Tuesday, October 07, 2014


Thoughts on the HP Split

Too many people equate the PC business side of current HPQ as Compaq, and the enterprise side of current HPQ as the old HP. The truth is the old HP was nearly dead as a enterprise computing products company after spinning out Agilent and before acquiring Compaq. A quick look at HP's current technology portfolio shows much of it came in through acquisition. Much original HP technology has faded away. What is worse is much of HP's acquired technologies have been neglected to atrophy.

All of HP's current x86 server technology is former Compaq technology. The HP c-Class Blade System is a Compaq design which was in the works prior to the acquisition. HP's rack-mount x86 server technology is former Compaq. Engineering for HP x86 servers is done at the former Compaq facility in Houston.

Prior to the Compaq acquisition, HP's x86 server business was struggling to compete with IBM and Compaq's x86 server offerings. HP's x86 servers suffered from product quality issues, and little innovation.

HP's enterprise storage portfolio was a joke prior to the Compaq acquisition. Their organic mid-range system was sub-par, and they relied on an OEM relationship with EMC for their high-end solution.

Through the Compaq acquisition HP acquired the most sophisticated mid-range SAN platform of its time, the Enterprise Virtual Array (EVA). This was developed by Digital's StorageWorks division, which was working on the EVA prior to Compaq's acquiring them.

Within a decade, HP failed to innovate the EVA, and had to acquire 3PAR (and pay three times its market price due to a bidding war with Dell), to reinvigorate its mid-range storage line. HP also acquired LeftHand Network's SMB iSCSI systems to address the low end of its portfolio. HP still relies on an OEM relationship for the high-end, but now with HDS.

HP divested itself of the microprocessor business, ceding its HP-WideWord VLIW design to Intel to become the Itanium EPIC processor.

In the enterprise server space, HP's acquisition of Convex Computer gave it the SuperDome system, which originated as Convex's next generation Exemplar. While HP has iterated and evolved Convex's NUMA interconnect several times, there has been no net-new high-end server design from HP. The SuperDome 2 simply marries the "Convex Exemplar++" interconnect with the Compaq c-Class I/O backplane. And the idea that the coming "x86 SuperDome" will be anything other than a niche system is not going to happen.

In operating systems, other than its "Ignigte" bare-metal provisioning technology, HP-UX has lagged technologically behind Solaris and AIX for two decades now. HP's "innovations" were to OEM Veritas filesystem and volume management technology.

In automation, HP acquired OpsWare, the best technology out there in 2007. But now all of the oxygen in data center automation is being sucked up by either VMware or OpenStack.

HP had an excellent managed services organization (it used to be headquartered here in Atlanta), but this organization was subsumed into whatever is left of the former EDS post acquisition.

So the only organic components of HP I see still having value are the 30% of HP Services which was not part of the EDS acquisition and HP's printing division. Hewlett-Packard Enterprise is little more than a publicly traded private equity fund, a holding company of various technology brands (Tandem/DEC/Compaq/3PAR/OpsWare/EDS), in the mold of CA Technologies. In that way, they are similar to IBM, which also has acquired and failed to maintain many technologies. The difference is, IBM's organic enterprise technology (Mainframe, POWER, DB2, etc.) is aggressively maintained.

I honestly think the HP PC/Printer spin out will never happen as envisioned. Instead, HP will likely sell of HP PC/Printer to a private equity company who seeks the printer division as a cash flow business, and sees the PC division as something they have to buy in order to get the printer business. They will likely sell the PC business to an ODM who seeks a branded entry.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


Where was I?

Where was I? It seems everyone is answering this question.

I worked for Sun Microsytems at the time and was in the King and Queen building complex in Atlanta in a sales training class. There were no TVs, so we only go the news via cell phones and the Internet. But the Internet had ground to a halt.. As soon as it happened, I knew it was Bin Laden. I was convinced Bin Laden (not Iranian Hezbollah) was behind the Khobar Towers bombing, which killed five of my 71st Rescue Squadron mates in 1996. I felt it odd to be explaining Bin Laden (who I described that day as the closest thing to a James Bond super villain who actually existed on this earth), continuance of government, and SCATANA to my coworkers. It was like I was in on everything which was happening and everyone else was blind. Somewhere in there I called my Reserve unit in Alabama and let them know if they needed me I could be ready and down there in four hours.

