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March 2003

Building a new booster makes all orbits safer

NewsWire Editorial

My boyhood heroes rode rockets into the skies of the Sixties. I clipped front-page headlines from the Toledo Blade about their death-defying flights, when Grissom, White, and Ohio’s own John Glenn and Neil Armstrong rode into space. Like many small boys of the decade, I wanted to be an astronaut. I dreamed of exploration while I sat in my cardboard mock-up of the Gemini capsule.

Back then, everybody knew when a space mission launched. While the countdown for Gemini 3 dripped away on a spring morning, the clocks stopped in the cocoa-brick school building of St. Johns Elementary. Right in the middle of Mrs. Stack’s third-and-fourth grade classroom one desk stood atop another, and a black and white TV carried the pictures of the Titan rocket leaving the pad.

Maybe the earliest days of minicomputers, like the dawn of the HP 3000 just seven years later, felt as exciting to you. Explorers braved risk back then, both on the pads at the Kennedy Center and in business computing. But it was risk you could plan for, to be ready and to respond. Sometimes, as the Columbia tragedy showed all of us last month, even space-grade planning cannot avert failure. You plan and prepare to the very best of your ability, so you can look survivors in the eye after a catastrophe.

Tomorrow morning I’ll be leaving on a trip that’s an exercise in time travel. While I was pasting those headlines in my boyhood scrapbook, my brother Bob, only 15 months my junior, was just as goggle-eyed at the sight of a space walk or moon landing. I invited him down to Florida’s Space Coast so we could watch the shuttle Atlantis leave the launch pad together with the eyes of boys. We got the equivalent of floor seats to the launch: those NASA-only bus passes to the closest public viewing area, and the all-access tour of the Kennedy Space Center. We paid for our tickets just one week before Columbia disintegrated over Texas.

Now my trip with Bob will be different than we imagined, much like your trajectory on the rocket of the HP 3000 has changed. We’re still going to the space center for our tour with those passes. Most of you are still feeding your company’s data to the HP 3000s. The future of our trips looks less certain. I’ll leave Florida with those bus passes, still good whenever NASA solves the shuttle problems and finally launches the Atlantis into orbit. Your future with the 3000 might be just as uncertain as when that shuttle will fly again. Or perhaps you’re holding onto a ticket on the ride into Unix or the less-charted waters of Linux or Windows NT, and just as unsure of when your launch date will arrive.

This month a new craft is starting to crawl toward the MPE-IMAGE launch pad. HP confirmed, with some significant detail, that it can see a future where it will sell only the heart of the HP 3000 success: MPE and IMAGE, and the software subsystems. The best news is these shuttles will come cheap. At $500, no serious company can say HP has priced MPE’s future out of reach.

The hardest news is that these are just shuttles for now, as useful as Atlantis is today sitting in a hangar east of Titusville. The homesteading community needs a booster, the equivalent of a Titan or Saturn V rocket: the emulator that makes a PC behave as if it’s a PA-RISC computer.

Actually, MPE and IMAGE are more useful than Atlantis, because they’re still riding those graceful and powerful N-Class rockets that HP is still selling. But we all know the days of buying those rockets are numbered. The community that wants to homestead will need new boosters.

The building of this emulation booster might seem to be of little concern to the 3000 customers who say they will migrate. But it should be. An emulator and a better MPE license from HP — it looks like a first draft has been handed down this week, and we expect the deal to get better over time — will help the migrating customer, too. Emulation, to stay on the platform until it’s the right time to move, is like choosing a specific orbit for re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere. Entering too soon can be as catastrophic as anything we saw rain down from the blue skies on that Saturday morning here in our Lone Star state.

An emulator option can give a migration a safer orbit. That’s why we think it’s important to every HP 3000 customer. HP likes to tell customers there’s going to be a rush for the door during 2005, and that good help to migrate is going to be hard to find. That rush is a lot less likely to appear if a workable, tested and well-backed emulator can prolong the life of MPE. After all, everybody knows that it’s the facility of the applications that determines what a company computes with, not the scrapbook clippings of the operating environment. The best environment is the one you’re not even aware of as your company uses its applications. That’s why MPE has enjoyed its long reign of success.

As to how many customers might appear for an emulator, we think you might be surprised in a few years. Another figure HP has begun to spread is a report that one ERP migration project out of every three fails, or is cancelled. Factor those failures away from the 60 percent of customers who report they’re migrating, and you’ve almost got a majority of 3000 sites who will need a better option than migrating.

The numbers of the future will reveal themselves like the next launch date of the shuttle: when they’re ready. In the meantime you can do your planning like Mission Control, checking everything before you make a commitment of those precious funds. Livelihoods might be on the line, rather than lives in orbit. So help support that booster, when the option appears. Keeping MPE as a backup craft is one of the more useful ideas you can copy from the space efforts.

— Ron Seybold

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