Cooking Up New 3000 Strategies
Birket Foster has been heating up the rare steak that
is the HP 3000 community on both sides this year. The last person to
win Hewlett-Packards HP 3000 Contributor of the Year Award at
HP World, Foster has developed his company MB Foster Associates into
one of four HP Platinum migration partners at the same time he
sits on the board of directors of OpenMPE Inc., dedicated to
extending the life of the HP 3000 beyond HPs planned 2006
Birket one of those 3000
communitys members better known by his first name has
been astride the middle of the community for quite awhile, in both
middleware solutions and among his peers in utility software. In the
middle 1990s his companys ODBC technology was chosen by HP to
be included in the MPE/iX operating system, putting MB Foster as
close to the inside of HPs labs as any company not owned by HP
can get. Theres advocacy on his menu as well. For more than a
decade hes led the SIG-Softvend Special Interest Group, a group
of HP 3000 software vendors whose mission includes getting more
information from HP about the 3000s technology than the vendor
would be inclined to deliver on its own.
Less than a month after HP surprised much of
its 3000 community with an end of HP support announcement for the
platform, MB Foster Associates started Webinars on migration issues.
The briefings, which continue to take place every other week,
represented the first such training anyone offered on whether to stay
or go from the 3000; even HP didnt have a briefing ready until
more than a month later. By the time HP managed to air its first
migration Webcast, Birket had been named to the first board of
directors of OpenMPE, Inc. Hes said his objectives in joining
that group include making sure HP documents the operating system code
well enough so third parties can build patches after HP exits that
Fosters company celebrated its 25th
year of serving the 3000 community this May, starting from consulting
work he did in the 1970s and then adding resales of VEsoft, DISC, and
Bradmarks software afterward, and then sales of the WRQ
Reflection line. In the late 1980s he took on DataExpress from its
author David Drummond, beginning the work in IMAGE data exchange that
led to introducing the first ODBC product to the market in the early
We have grown interested in the balancing act
Birket and his company have unveiled over the past year of
Transition. We talked with him by phone during the week that he threw
his annual BBQ celebration at the companys Chesterville,
Ontario headquarters among the Canadian cornfields, hard by the South
Nation River. It was a typically cascading, wide-ranging discussion
about how he and his company can guide customers toward two disparate
destinations, and how HPs hope for business as
usual is faring in a very unusual year for 3000 software
People have been taking sides in the 3000s
Transition era. Youre on both the OpenMPE board and the
Platinum migration partner list. How can you do both jobs with
Have you noticed the name of our transition
seminar? Its Should I Go Or Should I Stay?
Were going to support people no matter which way they choose.
Its all about doing whats right for the customer. We have
a passion for looking after customers. In May we made 25 years, a
pretty big milestone in this industry. We will be a trusted advisor
and assist them in shaping a sustainability plan, if thats
right for the customer.
Whats the most significant goal which OpenMPE
must meet this year?
OpenMPE is not about an open source code
movement maintained by the community. I dont think you have
enough critical mass, those who will put their hearts and souls into
it. If you could clone [Allegro Consultants] Stan Sieler 200
times, youd have that.
OpenMPE means to most customers that
theres a chance you could have an emulator that would allow you
to run MPE on the latest Intel-type hardware for the next n years.
The biggest thing that would make that possible is Hewlett-Packard
not standing in the way of licensing for it. Im sure HP has to
negotiate with the 9000 division as to whether or not they could have
[hardware driver] information released to the world. That information
might be phenomenally interesting to someone whos competing in
the hardware business.
So you think the major goal is getting HP to give
itself permission to enable an emulator?
Yes, thats a good way of putting it. HP
has to figure out that its okay for someone to use all this
information to build something that would be able to be licensed.
Whats the goal that OpenMPE has to meet in this
Its fish or cut bait time. Weve
got to get a crystal clear message from HP on the licensing issue for
What would you say to people who believe not much has
happened for the homesteaders from OpenMPE so far?
Quite a bit has happened. HPs gone from
We dont think thats a good idea, to You
know, maybe there are reasons for making this happen. HP has
more data, and I dont think they had any data when they made
the decision about the [end of support] deadline. I dont think
its bad to have a deadline to make people think about a
Do you think that HP should be writing this hardware
emulator for the 3000 homesteaders?
I dont think they have someone with the
passion that [Allegros] Gavin Scott has. I think you need
somebody with passion to make this happen, and I think Gavin will be
just fine, thank you. I think the issue has become what can we get
done in terms of licensing.
