Vast 3000 rollout echoed in coming week
HP works its storage options wider

Emulator boots with sponsor partner push

Zelus Stromasys has announced a new timeline for the only emulator project in the 3000 community, but it's more than a beta-to-release schedule. The vendor that sells "cross-platform virtualization" is starting the Zelus product's outside life with an outreach to 3000 vendors and first-wave customers. Stromasys needs partner input on how to manage the third parties' checking for valid licenses using a software-only emulator.

In an interview a few days before this week's announcement in Las Vegas, Stromasys CEO John Pritchard and CTO Robert Boers said that HP has released a pair of system ID strings (HPCPUNAMEs) that the software can use to mimic a 3000 model. One name is a larger system than the other, which gives Stromasys two levels of virtualization performance to sell.

The most crucial hurdle to achieving this first call for sponsor partners has been cleared. HP gave the company the secret code that permits PA-RISC hardware to continue to boot up MPE/iX. This processor dependent code was a year delayed coming out of HP, 12 months that Boers wishes he had back in the product's lifecycle. But that loss of time won't eliminate the extension of life that the product called Zelus will provide. Once the Stromasys team demonstrated its software would boot Linux, HP figured out the paperwork it needed Boers to sign.

Support for the software will come from centers in both the US and in Europe, he added. Stromasys, which was founded 12 years ago when managers of the European Digital Migration Center bought out their HP owners, has operated an office in North Carolina for years. Pricing for the product has not been set; the Stromasys executive team is taking imput on how much the 3000 customers would be willing to pay. At the moment the Digital product CHARON sells for between $5,000 and $200,000. Even the latter price represents a big savings over a code move or migration.

The company's history and credentials with HP have been important in gaining access to the technology which HP has held close since the 9000-to3000 lawsuits of the 1990s. As for speed potential, Zelus is going to bypass all the slowdown code HP inserted in MPE/iX to hamstring the HP-built PA-RISC CPUs. HP was interested in the choice, but didn't insist. Speed is going to increase as efficiency and power of the hosting hardware grows. Even HP's Converged Infrastructure products, many of which are unavailable on PA-RISC hardware, can help this solution grow faster.

ProgramTiming Earlier in the emulator story, HP inserted a clause that an emulator product needed to run on HP hardware. Since there's no technical means to check this requirement, it's a moot point on an operational level. But writing it into HP's agreement doesn't make it a legal or moral point, either. Boers noted that HP cannot insist on this, since the 1973 court ruling gave Amdahl the right to run IBM's OS on non-IBM hardware. It's nice to have a Department of Justice precedent that's almost as old as the 3000 to rely upon. HP's not coming after anybody who uses Zelus on a Dell server.

The most immediate task is gain the support of the third party software providers. They maintain and sell tools and apps which customer will require to operate on a non-HP PA-RISC implementation of the virtualization. "In the past this licensing was linked to a hardware model," Boers said. "Now that linkage is gone, and we need to understand what issues the software providers might have with that. We don't want to deprive them of revenue."

Boers mentioned an option of an honor system, where vendors rely on the integrity of their customers, or something that verifies a match between the HPSUSAN number from the 3000 and the software's ID. Every license of the Zelus product must be matched to an existing 3000, after all. HP didn't allow any emulator to create new places for MPE/iX to run.

"We can emulate a system serial number as a standard ID," Boers said. HP wants no part of managing this portion of the transfer of an MPE license to Zelus, he added. There's the $500 fee for the transfer HP wants to collect, probably the last fee a Stromasys customer will ever pay to Hewlett-Packard for MPE operations. There may be another path, but it's an easy guess that the honor system is as unlikely a choice as a Zelus price below $2,000.

Stromasys says it has sold more than 3,000 licenses to the Digital customers who need to remain on Alpha and PDP architectures, and it also announced a Sun Microsystems SPARC virtualizer ready for shipping this summer. The timeline above calls for six months of recruitment and work with customers and software suppliers before Zelus enters a beta-test process. Sales to customers are scheduled for the second half of 2011.

One of the first places Stromasys will look for sponsor partners is in the independent support community for the 3000 homestead sites. These companies will be first-line support for Zelus, since the product will make Intel-based systems look identical to PA-RISC hardware, right down to accepting all internals calls from MPE/iX. In practice, this virtualization needs fine-tuning, so the support companies like Pivital, the Support Group, Allegro and Beechglen and GSA, the MPE Support Group and more will have to learn about Zelus -- enough to handle first calls. Stromasys will support these companies, so having an MPE/iX expert like the firms listed will be essential. Self-maintainers of 3000s may not be the best prospects for deploying Zelus.

Here's how the Stromasys announcement describes the community supporter-Stromasys relationship.

Software running on Stromasys’ virtual systems remains easy to maintain, modify and extend, as the virtual system provides equivalent functionality to the original hardware platform. For maintenance of their MPE/iX operating system or applications on the virtual HP 3000, users can continue to work with their existing support organizations, for which Stromasys will provide training, to be announced at a later date. The ability of legacy software to be maintained in the usual way is particularly important as these applications typically embed substantial business practices that are very costly to redefine and implement on a new platform. 

With a new timeline in place that involves the 3000 community's established resources, and the HP technology in hand after a disappointing delay, it's possible that this solution will extend MPE/iX software use for many years to come after 2011. Boers even sees a potential for HP's own services organizations to deploy Zelus when it's the best choice for a 3000 site. HP already does this for CHARON in the Digital market, a way for HP to retain the VMS support contracts even as a customer leaves HP's hardware.

These kinds of relationship issues have become the crucial elements in the success of the Stromasys product. Technology choices used to create Zelus are in place in other Stromasys products, so even sales of the product can be given time to grow. Homesteaders are still looking for a way to keep 3000 program business logic running without an environmental overhaul -- and gain access to new technology for storage like iSCSI. Storage is big business at HP's enterprise unit today, so the tacit support of Hewlett-Packard could play a part in the potential of Zelus, too. Enterprise sales opportunity can make for unexpected bedfellows.