HPE's Itanium server refresh should come in mid-2017

In the wake of the Oracle trial, HPE has reaffirmed its support for Itanium

Hewlett Packard Enterprise plans to refresh its Itanium server range around the middle of next year, employing Intel's long-promised "Kittson" successor to the current Itanium 9500 series ("Poulson") chips.

News of the server update plans comes from Ken Surplice, category manager for mission-critical solutions at HPE's EMEA server division.

Surplice told Dutch website Computable that the company is on schedule to refresh its Integrity servers for HP-UX and OpenVMS with Intel's upcoming Kittson Itanium processors in 2017, and that the servers should be with customers mid-year.

HPE representatives contacted Thursday confirmed the 2017 target.

The question, though, is why HPE would bother, given that it is working on putting its HP-UX flavor of Unix on x86, and that OpenVMS, another big reason for owning Itanium hardware, will be ported to x86 by 2018.

One good reason for upgrading to Kittson is cost control, Surplice told IDG News Service via email.

"Every customer is looking to manage and control their costs. Enhanced server performance means fewer cores are required, meaning fewer licenses are required," he wrote.

One major software company that charges per core for its software licenses is Oracle. The company has been locked in a legal battle with HPE over its 2011 decision to break an agreement to port its software to Itanium. Last month, a court ordered Oracle to pay HPE US$3 billion in damages. Oracle is appealing.

HPE will continue to develop and maintain its Itanium products because "another generation of servers will provide customers the continuity that we have promised in our roadmaps," he said. "Many customers continue to get great use from their HP-UX and OpenVMS applications running on Integrity servers powered by Itanium."

The company has previously committed to building versions of its Integrity and Superdome servers with the Kittson chips when they become available.

Intel's development of the Itanium platform has slowed to a crawl, though, with HPE the last significant customer still buying the processors.

The chip company has been working on the Kittson update since at least 2011. The following year it said the chips would be socket-compatible with its Xeon processors and built with an advanced manufacturing process, providing a clear upgrade path for errant Itanium users to return to the x86 fold.

Just three months later, though, it signaled that Kittson will probably be the last in the Itanium line, saying it will be built with the now-aging 32nm production process, and will remain pin-compatible with previous Itanium generations.

That at least leaves open the possibility that Itanium users will be able to follow Surplice's suggestion and reduce their software licensing costs with minimal hardware changes.

HPE has Itanium servers on its roadmap until 2025, and has promised to support its flavor of Unix, HP-UX, through that date.

That would be an eternity in any other part of the IT industry, but Itanium is popular for running legacy workloads in the banking industry, where legacies can last a long time.

OpenVMS, the other significant OS running on Itanium, is itself something of a legacy. Developed by DEC as VMS for use on its Vax minicomputers in 1977, it acquired the name OpenVMS when DEC ported it to its Alpha workstation chips. After Compaq bought DEC it began porting OpenVMS to Itanium, just in time to be swallowed by Hewlett-Packard. HP later spat out OpenVMS, handing responsibility for its future development to VMS Software.

VMS Software has laid out a roadmap for future development of OpenVMS, now in version 8.4.2. The company is working on a port of the next major version, OpenVMS 9, to Intel's 64-bit x86 architecture, and expects to have that ready in 2018.

HPE, meanwhile, is looking for ways for HP-UX to coexist with x86 systems. The company is looking at how HP-UX can be provisioned by OpenStack and HPE Helion, representatives said Thursday.

Another technique it is discussing with HP-UX customers is putting their workloads in Linux containers.

The company is not ready to sell such solutions, although it will show them if you ask: "Today we do not have customer materials ready to distribute on these topics. We have been busy working on the engineering and are now ready to expose this to interested customers," Surplice said Thursday.

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Peter Sayer

IDG News Service
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