The two most ambitious projects for HP 3000 development were not part of the plans announced on January 29. Fitting the HP 3000 for a version of the Intel/HP processor project and creating a 64-bit MPE/iX will not be part of HP's releases during the next two years. But improvements to HP 3000 compilers and a project to push the MPE/iX file system limits beyond 4Gb are both a major part of the system's near future.
HP believes that its continuing improvement to the PA-8000 processor line will meet the performance needs of 3000 customers. And while a 64-bit version of MPE/iX might satisfy some customers' checklist, HP says its customers' value of such an overhaul didn't justify putting it before other enhancement plans.
CSY management believes preparing for the Year 2000 rollover is the most important issue for its customers in 1997. It says it can support their performance needs through the next three years with existing RISC technology while it works on select pieces of a 64 bit MPE/iX strategy. IA-64 is unlikely to be supported before the end of the decade, HP added.
Projects meet varied needs
HP's 1997 strategic message is wrapped around its view of the installed 3000 customer base, a perspective first drafted a year ago. HP sees its customers as having one of three profiles:
Grow Customers, who are primarily dedicated to using HP 3000s and choose to use no other enterprise platform in their environments;
Supplement Customers, who are adding technologies from other platforms and increasing the capabilities of their HP 3000s with connectivity advances; and
Replace Customers, who are choosing other platforms when an application is no longer available that will meet their needs on the HP 3000s.
HP believes that Supplement Customers make up the largest share of its base, with Grow Customers comprising a slightly smaller group. Replace customers are a very small percentage of the HP 3000 base, according to David Greene of CSY. Greene briefed the NewsWire in advance of the broadcast, which is a part of his duties as Customer Direct Communications Manager.
"Any of these three strategies is a perfectly valid and good approach to the future of the customers' computing environment," Greene said. "The criteria for determining if it's the right answer or not isn't ours -- it's the customer's. Our challenge is to determine what we can do to support customers who may be following any one of the three strategies."
No Intel today
The strategies become important when reviewing HP's plans to support its new processor family -- a project it's been designing with Intel. HP has begun to call the architecture of that project IA-64, and the vendor believes that few of its Grow Customers have an immediate need for any potential that the IA-64 design promises.
HP reasoned that customers who are growing their 3000 enterprises will be served well enough by advances in the PA-8000 processor line. Those customers in the Supplement or Replace category can choose an IA-64 HP system, so long as they're willing to commit to HP-UX or NT applications.
HP isn't closing the door on IA-64 for the HP 3000 altogether. "Although a lot of our customers have an interest in it, we haven't been able to find a lot of hard business requirements behind the interest in [IA-64]," Greene said. "That led us to focus where our customers are focused, and it not there. Things can change. We're not seeing anything in the trends of our customers' business requirements that would lead us to say it's highly likely we'll change that decision in a couple of years."
"HP is committed to getting its 3000 customers to the IA-64 architecture," said CSY marketing manager Cathy Fitzgerald said in a channel partner briefing two days before the TV broadcast. She said it's clear how the Supplement and Replace Customers will move to IA-64 -- they buy HP-UX or Windows NT systems -- but added "it's just less clear how our Grow Customers will be moving to the IA-64 architecture."
Fitzgerald said talks with its installed base about IA-64 over the past month show that "it's a low priority for them, and therefore for us, to invest in the IA-64 architecture. We don't know what the future will hold on this topic. We'll continue to work very closely with these customers to make sure we meet their needs with respect to their overall environments, and with respect to their intentions on the IA-64 architecture."
"There have been a lot of customers that are more interested in our Year 2000 strategy than in our processor strategy," Fitzgerald said.
HP made a commitment to providing one of the most significant parts of 64-bit architecture for its systems as part of the announcement. File sizes greater than 4Gb will be supported in a release scheduled for 1998 (See sidebar, Preserving System Compatibility).
