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IBM iSeries follows in 3000 footsteps?

3000 emulator marches onward

After the project lay dormant for years, work on an HP 3000 emulator is preparing for its first-level alpha testing by October, according to the CEO of Stromasys. The Swiss-based company was named SRI when 3000 emulators were a hot topic among 3000 homesteaders and the OpenMPE group. This fall, the company says, an all-software product to enable Intel PCs to become HP 3000s goes into serious testing.

Stromasys CEO Robert Boers reported that the company that's been selling VAX, Alpha and PDP-11 emulators for more 15 years has gained HP's cooperation with 3000 MPE licensing. An earlier version of the emulator was designed to mimic the MFIO board of the PA-RISC 3000s. HP wanted that work suspended, and so the project was shelved. But a new design bypasses the MFIO work and creates the equivalent of an rp2470 server, a PA-RISC system rated at more horsepower than current 3000 hardware.

Of course that rating is subject to the testing of the emulator, since the product uses Intel hardware to drive what Boers calls a low-end, single-CPU HP 3000 clone. The product won't create new HP 3000s because it complies with HP's MPE/iX licensing for emulators: no new systems, only transfers of existing 3000 licenses.

Stromasys, which operates offices in North America, Asia, Europe and elsewhere, restarted its emulator project after a change of strategy by HP. As the vendor's end of lab operations drew closer, the need to resolve the emulation issues rose up on engineering and licensing to-do lists. Late in 2008 the vendor announced a license plan that would go into effect if an emulator was released before HP's end-of-support date in December, 2010.

Boers said his company, which has been successful in working with HP on Digital computer emulators, plans to begin selling the tested product in 2010. Protection for HPSUSAN numbers and recognition of licenses for third-party tools is covered in the emulator's architecture, he said. The hardware license key is coded in (although who's managing that is unclear), and a separate space that third parties can use for license keys is also part of the software.

It's early in the coming-out party for this product, so far back on the curve that Boers said the company hasn't examined possible pricing or approached software suppliers. Strobe Data has also had a emulation project underway over the same time period, roughly from 2002 onward. But the issue of whether the 3000 market is big enough to support two emulator vendors doesn't seem to concern Boers.

"At the moment we don't know that much about the 3000's market," he said. "This is a nice thing to do. I know the market isn't very big." What works in Stromasys favor to set expectations low at first: the 3000 emulator shares 70 percent of the code with the CHARON virtualization products the company sells to VAX and Alpha users of OpenVMS. HP technical manager Ling Chang said of the CHARON product, "our VAX and Alpha customers are now able to successfully move their existing applications to the HP’s latest server technologies."

Perhaps there's been a realization inside HP that emulation for HP 3000s could keep more users from migrating to non-HP solutions. A thicker abstraction layer -- deep enough, Boers said, to run the TurboIMAGE database -- would offer a 64-bit implemention of PA-RISC on Intel's Xeon family of hardware. ProLiants running Xeon chips could drive HP 3000 programs, if third-party licensing participation appears and testing succeeds. HP's subsystems such as COBOL would be licensed. Plus there's cross-platform products such as the Eloquence database, which might run in a Linux or Windows blade partition to supply data.

As for who might use a 3000 emulator, obvious candidates would be homesteading customers who need access to the latest peripherals, as well as companies who want a clear path to performance boosts as Intel releases faster processors. There's also the customers who see the abstraction of PA-RISC and the 3000 as a smoother way to revive and retain key MPE/iX applications.

Brian Edminster of Applied Technologies, who's been consulting on open source tools as well as migrations in the 3000 community, said an emulator which could mimic an HP 3000 might be just the solution for a customer of his who's been working on a lengthy migration to SAP. Several key Point of Sale modules can't be duplicated in SAP, and a lift and shift migration could be costly and make the finished solution complex.

"Business is tight now, and projects are slowing," Edminster said. "Without having an emulator, the closest I could come would be to use Speedware's [AMXW] product to do the job," he said. "But given a choice, I'd prefer a hardware emulator if it will work properly."