HP outlines Alpha chip's retirement plan

Hewlett-Packard will deliver the next version of its Alpha processor in January which, the company said, was an important...

Hewlett-Packard will deliver the next version of its Alpha processor in January which, the company said, was an important architectural upgrade that carries the chip through to retirement in about 18 months' time.

Earlier this year, HP said it would ship the Alpha EV7 in servers by the end of the year, making it approximately on schedule. The company is retiring the chip, along with its PA-RISC processors, and plans to move all its higher-end servers to Intel's 64-bit Itanium family.

HP inherited Alpha through its merger with Compaq Computer.

The EV7 is unlikely to attract many new enterprise customers, but it is important for Alpha users who need it to upgrade their systems. Analysts said the chip could prove popular among academic and research institutions, which use it for high-performance technical computing applications.

Many Alpha users will need several years to complete the migration to a different hardware platform, said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst with Insight 64.

Only about 5% of the installed base of Unix servers run on Alpha processors, but the chip has a strong performance reputation and a loyal user following that is "almost cult-like", according to one analyst.

Among other enhancements, the EV7 aims to improve bandwidth and lower latency, boosting performance by 35% to 55% over existing HP AlphaServer machines, allowing the chip to hold its own in the market for one to two years after its release.

In about a year's time, HP will release the EV7-9, a similar chip produced with a more advanced manufacturing process, which should further boost performance, said Peter Blackmore, vice president in charge of HP's enterprise systems group.

By mid-2004, HP will support customers by providing bug fixes and upgrading operating systems to run on Alpha, although Blackmore did not say how long that support would last.

HP has also said it will retire the Tru64 Unix operating system, another Compaq leftover, and merge its best capabilities with its own HP-UX software. The moves are part of an effort to streamline HP's development efforts and reduce costs.

HP believed Itanium would gain wide acceptance among customers, along with support from leading software vendors, once Alpha and PA-RISC go into retirement.

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