HP has launched a radical new approach to data warehousing with its Neoview product.

This combines the appliance approach of using industry standard hardware with the high-end Teradata/IBM approach of dedicated and optimised software and hardware. It aims to bring Business Intelligence (BI) capabilities to a broader set of enterprise users than heretofore.

Neoview is built from segments, dual rack units, containing a BI engine in one rack and a separate data loader module in the other. The BI engine is composed from eight, 2-way, 64-bit Itanium CPUs (Integrity servers) connected via a dual mesh network topology called ServerNet to 56 148GB, 10,000rpm, Fibre Channel disks.

These servers run a modified version of the Tandem NonStop SQL database, optimised for BI work and not transaction processing.

The CPUs can send messages to each other at 120 MB/sec. Each CPU 'owns' one logical disk volume (two drives). These drives are mirrored (RAID 1).

The remaining drives are used for the operating system, audit trails, swap space and other system-wide needs. The disks are accessed at the block level and the whole data access stack has been optimised. Logically the disks are directly connected to the servers. Physically they are connected in a quasi-SAN with their dualled controllers having Fibre Channel connections to ServerNet and on to the processors.

The disk side of Neoview is, in effect, a standard StorageWorks EVA Fibre Channel array.

The ServerNet mesh is dualled, as are the disk controllers and everything else. If any element fails its work is automatically switched to another element.

The processors have their own RAM and run in a parallel, shared-nothing mode; they are not clustered.

The separate data loader module has its own set of disks and is controlled by a ProLiant server running Linux. Data files for the BI engine are ingested here, pre-processed and delivered to the BI engine's disks as needed. A Gigabit Ethernet link is used for this and connects to ServerNet.

A second Gigabit Ethernet link is used for external connections by NeoView users.

There are two 100 Mbit LAN links for management and control.

Neoview Segments can be connected together by dualled ServerNet links to a maximum of 1024 CPUs and hundreds of terabytes of disk storage.

With so much CPU horsepower, disk, I/O capacity, and optimised software, HP claims Neoview is fast. Greg Battas, chief technology officer for Neoview, says: "It's three to four times faster than Netezza," (a BI appliance vendor). "It's better to use industry standard hardware and not a 'magic ASIC'. I can scan a terabyte in 30 seconds." He says Neoview can scale to support more than a 1,000 concurrent users.

Neoview is accompanied by a set of BI services. Last year HP acquired a 700-person consultancy called Knightsbridge, which specialised in BI work. It also generally needs BI software from HP partners such as Cognos, Informatica and SAS.

Neoview was developed in a 'skunkworks' operation in Carly Fiorina's time as HP CEO. Incoming CEO Mark Hurd and his executive council saw its promise and proceeded to authorise its development after benchmarking it against external products.

HP said Neoview is less expensive than high-end IBM and Teradata BI products. Pricing starts at $645,000 for a 4TB system with 16 processors.