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HP in NonStop rack server chase

Blading (not quite) everything

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Blading (not quite) everything

So, the strategy of blading everything does not mean - and never did mean - only selling blades. But it could have. HP could have put a two-blade or four-blade machine together if it wanted to. But apparently, that is not what customers want, or HP can't do it at a compelling price.

The NS2000 rack-based NonStop node announced today is comprised of two or four pizza box servers, each with a single-socket, dual-core Montvale Itanium processor running at 1.4 GHz using 12 MB of L3 cache. Each node in the cluster can have 8 GB or 16 GB of memory per processor, for a maximum of 64 GB. Compared to the entry S Series MIPS-based NonStop iron, customers can get anywhere from four to eight times the performance in one-third of the floor space.

A base NS2000 configuration with two logical processors (that's four cores) and 16 GB of memory (8 GB per socket) and three mirrored pairs of 73 GB, 15K RPM disks runs about $125,000, according to Meyer. Throwing the NonStop kernel, database, middleware, and development tools adds another $100,000 to $150,000 to the price tag, depending on options. Still, at $225,000, the NS2000 has a much lower entry point for the whole NonStop stack than the NB50000c, which in a four logical processor configuration cost something closer to $1m once the software was added in. (Oh, you wanted the software, too?)

Meyer says that HP has no plans to return to the rack form factor except for this entry configuration, although he did say that going forward, HP intended to offer an entry rack server based on future "Tukwila," "Poulson," and "Kittson" Itanium processors as well as more expandable blade configurations for larger production workloads. (The NonStop kernel will have to be tweaked so the four cores in the Tukwila chip look like one logical processor to NonStop applications, and the same work will have to be done for Poulson and Kittson, whatever their core counts will be).

Meyer also expects that companies enamored of NonStop iron will be picking up NS2000 rack variants to use as development and test environments, since they are relatively less expensive and provide an isolated machine on which developers can be let loose and do whatever it is they do all day.

Customers sitting there with NonStop S Series MIPS machines have a number of ways they can move their code over to the Itanium-based NonStops. The NonStop kernel at the J Series level (yes, that is confusing) that runs on Itanium iron has an interpreter that is resident in the OS that can run MIPS-based applications in emulation mode. The software also includes an object code translator, which takes MIPS object code and converts it to Itanium object code, which allows it to run in native mode (of a sort) on the Itaniums. And then, for the full performance bang, they can actually recompile their MIPS applications to run on Itanium iron using the compilers inside the NonStop stack.

HP does not break the NonStop line out separately from other lines of products in the BCS division, so Meyer cannot provide any indication of how much revenues the NonStop products drive at HP. All that Meyer could say was that the blade products launched last year were ahead of plan in terms of the percentage of sales HP expected these products to rake in relation to total NonStop sales. Customers are moving applications off mainframes and vintage gear made by fault tolerant rival, Stratus Technologies, he says, as well as upgrading older NonStop gear. "This has remained a steady, profitable business for HP," Meyer added. "And we have been gaining share in the high-end of the server market."

It would be interesting to know just how different the NonStop business is today than it was when Compaq bought it. In 1997, the Tandem line accounted for about $2bn in sales, and in 2000, before HP bought Compaq, the business was still kicking out around $2bn in sales, but profits were under pressure. It is hard to imagine NonStop sales being anywhere near $2bn here in 2009. But Meyer can't say anything about it and still keep his job at HP. ®

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