HP moves high-end Superdome to blade platform

It hopes to breathe new life into its high-end Itanium servers by using a more standard blade design

Hewlett-Packard has unveiled some major updates to its Integrity line of Itanium-based servers, including a new edition of its top-end Superdome system based on HP's blade server architecture.

The new systems, which also include three Integrity blades and a rackmount server, are all based on Intel's quad-core Itanium 9300 series processors, known as Tukwila. They are being introduced Tuesday morning at an HP customer event in Germany.

Superdome 2 is the first big upgrade to the Superdome system since it was launched a decade ago. While the original has its own cabinet enclosure, Superdome 2 is moving to a new Blade Scale architecture that allows it be housed in a standard server rack using HP's 7000-series blade chassis. Customers will be able to manage the servers with the same tools they use for HP's other blade systems, including Onboard Administrator and Virtual Connect.

The move to a more standard blade design is a big theme for the Integrity launch, and something HP says will reduce ownership costs for customers. The three new Integrity blades are also based on HP's BladeSystem architecture, and customers will now be able to manage Integrity, ProLiant and StorageWorks blades side by side in the same enclosure, HP said.

"We're bringing the mission critical capabilities of the Integrity portfolio into our converged infrastructure environment," said Lorraine Bartlett, vice president of marketing for HP's mission-critical systems.

Moving to a common blade design should also help reduce HP's development costs, because it will be able to use technologies built for higher volume platforms. Intel has taken a similar route with some of its Itanium components. "It's all about minimizing the cost of putting an Itanium platform in the field," said Burton Group analyst Nik Simpson.

Superdome 2 won't be available until the second half of the year, and HP isn't saying much about pricing or configurations yet. It says it will be sold in eight- and 16-socket building blocks, and that the blade design will allow it to offer a starting price 40 percent lower than that of the original Superdome.

The system has a new CrossBar Fabric that HP says improves resiliency by routing data intelligently between the servers and system I/O with redundancy. The fabric also lets customers scale CPUs and memory independent of I/O for applications that need it, according to HP.

Superdome 2 has a new "analysis engine" that looks out for errors and tries to act before they occur. "It looks for any soft failures that might be indicative of a larger system failure and provides alerts before you get to that point. It can also monitor the system and determine how it should be configured for the highest performance," Bartlett said.

HP also announced new software. It developed an HP-UX version of BladeSystem Matrix, its software for automatically provisioning servers, storage and networking, so that it can be used with the Integrity blades. It also announced an update to HP-UX that includes Insight Dynamics, a component required for BladeSystem Matrix, as well as better virtualization and power management features.

It's an important launch event for HP. The company is by far the biggest seller of Itanium systems, and it is having to having to battle a perception that Itanium is a platform in decline, especially after Microsoft and Red Hat said they would stop developing new OSes for the 64-bit processor. Microsoft cited the increased capabilities of 32-bit Xeon-based systems.

Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at Insight64, said Windows and Linux are not as widely used on Itanium servers. And customers already running applications on HP-UX are likely to stick with it rather move to a different platform, such as IBM's Power-based servers, he said.

"As long as HP continues to come out with products that are more or less in the ball park compared with what IBM is doing, I think their customers are going to stay true to them, just as IBM customers will stay true to them," Brookwood said.

Whether HP can attract new customers is another matter. Burton Group's Simpson thinks it is unlikely, given the lower cost and improved performance of Xeon-based systems.

"Try as you might, it's hard to see anything other than steady decline" for sales of Itanium-based servers, he said. "Whether that decline is a nice gentle slope over the next 10 to 15 years or a precipice two years from now remains to be seen."

HP hasn't released performance data yet to show how Superdome 2 stacks up against IBM's Power7 servers, Brookwood said. "That's clearly going to play an important role here," he said.

While Superdome 2 might not ship for six months or more, the three new Integrity blades are available now. HP's new Blade Link technology, based on Tukwila's high-speed QuickPath Interconnect, allows four blades to be snapped together in what HP considers a single, eight-socket system. That server, the BL890c i2, starts at US$30,935. There is also a four-socket system that starts at $13,970 and a two-socket system for $6,490, HP said.

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James Niccolai

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