December 23, 2014
Gifts for MPE Owners This Season
The managers and owners of MPE systems have seen much taken from them over the past decade and more. Vendor development, support that's unquestioned by top management, even the crumbs of MPE security patches and bug fixes. A lot has gone dark in this winter of the 3000's seasons. But here on the eve of Christmas Eve, there's still some treasures under the tree of 3000 life as we know it.
Future hardware. Stromasys has made a business mission out of preserving applications written for MPE. The company has done this with Charon HPA, software whose foundation was laid in 2009 and is receiving an updated, speedier release this year. Companies that are relying on MPE apps for many years to come -- so many they need brand-new hardware to host the 3000's OS — can count on the software that makes Intel behave just like PA-RISC. You won't be able to run a company on a laptop, but MPE boots fast enough on what we once called a Portable PC to show off this virtualizer in the boardroom.
A future for applications. Migration can be messy, feel risky and command a big chunk of budget and human resource, but several companies are still devoting their business missions to transitions. MB Foster comes to mind first here, and there are others with tools, like ScreenJet. More than 12 years after HP announced its pullout, and with a declining number of migrations in the offing, companies still deliver expertise on the biggest IT project a company will ever undertake. Something like doing an aircraft engine replacement while at 30,000 feet.
Software and help for it. On the cusp of 2015, you can still purchase software that manages enterprise-caliber jobstreams, the tools to manage the 3000's filesystem or its database, and more. The ones that aren't sold still have support lines. Companies like the Support Group host hot spares and help manufacturers keep stately legends like MANMAN online. Even a 20-year-old 9x8 deserves some respect while it continues to manage the finances and production of a competitive manufacturing entity.
System-wide support. As the numbers of MPE-savvy pros decline, outsourcing for expertise becomes essential for any customer homesteading long-term, or even through a migration project. Pivital Solutions, and companies like Allegro and Beechglen, ensure older HP iron and the static, classic MPE/iX 7.5 behave as planned. There's even a resource in Applied Technologies that can integrate open source software, ready for MPE and part of any larger project.
That's a lot to unwrap and admire for a 40-year-old computer, all still open at a time of year when presents are present. We're delighted to keep telling stories like million-dollar virtualization configurations, shiny benefits of data cleansing, or the new players taking over icons like PowerHouse. We're taking the remainder of this holiday week off, celebrating a birthday, the end of Hannukah and Christmas with the family. We'll be back with reports on Monday, December 29.
Pivital Solutions: Your complete
HP e3000 resource
December 22, 2014
A Quiet December Week's MPE Ripples
The week of Christmas is a quiet one for business and enterprise IT. Sales calls and installations are at a minimum, companies work with skeleton crews, and announcements of news are rare. But nine years ago the week of Christmas was hot with a 3000 development, one that has ripples even today.
In the Christmas week of 2005 — back when HP still worked full shifts over the holidays — the 3000 division released news that HP's support lifespan for MPE would be extended. What had been called a firm and solid date of HP's departure got moved another 24 months into the future. The news was the first unmistakable evidence that the migration forecast from HP was more wishful than accurate.
As it said it would offer basic reactive support services for 3000 systems through at least December of 2008, the vendor confirmed that it would license MPE source code to several third parties. The former put a chill on migration business in the market, sending vendors -- services and software suppliers alike -- looking for non-3000 markets to service. The latter gave the support community a shot of fresh competition over the afterlife beyond the Hewlett-Packard exit.
In one of the more mixed messages to the community, HP said customers should work with the vendor to arrange support until migrations could be finished. The 3000 division also said its license for MPE source was going to "help partners meet the basic support needs of the remaining e3000 customers and partners." It would take another three years, beyond the closing of the MPE lab, for that source code to emerge.
December 19, 2014
Making a New Case Against Old Hardware
It won't make the resellers of HP's 3000 hardware happy, but Stromasys has started to make a strong argument against preserving the life of Hewlett-Packard's MPE hardware. In a link inside a video that was attached to a 2015 happy holidays message, we've spotted a 96-second summary that shakes the bones of the assurance there's plenty of parts in the world to support aging 3000 systems.
Maintaining the original MPE-based systems from Hewlett-Packard is risky and difficult, the commercial that's hosted on the Vimeo website says. The software is worth preserving, it continues, and it notes more than 5,000 companies have used the Stromasys Charon technology to enable hardware emulation. The majority of these Stromasys clients have emulated Digital's server hardware to preserve VMS applications.
