA-RISC side," said Michael Haley, the vice president for the division of Arrow Electronics that distributes HP servers to resellers. "I still say we're in the early adoption stage" with Itanium systems, he said, but noted that he expects a major increase in sales in the second half of 2004.

Itanium gives HP more software flexibility. Where the PA-based servers can run only HP's version of Unix, called HP-UX, the Itanium-based Integrity server line also can run Linux and Microsoft's Windows. Later this year, HP plans to release Itanium versions of less widely used operating systems, OpenVMS and NonStop Kernel.

There now are 1,500 software applications that will run on HP-UX for Itanium, Hudson said.

Also on Monday, HP will make an early release of OpenVMS available to developers and early adopters, Hudson said.

The penultimate PA-8800
The PA-8800 processor, code-named Mako, is the second-to-last of HP's Precision Architecture line.

Its "dual-core" approach is the same as the one IBM took with its existing Power4 processor, and Sun Microsystems is taking with its UltraSparc IV, expected to star in Sun's product launch on Tuesday.

Sun, HP and IBM describe their chips in different ways. Where HP and IBM count a dual-core chip as two processors on a single slice of silicon, Sun looks at its dual-core UltraSparc IV as a single chip that can execute two simultaneous instruction sequences, called "threads."

Intel plans a dual-core Itanium, but HP is moving one step faster. Through a technology called mx2, HP will be able to insert two Itanium processors into one Itanium socket.

The mx2 technology, code-named Hondo, had been scheduled for release in the first quarter of 2004, but more recent HP schedules now put the release date in the second half of the year.