Compaq's and HP's Six Degrees of Separation

A benchmarketing battle is raging between two leading server vendors over six-way processor system performance.

In March, Hewlett-Packard Co. (www.hp.com) announced its first foray into the six-way SMP space with its NetServer LH 6000 and LT 6000r systems. The computer giant announced that these results bested Compaq Computer Corp.'s (www.compaq.com) ProLiant 6400 four-way processor in terms of benchmarked price/performance.

Compaq fired back, retrofitting its eight-way ProLiant 8500 server with a six-way configuration, and announcing comparable benchmark performance.

Compaq says its ProLiant 8500 server -- outfitted with six processors instead of eight -- outperforms the HP NetServer, with results of 33,617.40 transactions per minute (tpmC) with a price/performance of $12.91/tpmC, running Microsoft SQL Server 7.0 Enterprise Edition and Windows NT. HP claims 33,136 tpmC at $13.95/tmpC with a similar configuration.

There are major differences between these products and the target markets of the two vendors. HP's system is specifically built for six-way processors, Compaq simply installed six processors in an eight-way box. Thus, Compaq is targeting customers that may want to move to eight-way anyway, says Lindy Lesperant, analyst at Technology Business Research Inc. (TBRI, www.tbri.com). "HP is looking at [its product] as an upgrade for a customer that doesn't want to install the box for the eight-way, but can benefit from performance beyond a four-way," she points out. "HP is trying to sell up from those four-ways, and don't want to sell down from the eight-way."

This distinction is reflected in the prices of the servers as well. The HP NetServers start in the $7,300 to $8,200 range; Compaq's reconfigured eight-way systems start at $22,000.

There's no law that says an eight-way box has to have eight processors in it from the start, says Tim Golden, director of product marketing at Compaq's enterprise server group. "An eight-way server can be configured from anywhere from one to eight processors," he says. "You don't have to put eight processors in there to take advantage of the increased bandwidth that you get from the Profusion architecture."

Plus, Windows 2000 and new applications will require much more scalable memory, which will drive processor additions, Golden notes. "By next year, we'll need 8 GB of memory, and two years from now, it will be closer to 64 GB. Both processor bandwidth and memory bandwidth is growing exponentially."

At this time, Compaq, like its rival HP, senses a burgeoning market niche for those companies that require additional processing power, but aren't ready to move to eight-way.

"There's definitely a need for something greater than four," Golden says. "This as an emerging growth market opportunity for us, especially with new operating systems such as Windows 2000 coming out." In fact, Compaq's multiprocessor configurations now average about six processors, he adds.

Compaq's sales for eight-way processors have been growing at an impressive clip, says TBRI's Lesperant. "Now that we're past Y2K, we're seeing sales of our eight-way servers very nicely picking up," Golden notes. While many sites are holding off on Windows 2000 implementations, he says, "NT 4.0 Enterprise Edition scales very nicely on a six-way or eight-way platform today."

HP officials did not return calls for comment on the benchmarks.

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Six-Way Benchmarketing Heats Up

Vendor/System tpmC Price per tpmC
Compaq ProLiant 8500 (6 processors) 33,617 $12.89
HP NetServer LH6000(6 processors) 33,136 $13.95
Compaq ProLiant 6400r(4 processors) 25,633 $16.62
Sun Enterprise 450(4 processors) 20,123 $27.70

Sources: Compaq Computer Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co.