Why the HP Superdome is as dead as a dodo

I had a slightly uncomfortable conversation with one of my sales people this week, who told me that one of their customers had just bought a brand new HP Superdome2 and wanted to know if our software would run SAP software. I had to explain to him that the SAP BusinessObjects portfolio no longer runs on that platform.

And in case you think they are being lazy, Oracle will not be developing for this platform any more. In case you think Larry Ellison is trying to screw HP, neither are Microsoft – neither for their Windows OS (the last version is Windows 2008 R2) or for their SQL Server RDBMS. Nor is Linux vendor Redhat.

In case you think there is a software vendor conspiracy, there are now only 5 vendors that sell Intel Itanium based systems: HP, Bull, NEC, Inspur and Huawei. And I hear that over 90% of the CPUs are bought for HP systems. So what’s wrong with it? Let’s see…

HP is paying Intel to keep it alive

When Oracle ceased development on the platform, HP went nuts and sued them for saying that Itanium was dead. It rather backfired when it turned out that HP was paying Intel $690m to keep it alive. Given HP’s precarious state right now, it would be remiss to suggest that this were a winning strategy.

Pace of innovation

The current chip was codenamed Tukwila and 2 years late to market. With 2 year old features and performance. It has under half the performance per core of equivalent Intel x64 and IBM Power7 CPUs as well as 50% more power consumption. The top-end CPU is 185W and 4 cores compared to the Intel Westmere-EX which is 130W and 10 cores. Yes – 1/4 the power per core and 5x the performance per socket.

The next generation CPU, Poulson, was scheduled for 2009 and still hasn’t been delivered in 2012. I think you know where Intel is investing its R&D: the successor to the x64 Westmere-EX platform, called Ivy Bridge.

Resilience, Availability & Serviceability

This used to be the reason to buy Itanium. But unfortunately in many ways, the Intel Westmere-EX has better RAS features than Itanium. Westmere-EX can predict and exclude memory failure, recover from memory failures and mirror memory. Plus Westmere-EX can predict and re-route chip interconnect (QPI) failures and recover. It is literally bulletproof.

Itanium has 2-year old technology in this respect and the pace of innovation in this area is really important because of in-memory computing.

Size and Power

This part is scary. A typical HP Superdome 128-core system is 6’6″ high. An equivalent IBM Westmere-EX 80-core system is 12″ high. The HP unit will use 6kW for the CPUs alone and the IBM will use 1kW. Obviously add some more for memory and other stuff, but you get the idea. Itanium is 1/6 the power performance. And will take up large swathes of datacenter space. And kill a lot of trees.

Angry Larry

Oracle have gone heavily after HP here with their “Cash for Clunkers” programme. Now this is typical Oracle bully behaviour but it is hard to argue with their logic.

HP Superdome customers are facing costly “forklift upgrades” when upgrading from dead-end PA-RISC and Itanium processors and HP-UX.

Now you can trade in your legacy HP Superdome servers and receive a 50% discount on Oracle’s Sun SPARC Enterprise M8000 and M9000 servers—secure and highly available servers for running mission-critical, enterprise database and business applications.

And this has had a dramatic effect on revenue – HP Itanium sales are falling quarter on quarter and are below $400m per quarter – falling from over $800m in Q4 2010. HP is suing Oracle over this but the damage has been done.

Note that a blogger went after Oracle for this with “who’s the clunker?“, but it is an awful article. Notably, the SPARC platform has a 5-year roadmap. The closest thing I can find to this from HP is Project Odyssey, which looks suspiciously like a roadmap to migrate customers from HP-UX/Itanium to Linux/x86, or this one that is from 2009.

Features & Function Comparison

Someone wrote a comparison of HP and Oracle on this which was clearly biased so I thought I would lay down some facts! Lets compare 3 roughly similarly powered systems (by SAP’s application benchmark). Please note that HP have not certified any systems so I had to estimate their SAPS rating based on data available for the SPEC benchmark.

HP Superdome2 IBM POWER7 Intel Westmere-EX
CPU 32-CPU (128-core) 8-CPU (64-core) 8-CPU (80-core)
SAP SD 2-tier benchmark 120k SAPS (940 SAPS/core) 200k SAPS (3125 SAPS/core) 120k SAPS (1500 SAPS/core)
Configuration & Cost 512 GB of memory with HP-UX and 3 years basic HW and SW support lists for $1,722,390 512GB of memory, AIX UNIX and 3 years basic HW and SW support lists for <$1,000,000 Intel Westmere-EX with 512GB of memory, SuSe Linux and 3 years basic HW and SW support lists for <$100,000
Size and Power Consumption 36U / 9kW 8U / 3.2KW  8U / 4kW
Roadmap 2 more generations of Itanium, the first of which is 3 years late to market. There is a commitment to 2 more generations of IBM POWER and they have a detailed roadmap available here. See the below image to see the focus on x64 roadmap!
Scalability (single-system) 128-cores, 4TB RAM, 240k SAPS 256-cores, 8TB RAM, 700k SAPS 80-cores, 3TB RAM, 120k SAPS

What will be the death knoll?

This is interesting because 95% of Itanium systems were shipped by HP in 2008, according to Gartner. 90% of those that run Itanium for SAP run the HP-UX OS. I’d love to see the stats but from my SAP statistics vs the overall systems sold, I estimate that at least 30% of those are used to run SAP – I suspect this is the biggest single software vendor that runs Itanium.

And SAP hasn’t said so, but they will stop development on the Itanium platform. They have to because the only database that runs on that platform is Oracle 11g (or MSSQL on Windows 2008).

Add to this SAP’s promotion program around its own Sybase ASE database and HP’s financial inability to prop up Itanium and perhaps you will agree that the Superdome will move from an endangered species to a dead duck.

