Waiting for the Key to
MPEs New Factory
Mark Klein has masterful MPE experience, and he wants to
put it to work on behalf of homesteading customers. The former
R&D director for ORBiT Software returned to his independent
development and consulting roots during the first year after
HPs decision to exit the 3000 market. During most of that year
Klein has served on the board of directors of OpenMPE, Inc., the
organization dedicated to extending MPEs lifespan beyond
HPs plans for the 3000 operating environment.
Few periods have been as quiet as the last three months of
OpenMPEs existence. The organization has been conducting
careful, intensive talks with HP to tackle the MPE licensing issue, a
subject that is essential to the existence of any 3000 hardware
emulators. Those emulators can make up the next generation of HP 3000
hardware, once Klein and the other board members wrest the details
from HP on new MPE licensing.
New MPE licenses will open the door to OpenMPEs most
creative work: marshalling the MPE technical expertise that has
become widely available into some sort of virtual lab. Most
homesteading advocates understand that the 3000 must continue to
grow, and so OpenMPE must demonstrate to HP that its possible
to maintain MPE outside of HP lab.
Though hes not campaigning for the job, Klein is a
good candidate to head up such a lab. Leveraging GCC work from the
University of Utah on HP-UX, Klein did the bootstrap porting of the
GNU Software Foundations C++ compiler to MPE, work that set the
stage for the HP 3000s compatibility with other systems.
Without a C++ compiler, things like Web servers, Java, Samba file
sharing, Internet domain name services and many of the
platforms Posix tools wouldnt have arrived on the HP 3000
in time, if at all. Working nights and weekends for the equivalent of
a year of full-time coding, Klein brought this new language to the HP
3000, one that opened the door for the HP 3000s
Between his experience developing for HP which
honored him with the HP 3000 Contributor award and years spent
managing ORBiT Softwares developers in an era when 20-plus
years of MPE background was the norm for that group, Klein looks to
us like a smart pick for an OpenMPE post that could emerge this year.
We spoke with him about the prospects of making MPE thrive outside
HP, first in December and then again in late January and February
the months when the air grew thick with anticipation over
HPs MPE homestead licensing arrangement.
Can MPE be maintained by experts outside of HP?
I think that there is a very good possibility that it
can. There are some very good people with an in depth knowledge of
MPE internals, Networking internals, TurboIMAGE internals, etc. that
could make this work. If anything, these people could be the
architects for a future development effort, leveraging
their skills with others that dont have that specialized
Is there enough non-HP expertise available around the world
to enhance MPE with new features in the years to come?
The same answer I just gave applies here as well. The
main point is that I think there are enough of the architect quality
people available to steer such an effort. Without that, it is my
opinion that the chances of maintaining, let alone enhancing, MPE
Significant parts of MPE have been from vendors other than
HP. How do you feel about the prospects of replacing these sections
with Open Source alternatives?
I dont see any reason that it couldnt be done
with the exception of some of the lower level IPC code. Whether or
not it is realistic to do this is another issue. I also suspect that
there are other issues with the Open Source licenses that might make
this a difficult course to follow.
One such example is the GNU requirement of making
the source available to anyone that requests it. It is my
understanding that HP desires not to make the MPE source openly
available at this point in time, so incorporating GNU licensed code
might not work. On the other hand, I can also see a scenario whereby
the GNU code could be plug replaceable in the field by
the ultimate user and thereby not cause MPE to fall under the GNU
license. Im not an attorney, so I could be all washed up
Has HP surprised you in any way regarding its willingness to
help MPE survive beyond 2006?
Not really. I think they are trying to do the right
thing for their customers as theyve said all along, even if we
dont agree with their conclusions. It is possible that the
business case for MPE beyond 2006 was not well enough
presented before last November for them to initially consider it.
Since that time, it has become obvious that there is a case.
Why wont a traditional Open Source program work for
continuing with MPE development?
This is a tough question, and a lot of people will
disagree with me on this.
If you set the intellectual property issues aside, I
dont think that the critical mass of developers is there to
make it work. With a small pool of developers available, unless there
is focus, there will be no movement to benefit the majority of MPE
users. Would you rather have 20 different developers each releasing
20 different versions of MPE, or would you rather have 20 different
developers working together on one release?
Let me use my port of GNU Compiler Collection [GCC] to MPE
as an example. Im one of a large number of contributors to the
GCC effort. Because I felt a need, I did the port. But, while
Ive contributed the port back to the development effort, it has
never been fully incorporated into the sources. Why? Because that
port has a very small attraction to the masses of GCC users. The core
development team wants to do things that benefit the masses.
Now, reduce that by an order of magnitude or two for MPE.
You get the 20-release scenario. I think a focused development effort
is the only way in our universe that we will see progress.
Can an independent effort to maintain MPE succeed if IMAGE is
maintained by a separate company? Does one organization need all the
code for the effort to be effective?
I think it can succeed. Heck, when I got my first
consulting arrangement with HP in the early 1980s it was for
the database lab. That lab was completely separate from the MPE lab
at the time. While there might need to be close partnership or
relationship between the companies to make it work, I dont see
why it couldnt.
Youve said that HP seems to be willing to license MPE
source to individuals. Whats the benefit of that kind of
development plan, versus the Open Source arrangements that have
I hope I am not reading too much between the
lines, but I have not heard them say absolutely no to the
source licensing issue, and I would be interested in being such a
licensee. Earlier I brushed aside the intellectual property concerns.
I think those are major concerns. Private licensing can address those
issues to HPs satisfaction, I would imagine.
Some companies want to simulate MPE on other platforms today.
Whats the reason a customer might want to do that, versus the
harm they might do in choosing a simulated solution?
