HP is introducing a long-awaited upgrade to its Unix operating system (OS) and launching new, affordable Integrity servers in a direct challenge to rival products from IBM and Sun Microsystems.
It is introducing an Integrity rack server with a starting price below $US5000 and an Integrity blade server below $4000.
Integrity servers, powered by Intel's Itanium processors, have been traditionally sold as high-end products used for mission-critical business applications. By offering Integrity servers at these prices, HP was aiming at entry-level servers from Sun, HP executives said.
"We believe, with our entry class servers, it's very much targeted at taking that away," director of Business Critical Systems at HP, Nick van der Zweep, said. "We think Sun's in a vulnerable position in the entry class right now."
The new HP-UX 11i v3 features enhanced virtualisation management capabilities, which should give it an advantage over IBM, said van der Zweep. IBM often touts its legacy in virtualisation dating back to its mainframe computers, but van der Zweep said HP had been more adept at bringing virtualisation to the server platform.
The Unix operating system is a standards-based OS, but IBM, HP and Sun each add unique features to differentiate their products.
HP has encountered delays in the development of HP-UX v3, which was originally scheduled for release as far back as late 2004. But HP, instead, focused on adding new features as they became available to HP-UX 11i v2 rather than hold them for version 3.
"HP has deliberately not made this a 'must upgrade to today' release," senior analyst at the research firm Illuminata, Gordon Haff, said. "The case here is that upgrade when you're ready."
HP-UX 11i v3, shipping now at a list price of $US150 per core, does have enhanced features over v2, such as running software applications 20 per cent to as 30 per cent faster than on version 2, HP claims. Notably, it runs Java applications faster, another dig at Sun, which developed the Java programming language.
"It's not really clear what's new here," vice-president of Sun's Unix operating system, Solaris, Tom Goguen, said.
Solaris 10 is a free download that can run on 735 different brands of servers, including HP, while HP-UX only runs on HP servers, Goguen said. Solaris 10 already includes a virtualisation manager called Containers, and has security features he considered "second to none".
HP, IBM and Sun were close competitors in the $US17 billion Unix server market and, combined, control about 80 per cent of it, an analyst at IDC Research, Jean Bozman, said.
"Every time there is a major Unix bid out there from the government or some big business, all three of them are in there pitching their products and it gets very intense at times," Bozman said.
However, what makes HP's latest Unix release significant was that HP actually went into the operating system kernel and made changes that were part of the reason they achieved an increase in application performance, she said.
The introduction of the new $US4931 rx2660 rack server, shipping now, and the $US3827 BL860c blade server, shipping in March, should also put to rest questions about the viability of the Itanium processor platform, HP's Integrity Blades Strategist, Markus Berber, said.
Itanium has been slow to catch on in the market because relatively few software products were certified to run on it. Today, 10,500 applications can run on Itanium, more than double the amount of just a year ago, Berber said.
"It is self evident that there are many OEMs who are voting with their dollars or yen or Deutsche marks or French francs in support of [Itanium]," he said.