Canonical Kills Ubuntu Maverik Meerkat (10.10) for Itanium (and Sparc)

It wasn’t long ago that Red Hat and Microsoft released statements that they would no longer support Itanium (with Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Windows respectively). Now Canonical has announced that Ubuntu 10.04 LTS (Long Term Support) will be the last supported Ubuntu on not only Itanium, but Sparc as well.

Itanium has thus lost three major operating systems (Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Windows, and Ubuntu Linux) over the past year. For HP Itanium owners, this means that Integrity Virtual Machines (IVMs) running Red Hat Linux or Microsoft Windows Server will no longer have support from HP (since the operating system designer has ceased support).

The only bright spot for HP’s IVM is OpenVMS 8.4, which is supported under an IVM for the first time. However, response to OpenVMS 8.4 has been mixed.

Martin Hingley has an interesting article about how the dropping of RHEL and Windows Server from Itanium will not affect HP; I disagree. For HP’s virtual infrastructure – based on the IVM product – the two biggest environments besides HP-UX are no longer available. An interesting survey would be to find out how many IVMs are being used and what operating systems they are running now and in the future.

With the loss of Red Hat and Microsoft – and now Canonical’s Ubuntu – this provides just that many fewer options for IVMs – and thus, fewer reasons to use an HP IVM. OpenVMS could pick up the slack, as many shops may be looking for a way to take OpenVMS off the bare metal, letting the hardware be used for other things.

If HP IVMs are used less and less, this could affect the Superdome line as well, as running Linux has always been a selling point for this product. As mentioned before, this may be offset by OpenVMS installations.

This also means that Novell’s SUSE Linux Enterprise Server becomes the only supported mainstream Linux environment on Itanium – on the Itanium 9100 processor at least.

From the other side, HP’s support for Linux seems to be waning: this statement can be found in the fine print on their Linux on Integrity page:

HP is not planning to certify or support any Linux distribution on the new Integrity servers based on the Intel Itanium processor 9300 series.

Even if HP doesn’t feel the effect of these defections, the HP’s IVM product family (and Superdome) probably will.

Mainframe Linux: Pros and Cons

Why would one want to move Linux to the mainframe (such as IBM’s z10)? There are many reasons – and many reasons not to. Computerworld Australia had a good article describing (in part) some of the reasons the insurance company Allianz did just that. IBM has been pushing Linux on the z series for some time, and Red Hat and SUSE offer Linux variants for that purpose.

One common reason to move to a mainframe is that Linux servers have proliferated in the data center, taking up valuable space and becoming quite numerous. When all you need for a server is the hardware and a low-cost or no-cost Linux, then servers start popping up all over the place.

A single mainframe such as the z10 can handle thousands of servers (a test done in 2000 put 41,400 Linux servers on one IBM mainframe). The replaced servers can then be eliminated from the data center, freeing up valuable space and reducing the workload of current system administrators.

A common instance is where the company already has a mainframe in-house, running COBOL applications. Thus, the purchase cost of a mainframe (in the millions of dollars) has already been absorbed. Such a scenario also makes the case for a new mainframe much more appealing, as it puts the enhanced power to work immediately.

Replacing thousands of Intel-based Linux servers with a single mainframe will reduce cooling costs, power costs, physical space requirements, and hardware costs.

So why would anyone not want to use a mainframe?

If there is not already a mainframe in the data center, purchasing a mainframe just for the purpose of consolidation can be too much – mainframes typically cost in the millions of dollars, and require specially trained staff to maintain. Adding a mainframe to the data center would also require training current staff or adding new staff. A new mainframe also requires a new support contract. All of this adds up to not just millions of dollars of additional cost up front, but additional costs every year.

Another consideration is the number of Linux servers in the data center that would be moved. If there are dozens – or a hundred or two – it may not be entirely cost-effective to focus a lot of energy on moving these servers to the mainframe.

A supercomputer such as HP’s Superdome (with its attendant iCap and Integrity Virtual Machine capabilities) would probably be a better choice to consolidate dozens of Linux servers. The costs are lower, and the power requirements are lower – and you can purchase as much or as little as you need and grow with iCap. Most companies also already have UNIX staff on hand, and adapting to HP-UX is not generally a problem if needed.

Another benefit is that a server such as the Superdome offers virtualization of not just Linux systems, but Microsoft Windows and HP-UX as well – and soon, OpenVMS as well.

