Sun Takes Aim at Alpha

Company lures users looking to get out before HP pulls plug on hardware.

Sun Microsystems Inc. is taking a renewed interest in users of Hewlett-Packard Co.s graying AlphaServer hardware, hoping that many of them will opt for Suns SPARC servers rather than transition to HPs Itanium environment.

HP, which acquired the Alpha technology and Tru64 Unix operating system with its purchase last year of Compaq Computer Corp., said it will introduce the last new Alpha chip next year, stop selling Alpha systems in 2006 and end support of the servers in 2011. HP, of Palo Alto, Calif., is standardizing its high-end systems on Intel Corp.s 64-bit Itanium chip.

Sun this week is launching its HP Away program, a mixture of free migration options, financing, trade-in offers and application-porting services designed to lure away those HP customers. Sun initially will target HPs Alpha/Tru64 users, then move on to others, such as e3000 customers, officials said. Sun estimates that about 200,000 businesses run more than 400,000 AlphaServers.

Officials at Sun, of Santa Clara, Calif., said sales of Intels Itanium chips—which HP helped develop—have been poor, which will feed into the fears of AlphaServer users and may discourage them from migrating off a RISC architecture.

IBM, of Armonk, N.Y., said it, too, has programs in place targeting HP. AlphaServer users have approached IBM for its PowerPC-based servers as a stable RISC-based platform, officials said.

HP officials said they have strong migration plans. Next year, HP will port key parts of the Tru64 operating system—specifically, the True Clustering and advanced file system—into the HP-UX environment, making it easier for Alpha/Tru64 users to make the move.

Alpha user Hall Kuff said that, for the majority of users, it will make more sense to move to the Itanium with HP rather than migrate to Sun or IBM. "There are some who will buy a new Alpha [server] today, and new Alphas over the next 24 months, even though they know its ending, because they need the power, they need it cost-effective and they need it now," said Kuff, manager of systems and networking for Tessco Technologies Inc., in Hunt Valley, Md. Some Alpha users IT infrastructures are geared strictly for Alpha technology, Kuff said. Most are like Tessco, which along with the Alpha systems has invested $1.5 million in an HP storage area network. Moving from HP to another vendor would make little sense given that type of investment, Kuff said.