HP Releases Itanium-based Operating System

By Clint Boulton

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HP Monday launched the next version of its HP-UX operating system and took a another step in what experts say is a challenging, long-term attempt to migrate its software from PA-RISC to Itanium architecture, which is expected to triple high-end system performance over the next three years.

In issuing its first update to its OS in more than two years, the Palo Alto, Calif. firm is hedging its bet that HP-UX 11i v2 will continue to be a strong, Unix-based performer alongside Sun Microsystems' Solaris and IBM's AIX products despite its transition to the newer Intel Itanium chip-based schema. The new OS is also singificant part of HP's broader Adaptive Enterprise strategy, which looks to help businesses become more agile in dealing with computing demands and needs through such strategies as utility computing.

Mike Wardley, marketing manager for HP-UX operating system, said the new OS offers the same functionality that HP-UX provides customers of PA-RISC processor-based systems -- and then some. To make sure customers and application vendors don't feel as they though they are starting from scratch and need to buy the features they are accustomed to, HP has built the new OS with total data, source and binary compatibility with previous versions of HP-UX 11i for Itanium and PA-RISC systems. HP-UX 11i v2 also offers source and data compatibility with Linux IA-32 programs and binary compatibility with Linux for Itanium processors-based programs.

HP, which Wardley said now supports around 1,000 applications on Itanium, has been working furiously to migrate its software to support Intel's Itanium architecture, something rival vendors such as IBM had taken a wait-and-see approach to before picking it up.

The news met the approval of industry analysts, such as IDC Research Director Al Gillen.

"With the full complement of HP-UX ISV applications now available for this new platform, HP and its partners are completing the Itanium ecosystem and positioning its Itanium-based systems for immediate customer adoption," said Gillen.

Moving from one ingrained operating system platform to another is no easy task, Gillen said, noting that HP has had to address "numerous compatibility challenges." "HP has addressed this issue nicely with HP-UX 11i v2 for Itanium processor-based systems, which offers near functional equality and binary compatibility to HP-UX 11i v1 for PA-RISC," he said.

HP-UX 11i v2 parallels v1's features, including reliability, availability and serviceability; Internet and Web application services; directory and security services; system management; and 64-way performance scalability. The enhanced release also includes networking and storage solutions for Itanium-based systems, including dynamic expansion of storage components and extended support for Gigabit Ethernet and Gigabit Fibre.

Gillen said the seamless transition of the Itanium-based HP-UX system with functional parity to PA-RISC is an achievement in itself, but he noted that the real plus is that customers will now have the choice of using PA-RISC-based HP-UX 11i v1 or v2, based on Itanium.

These moves, Gillen said, aren't to be taken lightly because vendors don't want to upset customers by forcing migration on them. He compared HP's gradual migration to the one IBM made in 1996 when it moved its iSeries servers from 48-bit CISC systems to 64-bit RISC architecture.

HP is positioning HP-UX against Solaris and AIX, but Gillen said today's news benefits HP's existing customers and doesn't necessarily work to lure new ones from alternate OS architectures. Gillen doesn't see HP luring customers from one OS architectures such as Solaris or AIX because it is difficult to do.

"All Unix customers are treated with kid gloves these days," Gillen explained. "They have a lot of options and everybody wants them." He said despite some possibility of moving Unix to Microsoft environments, which is not preferable, or even moving to Linux, which is compelling from a cost savings standpoint, the move is a disruptive one.

"This not like leasing a car where you can trade it in," Gillen said. "There is a lot of application testing and regression testing that needs to be done." What HP has going for it, is more flexibility from a platform perspective as customers can find a solution on an Intel architecture. Gillen said the physical partitioning capabilities of its Superdome server allow multiple operating systems be run in separate partitions. So, if the machine has 16 processors, four may be portioned for HP-UX, four may be allotted for Windows, etc.

IBM and Dell, he said, use virtual partitioning, which offers fewer choices for what IT administrators can run on their machines.

HP has also added support for HP-UX 11i v2 by independent software vendors, such as 724 Solutions, Active State, Ascential, Baan, Brooks Automation, Check Point Software Technologies, Critical Path, said Gina Cassinelli director of marketing for enterprise solutions and partners at HP.

These firms cover application development, business intelligence, databases, EAI tools, ERP and supply chain, financial services, security, telecommunications and Web services industries.