Lewis Platt, chairman and chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, said the company's new midrange Unix server, launched in New York yesterday, is, "absolutely critical to get our server business growth stimulated."
HP is hoping the N class server, with impressive performance figures and an easy upgrade path to Intel's IA-64 processor architecture, will rejuvenate sales growth in a segment of the market that provides 60 per cent of HP's Unix hardware revenue - more than $1.5 billion per year.
"The arrival of the N class fundamentally changes midrange computing?it is the ideal platform for the next chapter of Internet enabled business," claimed Platt.
The first server announced in the N class range, the N4000, runs one to eight processors, up to 16Gbyte of memory and is available in rack mounts - a first for HP - holding up to four units. Pricing in the US ranges between $48,000 and $200,000 plus, with shipments starting on 17 May. (for more product details, see later story).
"The N class takes supercomputing capability into new price points. It demonstrates very excellent engineering solutions to the problems of midrange computing and is the harbinger of a new generation of midrange servers," said Christopher Willard, analyst at IDC.
The trade off for users is the requirement to box shift from the predecessor product, the K class, rather than being able to upgrade components within the existing chassis. Also, anyone running HP-UX before the latest version, 11.0, will have to upgrade their operating system for the N class.
Joyce Thompsett Becknell, Unix program manager at the Aberdeen Group, noted that the product compared favourably with high end systems from HP's competitors but at lower pricing.
"Importantly, the raw performance power of the 44MHz PA8500 processor incorporated has resulted in HP's delivering a system that by users' and other suppliers' 1998 performance definitions would be considered a high end Unix OLTP server," she noted in a report.
Nick Earle, worldwide marketing manager, said the server - with a TPMC rating of 49,308 - was three times as fast as an IBM S70 and of equal performance to a Sun E6500 that cost $650,000. He also claimed it had equivalent Web server performance to an IBM S/390 mainframe, but nearly $7 million cheaper.
However, for all its claims about the product, it has been delivered six months to a year later than expected and needed, leaving HP with a stiff battle to win back market share from competitors, particularly Sun Microsystems.
Analyst firm Merrill Lynch is predicting a 15 per cent drop in enterprise group revenue this quarter, following a poor previous quarter, because of the transition delay from K class to N class.
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