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September 2002

Homesteader’s hope emerges from HP’s world

First steps help customers to carry on 3000 tradition

LOS ANGELES -- HP gave customers here the first ledges of opportunity to continue their climb with their HP 3000s, announcing it will allow a 3000 hardware emulator project to continue as well as creating new MPE licenses.

Nothing changed about HP’s beliefs about the proper future for HP 3000 owners, however. HP’s leader of its 3000 operations, Dave Wilde, still believes that every customer must begin planning for a transition of some sort. But the company’s HP World announcements represented its first realization that staying on the computer platform is the best course for some companies.

Of the “Gang of Six” OpenMPE requirements for homesteading, HP granted three outright: the ability to let a hardware emulator project proceed, including creation of new MPE licenses in the future; the protection of HP’s documentation about the system and freeware, including the Jazz Web site; and the removal of passwords on HP’s diagnostic software for the 3000. The timing and details on the emulator and licensing remain to be worked out, as does the removal of the passwords.

The other three OpenMPE requirements are being investigated. HP expects to report back on its intentions regarding access to MPE source code, helping to enable third-party support, and post-2006 hardware add-ons and reconfigurations no later than next August. Although HP is taking slow, deliberate steps on making homesteading a viable future, it also recognizes that its customers are moving slower than expected toward other platforms.

“We’ve heard a lot of feedback that people don’t have the resources to migrate in time,” Wilde said of HP’s December, 2006 end of support deadline. “It will take them longer, or they don’t plan to migrate. They have a very stable application, and would prefer to have some simple, easy infrastructure in place, to allow them to continue to run their applications for a longer period of time than HP’s current support road map allows.”

Wilde wanted to be careful that customers not misunderstand the company’s preference and recommendation for its customers. He noted that 19 of the top 20 application suppliers for the 3000 are moving to HP’s other platforms. And HP is now offering a 50 percent trade in credit for all N-Class systems purchased after Sept. 1, to be used toward any HP-UX system, a discount that drops to 40 percent during 2005 and 30 percent during 2006.

But HP’s announcements here represented its first tangible offer to customers who see continued HP 3000 ownership as their most cost-effective strategy. Wilde said the initiatives and plans are the result of an outpouring of opinion and discussion from a customer community that’s never been shy about engaging with HP.

“I don’t think it will surprise to anyone in this room that we’ve been getting a lot of feedback over many different forums over the last year,” Wilde said. “We asked for feedback, and said we were interested in listening — and boy did we get feedback. It really has helped us in understanding what your issues are, and how we can respond.”

Timing crucial

The announcement of allowing an emulator written by a third party to proceed sparked many more questions in a well-attended two-hour meeting of OpenMPE. HP did not release pricing for the MPE licenses that would have to accompany such an emulator, software that would make Intel Pentium and Itanium processors look like PA-RISC 3000 hardware. The pricing — and how soon it could be established — are crucial elements, according to Allegro Consultants’ vice-president Gavin Scott.

“For the moment, we’ve done no technical work toward an emulator, but we are still interested in developing it,” Scott said at the OpenMPE meeting. “The issues surrounding price and the distribution for the MPE license are pretty much the remaining variables in whether or not it’s possible to do this as a commercial venture.”

Scott was realistic about the price of an emulated solution having to compete with a used system. A solution that would cost $15,000, when factoring HP’s MPE license fee and the Allegro software cost, might be a tough compare against a used 99x system purchased on eBay.

“The economics of this are really touchy to begin with, even if [HP] can start giving it all away, and Allegro can start distributing the operating system,” Scott said. HP’s insistence on distributing MPE adds a complication to letting customers run a demo copy of the emulator, for example.

“That becomes a big impediment,” Scott said. “You’re getting very close to the point where I think an emulator will happen — it will, however, be an open source, freeware thing that gets built in our garages in our spare time over the next five or six years. Whether that will be something you’d want to run your businesses on is less likely than if there’s an active, commercial effort to do it.”

More processors, software

If the problems of making a replacement for 3000 hardware are still tangible, HP took steps to make the next four years more comfortable for customers who are remaining on the HP-built hardware. Mike Paivinen, the HP platforms roadmap lead for the 3000, detailed what HP intends to do about hardware flexibility to accommodate customers who need more 3000 gear than HP was planning to deliver.

