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Case Study: AlphaServer users face hardware decisions

Users forced to decide whether to make a last hardware upgrade or move to a new platform.

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HP will sell its last new AlphaServer system late next month -- a plan that has been forcing users of the technology to decide whether to make one last hardware upgrade or move to a new platform.

Martha Roberts, a systems manager at a financial services firm that she asked not be identified, said at the HP Technology Forum last week that her company has opted to stick with AlphaServers for now.

She said the firm recently spent millions of dollars to purchase more than 20 of the systems after determining that it would be more cost-effective to keep running its custom-built applications on the soon-to-be-discontinued hardware and HP’s OpenVMS operating system.

The AlphaServer line is also a proven and reliable technology, Roberts added. The systems were originally developed by the former DEC and were acquired by HP when it bought Compaq, which had purchased Digital.

HP, which has ported OpenVMS to its Itanium-based Integrity server line, plans to continue supporting the AlphaServer systems at least until 2011, said Dennis Bak, a product planner in the vendor’s AlphaServer life-cycle management group.

Roberts said the new AlphaServers that her firm bought will be used until the end-of-support date at a minimum and possibly longer. “I’ve got servers that I’m replacing right now that are 14 years old,” she said.

Mike Trimbach, an OpenVMS manager at Computer Sciences, runs AlphaServers at a customer site. Trimbach said his client is evaluating whether to upgrade to the latest AlphaServers or switch to the Integrity line. He added that the potential cost of migrating applications will be the deciding issue. “It may be more cost-effective to just go with the last Alpha,” Trimbach said.

After the 27 October cut-off date for AlphaServer orders, users may still be able to get surplus systems from HP or some of its resellers, Bak said. But once sales end, availability will become less certain, he added.

Although HP will continue to develop and support OpenVMS on the Integrity line, the same can’t be said for Tru64 Unix, an operating system that has consistently been praised by users for its clustering and file management capabilities. Several years ago, HP considered moving Tru64’s clustering technology and file system into HP-UX, but the company rejected that idea, in part because doing so would have forced all HP-UX users to upgrade.

Instead, HP has been offering its ServiceGuard fail-over software with HP-UX, along with a file system that was developed by Veritas Software, now owned by Symantec.

If a system in a ServiceGuard cluster goes down, its processing workload is shifted to other servers. But each system requires its own copy of HP-UX, which increases management overhead. That isn’t the case with clusters based on Tru64, according to HP.

However, HP officials said at last week’s conference that over time, they expect corporate users to rely more on virtualisation technology than on clustering.


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