Multi-OS Hardware: The Next Step in Server Technology (Part 2 of 2)

Running multiple operating systems on a single server brings big benefits. In the second article of this two-part discussion we look at the last of three benefits (an increase in application choices)

Last week we explored how a multi-OS hardware environment can reduce costs and help IT optimize resources and be more flexible. This week we explore a third benefit: the impact on application choices. We'll also look at the current state of multi-OS environments from three vendors.

Benefit #3: More Application Choices

IT organizations are often stuck in a quandary. Their goals for consolidation, optimizing resource utilization, and streamlining operations push IT departments to standardize on a common set of hardware. This enables them to simplify, reduce costs, and increase flexibility. At the same time, other departments are pushing IT to adopt new applications in order to meet business goals. Counter to their standardization efforts, these applications may be running on an operating system and/or hardware platform not currently implemented in the data center. As a result, the organization must decide if it will select the application based on its currently supported operating systems or its ability to meet business needs.

Frequently solutions cross multiple operating environments. For example, a solution may consist of a database server which resides on a UNIX system (for high availability and scalability), application servers that reside in a Windows environment (for additional functionality), and Web servers running on Linux systems. Complicating this situation is that solutions can change over time. A company may want to move the database from the UNIX to Windows or vice versa. Changes in the solution mix will drive changes in the operating system.

Let's take a closer look at the two common approaches IT departments take when choosing a new application.

Approach #1: Selecting Applications Based on the OS

How many times have you heard IT department heads say, "We are an all UNIX- (or all Windows-) based data center"? In such cases, the organization has decided to simplify everything by standardizing on one operating system and (most likely) hardware platform. Everyone within the IT organization is an expert in that environment. As a result, when the request comes for a new inventory management system or financial application, the IT organization starts by looking at what applications are available for their given environment. If this is a UNIX-based shop, only UNIX applications are considered as options to resolve the need.

The advantage of this approach is that IT operations are kept under control. The disadvantage is that there may have been a better (and even possibly less expensive) application that fits their needs. By taking this approach, a company also bets the success of its business on a third party operating system. A decision today for a given hardware and operating system will dictate future IT decisions, reducing the ability of the IT department to move with business changes.

Approach #2: Selecting the Best Application for the Business Regardless of OS

IT organizations using this approach tend to be very end-user-service centric. These departments seek to maximize the effectiveness of the business/end use, and will examine the best applications currently on the market.

The advantage of this approach is that it aligns the solution with the business need. The challenge comes when the application selected does not run on the standard environment. As a result, the IT environment has to address major purchasing, training, administration, and support issues. As more of these differences arise, the ability for the IT department to react quickly is reduced.

The Best Approach

The ideal solution is a combination of these approaches. IT organizations need a standard underlying foundation while having the flexibility to implement whichever application and corresponding operating system meets their business needs. This is another driving factor toward the creation of a hardware server that supports multiple operating systems. By standardizing on this type of platform, IT has the standardized structure to streamline operations around the given hardware type. IT also has the flexibility to implement the best application to meet their business needs.

The State of Multi-OS Hardware

As we've described, there are many reasons why the IT organizations are pushing technology towards a platform that supports multiple operating systems. This trend started with many vendors being able to support Linux on the same system as a different operating system (UNIX, Windows or proprietary). The real challenge is to supply a server that can support any combination of the three major operating systems (UNIX, Windows and Linux) and possibly a proprietary system. Many hardware vendors will avoid supporting all of these operating systems to try to keep the competition out of an account. But in the end, it is the demands of the customers that will drive the evolution of multi-OS servers.

So how far are the major data center vendors towards offering a multiple operating system environment. Here's where each of the server vendors stands:

Hewlett-Packard: HP has come quite far along in addressing this need. As with other vendors, HP has the ability to support two different operating systems on the same server (Windows and Linux). Unlike other vendors, HP has made this a critical component in their future plans. HP’s Integrity server lines are able to support more than two operating systems—they're able to handle any combination of HP-UX, Linux, Windows, and OpenVMS environments. [Editor's note: Both authors work for HP.]

IBM: IBM has followed the trend of support for two operating systems on the same server. The mainframes can support their proprietary operating system as well as Linux. Their UNIX and Windows servers also can support Linux. However, IBM does not support UNIX and Windows utilizing the same hardware. In order to support two of the most common operating systems (UNIX and Windows), IBM customers must purchase two different hardware types, thus increasing costs while limiting flexibility.

Sun: Sun has plans to support the Linux environment and Solaris with the same server base. This, however, is where Sun stops. They have announced no plans to support Windows on any type of server. An IT organization will be forced to support purchase from two hardware vendors in order to support both the UNIX and Windows environments.

About the Author

Vish Mulchand is the Director of Server Marketing for Hewlett-Packard's Business Critical Systems. Jim Lofink serves in the Superdome Outbound Project Marketing role for Hewlett-Packard.