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Deadlines loom for few system upgrades

HP announced a few new deadlines this week for its wrap-up of 3000 operations. But the HP dates won't have an impact on how soon you'll need to upgrade a 3000 that's still running mission-critical apps for your business.

The issue rose up yesterday on the HP 3000 newsgroup after HP reseller Client Systems urged customers to hurry up and act on purchases for 3000 systems. "Be ready for ‘the end’ and beyond," said Dan Cossey. "The clock is ticking on MPE/iX software, upgrades, SLT’s, support, and e3000 hardware. The time to act is now."

How much time is left to upgrade? For nearly all customers these deadlines are in-house, not tied to HP's policies. Plans are independent of HP's timelines, unless you need an MPE/iX license upgrade or HP's software media.

"Our plan is to acquire an A500 with NS, move the COBOL and FORTRAN from the 928 to our 939, and retire the 928," said Mark Landin. "If we can't get this done before the end of 2010, what's the impact to our plan?"

We've talked with HP about this several times over the past 18 months. (At such length that a 2007 Q&A seemed to cover the RTU over two articles.) The impact will be zero, unless your MPE/iX licensing needs demand you buy a fresh HP Right To Use (RTU) license. According to resellers who've sold licensed MPE/iX systems, the need for these has been rare since HP introduced them early in 2007.

HP reported that Dec. 15 is the last day its support customers can order tapes of the 3000's Fundamental Operating System, System Load Tapes and subsystem software such as TurboStore. Non-support customers must place their orders for the media no later than Sept. 30.

Do you need an RTU license to upgrade? Most customers have not, but HP cooked up this product to give customers a way to pay the vendor to prove their license is valid on newer systems. The product rolled out in spring of 2007 and got a policy update in 2008. HP in '08 revised the policy with stricter language.

A Hardware Upgrade and Software RTU Licensing Policy Statement has been generated to clarify possible confusion in the marketplace. We have also created a stand-alone MPE/iX RTU license product (AD377A) that is not coupled with any secondary hardware system sales. With these two deliverables, HP hopes to make the HP e3000 hardware upgrade and software RTU licensing process clearer and more manageable.

We don't know about how clear or manageable the RTU looks to customers, but it's far from clear to us. In Landin's case, his shop wants to replace a Series 928 with an A-Class 500. That's a change in the supported hardware upgrade path from Group 1 to Group 2. Does he need an RTU? That's a decision he might run past HP's Software License Transfer operations, which are going to be working long after 2010 ends and HP support halts. If the SLT group says sorry, you needed an RTU to keep your license valid -- and Client Systems doesn't sell them in 2011 -- then Landin might have to schedule that upgrade while he could buy an RTU.

But the language in these policies -- not a license agreement signed by customers, by the way -- is showing its age. One phrase in the RTU info sheet that invokes a need for HP support will have no meaning at all starting Jan. 1. "After the upgrade is complete, it is important that all pertinent support contracts are reviewed to verify that the proper level of support is valid with the upgraded system." There's no HP support on Jan. 1 onward for 3000s.

The RTU license level uplift charge is among HP's ways of ensuring nobody can legally put MPE/iX on a non-3000 piece of PA-RISC hardware. HP said in 2008 that the RTU hasn't sold much, and it's difficult to imagine that 9x8 customers have been paying much attention to this revenue grab. But HP must stand by the licensing process through the years to come, just like it needs to approve transfers. If the vendor ever stops being a traffic cop for licenses, customers can start to make a case that MPE/iX has been abandoned.

One special type of license seems to be needed. HP's got a "lost license" document that it will confer on hardware once the customer can prove the system was licensed in the past.

Lost MPE/iX RTU License Replacements will only be authorized on HP e3000 systems with a clean license history. An HP e3000 system that has had its MPE/iX RTU license transferred to another HP platform as part of a trade-up or trade-in program will not be eligible for a lost MPE/iX RTU license replacement.

The lost licenses -- HP considers this a software reissue -- will be sold only until Dec. 31, 2010. Unless you need fresh HP software, or learn from HP Software License Transfer you're not holding a license valid for you upgrade, you can buy whenever you want.

The impact of these policies in 2011 -- after HP cuts off all manufacture, upgrade, emergency patch and support operations for the 3000 -- remains to be seen in the post-HP era for the system. If HP can find a way to encourage you to pay an RTU fee of five figures for an upgrade license, some sites might pay it to comply with the vendor's licensing. But some won't, and sometimes they're very bona fide corporations which find it better business to detour from new HP licensing cooked up in 2007 and applied to existing systems, rather than to fight it in court. It doesn't seem to be about the money, but rather about control of licenses for PA-RISC servers.

Here's what the former e3000 business manager Jennie Hou and R&D manager Ross McDonald said to me in 2007 about the RTU being aimed at new HP revenue for a server it has obsoleted.

Would it be going too far to say the RTU is once again a revenue stream for HP from the 3000 community, now that HP has made this announcement?
    McDonald: Theoretically it is; however, this was not an objective and we are not looking to make money on this.   
    Hou: The main driver is what we can do to help our customers, to enable them to continue to do upgrades in the used system market.

So HP’s motivation is to help customers adhere to HP’s licenses?
    McDonald: For the customer who cares about software licensing, and wants to do the right thing, I think it really helps them. And those are lots of good customers that we want to keep. This was not an easy activity to go through on a product that we’re winding down. The partners we have discussed this with also really appreciate that we are trying to ensure clarity and consistency in terms of licensing in the HP e3000 community.