At some point someone said Sun's New York sales office was in the World Trade Center (floors 25 and 26 of the South Tower, the second tower hit, and the first to collapse). That realization changed the dynamic of our class. Within about an hour we got word the entire Sun office evacuated after the North Tower was hit, and everyone in the office made it out safely. Crazily enough, we pressed on with our class. We wandered like zombies to HoneyBaked Ham for lunch, came back, and I presented my portion of the training class.

That evening, after a couple of Jack on the Rocks at Joey D's Oak Room with my colleagues, I drove home. On the drive, I called a former 71ster (Darryle Grimes) stationed at the Pentagon. He had been in the Pentagon during the attack, but was far enough away to not actually feel the impact. He told me the Pentagon had gone to 24 hours operations and he had to be back there in a about an hour.

The second thing I remember is I was not able to sleep that night. That is only one of two nights in my adult life I was not able to sleep at all.

Monday, July 26, 2010


Politicizing Everything

The July 12, 2010 letter from five of the members of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board to Senator Barbara Mikulski is a piece of political, not scientific work, and can only be seen as an attempt to offer a fig leaf to an otherwise naked policy. I do not believe these five people just spontaneously decided to write this letter without being solicited to do so. First, it is a letter from only five of the thirteen CAIB members. Second, those members are claiming to speak on behalf of the CAIB:
"We would be glad to answer any questions that you or other members of Congress may have concerning the CAIB report and its application to today’s space policy issues."

Third, one of the five authors, Shelia Widnall was a Democrat political appointee, and three others, Steven Wallace, Douglas Osheroff, and John Logsdon were all Obama campaign contributors. Without knowing the opinions of the other eight members of the CAIB, these are just the opinions of individuals, and more accurately, potentially biased individuals. Fourth, the letter misrepresents some of the conclusions of the CAIB, specifically the following:
"The design of the system should give overriding priority to crew safety, rather than trade safety against other performance criteria, such as low cost and reusability, or against advanced space operation capabilities other than crew transfer."
"This conclusion implies that whatever design NASA chooses should become the primary means for taking people to and from the International Space Station, not just a complement to the Space Shuttle. And it follows from the same conclusion that there is urgency in choosing that design, after serious review of a "concept of operations" for human space flight, and bringing it into operation as soon as possible. This is likely to require a significant commitment of resources over the next several years. The nation must not shy from making that commitment."

Abandoning Ares I and Orion is being done for cost reasons, not for safety reasons. The primary means of taking people to the ISS will be the Russian Soyuz. Abandoning Ares I and Orion abandons urgency and does not bring a system into operation as soon as possible. It specifically abandons the significant commitment of resources over the next several years. It is shying away from the needed commitment.

Furthermore, the letter misrepresents the Ares I when it compares it to current EELV boosters. The first stage of the Ares I is based on the man-rated Space Shuttle SRB, of which 262 have flown successfully, a fact which escapes the "CAIB Five", because it makes the 34 EELV launches pale in comparison. The J-2X Ares I upper stage engine is based on the man-rated J-2 engine which had a 96% success rate, and despite a handful of engine failures, it had a 100% mission success record.

The Orion spacecraft is a simply scale up of the Apollo Command Module spacecraft. Scaling up an existing design is a proven cost and risk mitigation strategy, and was the same strategy used to develop the highly successful Gemini spacecraft. The Gemini capsule was based on an enlarged Mercury capsule, which allowed engineers to focus on the advanced features of Gemini rather than the capsule itself. This is no different from Orion. Much of the original aerodynamic work done on the Apollo Command Module still applies, so it means a safer, quicker, less costly solution.

