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HP puts down Oracle, which puts up Solaris

Hewlett-Packard summoned a market analyst to tell its HP-UX customers "Unix is not going away in the near future," said Dan Olds, founder of Gabriel Consulting. "Probably not even past the near future."

OS qualityThese kinds of assurances are needed in a marketplace where Linux has all the buzz and Windows all the populace among environment choices. Sure, the apps drive the OS choices, but a company's got to ensure it can retain and train the IT pros who keep apps alive and moving, instead of stalled. As one example, the replacement-for-IMAGE database Eloquence keeps growing "to keep your applications from stalling," said founder Michael Marxmeier.

Eloquence runs on Windows, Linux and Unix. It the last arena it becomes a player in the ongoing saga of What Will HP Do About Oracle? Oracle sells one of the biggest competitors to HP-UX, Solaris. Last week HP said that Oracle's Unix, Solaris, is a distant third in customer support and deployment to HP's Unix. This week Oracle announced a Version 11 of Solaris, which will be marketed as a cloud-friendly OS. It's also got tighter integration with Oracle's database, a strategy HP once used to great effect in the HP 3000, with MPE plus IMAGE. Here's a telling passage from a Computerworld story on how the link-up works for Solaris: "By controlling an entire stack of software, the company can make holistic decisions over which part of the stack would be best suited to tweak to gain performance improvements."

That's not in the field to be surveyed today, and perhaps not even this year. The message during the one-hour HP webcast relied upon a 2010-11 Gabriel survey of companies already using some kind of Unix. Prompted by HP's Katie Curtin-Mestre, Olds said that Oracle is well behind HP and IBM in categories like OS Quality, Patching Quality, availability as observed by a user base, plus a lot more. Olds -- whose 15 years in IT includes nine years of marketing consulting for hire -- said it's a two-vendor race for commercial Unix, where "Oracle is not as competitive as they would hope, or we expected. In some areas, since Oracle took over Sun and stabilized it, they've lost some ground."

HP would be happy to learn that continues to be true. The Gabriel survey was taken during the first six months of work by Mark Hurd, former CEO, who has led the Sun/Oracle rebound culminating in a fresh Solaris and refresh of the SPARC chips. How this webcast chest-thumping by HP will imact its wish to get Oracle to love Itanium/Integrity once again -- well, that's anybody's guess. But it's hard to portray the webcast as an olive branch.

Observed performanceOne thing feels certain: when you use red as the color to depict a vendor on a PowerPoint slide, it's never a friendly label. HP's customers are observing that Solaris is much slower than HP-UX, but HP's Unix is just 1.3 percent faster than IBM's Unix. This may be a two-horse race in observations and speed. But HP needs Oracle to keep its customers on HP-UX servers, and coloring the company red looks as combative as suing its rival to keep supporting HP's Unix.

Other high points of the HP-Gabriel survey (Olds calls the study a Vendor Face-Off):

"It will be interesting to see what happens, now that Oracle has released some new systems. We'll see if they resonate with customers." (We're not certain how Oracle will participate in the new Face-Off, but the vendors don't need to be part of the polling. Some vendors do pay for webcasts of the results, though.)

This kind of report is no new tactic in getting customer loyalty pumped up. The objectivity comes under scrutiny when an outside consultant says, "It's clear that the commercial Unix market is primarily a two-horse race between IBM and HP. Oracle hasn't managed to turn Sun around in any significant way."

Olds said, "Customers are still using more Unix capacity than they used the year before. There's a lot of churn, as they move stuff to x86 and take out Unix platforms. But they're also adding Unix platforms. The amount of capacity shift is more than what's being turned off." So the Unix advocate is now looking at capacity rather of footprint. They've lost the war on server counts, although HP continues to report its Unix servers lead that sector in market share.

"The [capacity] growth isn't as fast as it was back in the day of the early-to-mid '90s," Olds said. That's the period where HP is plundering the HP 3000 base for converts to HP-UX, and Windows doesn't have any traction as an enterprise environment. Linux was little more than an experiment back in the day. Olds then asserts that "nothing's growing like it was back then." That will come as news to Red Hat, SUSE and the other Linux providers.

"Unix has moved to a different place; it's become that mission-critical platform," Olds said. Right on the money, from the reports of the former 3000 sites who've turned to Unix. None of them report that Unix is any more mission-critical than the 3000, but we don't have a superb window into the largest of Unix customers. For the most part, that size of site didn't use the 3000.

Fewer shipments, larger systems, greater uptime needs: Some of this sounds like the HP 3000 situation of the late 1990s, when footprints of MPE/iX were being overtaken by Windows and Unix. Nobody knows the future for sure, even when a vendor tells the tale: witness the assurances of HP World 2001 about the 3000 vs. the pullout just three months later. But the future of Unix is now tied firmly to big systems and mission-critical capacity. It's hard to see how that competes with the nimble and smaller options from the cloud, even if HP says Unix is a part of its cloud computing plans.

HP's Curtin-Mestre said "we get a lot of questions about Integrity [servers] and Itanium, and to add to your point, the Itanium market revenue is larger than AMD as a whole." That's a lot of sales, but now the vendor is comparing its Unix business to a smaller subset of the Windows x86 alternative. "This whole conversation reminds me of the old adage from Mark Twain, that 'rumors of my demise are greatly exaggerated.' "

Exaggeration2It was a "report" rather than rumors that Twain replied to, for those who admire the humorist's accuracy. He lived another 13 years after his handwritten note to Frank Bliss. The note sprang from reports Twain had died, but it was his cousin who'd been ill. People like to think of operating environments as having a lifespan, especially HP, which encouraged the thought that MPE/iX was dying, along with the HP 3000 and for that matter, IBM's AS/400. We'd rather consider Twain's writing about death in 1906 in Mark Twain in Eruption as a means of getting the most honesty from the departed.

I think we never become really and genuinely our entire and honest selves until we are dead--and not then until we have been dead years and years. People ought to start dead, and they would be honest so much earlier.

Perhaps as the MPE/iX OS moves into its 11th year of being "dead," HP-UX can hope for a similar future. If nothing else, the vendor won't need to hire outside analysts to prove people are still using and choosing its proprietary OS.