Fourth generation languages may well be an artifact of a classic time in development, but 4GL code still powers some 3000 applications in enterprises. Powerhouse is the 4GL with the widest installed base, and some of its users are wondering how much time is left on the clock for this advanced development tool.
After its genesis as the Canadian company Quasar, Cognos released and developed this range of tools during the '70s and '80s for HP 3000 reporting, screen design, data dictionary work and applications. At first the Quiz report writer ran standalone on thousands of HP systems, including a bundle as a part of MANMAN's services. But when QDesign, Quick and QTP made their way into companies along with Powerhouse, the whole lineup wrapped itself around commercial apps such as the Amisys/3000 healthcare software -- plus many an in-house 3000 app.
Powerhouse users aren't holding out much hope for improvements to the tool which was purchased by IBM in 2007 along with Cognos. This Advanced Development Tool software didn't drive the IBM acquisition -- the Cognos Business Intelligence tools motivated the purchase. Established Cognos managers retort that ADT continues to produce profits for this business unit. Support contracts for even the smallest of HP 3000s run more than $500 monthly, revenue paid for service now called Vintage Support.
The good news is that Powerhouse for MPE/iX has outlasted Powerhouse for the IBM AS/400, in any vintage. But the language labors under the same yoke that COBOL carries, a profile of a tool built for another time. "The PowerHouse business has to have seen substantial decline for IBM over the years," said Vaughn Smith, a consultant in Canada. "How many more sites can convert to other development environments, reducing IBM's revenue, before they shut down Cognos?"
Smith wrote on a Powerhouse mailing list that "With the exception of Unix and Windows, Powerhouse runs on antiquated hardware." This consultant working with OpenVMS took the official HP view of the 3000, saying the "3000 MPE is done; HP offers help to move these sites to Unix or Windows platforms." (Those 3000 vintage support customers might want to correct his view.)
But even community members with direct 3000 migration exerience see Powerhouse as a waypoint instead of a destination, even when a system built in the '80s would cost millions to replace. Charles Finley of Transformix reported that a high-dollar replacement cost "does not ensure anything" about application longevity.
One prospect hired their web content developer to "completely replace" a working application in six months, because the developers assured them that the 300-program project could be replaced in that amount of time. This was done against the advice of the existing developer and, initially, without consulting her. Four months into the project the web developer asked the programmer for a printout of the database structures. They were TurboIMAGE schemas, so they needed the HP 3000 developer to explain them. The VP running the project who'd hired the web developers suggested that they print out all of the data in the database and have volunteers do the data entry. When the programmer pointed out that there could be lots of errors, she stopped getting invited to the meetings.
I last heard that the system was finally going into testing two years late. What did that cost? This was a non-profit and they did it to save money! Also, as an extra incentive they would have nice web screens instead of those dull terminal screens.
Finley didn't mention the prospect by name, but those details match up with the migration situation in 2010 at the US Cat Fanciers Association.
Costs to carry Powerhouse forward are not a show-stopper for some companies leaving the HP 3000 -- an article in our print edition this month examines such a shift toward Powerhouse on Linux. But the world has changed a lot since the Cognos products were re-engineered in the late '90s to include separate versions for the Web and the Axiant Windows toolset. Much of the product line demands runtime licenses.
One developer who's preparing to make a move to Oracle on Windows and Linux outlined his work, as well as the reasons for doing it. "Once we are fully converted, I expect to start replacing QTP extracts with Oracle stored procedures," said Ken Langendock, "then replace screens with an HTML version that simply gets the data."
I believe, at the end of the day:
1. There are only going to be three databases left: Oracle, MySQL and SQL Server.
2.There are only going to be two OS left: Windows and Linux, because they can be implemented rather inexpensively.
3. There will only be one look and feel for all applications: Web
If Cognos wanted to get back into the running, they would have to follow these assumptions and revamp (combine) all the products into one suite and stop charging for Runtime licenses. They would then have a leg up on all the other tools with their Dictionary, but I don’t see this happening.