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HP's high-end x86 servers cue Itanium's fall

Posted: 04 Dec 2014     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Itanium  Superdome  NonStop  Xeon 

Hewlett Packard has unveiled the latest versions of its Superdome and NonStop systems that use Intel's mainstream x86-based Xeon processors. The release of the two servers seems to be HP's way of declining the Itanium, the processor it co-developed with Intel.

A representative from HP said it will support its Itanium systems indefinitely and plans an upgrade of them when Intel launches Kittson, its next planned iteration of Itanium. However, it sees the Itanium systems as part of a declining market and expects new users will adopt the x86-based servers, which offer better price/performance.

The x86 servers represent "a leap forward in price/performance and efficiency," said Jeff Kyle, a director of product management in HP's server group. "We're not afraid to tell customers that total cost of ownership and price/performance both go down."

Nevertheless he said HP remains committed to delivering a long roadmap for HP-UX, the Unix-based software that runs on many of the Itanium systems. "I'll have HP-UX running in systems for the next 20 years," he said.

The Superdome X systems use HP's new Orion-2 chipset to put up to 16 Xeon Ivy Bridge EX processors behind one standard Linux operating system image with up to 12TB of memory. The clustering chipset connects with one hop the caches of any two processors and supports high-availability features such as end-to-end retry and message re-routing in hardware.

Kyle said the systems will compete with high-end Power servers from IBM, which do not yet support a standard version of Linux. Separately, the NonStop X systems will compete with high-end IBM and Oracle servers geared for fault tolerance. The Superdome X systems are available now, and the NonStop X systems will ship in March.

HP and Intel announced in 1994 plans to co-develop a microprocessor that aimed to replace what was seen as the ageing x86. But it took the two companies seven years to get the first chips out the door in a collaboration known for its clash of corporate cultures.

The Itanium was initially pitched as a high-end processor to compete with the likes of Sparc and Power chips that had capabilities the x86 lacked at that time. Ultimately, Intel found ways to keep making the x86 better, so Itanium never got out of its high-end server niche, and eventually the x86 caught up with it.

"Xeon didn't have high availability, but that changed several product iterations ago," said Nathan Brookwood, principal of market watcher Insight64 in Saratoga, Calif. "At this point, the Xeon line has caught up or come close enough to Itanium for practical purposes.

"The handwriting has been on the wall for Itanium's decline for years."

Intel has not said whether it plans any Itanium processors after Kittson. Besides HP, which is its biggest customer for the chip, Itanium is also used in systems from Bull, Hitachi, Huawei, Inspur and NEC.

-Rick Merritt
  EE Times

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