Interview: Compaq explains move to drop NT for Alpha

Compaq vice president Marion Dancy discusses in an Q&A session with Computerworld why the company decided to end development of Windows NT on Alpha and the company's plans for the customers affected.

Q: Why did Compaq drop Windows NT on Alpha?

A:There were several factors involved in the decision. We were not seeing a lot of business from a combination of NT on Alpha. Over the last five or six years, there have been considerable advances in 32-bit Intel architecture as evidenced in our eight-way ProLiant servers. Alpha really didn't have a performance advantage over Intel in a 32-bit (space). The other aspect, quite frankly, is the push from our partners and customers to simplify our platform strategy.

Q: What are you doing to help customers affected by the decision?

A: We have a very extensive set of migration programs being put in place. Depending on the system, (customers) have the option of running a different operating system on the same platform or taking advantage of attractive options to replace their current systems with a ProLiant server or Intel-based workstation. We will also be providing ongoing support through Windows NT 4.0 Service Pack 6 to allow users to continue using their current systems.

Q: What kind of migration programs and options?

A: If a customer has an Alpha server running NT, we will offer them a free licence to Tru64 Unix, OpenVMS or Linux -- where it is validated on Alpha servers. The other thing we will do is offer trade-ins with various discounts depending on how long [customers] have had those systems. There will be different scenarios. In some cases, customers will get free trade-ins.

Q: Have these plans been communicated to customers yet?

A: Yes. We are communicating through a program office in each of our key geographies. Teleconferences are being held with our salespeople to ensure that they have the right information. We also have a customer letter that is available for our salespeople to send to their customers.

Q: So why hasn't Compaq still made any public announcement relating to NT on Alpha?

A: Some information leaked out through unofficial channels before we were prepared to make an announcement. These things happen, and then we have to deal with it.

Q: Customers remain concerned about the future of Alpha, though Compaq keeps saying that it remains fully committed.

A: I can say that Compaq is strongly behind promoting our entire Alpha server line. As the person responsible for the marketing, I can assure you that I am getting the corporate support for doing that. With the recent changes in the organisation, we have our business-critical server division with OpenVMS, Tru64 and Himalaya. It provides a strong focus for our customers with a really strong management team. . . . We have had to make some tough decisions . . . [but] we have no plans to change our direction with Alpha. We are absolutely, 100 per cent committed to Alpha going forward. There will be increased investments in Tru64 Unix, OpenVMS and Linux on Alpha.

Q: How well has Linux been taking off on Alpha?

A: Linux is a clear volume opportunity for Alpha, and we are seeing a great interest in it. But it in no way diminishes our commitment to Tru64 Unix. Unix is clearly the [enterprise] flagship with Linux as the volume low-end complement. Our strategy with Linux is to ensure that we have some common tools and middleware between Linux and Tru64 Unix so that if our [Linux] customers require a higher level of performance, there is a path for them to Tru64 Unix.

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