Additionally the CAIB noted:
"It is the view of the Board that the previous attempts to develop a replacement vehicle for the aging Shuttle represent a failure of national leadership. The cause of the failure was continuing to expect major technological advances in that vehicle."

Ares I / Orion, by leveraging existing boosters, engines, and spacecraft designs, avoids the expectation of technological advances. Even the decision to move to a splashdown water landing was done to reduce risk and cost.
"With the amount of risk inherent in the Space Shuttle, the first step should be to reach an agreement that the overriding mission of the replacement system is to move humans safely and reliably into and out of Earth orbit. To demand more would be to fall into the same trap as all previous, unsuccessful, efforts."

While the Constellation project encompassed more than simply transporting astronauts to orbit, the Ares I / Orion system was focused only on this. The only additional demand was that a future uprated version of Orion, carrying four astronauts rather than six astronauts, be capable of flying to lunar orbit, be parked unmanned in orbit, and later return to Earth. Most of these capabilities would impact Orion's service module, not the manned capsule.
"Continued U.S. leadership in space is an important national objective. That leadership depends on a willingness to pay the costs of achieving it."

It is clear President Obama does not have the will desired by the CAIB, and Obama's decision represents another failure of national leadership. It also seems the "CAIB Five" no longer agree with the importance of U.S. leadership in space. This letter can only be seen as a dissent from Chapter 9 of the original CAIB report. The authors should be vigorously challenged not only on their statements in this letter, but also on their support of the original CAIB report's conclusions.


Wednesday, December 23, 2009


x86 Rises, Part 4: The emergence of Linux as a viable datacenter OS

Several years ago I drafted a white paper I called "x86 Everywhere". I started it in the fall of 2004, let it sit, and updated it in April 2005. It remains unfinished, but with the release today of Intel's Nehalem processor, I took a look at it again. Here it is:

Three trends could allow what I call "x86 Everywhere" to happen.

The third trend necessary for "x86 Everywhere" is the possibility of the emergence of Linux as a viable datacenter OS.

This seems less likely than high-end x86 servers at this point, but it is certainly possible in several years time, if the efforts of the Datacenter Linux project bear fruit. Windows on 32-bit x86 systems did not penetrate the datacenter, in part because the hardware was not 64-bit, the hardware was not scalable, and customers did not trust Windows with their critical data.

Today, the hardware is 64-bit, AMD Opteron is scalable to eight-sockets today, Intel is pursuing efforts that will likely address the scalability limitations of Xeon, both AMD and Intel are aggressively pursuing multicore chip strategies, and customers trust Linux in places they formerly only trusted UNIX. The result is a very real, industry standard ABI/ISA platform combination that scales from embedded systems, to an inexpensive developer platform (the PC), to midrange enterprise datacenter computers. This could be enough to cause a tipping point, creating a fundamental driver for the Datacenter Linux initiative. Such a change in the primary enterprise compute platform from RISC/UNIX to x86/Linux would likely be highly disruptive to the industry, and would rival the move of commercial computing in the early 1990's from proprietary minicomputers to SMP RISC/UNIX servers. Once established in the datacenter as a viable midrange enterprise platform, like SPARC/Solaris it becomes a straightforward scaling exercise for x86/Linux to establish itself as a high-end platform.

Finally, while not a trend driving large scale x86 adoption, there are other developments to consider. Intel has a virtualization technology, called Vanderpool on desktops and Silvervale on servers, that will help provide partitioning on its systems. AMD has also stated it intends to offer a virtualization layer, called Pacifica. AMD has also stated it plans to improve RAS features of its Opteron, and it is likely Intel will do the same with Xeon, using features it already offers on Itanium. Both of these key technology areas will improve adoption of x86 servers in the enterprise market.

How will this play out?

First, Dell's strategy is to only enter established markets, and to do so with a superior fulfillment system. For markets that are not at that point, Dell has used partnerships, such as its existing partnership with EMC. Dell also partners with Unisys to resell Unisys' 8-way Intel Xeon systems. Therefore the most likely path for Dell is to primarily continue the status quo, assuming four socket x86 systems and below represent the lion's share of the server market. If there is a need to address the greater than eight-socket x86 server market, Dell could expand the Unisys agreement beyond 8-way. If Dell expands into the Opteron market, and needs to address the greater than eight-socket x86 server market, it could partner with Newisys (also an Austin TX company).

