HP knocks ‘old’ IT before salt-and-pepper crowd

Not everyone attending Hewlett-Packard Co.’s big annual conference in Las Vegas had gray hair, of course. But many are running “elderly” legacy systems, and ears seemed to perk up when Randy Mott, HP’s CIO, said many companies are spending too much to support less than modern technology.

“More and more of our resources are going to support old technology,” said Mott — without getting specific at HP’s Technology Forum about just what he considered old. But whenever someone high-up at HP starts talking about legacy and costs, it bears examination.

The roll call of enterprise platforms that HP has put on the path to extinction in recent years includes the Alpha chip, the Tru64 Unix operating system, and the midrange HP e3000 and its operating system MPE.

It is a history that makes some users, especially those users and consultants with careers invested in other platforms, wary about HP’s long-term plans for OpenVMS and HPUX operating systems. It was therefore perhaps no surprise that Ann Livermore, the executive vice president of HP’s solutions group and the speaker who followed Mott to the stage, made a special point of assuring attendees about the future of HPUX. “You should not be worried about HP’s commitment to HPUX or HP’s commitment to the Integrity architecture,” said Livermore, referring to Itanium-based Integrity servers.

Itanium is hardly an old technology; Intel produces the Itanium processor and the chip is available to the broader market. But Itanium is primarily seen by analysts as an HP platform, in much the same way UltraSparc is connected to Sun Microsystems Inc. and Power is to IBM . That makes HP’s and Intel’s ongoing commitment to this platform pivotal. To assure HP users that Intel was standing firm on Itanium, HP CEO Mark Hurd brought Paul Otellini, the CEO of Intel, onstage to reaffirm that company’s support for Itanium.

Otellini, showing a slide that indicates Itanium revenue at about US$5.3 billion this year and growing at about $1 billion a year, said Intel will release early next year a new chip, code-named Tukwila. This is a two-billion transistor, quad-core processor that will double performance. “We see this architecture continuing to gain share,” he said.

Itanium is growing as a result of decisions made by firms such as Samsung Life Insurance Co. Ltd., in Seoul, Korea. San Ho Yoon, the information strategy team head for Samsung Life, moved core business applications from three IBM z990s to three Itanium-based Integrity systems, each with 64 processors. The database was moved from DB2 to Oracle 3g, he said.

This $25 million migration, completed in 2006 by Samsung Life, paid for itself in 18 months, through reduced hardware, software, maintenance and support costs, said Yoon, who estimates savings of $31 million over four years.

With the IBM mainframe, “we were completely locked into one vendor,” said Yoon. But that does not mean that he is completely comfortable with his replacement. While he is pleased with the technology performance of the Integrity and its HPUX, Yoon said he would have used Linux as his operating system had it then scaled to 64 processors and been more reliable.

Yoon’s says his ideal solution would be something he calls an “open systems mainframe” — and having the software and tools to give him vendor independence.

One group of users dependent on HP are the users of OpenVMS. Although Livermore spoke directly about HPUX, she didn’t mention OpenVMS, which was originally developed by Digital Equipment Corp. But other HP officials are telling users that it remains committed to the platform, and that an OS upgrade is planned for next year.

But HP seemed to stress platform-line stability to its users even as if tells them that standardization is the future. This is big issue for OpenVMS users in particular, because many of these users are running critical applications written specifically for their system. Although OpenVMS didn’t get any attention for the top executives at the conference’s main event, HP held a separate session on this operating system detailing next year’s upgrade, which will include virutalization support.

Craig Post, an OpenVMS consultant at a firm he didn’t want identified, said one feature he is particularly interested in is clustering over IP, which will help disaster recovery.

Alan Winston, who manages OpenVMS systems running on both Alpha-based and Integrity systems for a research laboratory he also asked not to be named, praises its reliability and ease of management. He has been using this operating system for 20 years and he “will be on it for as long as they keep selling it.”

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