HP lets user take Linux for a virtual spin

HP TestDrive let one data center try out Linux on Itanium before committing to a specific hardware platform. Other shops can learn a lesson from this virtual testing ground too -- just make sure what you want is certified on HP.

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Philip Gust, the CEO and founder of Nouveau Systems Inc., found himself in a position familiar to many executives with a data center full of expensive, power-hungry legacy infrastructure and applications.

It was time for the small Santa Clara, Calif.-based collaboration infrastructure vendor to expand its product line and invest in new hardware for its own internal use. But the money and time required for testing wasn't in the cards.

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HP's Virtualization Strategy

There was one thing going in Gust's favor: an existing relationship with Hewlett-Packard Co. and its Developer and Application Partner Program (DSPP). Through the DSPP, Gust said, HP directed his IT shop to check out an online program that would allow virtual testing on several different HP-supported Linux operating systems and the latest HP hardware.

The program, called TestDrive, is accessed online via the TestDrive Web site. It allows free-of-charge access to Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) and Novell SuSE Linux and other open source operating systems like Debian, FreeBSD and OpenVMS.

After registering with the site, each user is allowed 1 GB of space in which to work and is granted access to HP hardware housed at the HP Linux Expertise Center in Marlboro, Mass. Access to the system includes the use of 64-bit processors like Integrity, Alpha, and PA-RISC; and SMP x86 and Opteron ProLiant servers.

TestDrive is unique in that it offers free x86 and 64-bit testing on a variety of open source operating systems. Other programs, like the IBM Chiphopper program, are similar and allow ISVs to enable a single version of their Linux applications to operate across all of IBM's eServer line. However, unlike TestDrive, Chiphopper is aimed at Sun Microsystems Inc. customers looking to move away from a Solaris infrastructure and onto Linux.

Virtual testing without the physical mess

Gust became interested in TestDrive because it offers virtual access to HP UX Itanium technology. Itanium was the type of infrastructure he was looking into for an upgrade, but he could not afford to install it without testing it properly on a wide range of operating systems.

"We really couldn't afford to buy all these machines for all the operating systems," he said. "We had a great deal of porting to do as well, and we wanted to be able to do that from [Santa Clara]."

Gust said TestDrive was a completely independent experience. The Nouveau Systems staff performed normal testing procedures associated with new hardware, and all software tools were made available to get the systems up and running.

"We were able to cut right into the machine, to get right into and under what to do for Itanium," Gust said. "After that, we tried a port to HP UX Itanium and it was very, very smooth. We managed to get the port done for HP Itanium in about three to four days and that included testing. This was for Linux Itanium and Windows Itanium platforms as well."

And the work with TestDrive isn't over. Gust said his firm is gearing up for a version 3.0 release later this year, and in roughly six months his staff will be back online at TestDrive making sure their application is tested properly on a variety of OSes and hardware.

"This was an interesting process because we had access to all of these platforms without having to have them sitting in our facility taking up power, time and space," Gust said.

Limitations, Linux popularity and VMware

There are some limitations to the TestDrive program that users should be aware of before logging in. Most importantly, the software and hardware used must be HP-certified. While x86 and 64-bit computing are well represented on the site, they are represented only on the systems, hardware and compilers listed.

John Talatinian, HP Linux Expertise Center manager, explained the second issue: Because HP only highlights those OSes that the company uses or has certified, the program does not support smaller Linux distributions like Ubuntu.

That said, of the 300,000 unique TestDrive users, almost 60% have chosen Linux as their operating system for evaluating their business on Itanium hardware.

There is work going on now within the TestDrive program to begin support for hosting VMware. The work is still in proof-of-concept stages, Talatinian said, but the number of requests from end users, IT shops and vendors has been so great that work has officially begun on the project.

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