HP's Linux OS Alternative Gets a Face Lift

by Paul Rubens

OS Roundup: Despite the growing popularity of the myriad Linux OS and cloud computing options, HP-UX retains a strong, albeit leaking, presence. Now, with Sun's UNIX ecosystem in turmoil, HP is seizing the day as it packages and sings the virtues of its Big Iron OS.

Sun's UNIX ecosystem was thrown into turmoil following the company's acquisition by Oracle. A big question mark remains over the future of Solaris and OpenSolaris server operating systems. In contrast, IBM and HP, the other two big enterprise UNIX players, have been plodding along steadily, hoping all the while to pick up disaffected Sun customers quicker than they lose their own to Linux implementations.

Let's focus on HP (NYSE: HPQ). Linux leaves the company in a rather tricky situation. That's because HP is a big fan of the open source server software -- it's a phenomenon too big to ignore. But it also sells UNIX, so it has to be careful not to cannibalize its UNIX sales by promoting Linux too hard. In other words, HP's UNIX and Linux staff must push their respective lines of business without unduly dissing their opposite numbers.

That's why Suzanne LaForge, an HP-UX marketing big cheese, picks a fine line when she talks up the relevance of UNIX. Talking about HP-UX on a webcast last month she had this to say:

"UNIX is on the rise in terms of deployments in data centers ... despite the death knell that the analysts predicted in 1993. Linux is a terrific OS, but there is a time and a place. Data center mission-critical converged infrastructures is the time and place for UNIX."

Linux is great -- but UNIX is wonderful, too. Nicely done.

But What About Cloud Computing?

Now we all know that Big Iron is yesterday's technology -- at least when it comes to news coverage. The hot topic everyone is talking about now is cloud computing. So that leaves LaForge with another tricky situation. This time the conundrum is, how do you talk about a dull but worthy enterprise UNIX while making your pitch sound edgy and relevant?

LaForge's solution is simple: drop in a buzz word or two. Talking about HP-UX, she highlighted "virtualization capabilities, dynamic workloads, utility computing ... so not a rigid Big Iron approach, but a cloud where things come and go..."

Ah yes, the cloud. Once again, very nicely done.

Still, beyond the fancy marketing footwork she did provide some detail about the March 2010 update to HP-UX 11i v3, which started shipping on March 18. This UNIX server OS was originally released in 1997 and is now quite mature, so it's no surprise that not a huge amount is new in the update.

But that's not to say there was nothing at all. HP-UX is available in a number of different bundles called operating environments (OEs). In the latest update HP added products to the OEs without increasing the price -- making them a better value to those that need these additional products. "It is up to 50 percent cheaper now to buy an OE than to buy the individual bits of software," said LaForge. "If you need two big ticket pieces of software in a package, then it is cheaper to buy the OE."

The additional products are quite significant. For example, HP's Online VM Migration (similar to VMware's vMotion or Microsoft's Live Migration), which previously was available only as a stand-alone product, and Insight Dynamics Infrastructure Orchestration (announced at the end of last year) are both now included in the Virtualization Server OE and Data Center OE (as well as the Insight Dynamics -- VSE Suite.)

Other updates in the release include:

  • Faster software management
  • Patch flagging
  • New security certifications
  • Management improvements to Logical Volume Manager
  • Long password support from 8 to 256 characters in Shadow Mode
  • Power savings
  • A new version of Integrity VM (version 4.2,) with automatic memory reallocation and new suspend/resume virtual machines capability
  • Data encryption during online migration on public networks

Time is running out for HP-UX 11i v2 -- the previous version of HP-UX, which will no longer be sold after the end of this year. Version 4 is still in development. When it is ready, it will provide zero downtime and enhanced virtualization, according to HP.

In the meantime, HP is plodding on with v3, while dealing a little Linux on the side. By the time v4 is ready, it will be interesting to see if there is still a need for it, or whether Linux will simply step in to its shoes.

Paul Rubens is a journalist based in Marlow on Thames, England. He has been programming, tinkering and generally sitting in front of computer screens since his first encounter with a DEC PDP-11 in 1979.

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This article was originally published on Tuesday May 4th 2010
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