HP boosts Unix server line

Hewlett-Packard unveils a new Unix server that is capable of running 16 processors at once and will be a crucial element in its grand plan to take on IBM.

Michael Kanellos
Michael Kanellos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.
3 min read
Hewlett-Packard unveiled a new Unix server on Tuesday, a crucial element in its grand plan to take on IBM.

The HP rp8400 will become the company's principal offering in the midrange Unix/RISC server market and be marketed alongside the rp7400, or N-Class, midsize server, which sports eight processors.

Midrange, though, is almost a misnomer given the new machine's muscle. Although less costly than HP's massive "Superdome" server, the new machine will be capable of running 16 processors at once. Prices start at $124,000, depending on the configuration. A full-featured 16 processor machine can sell for $1.1 million.

HP is promoting both the performance and relatively low price of the system. In terms of performance, the server includes a number of features from Superdome, HP's 32-processor server. Those include partitioning, the ability to effectively divide the server into two or more distinct units. Another feature allows one processor to take over for another in the case of an emergency.

HP will offer a variety of financing and purchasing options to reduce acquisition costs. In a pay-per-use plan, for instance, a corporate buyer would pay 50 percent of the machine's cost up-front and then pay a monthly service fee based on average use. Ultimately, HP believes that corporate customers will "be provisioned as a service," said Duane Zitzner, president of HP's computing systems group.

"In these tough economic times, they (customers) are looking to get the biggest bang for their buck," said Mark Hudson, director of worldwide marketing for HP's business systems.

The new server will primarily be used to run inventory management systems, complex databases or e-commerce applications and will compete against similar products from Sun Microsystems and IBM.

Gartner analyst Andrew Butler says the new rp8400 from Hewlett-Packard looks to be an impressive machine that carries on and improves upon HP's solid tradition of midrange Unix servers.

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The new model is part of HP's ongoing effort to make itself synonymous with servers. Since becoming the company's CEO two years ago, Carly Fiorina has tried to transform HP from being a technological everyman--with products in hundreds of markets--into an outfit primarily dedicated to providing hardware, software and services for the large computer problems of the corporate world.

The company's bid to acquire Compaq Computer, in fact, has largely been explained by Fiorina and other insiders in terms of how the merger will give HP the technological heft and engineering talent to pursue big, multiyear contracts for business systems.

The server market, though, has been a difficult one for HP lately because of the stagnant economy. In the second quarter of 2001, HP saw its total server revenue decline by 18.9 percent from the same period a year ago to $1.6 billion, according to researcher IDC. That was worse than the 16.2 percent decline in revenue seen in the industry as a whole. IBM saw total server revenues grow by 5.3 percent.

In terms of Unix servers, HP saw shipments grow by 0.4 percent in units but decline by 14.4 percent in terms of revenue. Still, the Unix server industry as a whole declined by 15.9 percent.

The rp8400 comes with up to 16 PA-8700 processors and runs the HP-UX 11i version of the Unix operating system. In the future, HP will also come out with circuit boards that will allow owners to adopt future PA-RISC or Intel Itanium processors.

"With the HP Server rp8400, HP is redefining the industry's midrange UNIX landscape," Duane Zitzner, president of HP Computing Systems, said in a statement.

Last March, HP upgraded the N-Class servers by incorporating the PA-8700 processor in the line for the first time.

One of the key features of the new server is that it uses fewer processors than competing boxes from Sun or IBM. Midrange servers from those companies take up to 24 processors. In the end, this means less floor space, lower energy consumption and lower software costs, because many software makers charge on a per-CPU, said Hudson.

"It is very competitive," said Jean Bozman, an analyst from IDC. "The PA-RISC has been a peformance CPU."