Migrations replacing apps, working in-house
June 6, 2012
3000 migrations are continuing at companies that choose to follow one of two paths. At the Visalia school district in California, operations for its 40 schools will continue to be served by the QSS K-12 applications they've used on 3000s. But IT manager Al Foytek said that Visalia will be following the QSS customers who are moving to the Linux version of the app.
"We will be moving as soon as that's ready, and the front runners are poised for this year," Foytek said. "We won't be in the first wave or two." Schools have a narrow window during the year to make such a transition, typically in the summer between school years. "July 1 would be the ideal time," he said.
He added that Visalia won't move this year and is not likely to make its transition next summer, which would mean its 3000 apps may be migrated to the Linux version of QSS software by 2014.
Customers with packaged applications see advantages to migration beyond just having commodity hardware supplies. Foytek said that moving to an SQL database is also a plus. But QSS has engineered that change for the app, rather than an outside firm selling services to the district. QSS adopted the Postgres SQL database for the Linux version of its 3000 app. Founder Duane Percox has hired key developers from HP's labs such as Jeff Vance and Mark Bixby to do work on the new app's technology.
Foytek said the decision to leave the migration engineering to his packaged app vendor was easy. "A migration of a major system like this is very painful," he said. "QSS provides the lowest cost, by far, solution for schools. Their next competitor is twice as expensive. They manage to hold their prices for software as well as support phenomenally low. If that wasn't true, a lot of us wouldn't still be on the HP 3000. Theirs is an application system that works. Similar systems don't have as many refinements and reporting."
In-house applications — which are best understood by staff rather than service consultants — don't provide the migrations they once did. At the MMFab company in the Los Angeles South Bay area, the maker of fabrics is migrating to a fresh packaged app on another platform. The assistance will be coming from the app vendor, in large measure.
"We aren't converting the old system," said system manager Dave Powell. "There's no business for any of the traditional MPE migration solution providers, so we won't show up on any of their business results. The HP 3000 may keep running for quite a while for history lookups. We aren't migrating historical data like invoices.
"The plan is to move everything off the 3000. Our in-house mail system is separate enough that we could run it without the rest, but I think they are planning to switch to plain-old email — compared to a lot of our custom apps, moving off our mail system should be easy. Everyone has email too, and the in-house stuff is just for some special purposes."
Powell, who's been working on the 3000 30 years, said that programs to send data to the new system regarding inventory and customer files are done and tested. "They just need to run one last time, closer to switchover day." The system will make the leap from traditional 3000 software — only MPEX is running alongside the COBOL that MMFab's developers have customized — to the cloud.
At MMFab, production differs from most manufacturers. "Production to us is placing an order for one of our designs to be made for us, then keeping track of expected completion date, ETA, shortages, quality problems, do-overs, and so on," he said. "It's much different than what I expect most other companies do — no bill-of-materials, for example."
This kind of production — order, invoicing, and sales commissions — all are on the HP 3000. AR, AP and GL live in an old Windows-based package, Powell adds, which is also being dumped. The Windows transition looks easy in relation to the HP 3000 migration already underway. But the nature of such migrations to packaged apps leaves Powell skeptical about a swift cutover.
"The people selling and setting up the new package say things will be ready in by June. I don't believe it," he said. "There's custom programming that hasn't been finished, much less tested, for stuff like designer royalties that their package doesn't handle. User training is in its infancy."
Although the migration at MMFab has eliminated the chance for provider service, the company didn't wear blinders about its method to migrate. In 2011 Powell invited the community's migration vendors to bid the business.
"Consultants with experience with emulation are welcome to contact me to share experiences and fish for future employmment," he said back then in a post to the 3000 newsgroup.
"Whatever we do, it will probably involve more work than I can do myself. Solution providers are welcome to contact me with promises that they can do everything but tie my shoelaces — and especially with promises to enhance their products as needed to do whatever I find out the hard way that they cannot do."
The wisdom from decades of 3000 experience still has value in a migration, contributions which might come from either inside or outside of a shop. Power of Sector7 said the community has always been a pleasure to engage in such large projects.
"We love the old HP 3000 guys," he said. "In today's software world, endless redevelopment is normal. Us old timers instinctively know how to do the job right, and do it right the first time. That is the key to migrating applications — using engineers who just know what to do."