HP to replace Itanium with x86 in its NonStop server

The last holdout for Itanium throws in the towel, signaling the end of the great Itanium experiment.

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Hewlett-Packard has long been the last holdout on the Itanium processor, since Itanium has a lot of HP's PA-RISC processor as its pedigree. But it looks like even HP sees the writing on the wall because it has just announced it will port the NonStop platform, its most mission critical of server offerings, to x86.

NonStop isn't your average server. It's an integrated hardware/software stack with significant hardware redundancy, self-healing systems and automatic reconfiguration in the event of a component failure, all designed to live up to the server's name. Any hardware component can be swapped out while the server is still running with no disruption.

Because of this complexity, it won't be as simple as replacing a CPU. HP has a lot of work to do. It has to ditch some proprietary features, like the ServerNet interconnect, which will be replaced with InfiniBand. HP has early versions of the Nonstop OS and SQL database running on Xeon in its labs, according to comments given to PC World, but the project is still at an “alpha, or pre-alpha stage.”

HP claims its NonStop servers run eight of the top 10 world banks and 100 percent of the top 10 global manufacturing companies and processes more than $122 billion of fuel transactions in the United States.

HP has already moved its Integrity Superdome series off Itanium and the pitch to customers is they can stay with Itanium or transition to x86 over the next few years. While the standard deployment life span of your average x86 server is three years, these types of servers are usually deployed for a decade or more. These are the servers IT really hates replacing because it means disruption of the company and replacements are few and far between.

HP hasn't said what CPU will be used but in all likelihood, it will be the Intel Xeon E7 V2 series. The older E7 series is getting long in the tooth, as it was built on the Westmere architecture and that is now three generations old. However, E7 was also unlike the other Xeons, in that it had many of the reliability, scalability and availability features found in the Itanium. It shared more Itanium DNA than any other Xeon, and that was no accident.

The E7 V2 is part of the Brickland family of enterprise products and they are reportedly due in Q1 of 2014. These chips are based on the Ivy Bridge generation of processors. The E7-8800 V2 chips, which would be the top of the line, would work in configurations of up to eight sockets and will feature 15 cores per CPU (an odd number) along with HyperThreading, for 30 threads per socket. The new C600 series chipset would support DDR4-2133/2400/3200 memory.

So the question now is what becomes of Itanium. Well we know what becomes of it: it joins the i860 and iAPX432 in the CPUShack Museum and other technology museums. Intel has scaled back plans for Kitson, the next generation Itanium, and it doesn't appear on any current roadmaps from HP or Intel.

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