OpenVMS alive and kicking on SuperDome

The venerable operating system that made its way from DEC, through Compaq and on to HP got its first European airing this week on the Itanium2-based SuperDome, proving there's life in the old dog yet

OpenVMS, Hewlett-Packard's high-end operating system, which during the 90s moved from the old VAX minicomputers to the 64-bit Alpha processor, got its first European outing this week on the company's high-end Intel-based SuperDome server.

HP's demo this week included an Intel Itanium2-based SuperDome SD32a server, an AlphaServer and an Integrity rx2600 server all running OpenVMS as a cluster. The Intanium2-based Integrity rx2600 was the first Intel-based server to which HP ported OpenVMS. OpenVMS V8.1 Evaluation release for HP Integrity servers is currently available on the rx2600 and rx4640 Integrity servers. The production release of OpenVMS for both Alpha and Integrity servers, called V8.2, is planned to support the rx1600, rx2600 and rx4640.

Although HP's Web site pegs the release date for OpenVMS on Itanium for the second half of 2004, executive say it will be towards the end of this time frame. Meanwhile, HP representatives who were demonstrating the technology at the company's ENSA@Work user conference in Munich this week seemed to think that early 2005 is a more realistic target.

"All the core features are there," said an HP representative manning the stand. "We now even have DECNet running on the Itanium2 platform," he added, referring to DEC's old networking protocol, which is still used today by some mission-critical applications in preference to the ubiquitous TCP/IP. The representative noted that most of the work that still needs doing is on qualification -- making sure the operating system behaves itself on the hardware and that applications behave themselves on the operating system.

The porting of the operating system to Itanium2-based systems will give OpenVMS users an upgrade path when HP discontinues the Alpha processor line, which it picked up with the acquisition of Compaq.

"We still run a lot of critical systems on VMS," said OpenVMS systems manager Reg Palmer of Centrica, the company that owns the AA and British Gas. "We'll keep it for several years," added Palmer, who said he found the demos of VMS on Itanium2 encouraging. Palmer said that although the original announcement of the end of the Alpha line was "a nasty shock," the switch to Itanium2 made sense. "There is no performance difference anymore to justify the extra cost [of Alpha processors]."

When Compaq launched the first 64-bit Alpha processor in the early 90s, it was, at 200MHz, significantly faster than Intel's then top-of-the-range 66MHz Pentium. Intel's introduction of successive product lines, starting with the Pentium and now the Itanium2, has steadily eroded that performance lead.

"In the future, we will have Windows, Linux and OpenVMS on SuperDome," said Palmer. "Compaq talked about similar roadmaps anyway… so it turns out the processor will be Itanium2 instead of Alpha -- we don't really care about what processor it all runs on."