Wednesday, October 1, 2014

HP's Gen9 new X86 servers

HP's Gen9 servers

As HP announced their newest line of ProLiant servers, they made the point that they created the x86 server business 25 years ago. In the same way, this announcement sets the stage for the next 25 years. An ambitious goal, which for most other companies one might dismiss as pure marketing hype. However, as the leading supplier of x86 servers today one must take HP’s claim seriously. Clearly, HP will be moving in this new direction for many years to come. We waited a bit to do this write-up to give HP time to get its product offerings in order and to update its web site.[1]

It is true that server architectures need updating. In connection with its last Moonshot announcement, HP described future server performance requirements. Even merely linear development (of servers) will need unsustainable power and space requirements using current architectures. Moonshot represents the first step at addressing these issues. (And a good one in our view.)  We expect customers welcomed HP's redefined server.

The next evolutionary step is the Gen9. Here’s how to get more detailed information.
Searching the HP enterprise (not consumer) web site for “Gen9” servers eventually leads to the ProLiant Server page. Here’s a link[2]. Down and to the right is a tab for “Products and Services”, select it to see a list of current products, such as Blades, Rack servers, Tower servers, etc. Selecting “HP ProLiant Rack servers” displays “Shop for Rack Servers”, clicking on it takes you to a page[3] which provides access to a list of the rack servers that HP is currently offering.

There are four servers listed marked as “New”. All are Gen9 servers. Other severs on the same page are Gen8. Checking the Compare box (below each server) allows you to see the difference between any of the Gen 9 and any Gen8 servers.

Picking one of the Gen9 servers, click on “Learn More” goes to a page with additional models. We picked the DL380 Gen9, and then clicked on the “Select a Model” tab. This shows 4 sub-models of the DL380.[4] Selecting one of the sub-models, allows you to configure it, get more details on it, and explore benchmarks. We picked the most expensive,”HP ProLiant DL380 Gen9 E5-2650v3 2P 32GB-R P440ar 8SFF 2x10Gb 2x800W Perf Server” with a base price of $8,469. Model documentation is accessible to compare it with others. A very useful section on benchmarks appears down the page.[5] We did not explore all of the benchmarks but expect that most of them relate to Gen8 servers right now. Over time the Gen9 results will be added.[6]

Here’s a few of the key points gathered on our trip thru HP’s web site.

First, HP obviously remains in a transition state. They are still selling Gen8 servers in addition to the new Gen9. They decided a gradual changeover is better than attempting a very likely disruptive wholesale change. In the meantime, a Gen8 system might be the best choice for some customers. We agree and think that the way HP is managing this situation is best for them and for their customers as well. Customer choice is generally a good thing. For example, if one needs a special feature that is either not available or supported on Gen9, it remains available on a Gen8 system.

Second, it is well worth exploring the HP support options. Return to the web page referenced in footnote 1 above, and you will see what we mean. A specific example, Microsoft ends support for Windows Server 2003 in 2015. Customers have to move to Windows Server 2012 if they want continued support. HP offers a comprehensive set of options for the move. All are described on this page.[7]

We are not saying that HP’s offerings are the best for any individual customer. We are recommending that anyone planning a Window’s migration should be aware of their offerings; include investigating them as part your migration.

Final point. Elements of the Gen9 systems remain a work in progress. For example, at the OneView web site[8], you find that this key software component does not yet support Gen9. It is promised by year’s end. Other items are in this category. This is to be expected any time that a company like HP makes a major transition in technology. They need a reasonable amount of time to make a full transition.

We recommend that customers evaluating x86 servers to definitely include HP’s Gen9 offering in their appraisal. While it is true that HP needs to fill out the offering, they provide enough details and insight into the future to whet our appetite for more.

[1] We've learned that what a company offers as order-able products on the web site (including the base price) might be different from the announcement. Our interest is in what customers can actually order. We are not accusing HP of doing this.
[6] We did not try all combinations (There are many!) but we were not able to get any results for Gen9. 
[8]'s Gen9 servers