Will the relaunch of the OpenVMS ecosystem succeed ?

, par Gérard Calliet

Will the relaunch of the OpenVMS ecosystem succeed ? (episode 1)

State of the art, compared with 2014 commitment

The goal of porting OpenVMS to x86 has now largely been achieved. VMS Software seems to be initiating a new era with the appointment of new CEO, Darya Zelenina and new CTO and strategist, Camiel Vanderhoeven. Both people, following their own paths, have proven their excellence and their commitment to the OpenVMS environment.
This new stage for VSI and the OpenVMS ecosystem will mark the success or failure of the bold adventure launched in 2014.
We can only rejoice that the availability of OpenVMS on x86 is now available as a tool.
But is the existence of this tool enough for the recovery of the OpenVMS ecosystem ?
The focus on porting to x86 has turned what was only a means into an end. It was obvious that to ensure the long-term future of OpenVMS, it was necessary to have an opening to the x86 standard. But in 2014, it was a question of guaranteeing the long-term future of the entire ecosystem, with an opening to the future, of course, but also with the stabilization of the ecosystem, the general recovery of confidence in the environment.
Those who decided in 2014 to place their trust in VMS Software imagined that they would indeed be supported in their situation. And the ecosystem was aware at the time of its extreme diversity, both temporal (from VAX to Itanium) and topological (from department or small company to major accounts). It seemed then that VMS Software was taking up the torch for the ecosystem as a whole, rebuilding confidence by jumping over Compaq and HP to get back to basics.
The gamble to relaunch OpenVMS was based on the ecosystem’s intrinsic qualities, including its famous upward compatibility, which at least partly explains the extreme temporal diversity of existing products. At the time, it seemed obvious that VMS Software’s gamble was based on recognition of the ecosystem’s qualities and the actual realities associated with these qualities.
Will the relaunch of the OpenVMS ecosystem succeed ? (episode 2)
Restriction, segmentation of the field

It seems, however, that all the signals sent out by VMS Software so far contradict this implicit commitment of 2014.
The announced restriction of hobbyist licenses on Alpha and Itanium is a kind of final signature of these signals.
All the signals converge to indicate that VMS Software’s effective target is to restrict the domain to users who will be able to switch to x86 as soon as possible.
VMS Software’s approach to OpenVMS is a classic one for legacy environments. Restricting the scope to make the most of an offer that is all the more expensive for being a rare solution.
It is not impossible that the direction taken by VMS Software is inspired by the successes of its investor in legacy applications (Seagull Rocket Software) and support of a small category of mainframe (Century21). This would be a mistake in the understanding of the field, because OpenVMS is an ecosystem and not an application, an entire ecosystem and not a small category of ecosystem.
This long-term policy, which we have gradually discovered, whether conscious or not, has produced the current problematic situation.
In fact, a considerable number of players are turning away from VMS Software’s offering. To put it in a nutshell, all the "latecomers" have realized that they will never fit into the category in which VMS Software is investing, at least not in the way that might be useful to them. The result was a flight to emulator freezes, and at time an abandonment or an exit.
Let’s imagine that VMS Software’s calculation is indeed to serve only those who accept its options. That would be an abandonment of the commitment in 2014. But VMS Software may not have the means to keep this commitment.
Is this project restriction tenable even for VMS Software itself ?
Unlike the treatment of a partial legacy, the rebound of an ecosystem presupposes a convergence of skills renewal and ISV initiatives. If the scope is reduced, it will be extremely difficult to find the right skills and software packages. And privileged users will have to reconsider their situation in an ecosystem self-designated as legacy.

Will the relaunch of the OpenVMS ecosystem succeed ? (episode 3)
Forgotten resource

What was lost sight of ? The bold company’s ability to rebound was based on a specific resource that came at a very good time.
The specific resource : the durability of the product, and the very longevity of the product’s uses.
The right time : when the whole industrial age is asking itself questions about sobriety, reuse and cyclical development. Here is the opportunity to experience a real relaunch, i.e. the possibility of building on past achievements to invent a future. Innovation in the recovery process, not just a comfort treatment for legacies.
The latest reactions to the abandonment of hobbyist licenses for Alpha and Itanium are a very good indication of what is there and what is not understood : the relaunch of the very old OpenVMS gave experts from those old days a taste for recovery, for the transmission of knowledge. To make what had been fundamental experiences work in a modern environment, to help new generations take up the torch. The resource is there. You realize it when you decide to abandon it for good.
The OpenVMS world is far from being the only one in IT today where a kind of living museum is self-organizing. Old technical solutions are revived, treasures of algorithmic intelligence are archived, old machines are accumulated and refurbished. In the vast majority of cases, this is nothing more than hobbyism, of course. But reuse for real needs can only develop in the economy in general, and with the relaunch of OpenVMS we have an extraordinary opportunity to create an exceptional operation to reboot a "museum".
This exceptional opportunity has everything it takes to arouse the interest of new investors in the new cycles of the economy, and all the qualities needed to obtain national or international subsidies. But the quality of the project, which began in 2014, must still be on the agenda.

