Stromasys opens HP's way to Charon gates
Today's Limits on Emulation Speed

Legacy hardware evolution looks limitless

At the recent Stromasys Training Day and HP 3000 Social, the company's GM Bill Driest asked a question about the future of the HP 3000. But he may as well have been asking the same thing about HP's Integrity servers, too. What's to become of these vendor-specific systems, once the vendor leaves the system behind?

Driest-ChangGM Bill Driest suggests the sky's the limit for futures in hardware that's been curtailed by the vendor. At right, Stromasys CEO Ling Chang talks over the possibilities at the recent HP 3000 Social with Eric Sand of Sandsoft.

“People like Gartner are talking to us, and there’s been a fundamental sea change,” Driest said. “They’re saying this: isn’t it conceivable that the end state of all legacy hardware is some kind of emulation or virtualization?” 

Driest admitted that five years that belief was “so much of an early adopter message. There’s a fundamental pause as we ask, ‘On what platform do you believe we’ll run the last MPE production environment?’ Do you really think that it’s going to be on some refurb HP hardware?”

The company was introducing a strategy of “Rebuild, or Revitalize?” as the driver towards virtualization of the MPE-ready hardware. It exhorted the customers and resellers, along with support providers and consultants in the Computer History Museum's meeting room, to “Join the Revitalization Movement.”

Asking about the future of legacy hardware was once a moot question. Of course it would be decommissioned and drop-kicked to the curb. A few gun enthusiasts even executed a 3000 and captured the gunplay on video. But systems continue to serve despite such schoolyard jeering, and in spite of the age of the hardware. It's the age of the software that matters -- something that can be updated more easily once the box is virtualized.

This might seem to disrupt HP's plans to step away from platforms like the MPE engine of the 3000, or the VMS hosting on Alpha or VAX -- or perhaps the PA-RISC HP-UX servers, and dare we say it, the Itanium-based boxes. HP's own expert has said he figures Itanium production to be good only for another seven years. After that, the Integrity box might become legacy itself. Why, we wonder, has HP added the Charon products to its Worldwide Reseller Agreement?

Stromasys has never claimed to be creating a virtualization engine for Itanium processors. But given the size of the 3000 market versus the efforts to create Charon HPA/3000, I'd speculate that some of that HPA engineering could be re-used for another HP project.

According to Driest, analyst Andrew Butler of Gartner published a report this year that identifies Stromays as a disruptive technology in the server market specifically. “Butler said that ‘Functions commonly thought to be part of the underlying part of the OS are being distributed to the server, to the hypervisor, to storage.’ People are virtualizing everything. We’re almost re-inventing what it means to deploy an application,” Driest said.

The meeting presented a new and more extensive group of Stromasys executives to the 3000 community. CEO Ling Chang said the company “is proud to become a part of the 3000 ecosystem.” More than a decade after HP announced the 3000 would drop off Hewlett-Packard’s price list because of a declining ecosystem, that group has gained a member worthy of citation from Gartner.

When Gartner first started tracking the Stromasys offerings three years ago, they called it processor emulation, Driest said. “We fit in on this little bubble called Processor Emulation. We are fitting in at the peak of their curve called Inflated Expectations. It says there’s a promise for this technology.”

Hard questions came from one reseller who reported that he serves 135 companies using 3000s and had clients in the room from several California school districts. “Think about how you can help us help them,” he said. The reseller has been in the reseller business to service customers who manage K-12 schools using MPE/iX solutions.

Stromasys Product lineThe product lineup from Stromasys (click for detail) showed the top-end emulator being an N4040 virtualized system, running four processors at 250MHz — not the 750MHz rated for the 4-CPU HP hardware. The N4060 and N4080 models are forthcoming. The latter runs at an estimated 61 HP EPUs — four times faster than the A520 Charon model.