November 29, 2007
IBM sends PowerHouse users a signal
Not long ago IBM announced its purchase of Cognos, the creator of the development language PowerHouse. The language continues to drive HP 3000 applications in places too diverse to track down, but there's a lot of PowerHouse still running out there.
David Ivey of id Enterprises says that the IBM purchase is a clear signal that the 3000 customers who use PowerHouse need to get serious about moving off their 3000s. The acquisition is both "an opportunity and a spark" for his company which has specialized in HP PowerHouse development through the past two decades, as well as its more current offerings of migration, Ivey says. Primary targets for migrating PowerHouse sites are Windows solutions, especially employing Visual Basic and Visual Studio.
"IBM's purchase once again emphasizes that the 3000 has a limited lifetime, and you need to make preparations to move off it," he said. "You need to have a plan and get busy."
"I love Cognos and PowerHouse, and it's been fabulous for my company," he said. Large complex systems could be churned out "so much faster than in Business BASIC or COBOL. "But PowerHouse's time is gone now."
He added that PowerHouse "doesn't just quit working" to prompt a swift and emergency exit from the platform. But when one of the largest software companies in the world takes in a company for millions in cash, it will look closest at the biggest earner among Cognos businesses. Not the best of prospects for looking after PowerHouse's future.
Most community observers and experts such as Ivey agree that IBM has little interest in the Application Development Tools (ADT) segment of the Cognos business. The group which still releases updates and minor upgrades to PowerHouse generates less than 5 percent of the Cognos revenues. No, IBM wanted to acquire the Business Intelligence customers and products in the Cognos stable.
Ivey said he sees little chance for any company to extract the ADT group from PowerHouse. Negotiations with IBM are a complex matter. More to the point, there's the limited prospects of a new owner increasing the PowerHouse user base against more modern solutions. This would be essential to buying out the PowerHouse business to turn a profit.
"I don't see how anybody [who purchased the ADT group] could survive in a world with Microsoft and those tools that are out there now," he said. "Why should I go to a proprietary [development] platform that nobody's ever heard of, — whose software costs are expensive — when I can go to platforms that everybody knows about and there are programmers all over the street who can code in them?"
Ivey added that his company, which supports PowerHouse sites as well as helps to migrate them, "has customers on the 3000 who haven't taken an update in 10 years — and I wouldn't let them, because there's no point to it." Locked down PowerHouse apps are the most common kind in the 3000 community.
One unique benefit of the PowerHouse offering is its QSCHEMA, a repository of data dictionary items which all PowerHouse apps call upon. Ivey said even when moving away from the dictionary, he doesn't believe much will be lost. His migration strategies for clients often replace the IMAGE database with Microsoft's SQL Server.
Moving the schema to Windows can be done with some third party tools, "but the database structure differences that you don't gain a lot. I recommend bringing the schema over as a text file and then just cut and paste some of the names. It's almost better to type in a lot of that directly than to try and convert it."
The data dictionary "is a big deal, and I have looked for a similar on the Microsoft side, and I haven't been able to find one that was satisfactory," he added.
But PowerHouse is not a graphical environment, and "a screen that I can do in a minute with Visual Studio, or C+ or S-Sharp lets me import graphics with a drag and drop."
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