HP's new lifeline for OpenVMS gets a thanks from users

The just-announced plan to keep OpenVMS going gets mostly positive reaction

Hewlett-Packard's decision to license OpenVMS source code to a new engineering firm is getting mostly positive reaction.

One year ago, HP put OpenVMS on an end-of-life path by announcing that it would not support the OS on the latest Itanium hardware. But on Thursday, HP announced it had licensed the OpenVMS source code to VMS Software Inc. (VSI), which will port the software to new hardware, release new versions of it and even develop an x86 port.

"HP and VSI have provided what appears to be a path forward for existing VMS sites," said Stephen Hoffman, who was on the OpenVMS engineering team at Digital Equipment Corp., where the system was developed, and then at Compaq, which acquired Digital and then HP. Hoffman is now an independent consultant at HoffmanLabs.

Overseas, OpenVMS user group HP-Interex France also reacted positively. HP-Interex France had recently published an open letter to HP CEO Meg Whitman, urging her to reconsider the company's earlier decision on OpenVMS.

Gerard Calliet, a consultant who wrote the letter on behalf of the French user group, said Thursday's announcement "is the beginning of a very interesting story."

Calliet said that for historical and cultural reasons "HP had placed OpenVMS in a sort of sleeping state." As a result, some user groups like his were "a little bit asleep also" until last year's HP move. Open VMS experts were even thinking about retiring, he said.

But the 2013 decision woke people up, and with the changes unveiled this week, the eco-system that supports OpenVMS is "is living now a sort of revival."

VSI is a new company formed by investors at Nemonix Engineering, a support and maintenance firm of OpenVMS systems. VSI plans to deliver new software, beginning early next year with a port to Integrity i4 systems running the eight-core Poulson chip. Previously, HP said it would not validate OpenVMS beyond the Integrity i2 servers running the Tukwila quad-core processor.

"There is obviously a need to build a track here," said Hoffman, of the new firm. VMS customers "are classically conservative" and will want to see and touch the software that VSI delivers before they run it in their production environments. "That would not be particularly different from a new HP release," said Hoffman.

Moving an OpenVMS application to another platform is costly and time consuming, said Hoffman. VSI "has potential to throw customers a lifeline in that regard, and the customers are definitely interested in it."

The change in the roadmap for OpenVMS may already be having an impact. On the comp.os.vms group, one person wrote that two OpenVMS exit projects at work, one a conversion to Linux and another to SAP, "have been put on hold indefinitely. :)"

Patrick Thibodeau covers cloud computing and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed. His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

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