Why are HPUX, Solaris and Mainframes still a thing?

By Published On: November 1, 2015

I’ve decided to participate in the #VDM30in30. VDM30in30 is the Virtualization Design Masters (VDM) inspired event in which content creators create and publish content for 30 straight days. While VDM is primarily a community of technologists focused on infrastructure virtualization, there are plenty of non-virtualization technologists participating. Over the past few months, I’ve shifted focus from virtualization to general CTO/Enterprise Architect related topics. So, my VDM30in30 focus will be on topics that CTOs and EAs have to tackle. For my first post, I’m going old school in discussing the value of considering a mainframe or proprietary Unix solutions over commodity x86 hardware.

The move to x86

Much has been made of the migration to Cloud from the client-server infrastructure. However, believe or not, there’s still an awful lot of proprietary Unix systems on the market. I’m not talking systems that are running huge batch processes such as classic financial systems. There’s a good case to be made to run client server applications that have been making the migration to virtualized x86 workloads and public cloud. I’ll take a look at support as a primary driver to remain on proprietary hardware.


The entire x86 converged market is a tip of the cap to legacy Unix systems. Vendors such as VCE with the Vblock and Nutanix with their integrated hypervisor platform are examples of x86 vendors looking to combine software and hardware to offer higher levels of integration and support. Unix hardware providers such as Oracle and HP have the ability to offer a converged operating system and hardware stack. With this integration is the ability to offer mainframe-like platforms such as the Super Dome 2 from HP and Oracle Engineered Systems.

As proved with VCE and Nutanix sales, enterprise customers like the integration and support offered by integrated platforms. The ability to call a single vendor for support is a considerable luxury over bring your own (BYO) solutions. Even when you look higher up the stack at applications such as SAP HANA or Oracle Application you see the same patterns.

As part of its introduction, SAP HANA was originally offered only in an appliance format. The solutions were commodity hardware certified for SAP HANA. Oracle makes a big deal of its ability to optimize Oracle applications and databases on top of all Oracle infrastructure. The primary driver is the ability to support the enterprise applications running on the underlying infrastructure. When support incidents occur, application owners want as little friction as possible during support issues. Converged platforms such as HPUX or Solaris provide a unique support value proposition.

X86 Converged Systems

So, why not just go with a converged x86 system such as a Vblock or even a hyper-converged solution?

As mentioned above the appliance model is the approach for some solutions. Even after several years of BYO infrastructure options, SAP HANA appliances are popular choices for some enterprises. These x86 appliance solutions reduce the friction of implementing highly complex applications. HP even addresses the appeal of commodity hardware over proprietary systems. HP offers an x86 version of their Superdome brand. Many of the features originally only available with Itanium processors such as the ability to share memory and CPU’s across blades are now available on x86. However, HP doesn’t offer their own x86 Linux build that integrates as tightly as HPUX does with their Itanium Superdome.

There are plenty of companies now running mission critical applications on x86. There’s a reason HP is the only manufacturer of Itanium systems and Oracle the same with Solaris Unix systems. The market has shifted, but the demand for proprietary systems isn’t evaporating even with the push to the cloud. Oracle will be the first to tell you that cloud options exist for proprietary platforms.

In short, don’t be quick to dismiss proprietary Unix systems as legacy platforms that must be retired. These rock solid platforms can be supported by existing personnel and offer reliability that x86 solutions are looking to mimic. 

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