HP wouldn't discuss the products ahead of a press conference scheduled for Tuesday next week. But it has hinted that Intel's quad-core "Tukwila" processors, launched in February, will allow it to update its Integrity servers with a more modern, modular design that lets customers scale them more easily and reduce ownership costs.
The updates have been a long time coming for Integrity customers. Aside from slightly faster processors, HP hasn't made significant changes to most of the systems since the Integrity brand was introduced in 2003. In particular, its high-end Superdome server has had the same chassis since its introduction almost a decade ago.
Intel's Itanium brand could also use a lift from the new systems. HP is by far the biggest seller of Itanium-based servers, so the chip's future depends in large part on how customers respond to the new systems. With Microsoft and Red Hat both recently announcing plans to stop developing new OSes for Itanium, the HP-UX and OpenVMS platforms become even more critical to its survival.
"It's definitely a huge launch for Itanium," said Jim McGregor, chief technology strategist with In-Stat.
The Integrity line competes mainly with IBM's System p servers, based on its Power processors. HP positions its boxes as a "mainframe alternative" for critical business applications that need large memory configurations and high levels of uptime. They include four-processor entry-class systems, 16-processor midrange systems, and the top-end Superdome server, which houses up to 64 Itanium processors.
Customers who buy such high-end systems don't necessarily want frequent upgrades; stability and reliability are their top concerns, so long as the performance is sufficient. But it's important for HP to stay competitive with IBM, especially if it wants to attract new customers to the platform.
"The high-end market does move slowly, but IBM has been updating its platforms on a two- to three-year cycle, and HP has had the same platforms but with newer, faster chips," said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at Insight64. "This will be the first really major overhaul of the platforms that they have done, and they are taking advantage of all the things the new Tukwila chip enables."
Intel says the Tukwila chips, properly called the Itanium 9300 series, offer double the performance of the current, dual-core Itanium. It has replaced the front-side bus with QuickPath Interconnect, a high-speed pathway that provides faster transfer rates between CPUs, and from CPU to memory. Tukwila also adds an on-chip memory controller to further reduce latency.