HP tolls bell for penultimate enterprise OS
The Last 5 Percent, and Toughest Surprises

Newest HP song of server exits same as old

Now that there's another homesteading-migration movement afoot in the HP enterprise community, it's worth studying. What's different about the shutdown of the OpenVMS operations at Hewlett-Packard, versus the tale of the last decade from the 3000? Many moments and passions are similar. Slides not even six months old like the one below foretold of nothing but clear sailing. But with HP's 11 years of extra embrace for VMS, beyond the 3000 sayonara, things may be kinder for the VMS acolytes, those whose faith HP praised in an exit letter.

OnlyABladeAwayforVMSWithin a day of posting the letter, the VMS community was trying to organize an effort to get the operating system source code from HP, re-licensed as open source. Perhaps they didn't take much heed of the 7-year quest by OpenMPE to win the rights to MPE/iX. First there was a set of legal proposals, followed by the logical proposals that the OS couldn't be worth anything to an HP which was casting it aside. I'm talking here about both the 3000 community, as well as those wounded in the world of OpenVMS.

"Is there no one who can free VMS from HP?" asked one member on the comp.os.vms newsgroup. Another member replied with an update from the group devoted to Rdb, the Digital database as vital to VMS as IMAGE is to MPE. He wanted to deal with Digital people in place before a controversial CEO served up the first sale, to Compaq, before HP.

Up on the Rdb list, Keith Parris raised the possibility of HP open-sourcing VMS.  While I would prefer VMS to come from DEC before [former CEO Robert] Palmer, that is no longer an option.  If done correctly, an open-source VMS might be better than no VMS.  Perhaps HP should pay a peanuts-scale salary of, say, $150,000 so that someone can coordinate this full time. 

Unless a revolt has pulled down the walls of HP's IP legal group, such license freedom sought by customers won't be forthcoming. HP got badgered into releasing MPE/iX source to a select group of licensees, who cannot improve upon the 7.5 release but use their code to create workarounds and patches. However, the VMS people do have the advantage of a thriving emulator company for any Digital VMS implementations which run on older, non-Itanium servers. The tech issues have been long-solved for Charon for VMS, but there are licensing issues that the Digital user will need to manage for themselves.

Here's where the HP 3000 community is a decade ahead of the drop-kicked Digital group. Stromasys reports that licensing hasn't been an issue in getting Charon HPA/3000 up and running in the early days of sales. HP's provided the MPE/iX license, and that just leaves the third party software.

Stromasys reported last month that the license arrangements for the emulator have to be left to each customer who will transition to a virtualized 3000 server. You make your own deals.

But product manager Paul Taffel said that "There have been no problems with vendors. We finally figured out who you have to call in IBM to get the Cognos license, for example." That would be Charlie Maloney, at 978-399-7341.

What the Digital faithful do not see in place yet is a license arrangement from HP for OpenVMS on every platform -- including some that may not yet exist, like an Itanium emulator. In these earliest days, they at least can point to the emulator company that's arranged for such a thing in the past. But there are doubts and uncertainty to go along with fears.

"Are these emulators a serious option?" said one customer on the newsgroup. "The emulators could be a serious option, but what of them, if HP clams up and refuses to license VMS on them?" 

The reply from another customer echoed right back to the earliest days of outrage over the 3000 transition. "This is why prying VMS from HP's clammy hands would be the first priority, and nothing else matters if that cannot be done."

Your community marshalled its forces in late 2001 and into 2002 to try to wrest the entire 3000 business from HP, at a price. Hewlett-Packard was not interested, but these are more interesting times. HP just won a lawsuit with Oracle, fighting over the future of Itanium. Oracle didn't want its software to run on Itanium anymore. Neither does HP want OpenVMS to run on Itanium. The wounded customers in the VMS world suggest that Oracle ought to sue to get back its judgement from the prior suit.

To demonstrate there's still value in working with Itanium, HP might be induced or coerced to smooth the OpenVMS path from HP product to community asset. Just like the 3000 odyssey of the previous decade, HP was assuring the VMS user in slide decks dated as recently as December.

Despite Oracle’s  announcement to discontinue all software development on the  Intel Itanium microprocessor, we remain committed to supporting  you and your IT environment. We will continue to support  OpenVMS on Tukwila-based and Poulson-based Integrity systems beyond the next decade.

PavingAPathToVMSFutureAs if that were not enough, another message came down from the man recently promoted to head HP's Labs. Martin Fink was formerly the head of the Business Critical Systems group where OpenVMS remains for sale until the end of 2015. In 2011, while HP battled Oracle in that suit, Fink found the moxie to make a rallying statement that will sound familiar to the 3000 customer. At least any who recall the mid-summer assurances of 2001 that preceded the November shutdown notice. 

Fink told OpenVMS customers

Let me reassure you. HP plans to continue the development and  innovation of Itanium-based Integrity NonStop and Integrity server platforms with our HP-UX and OpenVMS operating systems for more than 10 years.

At the bottom of each and every slide in these decks is the standard HP disclaimer that anything can change at any time. It's just this: until the song of departure is sung for you, it's hard to believe it HP would sing it to anybody as faithful as you've been.