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February 2001

HP rolls out carpet of new 3000s

New N-Class boxes offer 10X IO improvement

Companies which own HP 3000s can now hear the sound of carpets in their future. The first PCI bus 3000 systems arrive with the swoosh of a magic carpet, carrying customers to faster computing with a ten times improvement in IO. That’s accompanied by the sound of the current systems being tugged from under customers’ feet — HP rolled its entire product line in February, with end of support announcements coming for all of its current systems.

At no time in recent memory has the lineup for 3000 ownership been set so: it is composed entirely of systems just announced with new architecture, or computers whose end of support date is already known. The HP 3000 division (CSY) expressed enough confidence in the new offerings to sweep everything else in the 3000 product line aside by the year 2006.

Leading the surprises for the long-anticipated announcement is the March shipment of the first A-Class systems. But the computers which will show the greatest leap in performance are further up the alphabet at the N-Class, where HP has worked to take MPE/iX systems into new speed limits.

The schedule of releases carries some surprise as well. CSY wants to get its newest iron into the market so quickly that it’s willing to keep some of the computers’ features in the lab for as long as another six months. At initial release in March, the N-Class systems will be offered in single-processor configurations only, and their memory limits will be fixed at 2Gb.

The N-Class rolls out with four PA-RISC processor speeds: 220-, 330-, and 440-MHz of the PA-8500 chips, and 550-MHz for the PA-8600 at the top of the line. Current HP e3000 chips for the Series 989/150s are clocked at 240-MHz. Once HP ships the full N-Class line, it will include uniprocessor models of the 220 and 330 systems, 1-, 2-, 3- and 4-way models of the 440-MHz models, and 3- and 4-way models of the 550-MHz PA-8600 systems. All N4000 units will support up to 16Gb of memory, and the line will eventually include 6-way and 8-way systems.

IO improvements

The central enhancement in the N-Class systems which HP said will ship in March is the new IO bus using PCI technology. HP said customers can expect an improvement of up to 10 times in throughput for IO, a serious upgrade for a system known as an online transaction workhorse.

All systems include unlimited MPE/iX licenses. US priced, without disk or tape.
Processor Clock speed CPUs
Performance (918 = 1.3)
A400-100-110 PA-8500 110 MHz 1 2.2 $15,900
A500-100-140 PA-8500 140 MHz 1 3.2 $36,900
A500-200-140 PA-8500 140 MHz 2 5.4 $42,800
N4000-100-220 PA-8500 220 MHz 1 9.0 $69,900
N4000-100-330 PA-8500 330 MHz 1 13.0 $119,900
N4000-100-440 PA-8500 440 MHz 1 18.0 $210,900
N4000-200-440 PA-8500 440 MHz 2 33.0 $241,180
N4000-300-440 PA-8500 440 MHz 3 46.0 $399,900
N4000-400-440 PA-8500 440 MHz 4 57.0 $430,180
N4000-300-550 PA-8600 550 MHz 3 58.0 $499,900
N4000-400-550 PA-8600 550 MHz 4 72.0 $538,180

The HP e3000 Model N4000 4-way 550 carries a 3000 Performance Unit rating of 72, about 35 percent faster than the previous top of the line, the 12-way Series 997 system.

The N Class systems use a PA-8600 processor, faster than the PA-8200 used in the 997s. But far more of the performance improvement comes from the PCI bus, which moves 440Mb per second of data compared to the 32Mb per second of the 900 Series HP e3000s.

“We’re not going to be limited in some of the ways we have been by disks, and things like that,” said Kevin Cooper, CSY’s performance engineer.

The N-Class systems come with 12 PCI IO slots, most of which are dual slots which can handle the equivalent of two cards. These dual port cards can be single-ended or fast/wide differential (HVD) — the current choices for HP 3000 IO — or use the faster low-voltage differential (LVD) Ultra2 SCSI interface.

HP has taken IO to a new level with the introduction of the first LVD cards for e3000s. These are same basic cards as the single-ended cards, but the LVD support means the cards can pass up to 80Mb per second of data, compared to the 5Mb per second for the single-ended cards.

HP officials say that full LVD peripheral support is still on the horizon for the e3000, but for the time being only drivers for disk drives over LVD are part of MPE/iX.

N-Class IO cards are also available which support Fast/Wide Differential (HVD) using the SCSI-2 interface. All dual-port cards are only supported on the N-Class systems. Single-port models of the above cards, including the faster LVD, are supported on both A-Class and N-Class units.

