Why should Alpha customers be thinking of migrating their systems?

Why should Alpha customers be thinking of migrating their systems?

I was talking to a very well respected ex-colleague recently about a mutual customer, and towards the end of the conversation he said, “so what are you doing about the Alpha customers I/O problem?” My first reaction was “what problem?”, so he went on to explain that customers who have Alpha systems have potential problems with support and modern storage arrays.

“Ok”, I said, I will have a look at the issue. In reality what that I meant was that I had better find someone within VSI who understood the problem and could articulate it to me in language that I would understand. In comes Jim Janetos, who as well as being CEO of VSI is also an expert on I/O and storage solutions. So, “exactly what is the problem” I asked Jim, to which his response was as follows:

It is about 1) the storage adapter in the host server; 2) the Fibrechannel interconnect speed; and 3) the storage array.

AlphaServers support 1 Gb/sec and 2 Gb/sec Fibrechannel storage adapters. Integrity servers support 4, 8, 16 Gb/sec Fibrechannel adapters.

Fibrechannel interconnects and switches, over time, have gone from 1 to 2 to 4 to 8 to 16 Gb/sec, same with storage arrays.

Generally, you can connect up Fibrechannel hardware across these speed generations with restrictions. Generally, “2 back” is the restriction – which means:

  • A host server with a 2 Gb/sec Fibre adapter can connect to 2 or 4 or 8 Gb Fibre infrastructure
  • A host server with a 4 Gb/sec Fibre adapter can connect to 4/8/16 Gb Fibre infrastructure
  • Etc.

So, AlphaServers, with 1 and 2 Gb/sec Fibre adapters, cannot connect to modern Fibrechannel environments beyond 8 Gb.

That sounds simple enough to understand, but on top of that it is important to also appreciate that support for some of that AlphaServer hardware is now EOL, so a double whammy for any self-respecting company who rely on their Alpha-based solutions. What is the answer? Well, there are essentially 5 answers:

  1. Retain the status quo – Stay where you are with servers that cannot connect to the latest technology and may also be out of support. In my opinion not a great idea, but it is an option.

  2. Upgrade your AlphaServers to Integrity servers – An obvious upgrade choice, however HPE announced the end of Integrity server sales December 2020. It is still possible to get fully refurbished and warranted Integrity servers from HPFS (HP Financial Services Company), so upgrading from Alpha to Integrity is still an option, but less attractive than it was.

  3. Upgrade your AlphaServers to X86 servers with OpenVMS 9.2 – This will become reality at the end of 2021. If you think you can hang on to that date then this is a viable option for you (you might also want to give VSI a call see if we can help in the meantime).

  4. Emulate your existing Alpha environment using emulation software – this approach needs a bit of architectural thought, especially around I/O speeds, but it is very definitely worth thinking about. This is a relatively easy fix to the problem.

  5. Migrate your Alpha environment to another platform – the most “extreme” option, but again something to think about. However, you have to wonder why some 14 years after AlphaServers went EOL this option has not already been pursued.

Five options, all of them viable (some more than others). Whichever option you think works for you, get in touch with us; I know we can add value to all of those options.

Contact us at sales@vmssoftware.com and we will get back to you.


Chris Brown

05 Mar 2021

Chris Brown

Director of Strategy for VMS Software, Inc.