Teaching Lessons with a Long Lifespan
Frank Smith still has plenty to teach that 3000
customers can use. The founder of Alden Research, Smith started in
the 3000 marketplace as a consultant in 1976, eventually developing
an application to manage fleets of vehicles for utilities. But after
two decades of business supporting and enhancing AR Fleet 3000, he
got a calling that changed his life with the HP 3000. HP asked him to
teach its customers fundamental and advanced MPE/iX skills.
Smith had found a new career in the 3000 market, one
that ultimately led him to write the training courses still in use on
the Web and at HPs Education Centers. Now that the vendor has
announced its departure from the 3000 market, Smith is carrying on
with training, both on his own and for HP when it can assemble a
class successfully. Hes also branched out to teach skills for a
new HP application under Unix, Linux and Windows, finding a way to
expand his experience while retaining the value of his MPE
Smith is also starting a new service to take
customers VPlus application interfaces and move them to a new
platform-neutral interface from AICS Research called QCForms. (The
technology, which Smith will use to expand 3000 app functionality
while making programs less platform-specific, will be covered in a
NewsWire feature next month.)
Maintaining MPE skills, and transferring the
markets knowledge to new staff, is becoming a critical issue in
a homesteaders drive to remain on the platform. We wanted to
talk to a teacher of the HP 3000 about the available resource and the
need to study a platform whose history is longer than the age of most
college students. Even if the 3000 isnt changing much, Smith
still can profess a lot of value in the platform, value that must be
protected through advocacy and training. We spoke with him via phone
at his Maryland-based headquarters in January, at the beginning of
the first year HP did not sell a 3000 but a year when the
majority of its MPE customers still must manage their need for skills
on the platform.
How did you get started training in MPE?
It was almost a miracle. I had been doing development and
support of AR Fleet for many years when I received an e-mail from HP
asking if Id be interested in teaching MPE. I thought,
This is really not me. Ive got this prosperous business
going, and I was doing support for my customers. But I decided to
answer the e-mail in an offhanded manner with one paragraph of my
background. I was surprised and shocked that they asked me to do a
phone interview, and a couple of days later I interviewed at
HPs Rockville, Md. education center. A week later I audited an
HP class, and began doing something that I discovered I loved
I severed ties with the remaining accounts I had they
were winding down their use of AR Fleet anyway and went into
full-time teaching in 1995. Im still teaching to this day,
though not as much as Id like. Ive developed course
material, and am teaching MPE and a Predictive Support replacement
that runs on everything but the HP 3000 called iSee.
What are you teaching in MPE these days?
Im doing onsite classes for HP. The last one was for
the California Department of Corrections, kind of a custom class
based on the hands-on MPE/iX 7.0 workshop I wrote and delivered for
HP. That was the last one I wrote for HP. I also completely
modernized the Performance Tuning class.
At its peak, how much training were you doing in HP 3000
I taught at every HP Education Center, and I was busy 75
percent of the year. I enjoy helping people, and I really enjoy the
instant in time where the light goes on at midweek, and they start
speaking MPE and doing MPE.
Have you seen HP winding down its 3000 training
engagements with independent teachers like yourself?
No question about it. The amount of work Ive done is
down to a tenth of what I used to do. Ive developed my own HP
3000 course material and delivered it onsite to a couple of
People who own 3000s worry about the skills disappearing
from the market. Should they?
the short term, definitely not, because its a buyers
market out there now. There are quite a few good people out there who
cant find work. In the long term, [HP 3000 sites] have to
support the community that will support them. I think they will rise
to the challenge.
There are people who think that HP is out of the training
business, and essentially they are. But I am still doing onsite
training in the 3000 for HP. They offer quite a few classes, but
cancel just as many. The delivery rate is far lower than its
There are some customers that are looking for training. Most
recently I had one approach me. When I asked them how they found me,
they said Adagers Web site, and since HP isnt
training in the 3000 anymore, how about coming down and teaching
People must pursue training. They are losing some skills, but
they are still going to be in business. So they need to do the
training of folks who can keep them in business.
By current estimates more than half of the 3000 community
will still be using the systems through 2006. Where do you believe
the customers of 2006 will get training for their HP 3000
I, and other instructors like Paul Edwards, will still be
around. I think they should look to proven experience. I really
intend to continue with the HP 3000 so long as the market is
What do you think of the prospects for a viable 3000
community beyond 2006?
Were a remarkably loyal group of people. Sometime we
stick with something longer than we should. I think we stuck with
HPs promises for a long time and demonstrated our loyalty. I
think the community will support the people who support it. These
people are trusted, like Alfredo [Rego of Adager] and Wirt [Atmar of
AICS Research]. These are the people they can trust; they just have
to make a living for them. Its not really difficult. If they
intend to stay on the 3000, they will.
I believe there will be people on the HP 3000 well after the
2006 deadline, after HP departs the scene. I have three Classic HP
3000s in my office. Havent fired them up recently, but
theyre all working. The hardware is all there, and applications
built on those machines now run on the PA-RISC generation of HP
3000s. I sincerely believe theres still value in that platform,
even if it goes no further than it already has. Moving off the 3000
will be an economic hardship for so many people that I dont
believe theyre going to be moving.
