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January 2005

HP proceeds with MPE source audit

Project prepares vendor for potential pass-off of code

HP hasn’t agreed to license its MPE/iX source code to a third party yet. No guarantee exists that the vendor will ever let non-HP engineers repair bugs and produce enhancements. But HP has been working for months on a project that tells the vendor for the first time about the condition of the HP 3000’s source code — a precursor to passing off the operating environment to an outside lab.

One result of the HP project might knock down such a pass. The vendor might discover that its source code is not well enough documented to release to any third party. HP could also get blocked by any discovery about its own licenses for MPE modules. Some parts of the 3000’s operating system were not created by HP, but licensed from other third parties.

But with the clock now under a year until HP decides whether to give MPE/iX an outside life after 2006, the internal audit will deliver crucial information to aid that decision. According to HP engineer Jeff Vance, the vendor has assigned Mike Paivinen to lead a group of engineers and managers “to meet the needs of customers who will be relying on their 3000s past the end of HP support.”

Vance is part of the group, but just recently rejoined the team after his recovery from a summertime mountain bike accident. He said the HP work will help determine the current level of MPE/iX sustainability.

“One issue that team is investigating is documenting our current build process,” Vance said, “the steps we use to build and certify MPE, including all of the subsystems, networking, database, etc. At the same time, we have been looking for ways to simplify this process — both for internal benefit and in case we decide to offer all or parts of MPE source code to one or more third parties.”

HP is still some months away from making its decision about the release of MPE/iX to any third party. The customer base has asked the vendor for such a release, by way of a vote in the most recent Systems Improvement Ballot. HP has said it will reply to that request during the second half of this year.

“We have not made this decision, but we are doing some of the activities which have a long lead time,” Vance said. “It is very possible that we will have fully documented and streamlined our internal procedures, but still decide not to make MPE sources available to anyone.”

In the meantime, the advocacy group OpenMPE hopes to have a voice in the results of the HP source code audit. Chairman Birket Foster said the group wants HP to include an OpenMPE engineer in the audit review process. The request is being reviewed favorably, he added, since outside review of the audit would be a customary part of the process.

Foster said that HP is pulling together all the MPE internal documentation into a single repository. Once that’s done, the documents are supposed to be submitted to an outside auditor, to see if the auditor could create an MPE build from the files and documentation.

The community which must stay on the 3000 beyond 2006 – by a recent survey more than half of all sites, including those with lengthy migration timelines — could be heartened to see that HP is following through on the steps to see if MPE could live beyond HP’s labs.

Large companies that have made heavy investments in business applications want to see MPE/iX continue beyond HP’s December 2006 deadline to end support.

“We are a heavy user of the HP 3000 with numerous 99x and N-Class systems deployed in multiple countries,” said one IT manager who wanted his name withheld. “We believe that our particular missions can be accomplished on the HP 3000 well into the future.

“We are self-supporting both in hardware and software. We have a ton of money tied up in software and would be willing to help fund an effort to continue the platform if the effort appears to be viable.”

Those firms which have no plans to migrate off the HP 3000 hope the operating system will have an afterlife on other hardware.

“We still love it, and are hoping for OpenMPE so they can port it to Intel or something like that and we can port our application that way,” said Stevin Almes of California-based Practice Management Systems. “I’d love to see a PC boot up with a colon prompt!”

HP has offered a set of licensing guidelines for MPE/iX to run on PC-based emulators. But that HP letter of licensing intent, published in 2003, does not envision the MPE/iX source code leaving HP’s labs.

One issue which HP reportedly must face is a wide variance in documentation of MPE/iX. Not all modules are documented in the same way. The auditor for the project must have experience with building an MPE/iX release, but not work inside HP. OpenMPE officers point to fellow board member Mark Klein, who has worked as an outside consultant to HP on 3000 projects, as a likely external auditor.


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