Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) has been pushing a smaller-is-better strategy for the last few years, spinning off PCs and printers, services and software, and now it looks like it’s applied that strategy to its mission-critical server line. Superdome Flex, the follow-up to Superdome X, the server family that started the company’s RISC-averse transition from Itanium to Xeon, opens up a $6-8 billion market that HPE wasn’t able to address effectively, HPE’s Randy Meyer, VP & GM, Mission Critical Systems, told IT Trends & Analysis.
When it comes to the mission-critical x86 server market, driven by database, Oracle and SAP HANA applications moving from Unix to Linux, there were only a couple of choices, he said. While the up-to-16-socket Superdome X does the job well, the problem was at the bottom with 4-socket entry-level systems, especially for customers who knew they were going to eventually need more sockets. “In the Superdome X form factor, you paid a lot for the infrastructure.”
With Flex, HPE went modular, making it much easier — and affordable — for customers to grow from 4 sockets all the way up to 32. “All of a sudden you have customers saying this is really cool.” Meyer believes this will open up a “huge chunk” of the market, and the ability to scale up and down will appeal to large customers, as well as the previously untapped midmarket.
Following a couple of slow quarters, server revenues climbed 6.3% year over year to $15.7 billion in the second quarter of 2017, while midrange server revenue shot up 19.6% to $1.5 billion, and demand for high-end systems tumbled 18.9% to $1.3 billion, according to IDC. HPE held on to top spot (21.3% of the market), but revenues slid 8.4% YoY to $3.3 billion, while second-place Dell (17.7%) posted 7% YoY revenue growth.
x86 server demand increased 10.4% to $14.3 billion, while non-x86 servers declined 21.5% to $1.5 billion. “Demand for two-socket form factors continues to control a majority of unit shipments now and going forward as they are the sweet spot for density-optimized servers which are used in datacenters,” said IDC’s Lloyd Cohen, director of Worldwide Market Analysis, Computing Platforms.
Gartner’s server numbers were lower: 2.8% YoY revenue growth to $13.9 billion, and a 9.4% marketshare decline for HPE. RISC/Itanium Unix servers plummeted 21.4% in shipments and 24.9% in vendor revenue, which at least did better than the ‘other’ CPU category, which is primarily mainframes, down a whopping 29.5% in revenue (and that’s after an infrequent IBM z Series refresh).
HPE reported significantly better results for high-performance computing. For its latest quarter the company said revenue from the HPC vertical rose 40.0% YoY in fiscal 3Q17 and 10.0% YoY.
The Unix market is eroding quickly, but Meyer doesn’t believe it is in any danger of disappearing. There are applications — and users — where the OS remains essential. “Unix will continue for long after I’m gone”, he said.
When it comes to server reliability, HPE’s Superdome is ‘getting more competitive’ with each subsequent ITIC Global Server Hardware and Server OS Reliability survey conducted twice yearly. ‘HPE has also made impressive strides over the last 12 months with its high end mission critical HP Integrity Superdome server, although the ProLiant line continues to lag.’
I’m typically unimpressed when a vendor claims massive price reductions based on somebody else’s technology — i.e. ‘the Intel Skylake Xeon based product brings the price point of high performance compute in memory database technology in the Unix workstation market down by a whopping 50-75%’ — because those numbers should be replicable by competitors who move to the same — or superior — third-party or homegrown technology. However Meyer gave me another number which was much more impressive: approximately 50% of SAP HANA server deployments are on HPE systems.
That number is important for several reasons, he added. First, SAP wants to transfer its entire customer base to Hana over the next 5 years, and while the first big wave has already happened, and involved most of the big companies, the next big wave is coming with S4, which will extend the customer pool, he said. “A huge chunk of the world runs SAP apps… and this is going to hit the sweetspot…”
Looking ahead, Meyer said the product roadmap is pretty clear, with future versions synced up with Intel’s CPU plans. “If I look at the roadmap, the form factor is pretty well set… 4-socket… Intel will drive processor cycle every 12-15 months … we’ve already got plans for releases in 2020, 2021… and then on the journey toward The Machine”.
Moving to this flexible form factor really helps us when it comes to The Machine, he added, putting memory at the center of everything. “This is really the first iteration of that.”
The Machine is still more concept than reality, but like Flex, is part of the company’s memory-driven computing initiative. “One customer asked us if they could reference this as The Machine .5, and that’s exactly what it is,” said Jeff Kyle, director of product management for HPE enterprise servers who reports to Meyer.
Sharad Singhal, director, Machine Software and Applications, at Hewlett Packard Lab, said the new Superdome offering “brings us one step closer to realizing our vision for The Machine.” It combines technology from both the Superdome X and the MC990X (previously the SGI UV300, with NUMAlink technology) system, bringing together “many of the mission-critical features of the Superdome X and the scalability of the MC990X to create a platform that can scale from a 4-socket, 6 TB memory enclosure all the way to a 32-socket, 48 TB system and can scale effectively as workloads increase.”
The Superdome Flex just started shipping, with early customers getting a 32-socket version, said Meyer. GA is scheduled for December, and while shipments will begin with up to two racks, the full configuration is set to be announced in January. “From our standpoint, it’s designed and tested…”
The Fiddly Bits
Available in limited release, with GA scheduled for next month, the HPE Superdome Flex is ‘the world’s most scalable and modular in-memory computing platform’ that features:
-5U-rack form factor
-Intel Xeon Platinum Processor 8XXX Gold Processor 6XXX families;
-28 or 18 or 14 or 12 or 4 processor cores;
-16.5 MB or 19.25 MB or 24.75 MB or 38.5 MB rocessor cache; and,
-6.0 TB maximum memory with 64 GB DIMMs (the company says its shared pool of memory over an ultra-fast fabric can scale from 768GB to 48TB in a single system).
DISCLAIMER: I have shares in a number of companies mentioned in this article.