First release limits

MPE/iX 7.0 is required to run the N-Class systems, but the initial release of that OS returns to some limits that MPE/iX 6.5 had blown away. For example, the number of LDEVs supported under base 7.0 will be 253, less than half the number supported under 6.5. HP plans to synchronize the higher limits of 6.5 with the N-Class in an Express 1 release of 7.0, expected three to six months after the March shipment of the N-Class units.

Fiber Channel won’t be supported at first release of the N-Class systems, either. HP is still working on the high speed interface for the e3000, but isn’t ready to commit to a release date yet. HP is also holding back support for DDS-4 tape units from the first 7.0 release. CSY is investigating Ultrium tape support for MPE/iX, but SuperDLT support will arrive first.

HP said it’s limiting support for peripherals at first release to get to market as quickly as possible with the new systems.

Perhaps most significantly, the N-Class will only ship in single-processor configurations until the Express 1 release of 7.0 is available. Testing conflicts are delaying the multi-CPU versions of the N-Class.

“When you look at the performance releases we get just with the uniprocessor version of the N-Class, we actually cover a very large portion of our existing customers,” HP Platform Planning Manager Dave Snow said. “We put several such limitations in the software to allow us to get the hardware to market as quickly as possible.” He said engineering for multiple processors and greater than 2Gb of memory wasn’t complete when CSY had to freeze the 7.0 base release for testing in November.

“It’s a combination of the re-engineering and the testing,” said CSY general manager Winston Prather. “We wanted to get the product out there so customers could use it, and then complete the certification for more memory and processors.”

HP doesn’t expect the delay to hamper sales much. “Our thinking was that big systems in particular sometimes have a longer sales cycle,” Snow said. “By the time we actually get many of those [multi-CPU] orders in, we’ll be shipping them.”

“It comes down to optimizing around time to market, to meet the majority of the customers’ needs,” Prather said. “Clearly we could hold off on the whole thing and wait for it to be a complete superset. But that’s not the right way to meet customer needs.”

Testing for the A-Class systems, which HP released earlier than expected, meant some N-Class features had to be deferred until the Express 1 release. “It’s a zero-sum game,” Snow said. “We gave up the possibility of pulling up some of these other features when we moved up the A-Class.”

Performance promises

HP also says the N-Class top-end — a 550MhZ, four-processor model — is the best performing batch machine in the history of the 3000 line. HP points to the batch performance as one of the most dramatic improvements for the N-Class systems. HP said that sorting an 800Mb file in a batch job executed in 13 minutes on a Series 997 system, while the same task finished in 4 minutes on an N-Class system with a 550-MHz processor.

Batch improvements rely on processor speed, and introducing the faster PA-8600 chips gives HP a chance to deliver up to 3 times the batch throughput as is currently available. The current batch champ is the PA-8200-driven Series 989/150, but even the slower 440-MHz N4000 systems finish batch jobs twice as fast.

“These are the best performing batch machines ever,” Cooper said. The range of the systems performance numbers runs from a 9.0 on the single processor, 220 MHz N4000 up to the 72.0 of the four-way, 550-MHz N4000. HP includes 3Gb minimum RAM for its 440-MHz models, and 4Gb for the 550-MHz systems.

With the new introductions of the N4000 line, HP has reset its midrange’s bottom performance level to almost the top of the prior midrange performance. A Series 989 single processor system carries a 9.1 rating, using the most powerful processor in the 3000’s current line. That’s just about where the N4000 performance begins with its one-way N4000-220 system.

Changes in tape, support

HP doesn’t expect to be selling its current 9x9, 99x and 9x8 servers beyond this year, and it’s motivating customers to upgrade with lower support prices. Series 997 owners will see the greatest savings in support costs by upgrading to an N4000 system.

The N-Class units will also include no internal tape devices, the first time that backup hasn’t been a part of an HP 3000 introduction. HP said that leaving tape outside of its newest systems — the A-Class systems won’t have it, either — was a hard call. The same N- and A-Class systems in the HP 9000 line don’t have tape integrated, either, said CSY’s Snow.

“We are leveraging heavily off our HP 9000 brethren,” Snow said. “People are providing more networked storage, but that didn’t play directly into the 3000 side of the fence. Lots of small servers want to have a local tape mechanism to provide backup capability.”

HP’s pricing for its N-Class units doesn’t include disk or tape devices, although at $3,800 for a 36Gb disk it won’t make much difference in any N4000’s total cost. The low end of the N-Class begins at $69,900 with 512Mb of RAM and including MPE/iX and the IMAGE/SQL database. Stocking the new top end of the N-Class with 4Gb of memory results in a system priced at $538,180 before any discounts.


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