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HP Seeks To Join IBM, Dell In Value-Add X86 Data Center Server Space

Originally "pre-launched" three weeks ago, the initial seven models of the ProLiant Generation 8, HP's latest version of its x86-based servers, were officially unveiled this week and are expected to ship later this month. The first set of products from the company's Project Voyager initiative--a $300 million investment, with two years of R&D and more than 900 patents--these servers incorporate a number of new features and capabilities that are intended to "redefine the expectations and economics of the data center," including tripling administrator productivity and delivering a return on investment in as little as five months.

The Gen8 family is being promoted as the most self-sufficient line of servers available using Intel's new Xeon E6-2600 processors. HP says the servers have been tested in more than 100 data centers by customers including Alcatel-Lucent, British Telecom, Nth Generation Computing and Purdue University. They automate life-cycle management, accelerate application performance and maximize availability by eliminating common tasks and problems, which can give back nearly 30 days a year per IT staff, says HP.

The new servers should certainly gain from the innovations provided by Intel’s latest CPUs--an 80% boost in overall performance, robust I/O throughput (based on PCI Express 3.0) and significantly enhanced energy efficiency, says Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT. "The result is a processor built for the rigors of the modern data centers, particularly cloud computing and highly virtualized environments. Those are among HP’s obvious target markets, as they are for every other x86 vendor. So the real secret sauce here are the 160 upgrades and new features HP detailed when they introduced the systems last month."

King says both IBM and Dell have been delivering higher-value capabilities for years. "It’s too early to tell exactly how well HP’s new systems match up against the competition, but it seems like these new servers will be a step up from previous HP solutions."

Overall, he sees Gen8 as more keeping HP in the race, rather than giving it a significant advantage over its major competitors. "As the market moves further and further toward cloud-centric data centers and provisioning, server vendors including HP will have to improve their offerings around system and facilities management issues or risk being left behind."

Rather than a bold new step forward, King thinks both this week's launch and February’s pre-launch seem designed to assure HP customers and prospects that despite the turmoil surrounding the company’s management during the past year, it can still develop and deliver winning server solutions. "We’ll see how that works out in the market during the next few quarters."

Like King, IDC's Jed Scaramella, research manager, enterprise servers, is reluctant to use the term "game changer" to describe the new HP servers. He says large enterprise customers don't change their strategy that quickly, but tend to adapt over time. He does believe HP's new line has some good technical features that should help customers become more efficient with their IT infrastructures.

"The higher-value offerings is a focus for HP with their CloudSystem Matrix and Converged Infrastructure. Their strategy is an evolutionary one and builds off their existing ProLiant BladeSystem server family versus a new greenfield product [or rip and replace]."

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