HP's Four-CPU Wintel-Based Rack Servers: Focusing on Reliability and Expandability

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Product Background

HP's high-end Intel (four CPU) rackmount servers, the NetServer LH 4r and LXr 8000, are generally used for larger installations, such as data centers/warehouses, and by large companies wanting to minimize the floor space their computers use. Rackmount servers provide the ability to put a large number of CPUs in a small footprint, or to combine CPUs with a large number of peripherals (usually disk drive subsystems). These compete primarily in the enterprise computing market space. HP's largest competitors are Compaq, Dell, and IBM. (Refer to Table 1 and Graph 1 for market share figures). The rackmount market is growing, partly due to server market growth in general, and partly due to a shift from pedestal/floor-standing/"tower" servers. We believe that rackmount servers will be about 60% of the general server market within 1-2 years (vs. 30-40% 2-3 years ago), and greater than 80% of the high-end Intel server market within the same time period.

Fig. 1

Table 1: Intel Server Market Share 2Q '99



















Product Strategy and Trajectory

HP is positioning these high-end servers in two ways. The LH 4r and LXr 8000 are geared toward workgroups who expect to expand significantly over time. The LH4r accomplishes this by having a large number of disk drive bays which can be used to expand storage capabilities. The LXr 8000 uses its upgrade capabilities (from a four-CPU to an eight-CPU by swapping out main logic boards) as the means to expand. In addition, HP focuses on its traditional strength of high reliability, accomplished through hot-swappable and redundant components.

HP focuses more on breadth of functionality than depth. In the next three to five years, the positioning of these products will change from high-end to mid-range, consistent with the general trend in Intel servers.

Product Strengths

LH 4r:

I/O Features: The LH 4r provides more I/O slots (8) than comparable offerings from Compaq and Dell, and only its "family member", the LXr 8000 (10), and IBM's Netfinity 7000 (12), provide more I/O slots.

Storage: The LH 4r allows the largest quantity of disk drives (8x1.6" or 12x1.0" high) of any of the offerings by the "Big Four" server manufacturers (Compaq, Dell, HP, IBM max. available for others is 6x1.6" or 8x1.0"). In addition, HP supports seven different RAID levels, more than its competitors support.

LXr 8000:

I/O Features : As with the LH 4r, the LXr 8000 provides lots of I/O 10 slots total exceeded only by IBM's Netfinity 7000. In addition, four of these slots support PCI Hot Plug, and HP provides the necessary drivers to have it work under Windows NT 4.0. (Normally, PCI Hot Plug will not work under NT 4.0.)

Memory: The LXr 8000 can handle up to 8 GB of RAM, double what the competition (except for the Netfinity 7000) can handle.

Upgradeability: The LXr 8000 is designed to allow the unit to be upgraded to the LXr 8500, HP's soon-to-be-shipped eight-CPU system.


HP has earned a reputation for power/packaging excellence, with good hardware ergonomics. In addition, the operating temperature range for their servers is wider than for their major competitors, which allows slightly more flexibility vis--vis where a customer could/would install the system(s).

Product Challenges

LH 4r:

Performance: At only 19,050 tpmC, the LH4r's score is lower than competing models from Compaq, Dell, and IBM by 5-15%. Although the TPC-C scale is not the only one used by customers, it is an important one.

Price/Performance: The LH 4r (as submitted to TPC) costs $23/tpmC, 40%-60% more expensive than the Dell 6300 or the Compaq 5500. This can result in an additional configured-system cost of $50K-$100K for lower performance. (Please also see comments below under "General".)

LXr 8000:

Storage: The LXr 8000 maxes out at only two drives of either size, the fewest of this class. In addition, there is only one free 5.25" removable media bay (e.g. for a DAT), a deficiency compared to the competition.

Price/Performance: At $26.87/tpmC (as submitted to TPC), the LXr 8000 per-transaction system cost is 65% higher than comparable Dell PowerEdge systems, and 75% higher than the Compaq ProLiant 5500-6/550's per-transaction cost. This equates to the LH4r costing ~$250K more vs. Dell's similar-performing system, or ~$300K more for a system performing 5% better than Compaq's. This is a large premium to pay.


Unlike Dell and Compaq, HP has no 4U-high, four-CPU system at present. We believe this is a hole in the product line, although HP seems content to stay with the 7U chassis for now.

We question HP's claim to fit seven 7U-high systems into a 41U high rack. (The in-joke here is that HP requires an 8U "rack extension kit", and thus is comparing a 49U-high rack to the competition's 42U-high racks not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison, especially when the extension is only rated for 45 lbs, about the weight of an empty server chassis. We question the legitimacy of HP presenting this information as something a customer could actually do.)

Vendor Recommendations

LH 4r:

Unless HP is planning to phase out this product within six months, it should look at improving both the performance and price/performance figures.

LXr 8000:

HP must find a way to get more built-in storage, both hard drives and removable media. A box this size should have enough space for that to be done. HP's design team should consider shrinking the LCD front panel display in order to free up more space on the front surface.

HP should also promote the LXr8000-to-8500 upgrade path aggressively, as this can help customers preserve their original investment (do not have to throw out the LXr 8000 enclosure to upgrade to an 8500), and it can be a key differentiator from its primary competitors.


We believe the lack of a 4U-high system is something HP should remedy quickly. However, if HP's market focus is "lots of CPUs running separate disk drive enclosures" (a/k/a disk farms), as is demonstrated by the lack of internal storage in the LXr 8000, then they should make a small "hot box", similar to Compaq's and Dell's offerings.

Additional concerns relate to HP's active marketing of an 8U-high rack extension, which is supposed to convert a standard 41U-high rack into a 49U-high rack. (HP's stated purpose is to allow the customer to put seven 7U-high servers in one rack, as compared to six for Dell or Compaq in a 42U-high rack.) Since the maximum load for the extension is 45 lb., and HP's servers weigh 90-135 lb., using this extension to add a server can lead to safety issues. In addition, since a 49U high rack needs an eight-foot door opening (rare to nonexistent), the extension must be add on-site, or the rack must be tipped, either of which is a deficiency.

User Recommendations

Customers who want lots of I/O and storage capability in one system will like the NetServer LH 4r, even with the premium paid for price/performance. However, given poor system performance, customers should try to leverage this shortcoming into a better price.

Regarding the LXr 8000, customers need to decide if they need the I/O capabilities and added RAM that the system provides. If they need only six or eight I/O slots and 4 GB of RAM, then Dell and Compaq should be considered for more cost-effective solutions.

Finally, the upgrade path of the LXr 8000 to the 8500 (eight-CPU) is a potentially valuable feature, but customers should review this in the context of their overall needs.

Long Term Outlook

Despite the shortcomings mentioned above, HP's power/packaging designs are very good easy to service with good ergonomics. We expect HP to continue providing well-designed enclosures, and to overcome the significant deficiencies described above but only after the LXr 8000/8500 series get replaced, about 2-3 years from now (65% probability).

We do not expect HP to make a concentrated effort to be price/performance leaders, since that would run counter to their present set of performance-focused but slightly expensive offerings. (70% probability)

HP has been losing market share in recent years, primarily due to Dell's compelling price and delivery message. HP will continue to maintain a presence, and its Wintel/Unix capabilities allow customers to go to one vendor for both. We believe HP will maintain its share in the 8%-12% range (60% probability).


Xeon: Intel Corporation CPU

U : Rack unit = 1.75"

HDD: Hard disk drive

tpmC : Performance unit, transaction-based (for further info:www.tpc.org Transaction Processing Performance Council)

NIC : Network Interface Card

PCI :Peripheral Component Interconnect (an internal I/O bus)
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