HP may not have a replacement yet for its MPE customers who want a secure Web server, but it won't be for lack of desire. While it's begun to promise customers there will be a replacement for the frozen Open Market solutions, HP is expending the effort because the evidence is plain that there's a need for a native MPE/iX Web server. What form the replacement takes is still being evaluated, now that Open Market, Inc. (OMI) has dropped sales of all its Web server products.
While OMI still hadn't issued a press release about phasing out its Web server sales at presstime, references to its Secure Web Server were dropped from the company's Web site during July. The company notified the HP 3000 division (CSY) earlier this year that it was exiting the Web server business, a little more than a year after CSY put the OMI server on HP's price list. OMI's Beth Winkowski confirmed the Secure Web Server product has been dropped from its sales efforts, but current customers will be supported.
OMI's decision to stop sales of the product and halt nearly all enhancements led CSY to back away from Open Market. "In essence it's a dead product," said CSY Internet Product Manager Daren Connor in an interview just after the OMI news broke. "We're going to set an end-of-support date for this product," he added, referring to the Web server that HP included this spring as a free promotion with every new HP 3000 sold.
CSY is now crafting the next step in the Web server journey for HP 3000 sites that need a Posix-based, commercially supported Web server. Customers using HP 3000s in commerce need a secure Web server, according to senior software specialist Rick Gilligan of Computer and Software Enterprises (CASE). The California firm is installing new HP 3000s as part of its business, which includes banks that are among the five biggest in the US. CASE reference customers include companies like NationsBank and Chase Manhattan.
CASE will soon be offering its HP 3000 clients Internet access within CASE applications, so bank customers will be able to see loan data. Gilligan, who is an officer of the SIGWEB Special Interest group and chaired its most recent meeting, said a secure Web server native to the HP 3000 makes a lot more sense than using another Web host. Until last month, that secure Web server was going to come from Open Market.
"My clients don't want another box that they have to maintain and get approval for in their company," Gilligan said. "Banks aren't looking for any more boxes or any more bodies when all they want is a Web server. A Web server is a very small part of all the things the 3000 is doing for them, and a Web server on that certainly makes more sense than putting it on another box."
The CASE customers were among those who had orders outstanding for the OMI Secure Web server. HP began to notify such customers they shouldn't take delivery of the Secure product after OMI notified HP of its intentions. The withdrawal of the Open Market product won't prompt CASE to drop the 3000-as-a-Web server part of their solution. At least not right away.
"We're trying to figure out what we're going to do next, but we're not throwing in the towel on putting the Web server on the HP 3000s," Gilligan said.
The 3000 advantage
CASE and other companies want to remain with an HP 3000 Web server solution for the same reason HP is hunting for an alternative: simplicity of implementation. Gilligan said the CASE application, a massive COBOL program called Asset Based Lending Environment (ABLE), only needed "relatively minor" modifications to give it the capability to deliver its reports via 3000-based Web pages. Shifting the Web service to another system would mean moving the application, or adding security to the link between the HP 3000 application and a non-MPE Web server.
Web-based security tools for HP 3000s, in the form of an encryption library for MPE/iX, hasn't found a wide following among the customers HP's Conner polled among SIGWEB. "I've been surprised so far at the general lack of interest in encryption and decryption to and from the HP 3000," Conner said.
Another company with customers deploying 3000 Web Servers, Software Research Northwest (SRN), says about two-thirds of its IRISLink higher education sites want to stick with an MPE-based Web server. "We believe the better implementation for IRISLink is where the Web server and data server are on the same platform," said president Wayne Holt.
MPE Web contenders
Faced with replacing a commercial Web server solution for a customer base far smaller than Windows NT or Unix installations, HP is being careful about its next alliance with an outside firm. "We have to be very careful that we don't repeat this," Connor said of the OMI surprise. "We're going to do the kind of research to help us feel good that we're providing something that will get customers a good, long-term solution.
One option that has been discussed involves a freeware server known as Apache. Ported to the HP 3000 this year by an HP customer, Apache runs on many platforms and is offered at no cost -- two elements that make it the most widely installed Web server in the world according to a July survey by Netcraft. Apache was running at more than twice as many sites as next most popular product, Microsoft's Internet Information Server.
HP 3000 experts who have used the Apache software have high praise for it, even though there's no secure version available yet. Chris Bartram, whose company operates a division which hosts Web sites on an HP 3000, said he'd recommend Apache for customers running MPE/iX 5.5.
"Apache is by far the most flexible and powerful of the servers we use," Bartram said. "It also seems to get updated the most often." The creator of the MPE/iX port, Mark Bixby, noted in an Internet posting that adding a security layer to Apache/iX "looks promising. With the demise of the OpenMarket server, my current Apache priority is to get SSL working."
A secure version of Apache is currently being sold and supported by C2Net, an Oakland, Calif. firm with a growing his tory of being on the leading edge of cryptology. C2Net sells Stronghold at a starting price of $495 for an Economy version, but its supported platforms don't include MPE/iX. Connor mentioned C2Net as a contender for replacing Open Market's offering after the OMI pullout was revealed.
What's still being discussed at HP is whether a completely freeware solution will be suitable to support those customers who want a Web server hosted on their HP 3000s. Solution providers are also trying to decide if this is another place where a freeware solution can be made to work in production environments.
"We were really looking forward to the Secure version of the Open Market product," said CASE's Gilligan. "There seems to be enough people using Apache and enough people working on it that although we wouldn't have the same level of support from HP -- we wouldn't have any, really -- we'd take our chances. It's better than another [Web server] box for most of our clients."
HP's Connor pointed out that Hewlett-Packard will have an orderly transition for its customers to the next solution, whether it's supported or freeware. "Our goal is to come up with an offering that will make it as painless as possible to transition any Web server environment to the new Web server offering that we have," he said.