OS release pushes HP toward Itanium

Hewlett-Packard Co. edged a little closer to its goal of migrating users from proprietary RISC systems to standard Intel Corp. servers with the release of its latest version of HP-UX last week.

The company's HP-UX 11i Version 1.6 is the first high-end Unix operating system that has been designed from the ground up for Intel's 64-bit Itanium architecture.

According to HP, the operating system offers exactly the same functions and features as HP's Unix version for PA-RISC boxes. This means that users will be able to take applications running on HP's current PA-RISC servers and run them unchanged on Itanium boxes, said Ram Appalraju, a director for HP's Unix business.

But users will have to wait until a new generation of Itanium servers begins to ship later this year to see which, if any, price/performance gains they can derive by moving applications from PA-RISC servers, said Charles King, an analyst at The Sageza Group Inc. in Mountain View, Calif.

And though PA-RISC-based Unix applications will run unchanged on Intel servers, users will need to recompile many of them if they want optimal performance on the Itanium technology, said Tony Iams, an analyst at D.H. Brown Associates Inc. in Port Chester, N.Y.

Still, the release of HP-UX 11i underscores HP's long-term commitment to moving users from expensive, proprietary RISC hardware technologies to cheaper servers based on standard Intel processors, King said.

"This is the first real step toward migrating users from PA-RISC to Itanium," Iams said.

Strategic direction

As part of this strategy, HP has said that in the next few years it will also migrate users of Compaq Computer Corp.'s Alpha processor and Tandem Computer Inc.'s MIPS processor technologies to Itanium, which HP has helped develop over the past eight years.

The same high-availability, clustering, serviceability and management functions found on HP's Unix for PA-RISC are available on the latest Itanium version released last week, Appalraju said. "HP-UX for Itanium is fundamentally designed to protect the investment of customers who are on PA-RISC," he noted.

Sometime in mid-2003, HP plans to release a common version of HP-UX that users can run on both PA-RISC and Itanium servers.

Moves like the release of the new operating system are the kind of steps HP needs to take if it wants to migrate users to a common Intel platform, said John R. Wolff, CIO at Laaco Ltd., an athletic-club chain in Los Angeles. HP's effort to ensure that elements of its RISC technology are included in the Itanium design should also ensure a smooth migration, he said.

"But we don't expect to move to Itanium for several years because we don't really need it," Wolff added.

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