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HP puts customers to another Itanium test with aging gear

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HP's Itanium server customers face a daunting endurance test over the next two years.

We've just learned that Intel's next version of Itanium - Montvale - looks set to disappoint. It will arrive this year at 1.66GHz - just a hair faster than today's 1.60GHz chip. Intel once hoped to kick Montvale up near 3.0GHz, but those dreams - like so many grand visions Itanic - died long ago.

Montvale will be accompanied by some faster front side bus speeds and a couple of other minor knickknacks, which should boost overall system performance. But the Itanium ecosystem - and by that we mean HP - looks to be in serious trouble when cranking through apples to apples comparisons against IBM's speedy Power6-based gear. (Both vendors should keep beating up on Sun/Fujitsu.)

Montvale will ship from Intel at the end of this year, and HP should start filling systems with the chip at launch, according to roadmaps obtained by The Register. We've got HP refreshing the BL60p blade, the low-end rx6600 and rx3600 systems and the core rx7640, rx8640 and Superdome boxes this year. In 2008, HP looks set to release a two-socket NonStop blade and a new four-way Integrity blade with the chip.

2008 also marks Intel's expected delivery of Tukwila - the four-core version of Itanic that will replace Montvale. Intel has set an end of year target for that chip, which promises major performance improvements, but HP won't be injecting the product into new boxes until 2009.

The HP roadmaps we've obtained show a new four-way NonStop blade; fresh 8-, 16-, 32-, and 64-way servers; new two- and four-way low-end boxes and a fresh Integrity blade running on Tukwila. HP will be introducing a new chipset with all this kit, except for the NonStop blade.

So, HP customers will be waiting until 2009 to see anything approaching a dramatic jump in performance. In the meantime, IBM is rolling out very impressive Power6-based boxes now, and Sun will ship a brand new line of servers running on its 16-core Rock family of chips in 2008.

The Integrity waiting game wouldn't look so bad if HP hadn't already suffered at the hands of Intel. You're recall that today's Montectio chip arrived more than a year late. Intel's delay getting the product to market crippled HP, SGI, Bull and rest of club beleaguered.

Beyond that, Montvale wasn't even meant to exist in the first place. Intel had planned to jump right from Montecito to an eight-core Tukwila in 2007. Instead, customers find a lagging dual-core part and have to wait until 2009 for Tukwila's multi-core grandeur.

HP has managed to increase Integrity server sales at a very steady rate since Montecito arrived last year. The company remains the only sign of life in the Itanium market and appears to have minimized defections from Alpha and PA-RISC to Power and UltraSPARC.

But, when you overlap Intel and HP's Itanium product roadmaps, things look much trickier over the next couple of years.

Luckily for HP, the high-end server game relies less on zippy chips and more on software commitment. If you've already boarded the wobbly ship Itanic, you're likely locked in for life. We question, however, if HP will be able to keep its conversion rate as high with a roadmap that looks very soft. ®

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