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HP's 'adaptive enterprise' still murky for some

At an event to celebrate the first anniversary of Hewlett-Packard's computing initiative, customers struggle to understand how it will affect specific product lines.

MUNICH, Germany--HP's introduction of the Darwin Reference Architecture at a customer event here this week did little to help customers grapple with the elusive concept of the "adaptive enterprise."

As HP celebrated the first birthday of its vision of the adaptive enterprise concept, the company and its customers still seemed a little unsure of just what it is.

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HP executives at the ENSA@Work event, which attracted 5,400 attendees, devoted a great deal of keynote time to further explanations of the concept. The general idea is one of helping customers respond more quickly to changes in their operations by linking business processes more tightly with IT products.

Nora Denzel, HP's senior vice president of adaptive enterprise and software, discussed the concept of the Darwin Reference Architecture, an element of the adaptive enterprise strategy, during a keynote speech Wednesday morning. Some who heard the term took it to mean the forthcoming extinction of the PA-RISC, Alpha and MIPS chips from the company's servers.

"Where is the adaptive enterprise?" asked Reg Palmer, OpenVMS systems manager and Tru64 administrator at Centrica, the company that owns British Gas, the AA and Onetel. Pointing to the stands which several conference-goers noted had the feeling of a school science project, he said, "Show it to me."

If the adaptive enterprise eluded Palmer, the sense of what a lot of HP is doing with its platform strategy was not lost on him. "It did come as a nasty shock," said Palmer, referring to the first time he heard that the Alpha chip would be discontinued, "but if there will be no performance advantage in the future to justify the cost, then it makes sense, and we are now able to see a way ahead."

In the future, Palmer said, he will be able to run Windows, Linux and OpenVMS on HP's Superdome servers. "So it turns out the processors will be Itaniums," he said with a shrug. "I really don't care (so long as the operating systems run). It will help, as more Tru64 features find their way into HP-UX (HP's flavor of Unix)."

By the end of the year, said HP's Paul Miller, vice president of marketing for industry standard servers, customers will be able to run OpenVMS on Itanium. Although the company does not publicize the fact, customers can already buy Itanium systems with a prerelease version of OpenVMS 8.1.

Customers like Palmer may be able to see a way ahead, but on Wednesday morning it was by all accounts still a little fuzzy. "We run a lot of critical systems on VMS and Tru64, and we'll keep those for several years yet," Palmer noted. "After that, I don't know. But if all this adaptive enterprise stuff means taking what you want, then maybe it's going to be a good thing."

Matt Loney reports for London-based ZDNet UK.