The new chips can't be used in most existing Itanium systems, another reason why it is important for HP to entice customers onto its new hardware. Tukwila should allow HP to design a new line of Integrity systems that make it easier for customers to start small and scale up with additional processors and memory, McGregor said.
"You can do that today, but the QPI interface is going to allow a lot more design flexibility, in terms of whether those sockets go on the same board or different boards, how much memory there is and how close it is to the processor," he said.
HP engineers have hinted as much on the company's Mission Critical Computing blog. "Think about transforming mission critical servers from old monolithic boxes to modular building blocks," said one post.
It's a step HP has already taken with its Integrity NonStop servers. Last year it began offering the Nonstop software as an option on its BladeSystem hardware. The move allowed HP to make use of higher-volume components used in other product lines, keeping its manufacturing costs lower.
It may take a similar approach with other Integrity systems. Standardizing components for Itanium-based systems has been Intel's strategy as well. QPI was carried over from Intel's 32-bit Xeon processors, and Intel now has common chipsets for both Xeon and Itanium systems, reducing its development costs.
Indeed, Intel's new eight-core Xeon processors might pose the biggest threat to Itanium. Commenters on HP's Mission Critical blog note that Tukwila is manufactured using an older process technology than its Xeon chips, limiting the speed and power-efficiency improvements that Intel can offer. HP has said low latency and rock-solid reliability are more important in this class of system.
On April 27, customers will be able to make up their own minds. HP has invited customers to sign up for a launch event that will be streamed over the Web from its Technology@Work 2010 conference in Frankfurt, Germany. It is promising "the reinvention of mission critical computing."