November 26, 2014
Something to give thanks for, and envy, too
On the eve of a holiday invented to promote thanks as well as outsized eating, Thanksgiving reminds us of what a 3000 user can thank the gods for -- and something to envy, too.
Prolific commenter Tim O'Neill asked, "Can you write about the current futures of other no-longer-supported systems such as HP 1000, Alpha, and old HP 9000s such as Series 300/400/700?" We can write that the HP 1000, a product line which HP turned off just after Y2K, still has third parties who will maintain and support RTE operating system applications. The HP 1000 got a proper emulator from Strobe Data, engineered in time to capture the business of companies who couldn't part with RTE apps.
A similar story is true of the AlphaServer line from HP. Killed off in the last decade, Alpha is a third-party supported product. No other Alpha computers were built after HP shunted its users to the Integrity line, a migration path of dubious future by now. Alpha has a good emulator in the AXP version of Charon from Stromasys, the company providing a future for long-serving MPE/iX apps, too. The presence of Charon prompts thanks from companies who can't support the concept of decade-old HP hardware running MPE/iX.
But while the Alpha and the 3000 will live on in the virtualization of Stromasys, they can be envious of the deal another retiring environment received this year. OpenVMS will live on in an exclusive license to VMS Software Inc. (VSI). The company got the arrangement to carry OpenVMS forward with new versions using the HP source code for the operating system.
The details released haven't yielded much more than a third-party road map for the OS, up to now. But that's a future with some tantalizing what-if's, both for the OS and for the 3000 user who wanted more MPE/iX future back in 2002. OpenMPE campaigned for use of HP's source code for MPE and got an arrangement that was announced six years ago this week. That source was limited to a technical support resource, however.
If, as happened with OpenVMS, that source had been promised to a single third party, six years before HP would drop support, there could be more to be thankful for this week. Extended third party applications. Support for newer technologies. A replacement vendor, blessed by HP, to mention in boardroom meetings about the 3000's future.
Perhaps OpenVMS customers should be thankful for something else, too: The lessons HP faced about ending the life of a business operating environment, an OS that brought HP to the computing game. Third parties that love and care for a legacy computer were on hand for the 3000. They fell short of convincing Hewlett-Packard to turn over a marketplace. Maybe HP learned that leaving customers with no better choice than replacing a system with Windows wasn't great business.
We'll give thanks for a few days off to celebrate this holiday with family in the Great Lakes -- regardless of frigid weather. We'll be back on Monday.
Pivital Solutions: Your complete
HP e3000 resource
November 25, 2014
Open source SED manages 3000 streams
Open source resources make it possible to use SED, a stream editor built in the open source community. Since 2001 SED has worked on the HP 3000, thanks to Lars Appel, a former HP support engineer who ported Samba to the platform in the 1990s.
SED's main MPE page is on a page of Appel's. SED is an at your own risk download, but support is available through the 3000 community.
Dan Barnes, working on a problem he had to solve in his 3000 environment, asked:
The issue is incoming data from another platform that is being fed into MM 3000. This data occasionally has some unprintable characters, which of course wrecks havoc on the MM application when it is encountered. To address this, the user, using a cygwin (Unix-like) environment on their Windows PC, developed a SED script. When they test the script in the cgywin environment it works just fine. But when done on the target HP 3000 it gets an undesirable result.
Barnes added that "The user thought that because MPE/iX is Posix-compliant, that this should work." He explained his user created the expression
sed -e 's/[\x7F-\xFE]/*/g' < COMSHD > COMSHD1
But Appel noted that hex 7F thru hex FE portion of the expression isn't supported on the MPE/iX version of SED. It's a limitation of MPE/iX, but there's a workaround.
Not sure if the regular expression usage here matches Posix or GNU specs, but my guess is the "\xNN" format, that seems to indicate a char by hex code, doesn't work.
How about something like using the command sed -e 's/[^ -~]/*/g' instead, i.e. map the characters outside the range space through tilde?
November 24, 2014
Building a Portfolio Away From Retirement
Using analogies of moving out of a house and filling out scorecards, an hour of last week unreeled off a Webinar that showed how portfolios offer a plan for migrating and sustaining applications. Birket Foster and his crew at MB Foster showed how continuous and thorough software management helps available budget meet the most crucial needs.
