Power CIO breathes fire over Alpha migration

There are many good reasons why vendors shouldn't bypass the CIO, and making them angry is one of them.

Take Canberra-based power, gas and water utility ActewAGL which has redefined the normally dull practice of vendor selection announcements by delivering a serve to former technology provider Hewlett-Packard (HP).

ActewAGL has dumped its HP AlphaServer infrastructure and will spend at least $200,000 upgrading to new Sun Sparc boxes running Solaris to run its Unix applications servers.

According to ActewAGL CIO Carsten Larsen, a combination of questionable customer service, uncertainty over HP's future direction and a series of recurring disk drive failures triggered the move.

"I haven't seen a HP rep in two years. They must have been dealing with someone lower down the chain. I don't even know who my HP rep is," Larsen told Computerworld.

Larsen described ActewAGL's previous investment in HP kit as "pretty significant", saying it dated back to DEC (Digital Equipment Corp) and VAX days for the utility. However, with his current HP servers between three and four years old, compounded by a series of recent disk drive failures, Larsen says he was more than happy to sell his HP kit to Sun after deciding Solaris offered the best stability and value.

"I don't know what [Sun] did with [the HP equipment]. They came and took it away. I don't know where it is now. The [storage] disk drives had too high a failure rate. We were also doing HP storage, but we went to EMC Clariion.

"At the time [of the disk failures] I wasn't impressed - we run a utility company that has to be up 24x7x365. We take it bloody seriously to be the best [utility] provider around. When people let you down you have a long memory," Larsen said, adding that both HP and IBM were invited to pitch for the upgrade.

As for [HP's] Tru64, Larsen says he also has reservations about how long it will last in the wake of HP's recent history of merger and acquisitions and feels the Compaq-HP merger "has destroyed value, not created it".

While Sun is predictably milking the ActewAGL win for all the publicity it is worth, Larsen cautions that performance figures citing 50 percent processing speed performance increases by his new vendor would have come regardless of the flavour of the upgrade. "It's not really a true comparison because we are replacing old with new...we would have [achieved] about that anyway.

In terms of specific equipment, ActewAGL has so far installed six Sun FireV440 servers, two Sun Rack 900 cabinets and two KVM switches for its core applications, which include Gentrack billing systems, Oracle financials and an Esri spatial information system.

HP business critical systems manager, South Pacific, Steve Williamson played down the Sun win, saying it did not reflect the bigger picture.

"This particular customer moved across to Sun some time ago and since then we have continued to make significant inroads into Sun's install base. In fact, in Australia we have already signed up 300 customers who are running more than 500 of HP's Intel Itanium 2-based Integrity Servers," Williamson said.

He added HP's Australian customers "are seeing the benefit of running multiple operating systems on the one platform".

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