HP-UX still boasts exceptional reliability as users enter 64-bit era

Hot skills: In the SSL/CW list of top skills, HP-UX is number 107.

Hot skills: In the SSL/CW list of top skills, HP-UX is number 107.

What is it?

HP-UX is Hewlett-Packard's version of the Unix operating system.

Where did it originate?

In the heyday of the minicomputer during the 1970s and 1980s, who could have imagined that Data General would be swallowed by a storage supplier, or that the mighty Digital Equipment Corporation could be taken over by a company that entered the market selling sewing machine-sized portable PCs?

Compaq, which acquired DEC in 1998, was taken over by Hewlett-Packard last year. HP now offers the Digital OpenVMS operating system alongside HP-UX. HP released HP-UX in 1986 at a time when mid-range system suppliers were moving away from proprietary systems towards Unix, although not necessarily compatible versions.

DEC also introduced Unix, but carried on putting resources into its proprietary VMS.

VMS was released in 1978 along with the VAX minicomputer. DEC claims this was the first time a computer and its operating system were designed together, rather than as two separate projects.

From the outset, VMS was intended to run from the smallest to the largest mainframe-equivalent machine. In the 1990s VMS was ported from Vax to the reduced instruction set Alpha chip, and was transformed from a proprietary operating system to an open one, OpenVMS.

What is it for?

Both DEC and HP began as scientific and technical computer manufacturers. Both operating systems are now available in technical and commercial versions.

What makes it special?

Coming from companies with high-quality engineering backgrounds, both operating systems are exceptionally reliable. VMS led the way with 32-bit and 64-bit support and had clustering 15 years before some other operating systems.

How difficult is it?

VMS was designed to be easy to use and manage. Anyone from a Unix background should need no more than a brief introduction to get to grips with HP-UX. Both operating systems are now surrounded by tools making administration, application development and porting applications from other environments straightforward.

Where is it used?

HP-UX is available in enterprise, mission-critical and technical versions. Each version is adapted to a particular mix of workloads, for example, heavy database use or intensive workstation support.

Understandably, OpenVMS customers might be apprehensive after a second change of ownership in five years, but HP said its "millions" of Alpha users are staying loyal.

Don't confuse...

The Alpha chip with the Alpha course for Christian neophytes, although you might need religious dedication to stick with the DEC processor.

Also be aware that Packard Bell home PCs come from NEC, not HP, although Graham Bell, regarded as the father of the Vax, designed minicomputers for Packard Bell in its early years.

What does it run on?

HP-UX runs on HP's PA-Risc machines and Intel's Itanium; OpenVMS runs on Alpha workstations and servers.

Not many people know that...

At the launch of VAX and VMS, a Scrabble game was played between the new system and a human opponent. The Vax won, with a 50-point bonus for using all seven letters in the word "sensibly".

What is coming up?

A new version of OpenVMS running on Itanium.


Training is available from Hewlett-Packard and its authorised partners, including Azlan, QA, Spring, etc.


Rates of pay

Administrators can receive from £23,000 on HP-UX. ITNet was recently seeking a senior Unix consultant (HP-UX, AIX or Solaris) for £39,000. OpenVMS jobs are more rare and often require Unix.

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