Superdome tests recover after sabotage

HP nearly doubles the measurement of how fast Superdome is able to talk to a database in an independent test. An employee accused of sabotaging earlier tests was fired in October.

Stephen Shankland
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Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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3 min read
Firing an employee accused of sabotaging tests of Hewlett-Packard's top-end Superdome Unix server helped the company improve a key performance measurement, an executive said Monday.

HP also announced a price cut of about 30 percent for the top-end system, its flagship product in the effort to derail Sun Microsystems' dominance and IBM's increasing momentum in the Unix server market. The price cut reflects to a certain extent the discounting that already has been widespread in the high-end server market, said Mark Hudson, marketing manager for HP's Unix servers.

"It's a very competitive market space at the high end," Hudson said. A Superdome with 32 processors now has an average price of $600,000 to $700,000, he said.

HP nearly doubled the measurement of how fast a Superdome is able to communicate with a database in an independent test, the Transaction Performance Council's TPC-C "benchmark" measurement. A 48-processor system in January was able to perform 197,000 transactions per minute, a score some derided as tepid, but now a 64-processor system can clock in at 389,000, Hudson said.

Part of the reason for the improved score was the firing of an employee HP said had undermined the tests, Hudson said.

"We were able to get (the benchmark) out in a relatively quick time frame after that gentleman's departure," Hudson said. "We would have got to this number, but several numbers in between the January number and this number would have shown...improvements. Unfortunately, the situation impacted us negatively."

In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in San Jose, Calif., earlier this month, HP accused Hock-Beng Lim of sabotaging tests of the Superdome by cutting cables, reformatting hard disks and setting reset commands. In the lawsuit, HP said Lim admitted to the acts in two meetings in September, shortly before the company terminated his employment in October.

CNET News.com's attempts to reach Lim by phone and e-mail were unsuccessful.

HP had hoped to post a score of about 300,000 by summer, but was unable to do so. In its lawsuit, the company said it spent more than $1 million trying to assess what was going wrong with the tests and that the inability to report new benchmark scores "damaged HP's reputation and cost it substantial damages in lost sales to customers who would have purchased HP Superdome servers had HP been able to report the results."

The new score puts HP in second place after a Fujitsu server that recorded 456,000 transactions per minute. However, HP's result was using a common database, Oracle, which is more likely to be found on customer sites and therefore, some say, is a more meaningful score to those considering a purchase.

Superdome's two biggest contenders, though, are missing from the list: IBM's new 32-processor p690 "Regatta" server and Sun's new 72-processor Sun Fire 15K "Starcat" system.

Benchmarks are necessary but not sufficient to persuade customers, Hudson said.

"The benchmarks get you in the door. They won't keep you in the house if you can't perform," he said.

Unix servers, high-end machines used to house corporate databases that handle tasks such as logging purchases for chains of gas stations, are key to HP. Unix server sales tend to draw along sales of software, storage systems, services and other servers.

HP has been on the offensive in trying to secure a better future in the Unix server market after an aggressive sales strategy put HP into conflict with many of its sales partners.

HP has been offering a promotion to upgrade from IBM and Sun systems.

HP's Unix servers eventually will accommodate Intel's Itanium line of processors, which HP co-developed. In the meantime, HP has two more generations of its PA-RISC chips. The PA-8800 will include two CPUs on each piece of silicon, enabling a Superdome successor to reach its 128-processor count in 2003.