Virtually Speaking: Taking Unix Territory

By Amy Newman (Send Email)
Posted Feb 23, 2007


Amy Newman
Virtualization has come to Unix. Can the stamp of mission-critical readiness be far behind?

Last Friday, HP unveiled HP-UX 11i version 3. Despite coming less than two months after version 2's infusion of new security features and right before the start of a holiday weekend, many took notice.

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 due, 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 hot-swap and online patching capabilities to reduce downtime, and its automation features help minimize operation costs.

And then there's the virtualization improvements.

"Virtualization is a major component of [HP's] Adaptive Infrastructure," Nick van der Zweep, director of virtualization and software for HP's Business Critical Systems, told ServerWatch.

As a result, virtualization is finding its way into every facet of the OEM's business. From blades to storage, HP is assuming an infrastructure containing virtualization and treating it as the norm. Van der Zweep cites the number of enterprises that have deployed virtualization in test and dev to be 75 percent, a figure bandied about near universally.

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In many cases, van der Zweep says, virtualization has moved "well off test and dev," and in some cases, it has reached near ubiquity. The analyst firm Fair Isaac, for example, has made virtualization the default. Request a server, and you get a virtualized instance; want a dedicated box — and special approval is needed.

HP's latest management endeavor, Unified Infrastructure Management, which covers HP Systems Insight Manager as well as management for BladeSystem, Integrity and ProLiant servers, and storage servers now assumes an infrastructure has virtual elements. The software management tools, however, don't care if the system is physical or virtual, and are treated accordingly.

"A server is a server is a server, for security, patch management, and so forth. It doesn't make sense to have more than one tool," van der Zweep said.

Which brings us back to HP-UX. Not surprisingly, the latest release of the enterprise-class Unix was designed with a virtualized infrastructure in mind, with broader functionality and easier deployment. It also offers increased availability and makes it simpler to secure and manage apps.

It does this by taking advantage of the HP Virtual Server Environment (VSE), a solution that aims to ease the path to virtualization for HP Integrity and HP 9000 servers. In conjunction with the release of HP-UX 11i version 3, four new VSE Reference Architectures were announced, for Oracle, SAP software, and shared services based on HP's own application server and database implementations.

HP is hardly unique in HP-UX's recognition of virtualization.

The latest version of Solaris is designed to be virtualized, albeit on the operating system level (in the form of Containers and Zones). Say what you will about Sun, but it was on the mark when it first planned to incorporate virtualization functionality directly into the operating system several years before the virtualization zeitgeist took hold.

IBM, often thought to be among the pavers of virtualization, has not fallen down on the technology either. The most recent version of its Unix operating system, AIX 5L, features POWER5 technology and Virtualization Engine, along with support for Micro-Partitioning and Virtual I/O Server.

The pool of technologies not impacted by virtualization is growing smaller and smaller. From chip vendors on up, the hardware segment is, if not embracing, at least acknowledging virtualization. The same can be said in the software space. With the stalwarts purveyors of Unix marching to the beat, there's likely little groundwork left to be laid before a virtualized infrastructure is deemed ready for daylight — and, perhaps, mission-critical apps.

Amy Newman is the managing editor of ServerWatch. She has been following the virtualization space since 2001.

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