HP's Unix servers to get virtualization boost

Hewlett-Packard is putting the finishing touches on an updated release of its HP-UX operating system that will add virtual partitioning capabilities to the company's Itanium-based Integrity servers.

The update will also make the virtualization technology available to users of the HP 9000 server line who want to install the latest version of HP-UX. Mary Ellen Lewandowski, director of Unix product marketing at HP, said last week that the update is due in early July as a patch to HP-UX 11i v2.

The Virtual Partitions feature, known informally as vPars, lets users install more than one copy of HP-UX on a computer. The upcoming release marks the first time vPars has been offered for the Integrity systems, which use Intel's Itanium 2 processors.

For years, HP has included the technology in the HP 9000 machines, which are based on its own PA-RISC chips. But HP-UX 11i v2, the first version of the operating system that offers identical feature sets for both server lines, lacked support for vPars when it was released late last year. As a result, many HP 9000 users have held off on installing the new software.

Eager Users

As far back as last August's HP World user conference, customers began asking when HP would ship the upcoming release with the virtualization capabilities, said Steven Protter, a Chicago-based HP-UX consultant. "The biggest question that came up at HP World 2004 was, 'When is vPars support going to happen?' " he said.

Though HP has faced some criticism for being slow to add features to HP-UX, Protter said he's satisfied with its approach. "HP's attitude is to be reliable, and they don't have a problem with holding a release to make sure it's quality-tested," he said. "They'd rather be late than wrong."

By enabling the use of vPars with the Integrity line, HP is delivering a "sorely needed" capability, said Tony Iams, an analyst at Ideas International. But, he added, the company still lags behind rivals such as IBM and Sun Microsystems on support for virtualization.

HP said that to address that functionality gap, it's developing more-powerful virtualization technology that's expected to ship by year's end.

In addition to vPars, the July update to HP-UX will include a feature called Secure Resource Partitions, which will let users separate several applications on one copy of the operating system, Lewandowski said.

HP is also working to add support for Veritas Software's clustering and advanced file-system technologies to HP-UX. That will be included in a subsequent update due sometime between August and early October, according to Lewandowski.

HP Readies Last PA-RISC Chip

Hewlett-Packard this week plans to formally announce the final processor upgrade to the HP 9000 server line plus the first models of its NonStop fault-tolerant systems that are based on Intel's Itanium 2 chips.

The new PA-8900 processor for the HP 9000 will have a much larger Level 2 memory cache than its predecessor but will operate at clock speeds that are only slightly faster, according to information posted on HP's Web site. The PA-8900 will be sold in 800-MHz, 1-GHz and 1.1-GHz versions with 64MB of on-chip cache, compared with a maximum clock speed of 1.1 GHz and a 32MB cache on the existing PA-8800 processor.

The new chip is the last in the line of HP's PA-RISC processors. The company has said it will support the HP 9000 servers that use PA-RISC chips until 2011, but it has abandoned further development of the processors as part of its embrace of Itanium 2.

The PA-8900 was expected to have clock speeds in the range of 1.2 to 1.5 GHz. But Ideas International analyst Rich Partridge said it isn't surprising that HP decided to release such a modest processor update, given that the company has bet its future on Itanium-based Integrity hardware and is trying to boost the line's use.

Giving HP 9000 users a bigger CPU performance boost would "allow them to be comfortable staying on PA-RISC for a longer amount of time," Partridge noted. "I don't think HP wants to prolong the transition."

The Itanium-based Integrity NonStop systems being announced this week were initially targeted for release late last year. They are replacing models based on chips from MIPS Technologies. HP said the new servers will be capable of running one copy of its NonStop operating system across as many as 4,080 processors. Shipments are due to begin in July, with prices starting at US$400,000.

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