HP has disclosed it is working to extend its HP NonStop fault-tolerant server platform to include hardware based on Intel x86 processors, a move that will once more fuel speculation regarding the long-term future of the Itanium processor family.
However, the firm simultaneously unveiled new HP Integrity NonStop blade servers based on the Itanium processor 9500 series, the most up-to-date version of the family, and reiterated again its commitment to customers still running Itanium-based systems such as NonStop and the mission-critical Integrity line.
Neil Pringle, director of HP Business Critical Systems in EMEA, told V3 the firm plans to introduce x86 architecture into the NonStop line within the 2015 timeframe. He claimed it will be offered in parallel with the current Itanium architecture and would offer customers greater choice.
"We are continuing that family of products and announcing that the Intel 9500 chip has now been deployed into the NonStop family, but in addition we are planning to extend the family to adopt in parallel the x86 architecture for a set of our customers. It means they can still choose the world's most available server, but they will have the choice to use Itanium or x86," he said.
The move mirrors HP's adoption of Intel Xeon-based server blades into the mission-critical Integrity platform two years ago, as part of HP's Project Odyssey. The Integrity systems were also given a boost with the release of new blades based on the Itanium 9500 chip almost exactly a year ago.
However, while the move allowed Windows and Linux workloads to run on Integrity systems, HP has declined to port its HP-UX Unix platform that forms the heart of Integrity onto the x86 architecture. With NonStop, however, the operating system and applications will run on x86 chips.
Project Odyssey has taken longer to reach HP's NonStop systems, which are designed to provide the highest level of availability for customers in the banking, telecommunications and manufacturing sectors. Pringle claimed that one customer has been operating services on NonStop for over 27 years without a single interruption.
Historically, the product line can be traced back to the Tandem NonStop line, which was acquired by Compaq and subsequently acquired by HP over a decade ago.
Pringle said that customers will be able to seamlessly operate existing NonStop OS applications on x86 NonStop blades without recompilation, although recompiling them would deliver optimum performance.
HP said it is developing its x86 NonStop hardware on the existing Xeon processors, but hinted that this may not be what it is actually based on when it reaches commercial availability.
"It will depend on Intel's roadmap," said Pringle, "but also on our customers. While they are looking for choice, they are also looking for stability, so we would look to choose from the Xeon family which is the right chip at the time."
When asked if HP was making this move because customers wanted to migrate away from Itanium, Pringle denied this, reiterating that it was about delivering choice.
"If customers are looking to continue to process environments that they do today, they will probably stay with Itanium. But if we have customers looking to extend their capabilities and re-architect their environment to take them forwards for the next 10 to 15 years, which many large institutions are, we will offer them the choice to operate the world's most available server on Itanium or x86," he explained.
However, Itanium processor development has stalled over the past decade, with Intel repeatedly failing to hit delivery dates for successive chips on the roadmap, while the Xeon line has continued to improve in both performance and mission-critical features. It would be surprising if some customers were not pushing HP to offer a migration path off Itanium.
The new Itanium-based NonStop systems, the HP Integrity NonStop BladeSystem NB56000c and HP Integrity NonStop BladeSystem NB56000c-cg, are available worldwide today, HP said.
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