The folks that are going to move are those who are being
moved off by their application vendors. The rest of the folks
people who have developed proprietary code these people are
staying. I just did an onsite training class at the Department of
Corrections in California, and those guys are developing. The have a
humongous investment in 3000 technology. Theyre happy with it.
Theyre still working with new applications with the HP 3000,
despite HPs announcements that theyre going away.
Theyre about to upgrade to all A-Class and N-Class machines.
Theyre girding for the long haul. Theres no reason to
stampede off the platform, unless it cant do something they can
But dont you agree that the homesteaders
budgets have been tight for a long while?
Weve had three years of an economic downturn, and these
customers have been extremely conservative. Prudently, I think. As
far as people being stampeded off the 3000, I think all the surveys
confirm thats not the case, theyre not going to be
spending money immediately. Again, I think prudently.
OpenMPE has represented some hope for these homesteaders.
What do you believe the organization has to get accomplished?
I think they need to nail down HP and get hard commitments.
Im not so sure about the emulator for the future. We do have
issues outstanding with the diagnostics, which will be absolutely
essential for both the self-maintainers or the third-party
maintainers. There is the issue with documentation, and finally the
issue of SS-CONFIG, the ability to change 9000 hardware into 3000
hardware. Those issues have not been addressed in any fashion that
would make me feel warm and fuzzy about depending on HPs
Id like to see HP say, This is what were
going to do, and how were going to do it. Im sure
its a question of the bureaucracy within HP. Im sure
theyre good folks. But we need commitment on those issues.
Given the availability of hardware to be converted, with licenses and
all the rest, that would be a revenue stream for HP. I dont
know that an emulator would be cost-effective.
You work and train in the Unix environment. Is there a
non-3000 environment that is most complementary to MPE today? One
that a company would be better served to cross-train its 3000 staff
I cant think of one. I wont pretend to be an
expert in proprietary platforms; I havent dealt with the AS400
and iSeries. I would have to say, again, the HP 3000 performs
Now as a developer and programmer, I like Unix. Its
fun. You tinker a lot, but that isnt businesslike. Linux is the
same way. Fine for people like me who like to tinker. But not a
If you want a stable, productive environment, that is a
low-cost one, the 3000 is your best choice. One of the secrets that
the 3000 folks dont want to reveal is that to become a
competent 3000 developer or administrator, you dont need the
breadth of knowledge that an HP-UX person has to have. It costs an IT
outfit a lot more to field Unix or Linux boxes than HP 3000s.
Thats one of the virtues of the HP 3000. You dont need an
army of people to maintain a single host. One person is able to
maintain many HP 3000 hosts. The ratio just doesnt work that
way with Unix.
But we might be preaching to the choir here. The value
proposition is that it works hard, you dont have to spend a lot
to maintain it, and we dont have the training costs and high
priced administrators necessary. Because the 3000 environment has
been written rationally, for business people.
Migration advocates can rationalize that moving away from
the 3000 can be a good thing, if the new platform does things that
MPE cannot. Is there a serious list of business computing tasks that
MPE is ill-suited for?
For someone who is as die-hard an HP 3000 person as I am, I
find it hard to conceive of something the 3000 is ill-suited for.
Something came to mind, though, after a few conversations and while I
was rewriting class material that touted the client-server model. We
concluded that client-server is a very fragile business model. I
remember that someone wrote, With client-server we build a Web
of increasing fragility.
About the only thing the HP 3000 doesnt do well is
client-server, and thats cause for celebration. That is not
high-speed, online transaction processing. Thats what the 3000
is built for. Its rock solid. And did I mention IMAGE? With the
combination of a machine thats been up and running for so long
doing high-speed processing, and IMAGE, you have a machine
thats eminently capable of most every business solution you can
MPE struggles to be a Web server, primarily because of its
bandwidth. Thats not the fault of MPE, thats the fault of
crippling the systems. Ive run Samba and Apache on MPE boxes
for years, and Im quite impressed. Certainly, there may be
environments where the number of hits on the site are just too much
for the 3000 hardware. But thats primarily because we
dont get a full-speed A-Class or N-Class machine out of HP for
Those machines are the reason I thought HP was going to stick
with the 3000 forever beautiful machines, and the effort HP
spent fielding those machines.
So these servers prove that even good engineering can
precede a move away from a product. Can a company gain security for
3000 homesteading by moving its application interfaces to a
platform-neutral environment even if they dont have any
plans to migrate?
Absolutely. I couldnt agree more. There is a history,
and not just with HP, that vendors move away from products. That
product could be middleware, and I guess I would place VPlus in an
antique form of middleware, or it could be an operating system. As we
make our applications independent of those business decisions we have
no control over, we do have security. We should minimize our use of
intrinsics and proprietary features of languages, so we can feel
reasonably insulated from business climate changes from our