HP Users Hope Whitman Can Persuade Oracle to Change Itanium Decision

Customers running HP's Itanium-based Integrity systems are optimistic that the tense HP-Oracle relationship will ease with Whitman replacing Apotheker as HP CEO.

Users of Hewlett-Packard's high-end servers are hoping the arrival of Meg Whitman as the tech vendor's new CEO will lead to a thawing of relations with Oracle and persuade the software giant to reverse its decision to end support of Intel's Itanium platform.

About 150 users of HP's OpenVMS operating system, which runs on the company's Itanium-based Integrity servers, attended an annual conference in Needham, Mass., the week of Sept. 19, and much of the discussion focused on what options were opened to them should Oracle follow through and stop developing its products for Itanium.

Most options-whether it's migrating their Oracle applications to a new hardware platform or adopting software alternatives to Oracle-will be time-consuming and costly tasks, according to Nina Buik, chief marketing officer for Connect, HP's largest independent user community with about 53,000 members worldwide.

The users at the conference were hopeful that Whitman's executive skills will repair the relationship with Oracle.

"Everyone I've spoken with is optimistic that with Meg's experience and proven communications skills, we can change this direction," Buik said in an interview with eWEEK.

The relationship between the two longtime partners began to sour when Oracle bought Sun Microsystems last year for $7.4 billion. The deal included Oracle Sun's SPARC/Solaris server business, which brought it into more direct competition with HP. The relationship took another bad turn in August 2010, when then-HP CEO Mark Hurd was forced to resign following questions about his personal and professional conduct.

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison sharply criticized the HP board of directors and then hired Hurd as co-president of Oracle. To replace Hurd, HP hired Leo Apotheker, the former CEO of Oracle rival SAP, who promised that HP would become a larger player in the enterprise software space.

In March, Ellison announced that Oracle would no longer support the Itanium platform, arguing that Intel had plans to end development in favor of its x86-based Xeon products. The move drew sharp rebukes from Intel and HP, by far the largest consumer of Itanium chips. HP officials said the decision was a cynical move to hurt HP and prop up its own SPARC hardware line, and would result in a lot of pain for the 140,000 or so joint customers, most of whom run Oracle database software on Itanium-based HP Integrity systems. HP has since sued Oracle, claiming the decision violated an agreement between the two companies to continue to support technologies used by their joint customers.

Also speaking out against the decision was Connect. Officials in April urged Oracle to reconsider. In a video blog, Chris Koppe, president of the Connect board, said he had never seen anything impact HP users more than Oracle's Itanium decision.

"In a time of economic challenge, it's unconscionable for any company, much less a company like Oracle, to cause such hardship on its customers," Koppe said.

Buik said she was hopeful that Oracle would reverse its decision, either because of a better working relationship with HP or through a court order.

Olaf Leonhardt, OpenVMS and storage-area network (SAN) manager with German online retailer Manor, said his company faces costs that could reach into the millions of dollars if it is forced to move its Oracle database environment off the OpenVMS platform that now runs on HP Integrity systems. Right now, the company has 70 Oracle databases running on OpenVMS and supporting two divisions within the company, Leonhardt said in an interview with eWEEK.

"It is very bad for us," he said. "We will have to invest a lot of new money in a new system. ... Our biggest business is running on Oracle."

Leonhardt said running the Oracle software on the OpenVMS platform works well, and the company could continue running that combination for the next 10 to 15 years without a problem. However, now he must make a decision and begin making a migration to a new hardware platform-most likely a Unix platform from either HP or IBM-by late December or in early 2012.

He said he is frustrated by the situation between Oracle and HP, comparing the ongoing feud to "kindergarten" and saying that the ones getting hurt are those customers stuck in the middle. Oracle and HP had been able "to work together for years. When there was a problem, they could sit down and talk about that problem."

Connect's Buik said it's now become "a trust issue with Oracle." However, Oracle executives have argued that they are the ones being honest with customers about the eventual fate of the Itanium platform, despite statements by Intel officials that they have a roadmap that will take Intel development through the end of the decade. The next generation of the chip, dubbed "Poulson," is due out next year, and Intel officials say it will double the performance of the current Itanium. "Kittson" will follow Poulson.

Buik said that during the OpenVMS conference, HP worked to lay out the options available for customers. Along with speakers from HP, attendees also heard from officials from Intel and from Mimer, a Swedish company that offers a SQL-based database alternative to Oracle.

One idea that won't happen is HP developing OpenVMS to run on x86 systems. Manor's Leonhardt said he and others have been asking HP to consider such a move for the past few years. "We think that for any applications, x86 is fast enough," he said.

However, Buik said that won't happen. HP officials have told customers that such a move would prove too costly.