March 06, 2014
Reducing the Costs in a Major MS Migration
Look all around your world, anywhere, and you'll see XP. Windows XP, of course, an operating system that Microsoft is serious about obsoleting in a month. That doesn't seem to deter the world from continuing to use it, though. XP is like MPE. Where it's installed, it's working. And getting it out of service, replacing it with the next generation, has serious costs. It will remind a system manager of replacing a 3000, in the aggregate. Not as much per PC. But together, a significant migration cost.
The real challenge lies in needed upgrades to all the other software installed on the Windows PCs.
There's a way to keep down the costs related to this switch. MB Foster reminded us that they've got a means to improve the connection to the 3000 updated via Windows PCs.
Microsoft will end support for Windows XP on April 8, 2014. MB Foster has noticed companies moving to Windows 7/8 with an eye toward leveraging 64-bit architectures, reducing risks and standardizing on a currently supported operating system.
As an authorized reseller of Attachmate's Reflection terminal emulation software, we advise you that now is the time to seize the opportunity and minimize risks -- and get the most out of your IT investments.
The key to keeping down these costs is something called a Volume Purchase Agreement. It's an ownership license that HP 3000 shops may not have employed up to now, but its terms have improved. MB Foster's been selling and supporting Reflection ever since the product was called PC2622, and ran from the DOS prompt. Over those three decades, the company estimates it's been responsible for a million or more desktops during the PC boom, when 3000 owners were heavy into another kind of migration: replacement of HP2392 hardwired terminals. "Today, we are responsible for the management and maintenance of approximately 50,000 desktops," Foster's Accounts Manager Chris Whitehead said.
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March 05, 2014
What does a performance index represent?
I know this may be a tough question to answer, but thought I'd at least give it a try.
I'm doing an analysis to possibly upgrade our production 959KS/100 system to a 979KS/200, and I see the Hewlett-Packard performance metric chart that tells me we go from a 4.6 to 14.6. What does that increase represent? For instance, does each whole number (like 4.0 to 5.0) represent a general percentage increase in performance? I know it varies from one shop to another, so I'm just looking for a general guideline or personal experience -- like a job that used to take 10 hours to run now only takes 7 hours. The "personal experience" part of this may not even be appropriate, in that the upgrades may not be close to the metrics I am looking at.
Peter Eggers offers this reply, still worthy after several years
Those performance numbers are multiples of a popular system way back when, based on an average application mix as determined by HP after monitoring some systems and probably some system logs of loads on customer systems. No information here as to where you are on the many performance bell curves. The idea is to balance your system resources to match your application load, with enough of a margin to get you through to the next hardware upgrade.
People mention system and application tuning. You have to weigh time spent tuning and expected resource savings against the cost of an upgrade with the system and applications as is. Sometimes you can gain amazing savings with minor changes and little time spent. Don't forget to add in time to test, QA, and admin time for change management.
There are a many things to consider: CPU speed and any on chip caching; memory cache(s) size and speed; main memory size and speed; number of I/O channels and bandwidth; online communication topography, bandwidth, and strategy; online vs. batch priorities, and respective time slices; database and file design, access, locking, and cache hit strategies; application efficiency, tightening loops to fit memory caches, and compiler optimizations; and system load leveling.
March 04, 2014
Experts show how to use shell from MPE
I am attempting to convert a string into a number for use in timing computations inside an MPEiX job stream. In the Posix shell I can do this:
/SYS/PUB $ echo "21 + 21" | bc
But from the MPE command line this returns blank:
run sh.hpbin.sys;info='-c echo "21 + 21" | bc'
But why? I would like to calculate a formula with containing factors of arbitrary decimal precision and assign the integer result to a variable. Inside the shell I can do this:
shell/iX> x=$(echo "31.1 * 4.7" | bc)
shell/iX> echo $x
shell/iX> x=$(echo "31.1 * 4.7 + 2" | bc)
shell/iX> echo $x
shell/iX> x=$(echo "31.1 * 4.70 + 2" | bc)
shell/iX> echo $x
What I would like to do is the same thing albeit at the MPE : prompt instead, and assign the result to an MPE variable.
Donna Hofmeister of Allegro replies
CI numeric variables only handle integers (whole numbers). If your answer needs to be expressed with a decimal value (like 148.17 as shown above) you might be able to do something to express it as a string to the CI (setvar string_x "!x").
This is really sounding like something that's best handled by another solution -- like a compiled program or maybe a perl script.
For what it’s worth, the perl bundle that's available from Allegro has the MPE extensions included. This means you could do take advantage of perl's 'getoptions' as well as 'hpcicmds' (if you really need to get your result available at the CI level.
March 03, 2014
Cloudy night shows that it's Magic Time
Server drives churn, routers flash, and time machines transport us through the power of stories. In our own community we are connected by wires and circuits and pulses of power. We always were, from days of black arts datacomm pushing data on cards of punched paper. We’ve lived through a glorious explosion of ideas and inspiration and instruction. It’s the movie that always has another story in waiting, this Internet. So ubiquitous we’ve stopped calling it by that name. In 2014, 40 years after MPE became viable and alive, the World Wide Web is named after an element common throughout the physical world: The Cloud.
