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A Patchwork Future on the Rise

HP continues to engineer patches for the HP 3000, but customers have been told that service will be curtailed when the rest of the vendor's support stops at the end of next year. Patches are a valuable improvement to 3000 ownership, but many customers look to patches only when they've got a problem they can't fix any other way. Workarounds are a more common method of HP 3000 repair.

I don't want to sell short what HP continues to do this year for the platform. It's a great thing that patches like NSSHD10A — which HP reported left beta status last week — are available to any HP customer. NSSHD10A repairs problems with Network Services on 3000s running MPE/iX 6.5. If you take a peek at the patch details on the HP Web site, you see the latest version of the patch prevents a System Abort 2259 in NSSTATUS — and about two dozen other Service Requests (bug fixes) from earlier in 6.5's lifespan. This is the patchwork that HP offered to continue when it extended its 6.5 support last year.

But companies that support 3000 customers don't see that work of patches as crucial to keeping the servers working in the decade to come.

The future of patches for the 3000 is a topic usually discussed in the wake of source code availability. Next week begins the period (second half of 2005) when HP said it would decide about making MPE source available outside of HP. No source means no more patches. Is that a problem?

Steve Suraci of Pivital Solutions, a third party supporting 3000s, talked about this last year. "Can we find workarounds? Almost always. We haven’t run into a situation yet where we haven’t been able to get a customer back up and running."

Steve Cooper of Allegro Consulting, the MPE support component of Resource 3000, says source code from HP to create patches isn't a critical support component. "We don’t think it’s essential that anybody gets the source. We’re prepared to meet our commitments even without the source code. " And while he'd love to see MPE source get outside of HP, he added in our December interview with him, "To a large degree, that doesn’t much matter anymore. HP has become more and more irrelevant to the 3000 community as time goes on."

Mike Hornsby of Beechglen told us back in 2002, "I have always been skeptical about patches. To paraphrase a famous coach, 'three things can happen when you patch, and two of them are bad.' " He believes customers hit bugs because "they are off the beaten path, trying to do things the hard way. We steer them back, and find a better alternative."

That sounds like a typical definition of workaround to me.

Next month's printed NewsWire lets us hear from another support provider, Gilles Schipper of GSA, who's on the same page as these other support providers, as well as soon to appear on pages of our blog. (That's an open offer to other support companies, by the way.)

"I don't think [access to HP's source] is a necessary thing for the 3000 to maintain its reliability," Schipper told me yesterday in our interview. "I'd like to see it happen, because it may allay the concerns of some customers out there." Schipper, who worked in HP's Systems Engineer (SE) organization before he launched his own business in 1983, added that he'll be posting here in the weeks to come.