The HP 9000: In a Class (or Is That Classes?) by Itself

The year 1999 was a transitional one for HP, in which the computing giant sharpened its overall focus on information technology, and a year in which it came to terms with several of its most crucial missteps over the course of the two previous years. HP looked to flush out its entry-level and mid-market HP 9000 server offerings, and, as a result, the company ended up promoting a variety of different low-end and midrange offerings.

The year 1999 was a transitional one for HP in which it sharpened its overall focus on information technology. It was also a year in which the computing giant came to terms with several of its most crucial missteps over the course of the two previous years, not the least of which involved its bungling of a once-stellar UNIX products and services portfolio.

Beginning in 1999, HP looked to flush out its entry-level and mid-market HP 9000 server offerings to counter Sun's incursion. As a result, the computing giant ended up promoting a variety of different low-end and midrange offerings.


In September 1998, HP plugged a glaring hole in its product family with the release of the A-Class series of single- and dual-processor HP 9000 UNIX servers.

With the A-Class, however, HP fired a shot directly across Sun's bow. For space conscious ISPs and for other organizations, HP touted the fact that 20 of its A-Class servers were capable of fitting into a 2-meter rack. Moreover, the A-Class' nice price tag - less than $5,000 - made it a veritable bargain, as far as RISC-UNIX solutions are concerned.

Because they were targeted toward Web site hosting environments and engineered for Internet-specific applications, the HP A-Class servers also incorporated new secure Web console and Web quality of service (QoS) technologies from HP. The secure Web console feature, in particular, facilitated full system remote control from a Web browser interface. HP's QOS software - dubbed WebQoS Peak - was said to stabilize Web site performance and improve transaction throughput.

And to compete with Sun Microsystems in larger service provider environments, HP debuted another new server family - the R-Class - that was engineered specifically for large ISPs and for other customers that required high performance, entry-level systems with rack-mounting capabilities and additional room for expansion.

According to Ram Appalaraju, Director of Marketing for HP's UNIX operating system business unit, the company's A-Class HP 9000 servers have helped to make it competitive in a vital marketplace. Throughout 1998 and for part of 1999, Appalaraju points out, competitors bottom-fed on HP's soft underbelly: The low-end UNIX server space.

"One of the things that really hurt us in 1998 and early in 1999 is the fact that we didn't have a competitive low-end offering," Appalaraju says. "It wasn't so much our UNIX business overall, because in the midrange we were still the leader. When the market volume was growing in the sub-$100,000 or sub-$50,000 space, we didn't have anything to offer."


For IT organizations that require a beefier UNIX platform with more than two processors, HP also markets the L-Class series, which comprises intermediary systems of one to four processors that are positioned as steppingstone alternatives to the low-end, application-specific A-Class series and the scalable, brawny L- and N-Class lines, which are marketed for transaction processing and for enterprise application hosting.

For its part, the L-Class is positioned primarily as an application server platform. To that end, today's L-Class boxes ship in a mid-sized formfactor - 7U, compared with the 2U height of A-Class servers and the 10U formfactor of N-Class systems - and can be fitted with up to 16 GB of memory and 256 GB of internal storage. Like their entry-level A-Class brethren, L-Class servers feature HP's Secure Web Console capability, but also include a built-in fault management system for fault detection and avoidance. HP also bundles its WebQoS software with the L-Class server family.


The next step up from the L-Class is HP's K-Class series of UNIX servers, which are positioned either for enterprise or for technical computing environments. Available in a variety of processor configurations - ranging from PA-RISC 8200 to PA-RISC 8600 processor models - K-Class boxes can scale from one to six processors, can address up to 8 GB of physical memory, and can support up to 30 TB of storage.


Based on HP's latest-and-greatest PA-RISC 8600 microprocessor, the N-Class family of HP 9000 UNIX Servers is HP's brawniest midrange contender. Scaling from one to eight processors and capable of addressing up to 32 GB of physical memory, N-Class servers can also support up to 71 GB of external storage. HP sees the N-Class series as a midrange performer that approaches near-mainframe performance. The company positions the N-Class as a solution for a variety of tasks, from high-end OLTP to MRP to ERP. N-Class servers feature HP's Secure Web Console capability, built-in fault management system and WebQoS software.

According to HP's Appalaraju, the release of the N-, L- and A-Class servers helped to shore up his company's deficiencies in the midrange server space.

"Our holes in the midrange were plugged with the release of the N-Class, the L-Class and the A-Class servers," he comments, noting that demand remains brisk for HP's midrange server line.


While the N-Class may approach near-mainframe performance in some areas, HP's V-Class servers constitute the UNIX world's equivalent of a mainframe. With near-linear scalability from one to 32 processors - and with the ability to scale to 128 processors in an SMP configuration - V-Class servers are built upon HP's scalable computing architecture (SMP).

