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June 12, 2008

Emulate what, exactly?

Customers on the HP 3000 newsgroup have started to ask how the emulator project is proceeding. There's a little confusion about what emulation means when they ask, as well as what non-HP companies might provide.

Most emulators used by people in the IT community put an operating environment on top of new hardware. For example, on my Intel-based Macs, products like VMWare or Parallels let us run Windows on our systems. In the same way, people want to run MPE/iX on hardware which HP does not designate as an HP 3000. This is a means of getting MPE/iX loose of HP's predictions for the 3000's ecosystem, as well as the vendor's plans, promises and processes.

Another significant value in an emulator is to give the 3000's operating environment more power and flexibility than it it will ever have on HP-built PA-RISC systems. The other power is an independence from Hewlett-Packard, a company which will end all of its 3000-MPE/iX business in about two and a half years — if it sticks to its schedule.

So there's talk out there now, as well as a message from a European company which reports that Software Research International (SRI) will have a pilot emulator solution ready to deploy in tests this fall. The hardware which this SRI emulator will use is not the most crucial component in an emulator's future. The biggest thing to test and deploy is the HP software license that acts as the fulcrum to leverage MPE/iX and IMAGE onto non-HP systems.

HP said way back in 2003 that it intended to make an MPE/iX emulator license available — if anybody would ever create such an emulator. HP was guessing at the time, or estimating, but it figured such a license might be available at $500 per emulated system. HP said in a letter to its customers and the 3000 community:

[HP] intends to establish a new distribution plan for the MPE/iX operating system (OS) which will likely be effective by early 2004. The MPE/iX OS would be licensed independent of the HP e3000 hardware platform. The license terms would grant the licensee the right to use a single copy of MPE/iX on a single HP hardware platform subject to certain terms and conditions. Such terms and conditions would require MPE/iX to be run in an emulated environment, hosted on an HP platform, and would include a statement that MPE is provided "AS-IS" with no warranty.

Nobody had a way to check and see if the PC hardware that might host such an emulator would be HP-branded. But there's a bigger question than whether this license will be valid on non-HP PCs.

How much MPE/iX will be licensed to run on non-HP hardware? Remember, any such emulator might forestall a migration onto HP's alternative products, such as HP-UX servers.

Matt Perdue, the diligent OpenMPE board member who's been peppering HP with sharp questions about the 3000's future, explained to us that even though a new hosting hardware system is the end-game for companies like SRI, and even Strobe Data, it's the 3000's operating environment that really is being emulated. "Emulate what?" I asked.

Emulate MPE/iX, some release or multiple releases. The talk is to “chop off” MPE at a lower level point, generally where the OS passes requests to the hardware drivers — including disc, network cards, PDC (processor dependant code) and possibly memory)  — and have the complete “upper level” version of the OS running on the emulator.

Think of it as complete MPE/iX with all the hardware interfaces handled by something else. That includes TurboIMAGE, V/3000 (aka View/3000) all file types, all commands, all compilers, all network communications (NS3000, FTP, Apache SSL, etc.) and everything else that’s in the OS today.

Perdue said that Strobe's Alan Tibbets "was quite open" in a teleconference representing Strobe, Allegro Consultants, SRI and HP's OpenMPE liaison Jeff Bandle. The call included Perdue, OpenMPE chair Birket Foster, and OpenMPE board members Donna Hofmeister and Tracy Johnson. Tibbets explained how Strobe emulates the HP 1000 in their Kestral emulator line. "Both Allegro and Strobe have agreed that they’ll participate as the lab for the emulator, and have OpenMPE be the actual front end for the emulator and handle the project management and payments," Perdue explained.

What market will there be for an emulator product, once HP and the creator of such a product come to terms and get this solution tested? It might surprise you to know that later is better than sooner. Willard West, the founder of Strobe, explained to me in 2002 that an emulator is a long-term product offering. The harder the original hardware gets to obtain, and the slower it runs compared to more modern designs, the better deal an emulator becomes.

12:26 PM in Homesteading, News Outta HP, Newsmakers | Permalink

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