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12 Responses to Why the HP Superdome is as dead as a dodo

  1. Phil Gleadhill says:

    Thanks for the article. Its very useful information.
    You are correct apparently that Project Odyssey is to run x86 based processors in a Superdome or like frame, thus improving its resiliency and availability. Its apparently 12 to 18 months away. My view is that therefore your headline would be more accurate if you substituted “Itanium” for “Superdome”.
    Cheers, Phil G.

    • John Appleby says:

      Thanks for the reply, my Odyssey point was a bit facetious but yes, you run Proliant in a Superdome frame and therefore get better RAS.

      Interesting point well made. Yes, it’s about the Itanium and not about the world’s best selling Intel server provider. Which HP should be proud of.

      • Phil Gleadhill says:

        Thanks John,
        Good to converse. Additionally I would add that am not bound or particularly attached to any particular vendor within the SAP infrastructure space. I have worked with most of them over time. Technology “leadership” and capabilities change as technologies change and advance.
        Also, what is right for one customer or corporation, won’t necessarily be a good fit for another. Each has its own context. I guess that’s in part whay I and others still have useful advice to give and work to do (i.e. a job!)

        Cheers, Phil G.

      • Sam Jones says:

        I think you were right the first time. Superdome is the dodo. The vast majority of people looking at x86 – Linux or Microsoft, which is what Odyssey will be, are going to go down the route of scale-out with third party tools for clustering and virtualization instead of Dataguard and nPars. They would rather use RAC/PureScale and VMware. Very few people want the x86 monolith unless there are substantial application level advantages.

      • John Appleby says:

        Tend to agree and CIOs are investing heavily in virtualisation.

        There is still room for mission critical systems but the portion of this within the overall server market is decreasing. This means ultimately there will be fewer players.

        After all, how many companies are still in the Mainframe business?

  2. Pingback: HP Without Itanium: A Three-Pronged Strategy – InformationWeek «

  3. Mark says:

    IBM P770 size and power numbers are off by half. It should be 16RU and 6.4KW.

    As for an x86 Superdome, it is irrelevant. What OS will it run? Red Hat Linux, no doubt. An x86 Superdome will have the same CPU features and OS features as any x86 server. It might have the ability to support more than 8 sockets, have slightly higher bisection bandwidth at 8 sockets, and have greater hot-swap hardware capability, but all of these are irrelevant. As you point out, an 8-socket Intel E7 system has the performance of a 32-socket Superdome 2. The next generation of Intel E7 will have more than 10 cores. Very few customers will need more than 8 sockets for E7 servers. RHEL 6.x has matured to the point it is as good as HP-UX 11i. 10Gb and 40Gb Ethernet, 16Gb FC, and PCIe 3.0 give even two socket servers significant I/O capability.

    Also, few customers will spend a premium on super high-end x86 systems. They will get database availability through failover clustering and application layer performance through scale-out clustering.

  4. Claudio Luz says:

    What a well-written article. Too bad it is full of half-thruths and misinformation.
    Actually, there are several databases that run on HP-UX, including Sybase ASE, which SAP is promoting and using in their softwares (ERP, etc.),, and IBM´s DB2 (this one is a good example, since it is said to run better on HP-UX than on AIX).
    Also, the estimate on Superdome performance is VERY underestimate. It is at least 2.5x the performance you estimated.

    • John Appleby says:

      It’s a nice story but according to my statistics over 93% of HP-UX customers that run SAP, run Oracle. The DB2 and ASE numbers are tiny. Interesting question is whether IBM and SAP can win migration services for those customers. But the problem is a migration from Oracle -> DB2 on HP-UX is the same as the cost of a migration from Oracle -> DB2 on AIX. Now it comes down to TCO and mission critical questions and I don’t believe that is ending well for HP.

      Do you have evidence for your performance claims? I showed my maths above and it references the standard SPEC rate scores: http://www.spec.org/cpu2006/results/rint2006.html

      HP BL890c is 8 sockets, 32 cores and 507 SPECintRate2006 (16 per core, 63 per socket)
      IBM p708 is 8 sockets, 64 cores and 2300 SPECintRate2006 (35 per core, 287 per socket)
      Intel E7-8870 is 8 sockets, 80 cores and 1790 SPECintRate2006 (22 per core, 224 per socket)

      IBM is the fastest per core by some way. Both massively outperform HP in any metric you would like to measure. And HP haven’t put Superdome2 stats up (I believe for this reason) but you can extrapolate linearly with the Itanium BL890c.

  5. CorwynSMP says:

    “but you can extrapolate linearly with the Itanium BL890c.” !!!!! OMG !!!

    Do you know anything about how benchmarks are done? How much Money IBM spends, please go buy the system as spec-ed by IBM to get thoses results. Please INSISTS on that performace benchmark to be run on your deliverd system. Then talk to me about cost per CPU cycle please.

    This is all trash talk.

    The SAP BusinessObjects can run any server you like and is not the CORE SAP for Enterprise buisness. HP-UX on Superdome supports the CORE SAP suite which is where you get all you HA, DR and performance. When it comes to SAP on Oracle, there is no other choice that HP-UX or you are wasting your money. If you are a True Blue fan more “POWER” to you. HP usually get the buisness back on the next Hardware cycle after they see the real deal with IBM, which is thier way or the highway. Most customer take the highway.

    • John Appleby says:

      Sorry if you are a HP fan but these are the facts as I see them. I can name a lot of customers who have moved from HP to another platform but only one who went the other way, and they are unhappy.

      SAP BusinessObjects does not run on HP-UX as of version 4.0. I have checked with the development team and it will not be ported.


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