Alpine Electronics, probably best known for its booming car stereos, got a bang of its own when it moved its ERP environment to IBM pSeries Unix servers that enable the electronics manufacturer to dynamically allocate workloads and get more out of its systems. Vasile Giulea, IS manager at the firm in Torrance, Calif., says he's cut costs by about 20 percent by consolidating onto the Unix servers. It's a project that started in 2003 when the company decided to move from HP-UX boxes running Oracle applications to the pSeries servers running applications from SAP.
Giulea says the major reason is that IBM's AIX operating system provided enhanced partitioning capabilities that let him run isolated development, quality control and production instances on the same server, but allocate server resources on the fly.
"We had a requirement for power on demand, meaning that we could change the CPU and the memory based on the need. So, for example, if we are at month's end and we have a heavy process, we can take the memory and CPU from development or quality control" and add it to the production instance, he says. "IBM at that time was the leader in this technology."
With those capabilities, Giulea was able to consolidate his ERP environment on fewer servers, which resulted in reduced management demands and lower licensing costs, he says.
In growing numbers, businesses are looking at increasingly sophisticated Unix operating systems as an ideal platform for consolidating critical workloads. While Windows and Linux nip at Unix's heels, Unix has matured to the point where it is able to handle workloads in a manner once restricted to mainframe environments.
"Mainframes have a very high level of automation and workload management and the Unix system is getting very close to that," says Dan Olds, principal at Gabriel Consulting Group.
Since 2003, rival Unix vendors HP and Sun have added logical partitioning capabilities similar to what drew Giulea to IBM's AIX. And Unix innovation continues.
IBM, for example, last summer introduced sub-CPU partitioning in its AIX 5.3 release, enabling users to slice a CPU into as many as 10 partitions. Previously, partitions could only be as small as one CPU. HP plans to add sub-CPU capabilities for HP-UX on Integrity servers in the second half of this year, says Mary Ellen Lewandowski, HP-UX marketing manager for business-critical servers at HP.
In Solaris 10, released earlier this year, Sun added Solaris Containers, enabling users to isolate software partitions all running under a single instance of the operating system.
Across the board, Unix vendors are looking not only at how to slice up the Unix systems but also how to improve workload management so that users can get more out of their hardware.
In the past, customers typically would run just one critical business application per Unix server. However, Unix vendors are making their operating systems perform better, when it comes to running multiple critical applications - improving virtualization, and partitioning and enabling automated system and workload management.
As a result, business customers are finding that Big Iron Unix systems are a perfect platform for consolidation.
"If you read the conventional wisdom it has said that Unix servers, particularly big Unix servers, are these old expensive dinosaurs and they're going to be supplanted by huge numbers of really small servers running Windows or Linux," Olds says. "It's not the case."
A study that Olds conducted of 150 Unix customers late last year found that 41 percent are taking advantage of the stepped-up capabilities in Unix to consolidate onto the powerful boxes.
As a result, customers are able to run their systems at higher utilization rates and are seeing cost savings because they have to buy less hardware and therefore have fewer servers to manage, Olds says.
"What has changed in the last few years or so is that the operating system has gotten a whole heck of a lot better at doing workload management and vendors have come up with better ways to slice up these machines," he says.
Connectivity product manufacturer Belkin, for example, was able to consolidate 11 Sun servers onto one HP Superdome, thanks to the enhanced capabilities in HP-UX, says John Adcock, network services manager at the Compton, Calif., company.
"The framework of Sun's architecture produced the 'one application, one server' production environment for risk mitigation," he says. "By utilizing HP-UX 11i and partitioning using virtual server environment on the Superdome, your options are virtually unlimited."
Adcock says he uses a combination of nPar, hard partition at the cell-board level, and vPar, soft partitions that can exist within nPars and HP's instant capacity on demand to ensure that the applications residing on the Superdome get the power they need when they need it.
"I sleep well at night," he says. "The performance and reliability of the HP 9000 Superdome running HP-UX 11i and partitioning using virtual server environment . . . become a panacea. . . . I have never lamented my decision."
Analysts say it is features such as detailed partitioning and workload management that will keep Unix systems relevant in data centers even as Windows and Linux mature.
"Software tools like workload management, capacity on demand, dynamic provisioning tools and partitioning tools -- all these kinds of things are far more mature on Unix today than they are on the Windows or Linux," says Andrew Butler, vice president and distinguished analyst, server technologies, at Gartner.
"But that's not set to stay that way forevermore," he says. "By the end of this decade you'll be able to do things with Unix that you can't do with Windows and Linux, but, frankly, very, very little."
Unix had its heyday in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but the dot-com bust coupled with the slowing economy forced IT managers to be more cost conscious, which resulted in a downturn in the Unix market. While Unix accounted for 41 percent of the market in 2001, it garnered just 34 percent in 2004, which dropped it to the No. 2 position, behind Windows, for the first time. Gartner predicts that Unix will hold a 29 percent share in 2008 and Windows will increase its market size to nearly 40 percent. Meanwhile, Linux is expected to grow from just less than 3 percent in 2001 to more than 15 percent in 2008.
But don't expect Unix systems to disappear, analysts say. Pricing pressures in the market have resulted in revenue declines, which is good news for customers looking to use the powerful features in Unix to consolidate distributed workloads. Unix is still a US$20 billion market.
"Unix has definitely taken a bad rap because Unix RISC servers were seen as being too expensive. But price points have come down," says Jean Bozman, vice president of global enterprise server solutions at IDC. "We still see substantial shipments." -- Network World (US)