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HP expects first x86 Nonstop systems next year

Hewlett-Packard is eyeing 2015 for the release of its first Nonstop systems based on x86 server hardware, a company official said this week.

It’s a big transition for HP, and for any customers who want to stick with Nonstop but move off of Itanium, a processor that Intel seems to be winding down.

The Nonstop platform has been around for decades and is used by banks, telcos and other businesses that are willing to pay extra for the reliability it’s supposed to provide.

HP said last year that it would develop x86 versions of Nonstop to give customers a path off of Itanium, but it didn’t say when those systems would arrive.

The work is going well and HP is targeting 2015 to release the first production x86 systems, Jeff Kyle, HP director of product management for enterprise servers, said in an interview.

When it moved from PA-RISC to Itanium several years ago, HP reduced its use of proprietary parts and made Nonstop less dependant on the underlying chip architecture, he said, making the current move easier.

It’s a big task that involves porting not just the Nonstop OS but also HP’s SQL MX database and Pathway application server. Partners have started testing applications and tools on the new hardware, he said.

HP is promising its current Nonstop customers “100 percent application compatibility” on the new platform, though it hasn’t said how it will achieve that. It’s likely to provide details later this year.

Meanwhile, it continues to evolve Nonstop. This week it introduced two entry-level systems, the N2300 and N2400, with Intel’s Itanium 9500 “Poulson” processors. Its previous entry level boxes used the older 9300 Tukwila chips.

Higher clock speeds will boost application performance up to 30 percent for some applications, Kyle said. HP is also expanding the memory footprint per node, from 32GB to 48GB.

It’s not giving prices for the systems but Kyle said they’ll be about the same as for their predecessors. “It’s not about driving down price, it’s about delivering more at that price point,” he said.

HP did reduce the entry price for CloudSystem Matrix, a software-hardware combination for deploying infrastructure as a service in public or private clouds. Customers who use Integrity blades with that product can now start with a two-socket license; the previous minimum was eight sockets.

It’s a way for HP to attract more customers for the system. “We thought that entry point was a barrier, and customers were telling us that,” Kyle said.

HP also released an update to its Unix OS, HP-UX 11iv3. The March 2014 update allows for app migrations with “zero downtime” from Integrity i2 server blades, which use Tukwila, to its i4 blades, which use Poulson.

“I can now migrate those workloads from i2 to i4 and there will be no downtime,” Kyle said.

It’s taken advantage of the Poulson upgrade to make other improvements too, like doubling the size of virtual machines that can run on the OS.

The updates follow comparable moves in the past week from IBM and Oracle. All three companies are evolving their Unix platforms to slow the flow of customers onto cheaper but increasingly capable industry-standard x86 hardware.

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