March 25, 2016
Replacing apps: a migration option, or not?
More than seven years ago, HP was still offering advice to its HP 3000 customers about migration. The vendor sent everyone down an evaluation path once it announced it was dropping the 3000 from its 2007 lineup. Sales halted in 2003; the HP Services lineup included MPE and hardware support for another seven years, though.
That's by way of noting that HP's plans saw lots of waffling before its time ran out for stewardship of the servers. In the years between its cutting-out announcement and the end of formal support, HP plans to migrate had two major options. Rewrite whatever you had running on MPE, or replace it with a work-alike app. At the time, HP had a VP who'd talk about this. Lynn Anderson was the last HP executive who would even address the 3000 before the press. Her expertise was in services. You can imagine how replacing apps set with her. Bad idea, she said at the time. Bake a fresh loaf, using the sourdough starter of 3000-based business processes.
Anderson was pretty unique in the HP management ranks. She could show IT experience on the HP 3000. She started her career working on an HP 3000 in the mill town where she grew up. A Series II system displayed her first MPE colon prompt. Later on in programming and system engineering for HP, she was a network specialist for MPE, a job that included the high point of bringing up the first HP 1000-to-HP 3000 local area network.
To the HP of 2008, a rewrite looked like the best way to preserve what you'd created. However, MB Foster is going to talk about replacing apps next week. Wednesday the 30th at 2 PM Eastern, George Hay will examine this Replace option. "You will learn the factors that affect application replacements and the steps in the replacement process," the company said in its email notice of the webinar.
In 2008, Anderson spread HP's message that the company preferred rewrites to getting an off-the-shelf app to duplicate years of architecture and development under MPE/iX. She cited an HP-funded study that predicted nearly half of the 2008 IT workforce would be retired by 2011 — a figure that had all the accuracy of HP's 2002 prediction that 80 percent of its customers would leave the 3000 by 2004. Speaking at the HP Technology Forum, Anderson talked about replacements chosen to match existing MPE/iX apps, versus rewrites.
"Matching can disappoint," she said at the time. "We say don’t look at what you want your application to do today, but what do you want it to do tomorrow. For the DIY customer, do you have the personnel?" The question was about brain drain, a very real prospect for a legacy technology customer. It was also the question you'd expect to hear from a services vendor.
There's no code like old code, made new again, HP said. Not just rehosted, but extended and revamped.
I think back to when I was a programmer. We had a guy in our shop who liked to think of himself as writing elegant code. Then he left, and when we had to make a change to his code, we literally had to draw straws, because nobody wanted to touch it. You have to look at that when judging a workforce. We just did a study on datacenter transformation, and by the year 2011 45 percent of the IT workforce will be retired."
We asked how this would impact choices to move forward with IT. "We tell these customers you will never get anything to replace what you had built," she said. "The questions are what will you want to do tomorrow, and are you going to have the staff to be able to go into the code."
As for those exits of IT pros, HP's VP said, "I don’t think we have done a good job of selling the value of a career in technology. During the dot-coms it was a bit cool, but it was never about people doing the IT work. It was more on the idea side. And you know what? It still is cool, and it can be a great way to make a living."
HP's living, of course, is best made today as a purveyor of an IT workforce. Hardware sales are off and operating environments come from outside suppliers like Microsoft, RedHat, and others. HP's Services team of the time was legendary for coming in with the highest engagement prices and the sweetest presentations. Meanwhile, plenty of 3000 customers made a living doing IT. Then HP started to call them “technologists.” Did HP still see technologists as typical influencers in the 3000 ecosystem?
In 2008 Anderson said, "We do."
And I think over the years companies — and I’m not saying this about HP — have forgotten about these influencers. Technologists still play a big role in organizations. There are not too many CIOs that are going to make a decision diametrically opposed to their organization. Based on that, we need to get the information out there so the technologist can understand it. With me starting out in that technology environment, I understand. We got our stripes in the 3000, and it was “live free or die — MPE only.”
Replacement already acknowledges that MPE/iX won't serve the long-term strategy for a company. It seems that rewrites will be the work of an outside team. The real question wasn't do you have the personnel, though. The question is what budget do you have for personnel. Because both rewrites and replacements require man-months and man-years.
Anderson said it was essential for all of the remaining 55 percent of the workforce to focus on learning other technologies. A rewrite project would be one way to establish some new chops. Perhaps a replacement does the same thing for a career. "You can think of bread at the grocery store — what are you doing to reset your “Best Before” date?" she asked. Changing platforms certainly resets lots of things.
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