Users unite to keep HP's MPE alive

A group of Hewlett-Packard users and independent consultants is trying to keep the HP e3000's ageing MPE operating system alive...

A group of Hewlett-Packard users and independent consultants is trying to keep the HP e3000's ageing MPE operating system alive after HP ends its support in 2006.

The group, OpenMPE, has reached an agreement in principle with HP on a key aspect of the MPE survival plan; permission to create an emulator that would enable the operating system to be used on other HP hardware.

However, third parties - such as HP's channel partners and consulting firms that may develop an emulator - do not know if there's enough commercial demand to justify the investment. Potential users who are preparing migration plans, meanwhile, say they need to know soon whether an emulator is actually on its way.

The HP e3000 installed base which, analysts estimate, is in the range of 10,000 to 20,000 users, typically runs mission-critical applications such as reservations systems. The base is a who's who of large corporate users which, according to OpenMPE, includes American Airlines, Chase Manhattan Bank, Exxon Mobil and Ford.

"It's still vapourware," said Jim Haeseker, manager of technical operations at General Chemical.

Haeseker, who is involved in the OpenMPE effort, said that although an emulator could be developed at some point, he has not made allowances for it on his e3000 mission-critical applications, such as order processing. But, he added, "if an emulator were available now, that might be a different story."

Similarly, Eric Bender, co-ordinator of computer services at John Abbott College in Quebec, said he would not consider an emulator in his migration planning unless he is convinced it will be built. He does not want to be left with unsupported hardware past the 2006 deadline. He wants his migration plan to be ready by next June.

Third-party suppliers remain noncommittal. "No one knows how many customers will be willing to pay for it," said Gavin Scott, vice president of San Jose-based Allegro Consultants, which is considering building an emulator.

He estimated that it would cost between $1m and $2m to develop one, with licensing fees likely to run $5,000 to $10,000. The emulator's main competition will be previously owned e3000s.

If third-party suppliers balk at building an emulator, OpenMPE may fund it, said Jonathan Backus, an HP e3000 consultant and chairman of the user group.

David Wilde, HP's e3000 business manager, said HP has no plans at present to contribute funds to the development of an emulator. But he said the company is in discussions with emulator developers "to understand what resources would be helpful as they consider their business case".

OpenMPE is also urging HP to approve a limited, open-source model for MPE that would help users obtain bug fixes and operating system enhancements but allow only a select group of OpenMPE members to make changes to the source code.

HP is reluctant to take an open-source approach, preferring instead to allow selected business partners to make enhancements to the code.

Regardless of the outcome of that debate, Wilde said HP is eager to hear from e3000 users and incorporate their feedback in its planning.

Patrick Thibodeau writes for Computerworld

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