Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Tuesday, June 28, 2022

HP Tweaks NonStop, HP-UX Systems 

Windows and Linux servers may dominate sales at Hewlett-Packard, as they do for the systems market at large, but the company still has a sizeable business peddling NonStop and HP-UX systems. These machines need care and attention from time to time, as any product line does, and this week HP is updating the hardware for NonStop systems and the HP-UX operating system for its Integrity and Superdome machines.

In some ways, the NonStop fault tolerant servers are going to have a longer and more interesting future than the HP-UX machines. As EnterpriseTech reported last fall, HP has decided to port the NonStop operating system and distributed database management system from its current Itanium processors to Intel’s Xeon processors. HP has been vague about when this port will be done and on what particular Xeon machinery. HP is clearly in no hurry, nor does it have to be given the scale out nature of the NonStop line. The current NonStop machines can have up to 4,080 nodes linked together with a proprietary ServerNet interconnect for a maximum of 16,320 cores running the shared-nothing relational database and its underlying NonStop kernel. Randy Meyer, director of product management for the NonStop line, which is part of HP’s Business Critical Systems division, told EnterpriseTech last fall that the largest account has just over 1,000 nodes in production. There is plenty of room to scale out, clearly, with the current product line. But just because the database cluster can scale out horizontally does not mean that customers don’t want some extra vertical scaling on each node to help boost the performance of the distributed applications running atop NonStop clusters. (If this were not the case, NonStop machines would still be running on MIPS processors that are about as powerful as you have inside your home router.)

The high-end NonStop NB56000 systems are based on a variant of the Integrity i4 blade servers that HP announced in November 2012 sporting the “Poulson” Itanium 9500 processors, which come in two-core and four-core variants with clock speeds running from 1.76 GHz to 2.53 GHz. HP also has a low-end product that gets customers going on smaller clusters that are based on less expensive rx2800 i4 rack servers. These low-end machines are what HP is updating today. The NS2300 NonStop machines are based on two-core Itanium 9500 processors, while the NS2400 are based on the four-core Itanium 9500 chips. The processors are running at the entry 1.73 GHz speed. The prior machines topped out at 32 GB of memory per node but the new one is expanded to 48 GB per node. Up to four of these machines can be clustered into a single fault tolerant system. With all of the tweaks between the “Tukwila” Itanium 9300 and Poulson Itanium 9500 processors, socket for socket the newer Itaniums deliver somewhere between 2X and 2.4X in performance, depending on the workload. Based on the clock speeds HP has used for the NonStop machines, customers will see around a 50 percent performance boost. (HP is staying away from the higher-clocking and more expensive Itanium 9500 chips.)

HP is not divulging the pricing on the NonStop machines but Jeff Kyle, director of product management for the Enterprise Servers group, says that pricing for the new NB2300 and NB2400 machines based on Poulson are in the same range as the NB2100 and NB2200 machines based on Tukwila. A base NonStop 2100 machine from August 2012 cost $75,000 with two logical processors in two separate physical nodes with 8 GB of memory on each node; that machine also included six system disks (that’s three mirrored volumes) and six data disks (triple mirrored as well for safe keeping). That system has the NonStop kernel price but the NonStop database will cost you another $13,000 for an annual license. The entry system also runs the ServerNet clustering atop Ethernet, which cuts costs.

The thing that HP focuses on with the NonStop line is that it not only offers great scalability for database applications, but that the fault tolerance is better than you can get with a cluster of Linux servers running databases in a high availability mode. If you take an Oracle Real Application Clusters setup, says Kyle, you might be able to push it to three or four nines of availability (that’s 99.9 percent or 99.99 percent uptime, which is, respectively, 4.4 hours or 52.3 minutes of downtime per year). But, contends Kyle, you can get five nines of availability, or just around 5 minutes of downtime per year, with a NonStop cluster ­– and do so at a 25 percent lower cost. That comparison comes from one of HP’s system integrators in Europe who wants to remain anonymous and who builds payment systems on both NonStop fault tolerant clusters and more generic Linux clusters. HP keeps a low-end system around to get customers hooked on the iron and then to grow with them. There is a reason why these venerable Tandem machines persist and when HP finally gets NonStop ported over to Xeon processors and ServerNet running atop InfiniBand it should be possible to ramp up the installed base.