I cannot say that there would be harm in choosing
a simulation method vs. an emulation method. The major difference
between them is that you need to be able to recompile your software
and possibly change some of your processes to work in the simulated
environment. In the emulated environment, you should be able to pick
up your existing applications and data, lock, stock and barrel, and
move them to another platform. There are arguments that can be made
on both side of this issue. Ill bet that if emulation becomes a
reality, well see a presentation called Simulation or
Emulation at some point in the future. Ill leave that to
the marketing gurus of the interested parties.
The only compelling technical reason for emulation would
be needing complete binary compatibility, and you cant find the
source code for some application you absolutely require for your
business. In that case, doing emulation is the only course, short of
re-inventing the application.
Now that HP has agreed to license MPE to new users on a
hardware emulator, whats the next biggest roadblock to making
homesteading a viable Transition solution?
I think total cost of ownership and total cost of
development. There are discussions about the hypothetical cost of a
MPE license on the OpenMPE list right now. There have also been some
discussions about what the emulator might cost. Sooner or later it
will come down to dollars. The emulator companies will need enough
return on their investment to justify that investment. The
homesteaders will need to receive enough value to justify spending
What do you see as the real deadline for a customer to leave
their HP 3000?
Support seems to be available at least to 2010, and the
hardware availability might well be answered by an emulator. What
does a customer have to consider when deciding their migration
dont think there is a real deadline, as much as I hate to admit
it. By that, I mean that each company will need to decide this
themselves, based on their own business conditions. I know firsthand
of one company that has decided that migration or replacement is just
too expensive for them and that they will stay with the 3000 until
they can no longer use it to run their business and then they will
close up shop. I wonder how many others that we are not hearing about
have come to this same conclusion?
So whats going to motivate change in the 3000 community
if there is no real deadline?
Politically, companies are going to be faced with a
migration, even though there is no deadline, by virtue of the fact
that HP has made the decision to end the platform. Look at what QSS
is doing [by porting to Linux]. Theyre making the move, even
though theres the possibility of staying on the 3000 for
another five to 10 years. HP is saying do something. Thats
enough for a company doing business-critical applications on the
Is there a need for an in-person training initiative to
foster 3000 and MPE skills? It seems like so much of the training now
is for migration tasks. Does the market need more people that know
how to manage the 3000?
Thats a good question that I really am not sure I
can answer since I have very little to do with the operational end of
the 3000. If you listen to some people on the MPE specific email
lists, there is the thought that MPE can grow, post EOL. If that
comes to pass, then surely more training will be needed. I guess this
could become a chicken and egg thing, though.
How much of a lift does HPs decision to license MPE for
emulators put into the OpenMPE movement?
Well, youre asking me, so youll get my
opinion. At the formation of the OpenMPE group, I think I was the
lone voice talking about licensing issues. Most everyone else was
concerned about Open Source. Slowly, I think it became obvious that
the number one issue really was licensing. Without it, nothing else
With a replacement license scenario, the MPE universe
would slowly get smaller until it completely died. With a licensing
scenario whereby new MPE licenses could be created, the universe
Im ecstatic about the decision to allow the creation
of new MPE licenses. I can not express how big I think this really is
and how favorable it can be to the people that dont want to see
Your expertise is unique in the 3000 community. Is there
enough hope on the homesteading table to keep you involved with HP
3000s and MPE?
I have always said that when I retire, it will be from
the 3000. Im too young to retire for at least another 15-20
Is it important for the OpenMPE movement to have its own
I dont know that its necessarily important. A
lot of the stuff could potentially be done by the emulator companies.
However, theres a handful of us who think that MPE could be
supported beyond end of life by others than HP, in case an emulator
company doesnt come along and step up. When you start to look
at people of the caliber of those leaving CSY now [through layoffs],
theres a fear that the capability to make critical bug fixes
wont exist in two years, or even after HPs end of life
Based on what Dave Wilde said at HP World, theyre
going to support a homesteading movement. I dont think they had
their ducks all lined up in a row when they made that statement in
terms of how theyre going to support that movement, if they
lose all of their MPE knowledge base.
One of the things that OpenMPE is attempting to do as an
advocacy group is making certain that kind of knowledge exists
outside of HP. I think thats the major goal right now.
Can you get to the point of being able to pick up some of
the departing MPE talent through contracts? How do the expectations
from the homesteading community align with the process thats in
front of OpenMPE?
People tend to want everything, and they want it in
backwards order. Its the chicken and egg thing: where do you
get the funding for [those contracts] if theres no possibility
of you doing anything with the people youd get with that
Theres a logical progression you have to follow.
Lets come up with intermediate tasks that will get you to the
greater goal. The most immediate need is to come up with a licensing
arrangement. If you cant license MPE, everything else is moot,
in my own opinion.
Some customers still wish HP will change its mind about
its 3000 business. Does it make any sense to you?
No. Whatever damage has been done to the market has
already been done. As a die-hard MPE-er, I would love to see them
reverse direction. In my opinion, I think theres too much
momentum going downhill away from the platform for them to do
What about changing the end of support date?
That may be something worth considering. 2002 has
been a planning year, and migrations havent even begun yet. HP
made the announcement so late in 2001 that the budgets for 2002 were
already in place [for customers]. Very little activity could happen
in 2002. As a consultant I sat on my butt for much of that year,
because none of the migrations that were forecast for 2002
Were more than 14 months into this before the larger
companies are starting to move. Can they move effectively and get off
the platform before the end of support [in December of 2006]? No. So
theres a strong argument for taking that end of support date
and adapting it. It could be possible on a case by case basis.