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April 28, 2014

Emulator begs, how free should MPE be?

FreebeerAs part of the recent CAMUS conference call meeting, Arnie Kwong of MB Foster mentioned the prospect of additional costs the CHARON emulator might trigger. As an example of one possibility, a user of a Series 900 server could move up to a multiple-processor instance of CHARON that's A-Class or N-Class caliber -- gaining MP ability without needed to plug anything into an HP-built hardware multifunction IO board.

Many vendors in the community wouldn't bother with any fee for increasing MPE horsepower at a customer site. They'd be glad for the extension of life of a support contract. And some companies always sold their MPE utility software on a single-fee basis. Whether you ran an N-Class or a Series 918, the cost was the same, usually in the middle four figures.

Some of the larger vendors, selling applications like Infor's MANMAN or PowerHouse when it was a Cognos product, priced their MPE software much differently. The customer base grew accustomed to those upgrade fees even though they didn't like them. Now that MPE/iX is strictly in the hands of independent companies for support, there's an expectation developing that prices for running the server should be much lower. Approaching free would be a preferred trend, but that strategy won't do the homesteading community as much good as imagined.

"The vendor community wants to keep things alive, and enabling economic success," Kwong said near the end of the conference call. "But part of this sucess is the people thing. Birket [Foster] and I have been participating in parts of this community for onto our fourth decade. There’s just a lot of goodwill on a people-to-people level. That’s one of the things that helps us all see all this through."

The rise of an emulator indicates there's a new possible economic opportunity for MPE and its users. That fact alone ought to show that no-fee upgrades to 3000 licenses aren't likely to appear -- at least not from vendors who've got a heritage of conducting that upgrade-fee business.

Kwong noted that MB Foster has its own set of customers "that have moved to the CHARON environment. We continue to support them, thanks to the Stromasys folks who have been very cooperative about helping us maintain our test environment."

At the moment, there's little evidence out in the community that app vendors are embracing fee-free transfers to CHARON. The emulator has a sterling reputation in the Digital MANMAN marketplace. But in a one-hour CAMUS call with nearly a score of IT pros dialed in, no one spoke up to offer testimony that Infor has allowed an upgrade from 3000-based MANMAN to a CHARON instance. In some cases, a vendor of that size has delivered a price tag for an emulator license upgrade -- and in one example, the installation was then delayed.

Kwong's presentation was meant to shed light on the premise that making a transition to CHARON won't be a magic weekend project, or even one that happens without allied costs which are outside of the Stromasys license fees. This is a familiar arrangement to the 3000 manager. When you'd move from 9x9 to A- or N-Class, you expected software fees to be part of the budget. Testing on the part of the customer wasn't a major part of that sort of move, though. The software vendor had taken care of that.

Foster's company has done that testing for its product and verified it can be used with CHARON. Economic success in this nascent part of the MPE ecosystem will need to be built upon commerce. In specific, testing has got to be funded at vendor labs, either through support contracts or otherwise. It always has been.

OpenMPE wanted to free MPE more than a decade ago, but the prospect of a free MPE was never much more than a beery dream. Linux isn't free, unless it's running in your garage or basement. We're waiting to see how the new owners of PowerHouse handle this fee issue, just as one meaningful barometer mark. At one point in the past, more than 7,000 sites could call on PowerHouse to run on MPE. There's nothing like that left of the PowerHouse customer base, but it's still a good chunk to measure, even today.

09:09 PM in Homesteading | Permalink

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