3000 team awaits one last strike, next year
HP starts to suggest an Oracle alternative

HP will migrate best of HP-UX to Linux x86

No problem, HP says, if you're an HP-UX customer who's just purchased an Integrity server to replace anything else -- whether that's from an HP 3000 or just an older HP Unix system. The HP Odyssey project is not a signal of any new future for your Business Critical Systems server choice.

The popular belief among customers -- who still ask HP about it -- as well as the market and resellers is that "Oracle is turning the screws on HP-UX, which is dead anyway, because Itanium processors are now too far behind x86s to ever catch up." Okay, that last part's not completely fair to the Itanium systems. The big-scale customers love their hardware and OS. Well, they did until recently, but it now remains to be seen how good the solution looks in the face of HP's traipse into the Odyssey.

In the LinkedIn HP-UX users group, Steve Shaw, Chief Technologist at HP Canada, says

HP-UX and Integrity support and development are continuing, so Project Odyssey is not "designed to get your HP-UX apps and systems to HPx86." Rather, it is designed to provide an option for apps to either stay on HP-UX, or migrate to mission-critical x86 (Linux and Windows) -- whatever is best for the customer/app/situation, all providing the mission-critical experience that's been delivered by HP-UX over the years.

There's an echo in the mind of any HP 3000 customer who's made this odyssey before, however. After a formal announcement of Itanium tech work for HP 3000 users, HP pulled back. Dave Snow delivered the news that the 3000 wouldn't lead the way in such servers. In 2000 he said it wasn't needed.

The 3000 division isn’t going to lead in terms of moving to [Itanium's] IA-64. We don’t need to. We’ve got good-performing chips that provide us with the 30 percent per year performance increase — maybe even exceeding that — for several years to come.

That was a promise that a current HP technology will get continuing development and support. You could swap out "Shaw" for "Snow" and feel the same vibe. True, there's no risk of an overnight exit from Integrity and HP-UX, not like the deal done on 3000 sites one year after Snow's comments. We just heard a story from STR Software's Ben Bruno about one spectacular dump of 3000s within days of the exit announcement. It resulted in a migration to Sun -- and some customers are figuring Odyssey will trigger the same kind of exit to another vendor.

It's not HP's support that's of immediate concern for any HP-UX customer. It's that Oracle vow to drop Itanium support. HP's been admitting that Oracle has pulled down HP-UX since this spring. Some customers see the start of the last mile of the Itanium road, and with it, HP-UX. A few weighed in to answer a question up on the HP-UX Users group of LinkedIn.

"The future for HP-UX looks bleak," said Rainer Grebin, listed on LinkedIn as the Technical Services Group Leader for the UK's River Island clothing and retail stores. "Unfortunately project Odyssey will ultimately drive most companies to IBM's AIX. [HP-UX] features on Linux are desirable, but Odyssey won't get many customers to migrate to Linux. I think it is very interesting that only Linux and Windows are supported. What about VMWare? Most customers choose software based on features and don't care for the OS or hardware platform. Most apps vendors do not certify Linux if they already have an alternative such as AIX."

It could be worse. Bruno's story details his Nov. 14, 2001 experience, when he was a reseller working on a deal with an Ecometry e-commerce site. "I was working with a brand-new Ecometry customer who had just paid for their twin HP 3000s just days before," he said. "I was promoting the benefits of our automated fax products that functioned the same on MPE (with FAX/3000) and non-MPE (with FaxCommander). Sadly, no one from Ecometry or HP even gave them a clue that the systems they'd just spent millions of dollars on were not a good long-time investment."

Ultimately, that e-commerce company decided to purchase a package on Sun's Solaris Unix, Bruno added, "and I don't believe HP or Ecometry refunded their money." It would be unbelievable if they did. HP's not exactly predicting an unbroken future for Itanium, once you get away from the Chief Technologist level.

"The x86 systems will rule over the Mission Critical environment and the reign of RISC will come to an end," said Mohannad Daradkeh, Technology Consultant at HP. "Bringing the Unix-like features into the x86 is a move in the right direction; hopefully the market will be mature enough to accept this."

HP's hope is that since HP is going to give to Linux x86 what makes HP-UX special, there's no reason to leave a platform that's sinking, according to CEO Meg Whitman. Engineers have their doubts, though.

Philipp Prokopets, Support Engineer at HP Enterprise Services, said on LinkedIn that "I'm really not sure that Odyssey will stimulate HP-UX and Itanium, unfortunately." News of an odyssey that brings the best of a proprietary OS to an industry standard like x86 can't be good in the long run for an Itanium investor. The best hope of HP-UX survival is going to be from a vendor like Stromasys -- now finishing a first release of a PA-RISC 3000 emulator, one that could serve the HP-UX customer nicely.

HP-UX to Linux is an easy move, according to Marxmeier Software's Michael Marxmeier. The man whose company has provided migration sites with a database that works like IMAGE doesn't see much concern about shifting away from HP's Unix, even with Itanium's future in play.

"Itanium certainly has its users," he said, "and it’s hard to tell if it will make it or not. However, this shouldn’t be a concern to the customer. They’re not pulling the plug on anybody. But if they’d like to move to something else, the proven technology of Linux is readily available. About half of our customers are using Linux these days." The Marxmeier database Eloquence "even supports some exotic implementations, like Linux on Itanium."