Given the poor financial showing that Hewlett-Packard Co’s Enterprise Servers and Storage unit made last week, with weak sales pushing that unit into an operating loss again, the critics are coming out of the woodwork to malign the merger of HP and Compaq.
To be fair, the HP merger went a lot smoother than many expected (even if the merger has not yielded the level of synergy that management had hoped would push profits). The one stickler in the roadmap has been the TruCluster-enabled HP-UX 11i v3, which in October 2003 was pushed out until the second half of 2005.
The former Digital Equipment’s Tru64 Unix and its TruCluster clustering software is arguably the best of the Unix environments when it comes to creating clusters of computers that share work. Digital, which was eaten by Compaq in 1998, had created the most sophisticated networking software in the world, VAX clusters, for its proprietary minicomputer line in the 1980s and took this functionality into Unix when it jumped into that market in the 1990s along with its highly regarded (but not great selling) AlphaServers.
TruCluster functionality is at the heart of Oracle’s 9i Real Application Clusters (RAC) and 10g databases, too, just to show you how good it is (Compaq licensed the technology to Oracle in February 2001). That TruCluster intellectual property is one of the reason why HP wanted Compaq in the first place. With TruCluster-like functionality woven into its own HP-UX Unix variant’s MC ServiceGuard clustering, HP-UX could better rival IBM Corp’s AIX and Sun Microsystems Inc’s Solaris.
When HP completed the merger with Compaq in May 2002, the company had two versions of its HP-UX operating system. HP-UX 11i v1 was the version that had been running on the company’s own PA-RISC processors since the end of 2000. As HP’s processor partner, Intel, was delayed with rolling out the Merced and then the McKinley variants of the Itanium processor that HP had chosen to replace the PA-RISC processors, HP had problems getting its HP-UX development efforts on PA-RISC and Itanium in synch. So it forked the Itanium version of HP-UX off from the PA-RISC version, taking a subset of HP-UX without support for key features (such as virtual partitions).
HP rolled out HP-UX 11i v1.2 for the Merced generation and HP-UX 11i V1.5 and 1.6 for the McKinley generation, allowing the company to get Itanium systems out the door in the McKinley generation in 2001 and start building up the Itanium ecosystem. In May 2003, HP backported many of the features in the PA-RISC version of HP-UX 11i to a new version that coincided with the Madison Itanium 2 generation; this version was called HP-UX 11i v2. This is the HP-UX that has been shipping on the Integrity line of Itanium machines, from the two-way rx2600 machines all the way up to the 64-way Superdome servers.
When HP initially bought Compaq in May 2002, it had promised that HP-UX 11i v2 would be a unified code base that ran on both Itanium and PA-RISC platforms, and that a future release called HP-UX 11i v3 would add TruCluster functionality to this release. This future release was expected by the end of 2003. Sometime around the end of 2002 or in early 2003, it must have become apparent to HP that this was perhaps too ambitious, and the company are to launch HP-UX 11i v2 for only the Itanium 2 Integrity server line, not for the PA-RISC machines. While HP’s compiler tools allow customers to create Unix programs for either PA-RISC or Itanium architectures, there are substantial enough differences between the two platforms that it is a real pain to maintain code on the two.
That’s why a revamped HP Unix roadmap promised once again to deliver a single HP-UX 11i code base on the two architectures, this time with HP-UX 11i v3 – the one that was supposed to also include support for 128-way processing and for TruCluster features. The v3 update was expected sometime in the second half of 2004, which was kind of late, but still acceptable given the state of the Itanium ecosystem at the time.
However, in late October 2003, when HP-UX 11i v2 was just starting to ship on the Itaniums, HP executives said that they underestimated the task its 2,000 HP-UX programmers faced in getting onto a unified code base for Itanium and PA-RISC platforms and in adding TruCluster functionality to HP-UX. So at that time, the unified HP-UX v3 got pushed out to the second half of 2005, a delay that ranged from between 12 to 16 months. HP’s customers and application software partners were not happy about this, and they complained. But, apparently, not without effect.
This week, at the HP World customer trade show in Chicago, the company will announce that it has listened to its customers and has tweaked the HP-UX roadmap once again. It may be coming more than a year later than promised, but HP this week will in fact deliver the unified HP-UX 11i v2 code for both Itanium and PA-RISC processors. Rather than wait for v3, says Mel Lewandowski, Unix marketing manager at HP, the company took the existing HP-UX 11i v2 for Itaniums, adding 128-way SMP processing support, and backcast it to the PA-RISC machines. This software will ship sometime in October 2004.
According Lewandowski, HP is providing a guarantee that applications that worked with HP-UX 11i v1 on PA-RISC will work without recompilation on the new HP-UX 11i v2. Moreover, she says that the average customer should see something on the order of a 15% to 25% improvement in performance on PA-RISC machines. She says that early customers who have moved to the latest dual-core 1GHz PA-8800 processors and have recompiled their code are seeing application performance improve by a factor of two or more.
Customers who move to HP-UX v2 running on PA-RISC can more easily jump to Integrity machines based on Itanium, but unless they want to run in an emulation mode that degrades performance, they will have to recompile their code. HP does guarantee source and data compatibility with this jump from PA-RISC to Itanium on top of HP-UX 11i v2.
The updated HP-UX 11i v2 does not offer the same vPar virtual partitions and nPar hardware partitions that were available with PA-RISC systems running HP-UX 11i v1. The virtualization features that will be available with the new HP-UX 11i v2 are substantially improved over what PA-RISC customers had with HP-UX 11i v1, and in many cases this updated virtualization will be available on both PA-RISC and Itanium platforms (See separate story.)
Lewandowski says that HP-UX 11i v3 is still on track with the delivery of TruCluster features and other advancements sometime in the second half of 2005. She declined to be more specific about the timing of that version, for obvious reasons.