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March 2004

Lingering longer: A show of love, or sign of fear?

NewsWire Editorial

This month has seen a lot of moving in my life, but not quite as much as we expected. While I started to fill the rooms of Rio Vista — our pet name for the little getaway house down by the San Marcos river — I also saw my son Nick get ready to move out of our Austin home. He’s been here more than two years as a young adult. Nick moved in after his year of national Americorps service up in Buffalo, and we’ve been happy to have him in our daily lives. Now he’s leaving to set up his own first apartment, but he’s easing out a little more slowly than his rent and deposits on the new place might dictate. I couldn’t help but think of HP’s exit from the MPE support business, as well as the rate of your departure from the platform. All around me, there seems to be a lot of lingering going on.

HP will tell you they are not lingering, just making your life easier and less costly. The company’s decision to add two years of support for the most widely-installed MPE/iX release surprised some people. The vendor is leaving nothing to chance in smoothing the path away from the 3000. HP’s officials believe you were ready to spend money to switch to MPE/iX 7.0 or 7.5, and they would rather see you budget those bucks to switch to HP-UX. (Or if you insist, Windows, although it looks like HP’s role in your enterprise will be a lot smaller if you bring up the curtain on a Windows production.)

Another surprise is that HP would figure that a move to 7.0 could occupy your budgets in 2005. (The 2004 budgets were locked down months ago, so this 6.5 announcement couldn’t affect them, could it?) After all, we were told during 2002 that people would be well underway with migrations by now, and that less than 20 percent of the customers wouldn’t follow HP’s recommendation to switch off HP 3000s. I can see general manager Winston Prather now, flush with the spirit in front of the 2002 Solutions Symposium crowd, telling a packed room that HP expected few customers to be left running MPE by 2005.

The sharp tack of reality had pricked that gaudy balloon by late last year, when the two-year anniversary of HP’s news rolled around. More than one third of the migrating customers reported to Interex, the user group proud to be HP’s partner, that they wouldn’t be moved out when HP leaves the 3000 field in 2006. (One customer in five won’t be migrating, and close to half of the migrating customers haven’t started yet.)

HP may have been as surprised about that figure as I was this week, when Nick told me that he didn’t plan to move his furniture out on Sunday afternoon, Leap Year Day, the very last day of February, and his day off. Oh, he’s moving, just as many of you will. But not as fast as we expected, even though he starts paying rent on his apartment on March 1. We’re glad to have him around a little longer, to delay the empty nest pang we will feel when there’s no boom box jamming behind his bedroom door. I bet he’s moved out by spring break, something that swings though Texas in mid-March. But he’s lingering where he’s safe and comfortable.

A serious portion of the 3000 community is doing the same thing right now. Sure, maybe the majority of 3000 sites will go to another platform over time. Nobody knows how much time, though. (We’re not sure about that majority part, either, but it will take a lot of years to tell. Even HP’s Platinum migration partners expect to be moving customers in 2007 or later.) The HP proposition to migrate away from a working platform begs for resources: either financial, or labor, or both. These commodities are in short supply at the moment, especially those bodies in the IT center (at big firms) or in offices and computer departments (the majority of 3000 shops). There’s a shortage of jobs, a lingering scar from the slashed-down IT economy that followed the Y2K and dot-com run-ups. The profits and swelling securities are starting to return, but the jobs are long overdue.

Without people to do the work of migration, companies are standing pat. “Homesteading for now, anyway,” is a common plan. In time, company profits may trickle down to IT expenditures. When that happens, outside help might perform a lot more 3000 migrations, because the staff on hand is so often overworked. And that’s the workload without migration projects, which are going to feel like Y2K again in many HP 3000 shops.

HP’s extension of its 6.5 support made me smile in much the same way that I grinned at Nick when he said he was taking his time leaving our house. He knows his new digs are the best thing for him at 21, just like the HP 3000 shops know third-party support options for 6.5 are best for them in the long run. HP’s lost the motivation it once had to excel in support for MPE/iX. The vendor’s spirit of departure is always at the bottom of any dispute about HP service: HP recommends that you should be leaving this platform. 6.5 support won’t include enchancements. Sometimes a bug fix will consist of “You need to be on a later release.” HP has resource issues, too. Its own segment of the 3000 ecosystem is already in decline. Few HP employees devote their whole week to HP 3000 work anymore.

Why are so many customers waiting to commit to migration? It depends who you ask. The easy answer is the success of what’s working. That’s like the love we feel at the sight of Nick’s tousled bed-head when we see him emerge around noon, after a late night working, and then having fun afterward. You have affection for your computer systems, so lingering could be seen as an act of love.

There’s another cause for the lingering, both on Nick’s part and perhaps the 3000 market’s too. Everybody has moments of fear about the unknown. He’s going to put down rent every month, along with his other expenses. You’ll be committing to payments to services companies, and software firms that might be new to you. Migration, like any journey, can have unexpected challenges before your ultimate arrival. It might feel safer right now to stay in place until the last minute.

If you find yourself lingering, put your waiting to good work. Be sure to reward the partners who have supported you and pledge to be there in your 3000 future, however long it might be. Whether you love your 3000’s results, or fear what’s next, those partners are standing by you, working for your support. These third party tool and support firms didn’t need to extend their 3000 plans this month; they’ve been behind the platform ever since HP announced it was leaving. HP listened to extend 6.5, and it heard what the third parties already knew.

I don’t doubt Nick will have a fine place of his own very soon. I told him we’re glad to have him around, but he’s got to pull the trigger on his plans at some point. If you don’t have plans now, work on them, and be sure to include partners who can show evidence of success: in the software you use, in migration services you’ll need. You’ll want an experienced hand to help with the heavy lifting. Nick’s got to squeeze his futon bed out a narrow hallway to finish his move, something that looks difficult. You’ll probably want to move your computing bed last, too. When you’re moving out, reach for the community’s third parties, an independent resource that is devoted to your future — no matter how long you need to linger, or for whatever reason.

— Ron Seybold  

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