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HP unveils Unix roadmaps

Free Alpha upgrades to stem defections

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HP World HP will be a pitching a story of Unix harmony and advancement at its HP World user conference here this week. The harmony comes from better aligned processor and operating system support for HP-UX, and the advancement comes in the form of upgraded partitioning and clustering tools. Most of the new technology, however, will take a long time to arrive.

First up, HP has now released HP-UX 11i V2 for both its Itanium and PA-RISC based servers. This means PA-RISC customers no longer have to wait until HP-UX 11i V3 arrives to use the same operating system as their Itanium counterparts. The bad news, however, is that both sets of customers will have to wait until the second half of next year to get their hands on V3 - a product once due at the end of this year.

HP's customers have endured a number of Unix technology delays, including the new version of HP-UX and the clustering (now due in 2006) and advanced file system software (now due in the second half of 2005) from Compaq's Tru64 operating system. It's unclear if HP's Unix development has turned out to be harder than planned or if cuts to its Unix workforce have slowed progress, or both.

With the HP-UX 11i V2 processor parity, HP is clearly offering customers a concession for these delays. The PA-RISC users now get to enjoy the same performance improvements and advances as the Itanic users, including support for up to 128 processors.

HP users will see improvements with the Virtual Server Environment (VSE) software for HP-UX, which allows administrators to manage applications by changing things such a I/O, storage and processor configurations on-the-fly. Within VSE, HP will start shipping the Global Workload Manager, which combines the older HP-UX Workload Manager and Systems Insight Manager for Intel-based systems into a single tool. This software is also due to start shipping for Linux and may one day work with Windows and OpenVMS too.

Free Alpha upgrades

Customers with both Itanium and PA-RISC servers will likely be pleased to find that HP can now support both systems in a single cluster with its Serviceguard software, which is part of VSE. The clustering software has been improved as well to detect a failure and move an application onto a new server within five seconds.

On the partitioning front, HP plans to bring its virtual machine technology found on PA-RISC systems today over to the Itanium-based Integrity boxes. This will let customers run numerous copies of an operating system on a single processor. HP is touting something it's calling HP-UX Compartments as well. These Compartments make it possible to run numbers applications on a single copy of the operating system. The technology is similar to Sun Microsystems' N1 Grid Containers with both sets of technology running each application in its own secure cell. Ideally, customers can cut down on management headaches and costs by dealing with just one copy of the OS instead of running different applications on multiple copies of Unix.

The problem with most of this technology is that it will take a while to arrive. Most of the Serviceguard software is shipping already, but the new Global Workload Manager won't arrive until the fourth quarter, the partitioning tools don't come until the first half of next year and the Integrity virtual machines ship in late 2005. In the first half of next year, HP also plans to extend its pay-per-use technology to Windows, and its Instant Capacity on Demand (iCOD) technology should arrive for Linux in the second half of next year.

Given that IBM has just released a new version of AIX and that Sun has Solaris 10 coming in December, HP is starting to look way behind on the Unix front. This is bad news for a company already dealing with a massive migration of PA-RISC and Alpha customers onto Itanium-based servers. Again, HP doesn't seem to be adapting as quickly as it should be.

HP has, however, thrown the Alpha crowd a wee bone in the form of a free processor upgrade. Customers should expect a 17 per cent performance boost with new 1.3GHz EV7z chips for the GS1280 and 1.15GHz chips for the ES47/80 systems. HP will not charge extra for the added horsepower and plans up to 40 per cent price cuts on boxes with the old chips. HP additionally made it possible to run processors of different speeds in the same server.

In its third quarter hardware bomb, HP noted a 25 per cent drop in NonStop sales and a 32 per cent fall in Alpha server sales. You have to believe that IBM and Sun are picking some of these customers up.

While HP-UX is impressive on a number of fronts, including the iCOD and nPar/vPar technology, it has certainly fallen well behind AIX and especially Solaris overall. Both IBM and Sun appear to be able to advance their OSes at a quicker clip than HP. If HP is putting serious R&D money into HP-UX, it's not showing as well as it should. PA-RISC, Alpha and Itanium customers must be concerned. ®

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