OpenVMS apps face uncertain migration path

Medical software vendor says it won't support OS on Itanium-based servers

Later this week, Hewlett-Packard will stop selling new AlphaServer systems, bringing an end to the hardware platform long used to support the venerable OpenVMS operating system. But the operating system migration path set by HP isn't necessarily the same one being taken by independent software vendors -- and therein lies a problem for some users.

"It means we're in a lot of pain," said Dave Harrold, a lead systems administrator at a health care provider that he asked not be named. The company has four AlphaServers with 32 processors each that support Cerner's Millennium medical applications.

Harrold said Cerner would like his company to move to HP-UX, Hewlett-Packard's version of Unix, running on Itanium-based servers. But he noted that he and other IT staffers aren't familiar with HP-UX and that moving to it would require a database upgrade from Oracle 9i to Oracle 10g. For any migration to a different platform, "there isn't a seamless path," Harrold said.

Porting plans

HP will end its sales of new Alpha­Servers on Friday and is recommending that customers switch to its Itanium-based Integrity server line.

Cerner is offering Millennium 2007, the latest version of its flagship application suite, on the Integrity machines under HP-UX. But the software vendor has no plans to port the applications to OpenVMS on the Itanium-based hardware -- at least for now.

Mike Nill, senior vice president of technology architecture at Cerner, said that Millennium will be supported on Alpha-based OpenVMS systems through 2012 and probably beyond. Support for OpenVMS on Itanium hasn't been ruled out but will depend on customer demand, he said.

"We're just going to watch the market, and if there is huge demand for it, we will consider it," said Nill, who added that every platform Cerner has to support adds to its costs. But he also acknowledged that some users may interpret Cerner's position as a signal that sticking with OpenVMS isn't the right path to take.

David Dachtera, an OpenVMS systems administrator and Cerner user at a company that he asked not be identified, said the software vendor's decision to back HP-UX will mean an operating system change for him.

"Because Cerner is not going to VMS on Itanium, we're not going to VMS on Itanium -- it's really that simple," Dachtera said. His company instead has decided to shift its Millennium applications to IBM servers running AIX, which Cerner also supports.

Cerner's plan does nothing to diminish HP's support for OpenVMS on Itanium, said Bill Hendrix, the computer maker's worldwide partner business manager. But Hendrix, who manages HP's relationship with Cerner, thinks that the software vendor's customer base has accepted the OpenVMS decision. "Cerner has certainly talked to a lot of their installed base," he said, "and their [users] don't seem to have a particular problem with the statements to date." About 150,000 Alpha-based systems are still in use, IDC estimates.

And Jean Bozman, an analyst at the market research firm, said she expects users to continue running them for a long time -- seven to eight years on average.

Even though users won't be able to order new AlphaServers after Friday, getting more of the systems probably won't be difficult. HP has said it will sell refurbished systems, and there is a strong aftermarket for used machines.

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