Hospice that delivers options
Some apps are on Mac, if you look

An A-Class option for Unix migration?

This week I've been reporting and researching the Apple aspect of Unix enterprise computing, working from the annual MacWorld Expo and Conference in San Francisco. While all of the front page buzz has been about the iPhone — a product whose name Apple doesn't even own yet, according to Cisco — there is a redoubled effort here to bring Apple's enterprise Unix solution up to IT management standards.

More plainly put, the Fear of Cupertino (FOC), a phrase used by an Apple support rep here, can be overcome. "You have to come in humble to the IT department," he said, "if you want your servers to be included in the corporate plans."

If that sounds a lot like the situation you have faced in getting your HP 3000s integrated into a Windows-heavy or HP-UX slated environment, then you might sympathize. These managers here in the IT part of the conference believe in the superiority of their enterprise solution — just as much as the 3000 customer believes in MPE/iX.

They even could be seen lining up in front of microphones, a la Interex roundtables, to plead for better big-company support from Apple. Their vendor has a $4,200 a month support plan at the top of the heap of service options, a number equivalent to HP-UX support from HP.

As its entry into the enterprise Unix derby, Apple offers XServe systems, priced with unlimited user licenses starting at $2,999. Management of said servers is far more intutive, using Apple's interface — just in case, like many 3000 experts, you are learning Unix admin skills as part of your migration. HP-UX guru Bill Hassell said that GUIs as admin interfaces were for wimps. But there are seasoned HP 3000 pros out there who don't have time, during a migration, to wade into another set of command lines.

We promised some time ago to research and poke into every option for a 3000 shop moving off their platform. Apple's got robust hardware, based on Xeon processors, as well as a Unix implementation that's been through more than six years of maturation. Support, however, is still an evolving element, especially for the larger shops. How big? Some managers in a MacIT session yesterday talked of supporting 2,500 to 5,000 desktop clients, along with the Unix servers to supply data and application interchange.

Is this big enough or mature enough to give a 3000 migration customer reason to look into Apple as an option. As is often the case, it depends on application availability. This has been a consumer-based Expo, full of $39 programs. But we have tracked down a few examples of apps a 3000 shop might need. These are the kinds of applications you could find on a A-Class HP 3000, serving an enterprise of $50 million a year or less.

Victoria Finch of T-Rex Software stood in front of the three-foot-wide kiosk yesterday morning. She had clever marketing materials, like a mylar business card and magnetic dinosaur tracks, along with a letter-sized color brochure touting the merits of her software. So far, so good; HP 3000 vendors have arrived on the Interex floor with nothing so sophisticated.

Finch brought passion for her product, too. It works in the K-12 marketplace, but not at the school district level. T-Rex is sold to the school principal who wants better information to use in his local community: the parents and businesses who raise funds for public elementary, middle and high schools.

Could T-Rex step in for the Student/3000 program from QSS, the leading K-12 application on the 3000, one that’s headed to Linux very soon? Not on your life, nor is it something that Finch sees in the near future. But it’s an adjunct to a full, district-wide K-12 app. Surround code on the 3000 does this work now, in some cases.

Finch is a school volunteer with good graphics skills and experience in building on top of Filemaker, the de-facto standard for client and small server sized Macs. “I believe in public schools,” she told me. At Roscome Road Elemenary School, the administrators and teachers and parents enjoy allergy alerts, detailed rosters for classrooms and faculty, financial detail and a business-to-business directory.

She also calls her work “the ultimate fundraising machine,” producing pledge forms, deposit slips and donation reporting for parents and school administration.

T-Rex functions might not be handled by existing school administration systems. If you’re going to migrate away from the HP 3000, it’s easier to sell if you get more functionality on the new platform. This app is not enterprise-grade unless you consider a school to be an enterprise. But it’s not anything like a spreadsheet or a drawing program or even a small business accounting program.

Finch is not close to knowing how much her app will cost; Filemaker invited her to exhibit after installing the app at Roscome in a free pilot. There are companies like hers and bigger making the Mac into a business platform. You could do worse to choose a Unix system with a murkier future, one where open source is not key and vendor lock-in is still key to the investment.

Manufacturing, one of the 3000’s heartland apps, is another kind of target for migrating customers. A name from the 3000’s salad days was on the floor at a similar-sized kiosk, too, selling an ERP solution. More on that more traditional app tomorrow, reported from a place many 3000 managers probably haven’t considered yet.