IBM already is a player with its Enterprise X Architecture (EXA) for Intel systems. However, IBM has close ties to Newisys (the founder is ex-IBM, and the Horus chipset is based on similar principals to EXA), IBM sold its North Carolina based PC Server manufacturing plants to SCI-Samna, IBM has a strong presence in Austin TX, Newisys' home, and IBM has strategic agreements with AMD around CPU fabrication technology. It is possible IBM could offer the Newisys system in addition to its own EXA systems.

HP is committed to x86 in the four-socket and below space, and is a strong backer of Linux. If the x86/Linux platform gains momentum, it would simultaneously weaken Itanium sales. This would require a strategy change for HP, but such a change would be necessary to remain a viable datacenter systems vendor. To address this, HP could OEM a solution if needed to address a short term requirement. HP did this with NEC's high-end Itanium system before HP adapted its Superdome system to accept Itanium processors. Here the most likely partner would be Newisys, with similar Texas roots to the Compaq, whose former Texas offices server as headquarters for HP's x86 division in the post-merger HP. Longer term, HP's relationship with Intel could produce a high-end x86 system, especially given the common chipset Intel promises for Itanium and Xeon. In fact, HP's “Arches” system, the follow-on to Superdome, could easily accept future Xeon processors, given the common Itanium chipset. HP could also acquire a solution, but the most likely acquisition in this case would be Unisys. A Unisys acquisition would be defensive as well if Unisys had or was considering a significant Dell agreement.

Sun has some of the closest ties to AMD, and Sun has the technology to build large systems. Sun already plans eight-socket Opteron systems. If a significant market for larger than eight socket x86 servers emerges, Sun will have to decide how to address that market. However, balancing the high-end SPARC and x86 business would be a challenge for Sun. If the scalable x86 market shows great promise, the best technical solution for Sun could be an even tighter AMD partnership with technology sharing to allow common systems to be built with either AMD or SPARC processors. The potential for Sun to leverage common technologies such as coherent Hypertransport for SPARC systems as well as Opteron could offer considerable economies of scale. This could make the most sense in the post APL timeframe. A secondary solution, which also offers a near term solution, would be an OEM deal with Newisys. Sun has relationships with SCI-Samna, OEMing Newisys' two socket and four socket Opteron servers as the V20z and V40z, and Sun contracts with SCI-Samna to manufacture low-end UltraSPARC servers. A deal with Newisys around higher-end systems would also server to more strongly establish Sun in the Texas information technology community, clearly one of the top IT centers in the world, and the most important in the x86 business.

AMD's best interests are served if it does not depend on other vendor's chipsets for scalability. Therefore, offering a higher-end Opteron processor with more coherent Hypertransport links allowing greater glueless SMP scalability is the most likely path for AMD.

Similarly, Intel's best interests are served if it can offer everything needed to build a scalable server directly to the distributor. This is the shift needed to move high-end servers into the commodity space, and allow Dell to enter the market with superior logistics.

Based on all of this, a two-phased industry approach is likely. The first being server-vendor based proprietary scalable solutions (such as IBM's EXA, Unisys' CMP, and Newisys' Horus), followed by processor vendor solutions based on in-chip features.

Who is threatened most by x86 Everywhere? One could say Sun, who relies on SPARC systems for the vast majority of its revenues. However if x86 Everywhere happens, SPARC's installed base is still very large, and will not be replaced overnight. The bigger victim is likely IBM, who is trying to repeat Sun's SPARC success with its POWER architecture. In fact, assuming a Sun/AMD partnership could allow Sun to build SPARC or Opteron systems from common technology (i.e., memory controllers and memory subsystems, coherent Hypertransport MP interconnects, and common Hypertransport I/O bridges), SPARC systems could be continued as long as customer demand supported the design of SPARC processors.

