Agencies worry about future of DEC's OpenVMS

Agencies have been running VMS ever since Digital introduced the original 32-bit VAX
11/780 minicomputer 20 years ago. Many federal applications still rely on VMS, now called
OpenVMS, and systems managers said they don't want to move those applications any time
soon.


Digital officials have rushed to assure OpenVMS users that the OS is key to Digital's
enterprise strategy and that Digital will continue to support it along with Microsoft
Windows NT and Digital Unix.


"OpenVMS is one of our most stable platforms. It's a workhorse," said Tucker
Johnson, senior computer performance specialist for the Postal Service.


USPS operates 87 OpenVMS systems in its district field offices across the country, he
said. The systems host critical accounting applications and process permit mail.


The Veterans Health Administration runs mission-critical applications under OpenVMS in
100 Veterans Affairs Department medical centers.


"We're not thinking about migrating," said Gerard Barry, associate director
of customer support for the VHA chief information officer's field office in Albany, N.Y.


"We're just completing an upgrade of those systems to Digital AlphaServer 1000As.
Pretty much everything is OpenVMS at this point," he said.


Barry said 90 of VHA's applications are written in Digital Standard Mumps for OpenVMS
6.2.


But federal officials said they have seen support for other platforms erode rapidly,
which makes it hard for them to weigh the future of OpenVMS.


Despite Digital's assurances that it will continue to support and enhance the
20-year-old OS, USPS managers said they will keep their options open. The agency won't
rely entirely on OpenVMS or on the newer NT.


Instead, Johnson said, USPS will diversify its computing environment by procuring a
Unix platform that can handle large databases.


"We're putting a scalable midrange computer in our pocket," Johnson said,
because postal officials now doubt if Microsoft Corp. can meet its deadlines for making NT
scalable enough for immediate USPS requirements.


"Will a combination of NT and Unix replace OpenVMS? Well, it may. I wouldn't count
[VMS] out," Johnson said.


Officials at the Air Force Mobility Command at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., are not
confident their application developers will keep writing for OpenVMS, but they have no
plans to move the service's Advanced Computer Flight Plan and Global Decision Support
System off OpenVMS platforms.


The command is planning by the end of next year to move the Command and Control
Information Processing System off OpenVMS onto a network of servers running SunSoft
Solaris and workstations running NT.


Digital officials took issue with a recent report by the Harvard Group of Harvard,
Mass., that predicted nearly 30 percent of VAX/VMS sites will drop the OS within five
years.


Rich Macello, vice president of Digital's OpenVMS Software Group, said his research
shows that most VAX/VMS sites are staying with VMS and moving applications onto Digital's
newer Alpha servers.


"OpenVMS probably has one of the most loyal installed bases in the world,"
Macello said.


Digital has notified users they can make OpenVMS year 2000-ready with enhancement kits.


The kits for OpenVMS 7.1 and 6.2 are downloadable now, and a similar kit for OpenVMS
Version 5.5.2 will be ready in a few months, company officials said.


After March 31, Digital users must buy a service contract to access and download the
year 2000 enhancement kit for Version 6.2.


Digital also recommends that its OpenVMS and Digital Unix customers buy the Piercom
2000 assessment and remediation tool from Piercom Ltd. of Ireland.


The Piercom 2000 Digital-specific version recognizes Cobol language variants and
extensions found in OpenVMS and Digital Unix applications. In a future release, Piercom
will support Fortran applications.


Digital's OpenVMS organization employs 500 employees and invests more than $50 million
a year in OpenVMS development, Macello said.

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