And through the magic of these clouds come stories that lead us forward and allow us to look back at solved challenges. My partner Abby and I sit on the sofa these days and play with paper together, crossword puzzles, especially on weekends with the New York Times and LA Times puzzles. We look up answers from that cloud, and it delivers us stories. The Kingston Trio’s hit BMT leads us to The Smothers Brothers, starting out as a comic folksinger act. After video came alive for the HP 3000 in HP strategy TV broadcasts via satellite, there were webinars. Today, YouTube holds stories of the 3000’s shiniest moment, the debut of the ultimate model of that server.
Last night we sat on another couch in the house and watched the splashiest celebration of stories in our connected world, the Academy Awards. Despite racking up a fistful and more of them, Gravity didn’t take the Best Picture prize. You can have many elements of success, parts of being the best, and not end up named the winner of the final balloting. The 3000 saw a similar tally, a raft of successes, but the light began to fade. In the movies they call the last light of the day magic time, because it casts the sweetest shades on the players and settings.
February 28, 2014
How MPE Balances New Disk Space
If we have a system (volume set) with mostly full disks, and I add a new big empty disk to it, how will MPE/iX do all new allocation on that disk — will it wait until it fills up to the same relative fullness as the existing drives?
See, we have a system with a Nike Model 20 and a bunch of RAID 1 LUNS, and we’ve added five new drives in RAID 5 to the system volume set. But that sounds like we’re on the cusp of a disaster, because while the read performance is measurably better, all the system is going to be doing is writes to this drive for every new extract and scratch file. And as everybody knows, the write performance is like 2.8 times slower to the RAID 5 LUN than the RAID 1 LUN.
[Corrected, to identify the BALANCE command as a part of DeFrag/X.]
Craig Lalley noted, "There is a command you will want to use if you have Defrag/X, [created by Lund, sold by Allegro] The command is BALANCE VS. As an example,
"There’s online help for this command in Defrag at HELP BALANCE. Without that, I would use system logging to determine the most heavily accessed files and store/restore them to spread the extents."
And there's also help to manage this kind of balancing and defragmentation from VEsoft, as well as that Lund tool.
February 27, 2014
Unix-Integrity business keeps falling at HP
Numbers reported by Hewlett-Packard for its just-ended quarter show the company's making something of a rebound in some areas. One analyst said to CEO Meg Whitman that she'd been at the helm of the company for three-and-a-half years, and she had to correct him during the financial briefing last week.
"Actually, I've been here two-and-a-half years," Whitman said. "Sometimes it feels like three-and-a-half, but I've been here two-and-a-half years."
It's been a long 30 months with many changes for the vendor which still offers migration solutions to 3000 customers making a transition. But one thing that hasn't changed a bit is the trajectory of the company's Unix server business. Just as it has over each of the previous six quarters, sales and profits from the Business Critical Systems fell. Once again, the BCS combination of Integrity and HP-UX reported a decline in sales upwards of 15 percent from the prior fiscal year's quarter. This time it was 25 percent lower than Q1 of 2013. That makes 2014 the fourth straight year where BCS numbers have been toted up as lower.
"We continued to see revenue declines in business-critical systems," Whitman said. Only the Enterprise Group servers based on industry standards -- HP calls them ISS, running Windows or Linux -- have been able to stay out of the Unix vortex.
"We do think revenue growth is possible through the remainder of the year on the enterprise [systems] group," Whitman said. "We saw good traction in ISS. We still have a BCS drag on the portfolio, and that's going to continue for the foreseeable future."
February 26, 2014
Comparing Historic 3000 Horsepower Costs
Over the last few weeks we've checked in with Jeff Kell, the system manager at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. The university powered off its last two HP 3000s not long ago, and along the way has mounted dozens of Unix and Linux CPUs and virtual servers to replace that pair of MPE machines. We asked him what he believed the school's IT group had spent on MPE over 37 years -- and limited the question to the capital costs of systems. (Ownership cost is much harder to calculate across four decades.)
Kell, who founded the HP 3000 listserve and newsgroup, as well as chaired the SIGSYSMAN group for Interex over the years, said "We have had comparable expenses with each iteration of the 3000's life-cycle." Across those decades, the university owned Classic HP 3000s based on CISC technology, then early PA-RISC servers -- new enough in that generation to be considered "Spectrum" 3000s -- then later-model PA-RISC units, and finally the ultimate generation of HP 3000 hardware.
"In short, it was an expenditure in the low six figures, once every decade," Kell said.
We ran Series II, then Series IIIs, and the tags were low six-figures in the 1970s. We then got some 950s in the late 1980s (we had some early Series 950 deliveries) at about the same price point. Then the 969 in the 1990s, again about the same. And finally, the A/N-Class during this century.
Comparisons to two points seem worthy. The pricing for the value of high-end 3000 computing remained constant; at the time of the late 1980s, for example, a Series 950 was the most powerful 3000 available. Then there's the comparison to the expenditure of acquiring the hardware to support dozens of servers, virtual and otherwise. The low six figures won't buy much toward the high end of business critical computing gear over a decade, using today's commodity pricing. The newest servers might seem cheaper, but they don't give durable service for 10 years per installation, like the ones at Kell's shop did.
