Keeping the MPE Faith,
Christian Lheureux first got involved with the HP 3000
and MPE as a student, and more than 20 years later hes teaching
the systems future to customers in Europe. The director of the
OpenMPE organization works for HP business partner APPIC in France,
in the heart of the HP 3000 European community. He brings several
unique viewpoints to the board of the organization that is dedicated
to extending MPEs life: 14 years of service inside of HP, as
well as a European channel partners perspective on open systems
and the 3000.
Lheureux started working with the HP 3000 on a
Series III at business school, then joined HP in 1984, first as a
Systems Engineer, then as Account Manager in charge of MPE customers.
He worked inside HPs Response Center, in charge of the
centers late-beta testing of what later became MPE/XL. His
responsibilities included delivering performance consulting,
assisting migrations, customer and internal training, writing
articles, and working with the CSY Labs to debug MPE at source-code
level and write patches. Lheureux said hes done about
everything MPE-related within HP, except manager and
After leaving HP in 1996 to head the High
Availability Competency Center in Boblingen, Germany, he then joined
Cap Gemini as an MPE Consultant. He started the Systems and Networks
Department from scratch at APPIC R.H. in 1998, a business unit that
includes the rest of HPs platforms in addition to the HP 3000.
We wanted to ask Lheureux about the 3000s future options and
how the European community is reacting to the transition. We
exchanged e-mail in late March, about a month after HP released its
first draft of the new MPE license proposal.
Whats your personal reaction to HPs first
draft of the MPE licensing offer for emulators? Is this first offer
enough to get the emulation companies working?
The fact that most potential emulator companies I am aware of
have started to think in terms of market assessment, price assessment
and so forth makes me think that yes, the draft license agreement is
a very significant step in the right direction. I am aware of people
seeing the bottle half-empty. I tend to now see it more than
half-full, and still filling.
Why did you decide to serve on the OpenMPE board?
First of all, I wanted to keep one more option available to
my customers. Some of them will leave MPE entirely, migrating,
rewriting, replacing or retiring applications. But some of them will
want to homestead for some time, possibly forever, for various
reasons. Perhaps they cant migrate within the HP-announced
timeframe. Perhaps their budgetary constraints hamper their
opportunities to migrate. Perhaps they simply need more time. For
whatever reason, there is a segment of our customer base that simply
needs one more option. OpenMPE represents that option, hence my
decision to apply for a board position.
Besides, for having been a member of the MPE community for
more than two decades, I did not want to leave the community without
yet another contribution. In a nutshell, I did not want to leave the
Do you believe that OpenMPE should lend its support to a
single companys emulator project? It seems that funding the
R&D might be someplace OpenMPE could help.
This decision is up to the Board of Directors, upon advice
from the community of OpenMPE members. So far, no single company has
been endorsed. Whether this position of neutrality changes in the
future remains to be decided.
As far as funding is concerned, I find it hard to imagine
that OpenMPE would fund more than one emulator project, if any. So
funding one in particular raises at least three prerequisites :
1) Endorse one project, which reverses the Boards
current position of neutrality,
2) Make a technical assessment of which project to fund, most
likely based on technical terms, time-to-market, and other terms.
This may be the hard part, for we are trying to guess far into the
future, and to assess what are still ideas, blueprints, concepts,
3) Provide the funding, which requires to have a funding of
our own. So far the memberships are free. There has been a lot of
discussion on that subject in the OpenMPE Community recently.
Your AIM nickname is MPE Evangelist. Why do
you continue to advocate using an operating environment which is
being abandoned by its creator?
Not entirely unlike the Apostles went on preaching
Christianity long after Jesus Christ had been crucified, I would
continue to preach in favor of MPE even after HP no longer endorses
it. MPE ought to be adopted into another home. The only reason why a
customer would use it or not should be a business decision. If MPE
serves customer needs, then customers should have the opportunity to
use it for as long as they want. And, as I already said above, not
all customers have the time, possibility and budget to migrate. Some
of them need to homestead.
What do you see as the practical, hard deadline for
leaving the HP 3000 platform? Is this a different deadline than
The general idea is to de-couple the HPe3000
platform and its operating system. The HPe3000 is reaching its
end-of-sales in a few months. It will be maintained for another 3
years after that, but will ultimately disappear, little by little.
