Update: HP announces Opteron-based servers

HP had rejected the AMD chip while its main rivals embraced it

In a dramatic change of direction, Hewlett-Packard Co. today announced that it will now sell servers based on Advanced Micro Device Inc.'s Opteron chips as well as Intel Corp. processors.

The Opteron path had already been laid out previously in servers offered by HP's two main rivals, IBM and Sun Microsystems Inc.

In its announcement, HP said the move comes as a result of market demand for more powerful computing capabilities.

HP also announced today that it plans to roll out Intel Xeon 64-bit extensions into its current ProLiant server models in conjunction with Intel's road map for later this year.

"We're doing this because of customer demand, and the demand we've seen is for enhanced 32-bit performance," Brad Anderson, senior vice president and general manager of HP's industry-standard servers group, said in a conference call today with reporters and analysts.

"This is about growing our ProLiant base more than anything," said Scott Stallard, senior vice president and general manager of HP's enterprise storage and servers. "We're giving our customers choices."

HP said it will offer two new Opteron-based ProLiant servers in the first half of this year: the HP ProLiant DL145, a two-processor, 1U server for high-performance computing, Web serving, security and streaming media; and the HP ProLiant DL585, a four-processor, 4U server aimed at database and Microsoft Exchange environments.

In the second half of the year, HP said it expects to ship an ultradense, two-processor ProLiant blade server for data centers.

In taking this step, HP joins IBM, which began shipping Opteron-based servers last year, and Sun Microsystems Inc., which recently unveiled its own Opteron-based servers. Sun has also entered into a broader agreement with AMD to develop application support for the chip. A key feature of Opteron is its ability to run 64-bit as well as 32-bit applications.

HP's use of Opteron represents a reversal of course. When interviewed by Computerworld last summer at HP World, Peter Blackmore, executive vice president of HP's enterprise systems group, said the company had no interest in offering the processor (see story). "It would just add a complication that is completely unnecessary," he said.

For the past month, marketing officials at both Sun and HP have apparently been gearing up for a war of words over the processor.

When Sun detailed its Opteron servers earlier this month, HP marketing officials e-mailed a bullet-point list of criticisms of Sun's strategy to reporters that will likely be aimed back at HP in response.

For instance, HP wrote, "Adopting the Opteron chip demonstrates that Sun was wrong about its proprietary position. It is now desperately backpedaling on its longtime strategy to offer a platform based on its UltraSparc chip and sprinting to get on the industry-standard bandwagon."

For their part, Sun marketing officials, anticipating the move by HP toward the Opteron, raised their own series of points in an e-mail. Among them: "Clearly, it signals that HP is finally giving up on Itanium."

Sun also believes that the move jeopardizes HP-UX because that Unix operating system isn't ported to Opteron.

The processor is gaining ground with users. IBM originally targeted high-performance computing applications with its Opteron offering but said the chip is getting use outside that space.

Intel Corp., at its developers conference this month, said it would produce the Nocona Xeon processor, which will also have 64-bit extensions. That chip is due to ship sometime in the second quarter.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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