The VAX era is over, but you can still get support

The VAX era is over, but you can still get support

The last of these DEC servers has been shipped, and Compaq promises to back VAX for a decade

By Patricia Daukantas

GCN Staff

Although Compaq Computer Corp. will no longer manufacture the historic VAX minicomputer, company officials have pledged to continue supporting the platform for at least another decade.

Almost all of Compaq's federal VAX users already are running their applications on a combination of 32-bit legacy VAX and 64-bit Alpha hardware, said Richard Marcello, vice president of Compaq's OpenVMS software group.

CIO Frank DiGialleonardo says the Office of Thrift Supervision is moving from VAX to Alpha.

One agency still using VAX mainframes, but in the throes of discontinuing them, is the Treasury Department's Office of Thrift Supervision.

Chief information officer Frank DiGialleonardo said all applications are moving off legacy VAX clusters and onto a midrange Compaq AlphaServer ES40 under the OpenVMS operating system.

Both environments run concurrently, and the agency's Oracle8 and Oracle8i databases are already on the AlphaServer, DiGialleonardo said. He wants to finish the migration by year's end.

Next year, agency officials will consider a potential migration away from OpenVMS, said Robert J. Sutter, manager of the Systems Operations and Telecommunications Division. Any decision to drop OpenVMS would be based on industry research and the agency's own business requirements, he said. Officials would weigh Compaq's support for OpenVMS and overall use of the OS by third-party applications.

Meanwhile, the Office of Thrift Supervision's own systems engineers are carrying out the VAX-to-Alpha migration, Sutter said.

'Compaq appears to face the same challenges as the rest of the industry in obtaining and maintaining a high-caliber work force' similar to the one Digital used to have, Sutter said. 'We have been fortunate to have most of our expertise in-house, even to the point of prior experience with a similar migration.'

Support to 2010

Compaq's Marcello said the company will provide comprehensive support for VAX hardware and VMS software at least through 2010. Compaq has a supply of spare parts, as well as aftermarket contacts for used VAX equipment.

Existing VAX users can purchase service contracts for one, three, five or 10 years. But no new VAX equipment will roll off the assembly lines.

'For the most part, we're done taking orders, and the last hardware is being shipped as we speak,' Marcello said.

It was 1978 when the former Digital Equipment Corp. brought out the first minicomputer in its 32-bit VAX product line, the VAX 11/780. The name arose from the phrase 'virtual address extension,' according to Compaq.

Compaq got the VAX and VMS product lines, as well as the 64-bit Alpha processor series, when it bought Digital in 1998.

Last October, Compaq sent an open letter to VAX customers stating that it would cease shipping the VAX 4000 Model 108 and the MicroVAX 3100 Model 88/98 at the end of this year.

'Of course, we reserve the right to reposition these services as business demands change, but ample notice will be issued to our customers before any changes to these support offerings are made,' said the letter from Jesse Lipcon, vice president of Compaq's high-performance server division. 'Note that Compaq continues to support PDP-11 products that have been retired for many years.'

Marcello said Compaq decided to stop making VAX systems to focus on the faster and more modern Alpha series. The new AlphaServer GS320 accommodates up to 32 731-MHz Alpha EV67 processors.

'We never could have gotten that kind of performance out of the VAX hardware,' Marcello said. 'It lasted a good 25 years, and it was a mission-critical environment for many of our best customers and continues to be.'

Most buyers of new hardware prefer Alpha platforms, he said. Digital introduced its first 64-bit, 150-MHz Alpha processor in 1992, and the chip's clock rate has steadily increased.

Because the VAX/VMS operating system'now called OpenVMS'runs on both VAX and Alpha processors, users see it as alive and well, he said. Marcello said he foresees growing government use of OpenVMS once Compaq certifies the operating system for the Defense Information Infrastructure's Common Operating Environment.

OpenVMS can run in a mixed-architecture cluster with both VAX and Alpha hardware, so users can deploy applications on either platform, Marcello said. Compaq has a VAX-to-Alpha migration program to handle relinking and recompiling data.

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