February 25, 2014
Electronic forms: saving the planet?
Several vendors who are well-known to the 3000 community are in the electronic forms business. Hillary Software's suite of products, headed with byRequest (click for details below in the graphic), runs across multiple platforms. Working a different angle in the same sector, Minisoft has been selling its eFORMz designer since 2000. That was a year when the HP 3000's Java was current enough to host the 1.2 version of the program that designed forms and delivered data to them.
More than 13 years later, eFORMz is up to Version 9 and requires a 1.4.2 version of Java, which absolutely puts hosting the product out of the HP 3000's league. But it can and often does run on PCs, as well as Linux servers. With enough imagination and networking, those hosts can tap into the data on HP 3000s for distribution.
Minisoft just announced a new wrinkle to its eFORMz solution, the ability to employ DuplexPackSlip labels. This Ward/Kraft product combines a Shipping/Return Label with a Packing Slip/Invoice on the front and back sides of the same label. Minisoft sent out a message to say they may be "saving the planet one label at a time," when a customer is using these labels. The label, which was obviously not invented by Minisoft, can replace a shipping label, packing slip, plastic pouch and the extra toner required.
February 24, 2014
Expanding that Posix Shell on the 3000
Way back in the middle 1990s, HP added the Posix shell to the HP 3000, so customers who had Unix and MPE running in the same shop could train operators and managers with a single set of commands. Posix was a plus, making the 3000 appear more Unix-like (which seemed important at the time).
It's been said that Posix was a promise only partly fulfilled for the 3000. There was a move to make the system more inclusive, to make it possible to port Unix software onto MPE/iX. Alas, a tech roadblock called the Fork of Death stood in the way of more widespread porting.
Over the years, however, Posix has been a feature to be discovered for most 3000 managers and operators. HP intended it to be essential; the computer's operating system was renamed from MPE/XL to MPE/iX just to call attention to these added Posix, Unix-like capabilities.
MPE failed in the Posix world primarily because of the unix "fork()" concept, so critical to the very nature of all that is Unix. It is a totally alien concept to MPE. MPE was designed to easily add additional new users to an executing process, and maintain the security/integrity of each individual user. It was not designed to duplicate a current process's environment, including the local data and state, because there was no point.
As one sage developer said of the deathly fork, "Yes, MPE would fork(), but very reluctantly, and very slowly. So nothing that depended on it worked very well."
But enough history; Posix is still on the 3000 and remains a powerful interface tool, an alternative to the CI interface that HP created for the system. You can even call Posix commands from the CI, a nifty piece of engineering when it can be done. That's not always possible, though. A customer wanted to know how to "expand wildcard shells" using Posix. He tried from the CI and had this story to relate.
ls: File or directory “/BACKUPS/HARTLYNE/S*” is not found
So how do I do this? I need to be able to tell tar to archive all of the reels of a STD STORE set via a regexp. It does not work in tar, and it apparently does not in ls, so I speculate that there is something special about the innovation of Posix utilities from the CI that I am not aware of. What is it?
Jeff Vance, the 3000 CI guru while at HP, who's gone on to work in open system and open source development, said this in reply:
Wildcards on most (all) Unix systems, including Posix implementations, are done by the shell, not the individual programs or in-lined shell commands, like ls in your example. A solution is to run the shell and execute ll from within.
February 21, 2014
Just how fast is that A-Class, anyway?
By Brian Edminster
Earlier this week, there was a report of an A-Class HP 3000 going wanting on eBay. It was being offered for $2,000 with no takers. The system at hand was an A400-100-110, the genuine bottom of the A-Class line.
While I'd argue that a $2,000 A400 with a transferable MPE/iX licence is a steal, there seems to be a lack of appreciation for the wide variance in speeds in what is considered a A-Class' system.
I believe the system that was being offered as a bare bones A400, as indicated by its system number "A400-100-110." The first character (A) is the class; the next three numbers (400) are the family; the next three are the number of CPUs (100, meaning one); and the last three are the HP rated speed in MHz of the PA-RISC CPU chip. (In this case, it's a PA-8500) This system on eBay also happened to be missing a tape for creating/booting from a CSLT, so if your boot drive failed -- or you needed to make configuration changes that required booting from tape -- you would be out of luck without buying a little more hardware.
This particular A400 system, according to the AICS Relative Performance chart mentioned in the article, runs at a 17. That's about 1.7 times faster (CPU-wise) than the original 917/918 systems. In IO-intensive applications, I have found it felt closer to 2 times faster. I have also worked on an A400-100-150, which CPU speed-wise is a 37. (That system also happens to allow installation of 2GB RAM vs. the 1GB limit on an A400-100-110).
So in short, we can have a greater than 2:1 performance potential between two servers that are both ostensibly A400 A-Class systems. And that's not even taking into account the advantages of multiple CPUs for performance in complex multi-user environments.