HP's Nehalem-EX iron set for June arrival
HP will launch its first wave of "beastie boxes" based on Intel's "Nehalem-EX" Xeon 7500 processors later this month, according to sources familiar with HP's plans.
There are three months when server makers typically launch products: March, June, and September. And it looks like June is shaping up to be a very busy month for the big server players — particularly the king of the server hill, Hewlett-Packard.
As El Reg previously reported , HP turned up at the Nehalem-EX launch event in San Francisco this spring, showing off some machines without covers and labels, and it wouldn't say much about its plans for this eight-core beast of a processor. Most likely, HP didn't want to overshadow the Integrity line of "Tukwila" Itanium 9300 blade machines it debuted at the end of April, a month after Intel's Xeon 7500 was trotted out.
(You can read about these blade boxes here , get the initial feeds and speeds there , and get more details on pricing of the high-end, 16-socket Superdome 2, which isn't shipping until October, here . Presumably, there are 32- and maybe even 64-socket versions of the Superdome 2 machines, lashing together two or four of the Superdome 2 blade chassis together using the sx3000 chipset's crossbar. After all, HP needs a big bad Unix box to compete with IBM and Oracle/Fujitsu big iron).
At the moment, the market for machines with four or eight sockets based on the x64 architecture is diminishing, but with server virtualization now becoming good enough to support database and mail server workloads, there could be a resurgence of bigger box sales. And the Nehalem-EX processors aim to fill that need for Linux, Windows, and presumably Solaris-on-x64 workloads. HP-UX has not been ported to x64 processors, and HP has said repeatedly that it is not interested in doing so because it already gave its HP-UX, OpenVMS, and NonStop customers the forced march to Itanium. Despite the unaggressive roadmap for the Itanium chips, Integrity customers will probably be happy with what HP is doing in the Itanium front.
In the wake of the Superdome 2 and Integrity blade server announcement in April, HP cut the price  on HP-UX 11iv3 for the Itanium 9300-based systems, charging based on the processor socket instead of the core and at a rate that chops software fees in half. Intel is charging basically the same price for Xeon 7500 chips as it does for Itanium 9300s, and with so many common parts in the servers, HP says it can chop the cost of a Superdome system by around 40 percent. This may be enough to preserve its customers against an IBM and Oracle/Fujitsu onslaught. We'll see.
HP's Integrity backdrop position, no doubt, is the same that IBM has used for more than a decade: if you don't want a proprietary system (like IBM's mainframes and AS/400s), then what about a Power-based box running AIX or Linux? And if that doesn't work, what about an x64 box running Windows or Linux? HP has the ProLiant card it can play if it starts losing an Integrity shop, and a fleshed out Xeon 7500 lineup of rack and blade servers are needed at this point for customers who need more processing oomph, memory capacity, and I/O bandwidth than a two-socket ProLiant box using Intel's six-core Xeon 5600s or Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron 6100s can. Which is why HP's future Nehalem-EX beastie boxes are strategically and tactically important. HP needs something that smells a bit like Integrity but is an x64 box.
The DL580 and DL980 boxes are the first batch of Nehalem-EX beastie boxes that are coming out of HP, and they are rack-based designs whose goal is to catch falling Integrity customers as well as give ProLiant shops with burgeoning Windows and Linux workloads a place to grow.
The word on the street is that the DL580 G7 server will be a four-socket box in a 4U chassis that uses Intel's 7500 series "Boxboro" chipset and supports 64 memory slots. So with 16 GB DDR3 memory sticks, that's 1 TB of memory in a 4U box. The two-socket ProLiant DL360 G7 and DL380 G7 servers top out at a relatively small 192 GB in their 2U chassis. The DL580 offers 2.7 times the memory for every socket of computing, and it needs to partly because of the difference between a six-core (Xeon 5600) and an eight-core (Xeon 7500) processor and also because of the buffered memory architecture in the Nehalem-EX designs.
The Nehalem-EX processors come in a bunch of different flavors , including Xeon 6500s that only work in two-socket machines and that are designed predominantly for supercomputing customers who want lower heat, lots of flops, and low prices and the Xeon 7500s, which come in versions two, four, or eight socket boxes that can link nodes together gluelessly. (Meaning, using the Boxboro chipset and not a chipset/router to link multiple nodes into a single system image). Both the Xeon 6500 and 7500 processors come in SKUs with four, six, or eight cores activated on the chip. The DL580 G7 is not aimed at HPC shops in as much as it has four processor sockets, and it can be thought of as the workforce of the HP's x64 midrange server lineup.
No two-socket for you
As far as El Reg is aware, HP is not going to offer a two-socket Nehalem-EX beastie box, but it certainly could do this, perhaps kicking out a special rack node for HPC shops using the Xeon 6500s and lots of memory (more than the two-socket Xeon 5600 can support) or a general-purpose Xeon 7500 machine that also has more memory than the ProLiant DL360 G7 and DL380 G7 machines can deliver.
The DL580 G7 is said to support eight small-form factor disk bays and five PCI-Express 2.0 slots, with mezzanine cards to add lots more I/O. It will probably sport four Gigabit Ethernet ports and may even have native 10 Gigabit Ethernet ports (maybe one or two) on the mobo as an option.
The DL980 G7 is HP's first eight-socket Xeon-based box since 2005, when the company ditched its ProLiant DL740 machines (4U) and DL760 G2 (7U) using the F8 "Lightning" chipset created by Compaq way back in the late 1990s for the Pentium 4 Xeon MP chips and the ProLiant 8500 servers. HP did jump back with bigger x64 boxes in March 2008  with an Opteron 8300-based machine called the ProLiant DL785, which weighed in at a fat 7U and looked a lot like the DL760 G2, except it was not based on a Compaq chipset and Xeon CPUs.
The ProLiant DL980 G7 server looks like it is going to be a doubled up DL580 G7 in terms of processing sockets (up to eight) and memory (up to 128 sticks), and it is very likely that the machines use the same motherboards with the same PCI-Express 2.0 peripherals slots hanging off one of the boards. The rumor is that the DL980 G7 will be in a slightly taller 8U chassis and have the same eight drive bays as the DL580 G7.
There has been no talk of possibly larger Nehalem-EX beastie boxes from HP, but theoretically, it is possible that the company could have a variant of the sx3000 chipset created for its Superdome 2 servers that is compatible with the Nehalem-EX chips. If so, HP could deliver a 16-socket blade box very similar to the Superdome 2 design, and even push on up to larger 32-socket or 64-socket designs. There is a question mark hovering above the real-world scalability of Windows or Linux on such a big Xeon 7500 box, but it the software will never scale if the hardware is not there.
So when are these two boxes expected? Before the end of June, sources say. No word at all on pricing or what future Nehalem-EX blade servers HP has cooking down in its engineering labs in Houston, Texas. But you can bet there are probably going to be blade boxes that scale from two to four and maybe even eight sockets as they blades snap together, side-by-side, just like the Integrity Itanium 9300 blades that came out in April. The engineering work was already partly done after all, once the Integrity blades were done. They all would use the same Boxboro chipset, memory subsystems, and I/O. ®