HP e3000 users try to get source code

Ever since Hewlett-Packard in 2001 announced the end of life of the HP e3000 server, a tenacious group of users and system consultants has been fighting to keep its MPE proprietary operating system alive and supported for as long as users run it. While the users are far from giving up, delays by HP in deciding the ultimate fate of the operating system is making their efforts more difficult.

At the HP Technology Forum in Houston, the group spearheading the effort, OpenMPE, met and reviewed its plan for delivering software engineering services for MPE. It will build and test operating system updates to support things such as new peripherals and networking changes. The organization also estimates that it would need to charge users an annual fee for these services ranging from US$5,000 to US$37,500, depending on the number of supported systems.

But OpenMPE's fate remains in HP's hands. If HP decides not to provide source-code access, the user group effort will die. But continued delays could have the same effect, according to Birket Foster, chairman of OpenMPE. Foster met with some of the people involved in that effort at the HP Technology Forum.

The OpenMPE group needs a decision from HP to get customer financial support, assemble engineering expertise and build support processes -- something that will take time, said Foster. He said he is hoping for a decision from HP as soon as possible.

"If HP wants a seamless transfer, they can make it really easy - they can fund the project and make sure the right engineers are there to help us get ramped," said Foster.

HP has said it will support the e3000 through the end of 2008 after earlier announcing plans to end support this year.

David Wilde, HP's e3000 business manager who was also at the conference, said the company's position on OpenMPE and the access to the source code hasn't changed. The company is still trying to determine its best course of action, he said. But Wilde did not say when a decision will be made.

Wilde said the company is open to working with one or more third parties -- which might or might not include OpenMPE -- interested in providing MPE support beyond 2008. He said HP continues to look at how to accomplish such a transfer and figure out the best business model for doing so. "We are looking at these issues actively," he said.

Foster is also head of MB Foster Associates, a partner in the HP e3000 migration program. He said he has customers who will be on the e3000 well past 2008, in part because transitions won't be completed. That's why Foster said he sees the OpenMPE effort as critical to his overall goal of customer support. Foster estimated that OpenMPE will need at least 100 customers to be able to provide its services.

Some customers said they can't remain on the system. Ken Porter, who manages the e3000 systems for the city of Houston, is migrating to HP's Itanium-based systems by year's end. After 2006, it will be impossible to get new parts for these systems, according to Porter, who added that he is worried about the future availability of critical parts.

"Every part you get is going to be some refabricated part," he said.

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