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HP brings OpenVMS to the SuperDome

The venerable operating system gets its first European airing on the Itanium 2-based SuperDome, proving there's life in the old dog yet.

MUNICH, Germany--OpenVMS, Hewlett-Packard's high-end operating system, got its first European outing this week on the company's high-end Intel-based SuperDome server.

During the 1990s, OpenVMS moved from the old VAX minicomputers to the 64-bit Alpha processor. HP's demo of it here this week included an Intel Itanium 2-based SuperDome SD32a server, an AlphaServer and an Integrity rx2600 server, all running OpenVMS as a cluster.

HP's Web site puts the release of OpenVMS on Itanium in the second half of 2004, and executives said the launch will be towards the end of this time frame. However, representatives who demonstrated the technology at HP's ENSA@Work user conference seemed to think that early 2005 is a more realistic target.

"All the core features are there," said an HP representative manning the show stand. "We now even have DECNet running on the Itanium 2 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 Itanium 2-based Integrity rx2600 was the first Intel-based server to which HP ported OpenVMS. The OpenVMS V8.1 Evaluation release for HP Integrity servers is currently available on the rx2600 and the rx4640. The production release of the operating system for both Alpha and Integrity servers, called V8.2, is expected to support the rx1600, rx2600 and rx4640.

The porting of the operating system to Itanium 2-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 British Gas. "We'll keep it for several years," added Palmer, who said he found the show demonstrations of VMS on Itanium 2 encouraging. Palmer said that although the original announcement of the end of the Alpha line was "a nasty shock," the switch to Itanium 2 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 1990s, it was, at 200MHz, significantly faster than Intel's then top-of-the-range 66MHz Pentium. Intel's introduction of a successive product lines, starting with the Pentium and now the Itanium 2, has steadily eroded that performance lead.

"In the future, we will have Windows, Linux and OpenVMS on SuperDome," Palmer said. "Compaq talked about similar road maps anyway?so it turns out the processor will be Itanium 2 instead of Alpha--we don't really care about what processor it all runs on."

Matt Loney reports for London-based ZDNet UK.