Of course, there's a mention of emulation's savings versus a full migation. For the customers who are leaving the HP 3000 because the hardware's old, this point might have some traction. The level of support from the original hardware vendor, as well as the end of HP's 3000 manufacturing, drove a significant number of migrations in the past. The Stromasys argument states that with new hardware, an application suite can be preserved. Customers who remain on their homesteaded systems often say they'd be happier if their futures didn't include the expenses and risks of migrating.
There's a short reference to cloud-based Charon installations amid the message, too. In that level of solution, investment in the powerful Intel-based hardware is exchanged for a typical cloud-rental fee. In some cases, the investment in the hardware required to emulate HP-branded 3000 servers can be substantial.
Most interesting, Stromasys now has offered MPE support among the services it sells. It's right there alongside VMS and Solaris software support. The company hasn't issued a press release and there aren't details immediately available on the levels of operating system support, or the staff which will be supplying it.
December 17, 2014
MB Foster extends Ability Commerce's retail
Ability Commerce, a direct commerce software and provider of JDA Direct Commerce Professional Services, has announced their partnership with MB Foster. The two companies offer services to enterprises that use the JDA products including Escalate Retail, the latest generation of the Ecometry ecommerce software suite.
Ability, in calling MB Foster "a software programming and consulting firm specializing in highly scalable data access and delivery solutions for the JDA Direct Commerce (Ecometry) software platform," plans to use its new partner to transform and migrate the surround code popular in Escalate installations.
“MB Foster’s addition to our strong partnership solutions dedicated to the JDA Direct Commerce software platform will allow us to provide an even higher level of service to that user base, "said Shawn Ellen, Director of Sales and Marketing for Ability Commerce. "MB Foster is committed to the Ecometry user base and will be joining us as a sponsor at our Ability Commerce User Summit this coming March 11-13 in Delray Beach, Florida."
December 16, 2014
How OpenCOBOL Helped Porting COBOL II
Editor's note: A little while ago the 3000 newsgroup was discussing the merits of OpenCOBOL compared to the heartland compiler of MPE, COBOL II. Roy Brown offered his story of how he made the open source COBOL step in to do the work that COBOL did during a 3000 migration. A port, if you will.
By Roy Brown
I used OpenCOBOL to port two HP 3000 COBOL programs — only two, but one of them was the big and critical engine at the heart of a system otherwise written completely in PowerHouse.
I first used the portability checker on COBOL II to make a few amendments to bring the program in line with the standards — and was able to roll that version back into the production HP3000 code at the time.
The thing that remained non-standard, but which OpenCOBOL supported, IIRC, was entry points. I could have got round the limitation of not having them, but I was pleased not to have to.
The one remaining issue after that was not having IMAGE on the new platform, but having to use Oracle instead. So I rewrote the IMAGE calls as Oracle PRO*COBOL calls. And I was quite surprised that this made the program shorter, or would have if I hadn't left the IMAGE calls in, but commented out, so I could refer back to them if there were issues.
So, armed with a readable program, I slotted it through the PRO*COBOL precompiler, which spits out unreadable COBOL, put that through the OpenCOBOL compiler, which spits out C (or did then, at any rate — does it still?) and then compiled that with the GNU C compiler.
December 15, 2014
2015 migrations creep on, in virtual mode
In the concept of virtualization, a server is replaced by another which pretends to be just like the original. There's no new HP 3000 in emulation, for example. Just the idea of one. The essence of the HP 3000, its PA-RISC architecture, is replaced using the Charon product: software that mimics the HP hardware. Virtualization engines use software to eliminate hardware.
Some MPE migrations which have been underway for years look like they may be using up virtual man-months, so the IT group won't have to adopt a new application. The plan and lengthy project time eliminates the need to go live with changes.
In a virtual migration, the organization knows its intention. Get onto another environment with mission-critical apps. But the work never gets completed, something like a "forthcoming" novel that's expected but unfinished. Virtualized migrating can very well be the reason any 3000 project still has a 2017 target date.
"These days with the tools that are available," said Alan Yeo of ScreenJet, "no migration should take more than 12 months." He added that he believes that engaging a migration services company of any reasonable size would get most of of an organization's code running in test-mode in about six weeks.
December 12, 2014
Essential Skills: Using Password Vaults
Editor's note: HP 3000 managers do many jobs, work that often extends outside the MPE realm. In Essential Skills, we cover the non-3000 skillset for these multi-talented MPE experts.
