Sun to woo Tru64 users with HP Away program

Sun Microsystems Inc. is readying a new customer migration program aimed at enticing users of Hewlett-Packard Co.’s 64-bit Tru64 Unix operating system on the Alpha microprocessor to Sun’s UltraSPARC processor and Solaris operating system.

The HP Away program, which will be launched on July 21, will be “designed to aggressively take market share from a key competitor while also offering customers a more dependable solution,” according to a statement from Sun.

The program will target 400,000 Alpha customers, Sun said. It did not say whether it would also target Alpha users running other operating systems such as HP’s Open VMS or the Alpha version of Microsoft Corp.’s Windows NT.

This is not Sun’s first foray into competitive migration programs. Last year, it launched its similarly titled Blue-Away program aimed at bringing IBM Corp.’s mainframe and NUMA-Q users over to Solaris. IBM, in turn, responded with a customer migration program of its own, aimed at Solaris users.

These kinds of customer poaching programs can pay for themselves if they yield one or two major accounts, said Gordon Haff, an analyst with industry research firm Illuminata Inc., but “none of these programs are enormously successful.”

“It’s always tough to displace an installed system. You’re really talking about nibbling the margins. Unless a company is really in free fall and has abandoned major product lines, it’s hard for someone else to get more than a scattered win here and there,” Haff said.

HP’s final generation of the Alpha processor, the EV79, will be introduced next year, according to HP’s director of marketing for business critical systems, Don Jenkins. The company will continue to sell Alpha systems through 2006, and will support Alpha and its Tru64 Unix operating system until 2011, but it is working with customers, via its Alpha Retain Trust Program, to help them migrate to Windows, Linux, and HP-UX system that use the Itanium processor, he said.

Alpha customers, particularly those running Tru64, would be well advised to at least consider Sun’s plan, said Haff. “If they have to move to a different operating system and a different processor anyway, there’s very little reason for them not to be looking at other vendors,” he said.

Any thoughts of migrating from Alpha would be premature according to one Tru64 user. “(HP is) not going to drop support for Tru64 for many years to come,” said Mike Marrone, a network administrator with a Florida technology company that recently purchased a pair of ES45 Alpha servers. “For right now, it’s not much of a worry,” he said. His company’s Alpha migration is “probably another four years” away, he said.

A replacement for Tru64 would need to match its advanced clustering and file-system capabilities, Marrone said. “If Sun can come out with both of those, then they’ll definitely have a contender,” he said.

HP plans to include these capabilities in its HP-UX operating system by the second half of 2004, HP’s Jenkins said.