December 09, 2013
Long run of 3000 unreels beyond the dark
By Ron Seybold
This is the time of the year when movie critics everywhere assemble their retrospectives of 2013 films. The HP 3000 has been having something of a revival, as they call the movie's screening of old classics, because of the Stromasys emulator. Such an invention never would have gotten traction without HP's mistakes made after November, 2001. People stood by their servers, in part because they got messages from HP that the computer's run would be extended.
While they remained in their seats, CHARON's MPE-on-Intel debut was spooled up on the next projector.
In 2005, after all, there was the rude surprise to the vendors who became ardent partners of migration off the 3000. The deadline of 2006 became 2008, and then finally 2010. One such vendor said it was a disservice to partners who were ready to pick up the pieces. At HP’s support business lair, the company's lifespan of the 3000 was measured in how many months of payments might arrive from large customers. It had nothing to do with the quality of the server’s ecosystem, and everything to do with the quantity of the revenues it created.
But as the karma police often do, they’ve caught up with the company which made raw business growth its mantra, instead of Next Bench design and Management by Walking Around. Old collegial business got eaten alive by tigers from the PC vendor Compaq, unleashed by the first CEO plucked from outside HP. So when Carly’s proxy fight took HP out of the hands of its family, and then spying and sexual harassment and then being fleeced on acquisitions followed, our friends in this market took bitter solace in seeing karma catch up. The water was still cold out in the sea around that scuttled ship. But at least the captains of the line were getting soaked. Three of every four 3000 owners never bought another HP enterprise server.
But that bitterness, the shaking of our fists at fate, it doesn’t make swimming in the current easier. Better to flatten our hands and stretch our arms into the bracing water and survive, see how it changes our lives. That’s the story we really want to tell, the one that we don’t know how we’ll live though. Only that we know that we will indeed live through it. Just wait. The last reel might be the sweetest.
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December 06, 2013
Waiting in line to see a story of survival
By Ron Seybold
I whiled away hours on the streets of Austin a few weeks ago, waiting to take a place in the dark. The Austin Film Festival was rolling, celebrating its 20th Anniversary with nine days of movies. Anniversaries usually prompt memories. We tell stories of how things used to be in our lives, partly to mark how far we’ve travelled, along with how far we’ve grown.
We don’t like to think about growing older. Not most of us, not when we have to lace on our shoes with extra thick soles like I did to stand on a Congress Avenue concrete sidewalk, waiting for the newest Coen Brothers film to unreel at the gaudy, throwback Paramount Theatre. I stood beside a woman who’d been setting sound stages with props for several decades. She talked for more than an hour about how Bruce Willis loved the tacky statue she chose for Armageddon, loved it so much he bought it after the movie wrapped. I heard that story four times in about 90 minutes.
Some of our readers might feel the same way about the annual November Nightmare story I write, recalling the tacky HP business deke on 3000 owners. It changed all of our lives, though, so it merits its testimony. But as I’ve promised in my last paragraph of this year’s edition of the Nightmare, this year is the last time I’ll tell that story. Everybody knows the Titanic goes down at the end of that North Atlantic voyage. The story we don’t know is how the survivors’ lives went on. Most of all, we want to know what they did next. How did the disaster affect them?
December 05, 2013
3000 vet votes for his IMAGE replacement
In the 3000 Newswire's printed edition that's nearly in every subscriber's mailbox, we interviewed Stan Sieler on the occasion of his 30-year anniversary at Allegro Consultants. He co-founded the company with his partner Steve Cooper in the early 1980s, when IMAGE was simply IMAGE/3000, sans Turbo or even SQL in its name.
Sieler and Allegro have written significant parts of the database for HP in those ensuing decades. We figured it would be a fun question to ask him what the best substitute is for IMAGE -- for the 3000 customer who's making a migration. Or the customer who already has migrated, but is finding the obvious Oracle answer doesn't work optimally with lifted-and-shifted code.
Sieler's did the interview with us from his iPad, over Skype, and he's a big fan of Apple products including the Mac Pro. His answer on replacing IMAGE didn't surprise us much, but it's the first time we asked an IMAGE co-creator to weigh in on a replacement.
I really like Eloquence. Michael [Marxmeier] has done amazing things with it. Tech support from him is immediate and reliable. He doesn’t have problems with you publishing benchmarks. Eloquence has a lot of nice features in it. It has more features than any other SQL database — plus the IMAGE compatibility. It’s a win-win situation, it seems like. The only thing that kind of bothers me is that he doesn’t have a version for the Mac.
