OpenVMS Apps Face Uncertain Migration Path

Medical software vendor says it won't support OS on Itanium-based servers

Later this week, Hewlett-Packard Co. will stop selling new AlphaServer systems, bringing an end to the hardware platform long used to support the venerable OpenVMS operating system. But the operating system migration path set by HP isnt necessarily the same one being taken by independent software vendors and therein lies a problem for some users.

It means were in a lot of pain, said Dave Harrold, a lead systems administrator at a health care provider that he asked not be named. The company has four AlphaServers with 32 processors each that support Cerner Corp.s Millennium medical applications.

Harrold said Cerner would like his company to move to HP-UX, Hewlett-Packards version of Unix, running on Itanium-based servers. But he noted that he and other IT staffers arent familiar with HP-UX and that moving to it would require a database upgrade from Oracle 9i to Oracle 10g. For any migration to a different platform, there isnt a seamless path, Harrold said.

Porting Plans

HP will end its sales of new Alpha­Servers on Friday and is recommending that customers switch to its Itanium-based Integrity server line.

Cerner is offering Millennium 2007, the latest version of its flagship application suite, on the Integrity machines under HP-UX. But the Kansas City, Mo.-based software vendor has no plans to port the applications to OpenVMS on the Itanium-based hardware at least for now.

Mike Nill, senior vice presi­­dent of technology architecture at Cerner, said that Millennium will be supported on Alpha-based OpenVMS systems through 2012 and probably beyond. Support for OpenVMS on Itanium hasnt been ruled out but will depend on customer demand, he said.

End of the Line

April 27: The last date for placing new AlphaServer orders, to be delivered by July 27.April 25, 2008: The cutoff date for ordering upgrades and add-ons for AlphaServer systems.2012: HP says it will support the AlphaServer hardware for at least the next five years.

Were just going to watch the market, and if there is huge demand for it, we will consider it, said Nill, who added that every platform Cerner has to support adds to its costs. But he also acknowledged that some users may interpret Cerners position as a signal that sticking with OpenVMS isnt the right path to take.

David Dachtera, an OpenVMS systems administrator and Cerner user at a U.S.-based company that he asked not be identified, said the software vendors decision to back HP-UX will mean an operating system change for him.

Because Cerner is not going to VMS on Itanium, were not going to VMS on Itanium its really that simple, Dachtera said. His company instead has decided to shift its Millennium applications to IBM servers running AIX, which Cerner also supports.

Cerners plan does nothing to diminish HPs support for OpenVMS on Itanium, said Bill Hendrix, the computer makers worldwide partner business manager. But Hendrix, who manages HPs relationship with Cerner, thinks that the software vendors customer base has accepted the OpenVMS decision. Cerner has certainly talked to a lot of their installed base, he said, and their [users] dont seem to have a particular problem with the statements to date.

About 150,000 Alpha-based systems are still in use, IDC estimates. And Jean Bozman, an analyst at the market research firm, said she expects users to continue running them for a long time seven to eight years on average.

Even though users wont be able to order new AlphaServers after Friday, getting more of the systems probably wont be difficult. HP has said it will sell refurbished systems, and there is a strong aftermarket for used machines.

For AlphaServer users who need more equipment, I dont think you have to worry, said Ellen Moore, who buys Alpha-based systems for The Newman Group, a company in Dexter, Mich., that sells refurbished equipment.

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