Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Hewlett-Packard plans to catch up to IBM this year in a crucial Unix server efficiency feature—an improved ability to run multiple operating systems on the same machine—executives said this week.
HP servers that use Intel's Itanium processor can be partitioned to run multiple tasks using a hardware-based method, but the line lacks the software-based capability of a top competitor. By the end of the year, HP plans to put both partitioning methods into the servers, promising more flexibility. That dual capacity also is found in the HP 9000 Unix server line the company is phasing out in favor of the Itanium-based Integrity line.
Partitioning technology—letting customers run multiple jobs on the same server—takes advantage of the fact that some processes are idle while others are busy. Partitioning initially was popularized on mainframe computers decades ago, but now has arrived in Unix servers and is making its way to lower-end machines.
HP's hardware-based partitioning technology for Unix servers, nPar, divides hardware into independent sections, and software-based vPar creates higher-level software partitions that can share the same hardware. While the old server line had both capabilities, the Itanium-based line lacks the vPar technology.
That limitation will change by June, Nick van der Zweep, HP's director of virtualization and utility computing, said in an online discussion in which HP executives answered questions about the new Itanium servers.
Initially, the minimum size of a partition using the vPar technology will be one processor, van der Zweep said. By the end of 2005, multiple vPars will fit on a single processor, and they'll be able to run more operating systems than just HP-UX, he added. (Integrity servers can run Windows, Linux, HP-UX and the OpenVMS operating system.)
The move will help keep HP competitive with its main rivals. IBM already supports sub-processor partitions on its Power5-based servers that can run Linux and IBM's version of Unix. However, Big Blue doesn't offer hardware partitions.
Sun Microsystems, which pioneered hardware partitions on Unix servers, is adding a technology called Solaris Containers to version 10 of its operating system. Containers are similar to software partitions, making a single operating system look like many. That feature will work on computers using its own UltraSparc processors and on those using x86 processors such as Intel's Xeon and Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron.
The features behind the features
The prevailing method for creating partitions on x86 servers today is use of VMware's virtual machine software. But hardware features called Vanderpool and Silvervale coming in Intel chips should make partitioning easier.
Under an accelerated schedule, Intel will release Vanderpool in 2005 in desktop chips. IBM, too, is adding better partitioning abilities to a next-generation PowerPC processor, the chip also used in Apple Computer's machines.
Also during the online chat, HP said its current systems could be upgraded with the next Itanium processor, code-named Montecito and due at the end of the year. "HP intends to enhance Integrity Servers with future Itanium 2 microprocessors, such as Montecito, by means of simple in-box upgrades," said Brian Cox, product line manager for HP's business critical systems group.
That position contrasts with a June statement from Rich Marcello, general manager of HP's Business Critical Server group. Asked then if Montecito processors would plug into existing systems, he said, "Possibly, but my gut (instinct) is there may be some power issues."