The big loser in this appears to be Newisys. SCI-Samna's business model is two-fold: Contract manufacturing and OEM manufacturing. Newisys' low-end systems fit well in the OEM model, and SCI-Samna has had success selling these systems to its OEM partners. However, the high-end Horus systems do not fit the OEM model. Several have tried OEMing datacenter servers, and few have succeeded. In the late 1990s, Unisys OEMed its x86 CMP system to both Dell and Compaq. The Dell OEM lasted only months. Dell realized a 32-way datacenter server did not fit its direct business model. Compaq's deal lasted a little longer, but it too abandoned the OEM arrangement. Other OEM deals include HP's OEMing of NEC's first generation Itanium system, which delivered few sales. The most successful OEM deal of datacenter servers appears to be Bull Worldwide's OEMing of IBM's pSeries servers, but this arrangement created significant channel conflict for IBM in europe, and seems to always be in danger whenever IBM announced a new generation of RISC/UNIX servers. Fujitsu's deal with Siemens is not considered as an OEM deal here because it is really more of a partnership. The Fujitsu-Siemens model is worth considering by Newisys, as it is a successful model of a business relationship between a high-end server manufacturer and a IT solutions provider. The most likely target customers for Newisys' Horus system are IT integrators such as EDS. IBM has a high-end x86 server in its product portfolio. EDS does not. IT integrators can provide the professional services required in selling such systems. Also, because this would be an OEM arrangement, there is the opportunity for greater margins and services to the IT integrator, compared to deals which involve simply reselling an server vendor's product.

x86 Rises, Part 3: x86 Grows in Performance and Scalability

x86 Rises, Part 2: Decreasing Value of Big UNIX

x86 Rises, Part 1: The Background


Friday, October 02, 2009


x86 Rises, Part 3: x86 Grows in Performance and Scalability

Several years ago I drafted a white paper I called "x86 Everywhere". I started it in the fall of 2004, let it sit, and updated it in April 2005. It remains unfinished, but with the release today of Intel's Nehalem processor, I took a look at it again. Here it is:

Three trends could allow what I call "x86 Everywhere" to happen.

The second trend is the prospect of several vendors offering scalable 64-bit x86 systems large enough to meet most customer's workloads.

The desktop megahertz wars of the late 1990s and early 2000s between Intel and AMD drove x86 performance at a rate exceeding Moore's law. This directly benefited Intel x86 server performance, making x86 servers available for larger workloads. At the same time, enterprise applications were being rearchitected to multi-tier web-based applications, requiring deployment of additional web and application servers. RISC still had advantages over x86 in this environment, as running Microsoft Windows on x86 servers required the purchase of client access licenses (CALs) for each discreet user. This was extremely expensive for emerging self-service web-based ERP and CRM applications, but it was impossible for B2C ecommerce applications. Enter Linux. In the late 1990s, Linux became established as an entry server operating system, which unlike Microsoft Windows, did not require the purchase of client access licenses (CALs) for each user. Linux quickly became established as the web server OS of choice. The result was a positive feeback loop. Application server ISVs aggressively ported their J2EE appservers to Linux, and improved their clustering so their appservers would work well on clusters of low-cost entry x86 servers. ERP vendors quickly followed porting their application tier to Linux on x86. The low purchase cost of the Linux/x86 architecture was driven home by the dot-com bust and worldwide recession of the early 2000s.

At the same time as the desktop megahertz war, the smaller x86 chip manufacturers each tried to establish their products into a niche area. Via acquired Cyrix and focused in the “system on a chip” market for very low-cost desktops. Transmeta focused on very low power consumption chips for low-end laptops and embedded markets. AMD, long a player in the budget desktop market, decided to focus on the server market by designing an x86 architecture, called “Hammer” which addressed the weaknesses of Intel's existing Xeon x86 server processor, primarily the latter's lack of 64-bit memory addressing. The release of Hammer, branded as Opteron, forced Intel to follow suit with its 64-bit x86 technology, long rumored under the codename “Yamhill”, and branded as EM64T technology.

