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Did HP return to emulator to save servers?

Stromasys has always believed in a sizable HP 3000 marketplace, but its beliefs haven't aligned with the size of some people's reality. In the summer of 2010 the company said they thought 20,000 servers will still at work around the world. But what Stromasys CTO Robert Loers said at last month's Reunion was more about the size of the remaining customer than the numbers. HP reconnected with the emulator makers because large sites had headed away from HP's enterprises.

"I think HP just counted systems as if they were all systems, but we know that the large configurations are still there," Boers said. After the company's success at creating a VAX and Alpha emulator -- one that HP will support VMS upon -- "HP had the idea in 2009 that we would take six months to finalize the [3000 emulator], and that they could offer something similar."

Boers-Abramov But the engineering took longer than six months to complete. Part of the delay came from discovery of portions of MPE whose documentation "was really just folklore," said developer Igor Abramov in a Skyped-in from Moscow Q&A session (above) with Boers (at right). When January of this year arrived, no new licenses could be issued for 3000. HP probably waited too long to return to assisting Stromasys. Boers said HP's liaison to Stromasys would frequently report that one segment after another of MPE/iX code "had never been used."

The company still believes there are many thousands of servers running around the world, but the specific number falls into that same category of folklore. Just this week we were asked by a software migration supplier how many 3000s were still "in the fleet." There may have been more, if companies could have bought fresh licenses for an emulator.

"If we had completed the emulator by mid-2010," Boers told a room full of the most senior 3000 experts at the Reunion, "HP would have been able to provide additional licenses, specifically for the emulator product. But for some reason they'd set their deadline for January, 2011. Since we didn't make the deadline, that value went away."

At the meeting, Birket Foster speculated that HP's 2011 deadline was wrapped around expiring licenses for the MKS (Posix) and Mentat streaming parts of MPE/iX.

The product name Charon refers to the boatman in legends who ferried dead people across the river Styx. Whether the Stromasys product can ferry enough 3000 sites into a new life to justify its design costs remains to be seen over the coming year or so. ScreenJet's Alan Yeo is among several vendors who believe that even the raw demonstration of an emulator and the field testing will be enough to delay migrations of some sites, especially the large configurations with large costs. Virtualized hardware buys people time, to the benefit and deficit of both suppliers and 3000 owners.

"In some ways an emulator is a negative for us," he explained, noting that migration projects may stall and stem revenue to vendors like ScreenJet. "But in other ways it's a positive for the community. The emulator market may be a good one for [support companies] who can help people stay on the 3000 using an emulator. I don't think it's going to help much over the next 12 months."

The connection of SCSI peripherals and networking remains to be done, but Yeo, after watching the demonstration at the Reunion, believes that's not more than a matter of testing and coding. What will open up a "can of worms" is the software Licensing -- other than MPE itself -- on an emulated platform

I suspect that some vendors will take a realistic approach that the majority of customers are going to get very little advantage running on an emulated HP 3000 over that running on a real HP 3000 and will happily continue to support and earn revenue from it running on an emulated HP 3000. Others may be less reasonable.

There will no doubt be some lively discussions over the coming year as to what an HP 3000 is. But if a piece of hardware boots MPE and reports an identical HPSUSAN and HPCPUNAME, it would be hard to say that it wasn't an HP3000. As they say, 'If it looks like a fish and smells like a fish, it's probably a fish.'

From the sounds of Boers' reports about HP strategies, Hewlett-Packard would rather see a 3000 customer remain out of the fish ponds of IBM, Oracle or Dell -- especially the larger fish.

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