HP forges 32-socket Itanium iron

Beyond Superdome

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What's going on with Hewlett-Packard's Itanium-based Integrity server lineup? It has been over a year since HP got its first machines using Intel's "Tukwila" quad-core Itanium 9300 processors into Integrity machines, and the company has still not delivered machines spanning 32 and 64 sockets. This is the kind of big iron that key HP-UX accounts need.

IBM got its big, bad Power 795 AIX box out the door last fall, sporting up to 256 Power7 cores in a single system image, and the machine was one of the key factors driving up the company's Unix server sales by 19 per cent in the first quarter of this year. Oracle and Fujitsu are in super-slow-mode with the Sparc Enterprise M9000, sticking with the existing quad-core Sparc64-VII+ chips and able to field 256 cores in a 64-socket configuration. The Superdome 2 is stuck at 64 cores.

The lack of a high-end Integrity server running HP-UX is simultaneously a boon for Oracle, which wants to sell its own (or rather, rebranded Fujitsu) Sparc Enterprise M8000 and M9000 servers, as well as a bust because Oracle does in fact sell a lot of its database, middleware, and application software on HP-UX machines.

If HP can't deliver big Superdome 2 boxes, Oracle might as well bash the Itanium chip, as it has been doing. Oracle says that Intel and HP are not being honest about the future of Itanium, that Intel is focused on Xeon processors, and has therefore said that it will not develop future versions of its database, middleware, and application software for the Itanium platform. And when Oracle says that, what it is really saying is that it is stopping development on HP-UX.

Publicly, Intel has stuck to its party line, saying that it has two more Itanium generations coming down the pike, but has told its Itanium customers privately that it is considering its options for what happens after the "Kittson" Itaniums come to market in 2014 or so. The eight-core "Poulson" Itaniums, now confirmed for 2012, will plug into the current Integrity blade and rack servers, which were announced last April, and they are also plug-compatible with the Superdome 2 blade-ish SMP boxes, which currently come with 8 or 16 sockets in a single system image using the Tukwila Itanium processors.

The sx3000 chipset implements a crossbar interconnect that provides up to 32 links per blade enclosure; each enclosure can hold a maximum of eight blades. Kirk Bresniker, vice president and chief technologist for the Business Critical Systems division at HP (and an HP Fellow as well), tells El Reg that this Superdome 2 crossbar is based on HP's own electrical design and uses its own communication protocols, which have their heritage in the Convex supercomputers and the PA-RISC and Itanium Superdome machines.

The early Superdomes had their own custom cables to implement the interconnect, but with the SD2 machines, HP has switched to PCI-Express cabling, which saves money. In any event, these crossbar links can be used to lash multiple processor boards together and to link out to external I/O expansion enclosures. That crossbar is implemented in separate blades that go in a separate chassis on top of the enclosure for the processor blades, linking out to external I/O or adjacent crossbar blades feeding into other Superdome 2 blade enclosures.

The main differences between the SD2-8s and SD2-16s machines, as these servers are called, is the size of the nPar partitions that run on the boxes and external I/O expansion. Both are based on two-socket extended blades that have the sx3000 chipset from HP plugging into the QuickPath Interconnect (QPI) point-to-point links on the Tukwila chips to implement SMP clustering for server nodes.

These machines support the Itanium 9340 and 9350 processors, from 32GB to 2TB of DDR3 main memory, 24 PCI-Express 2.0 slots, and 32 10 Gigabit Ethernet ports. The SD2-8s has nPar hard partitions that can span as large as eight processors and 32 cores, has up to 48 external I/O ports that can be attached into the sx3000 chipset's crossbar. The SD2-16s can have an nPar hard partition that can extend across 16 sockets and 64 cores (that's the entire box) and has double the external PCI-Express peripheral slots, at 96.

The HP Integrity server roadmap from late 2009 had the Integrity blade servers - the two-socket BL860c i2, four-socket BL870c i2, and the eight-socket BL890c i2 - being launched in April 2010, with the SD2-16s coming in August 2010.

HP Tukwila Roadmap Circa Late 2009

HP's Tukwila roadmap, circa late 2009 (click to enlarge)

There was no mention of an SD2-8s in that late 2009 roadmap, but the SD2-32s, a 32-socket server sporting 128 cores and spanning two SD2 chassis, was due in the first half of 2011 and the rx2800 i2 rack server - mostly aimed at OpenVMS customers but also sporting Windows Server 2008 R2 - was due in the second half of 2010. As we know, HP kicked out the Integrity BL8X0c i2 blades, the rx2800 i2 rack, the SD2-8s, and SD2-16s machines in April 2010 and hasn't touched the product line since.

There have been some enhancements to the NonStop machines, which are also based on the Integrity platform, and at some point last year, HP tweaked the Superdome 2 online specs to let customers know the SD2-32s machine was coming and that the architecture could scale to 64 sockets and "from 8 to 256 cores and more".

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