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3000 gets IA-64 commitment

HP promises new systems that use either PA-RISC
or IA-64 processors for next decade

Details on the migration and the designs from CSY R&D chief Winston Prather
Comments from customers, ISVs and industry analysts

For many months, the 3000 engineers at HP watched the company’s IA-64 announcements and could remember their last migration to a RISC architecture, saying “Been there, done that.”

Now they can say, “Gonna do it again.”

Managers at the HP 3000 Commercial System Division (CSY) announced that future models of 3000s will use the IA-64 processor architecture, opening the merits of the HP-Intel alliance to MPE/iX customers.

The announcement signals the second migration of HP 3000 systems to a RISC architecture, after HP took its customers from CISC to PA-RISC chips in 1987. The fact that CSY has already led a successful migration to a new architecture is the division’s unique advantage, according to R&D manager Winston Prather.

“The 3000 customers who experienced the move from Classic to MPE/XL know exactly what they’ll be looking at as they move forward,” Prather said. “One thing that makes me feel good about it is that it’s something we’ve done before. I think we pulled it off pretty successfully, and we learned quite a bit. We’ll use some of the same learning and techniques as we move to the new architecture.”

At some point early in the next decade, HP 3000 customers will have a new system available which will run with both PA-RISC and IA-64 processors, Prather said. Customers who need the additional performance of IA-64 will then be able to buy IA-64 processor boards to plug into HP 3000 processor slots on the new systems.

“Prior to the IA-64 boards or chips, there will be complete new boxes available at the high end and the midrange, and then potentially at the low end,” Prather said. These newest HP 3000s will use new I/O systems, giving customers a way to step into new hardware technology incrementally.

Revised OS, new compilers

The hardware work, while not trivial, isn’t the biggest challenge in front of HP’s engineers to bring IA-64 to the 3000. The largest leap will be for MPE/iX and the development tools, especially language compilers. HP reports that no major products will be left behind in the transition, and specifically promised that the HP databases (IMAGE/SQL and Allbase) will be carried into the IA-64 world.

HP 3000 officials understand they need to address the current generation of compilers. While serviceable and stable, the languages under the HP 3000 are in need of renovation, according to customers developing with them. HP’s C/iX compiler won’t be in compliance with ANSI standards soon, and the company’s COBOL II is unlikely to have most of the COBOL 2000 features on a timely schedule.

Prather said that HP’s Computer Languages Lab (CLL) will be developing new HP 3000 compilers for the IA-64 project. CSY will be working with CLL engineers on the project. CSY is also conducting planning and architecture meetings with HP 3000 application and tool providers this year. Channel partners and resellers were briefed on the decision to support IA-64 at the worldwide reseller conference in Venice in early May.

CSY intends for the transition to feel as seamless to customers as the last shift in architecture, the Spectrum project of the late 1980s. While some customers might recall those days as less than smooth in the earliest releases of the MPE XL operating system, CSY ultimately rebuilt the stability of MPE in that 32-bit version. Migrations were as simple as restoring software onto the new system and executing applications.

Like the prior migration, HP will have 3000 customers follow a two-step path to get to IA-64. A Compatibility Mode in the MPE/iX operating system will let 32-bit applications run on the 64-bit IA-64 hardware. Customers will experience a performance increase even in this Compatibility Mode.

To take complete advantage of the hardware, customers will need to work with compilers written for IA-64 HP 3000s. This will involve recompiling programs, but Prather and others at CSY promise that changes to the programs will be minimal to none. And there is a new tool on tap for this generation’s migration, advanced compiler technology called dynamic translation.

In the first transition of 3000s to RISC, customers could run programs though a translator called OCTCOMP to create new object code that was better optimized for PA-RISC hardware. Getting to IA-64 will bring the same kind of translation benefits without using a separate program, as those translations are done on the fly.

The dynamic work could be a tactical boon for companies with hundreds of programs that make up complex systems. “You could just put on the same program and say go, and we will catch it and translate it and optimize it dynamically,” Prather said.

Two worlds of 3000s

Although CSY is working to delay it, a time will come in the next decade when there will be two versions of MPE/iX, one for the PA-RISC systems and one for the IA-64 boxes. Customers work in such an environment today if they support Classic (CISC) HP 3000s running MPE V alongside MPE/iX.

HP has already been working on bringing 64-bit features such as large memory space and large files to MPE/iX long before IA-64 is ready for the 3000. The technical discussions taking place over the last year inside CSY include methods to keep from dividing MPE/iX into two camps.
“We don’t want to fork the operating system,” Prather said. “We have had internal debates about how we could provide all of this new functionality, the 64-bitness, and in the future avoid forking the operating system. We have a strong desire to avoid that. I’m not sure we’ll be able to avoid it forever.”

Until the first IA-64 HP 3000 arrives, HP will continue to improve its PA-RISC architecture, using announced new generations like the PA-8500 and PA-8700, still not implemented in HP hardware. Overlaps of PA-RISC and IA-64 releases will take place.

Work on schedules

Intel’s announcement in late May of delaying to mid-2000 the first Merced chips, the initial generation of IA-64 processors, “really to us is meaningless,” said CSY marketing manager Roy Breslawski. “We weren’t racing to get a Merced chip in an HP 3000 box.”

At least one analyst has speculated that CSY may not use the first generation of IA-64 chips, but wait for better performance from subsequent processors. Performance on PA-RISC systems improved as HP moved away from that line’s initial chips in the late 1980s, using nuances like larger chip caches.

Even though the actual implementation will be years away, Prather noted that HP 3000 software has been run on IA-64 simulators, programs which emulate the new architecture in software. No source inside the division will yet comment on a delivery schedule for the new technology – because no such schedule has been set.

“The bottom line is that we don’t really have any schedules yet, and I guess I’m feeling customers aren’t going to say, ‘Oh my god, you don’t have a schedule,’ ” Prather said. “This is a more of a commitment direction, as opposed to ‘I need it tomorrow,’ because what they need is performance.”

CSY officials stressed that changes in the customer base of the 3000 – it’s now growing, and sales are at their healthiest pace since 1993 – prompted the move to IA-64. “We’re just trying to get everybody reassured that we’re serious about the HP 3000,” said Breslawski. “Our commitment to IA-64 proves that we’re here for the long term.”

Copyright 1998 The 3000 NewsWire. All rights reserved