HP Project Brings Itanium And x86 Systems Together

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Project Odyssey will allow mission-critical HP Itanium and x86 servers to run in the same enclosures

Hewlett-Packard is embarking on a project which will enable enterprises to run their mission-critical workloads on either Unix or x86-based server architectures within a single platform.

HP’s far-reaching “Project Odyssey” will involve continuing to develop the current high-end HP-UX, OpenVMS and NonStop products and Integrity servers running on Intel’s Itanium processing platform, while also developing blade servers powered by Intel’s Xeon chips that can run mission-critical applications that call for high availability, scalability and reliability within Microsoft Windows and Linux environments.

The x86-based blades will be able to run in the same Superdome 2 enclosure as Itanium-powered HP systems, while also sharing many of the same high-end features, according to HP officials.

Financial considerations

Project Odyssey is the response to demands from HP customers who currently run mission-critical workloads on HP’s high-end Itanium-based systems but – because of such issues as finances, the need to simplify their computing environments, or the demands from their software partners – are looking to move some of those applications onto x86-based systems, according to Lorraine Bartlett, vice president of worldwide marketing and strategy at HP’s Business Critical Systems (BCS) Group.

“Most customers are exploring moving some of these mission-critical workloads,” Bartlett told eWEEK, adding that Project Odyssey will enable them to migrate these application to platforms that work with the environments they are already operating.

Project Odyssey has a number of moving parts that not only calls for HP to innovate around its own hardware and systems software, but also to work closely with Intel on development of the Xeon EX and Itanium chips and operating system vendors like Microsoft and Red Hat to fortify their software for such mission-critical environments, Kirk Bresniker, vice president and CTO of HP BCS, said in an interview with eWEEK.

HP customers should begin seeing the fruit of the project within the next two years, Bresniker said.

The new Xeon-based x86 blades that will fit into the HP Superdome 2 enclosure are being developed under the codename “DragonHawk”, he said. The scalable c-Class blade enclosures are being codenamed HydraLynx. With DragonHawk, enterprises will be able to run high-end workloads on HP-UX on Itanium-based Integrity servers and on Windows or Linux on Xone-based blades within the same Superdome 2 enclosure.

Flexible options

Creating such a converged environment will give businesses greater flexibility and more options when looking for scalable and reliable platforms on which to run their mission-critical workloads, Bresniker said.

The symmetrical multiprocessing (SMP) DragonHawk systems will scale to 32 sockets that will offer hundreds of processing cores and run big and complex workloads, according to HP. HydraLynx x86 blades will offer two, four and eight sockets offered in c-Class enclosures and supporting mission-critical virtualisation and availability.

HP also is bringing its Serviceguard cluster software and nPartitions capabilities, found in its mission-critical systems, to the x86 environment, Bresniker said. Serviceguard automatically moves workloads between servers in a cluster environment when there is a failure or other need, assuring high availability of the workloads. HP’s nPartitions enable IT managers to partition system resources across multiple workloads and to eliminate failure points, enabling businesses to scale within a single system.

HP also is embedding Analysis Engine for x86 into the system firmware for server diagnoses, automatic repair of system errors and restoration of the system in seconds. In addition, HP will bring its Crossbar Fabric to the x86 systems for the routing of data within the servers.

HP’s Mission Critical Services business also will play a key role within Project Odyssey, Bresniker said.

The announcement comes at a difficult time for HP’s BCS group, which reported a 23 percent drop in fiscal year fourth-quarter revenue, compared with the same period last year. During a conference call with analysts and journalists, CEO Meg Whitman reportedly admitted that the BCS business is in a “slow decline”, and that the company needed make its way to a new platform.

Controversial subject

HP’s high-end server business has been embroiled in a controversy since March, when Oracle officials announced that they no longer would develop software for the Itanium platform, claiming that Intel was planning to shutter Itanium in favour of its Xeon processors. The move drew a sharp rebuke from Intel, which said it plans to roll out the next-generation “Poulson” chip in 2012, which will form the basis of a roadmap that extends to “Kittson” in 2014 and through the end of the decade.

HP has sued Oracle, claiming the software maker violated an agreement to support technologies that are used by the companies’ 140,000 joint customers. HP officials accuse Oracle of endangering customer businesses to prop up the SPARC/Solaris platform it inherited from Sun Microsystems. Oracle officials counter that HP is hurting its customers by continuing to tie them to a dying Itanium platform.

HP’s Bartlett said the company’s plan is to continue to develop its high-end HP-UX, NonStop and OpenVMS platforms powered by the Itanium-based Integrity systems, and re-iterated that there are no plans to migrate HP-UX to x86 processors.

“We’re going to continue to offer HP-UX and Integrity systems … for as long as customers require it,” she said.

For the past several years, Intel has been working to a common platform between the Itanium and Xeon product lines. For example, the Itanium 9300, Xeon E7 and Xeon 7500 chips support the company’s “Boxboro” 7500 chipset, and all support the QuickPath Interconnect (QPI) architecture.

Some Itanium and Xeon chips also share the same memory controller. For HP, that means it can capitalise on its sx3000 chipset now found in the Superdome 2 blades for Xeon processors, Bresniker said.

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