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Golden, Open opportunities in '08

OpenMPE is not some government entity with a roster of voters to look up and scrutinize. I saw a membership roster in 2003. Only 125 names back then, but not even half were vendors. Consultants, some. But also customers.

As for the voter names, I get a list of those each spring to oversee the annual election. I cannot share those, but yes, even in their limited numbers, they represent the viewpoint of a customer trying to get a workable solution for the near term.

No tax dollars are not at work at OpenMPE, any more than they are inside HP. Member and voter identity is protected on a privacy basis, just like customer lists at HP and third parties. Insisting that this group of volunteers mimic the government’s information revelation is not an unusual request. But it’s just not going to happen, until these volunteers get support contract monies from 3000 sites. That will make OpenMPE accountable to their customers, in some way. That may never happen, given these HP extensions to its support business. On the whole, the extensions look sensible until you consider their impact on OpenMPE’s desires.

As for what the organization is doing right now, several times a month the board meets by phone conference with HP’s Jeff Bandle, as they did with Mike Paivinen before him. Projects such as OpenMPE review of the HP MPE/iX build process investigation — “hey, what does it take to create a new MPE/iX build, or a patch?” — that’s the kind of project OpenMPE is involved in. One such project has already taken place. OpenMPE wants the 3000 group in HP to be involved in two more such reviews.

Also, OpenMPE got HP to announce the extension of support earlier in 2007 than HP had planned. You may recall that the 2005 announcement — where 2006 didn’t mean 2006 anymore, and the companies who hurried and spent plenty learned they should have waited and spent more gradually — that 2005 announcement got dropped on the community and customers during the holiday hiatus. Bad publicity, awful exposure.

This year’s announcement came much earlier, during the period when 3000 sites were planning 2008 budgets. The OpenMPE calls are all covered under executive sessions. HP insists. HP holds all the cards in this relationship.

The flaw in approaching the 3000 market from a spot of selling mostly migration solutions is that the solutions and viewpoint becomes a hammer, the kind that makes every 3000 problem look like a nail. “Just migrate,” people say, “and it will all get safer and easier.” But the migration experts who are ready to help, they know — a migration is the most complex IT project a shop will undertake. Some take a matter of weeks or days. Others take years. They are fraught with pitfalls and learning. Most of them make the Y2K work seem simple by comparison.

Homesteaders have limited budgets, operate systems often frozen down, don’t test patches, take few upgrades. This has always been a belt-plus-suspenders marketplace. Homesteading is the easy path of no change. Shifting a 15-year-old application suite to new code, new compiler, new database, new OS, that can feel like cowboy stuff to a 40-plus 3000 director.

And there’s no hurry or firm deadline, especially if HP support has become a thing of the past for a customer. By my estimate no more than 1 in 3 HP 3000 customers now take MPE/iX support from HP. This is a marketplace accustomed to a decade or more of value from an enterprise server purchase. The current generation of HP 3000s, the A- and N-Class servers, are only finishing their sixth year of active service in the market.

So what’s Open about OpenMPE? There’s an open dialogue with HP about how to make the homesteading, whether interim or for an indefinite future, easier and more affordable.

Maybe OpenMPE will have no future with HP, in the long term. But nobody else in the community is taking up the prospect of how to create patches during 2009 and 2010, when HP quits. And to think that nobody will need a patch for a 3000 in that period is a bit innocent, if you ask me.

So who is OpenMPE? The directors, almost exclusively, people whose pictures and names and bios are up on the Web site. As well as those who have served on that board in the past, for free. If OpenMPE went away tomorrow, how would the 3000 community, which will be working at least through 2010, benefit? The group’s executive conference calls help HP plan the details of its end-game. HP says so, and says the group has impact. And after the disgraceful melt-down of Interex, the 3000 community needs some kind of HP advocacy.

At least OpenMPE gives the homesteader a rally point. The organization intends to create a community to help customers continue using HP 3000s. The system will be running until 2027, when the CALENDAR intrinsic goes out of date. The future of post-Hewlett-Packard 3000 use: that’s OpenMPE’s mission.

The coming year shows great promise for anybody still a-foot in the 3000 world, aiding in migrations. or creating a new infrastructure for their 3000s, sans HP. Many are happy to be going onward, grateful for what they’ve learned. This month the keynote speaker for the Bayside e3000 Community Meet, former HP-er Jeff Vance, will talk of the exciting new technology which fills his day. Vance migrated away from 3000 work after 28 years.

On the other side, I got an e-mail the other day from a system manager at Health New England. Jonathan Hale was reporting on the departure of the group’s HP 3000s. “I now regularly quote from the Unix-Haters Handbook,” he said, a volume that can be read for free online, after a healthy life in printed form.

People have left the 3000 (more than a third), or are considering and planning migration (another third and more). But a significant chunk of the customers are homesteading for this year and next, staying in place for that duration. All of these groups offer us all more months of opportunity, even the homesteading sites. I heard last week from a vendor who’s been in the 3000 market since 1988, “there’s still gold in them thar hills.” Here’s to a golden 2008, no matter where you are prospecting.