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Last Half Looks: News beats future guesses

We're in the last half of HP's 3000 adventure, the final six months before the 3000's creator turns off its lights on the system. But just because HP's interest is gone soon doesn't mean the community's exits are steaming with customers. Not any more so than at any point during the last eight years, anyway.

The debut of business plans and negotiations -- and a product name -- for a 3000 emulator is just one fact you'll want at the ready if you're being squeezed into a rush migration plan. Stromasys has been in the "cross-platform virtualization" business since 1998. The company was formed when Digital was spinning off assets after its merger with Compaq; Stromasys was the European Migration Center for DEC and bought itself away from the systems maker.

The good news is that there's news, not just assumptions to follow from old information. For reference, here's a list of accurate replies to the mis-information people believe about the 3000 community.

Sources of systems in good condition are in short supply

Not from our latest reports. We've talked with customers who are adding systems to their 3000 stables, ranging from very large companies to those much smaller. Just last week, a supplier of migration and 3000 tools needed storage upgrades for a customer. The advice he got? Look into MOD 20 HP disk arrays. HP hasn't built a MOD 20 in more than five years. You can still get them, though. Ditto the 3000, according to the system resellers.

"A couple more years yet" is the best report you'll get on current 3000 customer plans

No, not the way it's scheduled now. At many sites they talk about a couple more years' use of the server. But at manufacturing sites in particular, a couple more years behaves like the horizon -- the closer you get to it, the farther away it appears.

Right now I'm hearing about the same couple of years I heard in 2002. A closer guess would be "a couple" defined as "however long it takes to get an alternative budgeted, coded and tested." Current range would be 2-13 years from today.

The shutdown of the last 3000 production system must be getting pretty close

Like any computer system, 3000s are shut down regularly. But the last system will have its console attached for many years. Robelle's in business through 2016 on the 3000. Oracle is set to replace a manufacturing system 3000 in 13 years. How many 3000s could be shut down per year, considering how many do mission-critical service, depends on how much migration resource is available, and how many remain in service. Which leads to the next guess.

There couldn't be many 3000s and customers left by now

Although nobody will ever know, many will hazard a guess. The emulator company Stromasys believes their software will have a target of 20,000 systems. (Their CEO John Pritchard said when Zelus was announced, companies within 10 km of the Geneva HQ came out of the woodwork.) Meanwhile, one 3000 service and software supplier thinks about 700 customers are left. That's a wide enough range to stop guessing and begin to assess why the question is being asked. What's the magic number, anyway?

The 3000 needs super-technical wizards to keep from being left behind

Any computer platform needs business value to keep from being left behind. Ask a Sun customer how much super-techies helped them. This industry stopped being driven on technology long ago. One crazy analyst, Rob Enderle, has dubbed the Oracle-Sun hookup "Snorkle," and thinks the merger has more chance to fail than succeed. (Lucky for the Sun customer, Stromasys just announced a SPARC emulator for Sun Solaris users.)

There are few caretakers for the 3000 by now, since HP's shutting down

There are customer caretakers a-plenty for the 3000, companies small and large supporting MPE with ex-HP engineers, better than HP did in many instances -- value for money being top advantage I hear over and over from 3000 sites.

Today, more than eight years after HP introduced "migration," and I cooked up "homesteader" on a PC in London at an Internet cafe (remember those?) the community still has the two precincts. Still migrating, still homesteading. The precinct numbers have changed. But the thing about communities that I learned while reporting about small towns is that they so rarely un-incorporate. They do grow smaller, but you need a census to see how much. That's difficult to accomplish without direct contact with a customer, a vendor -- contact with people. Stay in touch with more than just the keys in front of your PCs.