However, MPE needs to live on, were it only for the reason that
customers will still need to run MPE-based applications for some time
after 2006. Therefore, we need to separate the HP3000, which is
destined to die, and MPE, which we expect to live. Hence the
proposition of an emulator, which can enable MPE on a totally
different platform. The IT market very clearly points toward
commodity hardware. Therefore, the decision to advocate an MPE
emulation of some form on a commodity platform was a relatively easy
and fast one.
So, to sum it up, when we get the emulator, leaving the HP
3000 will not be a great leap forward, because MPE and IMAGE will
still be there.
How has the HP 3000 community in Europe been reacting to
HPs November 2001 announcement? Do you hear of many stories of
customers already taking steps to migrate away?
To put it mildly, the first few customer reactions have been
quite hectic when HP executives were available. The level of
frustration has since receded a little, and left the place to more
carefully thought-out mental processes.
At this point, though, customers are assessing their options
and designing their plans. I hear very, very few stories of actually
ongoing migrations. It seems that the option of entirely migrating an
MPE environment to, say, HP-UX, does not attract too many sites.
Perhaps it is not that appealing to run an MPE environment on another
platform, in some kind of compatibility mode.
So what I see is customers taking an application-based
approach. They tend to migrate applications (or parts of
applications) to another application. This is consistent with another
market trend that points toward replacing homegrown or specific
applications with ERPs or other software packages. This is another
business decision: sacrifice some level of specificity for the sake
of cost, thus enhancing the bottom line for the shareholder.
This is also consistent with another deep trend:
decision-making processes have been drastically altered over the last
few years. Major IT projects, like deploying an ERP, are no longer
decided at IT manager/CIO level, but at least one step above, in some
cases at CEO level. The CIO or IT managers role is to implement
the project, not to decide it. So decisions tend to be made on many
criteria, among which the technical aspect may only play a minor
role. This is comparable to a crew in an airliner: the captain
chooses where to go, the mechanical engineer makes sure the airliner
Has the economic slowdown had an impact on HP 3000
customers decisions in Europe?
So far, Europe has cushioned the economic downturn a little
better than the USA, which is usually what happens in economic
downturns. Europe would experience less severe downturns, but would
then expand slower after recovery. So we may not be exactly
double-dipping, though there are indications of a worsening
situation. Still, the current uncertainty around the Middle East
conflict may severely hamper or delay a possible economic
At this moment, nothing much happens in Europe, as far as
major IT projects are concerned. It seems that everyone is waiting to
see what everyone else is going to do. This is a recipe for a stalled
IT environment. As a consequence, of course, HP 3000 migration
projects are stalled. And an HP 3000, at this moment, is almost
impossible to sell.
HP is ending its business opportunity to sell the HP 3000.
Is there still a good business in serving these customers with MPE
As long as there is a customer base for MPE (notice that
Im mentioning the OS by its name, not the platform it currently
runs on), there is a need for customers to be able to obtain service,
and there is a business opportunity for actors belonging to the
Community. Of course, MPE is probably not the area where we invest
most of our [companys] resources, but, as long as we retain the
ability to serve customers, we will stay in that business. We may
even have an opportunity to address typical end-of-life management
needs: customers operate on scarce human resources, so they tend to
refocus their HR toward their main projects, like ERP implementation,
and outsource day-to-day activities (which MPE clearly belongs to).
We see that as a business opportunity, and we are addressing it.
Whats the most significant change you have observed
in HP since its merger with Compaq?
I am seeing two major shifts. The product offering, while
still not yet carved in stone, is now complete, with a much more
robust Wintel server line, and a few holes plugged in the storage
area. One instance is the former gaping hole that used to exist
between the VA and XP lines which is now occupied by the EVA line.
Secondly, HPs notoriously lousy marketing (no offense
meant to my friends within HP, but they are much better engineers
than marketing people) is gradually giving way to a much better
customer-oriented approach, whether at grass-roots or at
decision-maker level. This looks like the continental drift toward
smart marketing I did not even dare expect before the merger.
Can HP expect to keep growing its HP-UX business using a
reseller-partner sales model, versus direct contact with its
customers? Is its Unix alternative good enough to keep customers from
choosing a lower-cost environment like Linux?