Resolving the issue of future performance is the mission of the HP Vertical Growth Solution Team, headed up by Rachel Kornblau (408.447.4189). HP plans to meet the needs of customers requiring faster HP 3000s with the PA-8200 system releases at the end of this year and mid-year releases of it next-generation Corporate Business Systems running with the PA-8000. HP will initially introduce the 8200-based systems as part of its midrange class of HP 3000s.
HP 3000s based on PA-8500s won't be arriving until 1999, according to HP's roadmap. Plans for systems beyond the 8500-class of processor "are a little fuzzy," but Greene said HP is investigating versions of the PA-8000 family beyond the 8500 if needed. HP also is bringing more emphasis to its Shareplex solution to provide more performance to customers who rely exclusively on the 3000s in their enterprise (See sidebar, Sharing the Load).
Greene said that HP's solutions, combining Horizontal and Vertical Growth plans, "solve the real customer problem, not the headline in ComputerWorld. There's been more than one company that has bitten the dust by focusing on headlines."
Application availability for the 3000 won't be changed by the no-IA-64 decision according to HP's model. "The decision to go to it or not doesn't seem to have a significant impact either way on that trend," Greene said. The economics of developing and supporting applications in the 90s and the early 21st Century have more of an impact, he said.
HP is unwilling to comment on the prospective differences in performance between forthcoming IA-64 HP systems and its HP 3000 systems. While Intel has a long history of commenting on its unreleased processors, HP does not.
Other performance enhancements
HP will be releasing versions of the 3000 operating system that are better tuned to the PA-8000 processor line. The first of these will be MPE/iX 6.0, to be shipped late this year. High-performance memory subsystems are being investigated to increase performance for the PA-8000 HP 3000s. The first HP 3000s using 9-way to 12-way processing are also part of 1997 releases, beefed up Corporate Business System designs.
A new 9-Gb disk drive will be offered in mid-1997 as part of the performance upgrades to the 3000. HP is also continuing to look at what it can do with Digital Linear Tape libraries and other storage devices. FibreChannel links for HP's disk arrays and new EMC Symmetrix RAID peripherals will arrive during 1998. Higher speed networking choices for the HP 3000 this year include 100-Base-T Ethernet as well as 100VG AnyLAN.
HP's compiler lab for HP 3000s, based in Roseville, has been integrated into the solution planning process in CSY. Greene said this means there will be enhancements to the COBOL II compiler as well as Transact. "There's been a lot of discussions between the two labs," Greene said. "At HP World there was a disconnect between the kinds of work the labs in [CSY] were doing with customers and what was happening in Roseville. There's now agreement on the enhancements to COBOL."
Specific COBOL enhancements include multiple entry points in a main program, large program compilation and calls by procedure labels. Most significantly, the compilers are now getting attention as an integral part of the HP 3000 system enhancement strategy.
Pull-down menus and pop-up windows will appear in VPlus and will be delivered in the Express 3 release of MPE/iX 5.5. "The biggest thing is continuing to invest in the compilers and to keep them moving forward with the rest of the products," Greene said.
HP is still investigating other sources of COBOL compilers for HP 3000s, but Greene wouldn't confirm or deny talks with Fujitsu about its compiler. COBOL enhancements are part of HP's Database and Application Evolution solution team, headed up by IMAGE/SQL manager Jon Bale.
This reconnection between CSY and Roseville -- a meeting of minds that covers HP's performance tools as well as its compilers -- is the greatest part of the information on compiler enhancements that HP can relate today. Support for COBOL 97 standards, which haven't yet been finalized, was not detailed as part of the plans.
Determining which division is to pay for the work on compilers and other Roseville projects "wasn't as much of an issue as you might imagine," Greene said. A shift in the level of commitment to customer focus was more important. "The [Roseville] division hasn't necessarily demonstrated as customer-focused a behavior in recent years as the 3000 customers have come to expect. There's a commitment on the part of that management team to help bring that approach to that organization."
