Is Integrity at Legacy yet?

HP Enterprise has announced it will support the Integrity systems through 2025. Publishing such dates can signal the starting time of a legacy era for a computer ecosystem. Ending the era of processor builds is another marker, one that Intel defined for Itanium this year. Building the chip stops in 2021.

Legacy systems are defined by their record of success. Something that’s simply old and running somewhere doesn’t leave a legacy. Computers like the Osborne 1 have a following and a history, sure. A legacy needs an impact, some way for it to expand and extend computing.

That’s the kind of environment we cover here: the systems that continue to leave an impact. Tru64’s impact might be as the fastest Unix ever developed in an era when Unix was a major target for vendors and customers. Tru64’s fast horse, Alpha, also carried the torch for VMS in the era between VAX and Integrity servers.

The legacy impact for MPE/iX stretches back to the earliest days of business computing for HP. Some companies replaced filing cabinets when they bought an HP 3000. Sixteen years after HP built its last 3000, these servers are still resold, and the OS is still driving some company computing, running off its PA-RISC designs. The chips aren’t built, but virtualized systems power PA-RISC now. Score points for expansion away from the cabinets, plus extension carrying applications forward.

The same can be said, even more so, for VMS and the VAX design that made it a legend. Digital’s VMS also has a scientific legacy, something the HP 3000 rarely achieved. It’s been almost two decades since the last VAX systems shipped, but applications written for the chipset remain online and in use. Like PA-RISC, VAX has a virtualization solution.

Solaris, as well as the SunOS, simply created the Internet as we know it: a commercial entity. There’s a reason why the most cherished domains use .com as their top level domain.”We put the dot in dot-com,” was the Sun slogan, powered by SPARC designs. Like the HP and Digital, SPARC can be virtualized today.

So where is the Integrity line and Itanium on the legacy journey? The Itanium chips at the heart of these systems were breakthrough designs. Itanium, though, hasn’t left a legacy yet. At least, not defined by Alpha, PA-RISC, VAX, or SPARC legacies. Itanium serves the OpenVMS futures, but perhaps its legacy will be as a bridge between the era of system vendor technologies and chip builder technologies.

Today that bridge extends an computing ecosystem by giving the HP-UX and OpenVMS operating systems extra years. Not much expansion happened because of Integrity, though. It’s not the fault of the design that it didn’t realize HP’s wild dreams of 64-bit domination. Markets don’t behave by the rules of logic and technology’s merits. Vendors need to be able to win sales to dominate like HP imagined Itanium would. Scratch HP history and you’ll find the vendor’s predictions that Itanium would displace x86.

The difference between Itanium and the environments like Alpha, SPARC, VAX, and PA-RISC might be traced to the operating systems. SPARC, VAX, and PA-RISC were built for vendor operating systems; even the PA-RISC’s Unix needed to be HP-UX on nearly all PA-RISC systems. Alpha, built to succeed VAX, was a strong enough design to survive more than a decade beyond HP’s purchase of Compaq-Digital. It’s also able to be virtualized.

Itanium was built to succeed PA-RISC, so its bid to be a legacy platform might mimic Alpha’s. Itanium grew up in a different way, though, helped along by a manufacturer who was also building a competing chip. Thanks to the 64-bit instruction set pioneered by AMD, Intel rebuilt x86 as Xeon at the same time it developed Itanium.

Itanium was going to bring computing from 32 bits to 64 bits. But it was always looking over its shoulder at the application world that was aimed at x86, trying to accommodate that design while trying to beat it. That’s a twisty road to get to a legacy. Score one point for extension in the Integrity legacy campaign, though. Running OpenVMS helps get Integrity the boxes into the legacy extension column.

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