Hardware Today: HP Server Snapshot
August 29, 2006
This week's abundance of headlines around HP's additions to its x86 server lineup powered by Intel's latest dual-core Xeon 7100 series processors (aka Tulsa), is only one of many recent change in the world of HP servers. Since our last Server Snapshot in November 2005, the company has made a plethora of changes across its server lines.
Let's start with an overview of HP ProLiant. The new 500 series ProLiant servers include the 4-processor HP ProLiant ML570 and DL580. Both support the dual-core 64-bit Xeon processors with up to 16MB shared L3 cache and up to 64GB of memory.
The DL580 starts at $6,649, and the ML570 starts at $5,799.
"We have updated to 4-processor (eight-core) Intel systems with the Tulsa chip," says John Gromala, director of server product marketing at HP. "We have also been introducing small form factor drives that use half the power per drive and offer better storage performance."
These new servers use 2.5-inch Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) disk drives that consume half the power of larger models. According to Gromala, HP is extending the use of small SAS drives across its ProLiant platform.
HP also recently launched a line of products containing the 2P Xeon Dempsey and Woodcrest processors. Every ProLiant 2P now comes with these chips as well as small form factor drives. Likewise, the DL360 has been extended from two to six drives while remaining in a 1U server. Gromala notes that with two drives in a RAID configuration, users typically obtain only about 50 percent capacity utilization. By switching to six drives, utilization is boosted from 300 GB up to 876 GB using RAID.
In addition, the amount of memory has been raised from 12 GB to 32 GB, and will be raised to 64 GB later this year. Similarly, I/O bandwidth went from 2 GB/sec up to 8 GB/sec.
Change has also occurred on HP's blade front. The vendor shared the top spot for sales with IBM last quarter and continues to expand its range of blade server offerings to strengthen its appeal.
With the introduction of its C-class blade infrastructure, HP has simplified blade management, heightened power management, reduced energy consumption and increased the amount of bandwidth in the backplane. Result: more blades per chassis.
"The new chassis can serve ProLiant and Integrity blades, and has reduced energy consumption by 41 percent compared to our regular DL servers," says Gromala.
Two weeks ago, the company announced that two blades, the BL25P (2 socket) and BL45P (4 socket), are available with the AMD Opteron Rev F processors. These AMD chips have also been added to some ProLiant DL servers. This includes the DL 585 (4P) and the DL 385, which Gromala characterizes as the top selling Opteron-based server.
HP, in fact, holds a considerable market share lead in Opteron server sales. With 38 percent the pie, it is about 20 points higher than its nearest competitor. Unlike the others, however, it has its feet firmly in both camps and broadly promotes Intel and AMD processors, cultivating a harmonious coexistence.
"It's all about customer preference and choice of processor," says Gromala. "One or another processor aligns better with a given customer application."
He explains that customers often prefer one chip vendor over another. Hence, the company's decision to sell both processors while developing a common set of tools that work across both brands.
Meanwhile, the company quietly retired the ML 330.
Integrity Still Matters
Far from taking a back seat to ProLiant, the Integrity line has seen its own share of changes. These come on two fronts: general server upgrades and the transition from end-of-lifed platforms (such as AlphaServer and PA-RISC) onto Intel Itanium-based models. HP, understandably, is taking a gradual approach.
For its large user base of HP 9000 users, for example, HP offers the ability to add Itanium 2 nodes to PA-RISC-based hardware to run both types of processors simultaneously.
"This was a customer-driven request that allows users to move older servers piece-by-piece over to Itanium," says Brian Cox, director of server marketing, HP Business Critical Servers. "Over time, they can gradually convert from HP 9000 to Integrity while verifying that their applications are running properly."
This enables them to avoid a big-bang scenario, and it is friendlier to budgets. Further, the user base for Superdome is typically long-established customers running highly mission-critical applications. Thus, they are in no hurry to change, and they demand extensive testing on any new hardware.
Like with HP 9000, the company has been working to move older AlphaServer/OpenVMS and NonStop users onto Integrity. HP has a large user base of OpenVMS customers, particularly in telco, financial services and healthcare.
"Although many of them are taking their time in the transition, many are seeing large performance improvements," says Cox. "They love OpenVMS to death, and it gives them the assurance that they can have it for another 20 years."
These customers are reluctant to abandon OpenVMS because of its reputation for security. Cox lists OpenVMS' attributes as the fact that it is virtually hacker proof, its range of excellent management tools, and great clustering support. He reports that 90 percent of ISV's on OpenVMS have ported to Integrity or are in the midst of porting to it.
Similarly, Cox says the transition of NonStop to Integrity is going well. Although Cox didn't provide numbers, he says HP is ahead of plan on predicted conversion rates. When the Chicago Mercantile Exchange moved from MIPS NonStop to Integrity NonStop, for example, applications sped up 35 percent.
Montecito on Integrity Coming Soon
But it isn't all older customers on Integrity. Brand new, large-scale Integrity server buyers include BMW and Amazon.com. Although these companies continue to use the Intel Madison-generation processor, HP is qualifying the Montecito chip. According to Cox, it will go into just about every Integrity server shipping in the fall.
Integrity blades, for instance, are undergoing a major redesign to align with the C-class chassis. The current generation of Madison-based blades is being phased out, to be replaced by Montecito models around the end of the year.
"We anticipated Montecito coming, so have been developing a new chipset for Superdome and our midrange models," says Cox. "This provides a 30 percent jump in performance on existing Madison-bases blades. We did this so we would have enough bandwidth and capacity to harness the potential of Montecito."
Superdome remains king of the Integrity line. When Montecito is rolled out, Superdome will move up to 128 cores, along with a jump in memory from 2 TB to 4 TB of in-chassis RAM. It is also moving from PCI-X to PCI-X 2.0 and PCI Express.