HP reinforcing Unix server stronghold

Hewlett-Packard is about to unveil a midrange Unix server, an eight-processor machine that incorporates features from HP's higher-end brethren into the core of its Unix line.

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Stephen Shankland
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Hewlett-Packard plans to unveil a new midrange Unix server Monday, an eight-processor machine that incorporates features from HP's higher-end brethren into the core of its Unix server line.

The rp7410 brings the sought-after "partitioning" feature to HP's Unix servers. Partitioning, available in the higher-end 64-processor Superdome and the 16-processor "Keystone" rp8400 servers, lets a computer with multiple processors be split into several independent servers.

With partitioning, an administrator can replace several smaller servers with a single one that is easier or less expensive to manage. Or with appropriate software, partitions can automatically channel computing tasks, sending overflow Web traffic to one processor and distributing lower-priority jobs.

HP's rp7410 can be split into two independent servers of four processors each through a solid hardware partition, said Mark Hudson, worldwide marketing manager for HP's Unix server line. Through a virtual software partition, as many as eight functional units can be established. In addition, other HP software lets administrators allocate fractions of CPU power to individual programs.

A basic configuration with two CPUs and 2GB of memory will cost about $69,000. A more typical model with four CPUs and 4GB will cost $109,000, and an eight-CPU, 8GB model will cost $265,000, HP said. The systems will ship in volume in mid-March.

"It's an embarrassment of riches," said Illuminata analyst Jonathan Eunice. "At one point, they were really in a deficit position, because Sun had real partitions. Now it's just amazing. They've got seven different ways to slice and dice the workload."

Sun Microsystems, the first to bring partitioning to Unix servers, already has spread hardware partitioning down to its midrange eight- and 12-processor machines, though the company lacks software partitioning.

And IBM, engaged in a multiyear effort to conquer the Unix server market, isn't standing still.

"We will be offering partitioning in both the Intel and midrange Unix (server market) in the spring," said spokeswoman Willow Christie. IBM's top-end Regatta, introduced last fall, was the first IBM Unix server to include partitioning, but Big Blue has refined the technology on its mainframe line.

HP has plans of its own. With software coming in the next two to three years, the company plans to be able to let a server partition use just 1 percent of a CPU's power, the company said.

Software partitioning still hasn't arrived in HP's Superdome server more than a year after the server's debut. But the company expects it will be done within the next two months.

"I think we would have liked to see that out earlier," Hudson said. "There are always occasions when you don't time it correctly."