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HP to port server OS to Merced

Hewlett-Packard will port the operating system for its large-scale 3000 series computers to Intel's 64-bit Merced processor.

Hewlett-Packard said it will port the operating system for its large-scale 3000 series computers to Intel's 64-bit Merced processor, the latest evidence of mushrooming support for Intel's next-generation chip architecture.

Because HP's 3000 line runs the company's proprietary MPE/iX operating system, today's announcement effectively means that HP will use Merced across its entire high-end computing product line. Earlier, HP said it would adopt Merced for its 9000 Unix servers as well as its Windows NT-based NetServers when the chip comes out in 2000.

The HP 3000 line is used by customers as powerful back-end servers to run demanding database applications. This is a high-end corporate enterprise market which Intel is hoping to penetrate in a big way with servers using the Merced processor.

HP 3000 servers are identical in terms of hardware to HP 9000 servers, according to Harry Sterling, general manager of the company's commercial systems division, and both will eventually have hardware identical to the Windows-Intel NetServers.

The difference lies in the operating system. The 9000 machines run the HP-UX Unix operating system while the 3000 runs the MPE/ix OS, which dates back to 1972. MPE machines mostly compete against VAX systems from Digital Equipment.

Although MPE customers were expected to migrate away from the platform over the past four to five years, the 26-year-old operating system has actually been picking up new customers, Sterling said. "We had more growth from new customers in the past 18 months than in the past five years," he said. Most of the growth has come from established, large-scale computer markets such as the airline industry.

HP thought customers would move toward the HP-UX platform and resolve their Year 2000 issues in the process, Sterling said. But customers dawdled. Rather than switch to HP-UX now and try to conquer their Y2K problems, they are deciding to cure their Y2K problems on MPE and worrying about potential operating system changes later.

The rise of Windows NT has also given the operating system new life because it has created confusion about the future of enterprise computing and prompted customers to think harder before switching operating systems.

To facilitate migration to Merced, HP is currently in the process of convincing software vendors to port their applications to the Merced version of MPE. HP released a Y2K-compliant version of MPE last November, said Sterling.

Prior to Merced release, HP will come out with versions of the HP 3000 with the upcoming in-house PA-RISC 8500 and 8700 chips.

While a number of computer vendors have pledged to support or adopt Merced, HP has been one of the most gung-ho. The company codeveloped the chip with Intel. The first version of Merced is due by mid-2000 while a more powerful second take of the product, code-named McKinley, will come out in 2001.

The chip's popularity stems from a number of factors, but one is economic, Sterling said. By adopting Merced, RISC server vendors can now skirt the huge development and manufacturing costs associated with supporting their own chips.

So far, IBM is the only major computer vendor that has not said if, or how, it will adopt Merced.