For standard SMP up to 32-way systems, V-Class machines employ a uniform memory architecture topology. For 32-way systems and above, however, V-Class servers leverage cache coherent non-uniform memory architecture (CCNUMA), a topology that proposes a number of nodes linked by HP's high-speed "hyperfabric" interconnect.

"We'll scale up to 32-way SMP systems in a single cabinet, and in this case all of the CPUs have equal access to the memory," Appalaraju explains. "For configurations of up to 128-way, we use CCNUMA, and this is what we call our scalable computing architecture."

In designing its HP 9000 server line, HP's Appalaraju comments, his company leveraged a three-prong strategy: "What we've done with the HP 9000 family is really a three prong evolution," he contends. "First, we've made the processors a lot faster, to where they're able to perform more than two billion operations per second; also, we made the interconnects a lot faster on all of our machines; and third, we've provided the native ability to cluster any of these machines - A-Class, L-Class, N-Class or V-Class - purely from a hardware perspective."

Long-term Futures

When HP ships its first HP 9000 servers based on the forthcoming PA-RISC 8700 processor, customers can expect additional increases in scalability and performance.

While HP's current PA-RISC 8600 processors top-off at 552 MHz, the new PA-RISC 8700s are expected to debut at operating frequencies of 800 MHz and above. When it ships, the The PA-8700 will be based on an .18 micron, silicon-on-insulator copper CMOS process, which HP claims allows for up to 2.25 MB of on-chip cache.

Both HP-UX 11 and HP's forthcoming HP-UX 11i release will run out-of-the-box on the PA-RISC 8700. Moreover, both operating systems will also run unaltered on Intel's Itanium microprocessor, which is expected to debut in the second half of 2000. Consequently, HP will leverage a marketing strategy that attempts to exploit Itanium as a platform for entry-level high-performance computing applications, and the PA-RISC 8700 on the high-end.

"[Itanium] is a brand new architecture, but there are still some questions associated with it, especially the issue of how much of the processor's capability can be translated into performance," acknowledges HP's Appalaraju. "Clearly, there's going to be huge excitement around Itanium, and we will support it with all of our major OSes, including HP-UXi, Windows 2000 and Linux."

Rob Enderle, a senior analyst with Giga Information Group, says that HP's dual-headed PA-RISC and Itanium strategy could prove to be a potent one-two punch in both the low- and the high-ends of the enterprise computing marketplace. More importantly, Enderle cautions, a vendor, such as Sun - which has not yet committed to an Itanium strategy - could find itself in trouble.

- Stephen Swoyer is a journalist, specializing in UNIX and NT (2000). He can be reached at

The HP-UX 11i: The Workhorse for the Internet Age

The HP-UX 11i: The Workhorse for the Internet Age

HP is expected to ship its next-generation HP-UX 11i operating system sometime this summer. When it appears, HP-UX 11i will mark the long-awaited revamping of HP's venerable workhorse UNIX operating system for the Internet age.

According to Ram Appalaraju, Director of Marketing for HP's UNIX operating system business unit, HP-UX 11i extends HP's traditional core competency.

"We didn't jump on the Internet bandwagon immediately, we took a little bit of a lag time to take a look at the market. We wanted to make sure that we could bring those [availability and reliability] to bear in the Internet space."

The support of independent software vendors (ISV) is always crucial to the acceptance of any new operating system. Preparatory to the release of HP-UX 11i, then, HP set about recruiting a host of Internet-specific ISVs to support its next-generation operating system platform.

"We pretty much had all of the major ISVs that we needed in the online transaction processing, OLAP data-mining, financial and telecommunications sectors," he acknowledges. "What came next was the Internet-centric ISVs, and the good news is that we're really making tremendous progress in that area, and more than 55 new Internet-specific ISVs have ported their applications onto HP-UX in the last six months."

In addition to 100 percent binary compatibility with HP-UX 11.0, HP-UX 11i will ship with a raft of new amenities. HP-UX 11i will provide native support for Web quality of service; for Web traffic and Web throughput analysis; and will ship with OEM products from HP partners, such as the UltraSeek search engine from InfoSeek. HP is also bundling additional software - such as the iPlanet LDAP server from Netscape and Sun's joint venture iPlanet - with HP-UX 11i.

HP-UX 11i's availability and scalability features will include augmented support for hot-swappable devices, enhanced I/O performance, optimized Java performance and a tunable operating system kernel.

HP UX 11i will feature a more granular focus on security, expanding upon its predecessor's IPSEC and VPN support with the addition of an integrated intrusion detection software tool, dubbed IDS 9000. HP-UX 11i is expected to support a variety of enterprise authentication protocols, including LDAP, Kerberos 5, NTLM and NIS+.

And while he says that his company has no plans as of yet to support Linux natively on its HP 9000 servers, HP's Appalaraju claims that HP-UX 11i will include full support for Linux APIs.

"The APIs allow you to take the Linux code and recompile it," he explains. "The API compatibility allows for ease of porting to move the applications onto HP-UX 11i."


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