HP prepares new Integrity servers for Tukwila launch

The new quad-core Itanium chip won't go into existing systems, so HP plans to refresh its Integrity line with new servers

Hewlett-Packard will make some significant updates to its Integrity server line next year to coincide with the launch of Intel's first quad-core Itanium processor, known as Tukwila, an HP executive said.

HP won't provide details about the new systems yet, but one analyst said HP may introduce a modular, blade-like design for more of its Integrity systems, much as it did last year for the Integrity NonStop. That could help to make the systems more energy-efficient and reduce HP's manufacturing costs.

It will be a good time for HP to update the systems. Tukwila will not be socket-compatible with previous generations of Itanium, and HP customers won't be able to use the new chip in most existing Integrity systems, Lorraine Bartlett, a vice president with HP's Business Critical Systems division, said in an interview.

That means customers will have to buy a new server if they want to use the quad-core Itanium processor. HP will try to sweeten the transition to the new chip by using it as an occasion to "modernize" its Integrity hardware, Bartlett said.

The Integrity line competes with Sun Sparc and IBM Power systems and is targeted at applications that require a large memory footprint or high levels of uptime. HP is by far the biggest customer for Itanium, which it adopted to replace its own PA-RISC processor running HP-UX and other OSes.

The company is particularly keen to update its high-end SuperDome server, which has had the same enclosure since it was launched almost a decade ago, Bartlett said. The Tukwila launch "really is the opportunity for us to introduce a much more efficient, modern infrastructure for SuperDome," she said.

SuperDome is the largest Integrity system, scaling to 64 processors. The line also includes entry-class systems that scale to four processors and mid-range servers that scale to 16. Those systems today each have a different underlying hardware infrastructure.

"So what you'll find that we'll do in the next generation is a platform that can cover that entire space very cost-effectively and efficiently for customers. Today the servers are quite similar, but they are independent servers," Bartlett said.

She declined to elaborate, but Illuminata analyst Gordon Haff said the launch of HP's Integrity Nonstop BladeSystem last year may offer a clue where the company is headed.

That move saw HP move its fault-tolerant NonStop technology onto its BladeSystem hardware. That means HP gets to use some of the same hardware that it uses for other, higher-volume blade products, which reduces its design and manufacturing costs. HP says the blade systems are also more energy-efficient and require less floor space.

"It wouldn't be a big stretch to assume that HP is taking at least a somewhat similar approach" with its other Integrity products, Haff said.

The strategy is similar to what Intel is doing with Tukwila, which will use some of the same chip-set components as Intel's higher-volume Nehalem EX Xeon processors, said Jim McGregor, an analyst at In-Stat. "The more commonality you have between products, the cheaper it is to make them," he said.

After several delays, Intel expects to launch Tukwila in the first quarter next year. HP will need about three months after that to get the chip into its servers, Bartlett said.

Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at Insight64, said it's always more challenging to sell customers a forklift server upgrade, "but sometimes it becomes necessary, and that's been true over the years with systems from Sun and IBM and others."

IBM has said its Power7 chip, due in the first half of next year, will plug into some of its existing high-end servers. But previous updates required customers to buy new server systems.

HP says the upgrade will be worth it. With twice as many cores, Tukwila will allow HP to put the same compute capacity into a system half the size, Bartlett said. For example, a fully loaded SuperDome with 64 processors will occupy one server cabinet with Tukwila, whereas today it uses two.

One exception with the upgrade will be HP's Integrity blade servers: Customers will be able to put a Tukwila server into an existing Integrity blade enclosure, Bartlett said.

Moving forward, Intel has said Tukwila will be socket-compatible with the next two generations of Itanium, known as Poulson and Kittson.

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