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HP works to get the word out

It's hard to run a small outpost within an $85 billion a year technology company. That might be the lesson which HP 3000 customers are getting as they watch HP try to extend its 3000 operations. Or just trying to get the customer base to pay attention to lab work requested long ago, but now finally finished.

On the effort to extend its 3000 support business by two years, customers say HP doesn't seem to know what it has decided about the server's 2007 and 2008. These are mistakes in HP's communication and process, according to staff inside the 3000 group — not a revision of HP's latest timeline.

Then there's the problem of getting the customers to change anything about their 3000s. Several long-sought-after improvements haven't been tested much, HP says. The lack of beta test sites keeps these enhancements out of an MPE/iX PowerPatch, although you can get them otherwise. If you're an HP support customer. Which seems to bring the customers back to the first dilemma, verifying support.

Jeff Vance, an HP engineer whose job includes communicating with the 3000 customer base, posted two messages in as many days to help clarify the support schedule and attract interest in those enhancements. Vance, who held a post on the OpenMPE board until the vendor thought better of the conflict of interest, has been pushing out more than his coding on new Command Interpreter (CI) features. He's also pushing out clarity during a fuzzy time for HP's 3000 operations.

He also delivered a little good news about enhancements. The FTP Phase I security enhancements (patch FTPHDG4 for MPE/iX 7.5) have "a good chance of of being included in the 7.5 PowerPatch." The same is true of new CI User Functions (patch MPEMXW1A for MPE/iX 7.5). FTP and CI improvements were well down on the list of new features out of the 2003 and 2004 Systems Improvement Balloting, however.

More popular requests have been coded, but not very well tested by the customers who asked for them. Perhaps the two-year delay might have cooled customer interest, but these enhancements are in patch jail, if you will, waiting to be sprung by customer testing. Vance said in his message to 3000 customers:

We in vCSY are trying to pull together another PowerPatch for 7.5 but there are several patches lacking sufficient customer exposure to be considered for inclusion in the PP. Only General Release (GR) patches are included in our PowerPatch builds. I am trying to get all of the recent SIB patches into this PP, but I can’t because several of them have not had adequate beta customer usage.

Vance noted that OpenMPE board member Donna Garverick seems to be the only customer so far who's tested these enhancements. So for now, these SIB patches remain in beta-test status. This means they can be requested by customers who are buying support from HP, but are not currently in the PowerPatch. Vance summarized the pending patches:

MPEMXV9C - Network Printing. This patch was re-worked due to a bug where we assumed all printers that support PCL also support PJL. Well, certain printers, including the HP 405, support PCL but do not support PJL, and this is addressed in this latest version of the NW Printing patch. It remains in BT status since no one has requested this patch.

MPEMXT3 - Large Disk family of patches. We have one beta tester as of today. These patches allow MPE to access up to 512GB per spindle.

MPEMXV0A - CI Functions - devinfo, spoolinfo, volinfo. One or maybe two beta testers. It would be great to get one more site to request and use these patches so they can move to GR status.

The patches which are available for beta-testing are summarized on a single HP Web page, jazz.external.hp.com/src/patches

Patch testing is limited to customers with current support contracts; HP won't send them out to any other kind of HP 3000 site. Support contract responses — notes on contract renewals that cut off IMAGE support at 12/31/2006 — still have mistakes. Vance did his best to assure customers HP's support is extended on MPE/iX and IMAGE right through all of 2008:

Just for the record, HP is extending IMAGE support to “at least 2008,” per our earlier announcement. We all apologize for mistakes we’re making in incorrectly renewing some HP support contracts.

If you find any discrepancies in your support renewal, please bring them to the attention of HP, either via your HP rep, or I can forward your issues to the proper support folks at HP.

If you want to send e-mail to Vance, he's at [email protected]. Just don't shoot the messenger. At the moment HP's messages are not in sync — something that can be said of customer interest and the lab's enhancements, too.