Fewer changes mean fewer glitches
Matt Perdue: Making things work for a long time to come

Q&A: Matt Perdue, OpenMPE Board Member

Matt Perdue says he specializes in finding a way to make things work. A sparkplug on the OpenMPE board of directors, Perdue manages his Hill Country.Net ISP business from San Antonio, using the $7-a-month ISP as a platform for his IT consulting with HP 3000 customers both homesteading and migrating. Last month he had enough moxie to win at auction a Series 987 for less than $300, a disaster recovery system — sold new at more than $100,000 — which Perdue has put in as an upgrade at a homesteading customer’s site.

He embraced computers early in life. Perdue started working with them in high school in Maryland, learning everything he could on what the district used. After serving as a student on a school district advisory committee for educational technology, he contacted Hewlett-Packard to say “can my group come and learn on what you’ve got?” The HP of that era opened up everything it had available in its Rockville office for experimentation — including Perdue’s first HP 3000.

He began his IT career doing consulting work for HP customers recommended by HP, “since at the time HP didn’t have any internal resources for such work.” Working in an time when a customer would use a “CRT” — cathode ray tube, for readers who’ve only known “monitors” — he built a CRT interface for a client to an HP9830 workstation “so they wouldn’t waste paper.” His development missions have included applications such as accounting systems, mailing list processing, professional time and expense billing, court docket tracking, and residential design and construction management.

Perdue has served as comptroller of a company, CEO of two construction firms and a residential design firm. But his most significant post to the 3000 community might be his director’s position on the Board of OpenMPE, serving the community in discussions with HP about the future of MPE. After one very interesting year on that board, he ran for another term this spring.

With Perdue’s background in development, consulting, and supporting migration-bound 3000 packaged systems including MANMAN and Amisys, we wanted to ask him about the years to come in a homestead-migrate business, as well as how the 3000’s future looks post-HP. We interviewed him via e-mail in early May, just after HP asked again for beta-testers for its MPE/iX enhancement patches.

How have you changed your business model since HP stopped making and selling the HP 3000?

    The 11-14-01 announcement definitely put a crimp in plans. Prior to the announcement I had five-year plans to release or re-release three software packages and make major marketing efforts in conjunction with HP’s software developer program. After the announcement, needless to say, that changed. Instead of updating the packages native to the 3000, a review had to be done to determine the cost and market return for those packages.

   I can certainly tell you it was not a welcome announcement. As a result, two of those packages have been mothballed and may never resurface again. Our business has changed from producing or re-releasing three packages to one, supporting clients either eventually migrating or homesteading, and continuing to assist clients with business operational support. I’ve also acquired more 3000 hardware than I would have otherwise, both for my consulting group and my clients.

What is the mix of 3000 versus other kinds of work you’ve been doing?

    The 3000/MPE is still the bulk of my time, probably 80-85 percent. The rest is business support functions, project management, working with Linux, investigating Itanium and helping clients solve whatever they need solved.

Q&A continues

Which 3000-related skills have been useful to you in non-3000 work?

   A thorough understanding of solid, best of practice data processing methods. I’ve been told I’m paranoid about my backups. I still know people that give only passing interest to proper backup procedures, but good backup methods and following them have saved me and many a client too many times to count!

Proper training of personnel, run-time documentation, problem reporting and escalation methods, day to day maintenance procedures — there are so many things you see having been in so many different IT departments over the years that I guess you just automatically start forming in your mind the “best of practice” procedures from what you’ve seen.

What do you say to the 3000 community members who doubt OpenMPE will ever make any difference to the customers?

    OpenMPE has already made a difference and will continue to do so. HP is a very large company and has many layers of history, corporate culture and many considerations to take into account — some we know of, some they’ve not shared. So progress can be frustrating at times. Ultimately, however, through persistent and dedicated representation of the community’s interest, I think OpenMPE has helped the folks at HP to better understand the issues its customers have faced since the 11-14-01 announcement.

    I do see that HP is taking these things into consideration for the future of MPE. I thank them for listening to the issues as the community sees them. The process is not complete, but I definitely feel HP and OpenMPE are on the right track.

How much time do you spend on OpenMPE work? Is there any compensation for your time?

   Time spent varies; there is no compensation at this time. When OpenMPE is successful in becoming the custodian and “lab” of MPE and we develop a customer base to provide support for MPE, that may change; but nothing has been discussed. The Board meets by conference call each week for one to two hours and then there are side issues of support for OpenMPE itself between those calls.

A few years back you were offering an ISP management package running on MPE. What’s become of that app? Is ThumbNet still using it through the ASP model?

   Thumb.Net is still using it, as are two others. I’ve had inquiries from others but have been swamped developing a full replacement system for a client that runs their entire business: basically a membership accounting system with some curious member-specific requirements. The system also maintains a great deal of information that the members purchase from the company — they’ve been in business 46 years, so there’s 46 years of history. In my “spare” time I’ve been working on porting that ISP package to both Itanium and gentoo.org Linux.