3000 Memoir Project: Wins from Easy Use
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When HP's SUSAN Won't Say Enough

Emulator vendor Stromasys has sold a few instances of its Charon HPA/3000 virtualization engine. But there's even more interest in the free version of the product. Not much surprise there, considering the average budget for a company that's sustaining its 3000 in production use.

DSSHowever, there's another kind of 3000 user who's looking at this personal freeware. Developers of MPE/iX code -- mostly consultants, and some tool and utility providers -- are expressing an interest in downloading the freeware version. When they do this, they'll require some strategy to tell their other software that the emulator is actually an HP 3000 with a valid HPCPUNAME and HPSUSAN number.

The HPCPUNAME and HPSUSAN combination is used by third party vendors to validate a license. If the combo doesn't match, most software won't load at all. (At best, you might get a demo version, but that's more of a personal computer fallback.) Stromasys is looking at the issue for the freeware it calls the A200. The paid version of the product uses a USB stick with these numbers encoded, which makes any Intel i7 Core PC capable of running a utility like Adager or an application like Ecometry.

But the days of that HPSUSAN being a unique number -- identifying only one MPE/iX licensee -- are over. CEO Rene Woc of Adager said that as HP began to use and re-install these numbers, creating its own 3000s out of HP 9000 servers, duplicates have emerged. But the combo of HPCPUNAME and HPSUSAN is still needed for verification. Even it it's not unique, it's still not generic.

"Way back when, with an HPSUSAN I would be able to tell you the HP 3000 model, and even the serial number, I believe," Woc said. "Today that's not true anymore. It's not a unique number."

This leads the users interested in freeware HPA/3000 to a challenge which Stromasys must master: How to give hundreds of freeware emulator users a way to employ their valid HPSUSAN numbers with third-party software. Only using the full complement of software on the emulator constitutes a complete test, Woc said.

Stromasys founder and chairman Robert Boers is examining this challenge. He ran one concept past me last week.

In the commercial version of the virtual HP 3000, the HPSUSAN is located in the license key (set to the number the customer specifies). The freeware A200-sized emulator has no license key. We can program into the code a fixed number (such as 123456.) Would that work for non-commercial use?

Commercial or not, a fixed HPSUSAN won't verify third party software which expects a number registered with the vendor. While a fixed number would satisfy MPE/iX so it could boot up on the virtualized 3000, it doesn't seem likely that it would meet the validation requirements which utilities, development tools and even some applications require.

And if you're going to test it, you cannot ignore the third-party software.

A lack of that kind validation might render the A200 HPA/3000 -- Stromasys calls it equivalent to the power of a Series 918 -- nothing more than a proof-of-concept demo.

"If you're going to test it, you cannot ignore the third party software," Woc said. "At some point Stromasys might offer a freeware version where they charge a nominal fee for the administration of producing a USB device with some HPSUSAN and HPCPUNAME that would work with the third party applications and software. The third parties would have to update their license algorithm," Roc said while he considered the challenge, in order to use a generic number. To avoid triggering upgrade fees during the testing, that HPCPUNAME would be the lowest possible tier of 3000. A Series 925 comes to mind, probably the slowest 3000 ever released into the market.

But HPCPUNAME is half the value for those algorithms. And even a user who has valid HPSUSAN numbers will need to deploy them on a personal freeware A200 model of the emulator. For example, Taylor Lumpkin of the Hire Experience consultancy continues to develop for Ecometry e-commerce users. Hire Experience was founded by key employees who designed and built the Ecometry app suite. Lumpkin loves the idea of skipping the use of more 3000 hardware with an emulator -- just like his company has skipped Windows hardware by virtualizing the OS on Macs.

"We continue to develop for Ecometry on MPE/iX," he said, "and being able to run it on one of our existing i7 Apple machines, right along all of our Windows virtual machines, would be of great benefit. We could deploy machines to our remote developers and eliminate the need for connectivity."

We are still a HP Partner, and HP have allowed us to have free MPE for over a decade now. We also own a small pile of 918s which all have legitimate HPSUSAN numbers with the HP license converted into our name by HP -- back when they still did that.

We love virtual machines and have not had to run any hardware on Windows now for seven years. This has proven to be a huge resource saver -- as we have eliminated all downtime which used to accumulate to 7-8 person days annually, all by running our desktop and server hardware on OS X exclusively.

Intel i7 distinctions aside -- the only i7s referenced by Stromasys so far have been PC hardware running Linux -- the profile of a developer customer usually matches lowest-speed units. Developers rarely need the commercial-grade, production-level horsepower of 3000s to cut and maintain code. But a free version of a 3000 might get in the way of a Stromasys sale.

Simply put, using the HPA/3000 freeware as a development tool would only benefit the developer. Stromasys seems to want to introduce the A200 product into the end user customer base -- a group of users who would likely need a paid version of the software to put the emulator into production.

If the HPSUSAN licensing challenge could be solved, the A200 could become the realization of the mythical Series 908. That was a model of 3000 which HP was going to sell to its developers in the 1990s for as little as an equivalent PC development system. The 908 was much more of a programmer's wish than a genuine HP product. But it illustrated just how little budget was available to development teams for 3000s.

Instead of the Series 908, HP introduced the Series 918DX. The server was only available to members of HP's DSPP developer program. Each came loaded with all of HP's subsystem software. But it was sold by the vendor that created the 3000, so each 918DX had an HPSUSAN which could be registered with any third party for software validation. A few third parties included their software with the 918DX. Most saw the low-power system as a prospective sale, instead of way to expand their installed base through a reference or a proof of concept. The emulator, being novel technology that appears to be a marvel to much of the market, could use proof of its concept.