The past can't be changed, but that doesn't mean it's not useful in planning. There are still a surprising number of companies that want to stand pat without regard to the future of their hardware running MPE/iX. Some of it is old already, while other servers -- even those newest -- are now moving into their 10th year of service.
Hewlett-Packard's planning for the future of MPE/iX hosts once included a bold move. The operating system was going to run natively on Itanium-based servers, the IA-64 Integrity line (above) that hosts VMS and NonStop today. It was a project that did not make HP's budget cuts of more than a decade ago, and so the whole lineup got canceled. There might have been another way, something that HP could arrive at -- years after Stromasys started selling the solution.
Native hosting is always the preferred solution for an OS and its iron, sure. But there's so much virtualization these days; VMware is a significant market force. What if HP had taken MPE/iX and just put it onto another operating system's back? What if the OS that drives 3000 apps might have taken a ride in a carriage of Unix, or Linux?
HP did this sort of miracle once for the 3000, calling it Compatibility Mode. There was a massive revison of hardware and software to arrive at the PA-RISC generation, but the changes were transparent to customers. You ran your apps in CM, until you could move them forward. In the '90s, companies used compatibility mode for years, installing newer hardware and moving up to better performance by revising their applications.
"If all HP had done was to create a Compatibility Mode for MPE on IA-64," said ScreenJet's Alan Yeo, "nobody would have batted an eyelid about swapping to an HP-UX box to run their company's software."
At its heart, this is what Stromasys has done with its software. The only difference to the customers is that it's a solution not sold and supported by their hardware vendor.
For the record, Windows migrations count as another vendor. If not for the fact that HP sells ProLiant servers, that percentage of 3000 sites lost to the competition would be even higher. When you cede the OS to another company, you can lose the leverage to call a site Your Customer.
This matters when looking at where virtualization operates today. Using a wide variety of hardware hosting, from HP's iron to many others, Charon does the carrying of MPE while it rides in the vehicle of Linux. It might have been HP-UX at one time, if HP had just modified its plans to make that move to IA-64 a less costly lab project.
Almost three years ago, Hewlett-Packard announced it would introduce a new version of Integrity servers, Superdomes no less, that could run the x86/Xeon family of chips. There's no delivery date, and most recently we hear the vendor's building The Machine. New OS, new chip design. The same old sweeping vision that created things like VMS, MPE, and NonStop. Costly? Martin Fink wants about three fourths of the HP Lab budget to get it built and customer-ready.
But that NonStop environment has gotten the Big Promise of a new native version, capable of running on the Xeon family. No deadline for when that will be delivered, either, but HP wants to retain those customers. The complexity of applications in MPE can pale when compared to the ultimate real-time computer system. NonStop clients have lock-in that encourages HP to do the grand sweep into the future for them.
At the time that HP will have Xeon versions of Integrity ready -- services that could host Linux and therefore cradle a virtualized MPE server -- Stromasys will have about five years head start in selling that solution. We'll be generous and figure the Integrity models that are ready for Xeon blades will sell in 2017. There might be a market for that, for some companies that still want a big vendor to rely upon. But HP could've had that market a decade ago, just by aiming for a CM for MPE.
Customers don't really care that much about genuine PA-RISC iron, or something called an HP 3000 If they did, there would be no traction for Charon at all. With every passing week, that continues to be proven untrue.