OpenVMS Is Flying High

Compaq may have cancelled its long term plans for the Alpha chip, but the U.S. Air Force is flying a new plane based on OpenVMS.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

August 8, 2001

2 Min Read

When Compaq recently cancelled long-term plans to develop the Alpha chip, the high-RAS (reliability/availability/serviceability) system seemed in jeopardy. Now, it's become a big part of the national defense system.

Thanks to Compaq, American ground troops will soon be 10 times more effective on the battlefield. G.I. Joe will have a friendly bird overhead--a bird based on a Boeing 707 that was once a commercial or cargo plane--taking snapshots of multiple layers of earth and instantly passing the data to ground troops who would then move in with deadly accuracy. Each Block 20 E-8C Joint Strategic Target Attack Radar System (J-Stars) plane is loaded with two Compaq servers and 18 workstations, all based on the OpenVMS operating system.

Brig. Gen. Jeff Riemer, program executive officer for command and control and combat support systems at the U.S. Air Force, made sure his planes could swap computer systems if necessary, without ripping them apart. But since he took delivery of the first Block 20 J-Star earlier this week, he's too busy noting how efficient, powerful, and cost effective the systems are. "There's 10 times the acceleration in how fast information is relayed to the war fighter," says Riemer.

In addition, two servers replace 10 in the predecessor, the Block 10, which also has a different operating system inside from EMC Corp.'s Data General division, when DG was its own systems company. The OpenVMS will start three times faster and reboot twice as fast. Moreover, the new plane is $20 million cheaper than the Block 10. It's part of the military's commitment to use standard computing systems. Before, the military built its own systems. "Over a 20-year span, we expect to save $800 million," says Riemer.

To be part of the J-Stars program, Compaq had to build in specialized military availability and reliability. Features include climate control, power conditioning, and shock resistance. Dr. Dale Burton, VP of engineering and logistics for air-to-ground surveillance and battle management systems at J-Stars designer Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems in Melbourne, Fla., says the greatest benefit of OpenVMS inside the plane is the software itself. "We can walk in, yank out these 19-inch computers, and replace them with Wildfire [Compaq's newest high-end server] in a day," says Burton. "The foot stomp is the fact that we don't have to rewrite software during upgrades." He says rewriting the weapons system app would take three years and cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Rich Marcello, general manager and VP of Compaq's high-performance systems division, says there are 450,000 OpenVMS systems running worldwide-it's a $3 billion business for Compaq, and OpenVMS will be ported to Intel's Itanium processor in 2003. Besides military and government, Marcello says OpenVMS is doing well in some financial, hospital, and telecommunications markets. "We have many commitment letters out to support OpenVMS through 2011," says Marcello, "and we even have some government pacts past 2015."

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