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May 02, 2014

Timing makes a difference to MPE futures

Coming to market with virtualized 3000s has been a lengthy road for Stromasys. How long is a matter of perspective. The view of an emulated 3000's lifespan can run from using it for just a few years to the foreseeable future. I heard about both ends of the emulator's continuum over the last few weeks.

StopwatchIn the Kern County Schools in Bakersfield, Calif., a 3000 manager said the timetable for his vendor's app migration is going to sideline any steps into using CHARON. Robert Canales, Business Information Systems Analyst in the Division of Administration and Finance, was an eager prospect for the software last May, when the company's Training Day unfolded out in the Bay Area. But the pace of migration demonstrated by his MPE software vendor, who's moving customers to Linux, showed his team that 3000 computing was not going to outlast the vendor's expected migration timetable.

Our main software vendor has since migrated several of their California K-12 education customers off of the 3000. We believe that our organization will be able to successfully migrate over to their Linux-based platform within the next 18-24 months. So from that perspective, we simply couldn't justify the financial investment, or the time for our very limited number of personnel, to focus on utilizing the CHARON solution for backup, testing or historical purposes.

The analysis at the district draws the conclusion that two more school years using available HP 3000 iron -- at most, while awaiting and then undertaking a migration -- will be a better use of manpower and budget than preserving MPE software. This is understandable when a commercial application drives IT. You follow your vendor's plan, or plan to replace something. Replacement could be either the physical hardware with an emulator, because the vendor's leaving your MPE app behind. Or everything: your OS environment as well as applications. Getting two years of emulator use, or maybe a bit more, isn't enough to fit the Kern County Schools resources and budget.

On the other side of that timetable, we can point out a comment from the recent CAMUS user group conference call. It suggests people will want to do more than mimic their 3000 power. They'll want to trade up for a longer-term installation.

An MB Foster analyst noted that as hardware moves upward, from one level of emulation to a more powerful option, the changes might trigger application upgrading. That's a long schedule of use, if you consider that horsepower increases usually happened on 3- or 5-year timetables back when MPE ran only on 3000s. That mirrors a schedule that emulator vendors have reported as commonplace: several decades of lifespan.

Arnie Kwong clarified what he said on that call: that moving upward in the CHARON license lineup might be reason for a vendor -- like some in the 3000 world -- to ask for upgrading fees.

My understanding on CHARON is 1) If you change processor class (for example, from an 'A' license to an 'N' license) then you are likely to get 'upticks' from your third party vendors.  

2) If you change to 'more processors' (for example, from one 'A' license to more than one 'A' license so that you can run separate reporting machines or year-end processing or the like) then you have more licenses as you are running more processors.

This isn't a change for anything that has been in place -- it's just a clarification of ours, that we haven't heard of anyone who isn't doing this the same way as its always been done. Stromasys is vending the 'hardware' and the software suppliers are providing the 'code' as things have always been.

We don't know how likely such upticks will be in the community. 3000 shops use an array of third party vendors. Some vendors do charge for processor uplifts. Others do not, and the number of vendors who will do this has not been confirmed by the installed CHARON base. We heard a report that a PowerHouse user was facing a six-figure fee to emulate their 3000. We heard that report before PowerHouse ownership changed at the end of 2013.

But if you think about that kind of scenario for a bit, you come up with a company that's extending its MPE power while it emulates. That's an investment to cover more than a few years. Emulating customers, just like the vendors who are offering this virtualization, are often into their applications for a very long ride. Before Stromasys emerged as the survivor in the emulation derby, there was Strobe Data. Willard West at that vendor talked about a multiple decades of a timetable for its HP 1000 and Digital emulation customer base.

"Our major competition has been the used hardware market," West said a decade ago. "We’ve out-survived that." At the time that we talked, Strobe was emulating Data General servers that were obsoleted 15 years earlier.

Emulation vendors know that time can be on their side if an application is customized and critical to a company. When time is on your side, the costs to revitalize an in-house application can be applied over enough years. Emulation mimics more than hardware platforms. It preserves IT business rules for returns on investment which have often been on MPE's side. MPE applications have outlasted their hardware and triggered upgrades. The clock on the ROI determines IT investments, just like it always has.

08:14 PM in Homesteading, Migration | Permalink

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