I have to admit HP-UX is growing on me. It’s prevalent in medical environments, primarily in imaging applications like MRI. So maybe it’s no accident that the 60-pound workstations are called the Visualize series: they come with serious DVI video cards, run Fast SCSI for their drives, run a tightly-integrated 64-bit Unix on HP’s PA-RISC 64-bit processors, and frequently come out-of-the-box with 16 GB of RAM. Yes, that’s gigabytes.
They also commonly run CDE, the Common Desktop Environment shared across several Unix flavors, which is a study in blandness. Yet dig into the GUI administration panel called SAM, and you’ll also find virtualization and clustering built right in, ready to fire up. Granted, you can only virtualize HP-UX hosts on an HP-UX host, unlike the virtualization we expect on the i386 platform: any guest on any host. But for server or high-end applications, this kind of virtualization (also used in Solaris, and called “partitioning” on mainframes) is ideal.
I’m sorry I’ve arrived at the party late. The PA-RISC processor is basically a goner, dropped by HP years ago, though Visualize workstations are still everywhere. HP-UX was ported to run on Intel’s Itanium platform, which made sense since the Itanium family of chips are “true” 64-bit chips. The x86-64 platform, created by AMD and adopted by Intel, is actually a 32-bit chip with 16-bit memory extensions mapped to a 64-bit space; in other words, a 48-bit chip. But hey, who’s quibbling?
In any case, Itanium Visualize workstations didn’t really sell, so they are already “end-of-life” per HP. So where does the medical imaging industry go? Given the extremely high quality of Visualize workstations, can commodity PC hardware really take its place? And sure, Red Hat Enterprise Linux is nice, and I’m seeing some locations moving to it. But how does RHEL compare for critical operating environments? HP-UX has a version specifically committed to COEs, and is widely acknowledged in the industry as the most reliable Unix for at least those situations.
RHEL will have the advantage of running on ultra-fast x86-64 processors, and modern memory utilization methods should keep its top-end rendering performance at or above HP-UX. And certainly contemporary graphics cards are just through the stratosphere, so that should work too, though I can testify from experience that making extreme-high-end graphics cards work on RHEL machines calls for some very detailed tinkering at the config file level. But it is workable.
So maybe it’s okay that RHEL is where it is now, and that HP-UX is a fading star. But like everything in the extremely conservative medical universe, that just means it will be around for another couple of decades or so. Since I likely will be too, I recently bought a Visualize workstation off eBay, from a vendor kind enough to include HP-UX installation CDs. I won’t consider it time wasted.