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May 27, 2011

HP resale aid won't drive emulator launch

Third of three parts on the Zelus HP 3000 emulator; part 1 and part 2 appear on prior days.

Although some of the Stromasys emulators are resold by HP, Hewlett-Packard has no plans to resell the HP 3000 Zelus emulator. This isn't the Digital marketplace, where Stromasys leveraged its roots with Digital executives, keying on Stromasys' origins as the European Digital migration lab. Instead, the company is going to establish an HP 3000 customer base itself, selling to one site at a time.

Stromasys' CTO Dr. Robert Boers explained that creating a customer-specific emulator which replicates one HP 3000 installation is the first phase of the project. Going beyond that, to an emulator that could be resold by independent vendors in the 3000 community, is a phase that Stromasys is studying.

“Building one which is hit with every kind of customer environment requires a lot more debugging,” Boers said. “We have to add additional peripherals. What we’ve done with VAX and Alpha has been to work with one big customer for a year and a half, until they really got what they wanted. When that emulator got really good, then we productized it and put it on the market.” The Stromasys emulator for Alpha entered this general product phase in 2005. HP stopped new system sales of AlphaServers in 2007, and the vendor still supports the last generation of those Alphas through 2012.

In contrast, an HP 3000 emulator only got crucial HP aid in development in 2009, six years after Hewlett-Packard stopped selling HP 3000s. Hewlett-Packard has been through many changes since the Stromasys bonds were forged with a DEC group that didn't start in HP, but ended up there through acquisitions.

Unlike its HP 3000 activities, the OpenVMS work of Stromasys benefits from a closer HP relationship. The company sprang up as SRI, formed from Digital engineers who operated the European R&D Center in the late '90s — the time when Compaq owned DEC. That was the fast path for an emulator. HP delayed the HP 3000 emulator process, by all vendors' accounts, for years while it tried to decide if it would cooperate with emulator development projects. HP announced MPE/iX licenses for 3000 emulators, but wanted no part in sharing key internal documents.

Several vendors believed they could create a 3000 emulator with little help from HP. One plan even surfaced to use PA-RISC chips bought on the open market and integrated into a hardware card, all to be plugged into Intel PCs. Buying these chips would turn an emulator project into task to integrate PA-RISC with Intel's hardware.

Strobe Data, which was founded on a similar market relationship with the HP 1000 group at HP, predicted that the lifespan for a 3000 emulator was much longer than customers might believe. Emulator products, said Willard West at Strobe, sell long after hardware becomes unavailable — at least in the DEC and HP 1000 markets.

Stromasys appears to be the last vendor standing in a group of three expressing interest and intent in emulating HP 3000s back in 2002. Decisions on Zelus general release plans are being made outside of Boers’ tech group.

“We’ll certainly provide [Zelus] to a couple of customers for whom we’re building it,” he said. “But they’re making a financial contribution. For some reasons, they absolutely needed it yesterday. I can’t imagine there are more companies like that. Maybe we could accept one or two more biggies like those.”

Given the company’s history building and selling VAX and Alpha emulators, in creating a PA-RISC emulator for MPE/iX “we certainly got the worst part,” Boers said. “Once you run the operating system you can run better diagnostics. You can write your own programs, and start to flesh out things. We got some help from HP. But as one of our guys said, you can’t reproduce documentation that doesn’t exist anymore.”

On the other hand, the aspect which has made the 3000 a superior investment in sustaining in-house systems — backward capability to run old programs on more recent serves and nwere versios of the OS — is what’s made Zelus so tough to build.

“If you wrote a program 30 years ago for MPE, you can still run it on the current version,” Boers said. “There are few operating systems who can claim that. Even something that ran on VMS 4, can’t run on the current version.”

Making a market for an emulator

08:32 AM in Homesteading, News Outta HP, Newsmakers | Permalink

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