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Table of Contents

Executive Summary

Background on This Paper

Who Was Surveyed

Why Should IT Managers
Care About Management Costs?

What Management Costs
Were Measured?

Total Cost of Management Findings

Why Do HP Clusters Have Lower
Management Costs than IBM Clusters?

Testing for Sample Bias

Difference By Industry?

Difference By Cluster Function?

Difference By Type and Number
of Apps Running on the Cluster?

Difference Based on Number of Nodes
or Size of the Storage Array?

Difference Based on Cluster
Upgrade History?

Difference Based on Who
Manages the Cluster?

Difference Based on
Cluster Management Expertise?


Are Some RISC-Based Clusters Easier to Manage Than Others?

A Detailed Comparison of the Resources Required to Manage HP OpenVMS and IBM AIX Server Clusters. (May 2004)

In February 2004, TechWise Research published a paper entitled: Total Cost of Ownership for Entry-Level and Mid-Range Clusters. That paper showed that HP OpenVMS/AlphaServer clusters cost, on average, $248,000 less to manage over a three-year timeframe than IBM AIX/pSeries clusters. TechWise Research decided to conduct a follow-up study to probe specifically into the area of cluster management costs. The purpose was to better understand the differences between HP and IBM cluster management costs, and the possible reasons why HP has an advantage over IBM in this area. The results from this follow-up research are summarized in this paper.

For this study, TechWise collected and/or analyzed data from four sources. First, TechWise performed a detailed comparison between the profiles of HP and IBM respondents from the February 2004 study. The purpose was to determine if differences in management costs could be attributed to a sampling bias. HP and IBM respondents were compared on a total of seven profiling criteria. Each of which will be covered in this paper.

Second, management and availability data from the February 2004 study were examined in more detail - specifically, the six different costs associated with managing a server cluster (time and money spent managing its nodes, storage, physical environment, operating system/cluster software, applications, and network-related activities). The availability data (based on cluster downtime) was also re-examined because availability directly impacts time spent managing a cluster. Each time a cluster crashes, the cluster team needs to identify the problem, fix it and then re-boot the cluster.

Third, we conducted follow-up executive telephone interviews with HP and IBM respondents from the February 2004 study. These in-depth discussions provided further insight into management and availability differences between HP and IBM clusters. Quotes and comments from respondents are included in this paper.

Fourth, in addition to speaking with study respondents, TechWise conducted additional research in the area of management to understand the differences between the two brands. One factor that influences management costs is the number of patches that need to be installed to keep a cluster up-to-date. Security patches influence management costs because they take time to install. In addition, if installed incorrectly, a patch could cause system instability, or even worse, a crash. The CERT® Coordination Center is an organization that tracks security vulnerabilities and threats. TechWise performed an analysis of all CERT/CC advisories posted between January 1, 2000 and December 31, 2003, to compare the number of IBM/AIX security patches to those for HP/Compaq/OpenVMS. The findings are included in this white paper.

Overall Results:
The significant cost advantage HP clusters have over IBM in the area of cluster management is not due to sampling bias. Rather, the data suggests that HP OpenVMS/AlphaServer clusters are more cost effective to manage than IBM AIX/HACMP pSeries clusters because the HP clusters are more stable and require fewer resources to maintain. A number of findings support this conclusion:

  • First, the IBM clusters have many more security vulnerabilities than the HP clusters. Between January 1, 2000 and December 31, 2003, IBM released a total of 29 patches for AIX in response to security vulnerabilities identified by CERT/CC, while HP/Compaq released just 2 patches for OpenVMS. This is important since the installation of patches is a time consuming process that directly impacts management costs.
  • Second, the process of applying patches appears to be more complex with AIX than with OpenVMS. Some IBM respondents said they work with consultants from IBM Global Services for technical help in this area. It is interesting to note that respondents with IBM clusters are much more likely to outsource some of their cluster management activities to third parties than those who work with HP clusters.
  • Third, the IBM clusters crash more frequently than HP, and also average more hours of downtime. IBM clusters average twice the number of downtime hours compared to HP clusters (17.14 vs. 8.16 hours per year, respectively) and three times more crashes than HP (15 vs. 5 per year, respectively). One IBM respondent interviewed commented that his company has 7 people dedicated to watch over their IBM cluster 24 x 7 so someone would "always be on-site in case something happens."

Another key finding from this study is the overall importance of cluster management costs. Regardless of brand, management costs far exceed the initial purchase price of entry-level clusters over a three-year period. In the case of IBM 2-way clusters, three-year management costs are more than eleven times the list price to purchase the cluster with its storage array and service contract. Given the continuing battle IT professionals face to manage limited resources as effectively as possible, cluster brands that have lower management hours will not only free up limited IT resources, but also impact the bottom line.

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