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HP battens down HP-UX

Securing the Itanic

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HP this week moved to bulk up the security tools available with its HP-UX operating system.

The company has released an assortment of additions for HP-UX 11i V2 - including server-side encryption, a security chip and fortified data containers - that give customers some nice, high-end options. HP officials bragged that a number of the new tools arrive at no additional cost to customers. In addition, HP insisted that we remind you of its "commitment to the long-term success of the HP-UX roadmap."

You probably care less about the success of the HP-UX roadmap and more about the success of HP-UX. Rivals - most notably Sun Microsystems - have charged that HP has ignored its Unix OS in favor of focusing on Linux and Windows. A long list of feature delays back up such claims, although it's hard for us to take the "death of HP-UX" scares seriously.

Case in point, HP has released an encrypted volume manager and file system. Well, to be accurate, HP has released an encrypted volume manager and announced plans to ship an encrypted file system.

Customers can now encrypt the bulk of the data sitting on their servers - a feature similar to what you might find from storage vendors or those looking to protect information on PCs and laptops.

"This offers users a choice for the types of things they want to protect," said Ron Luman, a security architect at HP. "Today, you might have a SAN (storage area network) head doing encryption, so that once data hits that array, it's protected. But it doesn't really do anything on data that goes over Fibre Channel to that array.

"Now you can pull data from that storage device and work with it on the server. Other vendors require a secondary device to do that, so this is a unique feature for us compared to other Unix vendors."

The encryption does come with a performance cost. It can eat up "in the low teens" of a system's horsepower.

Overtime, HP hopes to create tighter links between the server encryption tools and its storage encryption technology.

Along with the performance cost, the encryption tools require customers to manage more security keys - something detested by administrators.

So, HP has started shipped an embedded security chip for its Itanium-based Integrity servers. The product can work as a key manager, avoiding the need for a similar, perhaps less secure, software package.

Like Sun, HP has also moved to bring some of the security compartmentalization tools often found on hardened versions of Unix for military and government customers down to the common man. Here the company is mostly talking about more role-based access functions. HP's first release of this technology will center on adding role-based controls for web servers.

In addition, HP noted that its open source Bastille tool "now features assessment and drift reporting features that check the consistency of a system’s hardening configuration with previously applied hardening policies."

HP plans to add more general improvements to HP-UX when version 3 of the operating system ships early next year. That release will include a new compiler that could speed overall software performance on Itanic boxes by 35 per cent. Customers can also expect some improved virtualization tools.

The Unix business has been tough for HP this year. Itanium-based server sales have increased at speed, although not quite fast enough to offset losses from HP's dwindling PA-RISC and Alpha businesses. (We're reminded of Johnny Cash's "Cocaine Blues" in which the protagonist, having shot his lady one evening, laments, "Got up next mornin', and I grabbed that gun. Took a shot of cocaine and away I run. Made a good run, but I run too slow. They overtook me down in Juarez Mexico." Ah, Juarez.)

The release of a dual-core Itanium chip, however, should boost HP's Integrity fortunes even more in 2007. Products based on that chip will be going against Sun's aging UltraSPARC IV line and IBM's Power5 line. But both Sun - via Fujitsu - and IBM - via Power6 - will soon have new chips of their own. ®

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