HP, Red Hat team on Linux workstation

A partnership under which Hewlett-Packard accelerated the plans of Linux seller Red Hat bears its first fruit: a version of the new Advanced Workstation software for Itanium 2.

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Hewlett-Packard has begun selling new workstations using Intel's Itanium 2 processor and a new higher-end version of Red Hat Linux, company executives said Monday.

Red Hat had planned to release its Advanced Workstation product in the first half of 2003, but accelerated the schedule as part of an expanded alliance, said Mike Evans, vice president of business development at Red Hat.

The alliance shows what companies can--and often will--do to push mainstream acceptance for new technologies. Linux, a clone of the venerable Unix operating system, has emerged in recent years as a viable contender to Windows and Unix in some markets but still isn't as well established. The Itanium line, meanwhile, is a completely different design from other Intel processors and software companies are just beginning to support it.

Additionally, HP is lopping about 20 percent off the price of two workstation models in a promotion running through Oct. 18 in the United States. A zx2000 with a single 900MHz Itanium 2 costs $3,991 instead of the previous $4,989; a two-processor zx6000 costs $7,851 instead of $10,595.

HP also sells a version of the workstation with HP-UX, its version of Unix, but a Windows version awaits the final release of Microsoft's operating system scheduled in the first quarter of 2003, said Larry Mahoney, worldwide product manager for Itanium workstations.

"For Windows, we're waiting on Microsoft," Mahoney said.

Advanced Workstation is similar in concept to the Advanced Server version Red Hat began selling earlier this year; it changes less frequently, so software companies have an easier time supporting it, and is designed with higher-end features.

Red Hat is planning a bigger push into selling Linux for desktop computers. Evans said the company expects to unveil plans for the desktop software soon.

"We're looking at...a bunch of different markets--the traditional desktop office systems (and those for) basic things like Internet access, software development and engineering, and retail stores," Mahoney said. "When we have more roadmap detail, you'll see which (segment) we believe we're ready to participate in and which will take longer. We believe there is a capability for Linux in all those market segments."

The company also plans an Advanced Workstation version for the more common Pentium processors and those compatible with it.

On the HP workstations, the HP-UX and Linux systems will cost about the same after the promotion expires, said Pat Duba, HP's North American product manager for Itanium 2 workstations. The hardware costs are the same, while the cost of the operating system component is $245 for HP-UX, $250 for Advanced Workstation on the single-processor system and $350 for Advanced Workstation on the dual-processor system, Duba said.

However, HP is having trouble meeting demand because of a surge of government buying before the end of the federal fiscal year. Current zx2000 and zx6000 products are backordered.

Computers with 900MHz Itanium 2 processors take about two weeks to deliver, and those with 1GHz take about four weeks, Duba said.

Much of the interest in the workstations is coming from technical users such as Pacific Northwest National Laboratory who are bringing the systems together into what amounts to a supercomputer, Duba said. These users then plan to later recycle the technology into desktop systems for engineers, he said.

One major advantage of Itanium over previous Intel chips is support for more than 4GB of memory--the practical limit for Intel's Xeon and Pentium processors.

Though HP declined to offer specific numbers about product shipments, Mahoney said in the long term, HP expects more Linux and Windows zx2000 systems to ship than HP-UX. For the higher-end zx6000, he said he expects Linux to be the most popular because many customers are buying the system for use as a node in a supercomputer.

"It's a great compute node, and the high-end computer cluster activity right now is in Linux," Mahoney said.