HP, Compaq extend server strategies

Hewlett-Packard and Compaq Computer, which will put their proposed merger to a shareholder vote in mid-March, forged ahead separately last week with server initiatives.

HP released instructions designed to help other companies build products that will fit into its server blade chassis. Meanwhile, Compaq shared further details on its transition to Intel's 64-bit Itanium processors.

HP claims its new OpenBlade specification will ultimately give users access to a variety of products in blade form factor - cards that can be packed vertically into a chassis, enabling users to fit more server power into a space than they could with traditional standalone servers. While HP makes its own blades, under the PowerBar name, the new specification should enable third-party vendors to delivery blades handling server, storage, switching and other capabilities.

HP's chassis, which is 18 inches deep, 19 inches wide and 22.75 inches (13-U) high, can accommodate up to 38 blades. The company's OpenBlade specification builds on the CompactPCI (cPCI) standards, but includes additional support for storage-area networks and network-attached storage as well as remote management.

John Humphreys, an analyst with IDC, says HP's open specification could receive broad support from the technical community because it opens a door for them to offer blades backed up by a well-established server vendor. HP has signed up more than 100 partners - including Oracle and Microsoft - through its Blade Server Alliance Program, which gives third-party hardware and software developers access to HP blade server equipment and software development kits. HP also has a certification process that will help ensure that products work together.

HP is among the furthest along in developing a blade server strategy, though IBM and Dell are charging hard. Compaq, too, is tackling the blade market, unveiling plans last month for single-processor blades of which 280 can be squeezed into the same space that would otherwise fit 42 single rack-unit servers.

On to Itanium

Separately, Compaq last week provided the latest on its move to an Itanium processor-based server architecture. Compaq, like HP, has committed to moving away from its proprietary server platforms to Itanium, the Intel processor that will run both Windows and Unix applications. Compaq last June licensed its 64-bit Alpha technology to Intel and committed engineering resources to the Alpha-to-Itanium transition effort.

Compaq now says customers can expect to see versions of its Alpha and NonStop Himalaya servers on the Itanium platform by next year, though the company will continue to upgrade its Alpha machines based on new processors through 2004 as well. Compaq officials say they have been spending lots of time reassuring customers that their current investments in Compaq hardware will be protected.

Michael Levine, scientific director at the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center, says his organization has been following the transition very closely and with good reason as his center has the second-largest Alpha-based system in the world, consisting of more than 3,000 EV68 Alpha processors. He says Compaq's decision to move to Itanium will broaden the user-base of systems and could provide better access to applications.

But what's most important to him, he says, is that Compaq remains committed to high-end scientific computing.

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