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HP iron still haunted by ghost of Compaq

Solaris does ProLiant. Not HP-UX

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Comment Hewlett-Packard might have been the acquirer when it merged with Compaq back in May 2002, but when it comes to server operating systems, the Compaq inclusionary philosophy usually prevails even if it does take some time to be turned into action. Like something akin to a decade in the case of Solaris.

Yesterday's announcement that HP would become an OEM partner for Sun Microsystems' Solaris Unix variant is really a Compaq announcement, not an HP announcement. The evidence: Solaris is only available on the ProLiant and related BladeSystem server platforms, which were Compaq's flagship server products and which constitute the bulk of revenues and shipments in HP's server business since HP bought Compaq.

The ProLiant rack, tower, and blade servers are all based on x64 chips from either Intel or Advanced Micro Devices. Sun came to its senses with the launch of Solaris 10 back in November 2004 and decided to not only support x86 and x64 servers from its rivals, but to embrace the idea. Sun mothballed its x86 variant with Solaris 9 during the dot-com bust - a reflexive and stupid decision that let the Linux genie into the Sun data centers of the world.

The earlier Solaris 8 did run on x86 machines and had built up a following, particularly among Compaq shops since Compaq was the volume leader in x86 servers. And a Solaris 9 variant that was open source and available on x86 and then x64 gear might have helped Sun preserve some accounts even if it had to take revenue hits during the last IT downturn.

HP's Integrity server line - the kickers to HP's PA-RISC Unix servers and the machines that are now based on Itanium processors from Intel - were not part of the Solaris love-in yesterday. It's something Mark Potter - who holds the unwieldy title of senior vice president and general manager of Enterprise Storage and Server infrastructure software and blades at HP - was at pains to point out a few times to people listening to the webcast.

And that is a very un-Compaq thing to do, considering that the Integrity machines run HP-UX (HP's own Unix variant and the main alternative to Sun's Solaris and IBM's AIX), Windows, Linux, OpenVMS (the former DEC proprietary operating system), and NonStop (the former Tandem fault tolerant clustering environment). Compaq ate Tandem in 1996 and then DEC in 1998 in an effort to go enterprise with its servers, but in the end, everything ended up at HP. Except the idea that the flagship HP platform should support the same operating systems that the volume systems do. One set of systems should feed into the other, in theory.

Solaris can certainly run on the Itanium processors. A decade ago, as Intel was crawling like a wounded World War I veteran in Verdun battlefield to the initial "Merced" Itanium launch, Sun booted Solaris on these Itanium chips, and three years later, as the bottom dropped out of the IT market and Sun was trying to circle the wagons around Solaris on Sparc, the company was blaming the death of Solaris on Itanium on Intel.

With HP and Intel, the main proponents of Itanium at this point, both being partners with Sun with regards to Solaris, the revival of Sparc on Solaris would seem to be long overdue. Microsoft has relegated Windows Server 2008 on Itanium to a role as a SQL Server engine. Meanwhile, Intel, Sun, Fujitsu, and now HP aren't interested in getting Solaris on Itanium Couple all that with the impending "Nehalem" Xeon EP server announcements and the high-end Xeon EX server announcements later this year, and Itanium is only relevant to a relatively small number of suppliers and customers.

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