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Hospice that delivers options

Thanks to Unix, MPE lives in comfort

Unix systems from HP now play their part to extend the comfort of using MPE/iX. HP didn't modify the PA-RISC hardware models of HP 9000s much to create HP 3000s. Ideal Computers is using these near-identical versions of HP-built hardware to give 3000 customers a way to get the MPE/iX systems HP would never build.

Remember the L-Class PA-RISC servers? Probably not very well, unless your job description included managing HP 9000 systems. The L-Class was more powerful and flexible than the K-Class systems, on the way to the N-Class but more affordable. The ones the 3000 market knew as 9x9s. People in the 3000 community asked for an L-Class 3000, but HP never built one.

Except that the vendor never really closed the door on using an L-Class server as an MPE/iX system. At least not in the realm of technical possibility. The only thing that was missing was booting an L-Class into MPE/iX, a process HP never released. Working with the in-house toolbox of its own SSEDIT software, deploys a "VM 9"  program to customers to enable that boot-up. Yesterday at a facility in the East Bay Area, I watched an L-Class system become an HP 3000, booting through an ISL prompt to one where :HELLO made sense to the server.

Ideal  has created a class of PA-RISC server which the company's Steve Pirie calls a virtual machine. VM 9, he says with a smile, inviting us to consider what the Roman numeral for 9 might look like. Oh yeah. He didn't say it, but that's IX.

People always want to know, when they hear about this new option, "is it legal?" It has been as legal as it needs to be for some HP 3000 customers, which has included pretty good-sized companies. With HP in the thick of virtualization offerings of its own — you can slice and dice up Itanium processors in the Integrity machines to run concurrent instances of HP-UX, Linux, Windows and OpenVMS — the Ideal solution serves up another kind of virtual machine. The kind that takes a low-cost used system and boots it up as either an HP 9000, or an HP 3000, so customers can make a box like an L-Class take on either personality.

It works because SSEDIT, which powers the VM 9 software, is an invention of Ideal's (well, Advant's before it merged with Ideal). And none of this software is SS_CONFIG, HP's proprietary personality-changing program that was at the heart of all those lawsuits and criminal charges in 1999 and 2000.

You need your own copy of MPE/iX to make Ideal's L-Class servers work as 3000s. The reach of that MPE/iX license was defined by HP as "the HP 3000 it arrived on," or "another 3000 system which HP authorized a transfer to." Ideal is selling customers on a more current definition of the MPE/iX license: A PA-RISC server at a company which already has an HP 3000 — and has no plans to use that 3000 system anymore, but will run on a virtual machine.

"If you're an HP 3000 customer, then you have paid [MPE] support [since you bought your HP 3000]," said  Pirie, the COO of Ideal. "You were entitled to go to to 6.0, 6.5, 7.0 and 7.5 releases. If you paid support on the day that any of this stuff was released, we figure you're allowed to use it. This whole thing about virtual machines makes this possible. If you have the legal right to run [MPE/iX] on your old box, VM 9 allows it to run it on a new piece of hardware."

It's the virtual part of the Ideal solution, using VM 9, that clears the path, according to Pirie. "Have there ever been any discussions about what it takes to run MPE/iX on a virtual machine? No. Can there be a discussion? Yes, anything HP can do anything it wants to do will affect the future — but it's not going to affect past licenses of MPE/iX. Past licenses have never discussed virtual machines."

The solution that Ideal, Pirie and "Captain GREB" offers gives a customer a way to rent a package of server, VM 9 and disk array, all for a fee by the month between $500 and $5,000. The hardware is never sold, unlike the old model in the 3000 market where a system sale carried an MPE/iX license along. In this model, the customer brings the MPE/iX they already have paid support for, and Ideal brings everything else. Including things like eight-processor HP 3000s, running their CPUs at full speed.

Why do this at all? Pirie says that it's not to deprive HP of sales dollars of 3000s, obviously. But it's not even to extend the life of the 3000. It's "death with dignity," he says, the Hospice 3000 program. But that's for tomorrow.