Will the relaunch of the OpenVMS ecosystem succeed ? (episode 4)
How to bounce back

If the rebound of OpenVMS doesn’t have the character that was hoped for in 2014, the risk is to witness a segmentation of the ecosystem, with some turning to purely legacy solutions, freezing their solutions, and a small group of survivors setting up on x86.
How can we get out of what seems to be a dead end for both VMS Software and the OpenVMS ecosystem ?
The absolute priority is to find ways of re-motivating a user base that is, for the most part, totally demotivated. We hope that the change in VMS Software’s management will breathe new life into the company.
The fact remains, however, that VMS Software has not acted solely out of ignorance of the ecosystem’s properties, or out of an inability to break out of preconceived patterns that are too prevalent. Necessity may be the law. VMS Software alone may not have the capacity to organize the rebound of an entire ecosystem.
Perhaps it’s time to reconsider this recovery as a whole, even if it means imagining innovative partnerships between those who know how to help the "latecomers" and those who propel the privileged into the future. Just as the skills will only be there if the old hands pass them on to the newcomers, the specialists by segments that are actually forming in the ecosystem all need to serve the ecosystem, and would therefore do well to join forces.
A strategy of multiple listening is what we expect for the future. VMS Software is our avant garde. We hope that the extreme technical prowess of OpenVMS’s last run on other hardware will not be lost for lack of knowledge of who the partners are.

Will the relaunch of the OpenVMS ecosystem succeed ? (episode 5)
General problems of innovation

In the field of industrial innovation for recovery processes, it is not uncommon for negative resistance to mingle with the innovative movement. Failure to analyze the causes of previous failures runs the risk of repeating them. In this case, VMS Software did not meditate enough on the demise of Digital, due to a certain deafness towards its customer base - deafness as the negative side of excellence. Similarly, the centralization option, which makes sense for a very large global company, cannot work for a start-up whose vocation is to wake up a sleeping network.
Another cause of problems in innovation processes is a lack of daring. We can feel the strength of an innovation - in this case, a takeover of a very long-term ecosystem - without seeing its originality. In this case, the very originality and newness of the operation addressed with fashionable solutions - business plans, hyper-virtualization, etc. -.
These two shortcomings in a relaunch process don(t lead to failure if the errors are reexamined in time and if we have the audacity to innovate more fundamentally. A recovery from the best is then possible. This is, of course, the wish of all those involved in the OpenVMS ecosystem.
It goes without saying that VMS Software’s prodigious efforts must be rewarded with a return on investment. Our analysis indicates that this return on investment will only occur if the initial rebound signal from the OpenVMS ecosystem is re-established, and this insofar as the ecosystem as a whole is reassured.

Will the relaunch of the OpenVMS ecosystem succeed ? (episode 6)

There is a general question in the OpenVMS ecosystem : why and how to invest or reinvest ?
Ensuring the long-term viability of OpenVMS involves investment, or rather reinvestment. These investments take on extremely different meanings if the ecosystem is seen simply as a legacy or as an original rebound system.
VMS Software is far from being the only player in this field. Major players are managing the sustainability of older systems. Some ISVs have already reinvested in this ecosystem - Oracle for rdb is no small example. The loyal base of OpenVMS users on Alpha and Itanium, some already on x86 and others still on VAX, is still there and likely to re-invest in OpenVMS. What’s perhaps missing is a common signal of renewed confidence, given the new universality of the OpenVMS universe.
VMS Software’s own reinvestment in OpenVMS is a not insignificant hypothesis, if the restricted scope is a symptom of difficulties.
In any case, all the other players will have to make efforts to keep OpenVMS operational, up to security standards, and managed by new generations.
Each of these users will have to decide whether to reinvest or abandon the system.
For reinvestment to be possible, what appeared as a possibility in 2014 must be confirmed in 2024. Decision-makers need to be able to see the ecosystem moving in the same direction towards renewal.
Reinvesting in OpenVMS, if possible again, is a choice with a very bright future. Because, as we said earlier, OpenVMS has the intrinsic qualities to meet the industry’s new needs in terms of sobriety and durability. Oppositibly, it’s easy to see the fragility of very large IT service providers, who can leave their customers in a state of great uncertainty from one day to the next - the current situation with VMware is an edifying example. Gigantism and ultra-rapidity are already showing their weaknesses. As the economy continues to evolve, these trends can only be confirmed.
If the OpenVMS rebound project finds the means to be confirmed as envisaged in 2014, reinvestment is possible and desirable.
It is very important to note that for those who confirm their willingness in the field, there will exist a very important additional financial resource which is that of local, national, international subsidies to operations that can be categorized as sustainable investment. The economic and political community is already determined to reinvest in sustainable development.
The renewal of the OpenVMS ecosystem is a rightful part of the economic movement for sustainability, i.e. for the logic of reinvestment.
To be part of this movement, all you need to do is be aware of who you are.