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June 2002

Back yard ecosystems grow surprises

NewsWire Editorial

You can start with a hole in the ground and end up with an ecosystem. That ought to be proof enough that nurturing an ecosystem is built around maintaining a healthy opportunity. At least that’s what we learned in our back yard this month, creating a healthy home-grown pond.

HP 3000 customers have heard a lot about ecosystems from HP over the last seven months. First they heard their ecosystem — HP’s shorthand for the cast of software suppliers serving the 3000 — was failing. Then the customers have been flushed in the direction of other ecosystems, flourishing in the NT and Unix environments.

In our backyard we had dug only a hole in the ground, the first step in a plan to create a back yard pond. Ponds are in vogue throughout suburban America, as we middle-class kids who grew up on the fringes of nature reclaim the nearby sounds of water and animals from our youth. I compare our hole in the ground to a computer system without applications. A significant part of the HP 3000 community started their IT operations that way, writing what they needed with in-house staff.

The hard work to transform our hole into an ecosystem happened while I vacationed with my son Nick. Abby engaged our friend Eric to fill our hole with sand, patch a liner, create a rim of beautiful flat stone around the hole’s edges, then wire power for the pump and filter system. Abby filled it with water that was cleared of chlorine, then added life, as she often does: a lily plant and fish.

I came home to the sound of running water, two goldfish darting about, a handful of minnows nipping hungrily at bugs on the surface. It might be the same way when you arrived in your IT post and observed your HP 3000: already stocked with applications, with plenty of room to grow. I pitched in to pick a filter and pump that would keep the water clear. Maybe you have added middleware to keep your data flowing through Web browsers.

The most magical part of our ecosystem arrived unbidden and unexpected. We sat inside last week and heard the low, throaty growl of a bullfrog in our yard. We hadn’t shopped for a frog. He simply showed up, announced himself in the dark, and began to feast on the insects set out on the water’s surface.

Ecosystems can provide those kinds of surprises for you. We don’t have a nearby body of water that might offer a home for a bullfrog. But when you think pond, and lily pad, can a frog be far behind? When you think cost-effective computer system, and open source, standards-based technology, how far away can new life be for your HP 3000?

The fact that packaged software has migrated away from the HP 3000 cannot be denied. The explanation for the exit of application providers rests more in the system vendor’s marketing and critical mass and than in any technology blight. If HP hadn’t relegated the HP 3000 to boutique computing, it may have preserved its critical mass the same way IBM nurtured its AS/400.

As much as it frustrates us to point out another vendor’s success, IBM’s classic competitor to the 3000’s mission of integrated, bundled computing appears as healthy as ever. We plan to keep an eye on what IBM is now calling the iSeries, simply because its integration is more in tune with typical HP 3000 IT strategies than NT or Unix solutions. Just because there’s another natural pond over the hill, however, doesn’t mean you can’t keep your own ecosystem healthy and thriving. If you’re working with your own software, the state of your computing pond remains within your control. A host of utility software vendors and service experts can still help you with that.

On the other hand, if you’re devoted to packaged software for your HP 3000, your fate rests in the hands of others. Customers using software from Summit Information Systems, Amisys, Ecometry and others — well, they’ve got to decide whether to move to whatever new pond those companies establish themselves beside. If those customers want to preserve their HP 3000 pond, it means stepping away from those application providers, creating their own ecosystem.

That kind of independence assumes some risk, an element that businesses work to minimize. But the truth about moving away from the HP 3000 is that everyone will be implementing a new computer platform. At the moment it appears that choosing HP’s alternatives doesn’t preserve much more than choosing IBM’s solution. In either case you face new databases, new tools, the expense of buying another system, retraining and software licenses. Only if you make an investment in new HP 3000 systems — a wise move, we’d say — do you get much relief on your bottom line.

HP has been providing plenty of education — some might say sales sermons — to advise 3000 sites on their options for the future. In the first half-year of the Transition, all of the advice has promoted jumping away from the pond of packaged 3000 applications which has been drying up for some time. HP religiously points to its forecast about that ecosystem, figuring low water now will mean no water later. Any study of home-grown applications, however, shows an ecosystem in far better shape. Adding water to such a home-grown pond is easier, because you don’t rely on the rainfall from upstream, those dwindling application resources.

Following HP’s lead, there is now a good deal of hopeful commerce in play for 3000 owners, as suppliers spread out to the new ponds of Unix and NT. Vendors are porting redoubtable products to other platforms, and services suppliers now assemble expertise on migration. Few of you, however, have made your jump on the strength of HP’s ecosystem forecast. The leaping remains in the future, for the time being.

Because the future’s promise remains unknown, this Transition era is interesting as well as frustrating. HP imagined many more people would be interested in migration of their systems than replacing applications. For now, the biggest opportunity for migration services appears to be helping people shop for new applications, rather than re-working source code which customers might have designed in the Disco era.

The moves you can make now remain easier to deploy, especially since many of you already have budgets approved for your HP 3000s. Keep your home-grown ecosystems healthy. As VEsoft’s Vladimir Volokh urges in our Q&A this month, you should get the help and tools to practice the systems management which remains your duty for your HP 3000s. Keep your flow of data clear, instead of letting an uncertain future cloud your pond. It’s your job to be ready for the arrival of the unseen element, by keeping your pond in top shape. You never know when the bullfrog will show up, roaring in the dark hours about the success remaining at a familiar water’s edge.

— Ron Seybold

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