Quality platform options dwindling

If, as the old saying goes, you make the bed you sleep in, then Compaq and Microsoft are in for some sleepless nights. So says Brian Smith, senior vice president for the Parsec Group, a Lakewood, Colorado-based IT consulting and training company.

LAS VEGAS--If, as the old saying goes, you make the bed you sleep in, then Compaq and Microsoft are in for some sleepless nights. So says Brian Smith, senior vice president for the Parsec Group, a Lakewood, Colorado-based IT consulting and training company.

Parsec's unique selling proposition is where certified training and consulting intersects three platform universes: Compaq's OpenVMS and Tru64 (the company's version of Unix), and Microsoft's BackOffice suite and server operating systems.

Parsec's combination of skills and assets qualifies the company to address issues such as switching from Compaq's OpenVMS or Tru64 to Microsoft Windows 2000 Server--a switch that Smith discourages. And he should know: Parsec is both a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner and a Microsoft Certified Technical Education Center.

The main problem with Open VMS, Compaq's industrial strength operating system, according to Smith, is a shrinking pool of people qualified to run OpenVMS systems.

Because his company is one of only four companies in the country authorized to certify OpenVMS engineers, Smith sees first hand how few students are passing through the program. Fewer students mean lower training revenues. On the other hand, fewer OpenVMS experts create more demand for Parsec's consulting.

Many IT decision makers, particularly those not well-versed in technology, are leery of OpenVMS' shrinking talent pool, and believe Microsoft's solutions are a good substitute.

But Windows currently lacks industrial strength compared to Compaq's operating systems. Smith speaks fondly of an old button that reads, "Microsoft's answer to OpenVMS is NT 8.0. That tells you how long it will take for Windows to be as revered as OpenVMS," he says. "I think we are just about halfway there."

To date, Windows server versions have had little success finding their way into datacenters. The result, according to Smith, is that these decision makers rule out OpenVMS as an option.

Smith says that Compaq had a hand in creating this problem in the first place. In 1999, Compaq decertified its only authorized training outfit, Global Knowledge. According to Smith, shortly thereafter, Compaq authorized four companies, including Parsec, to offer certifications. But Compaq did a poor job communicating where to get the training. As a result, OpenVMS lost some of its momentum.

Although the market continues to grow, that growth is mostly from existing OpenVMS shops that are upgrading their OS, adding more systems to existing clusters, or expanding their infrastructure. "You don't see new companies coming online and buying OpenVMS," notes Smith.

Further exacerbating the problem is the misperception that Microsoft has an equally capable solution accompanied by a growing talent pool of Microsoft Certified Systems Engineers (MCSEs).

The talent pool is indeed growing, according to Smith, but he believes that most MCSEs are not competent enough to provide adequate or authoritative business systems consulting services.

The other problem is that most MCSEs lack college degrees, making them ill-equipped to deal with business processes, especially if re-engineering is required.

Smith sees the growing number of MCSEs having a negative effect on other, less-popular environments like OpenVMS and Tru64. He says that Microsoft is relentless when it comes to getting people trained, often establishing separate programs that cannibalize the training revenues of its own training partners.

"We pay US$3,875 to be a 'CTECH' (a certified training center) and we employ Microsoft-certified trainers," Smith says. "But Microsoft puts out ads for online training that you can buy for US$50 that compete with us and devalue the CTECH program."

The result: more MCSEs that charge very little for their services. That further drives the demand for Microsoft, especially from uninformed decision makers.

Another factor often overlooked in the technology decision-making process is total cost of ownership (TCO). "In some cases," says Smith, "clients will take a perfectly good system based on OpenVMS, and abandon it for a Visual Basic-based Access database application just because they believe an inexpensive talent pool will maintain it and upgrade it going forward. Never mind that they haven't made any upgrades or had any problems in the last five years."

His sentiments are echoed by other Tech Update readers who have described OpenVMS systems that are a cinch to run when compared to their Microsoft-based systems.

None of this even takes into account whether Windows is capable of taking over the sort of data center operations that run on OpenVMS.

Most think not. At Gartner Symposium/ITxpo, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer admitted that Microsoft has a lot of work to do before it penetrates the data center. And Bill Gates, in his Comdex keynote speech, said, "We need servers that are far more reliable than what we have today." It had to have been an admission about Windows 2000 Server because such servers exist. They're just not built on Windows.

Between the progress Windows needs to make before it's ready for the data center, and the decreasing popularity in perfectly viable alternatives like OpenVMS and Tru64 (especially given the uncertainty around the proposed HP-Compaq merger), there are real challenges ahead when it comes to strategic platform selections.

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