Itanium to Drive HP Servers

HP plans to consolidate all of its high-end servers onto Intel's 64-bit Itanium design by 2005.

By 2005, Hewlett-Packard Co. will consolidate all of its high-end servers, featuring four different processor architectures, onto Intel Corp.s 64-bit Itanium design, according to new road maps HP is showing its largest customers.

HP laid out its future server and processor plans in briefings with its top corporate accounts in recent days as part of its efforts to quell customer uncertainty over its acquisition of Compaq Computer Corp.

The presentations highlight HPs plans to phase out not only production of its own proprietary PA-RISC chip used in its HP-UX systems, but that of two other processor technologies featured in systems acquired from Compaq, specifically the NonStop Himalaya server powered by MIPS processors and the AlphaServer featuring Compaqs proprietary Alpha processor.

While HP already offers a couple of Itanium-based configurations, based on the first version of Itanium released last year, the computer maker will greatly expand those offerings after Intel releases a much faster Itanium II processor this summer.

Overall, HPs presentations reassert the companys long-standing commitment to migrate all of its high-end platforms to Itanium, which the computer maker co-developed with Intel.

Nevertheless, the new product road maps covering HP and Compaq systems were eagerly awaited by corporate customers who have invested heavily in such high-end servers, which can cost several million dollars apiece and often come tied to large service contracts.

By outlining a three-year migration to Itanium, HP is seeking to soothe customers concerns about the transition to a new architecture.

"The server customer base moves at a pace that would make glaciers seem like race cars," said Kevin Krewell, a microprocessor analysts at In-Stat/MDR in Sunnyvale, Calif. "You have a customer thats committed to an architecture, and what you dont want to do is rock the boat too much."

HPs high-end non-Intel server road map breaks down this way: ·

  • NonStop Himalayas: HPs newly adopted no-fault servers currently feature the MIPS R12000 RISC processor, but will adopt a faster R14000 chip next year and an as-yet-unnamed MIPS chip in 2004, before the server platform is switched to Itanium in 2005. ·
  • HP-UX servers: The computer maker will release two more upgrades of its proprietary PA-RISC processor before completely switching its Unix-based line to Itanium. High-end systems currently feature the PA-8700 and will migrate next year to the PA-8800, which will combine two 8700 cores on a single chip. In 2004, the company will release the 8900, the final chip in a line dating back to 1986. ·
  • AlphaServers: The former Compaq line will receive two processor upgrades before 2005, with the Alpha EV7 set for release late this year and the EV79 scheduled for release in late 2003 or early 2004. ·
  • Itanium-based systems: Intel will introduce a new version of its Itanium processor this summer that it contends will offer twice the performance of the current version of the chip. Itanium II, code-named McKinley, will be followed next year by the release of a faster version, code-named Madison, and a higher performing chip, code-named Montecito, in 2004. Itanium plans for 2005 have not been revealed.

HPs release of the Alpha EV79 will mark the end of a processor line that dates back to 1991, when the chip was developed and first introduced by Digital Equipment Corp.

Compaq, which acquired DEC in 1996, announced plans to phase out production of the chip last year, contending it could not profitably compete against Intels 64-bit offering. At that time, Compaq also disclosed it would migrate its MIPS-based Himalaya servers, acquired from Tandem Corp. in 1996, to Itanium as well.

While Compaqs announcement to phase out the Alpha line came at the same time the company was privately negotiating with HP over the sale of Compaq, both HP and Compaq executives have repeatedly denied any connection between the two decisions.

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