HP knocks 'old technology' before salt-and-pepper crowd

But HP officials stress platform stability for enterprise users after years of change

LAS VEGAS -- Not everyone attending Hewlett-Packard Co.'s big annual conference here had gray hair, of course. But many are running "elderly" legacy systems, and ears seemed to perk up when Randy Mott, HP's CIO, said many companies are spending too much to support less-than-modern technology.

"More and more of our resources are going to support old technology," said Mott at the HP Technology Forum & Expo 2008 -- without getting specific about just what he considered old. But whenever someone high up at HP starts talking about legacy and costs, it bears examination.

The roll call of enterprise platforms that HP has put on the path to extinction in recent years includes the Alpha processor, the Tru64 Unix operating system, and the HP e3000 midrange server line and its MPE operating system.

It is a history that makes some people, especially those users and consultants with careers invested in other systems, wary about HP's long-term plans for its OpenVMS and HP-UX operating systems. It was therefore perhaps no surprise that Ann Livermore, executive vice president of HP's solutions group and the speaker who followed Mott to the stage, made a special point of reassuring attendees about the future of HP-UX.

"You should not be worried about HP's commitment to HP-UX or HP's commitment to the Integrity architecture," said Livermore, referring to the company's Itanium-based Integrity server family.

Itanium is hardly an old technology; Intel Corp. produces the processor, and the chip is available to the broader market. But Itanium is primarily seen by analysts as an HP platform, in much the same way that UltraSparc is connected to Sun Microsystems Inc. and Power is linked to IBM. That makes HP's and Intel's ongoing commitment to Itanium pivotal. To assure HP users that Intel was standing firm on Itanium, HP CEO Mark Hurd brought Paul Otellini, the CEO of Intel, onstage to reaffirm the chip maker's support for Itanium.

Otellini, showing a slide that indicated Itanium revenue will total about $5.3 billion this year and is growing about $1 billion annually, said Intel will release early next year a new version of the chip, code-named Tukwila. It is a 2 billion-transistor, quad-core processor that will double performance, according to Otellini. "We see this architecture continuing to gain share," he said.

Itanium adoption is growing as a result of decisions made by companies such as Samsung Life Insurance Co. in Seoul, South Korea. San Ho Yoon, the information strategy team head at Samsung Life, moved core business applications from three IBM z990 mainframes to an equal number of Integrity systems, each with 64 processors. The company also migrated from IBM's DB2 to an Oracle database, he said.

The $25 million migration, completed in 2006 by Samsung Life, paid for itself in 18 months through reduced hardware, software, maintenance and support costs, said Yoon, who estimated savings of $31 million over four years.

With the IBM mainframe, "we were completely locked into one vendor," said Yoon. But that doesn't mean he is completely comfortable with the replacement. While he is pleased with the technology performance of the Integrity hardware and HP-UX, Yoon said he would have used Linux as his operating system had it then scaled to 64 processors and been more reliable.

Yoon said his ideal solution would be something he calls an "open systems mainframe" -- and having the software and tools to give him vendor independence.

One group that is dependent on HP are the users of OpenVMS. Although Livermore spoke directly about HP-UX, she didn't mention OpenVMS, which was originally developed by Digital Equipment Corp. But other HP officials are telling users that it remains committed to the platform and that an operating system upgrade is planned for next year.

HP seemed to stress platform-line stability to its users even as it told them that standardization is the future. This is a big issue for OpenVMS users, because many of them are running critical applications written specifically for those systems. Although OpenVMS didn't get any attention from the top executives at the conference's main event, HP held a separate session on the operating system detailing next year's upgrade, which will include virtualization support.

Craig Post, an OpenVMS consultant at a company he didn't want identified, said one feature he is particularly interested in is clustering over IP, which will help disaster recovery.

Alan Winston, who manages OpenVMS systems running on both Alpha- and Integrity-based systems at a research laboratory that he asked not to be named, praised the operating system's reliability and ease of management. He has been using OpenVMS for 20 years and said he "will be on it for as long as they keep selling it."

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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