The emergence of a truly competitive x86 server processor marketplace is driving new innovation in x86 processors, as AMD tries to stay one step ahead of Intel, and as Intel tries to leapfrog AMD. Dual-core processors, improved power management, virtualization technologies, and other improvements are announced on a regular basis.

After the emergence of 64-bit x86 technology in 2004, in 2005 dual-core x86 processors were released. These two technologies have strong synergies. 64-bit addressing increases the size of the workload which can run on an x86 server, and dual-core processors increases the size of server which can be built with x86 processors.

With dual-core 64-bit x86 processors now shipping, and four-core 64-bit x86 processors possible in two to three years, four to eight socket servers may provide the capacity required for most customers' workloads. Beyond that, workloads requiring large, single system image servers (HPTC, large data warehouses, etc.), may be relegated to a niche market. Ordinarily, such a niche market could still justify large, scalable RISC/UNIX systems. But the market for large, single system image servers is not limited to RISC/UNIX. For some time, the scalable x86 market has been a targeted by some system vendors.

In the mid-1990s, Sequent, with its NUMA-Q system, was one of the first vendors of large, scalable x86 systems. Data General offered a very similar NUMA system during the same time period. Both of these systems provided very limited performance because of their architecture. Data General's system failed to gain significant market share, and was end of lifed not long after EMC acquired Data General. Sequent targeted decision support and data warehouse workloads with its NUMA-Q system and had some success. Sequent was acquired by IBM, and IBM released a more advanced x86 NUMA system which offered greater node to node bandwidth and large L4 caches to better manage inter-node latencies. In 2005 IBM released its third generation of x86 NUMA systems.

In the late 1990s, Unisys built a large, scalable SMP x86 system using a technology it calls cellular multiprocessing, or CMP. This technology was derived from Unisys' Clearpath mainframe systems. In fact, Unisys offers a version of its x86 CMP system which runs the Clearpath mainframe OS ported to the x86 architecture. Despite the mainframe heritage and mainframe variant of Unisys' x86 CMP systems, sales have not been strong. These systems were limited by the lack of scalability of Intel's x86 architecture, as well as the x86's lack of 64-bit memory addressing. Unisys now offers a second-generation CMP design, with simpler eight socket entry systems as well as large 32 socket systems.

Both IBM and Unisys offer 32-socket Intel Xeon systems, but both of these systems continue to be limited by the inherent lack of scalability in Intel's Xeon architecture.

The limits of x86 scalability changed with AMD's Opteron. Opteron is the first scalable x86 processor architecture. By virtue of its high-performance, coherent Hypertransport MP interconnect, Opteron is scalable in SMP design. Because of its 64-bit memory addressing, Opteron is scalable in memory capacity, with memory addressing balanced with processor performance. Four to eight socket x86 servers are no longer crippled with saturated SMP busses or inadequate memory capacity. Intel has followed suit with 64-bit memory addressing for Xeon, and a unique dual front side bus (FSB). But the dual FSB, while providing temporary relief to Xeon's saturated SMP bus, is actually designed for the soon to be released dual-core Xeon processors. Dual-core Xeons will likely once again saturate the SMP busses. Better SMP interconnects will be required for efficient scaling of Xeon systems to four sockets and above.

Over the next several years, x86 systems with eight-sockets and greater will become more prevalent. Newisys, a division of SCI-Samna, a major OEM manufacturer of AMD Opteron systems, is planning a 32-way Opteron chipset called Horus. Intel has promised future Itanium and Xeon processors will support a common chipset, allowing a next generation scalable Itanium server architecture to also serve as a scalable Xeon platform. This means traditional large scalable Itanium system vendors, HP, SGI, and NEC could enter the large scalable Xeon system market. The other possibilities are a higher-end AMD Opteron chip with more Hypertransport links allowing more scalable glueless MP topologies, similar to Compaq Alpha EV7's architecture, or the possibility of Intel introducing a scalable glueless chip to chip interconnect. It is important to note, Intel has access to the design of the EV7 interconnect and now employees the developers of the EV7's interconnect through an agreement with Compaq before Compaq was acquired by HP. Regardless, increased SMP scalability of x86 servers seems likely in the next few years.

