Biggest box brands keep legacy OS futures in stock

A few weeks ago, a group of OpenVMS managers and developers started sharing notes on the future of OpenVMS. Forrest Aldrich wonders who’s still using the OS. One answer remains the same as when the question was asked in 2017. IKEA is using OpenVMS.

It’s not that the retailer that everyone knows as a big boxer is announcing its intent to stick with the legacy OS. The story suggests that nothing’s different than at last view. IKEA still operates more than 375 stores around the world. It’s too big of an IT footprint to change overnight, or even over five years.

In 2016, VMS Software Inc. reported on the IKEA footprint. Each of the 375 stores had an RS2800 in that year. The report sounds a lot like the HP 3000 census from 2006 for State Farm Insurance, with more than 500 offices. Or the 1996 report from Longs Drug, with more than 300 systems. Many legacy operating systems, running to serve a national brand.

The installed base for these operating systems is always encouraged by these reports. IT decisions by a major brand give every legacy manager good cover for resisting unneeded changes. In the closing years before HP chose to step away from the HP 3000, its customer base included M&M Mars and a kingpin of the retail warehouse computer sales market, PC Warehouse.

The difference between those markers of health, and the ones referenced through IKEA, is applications. The consume and retail customers for the HP 3000 ran apps from Ecometry. That e-commerce vendor could take its customer base, one at a time, to other platforms. Ecometry did that, but it took more than a decade after HP’s exit for the e-commerce operations to dwindle to a few.

In contrast, IKEA runs its own applications on OpenVMS. Hundreds of datacenters, however modest in size, will have to make a shift to a non-legacy OS all at once. This is a much bigger moment of change.

Large installs versus large numbers of servers

The future of OpenVMS gets assured by large numbers of installations. It’s also assured by large installations. The owner of the OS, VMS Software Inc., has a mission to keep futures in stock, too. Aldrich says in the VMS discussion group that “looking on VSI website, I haven’t found any statements of future direction for OpenVMS. It would be useful to know — but again, their large customers (who pay tons for existing systems) may not be motivational.”

“I’d like to understand what my options are out there. Especially if I were to work in a position that had VMS — or understand where VMS might be more appropriate or not.”

VSI’s futures for OpenVMS do matter, because VSI is now in charge of official HP Enterprise support contracts. VSI has this to say about growing the scope of OpenVMS. The comments come from last summer’s announcements around the x86 release of the OS.

“Our strategy is to gain what’s called a bigger share of wallet from within the existing customer base,” said the VP of Marketing Terry Holmes. “OpenVMS today may be a portion of someone’s IT environment, and by moving OpenVMS to x86, we truly hope customers will know and understand and recognize the benefit of what VMS has for quite some time: stability. Given that stability, going to x86 will encourage customers to expand that share of wallet.”

It’s the benefits of a legacy OS that drive its futures. Heading beyond the original host hardware is in everybody’s plans eventually.

Leave a Reply