HP Unveils New N-Class Midrange Server

Ken Deats Associate Editor

Harking back to the introduction of the telegraph that took place in roughly the same spot on Wall Street in 1844, HP CEO Lew Platt on April 13 unveiled the new N-Class HP 9000 Enterprise server with the tag line, “The Best On The Planet.”

The N-Class server, according to a META Group analysis is being reared to, "[by] mid-2000 ... replace the aging K-Class midrange servers (and partially overlap high-end V-Class performance)." Code named "Prelude," it is being touted as bringing super-computing performance to a mid-range price point. To underscore that claim, HP announced several price/performance comparisons.

Power. In OLTP and Web workloads, HP is claiming a 49,308 tpmC and $57 per tpmC OLTP performance that delivers three times the performance of an IBM RS/6000 S/70 for the same price. The Web server performance set a world record of 24,139 SPECWeb96. For integrated supply-chain applications, the N-Class is the first system in the world to score one gigaflop per second on a single processor using ILOG’s CPLEX optimization component.
E-commerce. The N-Class tallied 3,000 concurrent users on Ariba’s ORMS 5.0 pure Java application for Web-based procurement, which outscaled the Sun E3500’s score of 500. “That’s six times as many as the company that developed Java,” chimed in Platt.
Java. As for overall Java benchmarking, HP is claiming a score of 11,928 messages per second on Volano LLC VolanoMark 2.1.2, which sets a new world record. According to HP, Sun’s best performance to date has been 5,642 messages per second.
Technical Computing. Using FLUENT modeling software, the N-Class performed a complex application in 246 minutes which compared to Sun UE3500’s 493 minutes and SGI O2000’s 535 minutes.
Price and Scalability. Platt touted the low entry price on the N-Class and its small footprint. He claimed that a Sun E6500 configured to achieve the same OLTP performance as HP’s N4000 would require 24 US-II 366MHz processors and would cost $610,000. The N4000 would contain eight 440MHz PA-8500 processors at a price of $267,000. As to real estate savings, he added that, in order to achieve performance of 200,000 OLTP entries per minute, Sun’s E3500 would require four full racks, Compaq’s GS140 six full racks and IBM’s RS/6000 S70 12 full racks.

HP also released comparative SPECweb96 and price statistics:
SystemSPECweb96 Entry Price
HP N400049,308$48,000
IBM S/39021,591$6.8 million
IBM RS/6000 S7A20,200$149,000
IBM RS/6000 S7019,264$85,000
Compaq Alpha Server14,263$399,000

META's analysis of the new server and HP's strategy is optimistic, "The N-Class 4x price/performance (P/P) improvement (vs. K-Class) throws a significant challenge at Compaq/Digital, IBM, and Sun. Indeed, we do not expect competitive responses (other than price cuts) until 1H00."

The base N-Class configuration includes a fault detection system with separate support processor and bus for continuous fault management; integrated WebQoS; local, Web-based and remote console capability; Ignite/UX for replication and network startup; and support for any number and combination of PCI I/O up to a maximum of 12 per chassis.

One area of concern in the META analysis which could cause less than stellar numbers for HP is the slow acceptance of HP-UX 11.0. "However, the N-Class requires HP-UX 11, which many users have not yet adopted and may not in 2H99 due to Y2K lockdowns."

HP is positioning the new server as ideal for supply-chains. Marcus Berber, application marketing manager for the Internet Business Unit explains that most supply-chain models are memory resident and take up to 2GB. And, to complicate matters further, HP partners such as i2 and Manugistics are working with customers who want to work with much larger models – some as high as 20GB. “Having to split that brings a number of negative consequences as far as complexities are concerned,” he says. “Having a large memory space is an ideal way of accommodating very complex algorithms.”

Finally, the META's analysis sums up with, "Bottom Line: HP's N-Class servers offer users strong performance and P/P boosts and should enable HP to gain new account market share."

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