HP users want long-term support

Hewlett-Packard Co. this month said it will continue to support its existing MIPS-based NonStop servers through 2013, despite a plan to begin shipping Itanium-based models next month. But some users of the fault-tolerant systems think HP may have to extend the support even beyond that far-off date.

In an era when commodity servers are routinely replaced within three to five years, users and consultants say that NonStop systems running mission-critical transaction-processing workloads typically stay in production for seven to 10 years. And there are stories of machines remaining in operation for 15 or more years.

HP will sell the NonStop hardware, which is based on processors from Silicon Graphics Inc., until the end of 2008. Users who continue to buy those systems over the next several years may need support longer than HP now plans, said Neil Clark, a systems consultant manager at Gallagher Bassett Services Inc., a risk and claims management company in Itasca, Ill.

“Offering support for only five years after selling a system doesn’t seem long enough,” Clark said.

His point was backed up by Cathy Meurer, the Tandem technical services manager at U.S. Foodservice Inc.’s national processing center in Phoenix. Meurer said she expects that many users will run MIPS-based NonStop systems beyond 2013 and that HP will continue to support them.

“Tandem” refers to Tandem Computers Inc., the company that developed the NonStop line prior to being bought by Compaq Computer Corp., which HP later acquired.

Meurer, who heads a regional group of Tandem and NonStop users within the ITUG user organization, said there have never been any questions raised about HP’s ongoing support of the systems. “New products and features — maybe,” she said. “High maintenance costs — probably. But maintenance nonetheless.”

Some companies, especially ones that are running high transaction volumes, such as Chicago Mercantile Exchange Holdings Inc. and Bank-Verlag GmbH in Cologne, Germany, plan to quickly begin adopting the new Integrity NonStop line because of the performance improvements expected from Intel Corp.’s Itanium 2 chip. HP formally announced the Integrity models this month.

But many other users will likely wait for later releases before switching to the Integrity line, said Mike Kilpatrick, a NonStop consultant in Taylor, Tex. “Unless that box has been out in the field for any time, it’s hard to say how reliable it will be,” he noted.

HP officials said they expect the old and new systems will be run side by side in many cases. “A lot of customers will have coexistence for a long time,” said Randy Meyer, HP’s director of enterprise storage and servers.

One user that already has migrated applications off an older NonStop to an Itanium-based system is Bank-Verlag, which processes records and ensures regulatory compliance for some 300 banks. Wolfgang Breidbach, technical director of NonStop systems, said the migration took one IT worker only a couple of days.

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