Hardware Today — HP Server Snapshot

by Ben Freeman

In the past six months, HP has shifted its processor strategy, introduced a variety of new products, and is now weathering rumors of a split. Our latest Server Snapshot examines what the vendor's been up to and what's in the cards.

The previous HP server snapshot, published in November 2003, highlighted the vendor's attempts to tame its multiple lines, both the home-grown ones and those obtained through acquisition, by standardizing on Intel Itanium-2 and IA-32 offerings and gradually end-of-lifing other architectures.

Recent Server Snapshots
Sun Microsystems

Since then, HP has responded to the changing market by adding some alternate routes on its road map — namely Opteron and Intel's Nocona. With an eye on these changes, not to mention the reverberating buzz from last week's suggestion from Merrill Lynch that HP split, Hardware Today examines HP and ponders what the future might bring.

Low Riders

While IBM remained the big fish for revenue, Gartner sales numbers for the first quarter of 2004 named HP top dog for volume. HP attributes this placement to a bolstered low end that now includes a 1-way P4 Celeron-based ML110 tower server complemented with 1U 1-way racks: the DL 140 and DL 145. These and other low-end storage additions, like the MSA-500 and MSA-20, seem to be aimed directly on Dell's sweet spot.

"I think Dell really hits us most in the low end, and we addressed that by launching the 100 series of platforms," Sally Stevens, director of ProLiant platform marketing for HP Industry Standard Servers, told ServerWatch. To match Dell on price, HP has lowered its pricing to within 10 percent of Dell's.

Due Process

The Palo Alto, Calif. based vendor has also made several processor upgrades and additions since November. Recently revealed mx-2 offerings will pair two Itanium-2 Madison processors onto a single chip, doubling the processor capacity for HP Integrity Servers to a 64-bit, 128-way maximum capacity.

Elsewhere on the processor front, HP has, in the past six months, expanded from an Intel-based focus to an x86 one. The DL145 and DL585 are 1-way and 4-way capable Opteron racks, respectively. Choosing Opteron, Stevens said, was "less about 64-bit computing and more around 32-bit performance."

Opteron has clearly supplanted Itanium-2 in HP's blade road map, with Opteron counterparts to the Proliant BL20p and BL30p promised by end-of-year. Itanium-2 blades have been relegated to a less-pressing "somewhere around the '05 time frame," Stevens said. She cites Opteron's stellar performance and power-savings capabilities as incentives for its recent spoiled kid brother treatment in HP's blade server family.

Overall, though, HP's blades gleam. Despite a slow start, the vendor recently reached the milestone of having shipped 100,000 blades — which also means it has effectively doubled its penetration since November.

The newly unveiled double-density Proliant BL30p blades holster 96 Xeon DP blades into a 42U rack. HP has also taken a leadership role among big vendors in desktop blades since introducing Transmeta Efficeon desktop-based blades in April.

Autumn Years

HP's HP9000, AlphaServer, and NonStop lines may be scheduled for the scrap heap by 2010 (or, for Itanium chip replacements for the HP9000 and NonStop servers), but they continue making the most of their ostensible move toward retirement. Although HP's road map calls for replacing RISC chips with Itanium ones by 2010, it also calls for continued upgrades. For example, the new 1 GHz PA-8800 processor boosts the HP 9000-based Superdome to 128-way capacity, and, with the introduction of the TS15 AlphaServer and rp5470-4 and cs2600 ruggedized servers, HP's telco offerings are also seeing growth. In addition, according to Brian Cox, product line manager for HP Business Critical servers, new versions of the NonStop's MIPS, and the Alpha and PA-RISC processors are due out within the next year.

The following chart shows HP's server offerings in their entirety. New servers are noted bold; phased-out servers are noted in italics.

Hewlett-Packard's Server Lines at Glance

DescriptionIndustry standard IA-32 serversPA-RISC servers for HP-UX
Itanium servers for HP-UX, Windows, and LinuxHigh-performance servers for OpenVMS, Tru64 Unix, and Linux
NonStop2 e3000 Servers3, and Telco servers4
Processor Typex86: Xeon DP, MP, P4, OpteronPA-8700, PA8700+, PA-8800Intel Itanium-2 (Madison) with mx-2AlphaNonStop: MIPS R14000 and MIPS R12000 (moving to Itanium-2);
e3000: PA-8500, PA-8600, PA-8700;
Telco: PA-8600, PA-8700, PIII, Xeon, Itanium-2 (Madison)
Processor Rangetc and ML300 Servers (Entry-Level): 1 and 2;
Other ML Servers: 2 and 4;
DL Servers: 1-8
Entry-Level: 1, 1-2, 1-4, 2-4, 2-8;
Midrange: 8-32;
Superdome: 4-32, 4-64, 12-128;
Pre-configured 05 Series: 2, 4, and 8
Entry-Level: 1-2, 1-4, 1-8;
Midrange: 2-16, 2-32;
Superdome (High-End with Itanium-2 mx-2): 2-16, 2-32, 6-128
Entry-Level: 1 and 2;
Midrange: 4 and 8;
High-End: 8 to 64;
Supercomputer: Up to 4096
NonStop: Up to 4080 processors;
e3000 Servers: N/A;
Telco Servers: 1 to 4 processors
Operating SystemsWindows, Linux, NetWareHP-UX 11i-v1All: HP-UX, Windows Server 2003, Red Hat Enterprise Linux AS35;
Entry-Level: Also supports SUSE;
High-End: 128-way Superdome requires HP-UX 11i-v2
OpenVMS, Tru64, Red Hat, SUSENonStop: NonStop Kernel microkernel-based OS
e3000 Servers: MPE/iX6
Telco Servers: HP-UX, Windows, Linux
Serverstc and ML300 Servers (Entry-Level):
Other ML Servers: ML530,
DL Servers:
DL145 (Opteron),

