Enterprise Unix Roundup: Sun, HP Keep Pace With the Times

By Brian Proffitt (Send Email)
Posted Feb 28, 2007

Brian Proffitt
Mark Twain may as well have been describing the state of enterprise Unix when he said, "the rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated." HP's latest release of HP-UX 11i and Sun's membership in the Free Software Foundation are indicators that the Unix ecosystem is still kicking.

You might have missed it, but two weeks ago HP released the latest edition of HP-UX, specifically HP-UX 11i version 3. Its timing could not have been much worse — half the United States was digging itself out of snow and ice storms; the other half was getting ready to party for the holiday (because really, nothing beats a Grover Cleveland bash).

According to ServerWatch editor (and former Roundup pundit-extraordinare) Amy Newman, "the refresh offers improvements to storage, performance and virtualization features of the Unix operating system. Version 3 delivers a 30 percent performance improvement compared to version 2. HP says this performance improvement is attributable, in part, to an improved I/O stack that offers 100 million zettabytes (1 zettabyte equals 1 billion terabytes) of storage capacity.

"HP-UX 11i also boasts new hotswap and online patching capabilities to reduce downtime, and its automation features help minimize operation costs."

Sounds pretty good, and that's not even mentioning the nifty virtualization features, which Amy details in her own Virtually Speaking column. Nobody even seemed to mind that the new version was a teeny bit late (when Roundup covered this last May, the 11i v3 release was scheduled for fall 2006).

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This latest revision is certified under the Unix 2003 standard, an effort to help define a set of APIs and functionality across Unix to allow for application portability. IBM's AIX 5L V5.3 and Sun Microsystems' Solaris 10 are also Unix 2003 certified.

HP-UX is not the only Unix player making moves this month. Sun has been a little busy, too: First, it tossed out some feelers about dual-licensing Solaris under its Common Development and Distribution License (CDDL) and the upcoming General Public Licence (GPL) version 3. Then, just this week, the company announced it was going to join the Free Software Foundation (FSF). While not earth-shattering, this news still struck many as sort of ... weird.

After all, the FSF is the organization that is home to Richard Stallman and many of the staunchest free software advocates of the whole Linux community. And whatever else you can say about Solaris and Sun, embracing the notion of free-as-in-freedom software isn't high on anyone's list.

Until now.

Actually, when you think about it, the membership makes sense. Sun is still interested in the GPL for Solaris, but the next version of the GPL is still in draft phase. What better way to open a better feedback conduit than joining the very same group that's putting the GPL v3 together? In that context, Sun in the FSF makes more sense. It also helps that the FSF is not purely focused on Linux, which gives even less resistance to the notion of a team-up.

While all of this was going on, I happened to read a very good article over at The Unix Guradian. In it, Dan Olds highlighted (with numbers and charts from his publication and a report from the Gabriel Consulting Group) why the idea of Unix's death was so silly. It's a good read, one worth checking out for yourself.

For the record, I have occasionally worried about the future of Unix, as it lost so many installed bases to Linux and even more to Windows (according to some reports). But I think there is something Mr. Olds may have missed, even in his comprehensive report. I think Unix will soon see a measurable increase in installs as more IT professionals look at the debacle that is Vista and seriously question Microsoft's reliability with other platforms, such as Windows 2003.

This is just a theory, mind you. But with steady progress and excellent quality from vendors like HP, IBM and Sun, IT managers must be asking themselves if they really need all of the flash and glitter from Redmond. The pervasiveness of virtualization technology will also help tip more people over to Unix, particularly if they have some legacy Windows apps they have to run.

The tough times are not over for Unix. Arguably, tough times are coming for every operating system as the competition heats up. But we're a long way from sounding the death knell.

Brian Proffitt is managing editor of JupiterWeb's Linux/Open Source channel, which includes Linux Today, LinuxPlanet, and AllLinuxDevices.

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