Homesteaders break ground with talk of OpenMPE
HP, partners study extending operating systems
After a few moments of reading the new 3000 writing
on HPs wall, a group of customers and partners want to alter
it, talking with the HP 3000 division (CSY) about a future for the
computers operating system outside HP.
Jon Backus, who operates the Tech Group HP 3000
outsourcing and programming supplier, launched a discussion group on
the Internet to explore ways MPE might be preserved by its customers
after HP steps away from it in a few years, a homesteading
Backus said the group has moved quickly to a
consensus that Open Source methods where software has a public
license and is developed by anyone who wants to participate
dont fit MPE very well.
The feeling and desire is very much not Open
Source, Backus said of the discussions. The vast majority
feeling, which I completely agree with, is a migration of support and
control of the entire MPE environment, including IMAGE, to a new
entity. The source would continue to be closely controlled, similar
to the way it is today.
HP officials had lengthy discussions with the Interex
MPE Forum members on the subject just after announcing end-of-support
dates for the system. Despite HPs announcement, companies with
a long-time investment and experience in the platform appear
determined to find a business model and technical resources for
continuing the lifespan of the 3000 operating environment. One member
of HPs 3000 engineering staff is part of the HP team looking at
how MPE/iX can continue to evolve beyond HPs
Jeff Vance of the CSY lab has been acting as an
advocate within HP this fall, examining the Open Source model of
development for the 3000 community. Vance said that public, Open
Source licensing probably wouldnt be HPs first step to
extend MPEs life.
Ive been trying to find business reasons
why Open Source can be viable from a business and goodwill
perspective, Vance said. At the same time, we dont
want to do Open Source and have it be not successful. We tend to be
conservative, like a lot of our customers. My own gut feeling, based
on knowing how our customers are and how we are, is that well
take a smaller step.
Vance speculated that HP might try a restricted
license arrangement and test the waters that way. Maybe it will just
be a subsystem, or just IMAGE, and see how that goes and how
customers and partners respond to it. Maybe what people want is for
CSY to figure out the right thing to do for the end of MPE
whether thats Open Source, or some kind of limited license to
empower a couple of third parties.
In opening weeks of the OpenMPE movement,
possibilities discussed were wide-ranging. Customers and engineers
talked about what kind of hardware might be available for an MPE
being developed beyond 2003. Support for a hobbyist license is
popular among existing 3000 developers, a license for source code
they could test and experiment with but couldnt use to release
their own versions. Other ideas include a free license to run MPE
only on HP processors, protecting HPs business.
One of the largest hurdles to continuing MPEs
life beyond 2006 is the scope of the engineering to get it onto the
latest processors. Most advocates agree this means a move for MPE to
the IA-64 Itanium processors, something HP promised to its customers
in 1998, but which doesnt fit HPs current forecasts for
the 3000 community.
The engineering requirements are great, according to
Vance, based on the recent efforts to rewrite MPEs IO for
PCI-based 3000s. The amount of engineering hours that went into
getting MPE onto the A- and N-Classes was huge, he said.
And we have inside connections to all the hardware engineers
here. Trying to do that while not being inside HP, with far fewer
people, is really going to be tough. And thats just staying on
PA-RISC. The effort is significantly larger in going to
One OpenMPE survey suggests the prospect of moving
MPE outside HP might help stem customer migration away from HPs
processors. Backus reported on early results of a one-page survey
measuring migration against an OpenMPE option. Before HPs
announcement, about 36 percent of those surveyed were planning to
migrate. If OpenMPE happens, only 20 percent would migrate. Backus
said, This would imply that more companies would be inclined to
stay with MPE if it was not controlled by HP.
HP has considered putting its 3000 engineering
outside of the hardware in years past, when customers asked for the
IMAGE/SQL database on HP-UX. Such a move would have let the customers
migrating now make an easier move to HP-UX, instead of stepping away
from HP hardware altogether. Taking this same sort of distinctive
step with OpenMPE could test the health of the 3000s ecosystem,
according to HPs Vance.
We could see if the ecosystem is still
deteriorating at the rate weve determined, or if customers are
willing to accept, say, IMAGE support from a third party, he
said. That would be my guess at how well get out
and that may lead later on to true Open Source.
The OpenMPE activity will need to begin as soon as
possible for any chance of success. Vance said that HP doesnt
have plans to keep its MPE enhancements engineering team together
beyond October 2003. Such HP resources will be vital to making any
new entity successful as it extends MPEs life.
It has to come soon, Vance said of
HPs decision on how to help OpenMPE. We have to make a
pretty important decision, and we have to do it quickly. The longer
we delay, the more the infrastructure decays.