Paivinen’s slides, marked “subject to change,” said the vendor intends to provide new and remarketed add-on hardware for A- and N-Class HP 3000s beyond 2003, limited by the supply and demand in the marketplace. The components wouldn’t include entire systems, but will include CPU boards, embedded disks, memory, IO and network cards.

Paivinen, charged with developing a path for the homesteading customer, cautioned the OpenMPE audience not to expect the intentions to remain set in stone, but to look at the offers as a sign of HP’s desires.

“I don’t even know if I’ll have a job in a month,” he said with a smile, “but this really represents what we want to be doing.” HP announced an extra 1,800 layoffs earlier in the day of the OpenMPE meeting, but 3000 staffers hadn’t been tapped yet as part of the extra dismissals.

HP would only look at a period of six to 12 months beyond the October, 2003 end of sales date to offer the add-on hardware for the A-Class and N-Class systems. DTC controllers and IO cards for Series 900 HP 3000s were not part of the added hardware offer.

Software products from HP for the 3000 such as compilers, development tools and backup software will continue to be sold beyond 2003 as well. These HP products don’t have the inventory problems that HP said surrounds the hardware sales extension. While customers will be turning in A-Class and N-Class hardware over the coming years to HP, that hardware can be required to let HP continue support activities.

“The support channel has a completely different supply chain for used parts,” Paivinen explained. HP’s Kriss Rant, charged with organizing channels for the afterlife marketplace, said the add-on sales and support supply chains “are managed separately, and even if they have the parts in support, they don’t show up [for add-on sales]. Our number one goal is to ensure we can deliver the support on these servers we promised until 2006.”

Keeping a hand in the market

Although HP remained steadfast to its December 2006 end of support date and its intention to stop selling 3000s, the company wants to remain in the market to approve license swaps between customers. Paivinen said the HP software license transition process will continue “in some form or another past end of sales, probably past the end of support period as well, so hardware can be exchanged.”

HP showed more obvious interest in sparking sales of the 3000 and protecting that business through 2003. It won’t let a version of MPE be used with a hardware emulator before the end of sales date, although that kind of timing of releasing an emulator would be a remote possibility anyway, according to Allegro’s Scott. Another company, SRI, has said it considers creating such an emulator to be a less lengthy project. SRI sells an emulator for the Digital VAX hardware.

While HP wants to retain its impact on the marketplace, it flatly refuses to permit the hundreds of thousands of HP 9000 computers be turned into HP 3000 systems. Customers such as Mike Berkowitz of Guess, Inc. and Alfredo Rego of Adager proposed that the HP-UX customers trading up to Itanium-based systems would provide a rich bed of used systems. These computers are identical to HP 3000s but have a firmware personality chip that can be reprogrammed.

HP also wants any emulator project to run only on its brands of PCs, the Compaq Proliant and HP NetServer models. This requirement wouldn’t be enforced with a technical check at first, verification that Paivinen said HP has not talked about yet among its engineers. Running an emulator on HP hardware would be a condition of the MPE license on the honor system. “MPE is HP’s intellectual property, and it chooses to use it this way,” he said.

Paivinen said those left in the “virtual CSY” really care about the 3000 and its customers. “That’s going to change over time, but Ann Livermore made a commitment this morning that ‘2006 means 2006.’ They plan to hold on to the people who can make good on the support commitments. On the other hand, there are a lot of unknowns about career decisions. The people who are left behind all care about the 3000, and it’s all going to be up to us as to when we move on.”

John Wolff, a CIO running HP 3000 systems, pointed out that unknown future could present a good reason for opening up the control of the 3000’s future.

“I have a greater comfort level with a smaller company than HP,” Wolff said. “HP’s going out of this particular business, and all good intentions aside, you may not have control over whether you’ll be able to work on it any further. I think HP is going to want to transform itself into a royalty holder, rather than doing the work itself.”

Paivinen noted in reply that third party companies continue to approach HP to enhance the MPE operating system. “They said, ‘If you guys can’t do it anymore, there are lots of us out there that are willing to contibute our expertise to make that happen.’ I don’t think we’re closed to that concept at all. Whether we ask them to do it as partners with us, or transition stuff over to them over time, is an interesting question. There are definitely people out there who are very capable of providing continued enhancements to the operating system.”


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