HP has announced that its “mission critical” Integrity servers will eventually ship with ordinary x86 chips that run Linux and Windows — not just the ill-fated Itanium processor that runs the company’s old-school UNIX operating system, HP-UX.
On Tuesday, HP said it was going to start porting some of that HP-UX software to Windows and Linux, making them more Unix-like. It will also build new Xeon x86 rack-mounted servers and blade servers that will slide in next to the Itanium servers inside the server’s chassis. The company says the first of these x86 systems will arrive in about two years.
“We are expanding our mission critical portfolio to include x86 servers and blades in the future,” says Lorraine Bartlett, vice president of marketing and strategy with HP’s Business Critical Systems group.
Integrity systems are built to run big enterprise applications — databases, enterprise resource planning, or customer relationship management systems, for example — that must never go down. Even the always-on Superdome system, designed to crunch data using hundreds of processor cores at the same time, will get its own Xeon infusion in about two years.
The announcement comes as HP is looking for ways to stay viable in a changing enterprise market. Back in the 1990s, HP bet that Itanium would be the industry’s standard microprocessor for enterprise computing, but instead it turned out to be Intel’s other chip design: the x86.
Intel’s Itanium roadmap now goes out about four years. After that, it’s not clear what will happen. To make matters worse, in March Oracle — maker of what are probably the most important applications to run on Itanium systems — said it would stop developing new versions of its software for Itanium.
That’s hurt HP, whose Integrity group has seen revenues shrink as customers wonder whether Itanium has a future. On a conference call with analysts yesterday HP CFO Catherine Lesjak said that the group’s sales dropped 23 percent during its most recent quarter. “Our ability to close deals has been impacted by Oracle’s Itanium decision,” she conceded.
HP seems to be coming to grips with the fact that X86 is going to be a growing part of their enterprise server business, even in businesses that use HP-UX, said Jonathan Eunice, an industry analyst with Illuminati Group. “It’s kind of a mature realization that not everything in your portfolio is going to be successful, and, ‘Hey if the market wants x86, then we’re going to sell it to them as big as we can.’”