DL585 (Opteron),
rp3430-4 ,
HP 9000 Superdome 32,64, or 128-way;

Pre-configured 05 Series: rp2405,
Integrity Superdome-32,
Integrity Superdome-64,
Integrity Superdome-128
TS15 (telco);
Supercomputer: SC45

e3000 Servers:
Customers are being migrated to other servers, particularly to the HP 9000 running HP-UX 11i.

Telco Servers:
1 As Alpha Servers near end of life, HP will migrate customers to Integrity Server environment via its Alpha RetainTrust (ART) and AlphaServer Customer Assurance Programs (ACAP). HP is also currently preparing to release an update to assist customers migrating from Tru64 Unix to HP-UX 11i v2.
2 As NonStop servers near end of life, customers are being steered toward Itanium.
3 As these fault-tolerant, highly customized servers near end of life, customers are being steered toward HP 9000 servers.
4 Carrier-grade (i.e., NEBS-compliant) servers.
5 Widespread SUSE availability planned for 2H04; OpenVMS to be available in 2005.
6 Current customers are being migrated to HP servers running HP-UX, Windows, or Linux.
7 ProLiant also includes the ProLiant BL e-class and p-class blade servers. The new BL30p blade wedges 96 Xeon DP blades into a 42U rack. Proliant offerings include the ProLiant Essentials value packs, and ProLiant high availability cluster solutions.

>> Is the whole the sum of its parts?

Industry Standard?

HP continues to cling fast to its "industry standard" message. "You have this huge, huge installed base and continued growth, with our Proliant line, the world's largest industry standard line," Cox said, "If you also look at the new industry standard, which was just released in the last few years ר Itanium — HP leads in that space as well."

Customer enthusiasm for the Proliant line is unquestionable, though some analysts find contention with touting Itanium-2 as an industry standard.

"Frankly, the market acceptance of Itanium has not been particularly robust," said Charles King, senior industry analyst for the Sageza Group. "The promotion of Itanium as an industry standard by Intel and HP has been a left-handed attempt to capitalize on the market share that IA-32 has."

Slow adoption raises HP's Itanium stakes. "They're not the only vendor out there creating Itanium-based servers, but they are the only major U.S. vendor that's really bet the farm on them," King said.

While Opteron and Nocona Xeon (Intel's extendable 32-bit chip and answer to Opteron) cloud the 64-bit picture, Opteron supports only an 8-way server, and Nocona is being marketed as a logical extension of Xeon. In effect, Itanium stutter-steps could extend PA-RISC's working retirement: "If the demand's not there, HP really won't have an option other than extending the PA-RISC support or development for another generation or two," King said.

King also notes that Intel's marketing has not yet brought Opteron and Nocona head to head. "They're really positioning [Nocona] as a low-end migration platform for small companies, or as an experimental 64-bit environment, but there's no mention of the HPC cluster applications where Opteron's been shining," King said, leading him to speculate that high performance computing is either being kept reserved for Itanium-2 or Nocona does not stack up well in performance compared to Opteron.

To that end, HP's addition of Opteron servers makes strategic sense.

Server Gossip

So let's get to the question of the hour: Should HP break up? King's Sageza Group has seen clues that the vendor may well have been considering it for the past six months. HP's R&D has recently been skewed toward printing, imaging, and consumer products, he says. And, "a few months ago they created a shadow listing on Nasdaq. [HP] said at the time that they were simply make it easier for customers to buy stock," King said, but "that also gives them an umbrella [for an offshoot]."

King sees the appointment of the "very bright" and "very, very able" Ann Livermore (who was also a likely candidate for CEO in the pre-Carly-Fiorina days) as executive vice president of HP's technology solutions group as significant and paving the way for change, should a new CEO be needed. If HP were to split, he postulates, "some trusted partners" might be interested in investing — perhaps Intel or Microsoft?

Place Your Bets

Going forward, Cox sees a "two-horse race" with IBM on the Unix side. Sun, in his book, has fallen by the side of the track. "We used to run into Sun all the time. [Now] We actually don't see them that often in deals," he said. He claims Sun still hasn't regained a footing with its x86 offerings, "Now you see Sun offering Linux, and even, say nominally, that they would accept customers putting Windows onto their x86 platforms."

As for the main event, HP sees its Itanium gamble as more of a sure bet against IBM's POWER architecture. "IBM is continuing to go forward with a proprietary approach. That doesn't give them much flexibility," Cox said.

Whether Itanium-2 will catch on in earnest or HP jockeys its veteran PA-RISC horse back to the competition remains to be seen. As long as it continues to adapt, however, HP will be in, or at least near, pole position.

This article was originally published on Monday Jun 14th 2004
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