Compaq's NT Decision Fuels Alpha Fears

Compaq Computer Corp.'s decision to abandon Windows NT on Alpha is fueling broader user concerns about the chip's future.

The move may make tactical and financial sense, users said, but it's worrisome given Compaq's earlier statements about long-term support of NT on Alpha. For example, only two days before pulling the plug on NT, Compaq insisted it would support 64-bit versions of NT on Alpha.

Compaq's about-face underscores its Intel-centric heritage, said Joseph Pollizzi, deputy head of engineering at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.

"They don't market the products. There are very few public statements from the company about Alpha. It only gets a fraction of the press that Compaq's Intel products do ... so there is a natural fear," said Pollizzi, who is taking delivery of new Alpha servers this fall.

Marion Dancy, a Compaq vice president, said the company is aware of concerns but remains committed to Alpha.

Compaq acquired Alpha technology with its purchase of Digital Equipment Corp. in 1998. Systems based on the chip power a variety of high-end 64-bit OpenVMS and Tru64 Unix applications.

Only 2 percent of the 500,000 installed Alpha systems run Windows NT.

User angst is acute among OpenVMS customers who have remained unconvinced that Compaq will keep its Alpha promises.

OpenVMS is now supported only on Alpha hardware, and dwindling demand for the operating system could lead to the abandonment of the platform, users said.

"Compaq's emphasis on Unix rather than VMS is a major concern for us," said Fernando Yson, systems manager at Unicare Cost Care Inc., a user of Alpha servers, in Huntington Beach, California. The company is migrating the last of its VMS applications from older VAX systems to Alpha. "But we might start looking at other operating systems" next year, given Compaq's Unix emphasis, Yson said.

"The litmus test for the commitment to Alpha is to watch to see if Compaq proceeds fully with its plans to deploy Himalaya technology on Alpha," said Jeff Killeen, a board member of the Digital Equipment Computer User Society.

Since it acquired Digital, Compaq has refreshed its Alpha server lineup, introduced a new Unix version, announced new clustering technology on OpenVMS and announced it will migrate Tandem's servers to Alpha, Dancy said.

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