The issue that the emulated mode would be is
that the entire environment is not the operating system. The
environment goes well beyond the operating system. It would require
that there was a clear path for people to able to license and protect
their intellectual property on that platform. Therefore, things like
the HPSUSAN number and the HPCPUNAME would have to be maintained by
whoevers writing the operating system. Because, quite frankly,
it costs millions of dollars a year to run a lab. People who are
doing that kind of thing need to get a return on their investment
unless youre doing it as a hobby.
How much of the customer base is spending money on
their migration today?
We were the first to have Webinars, so we
have a lot of data, know a lot about whats going on. Weve
talked to lots of people. On November 14 there were already people
who were migrating, so all that this HP decision did was confirm what
these customers were doing. Those people already had a plan.
The key to this is that you must have a plan
before you start down this road. Youve got to be thinking about
life after migration. This is not about migration. If youre one
of the people who wants to migrate, youve got to stretch your
imagination about the technology that might be available in 10
Its not about the application itself,
its the way you deploy it. You could be doing something about
wireless, you know? Think about it: browsers didnt exist 10
Are you saying these are places where HP 3000 owners
could be spending money, today, and get a return on the investment in
Yes, they could innovate before they migrate.
They could get their heads around a new technology. People who own
code know in their heart of hearts they should be doing something
about Webification, like for order status. Youll learn about
what it takes to integrate Web services into applications. Were
helping people build data marts, for example.
Back to the question: How much of the 3000 community
is actively migrating today?
So, youve got that group of people
thinking about migrations because they were before November 14;
youve got a group of people who are wondering if HP will do it
all for them. The answer to that one is absolutely not. Youre
going to have to plan what youre doing with your IT yourself,
unless youre a huge customer and can pay HP to do it.
I would say right now there are somewhere in
the neighborhood of 10 to 15 percent who were already migrating, and
theyre spending money on active migration activities. The other
group of customers is starting to realize the list of things that has
to happen between now and when theyre successfully migrated.
Those people are starting to think, Maybe I ought to have a
Probably 60 percent of the customers have not
got any plan, and not got any budget in place. What they need to be
doing this fall is make sure theres a chunk of money to get
assistance to put together the plan for making the migration path.
Theres a quarter of the people who are partly planned, and most
of them have not thought about life after migration.
Are they spending money on that planning, then?
Some of them are trying to build it
themselves. One of our partners came up with a great saying about
this: A fool with a tool is still a fool. I dont
mean to denigrate the 3000 community. There are a bunch of bright
guys. But were talking about business planning here. The
technology decisions will follow. There are people in the market with
migration experience. We just happen to have a team thats had a
phenomenal amount of migration experience.
Companies are beginning to talk about their
migration experience when looking for engagements. How do you define
a years worth of experience with migration?
Early in my career I was part of a team that
had to migrate about 4,000 programs between a Burroughs 4800 and an
HP 3000, and they were all COBOL. And you just cant do editor
and global change stuff fast enough. We ended up writing a parser.
The 12 people on our migration SWAT team have
118 years of experience. Some of them have done Unix to Unix
migrations, some of them have done migrations to and from HP 3000s,
and some of them have helped customers move and implement to
PeopleSoft and Oracle.
How do you define a years worth of experience?
Doing it and nothing else in that year?
Being in the trenches, making it happen. Most
of these migration projects are 18 months, and only about 15 percent
are your calls back to work on existing code.
Of the 12 people in your migration leadership team,
are they doing anything else other than migrations?
Right now, yes. They are helping people
innovate before they migrate, and some of them are in our tech
support and R&D.
So its good to hear theres something
going on besides migration, and planning for it?
Oh yeah. Just because somebody is trying to
herd you in a particular direction doesnt mean thats the
right thing for your company to do at this particular time. People
need to take a deep breath and assess what they need to be doing. The
key thing is to do the right thing for your company which may
or may not be a migration.
Is there a good reason to buy another, newer HP 3000
before HP stops selling them?
Absolutely. The new PCI bus is getting
between two and 20 times faster performance than the old boxes. You
could buy an A-class box if youre on the low-end, and
youll be absolutely astounded if your batch jobs have been
If youre planning on staying awhile,
the PCI stuff is going to be much more supportable 10 years from now
than the previous generations using HP-IB. People dont make a
lot of HP-IB stuff anymore.
So it doesnt seem unusual to you that there
would be active sales of a system the vendor has announced an end of
support date for?
I disagree. Youre in a situation where
most people write their machines off after five years. So whats
wrong with doing a five-year investment? If the box is working for
you with the current applications, or if youre thinking of
doing migration activities on the same box youre running for
production, youre going to need a little more headroom. Take a
look at your business plan and see if youre planning on merging
other companies into yours. If you are, how much more headroom will
you need for that? You want to understand how your equipment will
support you over the five to 10-year timeframe. Its going to
take 18 months to five years to do a migration if youre
planning a migration.
