Hewlett-Packard has changed its direction on OpenVMS. Instead of pushing its users off the system, it has licensed OpenVMS to a new company that plans to develop ports to the latest Itanium chips and is promising eventual support for x86 processors.
Last year, HP put OpenVMS on the path to extinction. It said it would not validate the operating system to its latest hardware or produce new versions of it. The move to license the OpenVMS source code to a new entity, VMS Software Inc. (VSI), amounts to a reversal of that earlier decision.
HP isn't calling its action a reversal, however, even it completely changes the previously announced road map for the OS. An HP official said the partnership proposal arrived on its own months ago from VSI, and company officials became convinced it was good one.
"I think it's going to get the customers what they want," Randy Meyer, vice president and general manager of Mission Critical Systems at HP, said in an interview.
What many OpenVMS customers want is to stay on the OS. HP stirred up complaints among OpenVMS users with its earlier announcement that it would not validate OpenVMS beyond Integrity i2 services running the Tukwila quad-core processors. That decision effectively put the OS on an end-of-life path.
An OpenVMS user group based in France recently went public with its complaints, calling HP's decision a mistake.
VSI is new, but then again, it isn't. It is funded by the investors of Nemonix Engineering, a longtime provider of support and maintenance for OpenVMS systems.
VSI plans to validate the operating system on Intel's Itanium eight-core Poulson chips by early 2015, as well as support for HP hardware running the upcoming "Kittson" chip. It will also develop an x86 port, although it isn't specifying a timeframe. And it plans to develop new versions of OpenVMS.
VSI published a road map ( download PDF) Thursday.
Duane Harris, the CEO of VSI, said his company decided to approach HP about OpenVMS because of its strong customer base. OpenVMS is used in nuclear power plants, in process control systems in all industries, by the U.S. Navy and in transportation and finance.
"It's a marquee piece of software; its strengths are just legendary," said Harris, citing disaster recovery, security and clustering.
OpenVMS is largely invisible in a world dominated by Windows, Linux, cloud-based systems, and even Unix systems such as HP-UX, AIX and Solaris. But it runs critical systems and its IT managers consistently praise it for its reliability, engineering and capabilities.
HP has about 2,500 OpenVMS customers on support contracts. That does not include independent support vendors, such the Parsec Group, which has 350 OpenVMS customers running some 7,000 systems. This agreement doesn't change the support arrangements customers have with HP.
VSI hopes to expand the OpenVMS footprint and sell it to new customers. It intends to modernize its application development tools, and well as improve the capabilities of the operating system -- including the number of cores it can support. Harris believes the operating system's security will be a particularly strong point, as well as its fault tolerance.
"We feel very strongly that OpenVMS is the most secure operating system out there, and certainly more secure than Windows and certainly more secure than Linux," said Harris.
VSI said it has assembled a team of veteran OpenVMS developers, some from the core Digital Equipment Corp. team that developed the operating system. The system traces its roots back to the mid-1970s. Digital was acquired by Compaq and Compaq by HP.
"We want to take OpenVMS into the future," said Harris.
Patrick Thibodeau covers cloud computing and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.