Why Itanium’s imminent demise further increases the risks associated with OpenVMS applications
Published 04/04/2019 by Paul Holland, VP of Operations, Advanced
The OpenVMS operating system was developed back in the 1970s, and it continues to drive numerous mission-critical business systems worldwide. These often custom core applications are invaluable to organisations across industries ranging from nuclear power to international financial services. Large sums of money and decades of time have been invested in these OpenVMS applications to meet very specific needs - but end-of-life is looming large and planning for their future is now a matter of urgency.
OpenVMS started life on DEC VAX servers, then moved to DEC/HP Alpha servers, but neither of these platforms are supported any more. HP then ported OpenVMS to the Integrity server to replace the Alpha and powered their last OpenVMS platform with Intel’s Itanium chip. Today HPE (as they are now known) is the only big-name hardware manufacturer producing Itanium-based servers - while Intel has been saying for almost a decade that the microprocessor didn’t have much of a future. Oracle discontinued support for Itanium in 2011, declaring it was ‘nearing end of its life’ and Microsoft also stopped developing software for the Itanium platform.
Intel has now announced it will be discontinuing production of the last in the Itanium line (the Itanium 9700-series Kittson) in 2021, taking final orders by 30 January 2020 for shipping by the end of July 2021. With the end of the Itanium chip, the Integrity range of servers dies too. This means there will be no supported hardware servers for OpenVMS any more.
VSI, the company that acquired the rights to OpenVMS from HP in 2014, are in the process of porting OpenVMS to the Intel x86 chip set. This will allow OpenVMS applications to run on commodity servers from HP, Dell, IBM and others. However, VSI won’t have an alpha release of the x86 version until later this year, and a full release won’t be available until 2020 – which is cutting it extremely fine given that Intel is dead at the end of next year.
So, all of this means there is a huge risk in waiting for an unproven version of OpenVMS running on an x86 so close to Itanium’s end-of-life. The level of that risk depends on how crucial your OpenVMS applications are to the smooth operation and success of your business.
Of course, platform end-of-life isn’t the only risk associated with OpenVMS applications. Security and compliance requirements are also an issue. As organisations seek to install company-wide security standards and IT governance controls, OpenVMS applications frequently fall into their own security and governance silo. They lack the ability to integrate into a broader, modern security and control framework. Increasingly, OpenVMS applications and data are islands in an organisation’s IT landscape. Building integration points and maintaining them can become expensive and prevent businesses from achieving a standard architecture for application interoperability.
The growing OpenVMS skills shortage is another headache for businesses relying on these legacy systems. Staff with OpenVMS skills are retiring, taking years of experience and vital knowledge with them. As each year goes by, there are fewer OpenVMS developers in the market – and those that do remain can command increasingly high salaries. Furthermore, software products on OpenVMS are not keeping up with new releases and this makes it difficult to sustain OpenVMS applications in the future.
The good news is that all of these factors and accompanying risks can be addressed with a well-designed migration and modernisation strategy. The decades of indispensable business process refinement and tailored value that OpenVMS applications bring to an organisation can be taken forward so they will continue to provide return on investment. New business requirements that need to be implemented using modern technologies are possible once the OpenVMS applications are running in an open systems environment such as Linux or Windows. With the right approach, modernised legacy systems, with specialised functionality and data that often differentiates an organisation’s operations, can become the bedrock for a business to thrive in the digital era.
To learn more about this announcement and what it really means if you're running applications on OpenVMS, join our webinar on 16 May. We will be discussing what the implications of this announcement are and how Advanced can help you to take measures to mitigate the risk. Register now.