HP Faces New Realities in a 64-Bit World

The company this week will unveil more programs and technologies designed to ease users of its high-end servers onto its Integrity line, which uses Intel's 64-bit Itanium processor.

One of the issues facing Hewlett-Packards high-end server business is that it is being forced to fight a two-front war.

The companys Alpha and HP9000 series servers, which are equipped with 64-bit processors, are competing with the likes of IBM and Sun Microsystems Inc. in the Unix space, plus emerging 64-bit x86 architectures that run Linux and Windows from IBM, Sun and Dell Inc.

"The market challenges that are in place right now for HP are trying to compete with Dell in the commodity market while also filling out the mix to compete in the full-service high-end [market] with IBM," said Frank Gillett, principal analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research.

Hewlett-Packard Co. this week at its HP World conference in Chicago will unveil more programs and technologies designed to ease users of its high-end servers onto its Integrity line of servers, which use Intel Corp.s 64-bit Itanium processor. But HP faces some challenges—new and old—as it tries to incorporate all of its pure 64-bit systems under the Integrity umbrella.

Most notably, the Palo Alto, Calif., company must address the introduction of 64-bit extensions to x86 chips, IBMs rollout of its Power5 platform earlier this year and Suns aggressive courting of HPs high-end users with its HP Away program, a strategy that the Santa Clara, Calif., company is expanding.

HP officials are confident that their plan will pay off. The trick, though, will be how HP moves it forward in light of the rapid changes around 64-bit computing over the past year. At this time in 2003, Itanium was pretty much the only 64-bit game in town for Intel users. Advanced Micro Devices Inc.s Opteron processor, which can run 32-bit and 64-bit applications, was new on the market, with only IBM offering a system based on the chip.

Now, said Vernon Turner, an analyst with International Data Corp., the landscape has shifted. Opteron is more widely available, and Intel is shipping its Nocona processor, which is a 32-bit Xeon chip that also has 64-bit extensions.

"Up until the [first] quarter, they were starting to make remarkable momentum in shipping Itanium," said Turner, in Framingham, Mass. In the first quarter, Itanium shipments totaled $270 million; HP accounted for $176 million of that, he said.

"The challenge that HP has now is how to keep that momentum," Turner said. "In the second quarter, HP unveiled their Opteron systems [and] Intel brought out their 64-bit extensions. Those are two options [potential 64-bit users] have now that they didnt have before."

HPs decision to standardize on Itanium dates back before the companys 2002 purchase of Compaq Computer Corp., which brought with it such server lines as Alpha and NonStop. Already, HP has stopped selling new e3000 systems and has laid out plans to phase out the other high-end systems. The last new Alpha chip is rolling out this week, and the company will stop selling new AlphaServers next year. Support for the systems will run through 2011.

/zimages/4/28571.gifTo read about HPs move to offer Itanium-powered blades, click here.

Similarly, the PA8900 chip, to be released in 2005, is the last PA-RISC processor on HPs roadmap. The following year, HP will release in-box upgrades of the HP9000 systems and their chip set to take further advantage of the latest Itanium processors in that time frame, according to a spokeswoman. She added that HP has not yet said when the company will end support of the PA-RISC systems.

In the meantime, HP continues to bring out new technology and services designed to more closely align the Alpha and PA-RISC systems with Itanium. At HP World, the company will unveil a number of moves designed to "significantly enhance our install bases capability to bring Integrity into their environment," said Mary Ellen Lewandowski, product manager for HP-UX.

In October, HP will upgrade its HP9000 systems with HP-UX11i version 2, which means there will be a common operating system for both Itanium and PA-RISC servers, Lewandowski said. The operating system has been offered on the Integrity systems since October 2003. Now, both architectures will share a common OS, enabling PA-RISC users to more easily introduce Itanium systems into their data centers since both platforms share the same operating features, from patch management to updates to server install. In addition, it will enable administrators to create failover capabilities between the two platforms.

With the new operating system, HP9000 systems will be able to scale to 128 processors and will see performance gains of 15 to 25 percent, Lewandowski said.

HP also is enhancing the performance of its AlphaServer systems with faster processors, cranking up the speed of the EV7z, or GS1280, to 1.3GHz, and the ES47/80, or EV7, to 1.15GHz.

Next Page: Bringing full virtualization.