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HP-UX gets biannual face-lift

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Hewlett-Packard is rolling out Update 5 for the HP-UX Unix operating system that runs its Itanium and PA-RISC lines of Integrity and HP 9000 servers, keeping to its pattern of two updates per year for its flagship operating system.

As has been the case with the prior HP-UX updates, the changes are important to existing HP-UX shops, but they're probably not going to cause a stampede of buyers for HP-UX systems. It's no different with the updates to IBM's AIX or Sun Microsystems' Solaris Unixes do.

According to Brian Cox, director of software planning and marketing for HP's Business Critical Systems division, HP-UX 11i v3 Update 5 includes a substantial amount of tweaking done on the part of engineers at HP and its file system partner, Symantec, so the Veritas journaled file system can deliver something closer to the raw performance of disk arrays in a non-journaled setup.

With Update 4, the Veritas journaled file systems ran at somewhere between 30 and 50 per cent of the performance of a plain vanilla file system. But with Update 5, HP says it can push that performance up to 99 per cent. (The Veritas file system is embedded in the Virtual Server Environment add-on stack for HP-UX).

Update 5 for HP-UX also has also embedded the open source Bastille security lockdown tool inside the HP-UX operating system. Since 2002, HP has offered it as an add-on, using the Linux version and making tweaks to graft it onto HP-UX. The latest iterations of Bastille allow it to automatically harden an operating system, locking down ports and other kinds of unauthorized access.

Cox says that the important thing is that by embedding Bastille in HP-UX, the operating system now meets the security standards set by the Center for Internet Security, a non-profit organization that has developed security benchmarks and tools for testing how secure a platform is against attack.

HP has also tweaked its Software Assistant for HP-UX. With Update 3, this tool was able to allow an administrator with systems running the same HP-UX 11i version and update level to patch up to 10 machines at the same time, even if the activated software modules in HP-UX and the underlying hardware were different. With Update 5, Software Assistant can alert system admins to necessary patches and schedule and perform them on up to 100 machines at the same time.

HP-UX is also getting improved memory balancing on NUMA-clustered machines, like the big Superdomes. Prior updates implemented a feature called Locally Optimized Resource Alignment, which basically ensures that data needed by a system board is near the processors that are running the instructions that require the data.

LORA is basically akin to a defragmentation like that which has been available for disk drives for eons. On a big Superdome, which has 128 cores and terabytes of memory across its system boards, hopping between boards to move data around in main memory can significantly cut down on throughput. Cox says that the recent tweaks to the LORA memory defrag algorithms can add 15 per cent to the performance of the box.

The Serviceguard clustering add-on for HP-UX, which is available through the Virtual Server Environment packaging of HP-UX, provides high availability system clustering, and it is also getting some tweaks with Update 5. In the past, if you wanted to patch Serviceguard, you have to take the cluster down while searching for and applying the patches. Now, you can locate and add patches to cluster and then only have to do a short reboot of one side of the cluster to apply the patches.

Serviceguard also has a new cluster topology tool, which is a graphical user interface that lets system admins move applications and resources around with points and clicks instead of having to type in commands on a command line. While admins love their command line interfaces, when it comes to clusters, admins can and sometimes do type the wrong thing, and this is bad for a cluster. With the graphical tool, they drag and drop resources to tell the tool what they want, and it types the commands. No mistakes. (Well, you can still tell it to do something idiotic, obviously).

Customers on HP-UX or Serviceguard maintenance get Update 5 for free. You can find out more here.

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