One of the broadest brushes used on MPE systems is "they're no longer supported." This is one way to view the departure of HP from the support options for a 3000 server. Using this perspective, the 3000 was a safe choice in the period ending in 2008 — because no matter who did the everyday critical support, Hewlett-Packard engineers were always a last-resort option under time and materials contracts. Many HP 3000s were not under HP support at the time the vendor announced its exit plan. They were supported, however.
But an unsupported system sounds risky, doesn't it? It's not tough to find computing functions that didn't evolve on the 3000. Many are in the open source categories, such as Java, or SSH server abilities. Others involve fundamental services like domain name hosting. DNS programs like bind never caught on as 3000 tools. And you know, there's just not much call for word processing on HP-UX systems, either.
Reasonable IT planners will get the point. When you need SSH server ability hosted on a 3000, the lack of it will reduce the MPE system's utility. Perhaps enough to make it look risky. Security updates come to mind, but a computer needs a great payback for hackers to throw a flood of malware at it. Windows XP will provide this next year, when the security updates cease. MPE/iX, not so much.
Just this week we located a genuine use for the missing SSH server ability on a 3000. As it turns out, SSH would be very useful if your 3000 users were working from iPads.
"TTerm supports both Telnet and SSH, but since there is no SSH server for the HP 3000, TTerm cannot speak SSH to MPE directly," Diercks writes in a mini-review. There is a way around this, as there has been for more than seven years since an OpenSSH client was ported to the 3000. Set up a tunnel to a router or another system.
The lack of support for features and advances doesn't stop at corner cases for MPE/iX. Serious shortcomings are around many corners, depending on how far your system needs to reach into our heterogenous computing world. But to call a system unsupported when the vendor isn't an option to repair it -- well, that was true when HP had all the answers to what might fell a 3000 from the forest of service. Database problems, critical ones, got discovered in independent vendor labs last decade, for example.
A more serious lack of support might come from the narrowing inventory of HP-branded components. While those impressive 4GB LDEV 1s might be too cheap to charge for, they're only out there on scrapped systems or the shelves of real support vendors. Motherboards, CPUs -- much tougher to grab. This is a reason why there's a virtualization option to keep MPE/iX running beyond the lifespan of components with the HP label.
Making a migration is a tried and true way to eliminate risks of relying on an HP 3000. But if that risk is a lack of support from the vendor, then vendor support should be essential for every system in the IT datacenter. Dell support for the Dell servers, Apple support for the iPads, HP support for the PA-RISC HP 9000s. If an independent company can be trusted to support any of those systems -- or even finally bring tablets into the world of 3000 terminal access -- won't third party supporters get the job done for MPE/iX systems?
The answer will be a better one for the companies which know why, or why not. Those are the finer brushes with which to paint the future of relying on MPE/iX.