HP-UX: More Than Reliable, Middle-Aged and Dull

by Paul Rubens

Is HP's emphasis on new HP-UX features aimed squarely at Oracle users indicative of a midlife crisis in a market with limited room for growth or much like a prudent bank manager sizing up the threats and opportunities for its UNIX?

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HP-UX v3 is safe, reliable, middle aged, and dull -- just the qualities one would you want in an enterprise server operating system. If HP-UX were a person, he would probably be a bank manager.

HP's UNIX is also predictable -- a new update is made available every six months or so, and this week saw the unveiling of HP-UX 11i v3 Update 7, to give the release its full name. Overall, there's not much to get excited about -- it's about simplifying availability, reducing costs and streamlining delivery.

However, what's interesting about this release is what it may tell us about the UNIX world in general and HP (NYSE: HPQ) in particular. And what's striking is the emphasis on new features aimed squarely at Oracle users.

One of them is the HP Serviceguard Extension for Oracle E-Business Suite, which inevitably, given HP's love of unintelligible acronyms, the company is calling SGeEBS. Serviceguard is HP's cluster technology for HP-UX, and SGeEBS reduces the time and cost involved in clustering Oracle's E-Business Suite by up to an amazingly precise 93 percent, and eliminates up to 12 hours of planned downtime for Oracle EBS maintenance every month, the company says.

Another enhancement is the introduction of HP Serviceguard Toolkit for Oracle Data Guard, which basically makes it easier to integrate Oracle Data Guard into a Serviceguard cluster with zero custom coding.

The obvious question to ask is why there is such an Oracle emphasis in Update 7. Could it be related to the fact that Oracle now owns Sun, and therefore now has its own hardware and UNIX on which Oracle E-Business Suite can run? Just last Wednesday at Oracle OpenWorld, Larry Ellison pointed out that "our strategy is to take a lot of separate pieces that our customers used to buy as components ... and do pre-integration, and deliver you complete working systems," adding that "if you engineer hardware and software to work together, you get a much better overall system and the overall user experience is better, like the iPhone."

That can't be good news for HP. It certainly looks like it expects to find it increasingly hard to sell its products to Oracle customers, and the new Oracle-oriented Serviceguard features are a way of fighting back against Ellison's "complete working systems."

But hold on a minute -- let's get this straight: Ellison wants to create Oracle appliances, and his role model is ... the iPhone? If Ellison is really intent on modeling his appliances on Apple's iPhone then that should seriously set the alarm bells ringing. The iPhone is an appliance that has been pwned and pwned again by jailbreaking teams made up of college kids. (Actually, that's probably disrespectful to the accomplished geeks of the iPhone Dev-Team and Chronic Dev, and brilliant individuals like Geroge Hotz and others.) The point is, Apple failed miserably to keep its closed systems secure. Ellison's allusion to the serially hackable iPhone is therefore troubling, to say the least.

Still, Oracle's strategy may well be successful, and HP is probably right to be worried about what Sun/Solaris/Oracle appliances might do to Integrity/HP-UX sales. What I'd be doing is looking at poaching customers from another UNIX vendor ... like IBM.

And what do you know? That's exactly what HP is doing with its new HP-UX porting kit for AIX. According to HP, the kit identifies the build environment and API differences between AIX and HP-UX 11i applications. It then automates up to 95 percent of the steps needed to complete the porting effort.

So while the new features of HP-UX v11 Update 7 may not exactly set the world on fire in and of themselves, they do appear to shed some light on the state of UNIX and HP. What you see is competition heating up in the UNIX world, and a company that's identified the threats and opportunities for its UNIX and that is now taking steps to address them. In that respect HP is being very prudent -- just like a bank manager, in fact.

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 Sep 28th 2010
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