AlphaServer users given lifeline till Itanium

ENSA@Work 2003: Users of HP's AlphaServer range have seven years before they have to move to Itanium. In return, they have the promise of blades and super-sized servers. And OpenVMS is not dead yet

Three new AlphaServers launched at ENSA@Work underline Hewlett-Packard's promise to continue supporting the Alpha architecture -- and the OpenVMS operating system which runs on it -- on the tenth anniversary of the first Alpha processor's debut. Even so, they mark the beginning of the end for the processor range, which will ultimately be replaced by Intel Itanium systems. "We will continue developing new AlphaServers till 2006, and will support the products till 2011," said Carly Fiorina, chief executive of HP. Alpha was developed by Digital Equipment, which was taken over by Compaq before that company in turn was taken over by HP. However, Alpha remains the company's leading RISC processor, the others being HP's home-grown PA-RISC chip and the MIPS processor used in the Tandem NonStop systems bought by Compaq. The three new servers, based on the latest EV7 Alpha processor, include the GS1280 for enterprise use and the ES80 and ES47 for departments and workgroups respectively. GS1280 is available in eight- and 16-processor versions now, with 32-processor versions due in mid 2003, and 64-processor versions due by the end of 2003. EV7 is designed for multiprocessing, with system interconnects and other electronics built onto the chip itself, said worldwide marketing manager John Bennett. This will allow a supercomputer version, the SC1280, to go up to 2000 processors. HP's Digital-heritage operating systems, Tru64 (version 5.1B) and OpenVMS, will both get better performance on the new processor: "OpenVMS version 7.3-1 will gain by 100-200 percent," said John Bennett of HP's Business Critical Systems division. "The new systems are critical to meet the capacity demands of customers for the next two years, so they can manage the move to Itanium when they are ready," Bennett added. Meanwhile, elements of the Digital-heritage Tru64 Unix will be added to HP's own HP-UX version of Unix, in particular the file system and single system image, both important for clustering -- an advantage that Digital had over HP for a long while. "Oracle has also taken clustering technology from us, and they will go into HP UX not just on Itanium," said HP's Ken Surplice. "Clusters will work with PA RISC, as well as older system including Digital Vaxes. Users will be able to mix all three architectures in one cluster." At the same time, the OpenVMS operating system is not going away, said Bennett. "By 2005 we will have OpenVMS on Itanium as a product. There will be a version for early adopters, with complete functionality by the end of 2004." This OpenVMS version will not be binary compatible, but will have translaters. Comparing this strategy with IBM's iSeries, which is being promoted on IBM's own RISC processor, Bennett said: "IBM is very successful in keeping the OS/400 platform alive and well, but each year, they put a box round that product. OpenVMS customers see this move [to Itanium] as a liberation. They can keep everything they have preserved and go forward. Customer had good performance on a low marketshare platform with Alpha. Concerns about the viability of the platform will go away, and we do not have to prolong the life of the hardware." Future OpenVMS systems will run on the same general purpose Itanium servers as other HP systems, he said, with the prospect of OpenVMS running on blade servers.

More enterprise IT news in ZDNet UK's Tech Update Channel.

For a weekly round-up of the enterprise IT news, sign up for the Tech Update newsletter. SPAN CLASS="g5">Let the editors know what you think in the Mailroom.