HP adds x86 to Itanium line

HP has unveiled a project to bring two disparate chip architectures closer together, announcing some high-end x86-based servers while also working some of its high-end features for Itanium into x86 software
Written by Jack Clark, Contributor

HP has said it will add x86 capabilities to its Itanium-based range of servers, in a project code-named Odyssey.

The scheme, announced by the company on Wednesday, will see HP develop software and hardware to make x86 chips a better fit for high-end workloads that are typically dealt with by Intel's IA-64 Itanium processor.

"[Organisations] need the availability and resilience of UNIX-based platforms along with the familiarity and cost-efficiency of industry-standard platforms," HP said in a statement. "Using advanced technology across a common, modular HP BladeSystem architecture, HP is developing platforms to enable clients to choose the best environment aligned to their organisations' needs without compromise."

HP will make a new range of x86 blade servers that will fit inside the HP Superdome 2 and Itanium versions of the c-Class server chassis. These blades are codenamed DragonHawk and HydraLynx, respectively. The company will also bring some high-end features from its HP-UX Itanium operating system to Linux and Windows software running on x86.

The move comes at an uncertain time for Itanium. Oracle stopped developing new software for the platform in March, following similar moves by Microsoft, Ubuntu and Red Hat in the previous years. In HP's discussion of its fourth quarter of 2011 financial earnings the company picked out Itanium as the primary reason for a 23 percent year-over-year decline in revenues within its Business Critical Systems division.

"Our ability to close deals has been impacted by Oracle's Itanium decision," Catherine Lesjak, the company's chief financial officer, said on a call discussing the earnings.

Dabbling in x86

By producing the new blades HP is giving companies with Itanium servers a way to dabble in x86 implementations of their workloads, without having to change to a different server chassis.

This strategy could go either way, according to Clive Longbottom, chief analyst and founder of Quocirca.

"The big hope for HP and therefore also for Intel would be that this new hybrid approach creates something that is akin and competitive to IBM's zEnterprise, in which case HP can position HP-UX as an MVS competitor on Itanium as a specific workload engine, with the Windows/Linux component running on the Xeon systems," Longbottom said.

"However, if it just positions this as a way of unifying computing, as workloads move from Itanium to Xeon, the volumes of Itanium sales (already dreadful) will shrink down to minimal levels — and even HP can't afford to keep bunging Intel development and purchasing money to keep it profitable for Intel at those levels," he said.

The DragonHawk blade will be a 32-socket Intel Xeon server for large, complex workloads. HydraLynx will have between two, four and eight sockets and is designed for mission-critical virtualisation tasks.

HP is bringing HP Serviceguard software to Linux, which provides automatic failover, and nPars which helps to partition workloads across a system while keeping them electrically isolated. The company said it had plans to bring HP-UX features to x86 operating systems, to help people move applications over, but has not disclosed details.

Both the server and software components of Project Odyssey should appear within two years, HP said.

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