HP anniversary: Software strategy still in flux

Hardware represents most of Hewlett-Packard's product focus, but the company has several software products it needed to stabilise...

Hardware represents most of Hewlett-Packard's product focus, but the company has several software products it needed to stabilise after the Compaq acquisition was completed.

These included its Unix operating systems, its middleware and the OpenView systems management platform.

The company laid out a roadmap for its software shortly after the completion of the acquisition. Now it must execute on its stated intentions, particularly beefing up its HP-UX operating system with features from Tru64 Unix, continuing to invest in and develop OpenView and developing its partner approach toward middleware.

HP's decision to phase out Tru64 Unix, which it inherited from Compaq, and integrate some of its key features into its own HP-UX, has been likened to a "a multiple organ transplant" by long-time DEC/Compaq/HP observer Terry Shannon.

"There are a lot of special things that reside down within the Tru64 Unix kernel, and HP has cashiered most of the Tru64 kernel developers. How will they implement this merged enterprise Unix?" said Shannon, who publishes a specialist newsletter.

The new version of HP-UX will draw from Tru64 Unix's clustering technology, but otherwise remain fairly close to older versions, said Mary McDowell, senior vice-president and general manager for industry standard servers in HP's enterprise services group.

"HP decided for HP-UX and that was the right decision, because HP-UX is clearly the market leader compared with Tru64 Unix," said David Freund, an analyst at Illuminata.

However, he cautions that grafting Tru64 Unix's clustering capabilities and file system into HP-UX may be more difficult than HP anticipates. HP is on the record as saying that the first version of HP-UX to feature Tru64 Unix's TruCluster Server and Advanced File System will be HP-UX 11i version 3, due in 2004. "It remains an open question whether they can hold to that timeframe," Freund said.

HP does have in its favour that Tru64 Unix users are "religiously faithful", Freund said. "They bought into that platform for specific reasons, such as its performance attributes and clustering capabilities," he said.

Consequently, most of those users have adopted a wait-and-see attitude for the moment, he said.

To get them to migrate from their Tru64 Unix Alpha systems to HP-UX servers using Intel's 64-bit Itanium chip, HP will need to deliver clustering functionality that is equivalent to what these users have with Tru64 Unix today, not just a subset of it, Freund warned. Otherwise, HP risks seeing these users bolt to its competitors, he said.

HP's Linux strategy is also on the minds of customers, especially in relation to the future of OpenVMS, which HP has pledged to continue to develop and support along the lines of a plan sketched out by Compaq before the acquisition.

Many users fear that HP will phase out support for OpenVMS as it promotes the new HP-UX and Linux as the operating systems for the remaining Alpha systems and future Itanium boxes.

HP also plans to port OpenVMS and the operating system of its NonStop Himalaya servers, called the NonStop Kernel, over to Itanium.

When it comes to middleware, HP chose to pursue a partnering strategy rather than develop its own products. It struck deals with BEA Systems and Oracle to bundle a version of their Java application servers with HP's systems.

The decision was a U-turn for the company, which two years earlier had shelled out an estimated $470m (£296m) to acquire Bluestone Software. That company's products became HP's Netaction family of middleware.

On the other side, HP strengthened its ties with Microsoft to offer customers .net software. HP said it emerged as a "platform neutral" supplier in a world where enterprises want a mixture of Java and .net products. Some analysts called it a smart move, others said HP missed a chance to become a leader in middleware.

"HP needs to continue to sell its story of how and why its [middleware] partner approach is best" compared to the strategies of Sun Microsystems and IBM, each of which develops its own middleware, Illuminata's Freund said.

HP is also positioning its OpenView systems management platform as its enterprise-level offering and tying other management tools to it, through integration or links.

"For much of its life, OpenView has been an afterthought," Freund said. Now it appears HP has made it a higher priority and made a bigger commitment to it, he said.

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