HP Demos Itanium 2 Superdome Running Windows, Linux, and Unix
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
Hewlett-Packard recently showed off a prototype of its high-end Superdome server using the Itanium 2 processor from Intel at the Gartner Data Center Conference in Las Vegas. The machine is not currently shipping, but one that resembles it, and uses the "Madison" version of the Itanium 2 chip (rather than the current McKinley chip), is expected to ship sometime in mid-2003, according to sources at HP. This is a serious midrange machine.
The machine HP is showing is a 32-way box configured with three partitions. One four-way partition was running the IA-64 version of HP's Unix variant, HP-UX 11i, and the Oracle 9.2 database from Oracle. On HP's Unix servers, based on its own PA-RISC processors, the symmetric multiprocessing capabilities of the operating system span 64 processors and will be extended to 128 processors by the summer of 2003. On Itanium-based platforms, HP-UX can currently span four processors but will span 64 processors in a single system image by mid-2003, when the Itanium 2-based Superdomes running the Madison chips are set to be delivered to customers. Another four-processor partition in the demo machine was running the 64-bit version of Linux and various Linux desktop applications. Another 20 processors were running the Release Candidate 2 (RC2) pre-release version of Microsoft's "Whistler" Windows .NET Server 2003 Datacenter Edition, expected to start shipping in April. The Windows partition on the Itanium 2-based Superdome machine was supporting a set of applications based on Microsoft's SQL Server 2000 database when the remaining system board slot in the 32-way machine was left open. HP also had a similar demo machine that just had a single Windows .NET Server 2003 operating system spanning all 32 processors in the server.
HP is obviously keen on showing that its future top-end Superdome servers using the Itanium 2 chips will be able to handle a mix of Windows, Linux, and HP-UX partitions, or span 32-way setups using either HP-UX or Windows. (Linux will probably not scale up to 32-way processing until Linux 2.8 debuts sometime in 2005.) The forthcoming Superdome machine will scale up to 64 of Intel's Madison IA-64 processors and will have 512 GB of main memory capacity that can be deployed in totality to either Windows or HP-UX environments, or carved up for Windows, Linux, or HP-UX environments. HP will have the only server platform that will span all of these environments on a single platform. Sun's big iron only supports Solaris (officially, but unofficially, customers can run Linux in domains), IBM's big iron only supports its AIX Unix variant or Linux, and Unisys' big iron only supports Windows or SCO Unix (and the latter only within partitions, not as the sole operating system). HP is going to try to make lots of PR hay out of that trifecta OS support list with these Superdome machines, which should begin shipping in June or July, according to our sources. IBM may be talking about a unified eServer strategy that unites its disparate server lines, but in many ways this Itanium-based Superdome machine will do a better job fulfilling this promise--particularly if HP eventually gets the proprietary OpenVMS operating system ported from the AlphaServers to these or similar big HP machines.
Intel plans to lift the curtain on the "Madison" third-generation Itanium processor at the IEEE International Solid-State Circuits Conference in February in San Francisco. According to the advanced program for the conference, Intel will show off a 1.5 GHz Itanium chip that is 374 square millimeters in size, has 410 million transistors on chip, and includes 6 MB of 24-way set associative L3 cache memory on the chip. The Itanium chip, which has to be Madison, is based on a six-level 0.13 micron copper-dielectric process, and the chip dissipates 130 watts at that high clock speed. If history is any guide, Intel will deliver 1.2 GHz, 1.3 GHz, and 1.4 GHz versions of the Madison chip with only 3 MB of L3 cache activated, to create a slower and lower-priced version of the chip; these have been referred to as the "Deerfield" versions of the third-generation Itaniums, but Deerfield might be an even more streamlined chip that includes as little as 1 MB of L3 cache and runs as slowly as 1 GHz. Such a chip would be very powerful, in terms of processing capacity, but would generate a lot less heat than a full-blown Madison, making Deerfield appropriate for blade servers and other dense configurations where heat is an issue.
Sources at HP say the 64-way Madison-based Superdome server will provide well in excess of 500,000 transactions per minute of online transaction processing capacity (as gauged by the TPC-C online benchmark). The top-end 32-way iSeries Model 890 Regatta-H server using 1.3 GHz Power4 processors is rated at around 355,000; running AIX and the Oracle database, the same Regatta-H box that is branded as the pSeries 690 can process a bit over 400,000 transactions per minute. Even with bigger cache memories, tuning, and the faster 1.45 GHz clock speeds available with the Power4+, a Regatta-H machine will probably hit only between 450,000 and 475,000 TPM running AIX. IBM will eventually boost the speed of the Power4+ chips to around 1.7 GHz, and then could surpass the overall performance of this Itanium 2 box. However, because HP wants to keep the heat on in the midrange, it will in early 2004 deliver dual-processor Madison computer modules, which will plug into the existing Itanium 2 slots and effectively double the CPU performance of this 64-way machine by putting 128 processors in the box. This is a lot of computing power.
The question is, of course, what happens as HP delivers smaller versions of this gigantic machine? If HP can deliver a 64-way or 128-way Itanium 2 machine that gives better price/performance than proprietary or Unix midrange gear, it will want to make two-way, four-way, and eight-way derivatives of these big boxes--and this is the heart of the iSeries market. IBM can bring its impressive Power4 technology to bear and deliver competitive machines to the market. But will it?
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