HP’s enterprise-class UNIX operating system, HP-UX, faces a stark future compared to IBM’s AIX. The difference comes down to the vitality of the underlying platforms. IBM runs AIX on the POWER platform, now at POWER7 and evolving to POWER8 and even POWER9 (although the naming may change)—a dynamic platform if ever there was one. Meanwhile, HP-UX has been effectively stranded on the withering Itanium platform. Oracle has stopped development for Itanium, and Intel, HP’s partner in Itanium, has been, at best, lackluster in its support.
It not clear whether HP-UX is a better UNIX than AIX, but in an industry driven by ever increasing demands for speed, throughput, cost-efficiency, and energy efficiency, the underlying platform matters. HP-UX customers surely will outgrow their Itanium-based systems without a platform boost.
“There’s no question that [our] Business Critical Server business has been hurt by this,” said HP CEO Meg Whitman in the transcript of an interview with the Wall Street Journal’s All Things D column. The business, which had been growing 10% a year before Oracle spurned further support of Itanium now is declining by 20-30% a year (Ouch!). So Whitman is counting on two things: 1) winning its lawsuit against Oracle, which is still making its way through the courts and 2) porting HP-UX to an advanced x86 platform, namely Xeon. “Ultimately we’ve got to build UNIX on a Xeon chip, and so we will do that,” she told All Things D. All spring long there had been hints that this was imminent, but an official HP announcement never materialized.
Of course Oracle wants the HP customers running Oracle on HP-UX with Itanium to jump to its Sun platform. IBM, however, has been wooing and winning those same customers to its System z or POWER platforms. Oracle runs on both the z and POWER platforms. Running Oracle on Linux on System z yields substantial savings on Oracle licensing. But IBM wants to do even better by migrating the Oracle shops to DB2 as well, with incentives and tools to ease the transition.
What HP customers also get when they move to POWER or to the z is a platform in both cases with a real platform future, unlike either Itanium or Sun’s server platforms. DancingDinosaur has long extolled the zEnterprise and hybrid computing, but POWER is dynamic in its own right and when you look at the role it now plays in IBM’s new PureSystems, another IBM hybrid platform, POWER becomes all that more attractive.
From the start HP with HP-UX and Itanium was bound to have to settle for compromises given the different parties—HP, Intel, Oracle—involved. With POWER7, IBM system developers got exactly what they wanted, no compromises. “We gave the silicon designers a bunch of requirements and they gave us our wish list,” says Ian Robinson, IBM’s PowerVM virtualization and cloud product line manager. As a result POWER7, which runs AIX, Linux, and System i on the same box, got a slew of capabilities, including more memory bandwidth and better ways to divide cores.
POWER7, which amazed the IT world with its stunning Watson victory at Jeopardy, also is turning out to be an ideal virtualization and cloud machine. The rate of virtualization and cloud adoption by POWER7 shops is running something north of 90%, notes Robinson. The adoption of PowerVM, the POWER7 hypervisor built in at both the motherboard and firmware levels is close to 100%. And now POWER7 is a key component of IBM’s PureFlex initiative, a major IBM strategic direction.
Meanwhile, Whitman is fighting a costly court battle in the hope of coercing grudging support for the Itanium platform from Oracle. The trial began in June and mud has been flying ever since. Even if HP wins the case, don’t expect the story to end soon. Using appeals and delay tactics Oracle could put off the final outcome so long that Itanium will have shriveled to nothing while POWER7 continues along IBM’s ambitious roadmap.