HP places bets on Itanium 2 with new products

Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) hasn't just jumped on the bandwagon for the second generation Intel Corp. 64-bit Itanium processor, Itanium 2. The Palo Alto, California, company is front and center in parading a host of new products using Itanium 2.

On Monday, HP officially launched a range of servers, workstations and software built around the Itanium 2, formerly code-named McKinley. Products include:

-- HP Server rx2600 dual-processor server, which will begin shipping in mid-July with a price tag of US$6,730. It comes with either 900MHz or 1GHz processors and up to 12G bytes of memory, and can be densely racked as a cluster;-- HP Server rx5670, shipping in August at around $21,000. The rx5670 uses up to four 900MHz or 1GHz processors and comes with 48G bytes of memory;-- HP Workstation zx2000: a 900MHz workstation with a single 64-bit processor, which HP says will be priced similarly to high-performance 32-bit workstations; -- HP Workstation zx6000, with one or two 900MHz or 1GHz processors, with 3M bytes of on-chip L3 cache each and up to 12G bytes of RAM.

Pricing for HP's Itanium 2 workstations starts at $4,600, though prices for the individual products were not immediately available.

HP is inviting users to trade in PA-RISC systems to help off-set the cost of moving to Itanium 2, said John Miller, director of product marketing, HP servers.

There are other incentives to switch to the new platform: "Customers don't have to do costly box swaps as we support in-box upgrades to Itanium 2," Miller said.

HP has also launched a wide range of software supporting Itanium 2, including Version 1.6 of its HP-UX 11i operating system (OS); Windows Server Management; Linux Server Management and OpenView.

HP-UX 11i, Version 1.6 can support up to 64 Itanium 2 or original Itanium processors. More can be clustered using HP's MC ServiceGuard clustering technology and includes such tools as Service Control Manager for centralized management, System Administration Manager (SAM) for administration and HP-UX Kernel Configuration for kernel changes.

According to Miller, HP is the only company to support Itanium 2 for Unix, Windows and Linux, where for example, IBM Corp. only offers support for Windows and Linux.

Software tools for both Windows and Linux server management tools include Toptools or Insight Manager 7 for fault and inventory management; Enablement Kit for Windows and/or Linux for installation and configuration and Management Processor for Web-based remote management, Miller said.

The OpenView software is for managing infrastructure, services and customer experience and has been integrated with HP's Server Management tools, Miller said.

Agents running on OpenView HP-UX include: Operations Agent to collect and correlate OS and application data; Performance Agent to determine the performance trends of the OS and applications; Glance, a diagnostic tool which shows real-time OS and application performance; Data Protector (OmniBack II) to back up and recover data and OpenView Network Node Manager (NNM) to automatically map and monitor the networks and systems connected to them, Miller said.

For Windows .NET Server, OpenView software can collect and correlate event, storage and performance data. Management tools include OpenView Operations and NNM which collects and processes information from the SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol) agents running on Windows and Linux, Miller said.

HP's commitment to the architecture is "beyond the hardware and really about the software and services and about helping customers make the long-term transition to Itanium," Miller said. "For example, there is binary compatibility where the applications and tools run unchanged when moving from IA-32 or PA-RISC to the Itanium 2 architecture," he said.

With HP planning to phase out its line of PA-RISC processors by 2004 and with the company's new focus on services and software, HP is putting a lot of time and effort behind Itanium 2 particularly in the area of support for the Itanium line of processors.

"We have over invested in this area, in support of the software and service of systems using Itanium 2 but we see it as one of our primarily business models going forward. We've spent a lot of money and we are ready to go," said HP Product Marketing Manager, Barry Crume.

HP isn't placing all of its bets purely on Itanium 2, but is also betting on future generations of the processors, said Crume. It's worth moving to Itanium because the performance of future generations of the new architecture will increase faster than future versions of 32-bit processors, he said.

HP is attempting to woo business from Sun Microsystems Inc. and IBM which also have announced plans for products using 64-bit chips.

Computationally intensive tasks like modelling and computer-aided engineering (CAE) are likely to be the biggest markets for Itanium 2 at first, where performance is more important than price, Crume said. "The commercial server marketplace is different because they will want to wait and see if it works and if it works well for the price. CAEs are historically early adaptors because they have a taste for performance," Crume said.

According to Crume, HP's systems have been in prototype for over a year and he has already shipped 1,000 workstations to his customers. "Unless you run applications fast, no one is interested and we are able to run things such as graphics faster than Sun."

One power-user that thinks price is still important is Inpharmatica Ltd., a London company that uses custom software and large-scale computing facilities with a mix of Sun and Intel processors in the discovery of new drugs. Chief Information Officer Pat Leach, though familiar with Itanium, believes his company is unlikely to make the change from Sun's Sparc processors.

"By and large, the Sun Sparc equipment still fills our needs and we've seen Sun responding on the price front as well. I don't expect to see us putting database and e-mail servers on Itanium 2, because it doesn't really offer us anything different to what we already have. And I certainly don't see us moving to 64-bit architectures for at least a couple of years. Sun seem clearly to be positioned to respond to any threat from Itanium and looking out to 64-bit, our decision will also depend on what IBM does in this sphere," Leach said.

Leach said that he was skeptical about HP's argument that performance often trumps price when it comes to the customer decision making process. "The pricing plans for these machines doesn't look attractive except for people at the absolute edge of performance needs. It's important to remember that price also includes the cost of real management and getting people up to speed on using the new technology. Maintainability, skills and so forth are still more important than raw performance," Leach said.

Analysts don't expect users to make the switch until they absolutely have to, but believe that there will eventually be a demand for 64-bit processors as applications become more greedy for power.

"It is currently a bit like a chicken and egg situation, but right now there is a lack of natural demand (for 64-bit)," said Andrew Butler, a vice president at the U.K. division of Gartner Inc.

According to Butler, HP hopes that by positioning itself early with Itanium 2 it will gradually convince its current customers to move from PA-RISC to Itanium and, even further out, and will also win over Sun and IBM customers.

"The problem in the short term is that all of HP's PA-RISC line is relatively young at the moment with at least two more revolutions in PA-RISC still being in the pipeline. There are isolated situations where users can benefit from Itanium 2, but the vast majority of HP customers will continue with PA-RISC. In the volume market, these guys just don't need 64-bit yet, though they will eventually," Butler said.

In the meantime, HP will balance its need to keep customers happy with stable technology while continuing to promote Itanium 2 and encouraging software vendors to create applications for Itanium 2 and its succeeding versions, Butler said.

"HP is going to do everything in its power to make sure Itanium succeeds," Butler said.

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