Users of HP's doomed e3000 system are pushing the company to release its proprietary OS source code quickly to keep it from being frozen in time once the company cuts support at the end of 2006. The e3000 is among the last of the legacy, proprietary enterprise computing platforms dating from the 1970s.

Users and independent e3000 consultants are asking HP to agree to a plan to license the MPE operating system source code this year to a third party such as OpenMPE, a US-based user group.

"There is clearly a business case for continuing MPE's life beyond 2006," said Donna Garverick, an e3000 systems administrator involved with OpenMPE. "You are going to have customers, some of notable size, who will still be running MPE, and having an organisation to support MPE is important."

The 2006 deadline to end support for the system was first announced in 2001, yet it has become an urgent issue for some users. Ken Sletten, who manages e3000 systems at a US Government facility, said transferring knowledge about MPE to a third party won't be easy. "It's a pretty complex process, and as time goes on, the number of people within HP who know how to do this is going to [decline more and more]," he said.

Moreover, if users know that a third party will take over source-code support, it may allow them to slow their migrations from e3000 to other systems. "The importance of having the decision this year is so that users can make future plans," said Paul Edwards, an e3000 consultant.

An online survey released last week by HP user group Interex backs the demand for quick action by HP. The top issue cited by the 223 respondents was for a decision from HP by the second half of this year on licensing MPE source code to one or more third parties.

HP doesn't see the need to make a decision this year, said David Wilde, HP's e3000 business manager, who stressed that the company must act in "the best overall interest" of the e3000 user base. He said a decision to license the source code might prompt some customers to replace their transition plans with an alternative that may not meet their needs, simultaneously hurting HP business partners that provide migration services. "We don't help anybody if we do damage to that overall value chain," he said.

But Wilde said HP is also sensitive to the needs of customers who will be running e3000 systems beyond 2006. HP expects "to make appropriate adjustments in our plans", he said. He said the company has been receptive to customers' needs, citing the recent decision to extend support for MPE Version 6.5, which had been due to end this year, to 2006. Versions 7 and 7.5 are also being supported through 2006.

The issue is becoming increasingly heated. Sletten raised complaints about HP's actions in e-mail he sent to a mailing list, attaching correspondence between HP and OpenMPE. HP subsequently pursued an effort to get OpenMPE members to sign non-disclosure agreements, raising concerns that public discussion of the matter could be curtailed. However, Wilde said members won't be blocked from voicing their opinions about user needs.

Domino Effect
Garverick said she believes the e3000 will be running mission-critical systems beyond 2006. Being able to update the source code will be important, Garverick said. For instance, the e3000 uses FTP processes, but if the FTP process was changed on an Intel-based system, the e3000 code would also have to be adjusted.

Interex's customer advocate, Debbie Lawson, said the e3000 user base may have been as large as 40,000 at one time, and previous surveys indicate that about 75 per cent plan to migrate off the system.

In earlier years, as many as 1,200 responded to HP e3000 surveys, said Lawson. But she believes that the current response from 223 users is "a good representation of what this vocal minority wants."

HP has developed programs to move users to its HP 9000 system running HP-UX. Lawson said her view is that the reason HP is being noncommittal about third-party source-code licensing is that it "doesn't want the migration to be slowed down. They want to get people on other platforms as soon as possible."