OpenVMS: An Old Dog Still Doing New Tricks

OpenVMS continues to host critical applications, and in some areas such as disaster recovery, it is even enjoying a renaissance. The question is: Why?

Despite an avalanche of hype about unsurpassed availability, fault-tolerance and security capabilities in UNIX, Linux and even Windows Server 2003, the OpenVMS operating system is leaving them in the dust in test after test. On top of that, real world examples abound of this unfashionable operating system standing up to the most rigorous disaster scenarios.

One online brokerage, for example, had a full-blown outage right before the start of the trading day. A brand-new security guard heard an alarm emanating from a UPS device and panicked. He hit the emergency power-off button, which took down the whole site. Fortunately, the brokerage had a disaster-tolerant OpenVMS cluster and a second data center 130 miles away with a full complement of servers and complete backup of stored data.

”The company operations continued without a glitch,” says Keith Parris, a disaster recovery specialist at Hewlett-Packard. ”They ran through stock market trading that entire day on a single site; powered the first site back up after trading hours were over, and started the data re-synchronization operations required to restore the protection of cross-site data redundancy once again.”

A steady diet of similar stories is convincing Fortune 500 companies to either look again at OpenVMS or postpone their plans to phase out this ”legacy” system.

After Sep. 11, 2001, for example, word spread that seven disaster-tolerant OpenVMS clusters actually survived the ordeal. That’s why most of the big financial services houses, healthcare, telecommunications and big government agencies are firm advocates of OpenVMS.

Commerzbank, International Securities Exchange, Veterans Administration, Dow Chemical, Vodafone, and the U.S. Postal Service are just some of the business that rely on it to continue operations.

Surprisingly, the stats of this old OS are impressive.

According to Ken Farmer of, the operating system boasts 10 million users worldwide and hundreds of thousands of installations. It also shows annual growth rates of 18% over the last few years, and cluster uptimes surpassing the five-year mark.

In terms of performance, OpenVMS claims 3,000 simultaneous active users; almost 2 million database transactions per minute (with Oracle); up to 96 cluster nodes (over 3000 processors), and a full cluster capability up to 800 kilometers.

”OpenVMS has moved almost seamlessly from VAX to AlphaServer system and now to HP Integrity Servers,” says Farmer. ”It is bulletproof, genuinely 24/7, disaster tolerant, remarkably scalable, rock solidly stable and virtually unhackable.”

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