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Despite the confusion analysts say that anyone planning a major server deployment should press ahead but should first get assurances from HP or Compaq of their full support, including the supply of components of any line that may be discontinued.
If and when the merger is completed the new HP will be responsible for five server operating systems and four server hardware platforms.
The good news for the merged company, said Martin Hingley, the vice-president of the European Systems Group at IDC, was that, "In both HP and Compaq, the strategy is to converge server families onto the forthcoming IA64 [64-bit] Intel platform."
Compaq recently announced a fast track movement of its OpenVMS, Tru64 and Non Stop Kernel (NSK) operating systems to the third-generation (3G) IA64 chip. An IDC paper on the merger observed that this essentially mirrored HP's decision to move its HP-UX and its proprietary MPE-iX operating systems to the second-generation (2G) IA64 chip.
Hingley said that HP would be migrating users from the proprietary PA-Risc architecture on its HP9000 servers onto McKinley, the second-generation 64-bit hardware from Intel due out later in 2001. Compaq has said it will move AlphaServer customers from the Alpha processor on current machines to Madison, the third generation of IA64 expected in 2002.
The wildcard for the combined company will be the AlphaServer family from Compaq.
Unlike Sun and HP, the AlphaServers are not considered mainstream Unix data-centre servers. "In the UK the AlphaServer has carved a niche in telecommunications," said Hingley. Valued for their powerful processor technology, AlphaServers are used in applications where raw processing power is the main criteria.
Uncertainty is the main problem for users of the AlphaServer, Hingley added. Compaq has only recently announced plans to migrate the technology to IA64. HP, for its part, is likely to build both AlphaSevers and HP9000 on the same basic architecture.
This would mirror the way IBM manufactures its AS/400 and RS/6000 families, although it took IBM four years to consolidate its two server product lines.
IDC believes it will be years before the combined HP-Compaq organisation will be able to leave behind PA and Alpha chips. An IDC paper on the merger said: "It will certainly be a few more years before it will be able to use a combined underlining architecture to support its five proprietary operating systems [if ever]."
IDC believes that the support and continued development costs for the PA-Risc and AlphaServer platforms are likely to be high, especially through 2002 and 2003.
So what should users do? Martha Bennett, vice-president at Giga Information Group, warned that holding off purchases would not be advisable. She told CW360 that users should continue to buy servers from both manufacturers and not delay buying-decisions until the merger has gone through.
Where users need to be careful, she explained, was "in making sure that hardware and components will be available in the future," to support any product purchased now that could end up being dropped by HP at a later date.
Contracts need to be scrutinised, said Bennett. "Users need to sure the products will be available for the next two to three years, giving them enough time to put in place migration strategies," she explained.
For high-value contracts she advised users to get assurances from HP and Compaq that spare parts for proprietary server hardware would be available in the event of server families being phased out.