The week of Christmas is a quiet one for business and enterprise IT. Sales calls and installations are at a minimum, companies work with skeleton crews, and announcements of news are rare. But nine years ago the week of Christmas was hot with a 3000 development, one that has ripples even today.
In the Christmas week of 2005 — back when HP still worked full shifts over the holidays — the 3000 division released news that HP's support lifespan for MPE would be extended. What had been called a firm and solid date of HP's departure got moved another 24 months into the future. The news was the first unmistakable evidence that the migration forecast from HP was more wishful than accurate.
As it said it would offer basic reactive support services for 3000 systems through at least December of 2008, the vendor confirmed that it would license MPE source code to several third parties. The former put a chill on migration business in the market, sending vendors -- services and software suppliers alike -- looking for non-3000 markets to service. The latter gave the support community a shot of fresh competition over the afterlife beyond the Hewlett-Packard exit.
In one of the more mixed messages to the community, HP said customers should work with the vendor to arrange support until migrations could be finished. The 3000 division also said its license for MPE source was going to "help partners meet the basic support needs of the remaining e3000 customers and partners." It would take another three years, beyond the closing of the MPE lab, for that source code to emerge.
The source license was limited to read-only informational use, mostly to write patches. The extension of HP's profitable support business put a kink in both migration partners' business as well as the very third party support partners the source was supposed to help.
Officially, the word from HP was that "We see that most HP e3000 customers are moving to new HP solutions, and are working closely with HP and our partners during their transitions." But Windows was moving into the spot that HP swept clean by announcing an MPE exit. An extra two years to make a migration didn't bring more ex-3000 shops into HP environments, unless they were running Windows on HP hardware.
At that time, we reported that the extension of HP's support for the 3000 -- a rollback of the "end of life" as the vendor called its exit — had already been on offer for the biggest 3000 customers.
MB Foster, a North American Platinum migration partner, said the offer of extra support was "one of the worst-kept secrets in the marketplace," according to founder Birket Foster. The extension of HP support doesn't change the business model at Speedware, or MB Foster, according to their officials. But offering basic level reactive support won't meet some customers' needs, Foster added.
While some customers will welcome the potential for more time to migrate, Foster said the HP announcement is introducing some confusion among others. "We had a customer who looked at this and said it would not be enough to make them supportable — but their senior management felt they could take the extra time," Foster said.
The offer has ripples to this day because the migration partners heard the screeching of brakes all through the market on projects. Billings evaporated that would have helped companies still supporting MPE software. It would take another seven years for the migrations to dwindle enough that Speedware announced it was reorganizing as Fresche Legacy, and start embracing transformations for the IBM AS/400 market.
As for the impact on support of 3000s, HP was suggesting that third parties could be part of an HP-branded support offering.
HP it still considers third parties to be a potential part of its own service supply chain for the HP 3000. For the moment, however, the HP support customers get will come from an HP employee or contractor. Third party support actually now takes a step up in a comparison with the just-announced 2007-08 levels of service. Most companies offering support won’t charge as much as HP to deliver mission-critical support.
Third parties never became part of HP's support products. These independent companies found that HP wouldn't leave the field when its clock was supposed to run out. The vendor chose a next-to-Christmas announcement date to de-emphasize its moving of the goalposts.
As for the relative silence from the customer community, it might be the result of making an announcement three days before the Christmas holiday weekend. As for the business planning of the 3000 sites’ budgets, next year's 2006 is already spoken for. All this does is change options for 2007.
It’s too bad this announcement didn’t come when more people were listening, still able to allocate budgets. But HP did more than its last two updates to OpenMPE's requests. In those instances, responses came in the form of postings to mailing lists. This time out there was PR support, and an outreach to business analysts and the mainstream IT press. You’d think the vendor had something to sell here, like goodwill in a holiday season — or another couple of years of support.