Best practices led to short term Itanium

More than 10 years ago, the Gartner Group guided Alpha and Tru64 users toward a new hosting server. By 2009 it was obvious there would be no future development for either of those environments. The advice from the world’s leading strategy consultants: migration to OpenVMS on Itanium had been painless for most who’d done it.

It was a 10-year fix, at best, considering how long it would take to make a processor migration. Here in 2020, it’s obvious the party is over for Itanium, although Hewlett Packard Enterprise is hedging. Itanium is dead at Intel. Not so much in the HPE lineup.

The advice in the March, 2009 report is chronicled on the Software Concepts International website. Gartner has long ago walked away from advice to OpenVMS and Alpha users. Its advice about Itanium is still current. What has changed is the migrating element. In 2009 it was Alpha to Itanium. Today, it’s Itanium to Intel’s x86.

Inside that report from 10 years ago sat a better, longer-term option for Alpha customers. “Consider virtualization,” the best practices note advised. “Although there are virtual machine (VM) emulators for Tru64 and OpenVMS, validate ISV support and performance to choose the right target hardware.”

A few years later, an Alpha AXP emulator emerged. It was a good thing, because Gartner didn’t give Tru64 applications much of a chance of surviving the future. “Tru64 applications will require a complete migration to new platforms,” the research note advised. “Don’t expect ISVs to be enthusiastic about maintaining support.”

OpenVMS and Tru64 users who relied on VAX and Alpha systems were being nudged by Gartner toward the usual destination for 2009: vendor-built architectures. Hewlett Packard squeezed in just about the last proprietary chip family in the industry by making Itanium systems. From there on, all signs pointed to Linux, Windows, and Intel-AMD.

Another transformation will be underway once Hewlett Packard Enterprise takes delivery of its final order of Itanium chips. Legacy managers have endured vendor-driven migrations. Some of the least fortunate managers have been through more than one. We’re looking at you, HP 3000 owners, the ones who went to HP’s Unix and then had to shift to Linux or Windows.

Like moving to a new chip, choosing a virtualized environment does tie a legacy customer to a vendor. There’s a difference. Vendors find it easier to maintain software virtualization of chips. Hardware, like Itanium, has a very deliberate lifespan.