Endgame for Tru64

With the Unix operating system on its way out, Tru64 users must examine their options

When Todd Achenson, Internet systems manager at Ohio University, spent more than $300,000 on two high-end Alpha servers in December, he also got something else: more time for his Tru64 Unix environment.

Like all Tru64 users, Achenson is facing a deadline. Hewlett-Packard Co. is discontinuing the Tru64 operating system and the Alpha server hardware it runs on. The double blow means that users must move applications to new operating systems and hardware platforms. But users who say Tru64's reliability, clustering and file management capabilities are second to none believe that they'll be trading down no matter what migration path they take.

HP will stop releasing new versions of Tru64 in December 2006 but continue support through at least 2011. The company released its final chip upgrade for Alpha servers last year but will continue to sell the servers through 2006.

Exploring Options

Many users are still deciding on a migration path, according to some consultants and vendors who work with Tru64 customers.

"We're just biding our time and looking at options," says Achenson, who has not decided on a migration path for critical network services managed by his 30 Alpha servers. He believes the two new servers will give the 25,000-student university in Athens, Ohio, up to two years of breathing room.

"I think the market is still grappling with it," says Vic Ahmed, CEO of Parsec Group Inc., a Denver-based consulting and training firm that is encouraging users to migrate to OpenVMS, which also has strong clustering capabilities. OpenVMS runs on Alpha, but HP recently ported it to Itanium. "There is still a pretty robust customer base on Tru64, and they are fairly happy with it," Ahmed says.

But some users weren't happy with HP's decision. "It's just a very big disappointment," says Nikola Milutinovic, Unix systems administrator at EPS JP Elektrovojvodina in Novi Sad, Serbia. The power company has decided on a Linux and Windows path for its Tru64 applications.

Achenson had been considering HP-UX, HP's recommended migration path, but reconsidered when HP announced in December that it was dropping plans to move Tru64 clustering and file management technology to HP-UX.

"That's been a big loss for us," says Achenson. "The Tru64 customers have been left high and dry."

Instead, HP announced an agreement with Veritas Software Corp. to integrate similar clustering technology in HP-UX, says Mary Ellen Lewandowski, a senior product manager for Tru64. She sees the changes as an improvement in the Tru64 road map, not a setback.

For instance, the decision improves the clustering technology, allowing management of multiple clusters, which Tru64 doesn't have, says Lewandowski. "Our commitment to our customers is to make sure they have the best road map there is," she says.

Tru64 traces its origins to 1988 and was owned for most of its life by Digital Equipment Corp. Digital was later acquired by Compaq Computer Corp., which merged with HP in 2002. HP quickly decided to retire Tru64. "You need to have one Unix that you are focused on, and HP-UX is a rock-solid Unix," says Lewandowski.

However HP justified the demise of Tru64, it was still difficult news for many users, such as the IT staff at BECU, formerly known as the Boeing Employees Credit Union. The Seattle-based firm is one of the largest credit unions in the U.S., with some $5 billion in assets and nearly 400,000 members.

BECU had been an Alpha shop for more than a decade, running OpenVMS, but the credit union was undergoing a major upgrade in 2000 and 2001 that included a move to an Oracle database it wanted to run on Tru64 Unix.

HP's decision was hard to take, says Scott Wolfe, enterprise architect at BECU. "We felt like we went out on a limb to introduce Tru64, as opposed to other operating systems that had a larger customer base," he says.

In BECU's search for new platforms, IT infrastructure director Jim Ratchford told his team members that they "weren't beholden" to HP and could look at other Unix systems.

BECU wasn't happy with HP's move, but decision-makers felt that HP would go the extra step to ensure that the credit union's migration was successful—and they may have been right. For instance, after deciding to move to Integrity Itanium-based servers, BECU's project faced a major delay because Quest Software Inc.'s database replication software hadn't been tested for Itanium. Quest's CEO called HP and got the testing environment he needed to keep the credit union's project on schedule, says Ratchford, who felt HP's fast response was an indication of the vendor's support.

Dwindling Support

Another reason Tru64 users will have to move off the system sooner rather than later is dwindling independent software vendor support.

Some vendors are applying HP's road map to their own products. For example, Fairfax Va.-based Datatel Inc. makes an ERP package used in higher education that runs on Tru64. It hopes to have most of its users off the operating system by the end of 2006, says John Van Weeren, technology product manager. The vendor also supports IBM AIX, Sun Solaris, HP-UX and Microsoft Windows and plans to support Red Hat Linux this year.

Datatel user Bucks County Community College in Newtown, Pa., moved to HP-UX last year from Tru64. Doug Burak, server network security manager, says many of the reasons for sticking with HP were business-related. The college has a long history with Tru64, as well as with HP systems generally, and believes HP will support its products.

Kenneth Farmer, a former systems administrator who operates the Tru64.org user forum, expects users will continue running the system "up until the very end, until they stop supporting it."



Tru64 History


Tru64: Updated version due in 2005. HP has since announced a new version update for 2006 as well.

Alpha: HP will sell Tru64 Unix AlphaServer systems until at least 2006, with support until at least 2011.

Engineering support: For Tru64 v4.0F and v4.0G was extended last year until June 30, 2007.

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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