A Scary Kind of October Surprise
Reporting software takes over for pricey 4GL

Legacy 4GL sites call foul on license ploys

Holding-FoulLife is hard enough for any company that's been homesteading with their legacy-grade development applications working over the last 15 years. Some of these 4GLs haven't seen upgrades since before the Obama administration. Now the users of the Powerhouse products are crying foul over transfer or crossover license fees that have become up to 10 times more expensive.

Once tech experts and consultants on a Powerhouse mailing list got the news about a Canadian HP 3000 site facing a $300,000 quote to move Powerhouse onto Linux, stories emerged about the boosted prices for Powerhouse. At Boeing, the Powerhouse applications were a part of a move to the Stromasys Charon emulator. Ray Legault at the IT shop in Boeing said the transfer to an emulated 3000 was a six-figure purchase, and support fees have increased by 35 percent.

"When we went to the Stromasys virtual MPE/iX server, we found that a lot of the Cognos products were supported by Unicom," he noted.

Instead of our legacy HP 3000s where we paid support of $22,000, we now get to pay $30,000 a year. And it expires every year. We also had to pay over $100,000 to move Powerhouse to our HP ProLiant servers that host Charon. Unicom considers the product to be running on a RedHat Linux server and not the HP 3000 emulator, which raises the price.

Legault added that he's got a 10 percent yearly discount on the $30,000, but he's got to call a Unicom VP to receive that discount.

The initial report of this price spike came from James Byrne of Harte & Lyne, a logistics firm. Even though some migration experts think the $300,000 must include services, that $300K quote only covers licenses for Powerhouse and the related, Cognos-built tools like Quiz and QTP. The company dropped Powerhouse support right after HP pulled out of its business model for the 3000. Cognos, owner of Powerhouse at the time, wasn't getting any further support payments from Harte & Lyne.

"There seemed to be no point in paying our money for something that quite evidently was going to receive no more upgrades," Byrne said. "And we were right. The version sold by Unicom today for the HP3000 is 8.39, which happens to be the same version we have been running since late 2001."

The shop has been moving to open source software, although Byrne says the Free Open Source Software (FOSS) strategy has got its issues, too. In the meantime, Powerhouse prices are hitting the six-figure range to move away from HP's 3000 iron. An all-in migration is coming at Harte & Lyne, but the quote will freeze Powerhouse in place. Byrne said Unicom told him they were canceling his license, too.

Moving to FOSS will send the 3000 at Hart & Lyne into deep archive mode, or even out of service completely. But moving Powerhouse is getting in the way of that goal. Or to be more accurate, the $300,000 is getting in the way.

In 2003 Core Migration started to sell a package and services that replaced Powerhouse on HP 3000s with Java. It was not inexpensive. However, 2003 was the first year of full-on migration projects which were funded well enough to be meaningful. Here's an excerpt of what I wrote the year we found Core.

Cognos customers have shown concern over the company’s shift toward BI products, and are researching steps to move away from PowerHouse. CORE Migration, a company operating in Cognos’ headquarters city of Ottawa, has put together a migration suite of tools and services to move customers. One CORE white paper tells the story of an ERP software provider, Visaer, that first shifted away from its MPE PowerHouse roots, then off the 4GL altogether. The company decided that the focus at Cognos had moved away from PowerHouse.

There are two ways of accessing the CORE Migration method, paths which may sound familiar to companies which are studying migration options: CORE-Directed, where the company manages the migration start to finish, and Self-Directed, where CORE plans the migration and trains customers to use its tools. CORE’s VP of Sales and Marketing Wayne Lucky said the CORE-Directed option is fastest, and the majority of its engagements are in this method.

“It depends on the skill set of the customer,” he said, “and whether they want to get involved.

Core does this work to this very day. They call it application modernization. When it's over, you have Oracle SQL Server, DB2 or Eloquence at the heart of the modernized app. Other companies are also modernizing Powerhouse apps by replacing them with less-proprietary frameworks. Many include Java.

A six-figure quote to do this migration isn't unusual. Licensing existing software which hasn't been enhanced in more than eight years for a $100,000 fee—on an emulated 3000 server—is unusual, though. The price might not raise as many eyebrows in the IBM mainframe turf, which is one of the markets that the new owners of Powerhouse, Unicom, have grown their business. While Core is reaching out to the Powerhouse list to trigger migrations, Unicom has been communicating one by one with Powerhouse users. Nobody's reporting a change in pricing yet.