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HP merges management software lines

Hewlett-Packard is combining several management tools into a single product code-named Nimbus--a move that could boost its utility computing effort.

Hewlett-Packard is merging several management tools into a single product code-named Nimbus--a move that could boost its utility computing effort as well as a strategy that relies on Intel's Itanium processor.

Nimbus will present a unified way for administrators to control systems that run Windows, Linux or HP's version of Unix, called HP-UX, according to HP presentations CNET has seen. The software, due to arrive by the end of 2003, includes components taken from both HP and Compaq Computer, which HP acquired in 2002.

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Managing multiple operating systems is important for HP, because its Itanium servers can simultaneously run Windows, Linux and HP-UX, which means that the company doesn't have to design as many different types of computers. And glossing over the differences between the systems could make it easier to overlay the more sophisticated management software of HP's utility computing plan, called Adaptive Enterprise.

Indeed, Nimbus likely will be featured Tuesday when Peter Blackmore, executive vice president of HP's enterprise systems group, talks about developments with the Adaptive Management component of its broader vision.

Eliminating the management headaches of dealing with different operating systems gets HP closer to "something that actually benefits customers as opposed to HP's development costs," said Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata.

HP has high hopes for Nimbus as a way to reduce one of the biggest costs customers face today: managing servers and migrating from one server design to another. Migration costs are a big concern for HP as it tries to steer Unix customers with servers based on HP's PA-RISC processor to the new HP Itanium-based Integrity line.

"Nimbus is going to be one of those redefining architectures" that will change how HP can approach customers, said Paul Miller, vice president of HP's industry standard server marketing. With multi-operating system management software, the problems that slow Itanium adoption today "all of a sudden don't become barriers anymore," he said.

"If you can take an HP-UX application running on PA-RISC today, plug in an Itanium server, and nothing changes about how they manage it, that's a powerful story," Miller said.

But HP will also have challenges in wrestling several components into one system. "Have they got a portfolio consolidation nightmare on their hands? Absolutely," said James Governor, a RedMonk analyst.

The three progenitors to Nimbus are Insight Manager, Windows management software from Compaq, Toptools Device Manager from HP and Servicecontrol Manager from HP.

The Nimbus software could help simplify a layer of HP's Darwin Reference Architecture, the collection of utility computing components the company plans to assemble as a way to help customers achieve a fluid computing system that can quickly respond to changing requirements.

Nimbus "provides a certain level of abstraction of the underlying hardware, so this Adaptive Enterprise provisioning and virtualization can then talk to this relatively consistent interface," Haff said. Provisioning is the process of directing a computer to run particular software; virtualization makes it easier to move software from one computer to another.

Another challenge for Nimbus is that Unix and Linux administrators have different styles and different needs than Windows administrators, Governor said. "They have different expectations of what tools look like," he added.

But HP is a step ahead of some competitors, because its management software is relatively lightweight and is designed to accomplish specific tasks rather than everything under the sun, Governor said. HP avoided the grand but ultimately unpopular "framework" management software visions that were espoused by Computer Associates International, BMC Software and IBM.