March 31, 2005 4:00 AM PST

Can HP's 'Super' server save Itanium?

Intel's Itanium could get a boost by early 2006 when Hewlett-Packard releases a top-end server designed for the chip, though skeptics doubt the machine will be enough to turn around the beleaguered processor's fortunes.

HP's new top-end Superdome, like current models, has sockets to accommodate as many as 64 Itanium processors. But unlike current models, it will support the new Montecito and Montvale versions of Itanium, which are expected to boost performance substantially.

Most activity in the server market is happening elsewhere, however, said Sageza Group analyst Clay Ryder. "Even in the realm of Superdomes, how many of these does the world need in one given year? It's hard to push sales upward on high-end systems when the mediocre midrange of computing will exceed the needs of 99 percent of the market."


What's new:
HP's upcoming top-end Superdome will support the new Montecito and Montvale versions of Itanium, which are expected to boost performance substantially.

Bottom line:
The Superdome server could provide a boost to the beleaguered Itanium family. But skeptics say that even if Itanium succeeds in the relatively narrow high-end market, that won't necessarily be enough to keep the processor alive.

More stories on Itanium

HP and Intel believe the new Itanium chips will dramatically boost performance, though. The chips include dual processing engines, called cores, and technology called multithreading that lets each core handle two instruction sequences at the same time.

But a faster chip means a greater appetite for data. "With dual-core and multithreading, you're going to need a new pipe to keep it fed," said Brian Cox, a product line manager for HP's high-end servers.

While the Itanium chips handle computing chores, the essential task of data transfer within the server is handled by a chipset code-named Arches. It's the third-generation Superdome chipset after the initial Yosemite model and the current Pinnacles. (The chipsets are named after national parks and monuments; Yosemite is home to the famous Half Dome peak that also was an early code name for Superdome.)

The Superdome release timing isn't clear. Intel plans to release the Montecito processor in late 2005, and HP will follow soon after. "When it's ready, it's ready," Cox said of the next Superdome. "We're waiting for full-speed silicon from Intel on the chips."

As with Pinnacles--officially called the sx1000--the Arches chipset also will be used in midrange systems with eight or 16 processor sockets, HP said. For smaller machines with one to four sockets, HP will use a chipset code-named Titan, a successor to the zx1 code-named Pluto.

The developments show HP's continuing commitment to Itanium, a chip family the company helped Intel develop as a replacement to its own PA-RISC family. Itanium, however, has fallen far short of its conquer-the-server-world expectations. Intel missed a 2004 Itanium goal of doubling 2003 shipments to 200,000, but there has been some progress: According to Gartner, sales of Itanium servers more than tripled to $1.6 billion in 2004.

Itanium still has skeptics. "The issue with Itanium and HP is one of

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HP Itanium and Superdome Road map
This article does not speak to the bandwidth or BUS
Architecture speeds between chips and memory, Nor, and of
even more relevance, the underlying support for an OS which in
design should be tightly coupled with the machine code
instruction set to add any business value. Is HP going to
support HP/UX, and r LPAR's with all of this horse power under
the hood? Or, will HP continue to waffle between Microsoft,
Linux and HP/UX with no clear direction other than INTEL speeds
and feeds and impressive processor names? So what good are
64 of these bad boys running in a single box if I can not
provision all of this into a consolidated "adaptive" system for an

On the ground here in the Silicon Valley, we see Opteron as the
chip of choice in the egineering community (Linux) as a whole.
This portends that AMD has the right stuff for the next wave of
killer business apps. It seems to me that when you are talkng
speeds and feeds, you have to include the versatility of the
underlying OS/architecture to have a meaningful discussion. So,
in short, what is the actual point of this Itanium architecture? Is
it relevant? Probably not.
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HP Itanium and Superdome Road map
Later this year HP will disclose specific bus b/w and speeds on the enhanced new chipset codenamed Arches which will go into our highend Superdome server and our midrange servers, as well. We will continue the OS support we have had to date of HP-UX, Linux and Windows, plus extend support to these midrange and highend systems for OpenVMS (which is already running on our entry class 1-4p Itanium based Integrity servers). Supporting multiple operating systems is not waffling, but an embrace of reality where virtually every data center on the planet runs a heterogeneous mix of operating systems.

Hardware based partitions (BTW, not available from IBM) are already supported (thus we have been Adaptive Enterprise capabilities for quite some time) and software based partitions will be soon supported on the Integrity servers.

I'm also based in Silicon Valley and see what goes on in running businesses here. HP warmly supports Opteron in our ProLiant servers (we ship more than anyone, including Sun and IBM) as well as Itanium in our Integrity servers. Each has different application sweet spots. ProLiant servers are tops in price/performance in 1-4p configs and used most frequently in edge of network computing, email/groupware infrastructure, EDA, and smaller line of business applications/databases. Integrity servers are best in raw performance for the most demanding line of business applications such as ERP, floating point HPC, highly scalable datawarehouses and databases. Between ProLiant and Integrity servers HP can cover any workload that customers have. They are a nice complement to each other.
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When are you going to stop wasting your resources? If you are waiting for Intel to tell you that it's just not working out, don't. Take a lesson from Intels past, they continue to push products even when they are not wanted or needed. Why? Becasuse they have not listened to their consumers and have research expenditures that need to be recovered. And who is going wind up paying for those expenditures, HP. Go ahead and stock your inventory with Itanic processors, at some point you can sell them on eBay as novelty items.

Fred Dunn
Posted by fred dunn (793 comments )
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