Within the next week, HP's going to ship a new generation of Itanium-based servers. Using the Poulson chipset known as the Itanium 9500, these blade-based systems are going to outperform the current generation of Integrity servers by a factor of 3.29, according to HP.
The engineering gains are impressive. HP tested the new Integrity blades that use the 9500 series against the Itanium 9300-powered servers. Blades start at $6,490 for the 9500-based systems. "For those remaining committed to Itanium and its attendant OS platforms, notably HP-UX, this is unmitigated good news," said Forrester's analyst Richard Fichera. HP's building these new servers exclusively in Singapore, so it can offer three times the computing speed at about the same price.
But even with all that improvement, HP needed to remind the market that these gains were also heading to its Intel x86 Xeon systems. The reason for that reminder: more of HP's customers, such as those leaving the 3000 in migrations, are moving to Windows.
We're not hearing nearly as many reports of migrations which landed on HP-UX systems. The latest news arrived today from Bob Thorpe of National Wine and Spirits. At the Detroit-area IT center, this 3000 pro turned migrator said their customized system is being moved, COBOL and all, to Windows.
"We are in process of having our in-house designed app (using COBOL, IMAGE, and VIEW) converted to NetCOBOL," he said. "We will migrate to a Windows Server platform by March or April next year."
It doesn't matter so much that it took NWS 12 years to leave MPE/iX. What seems more meaningful is that in spite of the Itanium speed-ups, HP couldn't lock NWS into its single-vendor, OS-plus-Itanium environment during those dozen years.
But dropping the cost of ownership for Itanium has mostly been a pleasure for the existing HP-UX customer. Oracle cast a year's worth of doubt over the chip's future until the courts made the vendor cease, and pledge to support HP-UX and the other operating systems which rely on Itanium. That's one reason HP reminds the market about Itanium's advances and where the improvements will end up: Xeon systems.
With advancements in availability and reliability, HP’s mission-critical Converged Infrastructure will continue to enhance established HP Integrity platforms supporting HP-UX, HP NonStop and OpenVMS operating systems. Over time, these advancements will cascade to mission-critical x86 platforms delivering a single, unified infrastructure for Unix, Windows Server and Linux environments.
That means this "i4" line of Itanium-9500, with its new server blades of a two-socket BL860c i4, the four-socket BL870c i4, and the eight-socket BL890c i4 -- all of these are simply pilot units for the inevitable transfer away from Itanium. How inevitable depends on the customer's trajectory. Windows-bound sites like NWS don't much care how much Itanium can outperform Xeon.
At TechWeek Europe, one writer there interviewed the European head of HP's Integrity business. The website's Peter Judge didn't hear HP expecting to sway many new customers.
According to VP of Business Critical Systems for EMEA Mark Payne, customers still see plenty of performance benefits in the Itanium platform, and would not move across until the x86 platform can match that. Itanium-based systems like Integrity have better mission-critical performance, and users won’t move away until, at the very least, x86 can equal that, said HP.
Unix systems are obviously changing their role in the datacentre, and no one at HP actually suggested they would start to win back business against x86 servers. However, there was a clear expectation that the end of the Oracle lawsuit and the new chips would unlock demand from uncertain customers.
Judge compared the Unix vs. mainframe battles to the future facing the installed HP-UX base. "When we hear that the Unix ecosystem is doomed, we should take some perspective, and expect a similar process to occur. There seems every reason to expect Unix to last as long as the mainframes it failed to dislodge."
HP's message off its own Itanium website shows that it considers "legacy systems" to be its own older Integrity servers. A business case study of manufacturer Steelcase started with the company's use of the Tru64 OS and PA-RISC, then movement to Superdome Integrity. HP seems just as enthused about seeing fewer Oracle licenses needed in the more powerful configuration.
Itanium once had a clear power disadvantage against the PA-RISC chips that drove the ultimate HP generation of 3000s. It took as many as three years for Itanium to catch PA-RISC after the Intel-based systems began to ship. Somewhere in the future of HP's migration campaign, customers like NWS will be hearing more about Xeon systems than Itanium servers. Windows Server, not the Integrity server, is luring migrations.