3000 group links up to LinkedIn job advice
HP-UX users consider virtualized future

Third Party Futures Revisited, Maintained

CessnaEarly this morning I went on a search for modules of HP's Maintenance Management/3000 software, known as MM/3000. A new member of the LinkedIn HP 3000 Community posted his user profile on that group (425 members and counting), and Randy Thon identified his shop as an MM/MNT user. The software that's running at his HP 3000 site was first installed in 1988. Thon explained that the program suite is still functional and efficient today.

The HP 3000 is still the core of our application. We're running on a Series 969-420 and rebooted two months ago -- we last rebooted five years ago. So far the application has been very robust, averaging production application changes weekly, allowing us to change at the speed of thought to accomodate changes in the manufacturing workplace and reductions in workforce. One of the main reasons we are still on this application and platform is that it is cost effective, solid and all development and management of the system is within the Maintenance Department.

That's the maintenance department of the Cessna Aircraft Company, the world's largest manufacturer (by aircraft sold) of general aviation airplanes. Not exactly a small enterprise, and there's clearly no software problem in Cessna's maintenance group. (Thon, by the way, is looking for fellow users of MM/3000. You can link in to him via the HP 3000 Community.)

The ease of integration which lets Cessna "change at the speed of thought" is enhanced by a third-party piece of software that improves MM/3000. Products like the eXegeSys eXegete client, a front end for the MM/3000 software, have made using 3000s to drive a big company a safe long-term investment. It's been that way for more than 30 years in your market, but there was a time when any software sold outside of HP was a budding enterprise. I located a link to illuminate this pedigree at the Adager website, where long-term 3000 resources have always had a generous harbor.

On the Adager site you can read "The Future of Third-Party Vendors In the HP3000 User Market." The paper written by Eugene Volokh of VEsoft at the end of 1983 does some in-house forecasting. Third parties are going to do well in the world of 3000 owners, Eugene figured, because the system vendor would always be missing out on improvements, innovation, or competitive pricing on software. This might seem like a no-duh theory now. But in the world of 1983, independent providers of computer solutions were anything but a slam-dunk in the world of enterprise IT.

Volokh, Adager and Robelle are among the group of software solution "Improvers" that Eugene cited in his historic paper. In essence, after 3-4 years of success from these companies the case was pretty well proven that a solid product like MPEX, Adager, Qedit or Suprtool was going to win a lot of business away from the systems makers.

But the point that you might overlook in the paper is that these three companies continue to make long-term investments in 3000s possible and profitable, even after three decades. Eugene was just taking note of a software trend that remains true today: innovation from outside the system creator builds a lifelong community of support.

In a recent talk with Birket Foster, whose MB Foster Associates celebrates 35 years of continued business this year, he reminded me of where the community turned for new ideas in the early 1980s. The third-party vendors such as Foster, Adager, VEsoft and Robelle turned out papers, published books and newsletters, and spoke at in-person user group meetings. "There was no Internet back then, so you had to meet with somebody or talk to them to get solutions," Foster said.

A user community that grew up before the Internet has stronger links to innovation and assistance than groups that grew in the 1990s (Windows) and later (Linux), member for member. I like to think that every member of your Community carries several times more power and prowess than those from younger communities. As we've grown older things have changed a lot for the prospect of independent software and service providers. Yes, HP cleared out of your market. Its departure is even making companies like Cessna revisit how long they'll use the 3000 hardware no longer built by Hewlett-Packard. (There's a virtualization opportunity to replace HP's gear in the Stromasys product.) But HP's exit has also opened up the field for those Innovators and Improvers. Just look at how the world's change reveals itself in Eugene's survey of manager purchasing habits. One retired relic of that market: The Single-Vendor Shop.

Many HP customers have an almost blind loyalty to HP. In my years as an independent vendor, too often have I heard "sorry, we don't buy third-party products." This attitude, although sometimes justified by the desire to have a more easily supportable system, is usually quite incorrect because it deprives the user of the many advantages that can be derived from independent vendor products. However, condemning it won't make it go away, and every third-party vendor must live with the fact that a substantial part of the HP3000 market is forever barred from him.

Forever turned out to last less than 30 years. The change in the third-party vendor picture, whether selling software or services, has delivered a brighter opportunity for anyone who wanted to buy from more than HP. If an application enables your company to "change at the speed of thought," then the exit of the system vendor won't inhibit the useful lifespan of that application. Now there's only two parties in this ecosystem -- you, and anyone who can enhance and support your speed of thought. The third parties have become primary players with HP's exit. Since they created their places with innovation and improvement, I prefer to to call them independents -- or indie vendors, to borrow a term from the movies. The studio system isn't turning out as many great releases 30 years later, in either cinema or computing.