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HP promises Unix improvements

HP-UX 11i version 3 is faster, has better virtualization and security, HP says. It'll ship this year, with formal launch in 2007.

Hewlett-Packard is preparing to release security and virtualization improvements to its Unix operating system and says it's now fulfilling a long-promised Itanium performance advantage.

Most of the improvements will arrive in HP-UX 11i version 3, due to begin shipping this year but not formally launched until about three months from now, said Nick van der Zweep, director of virtualization and Integrity server software. However, one security feature--the ability to automatically encrypt files as they're stored--already has been added to version 2.

HP-UX, along with Sun Microsystems' Solaris and IBM's AIX, is one of the three major server versions of Unix to survive the consolidation that has claimed HP's Tru64 Unix, Silicon Graphics' Irix, Sequent's Dynix/ptx and Data General's DG/UX. HP-UX runs on HP servers using its own PA-RISC chip, but the company is trying to move those customers to the newer Integrity line of machines using Intel's Itanium processor.

AIX runs on IBM's Power-based systems, while Solaris runs on its and Fujitsu's Sparc-based machines and on a wide number of servers using servers using x86 processors such as Intel's Xeon and Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron. Sun and IBM both enjoy taking potshots at Itanium, which has caught on more slowly and less widely than HP and Itanium initially envisioned.

But because of changes in software development tool called a compiler, HP expects Itanium systems running HP-UX 11i version 3 to become more competitive.

Compilers translate human-written programs into instructions the computer can understand, and an early promise of Itanium systems was that sophisticated compilers would prepare software for fast execution on the chip. That promise proved harder to attain than initially expected, but HP says its work now will pay off.

Server software in general runs 25 to 35 percent faster on version 3 because of the new compiler, and Java programs show even more, van der Zweep said.

"We promised a lot a long time ago. We've been quietly doing it," he said of the compiler work.

HP delayed version 3 earlier so it could incorporate some features that customers wanted soon, such as a cluster file system, into an updated version 2.

Virtualization and security
Virtualization is a hot subject today as customers employ the technology to run multiple operating systems on a single server, increasing efficiency by dividing a machine into partitions. One HP-UX virtualization improvement coming in version 3--though not necessarily at launch--will be greater flexibility in assigning computing resources to those partitions, van der Zweep said.

Specifically, today an administrator can assign a specific percentage of processing power to a partition. With version 3, the administrator will be able to assign memory and input-output resources such as network capacity as well, van der Zweep said.

Another security improvement, to be formally announced later in December, will be an improved management interface for security settings and for locking a computer down by shutting down unwanted services, he said.

"Every service you don't need is a potential for somebody to come in through a back door," van der Zweep said. Version 3 will unify the interface of the Bastille lock-down technology with the regular system administration interface. It also includes new abilities to monitor a server over the long term to make sure unwanted services aren't switched on, he added.

HP also is working on version 4, which will include "policy-based services provisioning" and "zero-downtime virtualization," and version 5, about which van der Zweep shared no details. New versions are scheduled to arrive every two to three years. The company is preserving the higher-level 11i version number to indicate binary compatibility--in other words, the guarantee that software that works on one version of 11i will work on the next without requiring modification.