Using a large Intel-based server can virtualize a large number of servers with software from companies like VMWare and Sun.

These options won’t necessarily allow you to virtualize thousands of servers – but then, do you need to?

HP-UX Boot Disks on Integrity systems (in contrast to PARISC systems)

On PARISC-based HP-9000 systems, configuration of system boot disks was simple: the entire disk was used, split apart using logical volumes with LVM. Thus, an HP-9000 system (PARISC) will have a “standard” full disk for the boot disk – such as /dev/disk/disk56 (using the new disk labeling).

However, when using Integrity systems, space must be made at the beginning for EFI and at the end for an HP System Partition – which shows up in HP-UX as a disk with three partitions.

An Integrity system will have several more disks associated with the boot disk (using disk32 as the example):

  • /dev/disk/disk32 – this is the full disk. The disk, however, is split into three parts as described below.
  • /dev/disk/disk32_p1 – this is the EFI partition. When the system boots, it is this partition which loads the EFI data and runs the EFI shell.
  • /dev/disk/disk32_p2 – this is where the HP-UX operating system data is stored. The logical volumes associated with HP-UX will be created here, and /dev/disk/disk32_p2 will be in volume group vg00.
  • /dev/disk/disk32_p3 – this partition is an HP system partition of some sort. It is automatically created during installation.

Thus, if you are on an Integrity system and are attempting to follow some older directions, remember to use the appropriate disk label.

There are tools that are designed for Integrity systems with EFI that will help maintain or document these partitions. First is idisk:

# idisk -p /dev/rdisk/disk32
idisk version: 1.44

EFI Primary Header:
        Signature                 = EFI PART
        Revision                  = 0x10000
        HeaderSize                = 0x5c
        HeaderCRC32               = 0x30a62aae
        MyLbaLo                   = 0x1
        MyLbaHi                   = 0x0
        AlternateLbaLo            = 0x88bb991
        AlternateLbaHi            = 0x0
        FirstUsableLbaLo          = 0x40
        FirstUsableLbaHi          = 0x0
        LastUsableLbaLo           = 0x88bb93f
        LastUsableLbaHi           = 0x0
        Disk GUID                 = 43b615f6-a561-11dd-8000-d6217b60e588
        PartitionEntryLbaLo       = 0x2
        PartitionEntryLbaHi       = 0x0
        NumberOfPartitionEntries  = 0xc
        SizeOfPartitionEntry      = 0x80
        PartitionEntryArrayCRC32  = 0x97c6286c

  Primary Partition Table (in 512 byte blocks):
    Partition 1 (EFI):
        Partition Type GUID       = c12a7328-f81f-11d2-ba4b-00a0c93ec93b
        Unique Partition GUID     = 43b61920-a561-11dd-8000-d6217b60e588
        Starting Lba Lo            = 0x40
        Starting Lba Hi            = 0x0
        Ending Lba Lo              = 0xf9fff
        Ending Lba Hi              = 0x0
    Partition 2 (HP-UX):
        Partition Type GUID       = 75894c1e-3aeb-11d3-b7c1-7b03a0000000
        Unique Partition GUID     = 43b6195c-a561-11dd-8000-d6217b60e588
        Starting Lba Lo            = 0xfa000
        Starting Lba Hi            = 0x0
        Ending Lba Lo              = 0x87f37ff
        Ending Lba Hi              = 0x0
    Partition 3 (HPSP):
        Partition Type GUID       = e2a1e728-32e3-11d6-a682-7b03a0000000
        Unique Partition GUID     = 43b61970-a561-11dd-8000-d6217b60e588
        Starting Lba Lo            = 0x87f3800
        Starting Lba Hi            = 0x0
        Ending Lba Lo              = 0x88bb7ff
        Ending Lba Hi              = 0x0

Be careful in using idisk, as you can completely destroy your data easily with idisk, and even render your machine unbootable.

Then there are a number of utilities to work with the EFI partition; these are:

  • efi_fsinit – initialize EFI partition;
  • efi_cp – copy EFI files to and fro;
  • efi_mkdir – make a directory on a EFI partition;
  • efi_ls – list files on a EFI partition;
  • efi_rm – remove files on an EFI partition; and
  • efi_rmdir – remove a directory from an EFI partition.

These commands are further documented in efi(4) and in their respective man pages.