HP Will Put NonStop Server Portfolio Onto x86

By Jeffrey Burt  |  Posted 2013-11-04

HP Will Put NonStop Server Portfolio Onto x86

Hewlett-Packard officials, who already have built x86-based blade systems for the company's high-end Integrity Superdome systems that traditionally have run on Intel's Itanium platform, will now port the NonStop systems to x86 as well.

The move, announced Nov. 4, is part of HP's larger Project Odyssey, a two-year-old effort designed to bring mission-critical capabilities to x86-based server blades running Windows or Linux. It also fuels the belief that Intel and HP officials, who publicly have touted the strengths and road map plans for Itanium, are working toward a time when the controversial high-end server chip platform will fade away.

HP over the next several years will port the entire NonStop portfolio—hardware and software—to Intel's x86 Xeon chips, which officials said will enable organizations to address the growing workloads around cloud computing, mobility, big data and other trends that demand standards-based technology and give them greater options for handling their mission-critical workloads. Running NonStop on x86 will offer businesses greater reliability and performance along with less-complex management and more efficient operations, they said.

"Customers will have the choice over deploying NonStop on Itanium or deploying NonStop on x86," Kate O'Neill, director of global marketing for HP servers, told eWEEK.

HP, by far Intel's largest Itanium customer, also announced two new NonStop blade systems that run on the Itanium 9500 Series "Poulson" chips, the latest Itanium processors that Intel introduced in November 2012. The Integrity NonStop BladeSystem NB56000c and Integrity NonStop BladeSystem NB56000c-cg, both of which are available now, offer a 50 percent performance increase over their predecessors, due to the use of the Poulson chips, according to HP.

The company's NonStop technology portfolio is designed for businesses like banks, telecommunications companies, health care organizations and manufacturers that demand high availability and fault tolerance with little, if any, downtime. The NonStop systems, which run the vendor's HP-UX Unix variant along with other proprietary technology, and HP's Integrity servers until recently all have been based on Itanium, and HP's O'Neill said she expects many customers who already have Itanium-based servers running in their data centers will continue to do so.

But some organizations are looking to leverage NonStop's high availability capabilities on standards-based x86 systems, which can include such offerings as Linux operating systems and InfiniBand interconnect, which is growing in performance faster than HP's ServerNet interconnect. With Project Odyssey and the company's converged infrastructure efforts, HP officials embraced the increasing high-end capabilities that Intel is putting into its x86 Xeon server chips. At the same time, Intel for several years has begun to put some of the high-end features found in Itanium into the Xeons.

HP Will Put NonStop Server Portfolio onto x86

Executives with both Intel and HP have publicly committed to the next-generation Itanium platform, dubbed "Kittson," but there are no stated Itanium road map plans after that. In addition, Intel officials last February said that Kittson—which is not due for another two to three years—will be built on the 32-nanometer manufacturing process, rather than the newer 22nm process that had been in the earlier plans.

Some analysts believe the change in the Kittson plans, as well as HP's Project Odyssey and Intel's efforts to more closely align Itanium and Xeon, are indicators that the end of Itanium's life is on the horizon.

"HP's recovery plan for its Itanium-based servers involves converging Itanium with x86 systems using a 'converged infrastructure' to glue the two architectures together," Clabby Analytics analysts said in a report earlier this year, questioning whether HP customers even wanted such a converged infrastructure. "Further, Intel … is sharing common processor design elements and [plans to] create a common socket for both the x86 and Itanium lines (we see this as an ultimate phase-out program for Itanium)."

The analysts outlined a range of reasons to believe that Itanium will fade away, from a what they see as a broken ecosystem and increased competition to the market trend of migration from HP-UX to Linux running on x86, the cost of continued development and customer disinterest. Sales of HP's Itanium-based mission-critical systems totaled more than $1 billion in the fourth quarter of 2007, but have since fallen to about $400 million a quarter, they said.

HP's high-end server business also took a hit in 2011, when Oracle announced it would no longer port its enterprise software to the Itanium platform. A judge in 2012 sided with HP and ordered Oracle to continue Itanium support, but by then, Oracle's threat had impacted sales for HP's Business Critical Systems Unit for more than a year.

Rocket Fuel