Will MPE spell its end date in 2028?
As legacy iron ebbs, virtual servers swell

Latest HP exiting outrage may be delayed

HP won’t leave their customers hanging, and although going through a migration may not be on the horizon, it appears that support will be around for many years to come. In many ways you can look at it as job security, because that operating system talent you have supports a vital niche market.

ConnectlogoThat message was delivered from the CEO of the Connect User Group, Kristi Elizondo. She wasn't talking about MPE or the HP 3000, but you could be forgiven if you'd seen that sentiment from early in 2002, from another user group. Elizondo -- many more in the HP community know her as Kristi Browder -- has advocated for DEC systems and VMS users for much of her career. She was making her case that although HP won't extend the lifespan of VMS to what's probably the last generation of Itanium, things don't look that bad.

In fact, some users came together at last month's HP Discover conference in a Special Interest Group devoted to OpenVMS. There was no rancor or outrage at the meeting, by her blog report. The customers were in the room to learn something. Elizondo said that for the last 30 years she'd selected and promoted VMS "because I can sleep at night" knowing it's at work. Those OpenVMS customers were searching for hope that their nights wouldn't become sleepless on the way to 2020.

"Anything past 2012 is a bonus," read her post on the user group website. Some customers who may feel differently were not in that HP Discover room. So hers is a conciliatory approach to getting HP's assistance after its latest platform exit. Anyone back home who expected a leader with deep OpenVMS roots to challenge an HP business decision was observing the new user group mantra: getting along means going along, and everything goes away anyway.

Which sort of makes you wonder about the concept of a vendor-focused user group. Chuck Piercey, the executive director of Interex, asked the same question in 1998. If the IT world accepts that everything gets replaced, what's the point of coming together? If it's all paved over in favor of industry standard choices, what's the career benefit of being in a group?

Vendors used to listen to customers as a group. Now they'll listen as long as the customers aren't outraged and want to find a new way to get a good night's rest. While they don't disturb the vendor's business plans.

Just like in the HP 3000 edition of this exiting saga, the customers who could ask HP questions didn't get many answers. Or none that were reported in a 650-word blog post.

The OpenVMS SIG meeting was a small meeting of some very concerned customers and partners. This group was present to make recommendations, not attack HP about the decisions. HP was there to listen. One suggestion was to make Virtual Machine an option. There were also several questions about licensing. Will operating system licenses transfer with the hardware if bought off the gray market? When are they going to end of life the sale of licenses?

Licensing? Those are the questions that last the longest. Just ask anyone in the MPE world today, a decade later. Unlike many in the 3000 community of 2002, Elizondo can be pragmatic about what to expect from Hewlett-Packard. She has the benefit of seeing a decade of HP shedding any business which has profits on the decline.

"It is no surprise to me that there is not a lot of high margin in these systems and the lifetime of a system goes on forever and the party never ends," she wrote. "HP has to make money, and investing in systems that have no planned obsolescence forces some hard decisions. You have to applaud that the systems will be supported until 2020."

That's a glass-half-full approach, but the glass is emptying year by year in a community that was 10 times the size of the 3000 world in 2001. Even now it's likely to be more than double the 3000's size at the time HP cut its 3000 futures. None of that size is large enough to propel outrage from current era of user group leadership. Interex took a similar approach in 2002 and onward, making a platform for the "get off very soon" messages from the vendor. Then came 2004, when HP made it very clear that the roundtable whipping posts of the 1990s Interex meetings were not going to be installed at the new HP-sponsored conferences.

By that time, Interex had chosen to run in an independent direction, and walk away from a user group alliance that became Connect in a few years. Interex didn't last another full year after it chose to walk a path separate from HP's going-my-way trail.

So if the outrage manages to surface in a community like VMS, it will be delayed by months if not years. An OpenVMS bootcamp that won't happen until sometime in 2014 will bring out customers who might not restrain their attacks. They can look toward a marketplace where their specialized skills don't bring so many offers of interviews. They'll need the interviews when an organization follows HP, as well as the user group leadership, away from the computer environment which let the customer sleep well at night.

Elizondo's report was far from the top of the latest Connect Now online newsletter. But she left readers a message that would let them sleep better. Not her sign-off of "So while I expected to attend a funeral at this meeting, it was not even a wake," or even, "Keep the passion -- we can support this together." The most prophetic words came in an explanation of why HP's proprietary OS always let her sleep at night.

"And in reality, we all know that since these systems never die, they will never die." HP hasn't started to use "end of life" language to describe OpenVMS. That will come soon enough, but it will arrive later than the outrage -- which used to boil up at user group management roundtables.