Hewlett-Packard Co. will release the first of its systems based on Advanced Micro Devices Inc.s Opteron chip later this quarter as it works to expand its ProLiant server line.
The Palo Alto, Calif., company also has entered into a multi-year development and marketing agreement with AMD that will lead to future innovations based on AMDs 64-bit technology, the company announced on Tuesday.
Reports of HPs Opteron strategy began to trickle out last month, and company officials confirmed those plans at a press conference from Houston.
Scott Stallard, senior vice president and general manager for HPs Enterprise Storage and Servers group, said the decision to embrace AMDs Opteron technology was fueled by customer demand for 64-bit capabilities in its ProLiant systems.
Stallard also reiterated that the move to Opteron systems would not impact the companys future plans for its Integrity line of high-end systems based on Intel Corp.s 64-bit Itanium chip.
“Our commitment and plans for Itanium havent changed,” Stallard said. “Theyve actually been strengthened by this plan.”
Later in the first quarter, HP will introduce a two-way ProLiant server, the 1U (1.75-inch) DL145, followed in the second quarter by the four-way, 4U (7-inch) DL585 targeted at helping enterprises running 32-bit applications constrained by memory limitations, such as databases and Microsoft Corp.s Exchange software.
In the second half of 2004, HP will ship an ultra-dense, two-way blade server.
HPs announcements add to a rapidly changing 64-bit computing landscape. A year ago, AMD executives, in Sunnyvale, Calif., were preparing to launch Opteron, with industry observers wondering from where they were going to get their major OEM support. Since then IBM, Sun Microsystems Inc. and now HP have signed onto the chip, which features the ability to run x86-based 32-bit and 64-bit applications. That compatibility was a key difference between Opteron—which initially was being marketed against Intels 32-bit Xeon chips—and Itanium, which is a different architecture from x86 and could only run 32-bit applications via emulation software.
Intel, of Santa Clara, Calif., changed the game with its announcement last week that starting in the second quarter, it would begin offering Xeons with 64-bit extensions, a move that was embraced by all the major OEMs except Sun.
At Tuesdays press conference, Stallard reiterated that HP plans on upgrading its ProLiant systems with the new Xeon chips as they become available.
Much was made of the relationship between Intel and HP, which co-developed Itanium. But John Enck, an analyst with Gartner Inc. who was invited by HP to attend the press conference, said the idea that Opteron would catch or that Intel would 64-bit enable its Xeon chips should not come as a surprise.
“Theres a need in this market for 64-bit extensions, and theres room in this market,” Enck said.
Sixty-four bit servers can run twice as many bits of information per clock cycle than 32-bit systems, and can accommodate greater amounts of memory. Such systems free enterprises from the memory constraints of 32-bit computing, giving them more headroom in the applications they run, Enck said.
The moves by AMD, Intel and the OEMs embracing 64-bit extensions also gives software makers “incentive to move their applications from the 64-bit world to the 32-bit world,” he said. Microsoft will roll out a Windows version for 64-bit extended systems in the second half of the year. Red Hat Inc. and Novell Inc.s SuSE group also will roll out Linux versions for such ver-sions.
The downside to the growing 64-bit field is that businesses that once had to pick from only a few choices now find their options expanded.
“Now enterprises will have to pause and think about the advantages of 64-bit applications versus 32-bit applications,” he said.
During the press conference, HP executives were peppered with questions Itanium and Intel. They also were asked whether the Opteron initiative represented a change in the companys plans to stick to an Intel-based product line. Stallard argued that the strategy all along had been to standardize the ProLiant systems on x86 technology, and that Opteron was a move within that strategy.
He also said that the Opteron and extended Xeon systems will complement the initiative to migrate all of its high-end systems, including the NonStop servers, onto Itanium. For customers looking to grow their 32-bit capabilities or slowly migrate in 64-bit computing, the Xeon and Opteron systems will work best. Still, there are users who work with mission-critical applications and want 64-bit capabilities, or who want to move off a Unix infrastructure, that will look to Itanium.
“[The extended systems will help customers who want to migrate to 64-bit computing “in an evolutionary way,” said Rich Marcello, senior vice president and general manager of HPs Business Critical Servers unit. He added that Itanium will be particularly attractive to users with systems with four or more processors.
Stallard also denied rumors that Intels 64-bit extensions and HPs embrace of Opteron were damaging to the relationship between the two companies.
“This is not where were falling out with Intel,” he said. “Far from it. Our relationship is as strong as ever.”
HPs embrace of Opteron is a big win for AMD, which now has three of the four top OEMs—Dell Inc. being the exception—using its processor. And de-spite Intels use of 64-bit extensions, Opteron still has some advantages over Xeon, including a years head-start and technology such as a memory controller built directly onto the chip Opteron and HyperTransport, which speeds communications between processors.
However, Intel is planning technology, including PCI-Express, that will offset some of those advantages.
IBM and Sun officials argue that the announcements by Intel and HP regarding 64-bit extensions and Opteron systems are lending confusion to the industry. Both companies—IBM with Power and Sun with SPARC—have offered 64-bit computing for several years for their systems that run Unix and, in IBMs case, Linux.