Related Posts:

x86 Rises, Part 2: Decreasing Value of Big UNIX

x86 Rises, Part 1: The Background


Tuesday, June 16, 2009


x86 Rises, Part 2: Decreasing Value of Big UNIX

Several years ago I drafted a white paper I called "x86 Everywhere". I started it in the fall of 2004, let it sit, and updated it in April 2005. It remains unfinished, but with the release today of Intel's Nehalem processor, I took a look at it again. Here is Part 2:

Three trends could allow what I call "x86 Everywhere" to happen.

The first trend is the decrease in value of large, partitionable, RISC/UNIX systems.

All major commercial RISC/UNIX systems vendors offer large systems that can support large workloads, or can be partitioned to support many medium-sized workloads. The primary reasons for deploying a medium-sized workload in a partition on a large server are expected growth beyond the capacity of typical midrange servers, higher system resource utilization, system management efficiencies of server consolidation, and customer politics and preferences. Each of these reasons is coming under assault by the advancement of Moore's law, and as a result, the value proposition of large, partitionable datacenter servers is declining.

The performance improvements brought about by Moore's law over the last several years have outpaced customer workload growth, allowing midrange systems to handle the expected growth of most customer workloads. In addition, the price of midrange RISC/UNIX system has declined significantly over the last several years, starting with Sun's UltraSPARC III based V880, whose price point was then met by IBM with the POWER4-based p650, and HP's strategy of offering standard configurations of PA-RISC and Itanium midrange systems at very aggressive prices. Moore's law has caused system utilization to drop, as processors are now very powerful.

Traditional physical based partitioning, such as Sun's Dynamic System Domains and HP's Node Partitions (nPars) do not provide adequate granularity given the performance of today's processors. The result is the rise of software-based partitioning, logical partitioning, and virtual machine technology, which are portable to smaller, less expensive RISC/UNIX systems. In the case of purely software based partitioning technology, it is portable to other ISAs such as x86 platforms. For example, virtual machine technology is primarily being used on x86 systems via VMware's products. These shift in server partitioning technology are also decreasing the value proposition of large and midrange RISC/UNIX servers.

The recent emphasis in the industry for provisioning and system management solutions, along with policy-based computing solutions to manage large numbers of discreet servers has yet to significantly change the industry, however improvements in this area have improved the system management efficiencies of distributed servers. This, along with some of the inherent provisioning and management efficiencies of software-based partitioning technologies (shared network and disk resources) have resulted in a decrease in the relative value of large partitionable systems.

One should note, this decrease in value is real. It is not simply a customer perception. First, physical partitioning is simply too expensive a method to achieve partitioning in a server. Markets define prices, not vendors. Costs define margins, not prices. In a scenario with two otherwise equivalent servers, one using physical partitioning, the other using logical partitioning, the logical partitionable server will offer the vendor greater margins. Similarly, designing a server with physical partitioning which offers the same granularity as logical partitioning would likely be abandoned for having too high a cost. Second, customers really are moving workloads from previous generation large servers to smaller servers of the current generation, rather than partitions on larger current generation servers. In 1998 a Sun customer might consider paying the 50% price premium of an E10K over multiple E4500s. The value the 50% premium represented, primarily in growth capacity, justified the premium. Today the premium an E20K has over multiple V890s or V490s is so much higher (around 150% more), few customers can justify the value the E20K price premium provides.

The effect of this is a leveling of playing field between RISC/UNIX servers and x86 servers. Midrange RISC/UNIX servers are becoming simpler and cheaper. Midrange x86 servers have become more robust. RISC ISAs versus the x86 ISA is become a "Coke versus Pepsi" decision: a flavor choice.

Related Post:

x86 Rises, Part 1: The Background


Monday, June 15, 2009


Three types of people

I have come to a conclusion there are three types of people in the world:

Process people.

Idea people.

People people.


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