Last fall Terry Simpkins, IT director at 3000 shop Measurement Specialties, asked if an Apple product could be used to check on HP 3000 operations. The director wanted to use the iPod Touch as a remote terminal to connect to a 3000.
Simpkins represents the kind of outside-the-box thinking that kept the 3000 vital and high in value over three decades. He asks about Virtual Private Networks -- a feature the 3000 supports -- as a conduit to drive a console over wireless nets.
Whatever might work for the 3000's controls could work as well on Apple's latest groundbreaker, the iPad. The solution would look a lot like the Virtual Network Connection that drives a medical practice application today, on both the iPad and the iPhone.
I have VPN access into our network, and would like to use my iTouch to perform simple system checks and job restarts. Nothing fancy, just the basics. It would allow me to solve many problems very quickly.
Measurement Specialties runs a significant manufacturing operation, across the US and in China. In 2008 Simpkins reported that "We have no plans to leave the HP 3000 platform. It currently hosts our applications for GL, AP, inventory control, purchasing, production scheduling, order entry and invoicing. With 11 locations around the world, we have a substantial investment in its continued operation."
iPad to 3000 is not out of the question or science fiction. One veteran 3000 developer and consultant, Bruce Hobbs, is looking at development projects for the new iPad.
VNC may not be widely-known among the millions of consumers who use iPhones, but the business world is tapping the technology. Virtual Network Computing allows any user to send keyboard and mouse input across a wireless network, or even through secure Internet connections, in one case to a Mac application like MacPractice. VNC has been built into the Mac's OS since the 10.4 Tiger release. But a multitouch mobile device like the iPad, with its larger screen, is pushing VNC into service at medical practices -- not the type of customer that IT pros would count among Mac users.
Medical records access is the goal for MacPractice, and it does rely on VNC technology that doesn't exist inside the 3000's MPE/iX. That may not be an insurmountable problem, but that's not the point. Homesteading customers continue to think of the 3000 as their business critical keystone, some to the point of thinking about novel technology integrated with a classic computer.
If a company's path keeps them using the 3000, this style of architecture management justifies staying on the MPE/iX trail. Architecture management and strategy has become a rising asset in IT. Birket Foster of MB Foster said that a mobile aspect is important to consider while planning any architecture that will last 3 or more years.
"You ask what the applications are that run your business, are they server-based, and what do they need to look like in five years," he said. "Is there a mobile plan in that? You could have the guy on the receiving dock use a mobile device. You could be automatically be notifying your sales reps when something happens. There's lot of things you could do with mobile devices to get the best bang for your buck."
Foster also noted that he believes a major share of the 3000 customers who are staying on the platform are handling very modest growth rates. And others have made a choice to stay because the migration teams for their corporations won't complete the work until 2012, or later. Looking at Simpkins and Measurement Specialties, you might see another type of homesteading site: The one that looks for ways to connect newer tech, right down to mobile, with the 3000's reliability. You won't see a wave of this kind of architecture planning. Just a modest swell from the companies rolling along into a less costly future.