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On Itanium, PA-RISC, Superdome and Server trends

There have been many significant developments in the server space. Firstly, Intel launched its 64-bit processor for servers. Also, servers have gradually evolved from all-in-one boxes to application specific ones. High-end servers now match mainframes in processing power. In an e-mail interview, Kamal Dutta, Country Business Manager-Unix Servers & Solutions, Hewlett-Packard India, explains what impact these developments will have on the market. He also details HP's server processor roadmap

On Itanium and PA-RISC processors

HP and Intel have been co-developing the Itanium processor over the past seven years. But all along HP had its own PA-RISC processor architecture. Now that Itanium is finally out (and it works with HP-UX too), will it pose a threat to HP's PA-RISC systems? Will HP discontinue PA-RISC production in a few years and migrate its base of users to Itanium/McKinley? What is the roadmap?

HP & Intel have co-developed the Itanium processor. The RISC architecture has been in existence for more than 15 years now and we believe that the next generation of computing will require processor architecture with capabilities and performances surpassing those of RISC chips. Hence there is a need for a different architecture, which is what Itanium is based on, and this new architecture is called EPIC (Explicitly Parallel Instruction Computing). EPIC chips can execute more instructions per cycle than the current generation of RISC processors.

Itanium does not cause a threat to the PA-RISC systems and we will continue developing and marketing PA-RISC based systems in future. We also understand that there will be users who would like to migrate from a RISC environment to the Itanium processor family, and HP will provide the smoothest migration path for these customers. HP will also continue to invest in enterprise-class solutions for the Itanium processor family. Also, all our PA-RISC based systems will be upgradeable to Itanium processor family in future, thereby providing investment protection.

Let me explain the investment protection part a little bit more. Since all our PA-RISC based systems are upgradeable to Itanium processor family, the customers get a choice of either continuing with PA-RISC based processor or can upgrade to Itanium based processors, and will have the ability to use the server to run not one but three operating systems, which are HP-UX for enterprise class mission critical applications, Linux for front-end Web applications, and Windows for workgroup applications.

The HP Server roadmap over the next four to five years will see both faster and more powerful systems based on PA-RISC processors as well as systems based on the Itanium processor family.

Sometime back analysts said that Itanium is a "Test Processor" and that McKinley (next version of Itanium) will be the real performer. So are businesses in India waiting for McKinley or are they starting with Itanium (with a migration plan for McKinley).

Itanium is not a test processor. It has industry leading integer and floating point benchmark results and also has excellent OLTP capabilities making it an ideal choice for enterprises. McKinley is projected for performance levels that will be a quantum leap over the current generation of processors and HP is proud of the joint efforts in development and delivery of the excellent indicative performances of McKinley processors.

We believe that businesses in India can very well start deploying Itanium based systems for their current applications.

On Server Segmentation

When is HP launching its 9000 Superdome server in India? Which industry segments in India could potentially use Superdome?

HP 9000 Superdome server, which is also the highest end system available from HP, is available in India now. Superdome fulfils our vision for high-end systems, which will have the ability to work with different processors architectures (Itanium & PA-RISC); have the capability to handle mixed workload environment and run three different operating systems, and provide industry-leading reliability features. Superdome is ideally suited for applications like large ERP implementations, data warehousing, e-businesses, core-banking solutions and Internet banking, large database implementations and high-end technical computing, to mention a few.

HP is selling a range of servers: Pentium III/Xeon, HP-9000, HP-UX servers, Itanium etc. Can you explain the market segmentation for these servers.

The IA-32 based servers (Pentium III/Xeon) are clearly positioned for entry level to midrange application deployments. Itanium and PA-RISC based systems are positioned at mid- to high-end computing requirements.

On Server Trends

Servers have gradually evolved from all-in-one boxes to application specific boxes (mail server, database server, communications server, applications server, Web server). What is your view on this? What is the future trend here?

It is our belief that applications such as Web servers, security servers, firewalls, VPN, cache engines, etc will be deployed in application specific boxes. However, we also believe that the back-end of enterprises, data centres, and banks will use servers that have the capability to run multiple applications within a single system. Today enterprises are looking for consolidating all their applications into a single server, which will have the capability of partitioning, running multiple operating systems, running processors of different generations, frequencies, and architectures.

Servers are gradually moving from tower form factor boxes to Rack systems, Bladed servers, and Appliance servers. What kind of market potential do you see for these new systems in India and in which segments?

Rack systems will increasingly become part of any standard data centre of enterprises. Bladed servers will be used for front-end applications, data centres and in the service providers space. The Bladed server and Appliance server have good growth potential in India in the SMB market place, and even for enterprises seeking a good price-performance system for their front-end applications.

On Server Sales

Last year there was great potential for server and storage sales because many new dotcoms were opening shop and several businesses were getting e-enabled. But this year the dotcoms have died. So has this affected sales projections for server and storage systems?

I do not think dotcoms have died although there has been a tremendous shakeout which has affected the demand of servers and storage in this market segment.

Mainframes Vs Servers

Do high-end servers like HP Superdome or Sun E10000 and scalable systems (like Bladed servers) pose a threat to mainframe computers? How near does HP Superdome come to matching a mainframe in performance?

Superdome today is ideally suited for applications that in past would have required a mainframe computer. Superdome in many real-life application benchmarks has outperformed a single mainframe system. The features available in Superdome today are the ones, which were till recently only available on a mainframe class of server. We believe that mainframe users or customers who are looking for application deployment on a mainframe will find Superdome a very good alternative because of its price/performance. Today Superdome is the most powerful Unix Server in the market place.

Most IT managers and industry analyst believe that UNIX servers are far superior to NT-based systems. Will Itanium with Whistler (Microsoft's forthcoming 64-bit operating system) eventually change that opinion? What is your view on this?

As per independent industry analysts such as Gartner & IDC, the UNIX operating environment today has certain superior features and functionality that make it the ideal platform for mission critical applications. It is also projected that UNIX will continue to be favourable for running enterprise class applications.

Brian Pereira can be reached at brianp@rediffmail.com

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