HP Secure Platform Architecture to fix McKinley flaws

What else can you do if you're making a 'huge bet' on IA-64?

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Hewlett-Packard chiefs may not have bet the entire company's future on the success of Intel's 64-bit Itanium processor, but the business stands to lose out big-time if the chip fails to set the market alight.

So said HP VP and CTO Richard DeMillo at the HP World conference, held in Palo Alto this week. His speech marks the closest the company has come to tying its fortunes to those of Intel's next-generation server processor.

Not that his comments should surprise anyone. HP has, after all, contributed significantly to the development of Itanic. However, we think this time DeMillo went beyond simply stressing the extent of HP's support for the 64-bit platform.

Why? Because HP appears worried that Itanium and - in particular - its successor, McKinley, may not be up to scratch. DeMillo also announced HP's Secure Platform Architecture. He didn't say very much about it, but what he did mention suggests it's a method for maintaining system stability in the face of failures in software and hardware - the CPU in particular.

Running a modern operating system like Linux, with its memory protection techniques, would, you'd have thought, been enough to keep the system up and running if a particular process bombs out. DeMillo's comments suggests that, for Itanic, that ain't necessarily so.

Worse, it's clear that SPA's timeframe - it's intended to operate in servers shipped during Q2 2002 - means it's going to be applied to the second generation of Itanium, McKinley. McKinley is, of course, supposed to be much improved and the version of the chip that will make the platform a commercial reality (as opposed to the current Itanium, which is really just the basis for test systems).

Given HP has so much riding on Itanium - "I would hesitate to say we bet the company on it, but if truth be told, we have put a huge bet behind IA-64," is how DeMillo put it - it has to ensure that the platform is stable enough to operate in the kinds of mission-critical (ie. what the rest of us call 'important') environments Intel, HP, Compaq, Dell, IBM, et al have their eyes on.

In order to ensure that's the case, HP feels it has had to develop additional technology - SPA - of its own. Hardly a ringing endorsement for a processor the company has made a "huge bet" on. ®

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