Volume 8, Number 27 -- July 17, 2008

HP-UX Shops Not Strongly Interested in HP-UX on X64

Published: July 17, 2008

by Timothy Prickett Morgan

The minute that Hewlett-Packard bought Compaq and its vast ProLiant product line and pretty loyal customer base, one of the first questions anyone wanted to get an answer to was whether HP would consider porting its HP-UX variant of Unix to X86 and then X64 servers, thereby merging its high-end operating system with its high-volume server line. For years, HP demurred on the issue, and said that it was sticking with Itanium.

This position was understandable, given the reliability and scalability properties of the Itanium chips, HP's long-standing partnership with Intel where they co-designed the Itanium processors, and the difficulties HP had already come through porting HP-UX from its homegrown PA-RISC chips to the Itaniums. A little taste of that porting nightmare goes a long way, and HP had a meal full, as any operating system vendor does when they add support for a different processor architecture.

And then, three years ago as Unix rival Sun Microsystems launched Solaris 10 and started giving it away to pump up its installed base on X86 and X64 iron--a market that Sun tried alternatively to crush and ignore for many years--and then it did the real radical thing and took Solaris open source through the OpenSolaris project. This may or may not help Sun make any money in the short term--and it is debatable if it will in the long term, too--but by giving Solaris 10 away and moving to a priced support model and by launching OpenSolaris, Sun brought itself to parity with Linux, the new kid on the operating system block. And, more to the point, Sun got lots of street cred with the open source community, lots of public relations, and gave enterprises that use Solaris a reason to believe that Sun was doing the things it needed to do to stay alive in a market increasingly dominated by Windows and Linux.

All of which has begged the question, again, of why HP has not ported HP-UX to X86 and now X64 processors. All that HP says whenever I bring up the topic is that there are no plans for such a move. And so long as the Itanium chip exists and stays more or less competitive with other high-end RISC platforms--we are basically down to Power6 and Sparc64 VII at this point--and Intel agrees to fab the chip, HP has no reason to do it. And apparently, it has another reason. HP-UX customers don't seem to be all that interested in the idea.

I say this based on some data that Dan Olds, the founder of Gabriel Consulting Group, shared with me recently concerning the idea. GCG is an IT industry analyst firm that is best known for Unix and X64 customer surveys, which we profile in the IT Jungle newsletter stack each time one comes out. (And we are thankful for Olds' help and are always happy to help him get survey responses, so next time you see an ad for a GCG survey, don't be shy--tell him your story and help us understand what's going on out there.) Anyway, in his latest Unix survey, Olds asked HP-UX shops if HP should consider porting the operating system to X86 and X64 processors. As you can see from this chart, about 48 percent of those polled said HP should and another 11 percent said with vigor that HP should proceed forthwith. But 34 percent said they were not sure, and close to 7 percent said no way, man.

That's a majority of those polled, to be sure, but it is not a supermajority. There's no question that HP has asked its own HP-UX base this question about porting HP-UX to ProLiants, and there is little doubt that HP has probably seen the GCG data as well as that of other IT consultancies regarding its Unix customers. If HP was willing to basically ignore Tru64 Unix to death to protect and try to promote HP-UX, it seems unlikely that it would promote moving HP-UX customers to ProLiant iron. Then again, its Unix base might be a lot larger today than it is and ProLiant machinery might not be so dominated by Windows and Linux. As it turns out, those are some pretty big "mights," as GCG's data shows in this second chart.

Nearly 14 percent of the HP-UX shops polled said they would use HP-UX on X86 and X64 processors for sure if it were available, and almost another 32 percent agreed that they would without a strong endorsement. But 43 percent said they weren't sure, 9 percent said they would not, and more than 2 percent said definitely no way. So fewer than half of those polled said they would make such a move if HP-UX for Intel and Advanced Micro Devices chips were available. And that, more than anything else, explains why HP isn't interested in the idea.


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Editor: Timothy Prickett Morgan
Contributing Editors: Dan Burger, Joe Hertvik,
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