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Sun Launches Migration Program to Lure HP s Alpha Users; Will Life Science Customers Bite?


Seeking to take full advantage of “disruption within a competitor’s installed base,” Sun Microsystems recently launched an initiative to migrate users of Hewlett-Packard’s Tru64 Unix AlphaServer systems to its Sparc-based servers running Solaris. This move has the potential to cut into HP’s Alpha-heavy life science customer base — if Sun can convince users to buck the mounting Intel/Linux trend and remain on a RISC-based platform.

Sun announced the new program, called HP Away, in a confrontational statement that described the initiative as a “no-risk alternative for customers fed up with the havoc created by the end of development for the Alpha/Tru64 platform and forced migration to Itanium-based systems — a platform with a questionable track record and limited industry support.”

Sun estimated that around 400,000 existing Alpha/Tru64 servers would be up for grabs over the next several years as HP moves to Itanium chips running HP-UX. Sun expects it can migrate at least 40 large customers from HP over the next year, according to Mark Richardson, a company spokesman.

The migration plan includes a free two-week assessment and deferred payment for the entire migration for up to 90 days.

Liz From, life sciences strategist at Sun, said the company has already won over several HP life science customers based on the phase-out of the Tru64 operating system alone. “They didn’t believe that HP-UX was an option,” she said. “They didn’t believe that HP could roll the features of Tru64 over, and they didn’t believe that HP could provide the migration in a time that would accommodate their needs.”

In an e-mail message to BioInform, an HP spokeswoman dismissed the Sun program as “more hype than a sound program,” adding, “customers are questioning Sun’s financial stability and the viability of its current business strategy.”

Indeed, the move could be viewed as a desperate scramble for the scraps of the dwindling Unix-on-RISC market. HP expects the performance of the Itanium 2 servers to surpass that of RISC-based servers within the next two years, and the company’s wholesale shift to Itanium was predicated on the assumption that Intel’s 64-bit platform would ultimately emerge as the de facto standard.

Sun’s initiative stems from the fact that Itanium has yet to gain substantial market share. If HP’s bet on Itanium pays off, Sun may see its own Unix base drop if it doesn’t snatch up HP’s remaining Alpha customers soon.

In the life science market, the Itanium platform seems to be making some recent headway, at least in Europe. HP has installed Itanium-based systems at Norway’s Sencel Bioinformatics, the Swedish Royal Institute of Technology, the Universities of Oslo, Tromsø, and Bergen, and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim. In addition, the Vital-IT program it launched in collaboration with Intel and the Swiss Bioinformatics Institute in June [BioInform 06-30-03] is expected to ease the transition of bioinformatics applications to the Itanium architecture.

Furthermore, HP intends to sell Alpha/Tru64 systems through 2006 and support them through 2011, giving customers plenty of time to weigh their options for replacement systems. The company has also launched its own money-back customer satisfaction initiative, called Alpha Retain Trust, to support AlphaServer customers with their current systems and help them transition to other HP systems (

In the life science market, not all HP customers are in a rush to upgrade their systems just yet. The Sanger Institute, which just installed a new AlphaServer system in September, is “watching all possible options,” as it considers its next upgrade, but is likely to move to Intel or AMD chips running Linux, said Phil Butcher, head of IT.

Entelos, another Alpha customer with a bit of time to kill before its next upgrade, is also leaning toward Intel and Linux for its high-end computational work, said CTO Alex Bangs. “My preference would be to try and minimize the number of different platforms we have to deal with and keep price/performance down, and I think that’s going to drive us toward Intel/Linux-type solutions wherever we possibly can,” he said. If Sun is offering Intel/Linux systems, he added, “then I wouldn’t be surprised if they get some people for that, but by that point, the vendor differentiation isn’t that much.”

— BT

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