The Work to Master Something New
Alan Yeo displays a canny sense of timing. As the founder of
the software companies Affirm and ScreenJet, Ltd., Yeo has
contributed to the HP 3000 scene since 1980. But his work in the last
several years has brought him into sharper focus for a community now
separating over the fault line of migration and homesteading. Most
recently, Yeo organized the World Wide Wake, a collection of places
where the HP 3000 faithful could gather on Oct. 31 to commemorate the
systems last HP-related milestone, the end of HPs sales.
Earlier in the year, Yeo asked out loud where else the HP 3000
community might gather in a user conference a question he
posed in a meeting at the Atlanta HP World, where few 3000 customers
had appeared. He also shows a keen wit in his communications,
engaging a cartoon artist to create trenchant commentary in his
companys ads like comparing HP CEO Carly Fiorina to
Cruella DeVille from 101 Dalmations.
Yeo also picked up the pieces from the effort to
market ScreenJet, developed as a connectivity product and sold by
Millware.com until that marketing company went bust during the
dot-com implosion. ScreenJet remains the most prominent product from
Yeos developers at Affirm and ScreenJet Ltd. The software
earned a recent award for migration solutions from Acucorp. But for
all of his effort toward helping migration customers, Yeo remains
pragmatic about a 3000s transition possibilities. ScreenJet
achieved its best technical release just one month before HP
announced its withdrawal from the 3000 market, and the products
development to that point was not driven by any need to move
companies away from the platform.
Now Yeo is taking a role as producer in a new feature
for 3000 customers whove been long abandoned by HP: Transact
users. The advanced development language was kicked to HPs curb
in the middle 1990s, but sites continue to run extensive Transact
applications, long after the strategic badge fell off the
language. A new initiative from Yeo and a pair of experienced
developers would give Transact sites service and tools to move
programs to COBOL, a way to prepare for the journey away from the HP
Yeos candor, timing and wit make him an asset
to a 3000 community which is still listening for frank advice about
its options for the future. We wanted to ask him about the prospects
for migration tools, what MPE tool providers like his company think
about sticking with the marketplace, and how the market divides out
among migrators and homesteaders. We spoke in the days before
Christmas, with the announcement of the Transact to COBOL product
just in the offing.
Why did you organize the World Wide Wake around the
3000s end of sales, and what did it accomplish for you?
It was an event that ought to have been marked,
because it was significant. Up until that date, it was possible that
we all could have been dreaming, and someone from HP would say
We changed our minds. The end of sales was a point in
time, and I dont think theres going to be another point
that you can mark. From now on, were into shifting sands where
various things go off support at different times. HPs end of
support in 2006 is going to be irrelevant. People will be migrating
or homesteading and will be set up to survive without HP.
Why do you think the 3000 customers have moved away from the
platform so slowly, so far?
The real question would have to be why do you think
the customers would have moved any quicker? The solutions are only
now becoming available and good enough for anything other than a
serviced migration. I also think that it is starting to dawn on a lot
of people that they arent thick, and that given some tools to
help, they are as capable of creating and maintaining solutions on
other platforms as they were on the HP 3000. The people already
working on different operating systems and with different languages
arent any cleverer than HP 3000 developers. How long did it
take before they became productive working with the HP 3000 when you
first started? Ill bet not very long. The same applies when you
migrate, initial high learning curve but then before long the curve
flattens out and your cruising again. It can even be fun!
Also, I think a lot of people from the HP 3000
community have a lot to teach the wider community about building good
robust business applications and environments.
If a customer cannot find a replacement package for their
application, when should they consider migration?
If you can find a real good replacement package, then
youd probably be stupid to migrate. If you cant find one,
then I dont think anybody outside your company can advise you
the right time to migrate.
About the only thing I really agree with HP on is
that they should do as near as a one-to-one migration as possible,
and that is probably the quickest, least costly, least risky
solution. But that is only true provided that you end up with a
solution that will provide you with a future development path, and
youre not going to end up locked into a technology that is even
more proprietary than the HP 3000s.
If you think the services and tools are expensive to
migrate relatively common HP 3000 software, just imagine what it will
cost to migrate from some completely proprietary migration solution
again in a few years time. New package implementation and application
re-writes really are the most risky and costly options.
As an MPE tool provider, do you want to continue serving the
3000 market? HP has some ideas that not even the utility companies
want to carry on.
The question is whether it will be economic for
companies to continue. Once youre in a homestead mode, nothing
dramatic is going to change. If your environment is working now
providing you can keep the hardware running is it an
environment you can keep running indefinitely? Will those people
carry on paying for software support? I dont know about the US,
but certainly in the UK I know a lot of sites that have whittled
their support right away in the last two years, down to the things
they really need.
But do you want to stay in the business of providing
technical support for people who use the MPE environment?
The answer for us is because were small, if it
still pays, well do it. The biggest risk is going to be the
disappearing syndrome. If youve got a piece of software on your
3000 and you havent been paying support on it and in
three years you decide to put it onto an N-Class you buy on eBay or
from a broker you may find this piece of software thats
been playing a pivotal role in your organization doesnt work,
and the people who wrote it arent there anymore.
