HP Ramps Up OpenVMS on Integrity Servers
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
Back in late January, when Hewlett-Packard announced the port of its OpenVMS proprietary midrange operating system to the Integrity line of Itanium-based servers with OpenVMS 8.2, the software was initially restricted to machines with eight or fewer processors. Support for larger Integrity servers was not expected until next year, when OpenVMS 8.3 was expected to be delivered. However, HP is accelerating the delivery of OpenVMS for bigger boxes.
According to Bob Blatz, director of OpenVMS marketing at HP, HP was not expected to deliver support for larger Integrity machines until sometime in the first half of 2006, which is the broad launch window for OpenVMS 8.3. Back in January, when OpenVMS 8.2 was announced for both Alpha and Itanium iron, Blatz explained that the vast majority of the VAX and AlphaServer customer base running VMS didn't need a big box. This was why HP only certified OpenVMS 8.2 on Integrity servers that use the "Pluto" zx1 chipset, which only span up to eight processors. OpenVMS 8.2 was not certified to run on larger Integrity machines that employ the "Pinnacles" zx1000 chipset, including HP's top-end Integrity Superdomes. Technically, the code runs on this bigger Integrity iron, but the issue is one of certification. HP has to test the software on a lot of different configurations and with lots of different peripherals before it can say that it is safe to run it in production. This costs money and it takes time, which is why HP didn't spend either last year and early this year as it was trying to get OpenVMS 8.2 out the door.
However, Blatz says that in the wake of the OpenVMS 8.2 announcement earlier this year, HP has received sufficient customer requests to qualify the operating system earlier on that big iron. To that end, Blatz says that HP will get the qualifications finished by the end of this year--perhaps by the fall--on bigger Integrity machines. How much this will accelerate the jump from VAX and AlphaServers to Integrities is unclear, but it certainly will help some.
Blatz says that as far as HP can tell, there are somewhere from 350,000 to 375,000 VAX and AlphaServer machines out there in the world still running, and about 100,000 of them are VAXen. The vast majority of these machines are running VMS and OpenVMS, the Unix-oid update of VMS. Most of these machines are not running the former Digital Equipment Corp's Tru64 Unix platform, which is good news since HP has put it into maintenance mode and also last year spiked the idea of weaving Tru64 Unix clustering support into its HP-UX Unix platform. (This was one of the reasons that HP claimed to be buying Compaq, but it was just easier for HP to use and promote clustering software and file systems from Veritas, which it did.)
HP is, of course, going to sell AlphaServer machines running OpenVMS and Tru64 Unix until the end of 2006, and it has guaranteed support for these platforms for an additional five years as a minimum. This was the original HP plan, and this has not changed. And while there has been in recent months a lot of noise about how the VAX and AlphaServer base is not planning on driving down the HP roadmap, Blatz says that this is untrue. He admits, however, that the transition from Alpha to Integrity will take time. "Most customers we talk to have said that they initially plan to buy Integrities and integrate them into their AlphaServer clusters," he explains. "Most are not thinking of replacing Alphas with Integrities." So anyone polling Alpha customers and asking them if they were going to replace one machine with the other was asking the wrong question.
Blatz says that HP is being practical about the transition from AlphaServers to Integrities. "I think it is going to take a couple of years," he says. "However, I think that the adoption rate for Integrities will be faster than we originally forecast."
Part of the reason why it takes time to transition has to do with software support. Digital sold off its homegrown relational database for the VMS platform, Rdb, to Oracle Corp when it was burning its furniture to keep warm, and while Oracle is slated to deliver a version of Rdb for OpenVMS 8.2 on Integrity any day now, support for Oracle 10g Release 2 for OpenVMS 8.2 on the Itanium boxes is slated for the end of this year and will be a big factor in the upgrade cycle from Alpha to Itanium gear for HP. Computer Associates' Ingres and Intersystems' Cache databases shipped at the end of the first quarter on the OpenVMS-Itanium combo, and MySQL was just certified on the platform as well. The database support is a big factor. Blatz reckons that about half of the installed VAXen have a database of one kind or another, and it is likely to be Rdb. The AlphaServers have been more heavily used than VAX boxes to support databases, and that anywhere from 60 to 70 percent of the OpenVMS shops that deploy either Rdb or Oracle databases on their platforms; a small percentage of Alpha machines are using these other databases.
On the application front, OpenVMS on Integrity is picking up speed, too. About 350 key OpenVMS applications have been ported to OpenVMS on Integrity, and a total of 400 ISVs have committed to bring a total of 850 applications to the Integrities running OpenVMS. He says that of those who didn't already make the jump, the majority of these will be done within a year.
That's why HP is banking on 2006 being a key transition year for the OpenVMS platform. The fact that you can run the entire OpenVMS platform on one-fifth of an Itanium platform certainly helps the HP salespeople make their calls, as does HP's Integrity pricing. Chip for chip running VMS workloads, the Integrities using the fastest Itaniums offer about the same performance as the fastest Alpha chips--which shows you just how good the Alpha chip really was compared to anything anyone had. So capacity planning is not that tough. And with HP being very aggressive about pricing--a Integrity machines running OpenVMS 8.2 cost only 30 to 40 percent of what HP is charging for similarly powered AlphaServers running VMS, HP should be able to get the VAX and AlphaServer base to at least take a sales call and map out a migration plan. The fact that HP is running out of spare parts for VAXes and service pricing is going up doesn't hurt, either.