Operating Systems, Comedy and Cake

Paul Rubens
There's not much that's funny about an enterprise OS, and "Comedy," and "operating system" are two concepts rarely mentioned in the same breath. OS Roundup: Aside from being operating systems, HP-UX, Windows Vista and GNU/Linux are as different as it gets. Will they find common ground in comedy and cake?

Which makes it all the stranger that a couple of well-known operating systems have been in the news this past week for being the subject of two of the world's best known comedians' material. Bizarrely, the thing that linked the two operating systems is ... cake.

Firstly, we were treated to an unlikely comedy double act in the form of Bill Gates as the straight man and Jerry Seinfeld as the silly one in a short skit about buying shoes, mind-melding and software that makes computers "moist and chewy, like cake." This is almost certainly the first in what will be many short sketches about Vista. "The Future: Delicious," is Microsoft's rather cheesy closing message.

Enterprise Unix Roundup

To add to the hilarity, comedian Stephen Fry also presented a dry but humorous five-minute fireside chat last week in a short video to celebrate the 25th birthday of GNU — the free operating system project founded by Richard Stallman that he has been working since 1984. "Chocolatey good. The tastiest operating system in the world," is how Fry sums up GNU/Linux as he blows out the candles on GNU's birthday cake.

A quarter of a century is a long time in the world of computer hardware, but it's not so unusual for an operating system to make it to its 25th birthday. Another well-known operating system celebrating 25 years and still going strong is HP-UX, Hewlett Packard's proprietary operating system that is based on Unix System V.

The versioning of HP-UX is rather peculiar, but the OS is currently at version 11i v3 (or 11.31, if you prefer), which was released in February 2007.

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To keep the OS attractive despite its years, HP gives it a full beauty treatment in the form of a major release every three years. In between times, HP gives it a shot of Botox and a slap on the rump to keep it perky. Every six months, HP-UX gets a minor update, the third of which was unveiled last week: HP-UX 11i v3 Update 3.

Hopefully, the code is more elegant than the versioning system.

Taking a look at what's new in an enterprise OS update can often be enlightening in terms of where the IT industry is going and what an OS-maker perceives its customers want (or need.) So it's not altogether surprising that the theme of most of the enhancements to HP-UX 11i v3 is virtualization.

For example, one of the headline improvements to HP-UX is the way that the operating system handles I/O requests from HP Integrity virtual machines. "By being more efficient we can effectively double I/O capacity, and this increases processing power as less time is being spent playing traffic cop with I/O requests," said Brian Cox, a director of HP's Business Critical Systems division.

HP also announced its Locality-Optimized Resource Alignment (LORA) technology for its midrange and high-end servers. This aims to "defrag" the machines so everything is close to where it needs to be. "We found that the distance that data had to travel in these machines was inefficient," says Cox. "We figured that if we got stuff — virtual instances and data ˜ close together, then performance would go up. What we have found is that we get up to a 25 percent performance increase with LORA, which is very good for virtualization."

Other new features include Tune-n-Tools auto-tuning for Oracle and SAP workloads, which can produce a 50 percent performance gain compared to an unturned system, according to Cox, and a new power control feature.

Strangely, for a week when cake references seemed de rigueur for operating system makers, HP's announcement, "HP Extends Leadership in Mission Critical Virtualization," lacks any references to flour-based snacks. But at least there was comedy: HP-UX's versioning system must be some sort of an obscure joke.

Paul Rubens is a huge fan of both Seinfeld and cake. When he's not snacking or watching YouTube, he's 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.

This article was originally published on Sep 10, 2008
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