HP Touts NonStop Perfection

If you're in the market for a non-mainframe mainframe replacement, HP might have just what you need….

For those in the market for a non-mainframe mainframe replacement, Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) might have just what you’re looking for. The company’s new Integrity NonStop NB50000c BladeSystem is billed as HP’s fastest, densest, most reliable blade offering to date, with a can't-miss combination of its Integrity NonStop products and its highly-scalable (and highly affordable, according to officials) BladeSystem offerings.

The result, one might conclude, is a bona-fide Big Iron spoiler.

Not surprisingly, HP pitches the NB50000c as just that: i.e., a replacement for traditional mainframe systems in key Big Iron verticals, including finance, government, and telecommunications. To that end, HP announced a new "NonStop FREEdom" incentive program that promises prospects a free entrée into NonStop: customers who sign up will get an HP Integrity NonStop NB50000c BladeSystem at no charge as well as a full year of NonStop platform software -- provided, of course, that they migrate from an existing mainframe architecture.

The NB50000c certainly seems to have the horsepower. HP says it offers double the processing power (in half the form factor) of its existing blades, thanks largely to the availability of new multi-core Itanium chips from Intel Corp. Elsewhere, Hewlett-Packard touts a trio of out-of-the-box management offerings, including its Integrity Integrated Lights-Out 2 (iLO 2), HP Systems Insight Manager, and the Onboard Administrator for HP BladeSystem.

Factor in a built-in NonStop HA software set (as well as high-speed, low-latency ServerNet connectivity on the back-end), and the NonStop FREEdom program, and HP officials ask: what's not to like?

It's a good question, concedes Charles King, a principal with consultancy Pund-IT, who nevertheless suggests that there's probably an element of bravura in HP's Big Iron replacement bid. For one thing, he points out, the initial acquisition cost of any Big Iron replacement (including hardware, software, and services) is likely to amount to just a fraction of the overall migration cost -- especially when it comes to updating or modernizing legacy mainframe workloads (i.e., those which aren't running inside a JVM on z/OS or on top of an Integrated Facility for Linux engine).

In practice, King stresses, there's no such thing as a free lunch. "A free NonStop BladeSystem and [a] full year of NonStop platform software sounds like an attractive proposition by any measure, but moving from a mainframe to an entirely new hardware/software platform is not an inconsiderable task and will likely require significant costs for migration services and retraining of IT staff and management," he says.

Nevertheless, King acknowledges, there are affinities between HP's NonStop brand (which it inherited from the former Compaq, which had inherited NonStop from the former Tandem, which Compaq acquired a decade ago) and the mainframe. NonStop, like Big Blue's mainframe systems, powers some of the most uptime-intensive organizations in the world -- including, for example, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Although competing RISC/Unix environments may have made great strides in the area of availability, when it comes to true fault-tolerance, NonStop and System z are still the premier platforms (see http://esj.com/enterprise/article.aspx?EditorialsID=1279).

From this viewpoint, King argues, HP's pitch makes a lot of sense. "HP has spent the past couple of years attempting to rebuild the NonStop brand, emphasizing its robust fault-tolerant capabilities and success in transaction-intensive environments, including retail, financial services. and telecommunications," he points out. "Since these are also traditional target markets for IBM's System z mainframe solutions, it is hardly a surprise that HP is positioning the new NonStop BladeSystem as a robust solution for mainframe migrations."

The problem, King points out, is that the mainframe of today isn't as susceptible to a lot of the messaging -- e.g., it's big, it's proprietary, and it's expensive -- that competitors have traditionally thrown at it.

"[T]he mainframe systems that NonStop once competed against have been replaced with suppler, more powerful machines leveraging [next-gen workloads] including Linux and [Java],” he notes.

Nor does HP's marketing pitch take into account a more competitive mainframe software licensing environment -- or, for that matter, Big Blue’s efforts to lower the bar, so to speak, for mainframe financing.

Nevertheless, King suggests, there’s a clear sense in which HP's pitch has a great deal of substance. True, customers who have already bought into the latest generation of System z hardware will probably ignore both the NonStop NB50000c and HP’s ambitious NonStop FREEdom program.

Another class of customer -- i.e., shops running aging mainframe systems that support Assembly or COBOL applications -- could find HP’s mainframe replacement offering very appealing. Such customers are typically in the sub-1,000 MIPS category, experts say, and are ripe for mainframe replacement scenarios.

"[S]ome potential mainframe customers probably do exist for HP's NonStop BladeSystem. In the past, mainframe migration strategies -- such as Sun's largely forgotten Blue Away effort -- have appealed most to businesses that primarily use aging mainframe systems for supporting legacy applications and data," he points out. "For 'passive' mainframe users like these, particularly existing HP customers, the Integrity NonStop NB50000c BladeSystem may provide an alternative worth considering."