Last week's demonstration of HP's Itanium 2-based Superdome server takes the company a step closer to its long-term goal of moving users of its high-end systems to Intel's processor technology.
But don't expect other major server vendors to follow suit anytime soon, analysts said. The relative lack of user interest in the 64-bit Intel processor means HP may find itself the lone standard-bearer for high-end commercial Itanium 2 servers for much of next year, they said.
HP showed a 28-processor Superdome server at last week's Gartner data center conference in Las Vegas. The demonstration featured a 20-processor partition running Microsoft's Windows and SQL Server software, while two four-processor partitions ran HP-UX and Linux applications.
The Superdome is HP's highest-end commercial Unix server and is currently based on its PA-RISC processors. High-end models support up to 64 processors.
By demonstrating an Itanium-based Superdome, HP is following through on its previously stated intention of moving its high-end systems to standard Intel technology, said Vish Mulchand, a manager in HP's enterprise systems group.
HP said it will deliver its first Itanium-based Superdome in the first half of 2003.
Itanium-based Superdomes offer users an opportunity to consolidate multiple Windows servers on a single box, said Marty Paul, a US-based senior systems analyst at Pitney Bowes. But the company will wait until HP makes software partitioning technology available on Itanium servers before considering them, he added. Such technology has allowed Pitney Bowes to consolidate multiple small Unix servers on its current stable of PA-RISC-based Superdomes.
"We foresee a similar environment on Itanium-based Superdomes, but the date we were given for this by HP is very far off," he added.
"This is HP providing a proof point that it means what it says about Itanium," said Gordon Haff, an analyst at US-based Illuminata.
Still, the systems are unlikely to generate much immediate demand from Unix or Windows users, analysts said. HP-UX users must recompile most of their applications to take advantage of the better performance promised by Itanium 2.
"Why would you want to do that, when there is an established PA-RISC platform that runs your current applications very well?" Haff said.
Moreover, continuing concerns about Windows scalability are likely to limit user enthusiasm for an Intel-based Superdome as a Windows server, Haff said. Unisys, for instance, has been selling 32-processor Intel servers for close to two years now with only modest success.
"There is essentially very little demand today for Itanium on the Superdome. Still, Itanium is HP's strategic direction and therefore is important for users," Haff said.
HP's Itanium servers will eventually give the company some unique advantages, said Tony Iams, an analyst at D.H. Brown Associates. HP's Itanium-centric strategy has put it well ahead of its rivals in terms of being able to offer an enterprise server capable of supporting multiple operating systems, Iams said. This could give HP an important edge as Itanium performance starts to mature and Windows starts scaling better, he said. The next version of Microsoft's .Net software, for instance, will come with full support for Itanium.
HP co-developed Itanium with Intel and has emerged as its most vocal booster. Unlike rivals that are waiting for more 64-bit Wintel software and user interest to materialise, HP has already committed to migrating its PA-RISC and Alpha-processor-based servers to Itanium in the next several years.