The City of Brownsville is leaving their HP 3000, walking away from a 13-year HP partnership to join the ranks of IBM IT customers. Big Blue scoops sites away from HP all the time, and the opposite is true, too. But the motivation for moving off the 3000 platform often has more to do with its applications than the operating environment, or the hardware which hosts it.
Brownsville is being profiled in this month's issue of Texas Technology, a mailed and online information source that promises to be "the leading magazine providing solutions to Texas government in the information age." A freelance article by an Austin writer gave Brownsville's MIS director the article's leading role in moving the city off its 3000 and onto an IBM solution. But Gail Bruciak might have been repeating what IBM had to say when she assessed the future of the 3000 which is still running at the city.
"We're running everything for the city, with the exception of emergency services, on an HP 3000 from 1994. The software is COBOL — it's old. Of course, there's no maintenance for it, we can't get parts for [the system] anymore," she said. "So we knew we had to migrate off."
I remember 1994 pretty well. In the year before we founded The 3000 NewsWire, HP was working on the Multiple Operating System Technology (MOST) that would've put MPE/iX and HP-UX on a single system. (Never released, but MOST was years ahead of the Superdome designs that eventually offered several server environments in one box. Just not MPE/iX.) RISC systems were the norm by that year, DDS-3 tape backups were rolling out, and 100 megabit LAN technology was just hitting the streets.
A peek at the 1994 technology of the 3000 shows some solutions that are rather elderly to be running in 2007. HP released MPE/iX 5.0 that year — five generations behind the current OS — and the brand-new 3000 systems of the day were the Series 9x8 servers. But unsupported? Not in the community we cover. Even today, HP will write 9x8 service contracts, and those servers will run the 7.5 MPE/iX release HP will still support (sans new patches) through 2010.
What seems to be unsupported is the idea that it's the 3000 getting too old to count upon at Brownsville. Every new vendor plays this card, coming in to convince a customer their system is historic instead of strategic. Something else is probably aging there, an element completely unmentioned in the Texas Technology report. My bet, sight unseen, would be the applications.
And parts for Series 9x8s? Just about all you want out there now, and almost at no cost. Disks, power supplies, boards — you can get it all from the independent market. I wonder why it comes as a revelation to smaller customers, however, that hardware a dozen years old may be harder to support, run slower than an application requires, and feels old in a presentation by a competing vendor.
The crazy thing about COBOL on the 3000 is that HP is still offering its COBOL II compiler for sale. Has the vendor sold many of those licenses? Not with the likes of Acucorp's extend Version 8.0 out on the marketplace, or the Micro Focus COBOL solutions that have carried HP 3000 apps to migration targets like Windows, Linux and Unix systems. But unsupported alongside "still for sale," that doesn't match up.
As for considering COBOL old, that's a viewpoint popular with application companies which write products in something else. The truth is that COBOL still powers the largest share of applications around the world.
I'm sure there are some other, good reasons why Brownsville's city IT servers will have IBM badges on them sooner or later. (It might be later, because the article mentions delays in getting the nascent WiMAX technology up and reliable in the border city.) "Give us what's best for Brownsville, not what everybody else is doing," Bruciak is quoted as saying in the article.
Best included costs outside of city budgets. Brownsville had to borrow money to get into the IBM and WiMAX alternative, a $4.2 million deal for a city whose populace numbers under 200,000 today. The city is growing, but borrowing that IT migration money was no small matter, by the MIS director's account.
Float a loan to upgrade a 12-year-old server to a new platform and leave COBOL, add powerful wireless networking and hardware built in the current century? Sure. But don't be thinking that strategy would be any less appropriate for another environment — even one sold by IBM.