MAKER OF EXPENSIVE PRINTER INK HP will bring out ARM based processors for its Project Gemini servers despite launching them with Intel's Centerton Atom chips, with the possibility of using low-power Xeon and other ARM products in the future.
HP revealed that its Project Gemini servers will be the first low-power servers it ships, but its decision to lead with Intel's Atom chips was a stunning U-turn given that all the talk was of ARM based servers when HP announced Project Gemini's parent Project Moonshot last November.
Now HP has told The INQUIRER that ARM based Gemini server cartridges will appear soon after the initial Atom launch and that its relationship with Calxeda has remained unchanged despite the announcement.
What surprised many observers was Intel's promotion from talking about server Atom chips in slides to seeing them placed in a server that HP claims will ship by the end of the year. Ed Turkel, worldwide marketing manager of HPC at HP told The INQUIRER, "When we were talking with multiple ARM providers as well as with Intel, we were talking about broader server adoption of low-energy servers, we thought that a lot of workloads would need what we would call server functionality, things like ECC memory, things like 64-bit support, and basically Intel was the first to give us that. For that reason we chose to collaborate [with Intel] on the first generation of [Project] Gemini."
Turkel's comments align with what Intel has been saying publicly for the last year and telling software vendors such as Red Hat. However Turkel was quick to say that HP's decision to lead with Intel's Centerton Atom chips did not change its relationship with Calxeda, the firm that was at the centre of HP's Redstone ARM server initiative back in November.
Turkel said, "There have been a lot of questions raised, does this indicate a change with our relationship with Calxeda or a change in our commitment to delivering products based on ARM? The answer is no, it does not change the Calxeda relationship, it does not change the fact we will deliver products on ARM. We're still going to be deploying the Redstone development platform to a limited volume of customers, it is a development platform not a product. But there will be full product volume ARM based products later with [Project] Gemini."
Interestingly, Turkel hinted that ARM and Intel Atom chips won't be the only chips in cartridges destined for Gemini servers. "That [announcement] doesn't mean there [are] not going to be other server cartridges that we'll ultimately be able to be put into Gemini. Over time you will see a whole series of server cartridges that will plug into Gemini based on both Atom and ARM technologies, and potentially others," said Turkel.
Intel's involvement in Project Moonshot has been eclipsed, in particular by Calxeda, but Turkel provided some interesting insight into what Intel and HP have been up to. "Intel has been collaborating with us on Gemini for a little while. [...] In terms of the general design and some of the requirements for being able to run Atom processors and ultimately, potentially being able to run low-power Xeon processors in it. And they have been involved in our partner program in [Project] Moonshot for many months," said Turkel.
Turkel was quick to add that HP has been talking to the other partners in Project Moonshot, including multiple ARM vendors. Turkel said the firm has been talking to "ARM, Calxeda and AMD and there has been dialogue with all those vendors and others, other ARM licensees are talking to us about having other versions of ARM products that could be used in this environment".
As for when HP will release ARM-based Gemini cartridges, Turkel said, "We expect to have ARM processors in Gemini not necessarily very far after releasing the Atom based ones. It's not going to be a long wait in between the Atom release and the first ARM release."
HP's decision to lead with Intel's Atom processors is as much down to the multi-decade relationship between the two firms as it is the ability for Intel to deliver a chip that has ECC and 64-bit support. While Turkel said that HP will be shipping ARM based Project Gemini cartridges soon after Intel Atom based ones, he wouldn't even give a vague date, which is worrying as both Intel and HP have been very public in pointing out that Atom-based Gemini servers will be available by the end of 2012.
The key to ARM's server market share is not letting Intel get two generations of Atom chips into the market, allowing the firm to iterate its design and manufacturing processes to push its x86 processors. Calxeda and the other ARM vendors that HP has been talking with need to deliver ECC and 64-bit support quickly, otherwise they could find Intel's head start hard to overcome. µ