You hosted some tests of HP Eloquence. Is Eloquence
ready to take on IMAGE duty for the average HP 3000 shop?
We had people from HP Ross Macdonald
and Tien-You Chen and [Eloquence creator] Michael Marxmeier,
and several people from the 3000 vendor community. HP first gave a
blessing to Eloquence 12 years ago, when they were phasing out the HP
250s and 260s, and bought the product from Marxmeier.
Does that 12 years make Eloquence ready to take on
IMAGE duty for the average 3000 shop?
Eloquence is not on just one platform.
Eloquence has over 2,000 licenses, and probably only 300 of them are
related to HP 3000 migrations. The layer that is used to intercept
the TurboIMAGE calls is getting the best workout its ever had.
A large number of vendors are making comments and making things
Its getting that workout just in the last six
months or so?
Thats right. This is not one of those
things where it was 100 percent when it was first suggested as a
solution. One of the largest things about this solution is there is
no HP investment in it. HP owns the intellectual property, but all of
the work is being done by Marxmeier Software AG, as opposed to an HP
lab being responsible. I dont think that needs to change.
Will the 7.0 release of Eloquence change things
significantly for the 3000 customer looking at the database as a
It adds quite a few things that were more
3000-ready than previous releases. Michaels done a good job.
Will the year that Eloquence requires to mature make
Most migrations wont start until 2004 anyway,
because people will need the next year to go and plan. In 75 percent
of the cases, youre going to do an application buy, or
re-buying your existing application for another platform.
Do you think HP 3000 IT staff should be getting
database design experience and training?
Yes, if youre going to develop. I think
more customers will buy than develop. Unfortunately, many of the
companies running HP 3000s have focused their staffing on the NT and
Unix space to get the support they required. They have de-skilled the
3000 side, so theyre not up to speed on things like Apache,
Java and C++.
Whats the most critical part of a transition:
training in new OS, data conversion, or language skills?
Training, but not in the new operating
system. One of the costs youve got to think about is that
youve got to train every one of your end-users on a new
application if you move applications.
The new operating system has hundreds of
hours available, either self-paced or on the Internet, for any one of
the new operating systems you might pick. Thats the easy part.
It affects a very limited number of people, your IT staff. Its
a good idea to start your IT staff on courses now if youre
going to a new operating system.
Which of the available alternatives to the 3000 is a
good idea to start learning about today?
The first thing you do is to figure out what
you need from the application to support your business. If the
application that best suits your business is on operating system A,
thats the one you should start focusing on.
To find out about available applications, if
you belong to an industry association, go ask people in similar
business what they are running. Work with your accountants.
Accountants love those software selection processes. Or pick one of
the Class A consulting firms, or a Platinum partner. All of us know
something about software selection. I wrote my first paper in 1985 on
How do you handicap NT versus Unix to replace 3000
Things are definitely maturing in the Linux
and NT marketplaces. If youre going to do a plan, its
going to be two years from now before you actually get there. You can
assume it doesnt really matter which platform youre going
to be on. Today, Unix platforms are more robust. Microsoft is
positioning itself as being a major player in the wireless space, as
well as integrating all of the Office products as delivery mechanisms
into many applications, including Great Plains. They spent $2.5
billion buying Great Plains Software, a small and medium business
accounting package. Theyre doing things to set up business
rules in it, so if something occurs, the following people get mailed.
What advantages do the 3000 customers get in choosing
an alternative platform which HP offers? Theres a lot of Unix
vendors, and even more Linux capable systems.
HP is putting together financing programs,
and I know theyve been talking about doing a financing program
that if youre working with a Platinum partner, to take the fees
for the planning and implementation, plus the cost of hardware and
software, and work it out over three or five years. Theyre
talking about it.
Is it realistic to believe a well-managed company
could use HP 3000s for another 10 years? How could they do this in
Yes. The key thing being the application
support over that period of time. Will they be able to support the
application, and make the changes required? Ten years is an extremely
long time. Technology will have changed big time. There will be a lot
more wireless appliances. Object libraries will be different.
The 3000 will have the Java things, the GNU
compilers. Both of those are going to evolve independent of the
platform. As long as the layer is still there to support Java and
GNU, and Im sure it will be, I dont think theres
going to be an issue. Youd be able to take advantage of
everything in the Java-GNU-C++ space that exists.
