Just days after NEC announced plans to ship blade servers based on Intel's Itanium 2 processor, HP today stuck its hand up and said it too would soon ship blade systems based on the 64-bit chips.

HP revealed few details about its new systems, but HP Director of Marketing for ProLiant Platforms Sally Stevens promised that the systems would ship in 2005, and would use a different chassis from the current ProLiant BL systems. NEC has said its server will ship in September.

Blades are densely packed servers that are slid into a common chassis like books in a bookshelf. Though analyst expectations were initially bullish, they have not sold as well as predicted. HP, for example, says it has sold 100,000 blade systems to date, and after halving its initial blade sales predictions, research firm IDC now expects about 450,000 of the servers to be sold in 2004 - about eight percent of the market.

Because Itanium systems consume a large amount of power - 100 watts each for Intel's latest Itanium processors - and generate a lot of heat, they have typically not been considered appropriate for the densely packed blade systems. HP has not yet made a decision on what specific Itanium processor will be used in blades, but Intel is readying two new low-voltage chips designed for dual-processor systems, that could be appropriate.

Later this year, Intel will ship a 1.2GHz processor codenamed Fanwood. It will be followed in 2005 by a low-voltage chip called Millington, which is based on Intel's dual-core Montecito design. By the time the Itanium blades ship, however, they will not be the only 64-bit blade systems sold by HP. Later this year, the company plans to ship blade severs based on AMD's 64-bit Opteron processor - a choice HP was pushed into making because of the power consumption required by Intel's current Itanium processors, according to Nathan Brookwood, an analyst with the Insight 64 research firm.

With the new Itanium processors expected in 2005, however, Itanium power consumption should be "reasonable", Brookwood said. Because Opteron systems perform extremely well with 32-bit applications HP sees the Opteron blades as appropriate for customers who are focused on 32-bit software, but who want to begin dabbling in the 64-bit space as well, Stevens said. "If they want pure 64-bit performance, Itanium is the better path to go," she said.

While HP expects the Itanium blades to be used for 64-bit corporate and technical computing applications, the company is beginning to see demand from other vertical markets as well, Stevens said. "We actually have retail customers that are interested in Itanium-based blades," she said.

Pricing and availability of the Itanium and Opteron systems was not available.