December 04, 2013
A-Class servers bid to retain some value
When HP released the A-Class HP 3000 models, the computers represented a new entry point for MPE servers. This lowest-end machine, including an MPE/iX license and the IMAGE/SQL database, sold at retail for $15,900. It ran about 70 percent faster than the 3000's previous low end unit, the Series 918. The customer base was hungry for something this small. HP product manager Dave Snow walked the first one down the aisle at the SIGPROF user meeting.
That was more than 12 years ago. The A-Class was built upon PA-RISC processors, chips that are several generations behind HP's latest Itanium-class CPUs. You might expect that the A-Class boxes could be worth less than one tenth of what they sold for during the year that HP curtailed its 3000 plans.
Cypress Technology has got three of these A-Class servers available via eBay, selling them for $3,400 each. They've been out on the auction website for awhile now -- more than 10 days -- but the Buy It Now price hasn't come down. So far, the sellers are still arranging for a transferrable license for these boxes. That's something that runs up the price of a used 3000. But then, so can the extras.
December 03, 2013
When MPE's Experts Vied at Trivial Pursuit
As the range of expertise on MPE and the 3000 continues to wane, it's fun to revisit a time when knowing commands could make you a leader in a community. The archives of the Newswire run rich into an era before MPE's RISC version, when MPE V was the common coin of data commerce. In those times, regional user group members gathered in person once a year. One such group, the Southern California Regional User Group (SCRUG) mounted a conference so elaborate that it hosted its own Trivial Pursuit version for MPE. Six months before anybody could boot up a PA-RISC 3000, I reported on a showdown between the leading lights in March, 1987 -- a contest moderated by Eugene Volokh in his heartland of SoCal.
PASADENA, Calif. -- It took 10 of the sharpest wits in the HP world to provide it, but entertainment at the SCRUG conference here became a trivial matter for an hour. The prizes were limited to bragging rights, laughter from insiders, and a useless bit of plastic which everybody had and nobody needed.
Vesoft's Eugene Volokh moderated the first all-star HP Trivial Pursuit at the conference, as nine top programmers matched wits with each other and Volokh's list of questions. Correct answers drew a small, round reward: mag tape write rings. "Because," said Volokh, "there is no other use for them."
Competing on four different teams were some of the better-known names from HP's history. Adager's Fred White and Robelle's Bob Green were on hand; local developer Bruce Toback of OPT and Bradmark's David Merit represented the Southern California contingent; Fastran's Nick Demos was on hand from the East Coast, along with Vesoft's Vladimir Volokh adding his Russian wit; and SPLash savants Stan Sieler, Steve Cooper and Jason Goertz made a prominent showing from Allegro and Software Research Northwest.
The questions, like all good trivia, covered HP's most arcane and obscure knowledge of the 3000's OS. Several stumped the teams. For example, "What's the highest alphabetical MPE command, with A as the lowest and Z as the highest?" Green offered VINIT as an answer, but he was told WELCOME was correct.
"No fair," Green said in protest. "They didn't have that one when I started on the 3000."
December 02, 2013
While you were away, what HP put into play
We're back after a 4-day holiday. The Thanksgiving holiday period can be interesting times for watchers of Hewlett-Packard. We count ourselves among that group, even though the company has little to do with the lives of homesteading 3000 users. (But not nothing at all -- we heard last week that HP Support contracts for 3000-connected HP peripherals have been altered. End-of-support-life dates have been adjusted, according to our source. Check your contract; indie providers are available as an alternative.) HP announced the Odyssey program to give a Linux future path for Unix customers during the week. Of course, the 3000 exit notice took place just a week before Thanksgiving in 2001.
However, much broader items than tactical details of contracts surfaced over this holiday weekend. The most splashy was the news that Hewlett-Packard is now the company providing infrastructure for the US Healthcare.gov website. That's the site that turned away about 80 percent of users during October because of technical and bandwidth problems.
HP signed a $38 million contract with the US Health and Human Services agency this summer, but Terraform (a subsidiary of Verizon) had built out the website hosting that blocked many an attempt to use it. Over the weekend, healthcare.gov doubled its bandwidth and can now reportedly serve 50,000 users simultaneously. That sounds like a lot, but about 800,000 citizens tried to open an account. (Just as a note, as of 2 PM today, we registered an account and shopped for the first time online.)
