HP to take care of Unix, Linux and Windows with Nimbus

HP World's secrets

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Exclusive When HP World starts in a few days, users can expect to hear about some new server management software that covers Unix, Linux and Windows in one go, and it's called Nimbus.

The Register has had a good run of late with HP NDA documents popping into our inbox on a regular basis, and this week is no different. The latest set of papers cover Nimbus - a major upgrade to Insight Manager- and some 2004 server news.

According to the docs, HP has started calling on its user base to begin beta-testing the Nimbus software. The app set is basically a souped up version of Insight Manager that lets administrators manage Unix, Linux and Windows servers from one place.

Up to this point, HP has offered Insight Manager for Windows systems and Service Control Manager for HP-UX and Linux servers. A couple of other management apps have been sold as well, but no more.

HP will start rolling out Nimbus over the next year, giving users a single management tool for any hardware or software platform it sells. Upon early inspection, the scope of the software is quite impressive.

For GUI types there is a nice Web interface, but command line folks are taken care of as well. The console covers a host of functions, including fault management, automatic discovery of hardware, inventory management, tools for multi-system management and security controls.

HP describes Nimbus as a "central management portal for value added software." You may ask what types of value added software it has in mind. Well, the list is long and runs as follows: workload management, server deployment, performance management, partition management, remote administration, storage management, client management, printer management, tools and scripts.

So while Nimbus should makes parts of management easier, HP is not cutting off its software revenue stream just yet. You get the basic functions up front and pay for the rest.

HP appears to have a nice, hand-holding upgrade path from Insight Manager or SCM to Nimbus, but as one analyst points out, the process will take some time.

"They will have about a year ramp on this," said Jonathan Eunice, principal analyst at Illuminata. ""By 2005, they will be saying, 'Get over here to Nimbus.' It's a gradual process."

Eunice notes the move toward Nimbus fits in well with HP's overall strategy. The company is asking customers to abandon PA-RISC and Alpha systems and shift onto Itanium-based servers. One server and one manager fits all.

Nimbus also plays well with HP's ability to run Unix, Linux and Windows on a single Itanium server.

"This is multi-OS in spades," Eunice said. "On something like Superdome or blades where you have Windows and Linux side-by-side, it makes sense to have one manager."

One potential downside for Nimbus could be the complexity of the interface. This isn't HP's fault, so much as the virtualization movement's fault as a whole. Administrators want as much data as possible in a central location but when dealing when numerous server farms and SANs, the information available from something like Nimbus can be overwhelming.

For example, in the Nimbus management console users will find every single device name, cluster and blade rack designation. Each system has its own security permissions and other details such as health and performance.

Thankfully, hardware can be divided up between different departments or locations around the world, which helps spread out the management burden.

HP isn't doing anything all that different from hardware players such as Sun Microsystems and IBM or software folks like Veritas. The documents we've seen, however, do lay out some of the most concrete plans yet as to how any vendor hopes to pull off managing multivendor gear. Kudos to HP. Expect to hear more at HP World.

Aside from Nimbus, users will also hear HP talk up some nice Linux on Itanic enhancements. HP expects Red Hat Enterprise Server 3.0 to be ready for Itanium systems by the end of the fourth quarter or early next year. In addition, the company will start touting Linux running on 4-way partitions on its Integrity Itanium systems. HP won't play up this strategy until 2004 with the maturation of the Linux 2.6 kernel.

So while SCO and even HP itself rambles on about Linux running well on an SMP today, the confidential roadmaps show the vendor does not really see this as a reality until 2004.

There might be a couple of examples such as SGI that pull the Linux SMP thing off, but for most customers, this really is not an option yet. As Illuminata's Eunice points out, the Linux SMP zealots "are smoking their own exhaust." Amen.

Companies such as Sun, IBM and HP itself are still tuning their versions of Unix for SMPs. This stuff takes a hell of a lot of time.

Last but not least, HP has managed to trickle out a couple of details on its storage roadmap. The company is already touting single-path Fibre Channel support on its EVA systems. Come the fourth quarter of this year, multi-path Fibre Channel support should arrive.

It looks like we won't make it to HP World this year, so please send tales of Nimbus sightings. ®

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