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HP engineers connection with Integrity R&D

Rx2800 Lab Manager Hewlett-Packard launched another communique from its R&D labs to customers with the recent introduction of the rx2800 i2 Integrity servers. We first saw this approach to using HP engineers to speak to customers this spring, when the newest generation of Superdome 2 servers took a bow at HP's European enterprise customer event. That Web-based package included a pair of videos starring R&D leaders. The rack-mounted rx2800 -- a good fit for SMB-sized customers -- got the same treatment at its rollout.

Matt Harline, HP's Integrity Servers R&D Lab Manager at the Business Critical Systems unit, introduces the rx2800 in an HP video. Even if Harline's presentation is an obvious read of a script, there's a certain kind of customer who'll be more impressed than if an HP exec VP is doing the pitching. For one thing, Harline is somebody who knows what they're saying when they report "this means any 2D RAMs on the DIMMs will fit well, and your system will continue to run without error."

HP 3000 customers making a switch to HP-UX hardware might have to dig deep into their own memory sockets to recall an R&D chief being visible to customers. Once Ross McDonald took over the 3000's R&D, he made it a mission to let managers like Dave Wilde talk to customers -- once reporting this to me with a bit of a smirk at a user conference, as if it was an accomplishment to lie low. For Harry Sterling's R&D unit of the 90s, it wasn't that way at all.

Harline's news talks up the 2U form factor of the rx2800, with technical feeds and speeds (PDF datasheet) including "more cores, more memory, more IO, more storage, more bandwidth than your other legacy servers." He might be talking about legacy HP 9000 servers inside customer sites, built upon PA-RISC rather than Itanium, or even less modern Integrity boxes. But even compared to the rx6600 systems, the new boxes look like a significant upgrade. What's more, they're one of the few new products introduced as something other than blade servers. The Superdome 2, also not a blade solution, probably offers too much cost and power for the needs of the SMB customer so common in the 3000 community.

It's refreshing to see HP's BCS group reach into technical ranks to deliver these "great deal" messages. This doesn't qualify as the one-on-one communication the 3000 group pioneered among R&D in the Customer First initiative of the '90s. But the 3-5-minute videos ring with more authority, even if Harline has to say, "Go ahead and run your mission-critical applications in a 2U footprint. You’ll get scalability, performance and reliability in your mission-critical environments, your legacy rack-mount installations, and your branch offices and other remote sites."

The rx2800 also has redundant hot-swappable power supplies and redundant hot-swappable fans, to allow you to service the system without taking it down.

The rx2800 is in the field to serve customers not quite ready for blades, even through analysts believe the blade is the likely refuge for Integrity by 2013 or so. HP takes a hit on profits while selling blades for HP-UX, especially when it does things like give them away in the HP-UX promo running through April. But any rack server is going to have a higher cost than a blade device not much bigger than a couple of hardback novels laid end to end. Even bigger servers mean bigger sales and profits. HP said in contrast that it sold 400 Superdome 2s in the quarter that just ended, giving BCS its best sales period in several years.

The entry-level rx2800 has three times as many DDR3 memory slots as its rx2600 predecessor -- plus it's got the punch of a rx6600 which takes up the space of 7U. That's a three times improvement in compute density.

HP undercuts some of the technical authority of this R&D manager's message when they have him lead off with a tale of tech terror. Harline said he was "speaking with a customer, an IT manager with a datacenter that is maxed out. He spends all of his days working trouble tickets, trying to keep his systems up." That sounds dire for "a business with zero tolerance for downtime," but the downtime needs are a situation familiar to HP 3000 owners. We can only hope that the IT manager's "legacy systems" don't have an HP badge on them. But with the rollout and the video, it looks like the low end of the Integrity line -- as well as the profile of the BCS R&D staff -- is getting higher.