The greatest change for the 3000 marketplace during this year and into 2010 won't be the exit of HP support for the server. Yes, Hewlett-Packard is now renewing its last round of annual service contracts for the 3000. However, the more significant departures will come from outside the vendor, where some lucky IT pros head into retirement. MPE will serve beyond them.
Screens like the one above show how this departure of talent is not always in lock-step with decline in 3000 use. Customers continue to be creative at keeping their 3000s up to speed, running at limits far beyond HP's designs. Some companies have just begun long-term service arrangements to keep MPE/iX applications online. I heard another such report from Steve Pirie, one of the promoters and managers of the Generic "3000-REplacement" PA-RISC Box offer that he started in 2006. These GREBs are still keeping MPE/iX employed on low-end hardware that makes any HP RISC machine a potential 3000 replacement.
Last week I ran into Pirie in the Las Vegas airport while I was returning from a holiday visit with my mom. He seemed to have little reason to embellish the state of what he launched. Pirie's retired from the industry and the 3000 community but mentioned that GREBs, which employ PA-RISC servers to deliver unhampered MPE/iX performance, just added another customer. Although HP has full knowledge of this tech solution -- which lets 3000s use all the CPU power on any PA-RISC server -- the vendor has never asked that GREB sites be taken offline. Some of that tolerance, of course, is because GREBs customers resolutely decline to be identified.
You might almost be tempted to believe that such a Generic REplacement Box for 3000s, using HP's own RISC hardware, doesn't exist. But I saw one early in 2007, when Pirie booted up MPE/iX 7.5 on an L-Class PA-RISC server (shown above).
Did the GREBs concept, marketed for awhile as VM/iX, gain many customers? Clearly not, since HP's legal action never was even threatened. But HP did develop a new product, one of the first in the 3000 division since 2003, to give 3000 owners a means to pay for licensing MPE/iX on new hardware. You can draw a direct line between a GREB and the HP RTU, the Right To Use license for MPE/iX. In buying an RTU, a customer pays HP to put MPE/iX onto a newer, faster server. HP was explicit about making RTUs unavailable for any unofficial MPE/iX servers such as the L-Class.
I was surprised to learn from Pirie that a five-year lease for a GREB server just began this fall. You can't purchase anything like one of these PA-RISC L-Class unit, outfitted with the needed software to put MPE/iX into production mode on hardware HP never intended to host the OS. VM/iX is a lease-only, virtual machine solution.
Pirie and his technical partners employed in-plain-sight technology to command MPE/iX to boot on devices like an A-Class system, so this 3000 can run four times as fast as HP's designs permit. Low-end PA-RISC hardware is out there, waiting to have its employment contract extended. Just this week, 3000 reseller Bay Pointe Technology offered an A-Class 500 with two 140-MHz CPUs on board. Even though this A-Class might seem underpowered, the hardware in it has untapped potential. Consultant and integrator Craig Lalley of Echo Tech points out the CPUs in this A-Class server have a true speed of 650MHz -- once HP's software brakes are taken off the unit.
Is there a good case to be made for moving onto HP's latest RISC designs, the Itanium/Integrity servers for HP-UX -- and make the leap far above PA-RISC performance? Yes, if you simply measure performance numbers. But when the costs of changing environments, applications and retraining get inserted in the Transition formula, a different solution will appear for some customers in the decade that's about to begin.