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HP in NonStop rack server chase

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Hewlett-Packard today is rolling out an entry configuration of its NonStop fault tolerant machines based on rack-mounted servers instead of the more expandable and more expensive blade-style NonStop iron the company has been peddling recently.

The new rack NonStop machine, the NS2000, is a bit of a return to the past for HP, which has delivered two rack-style, Itanium-based NonStops so far.

HP ported the NonStop platform to the Itanium processor in June 2005, launching the NS16000 based on single-core "Madison" Itaniums running at 1.5 GHz. The NonStop environment, which includes its own operating system kernel and relational database, runs on a fault tolerant cluster and is intended for online transaction processing. NonStop was created by some ex-HPers who founded Tandem Computers in 1974 to chase the IBM mainframe business. (Compaq ate Tandem in 1997 and HP ate Compaq in 2001).

Anyway, the first Itanium-based NonStop machines, the NS16000s, were nodes in a NonStop cluster, nodes that were based on multiple servers using HP's own zx1 chipset. The NS16000 scaled from 2 to 16 Itanium processors and from 4 GB to 32 GB of main memory, with each node having from 10 to 60 ServerNet I/O connections. (ServerNet is the secret fault tolerant sauce in the NonStop design). These nodes can in turn be clustered to create a very large fault tolerant infrastructure with thousands of processors. A typical NS16000 node had between 4 and 8 Itanium processors and sold for around $1 million, according to HP at the time.

The following June, HP launched the NS1000, an entry machine based on the Integrity rx2620 server that used 1.3 GHz single-core "Madison" Itaniums and scaled up to four server nodes. (The rx2620 is a two-socket box, but the NonStop derivative only allowed one processor per server board).

Last summer, HP announced a blade implementation of the NonStop platform, as part of its "blade everything" strategy. HP also wanted to get the NonStop platform running on standard HP servers, and in this case, the NS50000c blade server was itself based on the Integrity BL860c blade server that HP put into the field in February 2008. The NonStop kernel was tweaked to take advantage of dual-core "Montvale" Itanium processors running at 1.66 GHz, but the NonStop blade only used one of the processor sockets in the dual-socket BL860c blade. (The point of the NonStop design is to have server redundancy, so cramming too many cores on one board defeats the purpose).

Anyway, the NB50000c node is one logical processor in the NonStop cluster, and supports from 8 GB to 48 GB of main memory. Up to 4,080 logical processors (or 8,160 cores) can be clustered together in the blade-style NonStop boxes. An entry-level NB50000c configuration with two blades, a c7000 blade chassis, I/O controllers, and SAS drives for the blades ran about $300,000, and a typical entry configuration cost around $700,000, according to HP.

According to Randy Meyer, director of product management for the NonStop line within HP's Business Critical Systems division, the NB50000c has a lot more scalability than some NonStop customers need, particularly customers with older NonStop setups based on MIPS processors from years ago or new customers who want fault tolerance in Europe or emerging markets where their OLTP workloads are fairly modest. The MIPS-based NonStop S Series machines were sunsetted at the end of 2008, so customers with these boxes have to start thinking about an Itanium future, whether they like it or not. And with the new NS2000, HP is offering them a different and less expensive option than buying an entry blade configuration.

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