However, if a new major technology came along
like 10 years ago, were you thinking about wireless?
will there be a technology that shows up that cannot be integrated
back into the 3000. Over the 10 year period, the answer is
Over 10 years it will be excellent at doing
what the 3000 does: terminal-based, client-server, browser-based. If
theres a new technology that comes up, this is where OpenMPE
comes in. the information on how to write the drivers and how to
deliver them would be available, so you could actually incorporate
those back in.
One of the things Ive been concerned
with is that as HP puts away MPE into maintenance mode, to make sure
they document things. So if somebody needs to come in and do a patch,
all the information is there thats required. And you know what?
The most senior guy whos been doing patches for 20 years took a
retirement package at HP. Its alright, hes got a pretty
good understudy. But its not the same guy who did it for 20
HP wanted us to believe after the November
announcement it would be business as usual. You lead 3000 tool
providers in the SIG-Softvend group. Has it been business as usual
for these vendors?
Its been a very unusual year. Not every
year that has the Twin Towers experience. That has impacted a lot of
things, along with the fact that were in the bottom of a
10-year economy. 81-82, 91-92, looks like the years were having
these downturns. Its good, because it weeds out some of the
less experienced companies.
There are a lot of customers who have
realized this year that they dont have to move tomorrow
morning. For most people, they didnt have a budget for 2002 for
planning. To do planning properly, in some detail, will cost you time
Business as usual depends on the customers. A
group of customers stopped for awhile buying products. Then they
realized they had to get on with business anyway. We have been doing
work in the areas of data marting, and adding Web front ends to
current applications. On the other hand, I know people who looked at
the situation and said, Im not investing in my 3000
through the Transition process. More of them than last year,
and some of them are foolish. They should be looking at whether they
get a return on that investment during the period of time they have
left on the 3000. Theres still going to be customers on the
3000 10 years from now. You should be looking at how you can use this
innovation. Theres some very smart people who wrote stuff for
the 3000, and makes it easier for customers.
I know a customer whos putting in
MANMAN for the 3000 now. They decided that MANMAN, for the next 5-6
years, would be just right for this plant.
Do you want HP to release a version 8.0 of MPE/iX?
I think they should have a parking release,
the one that they will be supporting through 2006. As a software
vendor, I dont want to invest in supporting six versions of
MPE/iX. Wed be much happier having one version to support, if
that version is as stable as previous releases. It would be in the
customers best interest to move up to a parking release and
look for support on that.
Is a 3000 emulator on Intel a good business
proposition for this market? Would you test your products against
such a thing if anybody could build one?
Wed take advice from our customers. If
a customer said they would order a product on the emulator, we could
make a business case for it. If the HP 3000 with the application you
currently have on it is absolutely the right thing for your business
for the next 10 years, because youll be able to get low cost
CPUs under it. The issue isnt low-cost CPUs, though. Its
supportability and extendibility. But the alternative is to run it on
what they currently have, for 10 years. If I get beyond the 10-year
point, there could be enough changes in technology that being on an
Itanium processor could be an advantage. But I dont see a huge
advantage for most customers of running an emulator in the five year
time frame at all.
It really comes down to what the community
wants to do. As people think through this process, were finding
less and less people who can justify a sustainability plan for using
an emulator or staying on the 3000 beyond the 10-year-mark.
Why 10 years, do you think?
Things change a lot. Ive sat in
meetings where Ive said, And whats going to happen
in the 10-year timeframe? People say, I dont care,
Im retiring by then. Im retiring on the 3000, and I
dont care. I just dont want to have to go through another
What does the 3000 community have that it can teach
the rest of the IT industry?
The biggest thing about the 3000 community is
that it is a community. There was always that feeling. People know
each other by first names. If I say Alfredo, 98 percent
of the 3000 community knows who that is. If I say Bob
Green, people know who that is. Thats one of the areas
where the rest of the IT industry could learn.
Can that kind of community be built without face to
Were going to have to learn, but the
technology is evolving. We could be having this meeting with both of
us on minicams. I remember much slower modems than I want to
remember. But its hard to go for a beer in a virtual world.
SIG-BAR, which is the Special Interest Group for Brainstorming and
Advanced Research, lived for many years and assisted in solving the
problems of the world. Theres something about discussing things
over the beverage of your choice.
One of the things that should come out of
this as a learning experience is that all of the pieces you need to
do are the same as far as platforms. It all has to do with the
applications. The HP community doesnt have a single platform
Most of the people in the 3000 community are
lucky we got more than we bargained for with the HP 3000. We have a
phenomenal environment with a low cost of ownership that would sit
and run by itself. So, many people are in a state where they have the
attendants flying the plane. Thats going to cause them a
problem, because we have to change direction.