Eloquence fast indexes on display Thursday
Rising Sun, setting Unix: HP's next migration unfolds in secret slides, emails

Emails show HP studied Itanium's end in '07

DeadEndOracle released a thick sheaf of HP emails this week to prove HP-UX has a dim future. Oracle sells an alternative to HP's Unix, Solaris, a campaign led by former HP CEO Mark Hurd. There's juicy goo in these pages that shows how a loyal customer base using an HP product gets treated during that product's downturn.

In Oracle's campaign to convince customers that HP's been managing an Itanium demise for years, lawsuit emails are the ammo. The two companies are at legal war by now, dueling lawsuits that will go to trial later this year. HP wants a database for its Itanium server customers. Oracle wants to quit maintaining development for the Integrity machines. Being ever-eager to do battle, Oracle released documents for the public to "use in deciding who's right about Itanium's future." You can look over the originals online. The emails are from HP executives and are part of the lawsuit evidence.

Over and over, in emails between the GM of Business Critical Systems Martin Fink and others at the top of HP's computing food chain, the messages show that Itanium -- and the future of HP's Unix -- has long had an inevitable end. One that HP has seen clearly and communicated less so. HP has been pressing Intel to continue with Itanium development for almost five years by now. While Hewlett-Packard hasn't been planning the end of HP-UX, the end of Itanium amounts to nearly the same thing -- because HP's Unix won't ever be ported to the Xeon/x86 Intel processors.

The flood of HP's email from Oracle offers a look into HP's corporate plan to hang onto enterprise customers who use a proprietary HP enterprise platform. It's a situation similar to the one HP 3000 users faced in 2001, when Hewlett-Packard made an internal decision to stop developments on MPE/iX and to shift onto the Itanium hardware. HP held all the cards in that decision: OS, PA-RISC chip design and manufacture, even the database. This Email-Gate, however, shows how relying on Intel and Oracle for the Unix chip and database left HP with a "binodal" choice, according to a 2007 company email to HP's Executive Council. At that time HP was a strong supporter of converting your HP 3000 to a Unix system.

Binodal, for anyone not familiar with thermodynamics, is "the boundary between the set of conditions in which it is thermodynamically favorable for the system to be fully mixed, and the set of conditions in which it is thermodynamically favorable for it to phase separate." HP had a point in '07 where Intel told the vendor that carrying Itanium further required core redesign. Costly, in the set of conditions to rebuild. Or Intel could crash-land the processor family, and move away from the wreckage.

"The choices appear binodal," said the email from Joe Lee in Sept. '07 about Itanium strategy. "An expensive plan vs. a crash landing. [Intel CEO] Paul [Otellini] added that we need to address the inevitable on the future of Itanium, stressed that Intel cannot keep losing money on the product line, and asserted that what's really needed is a compelling migration story."

That would be a migration from the Itanium-driven Integrity servers to the HP ProLiant systems run by the Xeon family of chips. HP didn't tell Intel it was developing a project called Octane, a next-gen mission-critical business system to be run on AMD chips. "[CTO] Shane [Robison] says they are most freaked about Octane," Lee wrote, "but discovering that we weren't porting HP-UX rocked their world. Shane wants the data on what it will take to port HP-UX to x86."

That's a port that Fink just told the world wouldn't be happening. Itanium's leash looked so short in '07 that both sides thought it wouldn't be alive in 2014. HP might have had a reason to move its Unix forward, if they'd bought Sun like they proposed in 2009. There's a fascinating PowerPoint deck that describes that proposal, too. HP figured it might help prolong Itanium's lifespan.

The HP documents released by Oracle are online in a Scribd storage area for anyone to read. One PowerPoint deck says that HP-UX "is on a death march" because of Itanium's demise. But HP was more worried about IBM at that point than about Oracle. IBM might have bought Sun, and "it [then] isolates and exposes HP-UX as 3rd tier player, accelerates our decline (product/service) as customers look to consolidate vendors." HP threw its money into supporting extra Intel manufacture and design of Itanium's 9300 and Poulson series, while Oracle gambled on the Sun Unix. The lawsuit's outcome might help determine who won in the short run.