HP-UX to Cure All Corporate IT Ills

By Paul Rubens (Send Email)
Posted Apr 16, 2009

Paul Rubens
Forget Motrin: If your organization has a headache thanks to the economic downturn, then what it needs is a dose of HP-UX.

OS Roundup: HP is selling the new version of HP-UX as the antidote to your IT headaches. But looking at the bigger picture, is Unix really a vaccine in the face of Linux?

That's the current HP story anyway. The company updates its 25 year old UNIX OS every six months, and HP-UX 11i v3, Update 4 — released this month — has been positioned as a corporate pain reliever, according to Brian Cox, the company's Director of Business Critical Servers Software Planning & Marketing. Its Serviceguard high availability software has also been updated in a similar vein to version 11.19. "We observed a downturn in the economy and realized that what was needed was not vitamins to make things bigger and faster, but aspirin to stop the pain," he said. The software is intended to make life more bearable for companies that have been forced to cut IT budgets and staff numbers, or who are seeing their sales coming under pressure. (And who isn't?)

One example of this is a feature that enables apps running on a node in a cluster to restart on another node much faster than before. Cox said that what would previously have taken 30 seconds will now take as little as 4 seconds. (In the past this was possible only on 2-node clusters, but the upgrade makes this possible for clusters of up to 16 nodes.) Reduced downtime can mean fewer lost sales opportunities, and that's just what the doctor is prescribing right now.

Enterprise Unix Roundup

Lower staff numbers and budgets mean updates and upgrades that are simpler and less disruptive to carry out are bound to reduce corporate suffering, said Cox. Update 4 now allows administrators to carry out OS upgrades on the fly, while a system is running. Essentially, it enables a dynamic root disk to be created for the upgrade, which can be configured and made ready to run. At a convenient time, the system can then be brought down and rebooted straight in to the new OS. Previously, the OS could be patched while online but not upgraded to a new version. HP claims that upgrading online can eliminate 50 percent of planned downtime for system upgrades.

Anything that cuts costs is bound to be seen as pain relieving, and Cox highlights the OS's new Disk Scrub feature as something that does just this. When an administrator wants to repurpose or move a server that had something sensitive on it, it's prudent to wipe the hard drive first. Often an organization will use a third-party tool to do this, and Cox claims the total cost to an organization will often be as high as $150 per drive once licensing costs and staff time are taken into account. (Sounds pretty outrageous to me — haven't these people heard of Darik's Boot and Nuke??) Anyway, the point is that Update 4 includes a disk wiping utility, so the need to license one from a third party and install it should be a thing of the past. And so should all those $150 outlays.

It's hard to tell whether the whole aspirin and vitamins thing was dreamed up by the HP marketing department as an afterthought or whether the feature set of the new update really was tailored to the demands of recession-hit customers. But what the heck, it's a good story to sell UNIX. And HP is good at selling HP-UX.

The bigger question here is whether HP needs a good story to sell UNIX. After all, the company has fingers in the Windows, Linux and UNIX pies, so whatever happens in the enterprise OS market during the next few years HP is bound to be on the side of the long-term winner. "The fastest growth is in the Windows and Linux markets, but we are well-positioned there as the number 1 vendor in both those markets," said Cox. "We have all the spots in the bingo cards covered."

This is in stark contrast to Sun, which may end up being part of UNIX (and Linux) competitor IBM. Does Cox see an IBM-Sun link-up as a threat to HP? Wisely he refused to be drawn, saying only that HP is well positioned in the UNIX market (and then cheekily adding that no question marks are hanging over HP!)

What of the long-term future of UNIX as it faces increasing competition from Linux at the lower end? The answer to this, Cox believes, can be found in an analogy with his two basketball-playing sons, aged 16 and 13. The older one consistently beats the younger one precisely because he is older and has had more training and practice. "That's how I look at UNIX and Linux," says Cox.

It's an interesting analogy, with interesting implications: Linux is far younger than UNIX and is still playing catch up, but the logical conclusion is that eventually UNIX will start a terminal decline, and Linux will become top dog — until it too becomes old and something else takes over the top end of the market.

It just goes to show that in the world of enterprise OSes, as in life, it's a jungle.

Paul Rubens is an IT consultant and 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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