By Steve Hardwick, CISSP
Passwords are always a challenge for security professionals. Why is creating a secure password so difficult? More importantly, how can a user tell if their password has been stolen? Typically, when all the damage has been done and the password has been used by someone else. At this point in time it is too late. One way to resolve this is to have a password vault such as KeepPass or 1Password.
A vault is a good investment of your time. A security breach that might result from having no vault might be difficult to even detect. It might be that the time the breach is discovered may not be the first time the hacked credentials were used. This might be how many times a stolen credit card is used before the owner gets the bill. Second, the hacker could have hacked the password and is just keeping it for later use or sale. One of the preventative measures for this is to require users to periodically change passwords.
This changing strategy can stem the use of stolen passwords and also prevent the future use of any that have not yet been exploited. From a user's perspective, though, generating multiple passwords every 60-90 days just compounds the passwords nightmare.
As a security professional I have seen several solutions that users concoct to try and get around this issue. One common one is to write them all down and hide the resulting list. It turns out there are not that many good hiding places. Under keyboards, behind pictures, inside speakers, taped to the underside of a drawer or chair, back of a bookcase do not qualify as good locations. Also, many users forget to update the sheet with new passwords. Another approach is to create a text file, e.g. shopping_list.txt, and put everything in there. A quick search of the most frequently used files normally finds those. Plus if the hard drive crashes, and the file is not backed up, new ones have to be set up all over again.
A variation of the last theme is to use a password vault. This is a method where the password information is stored on a file, but the file is encrypted. In this case only one password is needed, to decrypt the vault, and access is granted to all of the other passwords. The most ubiquitous form of encryption is AES - Advance Encryption Standard. AES256 encryption is adequate for most users.
However, one word of caution. If the password used to encrypt the vault is easy to guess, then the contents are at risk.
December 11, 2014
Big, unreported computing in MPE's realm
When members gather from the 3000 community, they don't often surprise each other these days with news. The charm and challenge of the computer's status is its steady, static nature. We've written before about how no news is the usual news for a 40-year-old system.
But at a recent outing with 3000 friends I heard two pieces of information that qualify as news. The source of this story would rather not have his name used, but he told me, "This year we actually sold new software to 3000 sites." Any sort of sale would be notable. This one was in excess of $10,000. "They just told us they needed it," my source reported, "and we didn't need to know anything else." A support contract came along with the sale, of course.
The other news item seemed to prove we don't know everything about the potential of MPE and the attraction of the 3000 system. A company was reaching out for an estimate on making a transition to the Charon emulator. They decided not to go forward when they figured it would require $1 million in Intel-based hardware to match the performance of their HP 3000.
"How's that even possible?" I asked. This is Intel-caliber gear being speficied, and even a pricey 3000 configuration shouldn't cost more than a quarter-million dollars to replace. It didn't add up.
"Well, you know they need multiple cores to replace a 3000 CPU," my source explained. Sure, we know that. "And they had a 16-way HP 3000 they were trying to move out."
Somewhere out there in the world there's an HP 3000, installed by Hewlett-Packard, that supports 16 CPUs. Still running an application suite. The value is attractive enough that it's performing at a level twice as powerful as anything HP would admit to, even privately.
A 4-way N-Class was as big as HP would ever quote. Four 500-MHz or 750-MHz PA-8700 CPUs, with 2.25 MB on-chip cache per CPU, topped the official lineup.
Unix got higher horsepower out of the same HP servers. An 8-way version of the same N-Class box was supported on HP-UX; HP would admit such a thing was possible in the labs, and not supported in the field. But a 16-way? HP won't admit it exists today, and the customer wouldn't want to talk about it either. Sometimes things go unreported because they're too big to admit. It made me wonder how much business HP might've sustained if they'd allowed MPE to run as fast and as far as HP-UX ran, when both of those environments were hosted on the same iron.
December 10, 2014
Getting Macro Help With COBOL II
An experienced 3000 developer and manager asked his cohorts about the COBOL II macro preprocessor. There's an alternative to this very-MPE feature: "COPY...REPLACING and REPLACE statements. Which would you choose and why?"
Scott Gates: COPY...REPLACING because I understand it better. But the Macro preprocessor has its supporters. Personally, I prefer the older "cut and paste" method using a decent programmer's editor to replace the text I need. Makes things more readable.
Donna Hofmeister: I'm not sure I'm qualified to comment on this any longer, but it seems to me that macros were very efficient (and as I recall) very flexible (depending on how they were written, of course). It also seems to me that the "power of macros" made porting challenging. So if your hidden agenda involves porting, then I think you'd want to do the copy thing.
There was even porting advice from a developer who no longer works with a 3000, post-migration.