Ideally, HP would have done this long since when it became apparent that Itanium was a dead end, but the company wanted to save face in its battle in the press and then in the courts with Oracle over the fate of the Itanium processor. HP has not won damages in its lawsuit as of yet and therefore it will do nothing to disparage the chip. But the future “Kittson” Itanium, due perhaps this year or next, is not expected to offer customers much in the way of core count or performance boosts. What was once a plan to do a more aggressive redesign of the Itanium with the Kittson 9700 series – including socket compatibility with the Xeon E7s – now looks to be some modest architectural tweaks on the existing Itanium 9500s and no more socket compatibility.

HP’s techies have proposed porting the venerable HP-UX Unix variant to Xeon processors a number of times but each time the effort was shot down by the top brass at the company for reasons it has not explained. It is not hard to figure. For the most part, NonStop customers write their own applications, most often in Java these days, so moving their applications from Itanium to Xeon is not a big deal. The Java stack takes care of most of it and HP is offering a source code guarantee for those who use other NonStop compilers to write their code. On HP-UX, however, most customers are using an Oracle database and third party applications, generally from Oracle or SAP. It seems very unlikely that any of the system software providers will do ports of their code to HP-UX on Xeon given the relatively small base. SAP has clearly tied its future to Xeon E7 machines running SUSE Linux and its HANA in-memory database and Oracle has no interest in helping HP-UX sell against its own Sparc SuperCluster or Xeon Exadata “engineered systems,” which run its own Solaris and Oracle Linux operating systems. If HP had done an X86 port of HP-UX many years ago, long before either SAP or Oracle were interested in systems, there might have been a chance for HP-UX on Xeon and Opteron processors. Knowing this, HP has instead pitched Linux and Windows on its future Xeon E7 “Project Odyssey” machines, which will scale up to sixteen sockets and 16 TB of main memory in a single image using NUMA clustering.

Having said all of that, HP-UX is still a big part of the workload at many Global 2000 companies and will most definitely be supported until 2020, and very likely beyond that. And so HP has to update the operating system from time to time to address issues that its largest customers are facing. HP is also changing the pricing on its CloudSystem Matrix add-on for Integrity i4 machines to make it less costly for companies to build clouds based on HP-UX.

The March 2014 update to HP-UX 11i v3, as you can see from the release notes, is the thirteenth update to this version of HP’s Unix, which is supported on Itanium-based machines, and brings a “soft reboot” feature to the Integrity i4 machines. This feature was already available on the Superdome 2 servers in an update last year. Depending on the complexity of the systems software, booting up an HP-UX machine can take anywhere from several to as much as 40 minutes, says Kyle, and this soft reboot feature can cut this time in half.

The HP-UX update also includes the ability to dynamically move workloads running inside of Integrity VMs and vPars partitions from Integrity i2 machines based on Tukwila Itaniums to Integrity i4 machines based on Poulson chips. This movement requires no downtime. While Kyle is making no promises on the naming conventions, when the Kittson Itaniums are available in what we presume will be called the Integrity i6 servers, this dynamic VM application migration feature will be available to move apps from the current i4 to the future i6 machines as well. HP-UX 11i v3 has also been changed to support the dynamic addition of I/O, and C and C++ libraries can similarly be hot swapped without taking down the system. Integrity VMs are also fatter with twice the virtual cores (32) and twice the virtual memory (256 GB) supported per VM. HP has already converged the management of vPars and Integrity VM virtual machines in a prior release and with the March 2014 update, HP has automated the conversion process to move vPars to Integrity VMs. The HP-UX data sheet has details on the past several releases and also explains the different versions of the HP-UX stack.

The one other change relating to HP-UX is a change in pricing for the CloudSystem Matrix cloud controller and automation tool that HP sells for both its ProLiant X86 and Integrity Itanium machines. On the Itanium machines, HP used to require that customers buy a minimum of eight sockets of licenses to the CloudSystem Matrix software. Starting now, customers can buy a license for only two sockets. That is a pretty modest cloud by any standards, but then again, HP-UX workloads, like those of other Unix suppliers, range from pretty small to quite large. CloudSystem Matrix will run on pretty old ProLiant and Integrity machinery, but Kyle says that it is really tuned to run on Integrity i2 and i4 and ProLiant Gen7 and Gen8 boxes.

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