I hope that if companies decide to exit from the 3000
software market, they would sell or transfer their products
support to companies who will be in for the long haul. Given how
cheap most of us homestead sites have been, that community is
unlikely to be spending to keep much of the technical infrastructure
alive. There are very few people in our community who can be
altruistic, and will help support people for nothing. There are a lot
of us around who will help even when economically you wouldnt
do it. Mainly because of the people.
Given were in the migration business, we have
more of an incentive to stay around and support the community than
people who already have other markets. Every homesteader is a
potential customer for us in the future. We hope to be here for the
long haul, and well be involved with the 3000 community as long
as there is one.
What was wrong with the 3000 marketplace model from an
economic view? Can it be fixed?
Most software on the HP 3000 was too expensive,
compared with other platforms. However, because people could reliably
write applications for the system, many of these were developed far
too cheaply. Many customers got far too much for the money they
Is there a need for another market and user event to draw HP
3000 customers, now that HP World has drawn so few in 2003?
Some people are going to be homesteading for an
indefinite future. Some are going to be medium-term homesteaders, who
know theyre going to have to do something. Theres another
group that have actively started their migration, or working out how
they will. What your issues are will depend on which of those phases
you are in. There isnt going to be anything new for the 3000
significantly, so youre not going to go to HP World to find out
anything for homesteading.
The other two groups are going to come up with the
same questions year after year, depending on where they are in the
process. HP World is not really a forum where you can repeat the same
stuff year after year. The sessions at the last HP World were
stunningly good. But they dont want the same sessions the next
HP World has got bigger and better things to do.
Its not an HP 3000 conference anymore. I think something like a
new HP 3000 user group is needed. OpenMPE could be it, but the
groups title is too restrictive. Something is needed to allow
the retention of both information for homesteading, plus the
dissemination of information about migration.
How do you divide up the 3000 market, and how big do you
think the market is today?
The market feels like there are a third of people who
dont even know HP has discontinued the platform, or that
decision wont alter their plans at all. Theyll carry on
using it for as long as they can, because that course makes the best
As to the size of the overall migration market, I
would be very surprised if more than 5,000-10,000 companies
world-wide have applications that should be migrated. For the others
gradual replacement, function by function, application by
application, will occur.
There are another third who were already thinking of
migrating or implementing some global solution. They were almost in
migration mode before the announcement. Then weve got a middle
third of companies that really do have HP 3000 environments. In my
experience, most companies have built an environment around which
their business operates, a combination of either applications
theyve bought and then developed and bespoke applications.
Theyve got some fairly unique value in what theyve got,
and these companies looked pre-Y2K, and couldnt find anything
to replace what they have.
But there arent any new applications anymore
for the HP 3000. At least not the global, ERP kind of applications
that are running on the systems today.
Are the tools ready for a complex migration, one where 20-30
apps and spool-print subsystems have to be migrated?
I dont think there will ever be tools in place
that will pick up a complex environment and allow you to press a few
buttons and presto, youre someplace else. It like saying if I
took all these engine parts out of Ford engine, which General Motors
block can I stick them in and expect them all to work like they did
before. Its never going to be that easy.
There are lots of people who have written their own
print spoolers that do incredibly complex things. If you were
starting on another platform today, you wouldnt do it that way.
But the problem is that once youre really making use of
something like that, and then youre working at making off the
shelf software from Windows, Unix or Linux do the job, its not
I think migration is almost like a compromise. You
can take it piece-by-piece and re-engineer it, replacing those bits
you have to throw away. Sites that have something like Security 3000
and MPEX to manage a lot of things in their environment those
tools dont exist anywhere else. To migrate your environment,
youre going to have re-engineer all that.
People have had applications migrated, up to now. But
if you look at any of those projects that are out there quoted as
major migration projects, most of them were started long before HP
announced it was discontinuing the HP 3000.
What changes have you seen in the level of interest in
migrations over the last quarter?
In the last quarter of 2003 we have seen a dramatic
increase in people doing migration studies and evaluations. All of
the migration service partners are now working on projects where the
customers had declared before they were going for replacements or
re-writes. Its because the inexpensive part of replacement is
buying the package. The business change involved is the enormous
cost. If you can move whats of value to a new environment, so
it operates as it did before, its probably going to be a lot
cheaper, smoother, and certainly a lot less risky than the other
options. If you make sure where you end up is some place you can move
forward from to do the things you couldnt with your 3000
you can end up better off, rather than worse off.
Your ads talk about being a master of one. What
does this represent for your company, and why is it a better
guideline when choosing a solution supplier?
Were starting to see more collaboration between
migration tools providers and migration service partners. To get some
of this stuff right, you really, really need to know it. I think
its too big for any one person to do anything right. If you
want good fish you go to a fishmonger. If you want good meat, go to a
butcher. If you just want food, go to Wal-Mart, and if you just want
to eat, you go to McDonalds.