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HP Embraces Opteron, Itanium for 64-bit Computing

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HP moved into the x86 extensions arena Wednesday with the employment of AMD’s Opteron processor in Proliant servers, despite already supporting the competing Intel Itanium architecture for 64-bit computing.

HP is moving into the x86 extensions arena by employing AMD’s Opteron processor in Proliant servers, despite already supporting the competing Intel Itanium architecture for 64-bit computing.

As previously reported, the Palo Alto, Calif., systems giant is outlining its latest plans to roll out Intel Xeon 64-bit extensions into current ProLiant models in conjunction with Intel’s product road map.

In the first half of 2004, HP will offer two Opteron-based ProLiant machines: the HP ProLiant DL145, a two-processor, server for high-performance computing, Web serving, security and streaming media; and the ProLiant DL585, a four-processor box for improving performance of applications, such as databases and Microsoft Exchange environments.

HP expects to ship a two-processor HP ProLiant blade server for high-performance computing and data center environments later this year, as well as 64-bit extensions for its Xeon-based ProLiant machines.

HP also expects to roll out 1- and 2-way ProLiant servers with new Xeon processors this summer, with 4- and 8-way models expected next year.

The maneuvers threw some doubt over HP’s long-time conviction that the Intel/HP co-developed Itanium architecture was the way to go for customers that wish to support 64-bit applications on their machines. HP offers Itanium-based Integrity systems.

But HP executives downplayed the significance of the move on a conference call with journalists, noting that support for Opteron has long been in the cards and that x86 extensions are merely another way for HP to demonstrate its support for standards, which fits with the company’s Adaptive Enterprise strategy for helping customers adapt to business changes.

Scott Stallard, HP’s senior vice president and general manager of enterprise storage and servers, said the x86 extensions are about bringing customers more choice and are not an indication that HP has soured on Itanium, which the company has touted as its 64-bit bread and butter for the last couple of years.

Stallard said HP ProLiant servers with x86 extensions offer customers running 32-bit applications increased performance and memory addressability, as well as a path to 64-bit computing to provide scalability for business growth.

Analysts and HP competitors, such as IBM and Sun, have said Itanium is limited by its inability to port to 32-bit applications and therefore would not be as desirable as AMD’s Opteron or IBM’s POWER4 architectures. Both IBM and Sun support Opteron in certain products.

HP’s decision to support Opteron could be an example of the company backtracking to reach backwards compatibility; or it could be that HP had planned an Opteron endorsement all along.

To lend credence to its claim, HP brought in Gartner analyst John Enck to discuss why he believed the move makes sense.

“We believe there is a need in the market for support for both Itanium and Opteron and we believe there is plenty of room in this market,” Enck said. “We believe HP’s support of both Intel and AMD augments the current 32-bit architecture and is neither disruptive to Itanium nor displacing or killing RISC. We see this as more overall goodness for 32-bit environments and as a good way to run a 64-bit operating system to address memory-hungry 32-bit applications.”

So do Microsoft and Oracle. Both issued ringing endorsements of HP’s Opteron and Itanium-driven 64-bit server strategy.

Enck, who compared HP’s adoption of Opteron and Itanium to stores that broke barriers by selling both Coke and Pepsi cola concurrently, also said using Opteron would give customers running Microsoft Exchange full four bits of addressing space. Enck also praised HP for offering the flexibility of being able to choose between two rival architectures from one vendor.

HP and AMD have entered into a multiyear purchasing, marketing, and technology collaboration to ramp up the time-to-market.

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