The largest simultaneous user count we've ever heard reported for a single HP 3000 server was 2,200. Consider that was a single server, built with PA-RISC (two generation-old chips) using SCSI IO. Redundancy has been an essential high-volume aspect of 3000s since Quest Software built its NetBase/Shareplex replication solution in the 1980s. Quest, now a division of Dell, still supports HP 3000 sites using the product, according to John Saylor there.
November 27, 2013
HP quarter beats analyst estimates, but Integrity solutions' profit, sales slide again
HP has managed to eke out a penny more than business analysts estimated for its 2013 fourth quarter earnings. These days such a "beat," as the analysts call it, is essential to avoiding a selloff after a report like yesterday's. But the positive news did not extend to the business group which builds and engineers the Unix Integrity servers -- a significant share of the migrated HP 3000 installed base.
More than once during the one-hour report to financial analysts, HP CEO Meg Whitman and her CFO Cathie Lesjak talked about Unix like it's a market whose growth days have been eclipsed by steady erosion of sales and profits. "We have more opportunity to improve our profitability," Whitman said about a quarter where the overall GAAP earnings were 83 cents a share. That's $1.82 billion of profit on sales of $29.1 billion in sales. Revenues declined 1 percent against last year's Q4.
But R&D, so essential to improving the value of using HP-created environments like HP-UX, has seen its days of growth come to halt, and then decline at the Business Critical Systems unit. Lesjak said the company's year-over-year decline in R&D was a result of "rationalization in Business Critical Systems." In particular, the company's Unix products and business can't justify R&D of prior quarters and fiscal years.
As you look at the year-over-year declines in R&D, that was really driven by two primary things. One is the rationalization of R&D, specifically in the Enterprise Group's Business Critical Systems -- so we really align the R&D investment in that space with the long-term business realities of the Unix market. We did get some of what we call R&D value-added tax subsidy credits that came through. Those basically offset some of the R&D expense.
Business Critical Systems revenue declined 17 percent in the quarter to $334 million, due to "a declining Unix market." On the current run rate, BCS represents 1 percent of HP sales. And BCS sales have been dropping between 15 and 30 percent for every quarter for more than six quarters. HP posted an increase in its enterprise systems business overall, mostly on increased sales of the Linux and Windows systems in its Industry Standard Servers unit.
HP said it expects "continued traction in converged storage, networking, and converged infrastructure," for its enterprise business. But somehow, as the entire Unix market shrinks, HP said it's maintaining market share in that space. R&D at BCS will not be part of HP's planned growth for research and development in 2014, though.
November 26, 2013
Tweaks for network speed arise from Empire
The classic HP 3000 adventure game Empire has been around since the 1980s. It's now running on a system at Tracy Johnson's datacenter, and he's used the services for the free game to explore network speed on a 3000 -- and how to improve it.
The Empire machine is on an admittedly slow network. In other words it is on the cheapest Cox business line that was set up for 5Mb upload and 1Mb download. The circuit's real purpose is so visitors in our facility can surf the Internet over wireless without logging into our network. So the Empire machine was put on it as the default endpoint for connections coming inbound.
My question is, given the outbound speed is only 1Mb, are there any arcane tweaks I could change in NMMGR? Would smaller packet sizes do? Do I really care about checksum?
Jeff Kell replied
Depending on the 3000 model, you're only running at 100Mbps, so there is really no "speed" tweak that is relevant. You want to insure basic connectivity issues. The 3000 isn't that great or reliable at autonegotiation, so you may need to hardcode the 3000 and the switch on the other side to 100Mbps/full duplex. Nothing sucks worse than autonegotiation failure; a switch will typically "default" to 10/half if autonegotiation fails.
November 25, 2013
Calculating the 3000's Time to Purchase
On an informal call with a 3000 vendor today, he delivered some sound advice about purchasing. "In the end, it's really about how they buy -- not how you sell." This makes a difference to everyone at this time of year, when fiscal year-end closing is less than six weeks away.
Sometimes a buyer of IT products or a service will want to make a purchase, but then the learning curve gets twisted. The manager might have an outdated estimate of how long it takes to get something into a status for a PO. This can be especially true for an HP 3000. Even when the system is on the path away from mission-critical, en route to migration, buying something related to a 3000 can be a distant memory.
This is not to be confused with renewing support contracts. Those are renewals, not outright new purchases. The time needed to get to a PO can include the processing time at related vendors, in some cases. For example, there's the licensing which is part of making a transition to the only emulator for HP 3000s. Software suppliers, or HP, require time to approve transfers. You only learn how much time your organization, or your vendor, needs by purchasing something. Or attempting to, near the end of your fiscal year.