HP tries to assure OpenVMS users that OS still has a future

On software's 30th anniversary, vendor says it's committed to the technology

Hewlett-Packard Co. officials are marking the 30th anniversary of the OpenVMS operating system's introduction by telling users of the software that it still doesn't have an expiration date.

To deliver that message, HP has brought out some of its top executives, including Martin Fink, senior vice president and general manager of the company's business-critical systems group. During a webcast on Friday, Fink responded to questions submitted by members of the Chicago-based Encompass user group. Encompass, which originated as a group for customers of the former Digital Equipment Corp., also posted a document containing written responses to questions that were posed to Fink in advance of the webcast (PDF format).

In addition, Mark Hurd, HP's chairman, CEO and president, has recorded a video that can be viewed on an OpenVMS 30th anniversary Web site that the vendor has set up. In the video, Hurd tells OpenVMS users that the operating system remains a "key product" and that HP "will continue to support it for the foreseeable future."

Moreover, HP last week announced an updated version of the operating system that is due out within the next two weeks and will include new hardware support plus other features. The company also said it plans to add support for the JBoss and MySQL open-source technologies in a subsequent release next year.

OpenVMS was released on Oct. 25, 1977, and initially known simply as VMS. The software was developed by DEC, which later was acquired by Compaq Computer Corp., which in turn was purchased by HP in 2002.

The acquisitions made the OpenVMS user community nervous -- as did HP's subsequent decision to end development and sales of its AlphaServer systems, the hardware line that was synonymous with OpenVMS. HP says AlphaServer users should switch to its Itanium-based Integrity servers.

But some users are worried that pulling the plug on the AlphaServers will send a signal to independent software vendors that OpenVMS is just a second cousin to HP-UX, the company's version of Unix, and thereby influence future porting decisions on key applications.

For instance, Cerner Corp., a Kansas City, Mo.-based vendor of health care applications that run on OpenVMS on the AlphaServer line, said earlier this year that it didn't plan to support that operating system on the Integrity hardware. Instead, Cerner had begun offering its flagship Millennium 2007 software on Integrity systems running HP-UX.

Despite HP's recent efforts to get its message out about the future of OpenVMS, users like Charles Tollett remain concerned.

"I'm waiting to see if the actions match the statements," said Tollett, an OpenVMS systems administrator who asked that his company not be identified. He added that he wants HP to do more to keep the existing support of independent software vendors for OpenVMS -- and even build on it.

"I'm not convinced that they are putting that message to the vendors strong enough, and often enough, to get the vendors to buy into it," said Tollett, who listened to the Encompass webcast with Fink.

But Ann McQuaid, general manager of HP's OpenVMS systems division, said that 90% of the software vendors that support OpenVMS have ported applications to the Itanium-based Integrity platform. Altogether, some 1,200 OpenVMS applications from about 600 companies are available on the Integrity systems, according to McQuaid.

The bulk of the OpenVMS installed base remains on AlphaServer systems, with market researcher IDC estimating that there are still about 150,000 Alpha-based systems in use. But McQuaid said HP is "seeing a lot of movement to Integrity."

The new version of OpenVMS that HP plans to release will include tools for managing blade servers, expanding on initial blade support that was announced earlier this year.

JBoss and MySQL are both available on OpenVMS now, but they aren't supported by HP itself. McQuaid said that JBoss support will become available in next year's first quarter, and that support for MySQL may follow by mid-2008. Customers that are using one of those products with OpenVMS will be able to get support for the open-source technology from HP under their existing service contracts, she added.

HP also plans to add support for its Integrity Virtual Machine technology to OpenVMS, starting with prototype versions that are scheduled for release next year, McQuaid said. Integrity Virtual Machine enables users to create multiple virtual servers.

Robert Gezelter, an OpenVMS consultant in Flushing, N.Y., said he has been very satisfied with the operating system running on Integrity systems. The software has been highly stable and usable on that platform, Gezelter said, adding that moving to Itanium-based hardware has lowered the cost of using OpenVMS.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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