CSY is making room for the work at Roseville by discontinuing some of its products supported there -- but a list of the software to be mothballed wasn't part of any strategy briefing.
Year 2000 support
HP announced that its 6.0 release will be the first to be a "Year 2000-safe operating environment," meaning that MPE/iX and its associated subsystems will all perform as expected beyond 1999.
"As we've been talking to customers, we're finding that the Year 2000 is really emerging as the biggest issue," Greene said. "1997 is becoming the year of the Year 2000 project."
HP mentioned Adager, Bradmark and Robelle Consulting during its pre-briefing as companies that are already providing Year 2000 utilities. HP plans to release a white paper on the topic at the end of February and will serve as a clearinghouse of best practices.
Support for a specific date datatype in IMAGE/SQL wasn't announced as part of any strategic briefing. 1999 is being given as the hard end-of-support date for MPE/iX 5.0 and 5.5, since those versions aren't Year 2000-safe.
NT and Internet advances
HP introduced its plans to support Samba for the HP 3000 in a freeware mode during the first half of this year (See story in this issue). The file and resource sharing solution will be available from the CSY Jazz Web server, although it won't be a supported and for purchase product. Greene said, "We see Samba as our first stake in the ground" for NT integration with the 3000. HP said it was likely that Samba would become a fully supported product in the future.
Another free-through-CSY connectivity solution is the Java Virtual Machine, which HP announced as being available from the Jazz server by mid-year. The port of the popular software will include a complete Java Developer's Kit as ported to the HP 9000 last year. The software will allow customers to develop and run Java applications on an HP 3000.
HP is looking into bundling the Java software with MPE/iX, but Java is likely to be available far sooner over the Internet. "The focus is to get the solution into the customer's hands as quickly as possible," Greene said. "Issues around official product izing and support policies will tend to get resolved later."
HP showed a proof-of-concept demonstration accessing TurboIMAGE from Java via Native Method Calls during its broadcast. The demo focused solely on Java calling DBGET -- JDBC or other middleware was not part of the demo.
Release and training schedules
HP recapped its MPE/iX release schedules as part of its pre-briefing for the NewsWire, in part to demonstrate its long-term planning for the HP 3000. An Express 2 release for MPE/iX 5.5 is set for early spring. This release will include the latest version of the Java Developer's Kit and the new ODBC drivers for 32-bit clients. HP announced in its briefing to channel partners that the ODBC software, while taking longer than expected to release, is going into beta test during February.
An Express 3 release for 5.5 is set to ship in summer and will include enhancements to VPlus. Both of the Express Release enhancements will be incorporated into the Version 6.0 MPE/iX release, set to ship late this year. HP will be extending systems limits, tuning the operating system for the PA-8000 and delivering Year 2000-safe software with that release.
HP also expects to ship multiple Express releases during 1998, including a release that supports file sizes greater than 4Gb during that year. These Express releases will carry functionality that is a direct result of work from this year's announced Solution Teams. The 1998 Express releases will be consolidated in an MPE/iX 7.0 to be shipped in 1999. The new strategy puts less of an emphasis on numbered releases such as 6.0 and 7.0 by making the technology available earlier in Express releases.
HP is also offering two 3000 training broadcasts this year, according to Greene. George Stachnik will lead a Making Strategies Real show in May that will focus on HP 3000 Supplement Customers making 3000s, 9000s and NetServers work together, and a September show that will concentrate on the Express 2 and 3 enhancements.
The two-hour satellite briefing on January 29 was intended to give customers a look at HP's vision for the 3000, one of the only commercial computer systems with more than a quarter-century of continuous service.
"We see a long and healthy life for the 3000, and are willing to make the investments to make that happen," Greene said. "We're all on the same side here -- HP's labs, CSY and the customers. Our success is measured differently, but fundamentally we can work closely together to get to the right place."