This is like two questions in one. The reseller-based
approach has worked wonders for companies like the one I now work
for. We are in the process of becoming a major player in the HP-UX
arena, at least in France. Of course, that would never have been
possible if HP had decided to stick to a direct-sales model like they
had until the mid-80s. At this moment, we are implementing a
two-tiered approach, with a lot of involvement by the HP Sales
Another side effect of the merger is to have much stronger HP
sales teams to assist us. This is helpful to give HP more visibility
in the field. And, as a single-brand dealer, it greatly enhances and
gives a lot of credibility to our HP-only approach. So this is good
Linux is another question. At this moment, it simply
cannot do all that HP-UX does. If we go back, say, a decade, HP-UX
has made tremendous progress on its way to more performance,
stability, resilience, feature set, and so forth. Thanks to a
developer community numbering in the hundreds of thousands, Linux
will probably someday get to the same point. We just are not there
yet. So at this moment, customers would not dump HP-UX in favor of
Linux. As time goes, I would expect that to change.
At the end of the day, it all goes down to very simple
product portfolio management rules, that any rookie in any MBA
program can tell. The HP e3000 is Phase 4, which is the last stage of
decay before an ultimate demise. HP-UX is Phase 3, which is
stability, and an enjoyable cash-cow status more or less protecting
it from immediate 11/14-like announcements. Linux is Phase 2, which
is expansion. I do not yet see a clear Phase One (nascent, emerging,
whatever) offering, but it may already exist. It is just a question
of life cycle management. Hence, time will tell.
Speaking for yourself, do you see a long-term future for
HP-UX, or does it have a November 14 announcement waiting in its
Depending on what we call long-term, I may have already
answered that question above. In a nutshell, I would forecast a
demise of HP-UX when it loses its cash-cow status, which is when it
costs HP too much to maintain as measured against the profit it
brings in. This may last longer than the HP e3000, due to a now much
larger installed base. However, the ultimate demise of HP-UX (which,
no doubt, WILL happen) could be hastened by the rise of Linux. Or of
yet another unknown technology.
That does not mean customers would not be wise to invest on
HP-UX. Perhaps its demise will happen in a decade, or a bit less, or
a bit more. Anyway, I would think HP-UX is there to last more than
one generation of hardware (3 to 4 years, at current technological
pace), thus making it a highly recommendable choice.
What has changed about your daily work since November of
2001? What impact did the HP announcement have on your own
Not much, in fact. HP e3000 business was already declining
before 11/14. It simply hastened the slide. What it changed for me is
that I have had the opportunity to join OpenMPE, and devote some time
to contributing to its activities. I have also been given the
assignment to implement a program to retrain our staff, in order to
reassign our precious and scarce human resources toward other
So I set up a multi-platform data center, an HP-UX internal
training program, and redesigned some of our recruitment tests.
Another supervisor has put in place a similar program to refocus
resources from IMAGE toward other DBMSs, like Oracle. We are also
actively investigating Linux, HP-Eloquence and a few other pieces of
software. But, since Ive created my own business unit to be
multi-platform from Day One, 11/14 did not change that much.
One of the MPE strengths is its close integration with the
3000 and IMAGE. Can this kind of advantage be found anyplace
The integration between the platform (the HP e3000) and the
operating system is going to be de-coupled. The emulator project is
just about that objective. So that level of integration is bound to
IMAGE is different. In fact, one major reason customers one
day chose MPE was because the application they had chosen ran on it.
And the application ran on MPE because it had IMAGE, which is to this
day the most resilient DBMS I can think of. So the integration
between MPE and Image cant be broken. If it were, all the
argumentation about a possible future for MPE running above an
emulator would become moot, for it would sever the link between the
application and IMAGE, which is exactly why people run MPE. So I
would gamble for a future for MPE without the 3000, but I would not
bet a single penny on a future for MPE without IMAGE.
What else does HP need to announce or create to make the
coming Transition easier for its customers?
In fact, the biggest casualty so far after 11/14 has been the
trust and faith that users had toward their manufacturer of choice.
So anything HP can do to restore that faith is good. Whether is it
facilitating access to demo HP-UX servers, facilitating re-training,
facilitating financing, is secondary.
One possible gesture of goodwill could be to de-cripple
(partially or completely) some software-crippled systems. A few
months back, I had the opportunity to run a test suite on an
uncrippled A-Class, and the results were outstanding! Now, this is a
system! Whether that gesture is useful in technical terms may be next
to irrelevant. Whats useful is restoring the faith. Ive
been working with computers for 23 years, and I have never seen a
community as closely-knit together as the MPE community. This
enhances the necessity to have faith.