NEC is joining Hewlett-Packard’s effort to combine the reliability and availability of high-end Unix servers with x86-based datacenter servers—even if it means putting Itanium and x86 chips in the same box.
The initial target of the joint effort is HP’s Project Odyssey—a two-year-old effort to build enterprise servers running Windows, Linux, HP-UX or other operating systems into a single machine. Low-end versions of the combined machine are designed to make it simpler for end-user companies to buy a single rack that supports both Windows and Linux servers.
At the higher end, the Project could position HP’s high-capacity, high-availability HP Integrity Superdome 2 servers as alternatives to the commodity-level server hardware that underlies most private- and public-cloud services.
Superdome systems can scale from two-socket versions to 32-socket racks running up to 128 cores and four terabytes of RAM. They also run the latest version of Intel’s Itanium 93xx processors as well as HP-UX, the high-end, high-availability version of Unix; Superdome can run various flavors of Linux, OpenVMS and a special-purpose cloud-creating virtualization-management software called HP Cloud OS, which HP announced last month.
The first target for the joint development effort is an updated version of the Superdome 2 systems code-named “DragonHawk,” which has been lagging in development since it and project Odyssey were announced in 2011.
The goal of DragonHawk is to provide a single, symmetrical multiprocessing system that can run Windows, Linux, HP-UX and OpenVMS within the same rack and scale from four cores to hundreds, run complex workloads and the advanced fault-tolerant NonStop version of HP-UX as well as HP-UX, and OpenVMS.
Among the additions HP has promised to add are the fault-tolerant failover capabilities of HP Serviceguard, advanced partitioning and partition-management capabilities of HP nPartitions, and the error-analysis, automatic repair capabilities of HP Analysis Engine for x86.
DragonHawk has yet to appear, however.
The market for RISC-based Unix servers dropped rapidly earlier in the decade, but has survived to a degree that surprised market researchers at IDC, which stopped tracking Unix servers as a separate market until earlier this month, when it estimated the global market as being worth $9.1 billion per year. All five of the top Unix server vendors—IBM, HP, Oracle Fujitsu and Hitachi—have dealt with a contracting market, but are still an important part of the mix in corporate datacenters, according to IDC analyst Jean Bozman: “The Unix market will continue at a reduced level of revenue for some years to come, as the market sees a core of mission-critical workloads persisting over the 2013–2017 forecast period.”
Both HP and NEC are adapting to a tough market by pushing their high-end hardware as a reliable platform to support both private- and public-cloud services. NEC and HP have been working together on the sale and integration of HP Unix systems since 1995; while NEC functions primarily as a reseller and integrator, it manufactures a range of fault-tolerant, high-availability datacenters, servers, and storage systems.
Like HP, NEC faces tight competition from regional rivals including Fujitsu, and has tried to reorient its strategy to focus more on the cloud. It’s not clear what aspects of NEC’s own expertise may or may not help get DragonHawk out the door, but a single datacenter unit able to run Windows, Unix and Linux on x86 and Itanium processors may fit into a growing market for converged server architectures and modular datacenters.