HP Coaxes Alphas To Itaniums

Hewlett-Packard is developing OpenVMS for Itanium servers.

December 13, 2003

3 Min Read
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When Hewlett-Packard announced this fall that the days of the Alpha processor were numbered, the machine was immediately in play. Sooner or later -- even very much later -- users would have to move to new processors whether built by HP or another manufacturer.

Soon, Sun Microsystems was mounting an aggressive assault on the installed Alpha base. Now HP is finding that the Alpha workhorse Open VMS operating system, originally thought to be a liability because of its age, is turning out to be an asset.

"Open VMS Engineering remains on track to deliver OpenVMS V8.2, the first production quality release of OpenVMS for Itanium systems," said Terry Shannon, an independent consultant who has followed the Alpha since it was introduced in 1992. He said that software releases and other updates will serve to convince users to stay with HP with most Alpha users eventually moving to the Itanium family. "And, Open VMS (will) play a key role in HP's emerging Adaptive Enterprise strategy."

Shannon ticked off a long list of reasons Alpha users will eventually move over to the Itanium family, although he noted the movement will take years because the older processor family will be supported with service and new releases for years go come. He suggests that current Alpha users "maintain -- or initiate -- service contracts on their hardware and software. Customers under service contracts will be able to move their OpenVMS Alpha OS and apps to OpenVMS Itanium gear at no cost.

"Those customers who do not have service and maintenance contracts will have to pay 40 percent of the list price of the new Itanium OS and apps. Given the cost of OSes, layered products and tools, a valid maintenance contract can be a big money saver," Shannon said.Another independent processor specialist, Nathan Brookwood, also noted the value of OpenVMS, which is said to have 10 million users, most running a VMS version on older Digital Equipment VAX machines. Brookwood said one advantage of being an OpenVMS user is its capability of moving to the Itanium family and operating along with a combination of other operating systems including Linux and Windows. Brookwood, principal analyst at Insight 64, a market research and consulting firm in Saratoga, Calif., said the Itanium line offers a broad target to Alpha users from $3,000-$4,000 work stations and entry level servers to $1.5 million multiple-processor configurations.

Brookwood expects most Alpha customers will continue using OpenVMS on Itanium processors, although he believes some will also move to Linux and Windows environments. Since there are so many users of VMS on VAX processors, some of them are likely to move to Itanium processors, not for the hardware, but for the familiar OpenVMS operating system.

Shannon said HP is heavily committed to the Alpha line and noted that HP's CEO Carly Fiorina has made several customer calls to close Alpha sales. He added that HP is beefing up its UNIX Portability effort and consequently OpenVMS should eventually behave like other UNIX operating systems and facilitate application portability. A whole brace of important updates to OpenVMS and HP-UX are planned ranging from hardware support to several software security and communications releases.

In nomenclature that could only be created in the computer industry, HP calls its program "AlphaServer Retain Trust Program" while Sun Microsystems calls its program aimed at luring away Alpha users "HP Away." Sun said more than 50 Alpha users have migrated to Sun platforms.

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