The established Unix operating systems change at a glacial pace these days, but they do get tweaked from time to time. In the case of Hewlett-Packard's HP-UX 11i v3 operating system for the company's current Itanium and legacy PA-RISC servers, HP-UX gets an update every six months or so, with Update 4 debuting tomorrow.
The changes are not huge in Update 4, but they will nonetheless prove useful to HP-UX shops. Most of the useful changes come in an add-on for HP-UX called Serviceguard, which provides high availability clustering for up to 16 server nodes. But regardless of where the tweaks have been made, HP has focused on improving uptime and cutting down on the work admins have to do.
HP-UX 11i v3 Update 4 also includes an online download option, which doesn't seem so radical if you are used to using Linux, but old school operating system providers have been hung up on media distribution for some strange reason. Anyway, customers can now get an HP-UX license in a few hours from HP's replicated servers instead of waiting a few days for it to arrive by mail.
To further make the life of administrators easier, HP has extended the online patching and updating features of its Unix operating system with a new feature called dynamic root disk, which allows for an admin to spawn a new partition on an HP-UX box, plunk a copy of the operating system there, and point updates at this secondary partition.
Once the patches are applied, admins can do testing to make sure it is working, leaving end users banging away on the old partition until the techies are satisfied that the new partition is solid. When they want to move customers over to the new partition, they just reboot the box and start the machine on the new partition, and if something has gone awry, they can reboot and be back on the old partition. HP says that this dynamic root disk can cut the time downtime associated with an HP-UX upgrade in half.
Update 4 includes a disk scrubbing feature that allows information to be truly scrubbed off disk drives, with the data being randomised, rather than simply having pointers to the data removed, which is what operating systems normally do when you delete files.
According to Brian Cox, director of Business Critical Servers software planning and marketing at HP, companies like to repurpose their Unix boxes as they add new machines, but there are all kinds of compliance issues regarding data scrubbing. With it costing as much as $150 per drive to have a disk drive scrubbed, this can add up to money in a heavily configured system. HP-UX now has its own data scrub feature, which is free to anyone with an HP-UX 11i v3 support contract, and because customers tend to have a set of disks for the HP-UX operating system and another set for data, the data disks can be scrubbed while the OS disks are left alone, which means admins do not need to reinstall the operating system - also a pain in the neck.