HP pushes parity for Itanium, PA-RISC servers

At its annual HP World user conference in Chicago this week, Hewlett-Packard Co. will announce a number of enhancements to its HP-UX operating system, designed to narrow the gap between the capabilities of the company’s Integrity and HP 9000 servers.

The Palo Alto, Calif., company is also developing enhancements to the Virtual Server Environment software it ships with its HP-UX Unix operating system that will bring a number of the virtualization features that are, at present, only available on HP-UX to the Linux and Windows servers in HP’s Itanium 2-based Integrity product line.

With the Unix upgrade, expected in October, HP will for the first time ship the same version of HP-UX on both Integrity and its PA-RISC-based HP 9000 hardware lines, said Mary Ellen Lewandowski, Unix marketing manager with HP. “Our original plan had been to have (HP-UX 11i) v3 be the common release, but there was such an interest in having this capability sooner that we brought it in and are delivering it.”

HP has been under pressure to unify its two versions of HP-UX in order to ease its customers’ transition from the PA-RISC architecture, which HP has said it will stop developing in 2005, to systems based on Intel Corp.’s Itanium chips.

Though HP says that it is pleased with the rate its customers are moving to Integrity, this migration has been hampered by a lack of feature parity between the two platforms, analysts say. “Getting to a kind of unification or parity between the historical PA platforms and the Integrity Itanium platforms is very important to them,” said Jonathan Eunice, an analyst with Illuminata Inc., based in Nashua, N.H.

Once expected to ship by the end of 2004, HP-UX 11i v3 has now been delayed until 2005, and with Monday’s announcement, the company hopes to reverse any slowdown in Integrity adoption that this delay may have precipitated, Eunice said.

“It turns out that v3 was almost like Longhorn. Its the release that’s always over that next horizon. This (announcement) is pulling in a lot of that Integrity parity up on the calendar,” he said.

The enhanced version of HP-UX 11i v2 will include high availability, cluster management and virtualization capabilities, HP said. And for the first time, one copy of HP-UX will support as many as 128 processors on both HP’s Integrity and PA-RISC systems.

HP’s competitors have taken the company’s strategic embrace of Itanium as an opportunity to poach customers. Last year, Sun Microsystems Inc. launched an “HP Away” customer migration program, aimed at snatching US$50 million per year in business from the AlphaServer customer base HP acquired through its 2002 merger with Compaq Computer Corp. The program was expanded to target HP’s PA-RISC servers earlier this year, and has brought in approximately US$200 million in revenue during its first year, Sun said.

“If you’re an enterprise customer, the merger was not good for you if you use HP-UX systems,” said Larry Singer, Sun’s senior vice-president and strategic insights officer.

On Monday, Sun plans to further expand the HP Away program by offering migration tools and purchasing incentives designed to entice customers to buy Sun servers based on the Advanced Micro Devices Inc. Opteron processor, Singer said.

But HP is not standing still. It is adding new features to the Virtual Server Environment (VSE) software it includes with Integrity and has plans to port a number of the new VSE features it is developing for HP-UX systems to Linux and Windows, in an effort to promote Integrity to a wider set of users.

“We’re moving into the multi-OS (operating system) phase with the Virtual Server Environment (VSE),” said Nick van der Zweep, director of virtualization and utility computing with HP. Over the next year the company will gradually roll out this “multi-OS” version of VSE that will let Linux and HP-UX users better manage and create virtual machines that can then consolidate applications on a single Integrity server.

With HP’s software administrators can create a number of virtual machines on a single server, which can then be managed and configured as if they were separate servers using software called the Global Workload Manager.

Global Workload Manager, a follow on to the HP-UX Workload manager, will be available by the year’s end, Van der Zweep said. The company will deliver new Integrity Virtual Machine technology, comparable to HP-UX’s vPars (virtual partitions) in the second half of 2005, he said.

Though rival IBM Corp. made some significant gains with the recent launch of its Power5 Unix systems, HP still has the edge in terms of virtualization technology, Eunice said. “HP, from a product point of view, is actually the leader. They have been shipping a lot of the product capabilities for several years now,” he said.

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