Hewlett-Packard is due to release its final processor upgrade for its HP 9000 Unix servers today (31 May), preparing the way for the 64-bit Intel Itanium 2 processor to dominate HP's entire family of high-end servers.
HP plans to launch the chip at its Ensa@work conference in Copenhagen, where it is also due to unveil enhancements to its Nonstop high-end servers.
The PA-8900 chip will be the final PA-Risc processor in a line that has powered HP's Unix systems since the late 1980s. It will be available in all HP 9000 servers, ranging from the dual-processor rp3410 to the PA-Risc version of the HP Superdome, which can carry up to 128 processors.
HP plans to support HP 9000 servers until 2011, but has said it will now promote Intel's Itanium 2 in its high-end Integrity servers.
HP has been criticised by some analysts for backing Itanium 2 in high-end machines, but Colin Butcher, board member of the HP User Group, said users were generally happy with the move to the Intel architecture.
"The stuff works. The [Itanium] machines are very well made and perform well," he said.
Itanium is considered by many experts to be the next step in the evolution of the PC server towards 64-bit datacentre computing. The Itanium processor will allow users to run more powerful datacentre applications, offering higher performance to process greater amounts of data.
Steve Boniwell, director of the HP User Group, said, "Risc as a technology has reached the end of its potential. But it is good that there is a PA-8900, because it means people do not have to jump to Itanium until they are ready."
He added that many HP Superdome servers are now running Itanium as well as PA-Risc, and 60% are running on Windows rather than Unix. "The big positive with Itanium is its multi-OS capability. There is also beginning to be a slow take-up of Itanium in the mid-range, partly because users are application-driven, and 64-bit SAP and Oracle are emerging," said Boniwell.
Butcher said Itanium is also becoming popular on high-end OpenVMS-based machines. "The OpenVMS operating system is very important to Itanium and runs nicely on it. VMS has been running on Itanium for the past couple of years. A lot of people are trying out the Itanium kit, and it looks pretty good."
HP declined to comment on specifics before the conference, but confirmed it would be announcing enhancements to the HP 9000 and Nonstop products.
At a glance
The PA-8900 will be a dual-core chip (with twin processing units), and a much larger 64Mbyte Level 2 memory cche than its predecessor, the PA-8800. It will run at clock speeds that are only slightly faster than the PA-8800, offering a modest performance boost, according to analysts. The PA-8900 will be available in 800MHz, 1GHz and 1.1GHz speeds.