Hewlett-Packard is set to release its latest version of Unix, one that will deliver a long-awaited virtualisation capability to the company's Integrity server range. The update will be available by the beginning of July as a patch release to the company's HP-UX 11iv2 operating system.

The virtualisation technology, called Virtual Partitions, or vPars, allows users to install more than one copy of HP-UX on a computer. HP has included this feature in its HP 9000 line of Unix servers for years, but this release will mark the first time it has been made available for Integrity, which uses Intel's Itanium 2 processor.

"VPars will be shipping in several weeks," said Mary Ellen Lewandowski, director of Unix product marketing with HP.

To date, the older HP 9000 line has had a richer set of features than Integrity, but HP has been working to narrow that gap. At the end of 2004, it released the first version of HP-UX that was identical for both HP 9000 and Integrity servers. But because that release did not support vPars, many HP 9000 users avoided the new software.

Customers have been wondering when HP would ship this upcoming release since the company's annual user conference in August of last year, said Steven Protter, a Chicago-based HP-UX consultant. "The biggest question that came up in HP World 2004 was when is vPar support going to happen," he said. "It's good that they're keeping their promise."

By enabling vPars for Integrity, HP is delivering a "sorely needed" capability to the server line, but the company still lags behind its rivals, said Tony Iams a senior analyst with Ideas International , an industry research firm based in Port Chester, New York.

To address this gap, HP is developing more powerful virtualization technology, called Virtual Machine, which is expected to ship by the end of the year.

"That Virtual Machine technology is going to let them have an answer to Sun and IBM," said Iams. "That is going to give them much more flexibility than vPars."

In addition to vPars, the July HP-UX release will include a feature called Secure Resource Partitions, which will allow users to securely operate several different applications on one copy of the operating system, Lewandowski said.

HP is also looking to add Veritas's clustering and advanced file-system capabilities to HP-UX. That work is just months away from being released, according to Lewandowski. "We will be bringing it out around August, September, or maybe a week or two into October," she said.

In 2006, HP plans to ship HP-UX 11i v3, which will feature a rewritten I/O stack and enhanced virtualisation and partition management, she said.