Don't worry, Unix isn't past its prime'yet

Unix is not pass'certainly not in the government. But is it becoming a legacy operating system that will soon grow too pricey to support?

Open-source software has made big inroads on the traditional turf of proprietary Unix. Linux vendors are wooing government Unix users with low-cost hardware platforms and Common Criteria security evaluations.

Despite the Linux buzz, however, Unix isn't a legacy product yet. At least three of the major Unix flavors are holding their own in the server market.

Gordon Haff, senior analyst at Illuminata Inc. of Nashua, N.H., said he's optimistic about the future of three Unix operating systems: IBM AIX 5L, Hewlett-Packard HP-UX and Sun Microsystems Solaris.

'The situation with those is as stable going forward as anything in IT is,' Haff said.
IBM, HP and Sun are committed 'more or less indefinitely' to supporting their Unix variants within normal planning horizons, Haff said.

Don Jenkins, HP's vice president of marketing for business critical systems, said he thinks the Unix market has stabilized after the economic decline of the last several years. HP is expecting modest growth of 3 percent to 4 percent for mission-critical capabilities starting this year, Jenkins said. 'We believe the rebound in the market bears that out.'

HP-UX 11i comes in two 64-bit versions, one for HP's PA-RISC processors and one for Intel Itanium 2 chips. Both versions have equivalent functions in system management, partitioning, capacity on demand and virtualization.

HP's long-term server goal is to converge its product lines onto the Itanium platform by 2007. Support for HP-UX will continue indefinitely, Jenkins said.

Two flavors

Unlike the other Unix vendors, HP sells two distinct flavors of the OS. It originally developed HP-UX for its own hardware and inherited Tru64 Unix through its 2002 acquisition of Compaq Computer Corp. Digital Equipment Corp. developed Tru64 Unix for its 64-bit Alpha processor before Compaq acquired Digital in 1998.

Jenkins said Tru64 Unix is in transition, and HP is developing tools to assist migration from Tru64 to HP-UX.

Since the HP-Compaq deal, HP has released one new version of Tru64 Unix, the current Version 5.1b. It runs on the latest Alpha processor, the EV7.

This summer, HP will release the Alpha EV7Z processor and will upgrade Tru64 Unix for it. That will be the final functional release of Tru64 Unix.

But HP will continue to sell Alpha systems running Tru64 Unix through 2006 and possibly longer if there is enough demand, Jenkins said. Patches and customer support will continue through 2011.

The future of Unix flavors other than AIX, HP-UX and Solaris is 'pretty questionable,' Haff said. SGI is still committed to its Irix OS to some degree, but long-term stability is uncertain, he said.

Any agency could safely consider adopting HP-UX, AIX or Solaris, Haff said, but 'it's difficult to imagine the circumstances under which a new customer would choose any other Unix.'

Many organizations still run SCO UnixWare from SCO Group Inc. of Lindon, Utah, Haff said, but 'SCO has become a litigation company rather than a product company.' Last spring, SCO sued IBM for $3 billion over Unix intellectual property issues, spurring a countersuit from IBM and a separate lawsuit from Linux vendor Red Hat Inc. of Raleigh, N.C. Last week, SCO also sued Novell Inc.

UnixWare users don't need to migrate right away, 'but it's not a platform you want to be on long-term,' Haff said, because Microsoft Windows and then Linux 'ate the lunch' of low-end x86 Unix. 'There's no reason to run UnixWare today unless you're already on it,' he said.

Sun Solaris, like UnixWare, can run on Intel's 32-bit architecture. If an agency wants a closed-source Unix for x86 hardware, Solaris x86 is a reasonable choice, Haff said.

Novell sold its Unix business to SCO's predecessor in 1995, but Novell still claims some rights to Unix.

Novell, which just acquired the SuSE Linux product line, as well as HP, Red Hat and Sun, will indemnify their Linux customers against legal action by SCO.

Convert to Linux

IBM has been making a large push to convert Microsoft Windows NT users to Linux and to sell low-cost servers running the open-source OS. IBM and SuSE Linux have pursued Common Criteria certification for the SuSE Enterprise Linux 8 platform to compete with certified AIX, HP-UX, Trusted Irix, Trusted Solaris and Microsoft Windows 2000.

IBM's proprietary pSeries business nevertheless remains profitable, said Karl Freund, IBM's vice president of marketing for pSeries eServers.

Although the Power4 chip architecture, the heart of the pSeries servers, can run other OSes, it is associated most often with AIX. The current AIX 5L 5.2 has dynamic logical partitioning to reallocate server resources on the fly.

Later this year, IBM will enable subprocessor partitioning in its AIX 5L 5.3 release, which will make a four-way server behave as if it has as many as 40 CPUs, Freund said.

IBM still provides customer support for Versions 5.1 and 5.2 of AIX 5L. In December, the company stopped supporting AIX 4.3.3, the last release before the debut of the Power4 chip architecture.

SGI's Irix isn't offered as a standalone product but is tied to SGI hardware, said Bill Mannel, the company's Origin product line director. SGI Origin 3000 series servers are one of the SGI lines that run Irix. The company markets to scientific and technical users, not to users doing transaction processing, so Irix features are tailored.

Over time, some of the distinctive features of Irix will make their way into Linux, either as open-source code or as an add-on pack, Mannel predicted. 'Under the covers, Linux still looks a lot like Unix,' he said.

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