At HP's Discover event in Barcelona this week, the enterprise IT giant announced a number of new systems, some of which received more headlines than others. One that doesn't seem to have grabbed much media attention was the launch of new enterprise systems, including additions to its Integrity Superdome and Integrity NonStop mission-critical servers.
However, the launch of the Superdome X arguably signals the beginning of the end for the much-maligned Itanium processor, which has powered HP's Integrity systems for more or less the past decade. While HP continues to sell, and more importantly offer support for, the Itanium-based Integrity portfolio, the introduction of a model based entirely on Xeon chips shows where HP's roadmap is heading.
For users of HP's enterprise systems, this move will not come as a great surprise. The firm started its "Project Odyssey" initiative back in 2011 with the intention of "redefining the future of mission-critical computing" with a roadmap to "unify Unix and x86 server architectures to bring industry-leading availability, increased performance and uncompromising client choice to a single platform," as the firm said at the time.
With the introduction of the Superdome X, customers are now being offered a heavyweight x86 server based on Xeon E7 v2 server blades. Up to eight of these blades can be fitted into a BladeSystem Superdome enclosure, each with two processor sockets. With the Xeon E7 v2 chips offering up to 15 cores, customers can effectively build a server with up to 240 compute cores and up to 12TB of shared memory.
What HP is not offering with Superdome X is its high-end HP-UX variant of Unix, which runs on Itanium-based versions of the Superdome and other Integrity systems. Instead, Superdome X is set to run Suse Linux Enterprise Server or Red Hat Enterprise Linux, with support for Windows Server promised in the future.
This is perhaps not surprising when you think about it. Many enterprise vendors, including IBM, are aligning with Linux and other open-source software platforms, because there is now an entire ecosystem associated with Linux that is bigger than any single vendor could ever muster.
This is reflected in what one HP executive told V3 at the launch of the latest iteration of HP-UX earlier this year:
"The software providers do not want yet another port to support. Could we port HP-UX to x86? Yes we could. Do we believe that the software vendors would move their applications across? No, I don't think they would."
What this means is that the future for this kind of high-end enterprise system lies with Linux and possibly Windows. It also looks set to be increasingly dominated by x86-based hardware, except perhaps for pockets of resistance represented by platforms such as IBM's Power architecture, which the firm is currently pushing as being better suited for enterprise workloads than rivals.
Add to this the fact that Itanium has consistently failed to live up to performance expectations, and that the chip family has continually missed dates for key upgrades to be delivered, and it is small wonder that x86 is seen as the preferred option, especially as the Xeon line continues to gain reliability, availability, and serviceability (RAS) features.
Of course, those customers who are still using Itanium and HP-UX for their mission-critical applications need not worry; HP will continue to support them for as long as they are willing to pay for it. But what the Superdome X tells us is that the future is x86, and the future is Linux.
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