OpenVMS, R.I.P. 1977-2020?

An operating system that won much praise could soon shuffle away

LAS VEGAS -- Hewlett-Packard expects to end support for OpenVMS, a system long valued for its reliability and breakthrough features, in 2020.

There's an entire generation of people well into their IT careers who may have no idea that this operating system, introduced as VAX/VMS in October 1977 by Digital Equipment Corp., even exists. That alone puts a limit on the OpenVMS's life expectancy.

HP says it has about 2,500 unique customers running OpenVMS, but that count only includes customers with whom it has a relationship. There are other users who are either supporting themselves or using third parties to keep the 36-year-old OS in shape. DEC was acquired by Compaq, and Compaq by HP.

HP said Monday that it will continue support for OpenVMS on its Integrity i2 servers "through at least the end of 2020."

The dates are not carved in stone, said Lorraine Bartlett, vice president of marketing strategy and operations for HP's Business Critical Systems unit. "While we do have a targeted end date, that doesn't mean support will definitely end," she said.

HP will assess customer needs as time goes on, she said.

HP will continue to sell OpenVMS on Itanium platforms running the Tukwila chip, but it will not be supporting the latest Poulson chip, which was released last fall. The announcement came just before the start of HP's big user conference here.

OpenVMS has long been praised by its users for clustering and disaster-tolerant capabilities, security and overall reliability. It runs mission-critical systems and because of its consistent performance it tends to get little attention, except from a dedicated user community.

One consultant, who didn't want to be identified for fear of jeopardizing existing relationships, said porting OpenVMS systems to another platform will entail much work.

The OpenVMS operating system provides a lot of the capabilities that other operating systems either don't have, or don't do in a similar enough manner, said the consultant. "You typically end up re-architecting the whole thing, which can take several years for a large and complex set of applications."

End-of-life decisions are likely to trigger push-back from users, consultants and anyone involved in support and operations. HP's decision to end support for the HP 3000 more than a decade ago caused quite a stir and prompted users to organize an effort to keep the system operational.

Stephen De Dalto, OpenVMS consultant, said: "It's been a slow, but definite, migration from VMS, because customers have to continue to justify the OS since the higher-ups keep saying, 'Move to Linux or Windows or Unix,' without knowing the consequences of such a move."

De Dalto said he was shocked by HP's decision because he would have expected HP to continue to develop and move to the latest Itanium chips.

"It's a bad decision, because not moving forward to the latest and greatest is the same as moving backwards -- and no one wants to move backwards," said De Dalto.

This article, "OpenVMS, R.I.P. 1977-2020?," was originally published on Computerworld.com.

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 email address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

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