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HP proprietary versus commodity hosts: Unix v. MPE

Analysis is spreading about HP's mission for its last in-house computer environment. Hosting will be moving for HP-UX. This is happening at the same time as hosting is on the move for MPE/iX. One distinction is the hardware platform. One is ready now, the other a good while later. You might guess wrong on which is which.

On the HP-UX, there's much work to be accomplished to get HP's Unix onto the Intel Xeon/x86 chipset. No, the entire OS is not on the move, not like MPE/iX is gliding onto Intel i7 multi-core chips. HP's working to get the best of its Unix running on a hardened Linux. The combination will be served from a customized configuration.

At the ServerWatch website, an article quotes the head of HP Industry Standard Servers, who says Unix now moves forward on x86.

The effort will eventually lead HP to favor x86 and Linux over Itanium and Unix, according to Scott Farrand, vice president of Industry Standard Servers and Software in the Enterprise Group at HP.

"Our go-forward strategy for mission-critical systems is shifting to an x86-based world," Farrand said. "It's not by coincidence that folks have de-committed from Itanium, specifically Oracle."

In the same manner, MPE/iX is also moving to x86. The Stromasys HP 3000 emulator, HPA/3000, is running on industry standard PC hardware. It was not demoed on that kind of system in its most recent appearance. The CAMUS user group saw the emulator perform flawlessly running on a custom-built PC. It's the kind of system we once called a white box. By now you might call it Build To Order, if there was a major vendor's label on the front.

It was convenient to use a BTO or white box PC to show off HPA/3000. But users of this solution won't be trying to save $500 building their own PC configuration when they spec up an HPA/3000 host. They're going to want to go high horsepower -- just the right decision considering the $25,000 price of this solution. The genuine and lasting value here is the software.

Software transformation magic has been a classic part of the 3000 experience. You could start by considering MPEX, an expansion of MPE's powers that was created by VEsoft when the computer was still new. Later on there was Chameleon from Taurus Software, which did one thing well: it let customers emulate the then-new PA-RISC MPE/XL operating system commands on Classic MPE V systems.

HP added its own magic in software transformation when it built MPE/XL, designing it to execute programs written for MPE V and earlier. This object code translation was a groundbreaker -- and so unique that OCTCOMP was one of the programs that HPA/3000 product manager Paul Taffel fired up during that April CAMUS demonstration.

However, like more than a few veterans in the 3000 community, VEsoft's Vladimir Volokh has opinions on how HPA/3000 should be shown, and sold. In the first aspect he counsels for a different plan. For the other, he believes Stromasys can help customers see the value in a $25,000 investment.

Specialized hardware configurations should be avoided. "You should sell it as running on a regular PC," Vladimir said. "Why save $500, and leave some doubt in users minds? No manager will build such a computer for their MPE programs."

But that $25,000 price tag -- the current entry-point in the product line -- is a fair match for what a 3000 does: runs businesses. "If you compare it to the size of your business, and the price of the alternative, it should not seem expensive," Vladimir said.

Even the Linux alternative is not going to seem less expensive once HP finishes with what's named Project Dragon Hawk. According to ServerWatch, this target for new business-critical projects "will provide 32-way partitionable processors, certified to run RedHat Enterprise Linux 6." The software that's known as RHEL 6 comes ready for unlimited guests at $3,249, plus numerous add-on essentials, running from $199 to $399 each year. That price only covers two CPU sockets. And that's all to be paid before HP gets its license fee for the Unix-hardening features it'll add to Linux.

There's an important distinction between the industry-standard MPE/iX host and the industry-standard HP Unix host. The former is ready today. HP hasn't announced a delivery date for Dragon Hawk -- which sort of makes HPA/3000 more ready for the new mission-critical projects. HP's not recommending new Unix business on its Itanium systems, if Farrand's go-forward is to be followed.