New HP ProLiant Pits AMD Against Intel

HP's new batch of servers based on Opteron processors could impact AMD's rivals.

HP launched its new 4-way ProLiant DL585 server (USD$8,299) Monday, the first server system based on AMD's Opteron processor since HP agreed to include AMD's chips on its systems.

HP also announced its new LC 3000 series based on the ProLiant DL145 server (USD$67,829). The company said its latest high performance computing (HPC) and clustering package is designed as an easy, pre-formatted system.

The company is working on an Opteron-based blade server for release later this year as it mirrors its existing Intel Xeon-based systems with its corresponding AMD Opteron-based ones.

And therein lies a conundrum for HP, a staunch supporter of the biggest pillars of Intel chips (Pentium, Xeon, Itanium). Until recently, the company never had the problem of showing a second set of servers that, according to recent benchmark studies, are out performing its original configurations.

"Some customers report a 40 percent improvement over similar systems running Xeon -- but that would have to be the poster child application that was tweaked for the chip such as online gaming customers and HPC customers," Steve Cumings, HP group manager for Opteron systems, told

While Cumings said the vast majority of its volume comes from Xeon-based systems, AMD is moving fast -- even when benchmarked for enterprise applications from companies like SAP and Microsoft . HP said its ProLiant DL585 recently earned the top Microsoft Windows Exchange Server 2003 Performance and Scalability Benchmark result for four-processor servers, using the new MMB3 benchmark. The server supported 7,800 MMB3 (or users), which is more than a eight percent increase in users over the previously published record. The server also gave a nine percent boost to SAP software in similar benchmark testing.

"What we are seeing is that it is better than any other 4-way x86 out there," Cumings said. "This is not to say that Opteron will shadow all of our Xeon servers. We will introduce a sister version of the ProLiant where it makes sense to bring out specific attributes of both processors."

Side by side, the Opteron-powered ProLiant DL585 is also less expensive with its 2 processor top-bin selling for USD$11,999. That system would include the Opteron 848 series running at 2.2 GHz with 2GB base memory, and no drives.

Compare that to the Xeon MP-based ProLiant DL580. That 2 processor top-bin sku tops out at 3 GHz with a 4 meg cache, and 2GB base memory, also with no drives but retailing for $15,798.

And Intel's opportunity to match Opteron in the 64-bit processing space won't come for at least a few months as the No. 1 chipmaker is expected to debut its "Nocona" Xeon processors later this year. AMD, meanwhile, is celebrating its first anniversary of Opteron this week.

HP has its own fish to fry. IDC's February stats show HP as the leader in the x86 space with 32.6 percent total units shipped worldwide. But the company is experiencing increased pressure from rivals like IBM and Sun Microsystems who are also offering pre-configured HPC, Linux systems running on Opteron. To counter its rivals, HP said its LC 3000 series comes in 50, 150, 1,000 server nodes for server farms, colleges, brokerage houses and other financial businesses.

The LC 3000 series, which is an Opteron-based system, follows two Xeon-based ones offered by HP: the LC 1000 Series, based on HP ProLiant DL140 and the LC 2000 Series, based on HP ProLiant DL360 servers.

"Applications that are compute intensive and run well on clusters of IA-32-based systems, such as many CFD applications, will also see advantages with Opteron clusters," the company said in a statement.

The LC Series is comprised of certified partner and application solution stacks as well as freeware and Open Source offerings. HP supports a range of HPC solutions provided by independent software vendors, including Altair Engineering, Axceleron, Cyclades, Engineered Intelligence, Meiosys, Platform Computing, Red Hat, Scali, Sistina, and United Devices.

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