Third Party Futures Revisited, Maintained
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HP-UX users consider virtualized future

BillingtonWhen HP opened its can of Odyssey for the HP-UX operating system, the vendor induced the labor of migration forcasts among its user base. The HP plan to move the best enterprise features of UX to a "hardened Linux" drew this comment from consultant Eric Billington (shown at left) on LinkedIn. Billington wonders if virtualization of hardware -- what many users call emulation -- is all but certain in the future of running HP's Unix.

Virtualization is very likely for many options, I suspect. I have a lot of respect for HP-UX and Itanium, but it is mostly about the third party software support for the platform, and the ongoing related legal battle between HP and Oracle. This may well be a Plan B, just in case.

Billington, who was a consultant for MB Foster as well as a 3000 migration planner for fellow-Platinum Migration services vendor Speedware, goes on to say that "HP is in a pickle, because Oracle has been promoting the Sparc/Oracle platform aggressively (sales is their thing after all), and at the same time pulling the rug out from under UX/Itanium by holding back on future Oracle product releases for the platform."

This would be a big problem for HP promoting UX/Itanium in the future for customers, unless this situation changes. Oracle's own "hardened Linux" is also Red Hat-based, so HP would likely have some assurance of support from Oracle for the Odyssey platform.

A few HP-UX users are learning that virtualization has a less common face: replicating hardware architecture on top of more popular chips such as Intel's Xeon line. While Stromasys is working on finding a market for its Charon HPA/3000, there's always been talk that the technology of Charon would be a foundation for emulating the chips that support HP's Unix servers. Nothing official from HP, of course. But the vendor won't even admit that the Odyssey is a path away from using HP-UX, either.

HP keeps trying to push back on that idea, but it's not working. No matter how much HP says that HP-UX is so secure and robust enough that it doesn't need a migration path, now there's an Odyssey to put the best of that OS into a new environment -- this "hardened Linux" that is well-supported by Intel and Oracle, among others. If there's no need to go on an Odyssey, why did HP begin one? For those who like the HP-UX+Itanium mix, hardware virtualization now seems a certain destination, however distant.

But when you start to talk about virtualization in the Unix marketplace, the IT managers there immediately think of virtual instances of OS environments, instead of replicating the underlying hardware. Independent consultant Keith Dick did his wondering out loud.

To me, virtualization is what VMware or KVM do, and I don't see how that would be possible. I'm assuming that the processor in whatever system that would be running the virtualization would be a Xeon, or a successor to Xeon. I think that implies that the hardware instructions available would be x86-64 instructions, not IA64 instructions. That's why I say that what I know as virtualization would not be possible.

Billington pointed to the Stromasys technology as an example of how an emulator -- Stromasys likes to call its tech hardware virtualization -- will work to maintain the lifespan of HP-UX apps beyond the Itanium era. That era isn't limitless. As HP announces an Odyssey it has sparked talk of how long HP-UX and its apps that breathe life into the Itanium chips.

Emulation of a different processor architecture, on another machine architecture is what I am referring to. It can be done within a virtualized environment, if the OS in a VM is running on top of a machine level emulator in the VM. They do exist in the wild ( but are not as common.

I agree a successor to the Xeon, incorporating some elements of the Itanium architectrure, seems to be the processor direction, but the OS running on it will be one written for the x86-64 instruction set / little endian data. I think the most likely outcome is that Itanium processor blades will be running alongside the newer Xeon blades in future servers using integrated VM management. This would allow the older HP OSs to run natively on the appropriate hardware, and allow workloads to be distributed appropriately.

That's HP-UX which Billington is calling "older." The environment does harken all the way back to the early 1980s in the HP lineup, after all.