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MB Foster takes over for HP ODBC labs

First of two parts

In a world where HP maintains its earnings growth through cost cutting, the HP 3000 group continues to recede its operations. On January 1 several HP 3000 subsystems and database tools fell from HP's support and sales lists. While Java/iX officially went into the "unsupported" category, the ODBCLink SE software — created by MB Foster in 1994 and bundled and maintained as part of the 3000's Fundamental Operating System since 1995 — won't be bundled with new license purchases of IMAGE/SQL or Allbase/SQL.

HP is stepping away from the 3000 in small increments, steps that give third parties a chance to take on business the vendor has always taken for itself. The ODBC link between Windows clients and the IMAGE database became a third party tool long ago, in the days when the 3000's IMAGE database  grew up enough to join the rest of the world's desktop-linked databases.

MB Foster took the contract and relationship  with the HP database labs to provide a  fundamental version of its ODBCLink product. The SE version always lacked the full feature list of ODBCLink, a product that has grown up so much MB Foster calls it MBF-UDALink today (the letters standing for Universal Data Access). But many 3000 sites got along with the bundled ODBCLink SE and took their support calls to HP. The vendor sent the questions it could not answer to MB Foster's lab, then reported back the answers. At times, MB Foster communicated directly with 3000 sites which had no MBF product except the SE version of ODBC link.

Why is this important to a marketplace which, quite frankly, won't see many new copies of IMAGE/SQL or Allbase/SQL shipped? MB Foster will try to ride the nudge the HP unbundling will offer, selling a complete version of UDALink to the ODBC SE sites. HP is providing basic phone support for the SE version of the software. But the writing is on the wall: It's time this third party take over a mission-critical part of the 3000's database toolbelt.

MB Foster CEO Birket Foster pointed out the benefits of using UDALink versus the bundled ODBCLink SE, including access to KSAM files and use of PowerHouse dictionaries.  More important is to get onto a product with a future, including functionality on non-3000 environments.

"People can move to something that will give them a supported product, one where we just did a release in May of 2006," Foster said. "We're continuing to grow the product and make it work in the real world."

These days the real world is about to include Microsoft's Vista on the desktop, as well as Windows XP software whose underlying ODBC engines (called the JetEngine inside Microsoft-savvy labs) has been through three generations already. Access to Windows apps is no small matter with such churn in Microsoft's designs.

What's more, the MB Foster UDALink works on HP-UX and Linux hosts, so if a transition plan calls for a move to those environments an IT staff has one less thing to learn.
Capturing this business from HP's bundle involves a low-cost upgrade for the 3000 site that relies on ODBCLink. MB Foster's program will allow these customers to upgrade to UDALink  for a $500 charge plus the cost of the annual License-to-Use fee.

Customers who use UDALink on their HP 3000s can get a special license transfer onto the HP-UX version of the product — which like the MPE/iX version, supports Oracle, Eloquence and DB2 databases.  Customers can run the two versions in parallel, Foster said, for as long as they want to, a benefit to the migrating customer looking for thorough testing of database access.

UDALink also provides up-to-date JDBC access, something HP bundled as well — but obviously won't be getting much attention since HP's dropping 3000 Java/iX support.

The opportunity to move customers to the full database connectivity tool has been there for MB Foster for many years. HP's exit from this market, though, gives the customers a good reason for making a move that will prepare them for a future without HP support, or without an HP 3000.

That scenario will repeat itself over and over during 2007, a period that looks like a crossover year for a significant portion of the 3000 community. We'll look closer at those prospects tomorrow, to shed some light on what kind of vendor will be there to help a 3000 site make its transition.