Thursday, October 28, 2021

Table of Contents

Executive Summary


Why do Companies
Continue to Use VAX
and Alpha?

Achilles Heel

Cost of System Failure
and Unplanned

New Solution for an
Old Problem

Refresh VAX and Alpha
for 2010 and Beyond


VAX and Alpha in 2010: Real Challenges, Solid Solutions

A detailed description and benefit analysis of hidden vulnerabilities and new proactive maintenance options to avoid system failure and extend the life and value of HP VAX and Alpha systems. (March 2010)

OpenVMS is seen by many as a gold standard of reliability, availability and longevity. Yet the hardware underlying many OpenVMS systems, VAX and Alpha, are aging and at real risk of hardware failure for a variety of reasons. For some owners of OpenVMS systems, these risks are hidden and even unanticipated. This paper describes those risks, the costs of ignoring them, and the solutions available to extend the operating life of VAX and Alpha. These solutions reduce cost of ownership and enhance the performance of mission critical applications. This paper shows that replacement of failed components with new ones is more cost effective than replacing them with used ones. It also shows that proactive replacement of these components is much more cost effective than the inevitable losses associated with unplanned downtime.

Worldwide a total of 500,000 Digital VAX and 250,000 Alpha systems were sold before these products were discontinued. HP invested considerable time and money to facilitate customers’ transitions, first from VAX to Alpha, then from Alpha to HP Integrity. TechWise Research published several white papers including detailed analyses about these upgrade decisions. In most cases, an upgrade pays for itself in as little as 12-18 months. The initial hardware and installation costs are offset by ongoing savings in management, downtime, and service. Despite these benefits, many estimate that hundreds of thousands of VAX and Alpha systems remain in use today. These systems are susceptible to hidden vulnerabilities that, if not addressed, put them at risk for failure.

There are legitimate business and technical reasons why companies continue to use VAX and Alpha systems. First and foremost, they work. Thanks in no small part to OpenVMS, VAX and Alpha have earned reputations as reliable servers for business-critical applications. Other business-related reasons for staying with VAX and Alpha include: 1) Current economic uncertainty precludes "optional" IT investments, 2) Lack of funds for initial purchase, and 3) Contractual and/or certification requirements. Technical barriers to upgrade include: 1) Risk that the upgrade process and procedures will introduce technical problems, 2) Legacy third-party applications are not supported on Integrity, 3) Custom code would require extensive re-writing and testing, and 4) Lack of expertise to modify old custom code.

Past studies show that the average cost of downtime for companies using VAX or Alpha range from a few thousand dollars, to hundreds of thousands of dollars per hour. Downtime can result in lost worker productivity, lost sales, damages to a company’s reputation, and in some instances loss of life. Despite their vaunted reputation for reliability, VAX and Alpha systems are not immune to the effects of time. Physical components such as disk drives, fans, power supplies, and batteries can and do "wear out." In addition, power supply problems can lead to voltage spikes that damage electronic components such as cache, memory, and the CPU.

VAX and Alpha replacement parts are no longer available from the original OEMs. When a component fails, companies often turn to third parties to purchase replacement parts. Unfortunately, these parts are used and are often old. They typically come with very short warranties (e.g., 30 to 90-day) because there is the very real chance they will fail in a short period of time. Nemonix Engineering, an HP partner based out of Northborough MA, offers an alternative. Nemonix manufactures new replacement components for VAX and Alpha that meet, and often exceed, original factory specifications. This means a 20-year old VAX drive that just failed can be replaced with a new drive that was manufactured in the past few months that is covered under a three-year warranty. Perhaps the best testament to the quality of Nemonix products is that HP often uses them when repairing VAX and Alpha systems that are under extended break-repair service contracts.

In addition to disk drives, Nemonix offers many other newly manufactured components including flash drives, fans, power supplies, batteries, and networking boards. In fact, Nemonix is the only company in the world today that manufactures these components.

Given the risks of downtime, what can system managers do to keep their VAX and Alpha running? When it comes to avoiding downtime the best defense is a good offense. Nemonix's System Refresh gives companies multiple options to proactively prevent problems. These options range from a "do-it-yourself" upgrade to Nemonix shipping the customer a "brand new" system. Depending on the system, its age and condition, a System Refresh costs between $2,000 and $3,000. Enterprise-class Alphas or very complex systems may cost more. For most companies the total cost of a System Refresh is small compared to the cost of unplanned downtime. Nemonix offers a one year warranty with each System Refresh which can be extended up to 10 years for between $1,500 and $2,000* a year. This warranty covers all components in the system (regardless if they were replaced) except the drives. Customers often replace their drives at the same time for an additional cost, and a separate warranty up to 10 years

Any VAX still in production is at least 10 years old (since HP stopped selling the VAX in 2000). This is well past the MTBF for components such as fans and batteries. Replacing failed VAX components with used parts that are at least 10 years old is very risky. Similarly, HP stopped selling Alphas in 2007. Older Alphas may also have components that have exceeded their MTBF. When a VAX or Alpha component fails, most companies will be better off replacing it with a newly manufactured Nemonix part with a warranty. In addition, unless the costs incurred when the VAX or Alpha goes offline are very small, companies should seriously consider Nemonix's System Refresh to proactively avoid downtime. A System Refresh can improve system performance and extend the useful life of a VAX or Alpha for many years.

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