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HP’s Putting a Back Door in the Itanium Alamo

It means to build a common, modular HP BladeSystem architecture for Itanium and the x86

Goosed by Oracle - which has refused to port any more of its software to the Itanium chip signally used by HP - HP announced an oddly named Odyssey Project that's supposed to unify Unix and x86 server architectures.

Oracle claims Itanium has reached the end of its life - although Intel and HP haven't told customers that - and in fact deny it - and says HP should move to the x86. HP is suing Oracle to force it to support Itanium to protect its Itanium revenues, which are now shrinking in part because of the uncertainty Oracle has injected into the market, down ~23% last quarter.

HP CFO Cathie Lesjak said just the other day that Oracle's position has made it hard for HP to close Itanium deals.

Evidently caught out by Oracle, HP is now suddenly saying that customers "need the availability and resilience of Unix-based platforms along with the familiarity and cost-efficiency of industry-standard platforms."

So it's going to harvest key HP-UX and Itanium technologies and transplant them to Xeon, Windows and Linux.

It means to build a common, modular HP BladeSystem architecture for Itanium and the x86, a sort of a half-way house where "clients investing in a mission-critical Converged Infrastructure today with Integrity and HP-UX, if desired, can evolve to a mission-critical Linux/Windows environment in the future."

It claims the new development roadmap will involve innovations to its Itanium-based Integrity servers and NonStop systems and their proprietary HP-UX and OpenVMS operating systems although how much effort it puts into its Tandem and DEC inheritances remains to be seen.

It will mean delivering Xeon-based blades for its Superdome 2 enclosure, a project code named DragonHawk, and for its Integrity c-Class blade enclosures, a project code named HydraLynx.

The scheme envisions "fortifying Windows and Linux environments with innovations from HP-UX within the next two years" and will take the co-operation of Microsoft, the Linux community and the hypervisor folks. It may mean applications have to be rewritten.

Business Critical Systems (BCS) general manager Martin Fink said in a statement, "Clients have been asking us to expand the mission-critical experience that is delivered today with HP-UX on Integrity to an x86-based infrastructure. HP plans to transform the server landscape for mission-critical computing by using the flexibility of HP BladeSystem and bringing key HP technology innovations from Integrity and HP-UX to the x86 ecosystem."

Fink told the Wall Street Journal HP has been planning this move "for a long time." Evidently the idea of simply porting HP-UX to the x86 doesn't have much traction with the market.

DragonHawk is supposed to let users run HP-UX workloads on Itanium blades while simultaneously running the same or equally mission-critical workloads on Windows or Red Hat on Xeon blades in the same Superdome 2 enclosure. The object, HP said, is to "deliver the full mission-critical experience on x86."

It's talking BladeSystems with 32-socket x86 symmetrical multiprocessing systems that scale to hundreds of cores.

HydraLynx is supposed to put two-, four- and eight-socket x86 server blades in BladeSystem's c-Class enclosures along with mission-critical virtualization and availability.

Intel will have to do some tinkering with its future Xeons and firmware to accommodate HP's intentions.

Linux applications are supposed to get their availability tickled complements of a reprise of HP's Serviceguard widgetry. HP-UX uses it to automatically move application workloads between servers in a cluster in the event of a failure or an on-demand request. Microsoft's got its own clustering so that's one less thing for HP to worry about.

The flexibility and availability of x86 systems are supposed to be boosted with HP's nPartitions (nPars) mojo for partitioning system resources across multiple or variable workloads. Used on Integrity and Superdome machines, nPars is electrically isolated to eliminate failure points so users can "scale out" in a single system.

HP says it will also embed its Analysis Engine for x86 in system firmware to automatically repair complex system errors and use its fault-tolerant Crossbar Fabric to boost the reliability and resilience of the x86 systems. HP's Crossbar Fabric intelligently routes data in the system for redundancy and high availability.

HP claims it's not forcing customers and their mission-critical workloads to adopt Xeon-based Integrity and Superdome blade servers.

However, Meg Whitman Monday in her first conference call with Wall Street seemed to paint a different picture. "The BCS business is a declining business. It is a slow decline, but I don't think you're going to see an accelerating growth rate in that business," she said. "And so we just have to manage that as best we can and invest in R&D so we get to a new platform as fast as we possibly can that allows us to service the clients that need this kind of power." Apparently she's expecting remaining customers to bolt for the x86 door.

Odd that HP would call the project Odyssey considering how long it took Odysseus to reach safe harbor and what labors he had to go through to get there.

More Stories By Maureen O'Gara

Maureen O'Gara the most read technology reporter for the past 20 years, is the Cloud Computing and Virtualization News Desk editor of SYS-CON Media. She is the publisher of famous "Billygrams" and the editor-in-chief of "Client/Server News" for more than a decade. One of the most respected technology reporters in the business, Maureen can be reached by email at maureen(at)sys-con.com or paperboy(at)g2news.com, and by phone at 516 759-7025. Twitter: @MaureenOGara

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