HP prepares 'infinity' campaign for Itanium servers

HP hopes a new advertising symbol will regain some of the delayed Itanium chip's lost momentum. Photo: Itanium 'infinity' campaign

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Stephen Shankland
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PALO ALTO, Calif.--Hewlett-Packard plans to launch a major new ad campaign in coming days using the infinity symbol to try to show the potential of its Itanium-based Integrity server line.

The symbol--a figure eight turned on its side made out of speckles--was featured prominently next to Chief Executive Mark Hurd, who touted his company's commitment to the Integrity line in a meeting with customers at HP headquarters here Thursday.

The campaign will launch in coming days, spokesman Don Gentile said Thursday. It's part of the massive financial commitment HP has made to products using the beleaguered high-end Intel Itanium processor. Intel and HP are leading an effort to regain momentum for the chip that stalled because of product delays, software incompatibility and poor initial performance.

Infinity campaign presentation

"HP is committed to invest $1 billion per year over the next five years to Integrity," Hurd said at the event, meaning that HP accounts for half the $10 billion that a multicompany alliance plans to spend on Itanium through 2010. "That's $1 billion in research and development, software, hardware and services."

Members of the Itanium Solutions Alliance include HP, Intel, Unisys, Silicon Graphics, Oracle, Red Hat, Microsoft and Fujitsu.

The campaign comes shortly before HP upgrades the Superdome products at the top end of its Integrity line. Later in March, HP will launch its third-generation Superdome models based on a chipset code-named Arches.

"In a few weeks we'll introduce a new Integrity chipset with up to 30 percent higher capacity. It adds new availability features to significantly reduce planned and unplanned downtime," Hurd said.

The system was slated to ship with Intel's forthcoming "Montecito" version of Itanium, but the Santa Clara, Calif.-based chipmaker delayed that processor's debut from 2005 to mid-2006. HP believes the 30 percent performance boost even with the existing "Madison" version of Itanium will be compelling, and it plans incentives to encourage customers to upgrade to Montecito when it arrives.

Intel believes the new systems will mark a turning point in the troubled history of Itanium.

"The Integrity machine based on Montecito is really the machine we've been waiting for, the machine our collective sales forces can get behind," Chief Executive Paul Otellini said at the event. "I think you'll see customer adoption rates much faster than you'd expect."

Otellini affirmed Intel's Itanium commitment at the event. "We have a clear roadmap to 2010 and beyond with four generations of Itanium in development inside Intel," he said, referring to Montecito, Montvale, Tukwila and Poulson. "We have hundreds of Intel engineers working on (software development) tools and compilers. The hundreds working on compilers pales to the thousands of engineers doing silicon development."

The other three of the top four server makers--Dell, IBM and Sun Microsystems--disagree with Intel and HP. IBM and Dell canceled their Itanium-based products, and Sun Chief Executive Scott McNealy said in February of the $10 billion Itanium development initiative, "I hope that gang of companies continues to pour money down the Itanium sinkhole. That's opportunity cost that can't be measured."

For the high-end server market at which Itanium is aimed, manufacturers sell $28 billion in products annually. Most of that is spent on mainframes and machines using RISC (reduced instruction set computing) processors such as IBM's Power and Sun's Sparc. Intel once hoped Itanium would be a replacement for x86 chips such as Pentium and Xeon, but now positions the chip only as an RISC and mainframe replacement.

It's a lucrative market, but not one with large numbers of unit shipments. Intel believes this will change, however.

"As systems built on Itanium move into this space, you get volume economics. Standards will drive volume, and volume will drive cost and price efficiency," Otellini said.

Dell's contrary position notwithstanding, Otellini argued that there always will be a place for "big iron" machines with a single operating system spanning many processors and a huge amount of memory.

"Many of our computing needs can only be addressed by having these large, scale-up machines," Otellini said. "When you get down to running data warehouses or the systems that load our wafer fabs and manage all the billions of pieces of inventory running through the factory, only big single-system image machines can handle that well."