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HP to switch Xeon chips for Itanium in some Integrity servers

Data centre vendor hedges bets on Itanium processor future

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HP has updated the road map for its high-end Integrity servers to include systems that can accommodate both Xeon and Itanium-based servers side by side, the company has announced.

It's a significant move for HP, and one that could help it to deflect the onslaught of criticism against Itanium from server rival Oracle, which insists that Itanium is a platform with no future.

HP's announcement doesn't extend the road map for Itanium, but it might give HP customers the confidence to stick with Integrity servers because they will soon have a choice of processors and therefore some investment protection, said Gartner analyst George Weiss.

Refreshed range

The Integrity systems being developed include a 32 socket Superdome server, codenamed Dragon Hawk, that will house both Itanium and Xeon-based blade servers in the same enclosure. HP is also developing a new Xeon-based Integrity blade system, codenamed HydraLynx, that will come in two, four and eight-socket configurations, and include some of the high end features from HP's Itanium-based blade server line.

HP says it will continue to develop its HP-UX, OpenVMS and Nonstop platforms for Itanium, but it's also developing hardened, more resilient versions of Windows and Linux for the Xeon-based servers, it said.

Its goal is to bring to the Xeon-based systems the same levels of uptime and availability that HP's Itanium-based Integrity servers are known for today, said Lorraine Bartlett, vice president of marketing and strategy for Business Critical Systems, HP.

To achieve that, HP will also move other hardware and software features from its Itanium systems to the Xeon-based servers, including technologies such as its Crossbar Fabric and nPars partitioning.

The Dragon Hawk and HydraLynx systems are scheduled for introduction in about two years, Bartlett said.

End of an architecture?

Oracle is likely to pounce on the news as evidence that HP plans to move its Integrity customers off of Itanium and onto Xeon. HP insists that's not the case, and says it's only reacting to customer demand for greater choice.

HP is developing the new systems because customers want the choice to use lower-cost x86 hardware alongside Itanium-based servers for running mission critical applications, Bartlett said.

"Customers have embraced our mission critical infrastructure with systems like Superdome 2, and the scalable [Itanium] blades running HP-UX, and we'll continue to develop those platforms along with technologies like Nonstop and OpenVMS," she said. "But while there's continued demand for mission-critical capability on Unix platforms, there's a continued message from customers about needing to get more efficient with IT budgets, and continued pressure to do more with less."

HP paved the way for the move last year, when it introduced its first Superdome system based on a blade architecture. "It was always in the back of our mind," Bartlett admitted.

She was keen to stress that it will offer continuity and investment protection for its customers. For example, Bartlett said, they'll be able to put the Xeon blades in the same Superdome 2 enclosure that HP released last year.

Integrity systems are used by companies in industries like financial services, telecommunications and healthcare, who are willing to pay a premium for systems that can ensure their applications virtually never go down.

They compete with IBM's mainframe and Power-based Unix servers, as well as the Sparc Solaris servers that Oracle acquired when it bought Sun.



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