One decade ago this week, the Stromasys PA-RISC emulator made its debut in the market and on our webpages. The founders of the project were Dr. Robert Boers and the company's CEO in 2010, John Pritchart. Their interview with us remains useful. The talk, published a couple of years in advance of the release of what Stromasys called Zelus at first, shows the path for replacing HP 3000 hardware remains sound.
A long-awaited 3000 hardware emulator appears to be on its way to market, as Stromasys this summer announced a development, test and shipping timeline for Zelus. The product is described as a “cross-platform virtualization system” by the company that was founded as a spin-off from the Digital Computer European Migration Center in 1998. Stromasys, which called itself Software Research International until last year, has thrived on an emulator for DEC customers, those who need to keep using Vax, Alpha and PDP-11 hardware to support legacy applications. HP put the 3000 effort at Stromasys on ice for more than a year while it cleared the transfer of MPE boot technology for the emulator.
The software has more to offer than making companies able to use 3000s indefinitely. Stromasys says Zelus will buy time for the sites which are migrating and need more connectivity and power for their interim 3000s during a migration.
Robert Boers headed up the company during 2009, but this year brought on John Pritchard as CEO so Boers could focus on the tasks of being the firm’s CTO. In the wake of the company’s announcement about Zelus at the recent HP Technology Forum, we interviewed the pair via Skype, bridging the gap between Texas and their Swiss headquarters -- even as the company works out details to bridge what will be an 8-year gap in 3000 manufacture when Zelus goes on the market next year.
Your press statement on Zelus says the product “ensures continuity after the phase-out program of the HP 3000 hardware.” Do you believe that’s how your customers will view the situation: phasing out the 3000?
Pritchard: For people who have mission-critical legacy systems, they believe all of their hardware are on life support. What we’re offering is to shift their focus away from worrying about hardware maintenance to giving them a software platform life that is independent of a hardware platform.
When it ships next year, will this product bridge the gap between 3000 hardware last built in 2003 and the newer technologies such as iSCSI?
Boers: Things like iSCSI will work out of the box. We do that for our VAX and Alpha emulation routinely, because iSCSI is elegant and useful. You tell Windows to create a virtual disk which is an iSCSI disk. You can tell the emulator that this virtual device is your SCSI drive. You can map to new hardware, so if you have serial ports, for example, you can map them to an Ethernet-based remote serial multiplexer. Most of this stuff is mapped standards.
So does that mean that the controlling environment for the emulator will be Windows?
Boers: It can be anything. For the time being, we typically develop under Windows 64 bits. But we provide these products under Linux as well. The customer only sees MPE. Basically, these things behave as virtual clients. From a usage point of view, you don’t have to know where they run. In Linux, we remove what we want, so you have something that runs on the footprint of VMWare. But for all of these choices, we need to know more about what the customer is looking for.
Pritchard: One of the purposes of this announcement to start to invite a dialog with the community. We want to select a few sponsor companies who’ll say, “Here’s my application, I want to be one of the first to migrate. Here’s my configuration, and here’s what I need.” We want to focus our development team on just a few specific customer applications.
We’ve gotten far enough in our prototyping to know that it really works, and what we need is a lot more market feedback and a couple of sponsor customers to work with, to get a few successes under our belts.
What is being a sponsor customer going to look like?
Pritchard: We’ll select a couple of companies that will give us complete access to their environment for their 3000 application. The customers we’re looking for in early adopters should be lower-risk environments.
Boers: Let me give you a couple of examples. In dealing with Hewlett-Packard, the issue they had the most difficulty with was the whole physical licensing process, their hardware-enforced licensing mechanism. They have given us two device ID strings which we can use in out emulators, a low- and a high-end machine.
The other issue is something that HP is washing it’s hands of: Unlike physical hardware, you can run this emulator on a number of different platforms with different performances. A lot of the third party licensing is based on performance. If we don’t do anything, then there’s no performance information there. I want to know from the third party software providers if that’s okay, or what we can do technically with ease, provide information about relative system performance [of the emulator.]
We can emulate a system ID string as a standard. Every time you install an emulator you buy another license key. Whether to some extent software vendors want to link to that.
We addressed this a couple years ago, when we did our first attempt. I didn’t really get information in that area — except for comments that it should really be HP, as part of their software transfer licenses [of MPE/iX] who should take care of that. But obviously, HP is pretty much out of the game by now.