Mammoth Servers in the Offing

HP and IBM separately disclosed chip technologies that will double the capacity of their current server offerings

At the Intel Developer Forum (IDF) held this week in San Jose, Calif., Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) announced a new chipset—code-named Pinnacles—that will allow it to build Itanium-based servers with as many as 128 processors.

Meanwhile, at its PartnerWorld conference held this week in New Orleans, an IBM Corp. executive confirmed that Big Blue had successfully booted a system based on its forthcoming Power5 microprocessor.

HP currently ships 64-processor “Superdome” servers based on its proprietary PA-RISC chips. Later this year, company representatives disclosed at IDF that HP will officially start shipping Pinnacles, which has officially been christened sx1000, in its servers. Pinnacles will permit HP to scale Itanium across as many as 64 processors. When combined with a new packaging technology HP is expected to release in early 2004 (dubbed mx2), HP will be able to support as many as 128 chips in a single server.

During a keynote address today, representatives from HP and Intel Corp. are expected to demonstrate a Pinnacles-based server simultaneously running instances of Windows, Linux, and HP-UX.

IBM’s announcement of a working Power5 system served to once again highlight the precariousness of HP’s position. After all, HP has announced plans to transition its line of Unix servers away from PA-RISC and on to Itanium, or IA-64, by 2006 or 2007. HP has two additional iterations of PA-RISC—PA-RISC 8800 and PA-RISC 8900—that will carry it through 2006. After that, the company has said that it will ship Itanium-only systems. If demand for Itanium hasn't materialized by that time, HP will be at a competitive disadvantage vis-à-vis Sun and IBM, whose UltraSPARC and Power development projects will continue apace.

IBM’s Power chips, on the other hand, are said by analysts to be the fastest RISC-based microprocessors currently available. During a speech at PartnerWorld, Bill Zeitler, senior VP and group executive of IBM’s Server Group, indicated that Power5 will be significantly—as many as four times—faster than Big Blue’s current Power4 chips for many computing tasks.

At this point, Zeitler acknowledged, IBM hasn’t successfully booted Power5 in tandem with any of the operating systems—OS/400, AIX and Linux—that currently run on top of its Power architecture. Big Blue expects to have both AIX and Linux running on top of Power5 sometime next month, Zeitler confirmed.

IBM is expected to debut Power 5 in tandem with its forthcoming 64-processor “Squadron” system, also slated to ship next year. IBM’s current top-of-the-line pSeries p690 “Regatta” server supports up to 32 Power4+ processors.

Related Articles:

HP Preps for PA-RISC to Itanium Transition (

Sun to Debut CMP Technology in UltraSPARC IV(

IBM Debuts Beefed-up AIX(

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.