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Cross over lines from disk's unknown state

The Payoff of Being a Pricer, Not a Cheaper

Recent news about Microsoft's end-of-support notice for Itanium could be read as another nail in the HP-UX coffin. How does a Windows Server 2008 end-game trouble the future for HP's Unix and its proprietary processor? By people thinking short-term and adopting mass market strategies for enterprise computing. It doesn't have to be this way, but you need to think different than a Cheaper, if you can arrange any way at all to afford it.

What's a Cheaper? That's the manager or consumer for whom the price is the most important concern. They look at today's cash flow instead of the coming five years of ownership cost. They buy $299 netbooks with glee until the slab of plastic is better suited to prop open windows than run Windows.

You could be a Pricer instead. This kind of pay-what-it's-worth thinking made the HP 3000 the best value in enterprise computing, circa the 1990s. So long as HP put its engineering muscle behind a platform that was a walled garden, adding features and embracing new tech, you couldn't buy a business computer that was a better investment than a 3000. When HP bagged its responsibility, you got left looking for something else. Cheaper looked attractive, being just stung by the top-shelf expense of dropped promises.

Then came Unix, and the promise of everywhere adoption, cheaper than a BMW-grade MPE/iX OS. Then Windows, tuned up for running an enterprise with Windows Server and SQL Server. Each cheaper than the last. Oh, except for that SQL Server piece, which MB Foster's Birket Foster points out has become a lot less cheap since it must perform for enterprises.

Foster says that despite Windows Server 2008 being the last version to support Itanium and Integrity, he likes the outlook for HP-UX and the only server which runs it. It all depends, he says, on how far out you're looking to expect an environment to deliver value.

"One of my first questions would be, what's your timeframe?" Foster asks. "How long do you want this platform to be in existence for you?"

He says customers are not planning out timeframes longer than 3-5 years for any other operating system, so why expect the HP-UX and Itanium picture to run farther toward the horizon? 

"There are things people can do while they're making their conversions from the 3000 to make it easier to shift the next time," Foster said, processes that will make isolation happen. "HP already figured out how to build a hardware abstraction layer so they could run five operating systems on this Itanium chipset. Who's to say you can't build an operating system extraction layer and isolate yourself?"

Foster said his company did that kind of isolation when they migrated a large oil company off the 3000. And that abstraction layer? OS experts in the 3000 community surmise that eventually, instead of Itanium hosting x86/Xeon programs in hardware, the reverse will happen.

It probably would be cheaper for Intel/HP to develop Itanium emulators that allow better HP-UX virtualization on the x86 family to protect customers, rather than trying to maintain HP-UX on ever evolving hardware.   Remember, the original Itanium was supposed to have x86 hardware emulation embedded to allow it to overtake the applications from that platform.

Cheapers may not embrace this choice, since it includes an OS priced for cost of ownership instead of the entry price. They really don't want to consider the extra 25 percent it takes to adopt a better-built, longer-lived product. Not when they can save that money from this year's budget. Pricers think about having to defend their choice in more than five years, instead of looking for another investment to replace what was never built to last.

Built to Last could describe HP-UX and Itanium more than Xeon and Windows Server. But a Pricer needs to know the vendor will be there for them many years to come, to justify the extra expense up front. Think BMW to consider how much vendor zeal you will need. Can you feel that zeal from your migration platform vendor? Have they spent more in R&D, percentage-wise, than HP does as a company?

Windows will do the job adequately for many migration-bound companies. But the long-term value of anybody else's environment except Linux seems fuzzy. Even the Windows desktop applications get replaced every 18 months. The future of HP-UX is probably not a "we're killing it off" demise like HP planned for MPE. Instead, Foster says, "In the long run, HP-UX will probably morph into something like Linux." That will be the point when being a Pricer instead of Cheaper might pay off -- because your shop is full of experts in enterprise-grade IT management solutions, built off the 20 years of Unix extra-cost investments.