A classic manufacturer of temperature and pressure equipment needed to bring its MPE/iX environment onto current-day hardware. Even though Conax Technologies was still using DTCs like the one at left to link 3000s to terminals, as well as to line-feed printers, the Charon-HPA software helped to lift the full MANMAN solution onto a virtualized HP 3000 environment.
Like many of Charon's customers, Conax was working with aging Hewlett-Packard hardware. A Series 928 was linked to user terminals as well as printers over a DTC network. The Datacommunications and Terminal Controller was a hardware device, configured as a node on a LAN, to enable asynchronous devices to communicate to Series 900s. Terminals were directly connected to DTCs, and at Conex, printers as well.
"The printers were our biggest challenge," said Bob Ammerman, the IT consultant who oversees the MPE/iX operations at the company. "We had wires running to desks, we had DTCs. Some of the PCs were using QCTerm." About 40 users access MANMAN at peak times at the company's operations in New York State.
Those printers were a significant element in the multi-part form heritage of the company. After the implementation of Charon was completed, MANMAN "thinks it's still printing to the dot-matrix devices, but we've upgraded them to laser printers," Ammerman said. The emulator project included license transfers of Cognos PowerHouse products, the 60-user MANMAN license, as well as middleware from MB Foster and others. Conax took the responsibility for arranging each transfer.
Retiring aged hardware like old disks, dot matrix printers, and non-IP networks is a common need among Charon's user base. But the software is not as easily replaced. Applications like MANMAN become part of the fabric of manufacturing companies the size of Conax. Networking has made the leap from DTCs to TCP/IP. While the company could "take our remaining terminals and dumpster them," MANMAN and its decades of data has to keep working.
"Conax has built its business model around MANMAN," Ammerman said. Like many such companies, any move to another ERP solution would trigger changes to its business processes. Staying in the MPE environment, but moving the hosting hardware to a Intel-based server stack, preserved the firm's work of customizing software to meet company practices.
"Every piece of the 3000 software just ran" on the Charon emulator after testing and some revisions to accommodate needs at Conex. "As I like to say, the bits in there don't change," said Ammerman, who can count his IT experience back to the days of classic Data General minicomputers. While he admits to liking old tech, the new hardware-software stack is up to date on virtualization choices: the Dell servers (using 2.7 GHz processors) run VMware, with Ubuntu Linux configured to manage Charon, and MPE being managed by that Stromasys emulator.
The manufacturer has bought a perpetual license for Charon, which is software that's sometimes licensed for a fixed term. "I'd do it again," Ammerman said of the virtualization that brought a DTC-laden shop into the virtualization era. "We're very pleased with Stromasys."