A classic four-quadrant chart outlined the scoring of applications. One axis showed a business fit, the other a technical fit. Like all of the four-box charts, nobody wanted software in the bottom left, low in both aspects. But it's a business decision that drives most of the changes in IT these days. Scorecard the business fit of applications in a portfolio first, Foster said. If it scores well in that fit, go on to the technical fit.
The portfolio is the tool of governance, he added. Governing is a classic process to ensure the most needy get resources as required. Application Portfolio Management has been a favorite topic at MB Foster. It's only possible if a company knows its applications very well — and very well means with documentation that can be shared over time. The assets in a portfolio can be judged to be worthy of migration based on their risk-benefit-value. What helps a company most, and what could you least afford to let fall into that dreaded lower-left box?
Only about 5 percent of the community's applications can fall off that chart completely, ready for retirement. The largest group are suited for a same-capability migration, when they creep down. That 70 percent of the apps can get a lift-and-shift of their functionality, usually through replacement. It takes hundreds of hours per application.
What makes it less painful and swifter is cleaning in advance. As Foster said, "It's like moving out of a house. If you go through your closets regularly, you'll be moving less that you don't need." In this analogy, the closets are your data, which "has to be made available to the new app. It's not automatic."
November 20, 2014
TBT: When Joy of Tech Was Necessary
The cover above of the SuperGroup Association magazine from January, 1985 came to mind here on ThrowBack Thursday. Fred White passed away this week, and it's been a delightful trek down the lane of memories to recall his gusto about the art of technology.
The cover above shows some of that gusto which is not easy to describe. SuperGroup understood the MPE and IMAGE technology of the '80s as well or better than any magazine of the day. But that 3000 publication edited by D. David Brown had a sense of humor and whimsy about it no other publication has been able to eclipse. (Even on my best day as HP Chronicle editor I was only cooking up editorial cartoons about PA-RISC that somebody else would illustrate, and there have been those Ken-Do strips from the NewsWire. But nothing as savvy as what was staged above.)
The players in the little romp were, from left, White, Adager's Alfredo Rego, and Robelle's Bob Green. The photo was a teaser into a great technical paper about a perceived need to acknowledge that databases needed "uncomfortable Procrustean designs... [using] methodologies associated wth normalizing and relating."
Like the paper that Eugene Volokh wrote in the following year, the technical report put relational databases in their place -- capable of permitting multiple views of data, but with a steep performance price to pay compared to IMAGE/3000. The article was on the vanguard of unmasking the shortcomings of relational databases of that era, as I read it. Also clever and playful, two words not often associated with technical writing. The paper was authored by more than the three in the picture; Allegro's Stan Sieler and Steve Cooper got credits, as did Leslie Keffer de Rego for editing.
November 19, 2014
Fred White, 1924-2014
Courtesy of his long-time collaborator and partner Alfredo Rego, this picture of Fred White was taken in 2004, when Fred was 80 and several years into retirement. The legendary co-creator of IMAGE and the SPL expert in Adager's Labs, White was a Marine Corps veteran. Rego said while offering this portrait, "I took this photo with my Olympus E-1 on October 26, 2004 (just a bit over 10 years ago!) in Cedar City, Utah, where he and Judy lived for a while. Fred invited Judy and me to lunch, and I snapped this image across the table. I loved everything there: The warm light, the delicious food, the stimulating conversation, the young college students rushing about..."
The creator of the heartbeat of the HP 3000, Fred White, passed away on November 18, 2014 at the age of 90. White died peacefully in the presence of his wife Judy and family members, of natural causes. He had relocated to Arizona after retiring from Adager in the year after Y2K. His work in building the essential database for MPE, alongside Jon Bale, was the keystone of the 3000 experience. Rego took note of a key identifier inside the IMAGE internals, one that signified a database was sound and accurate. The flag was FW, or as Rego said in a short tribute to his partner, "%043127, the octal representation of “FW” — the flag for a normal IMAGE/3000 database (and TurboIMAGE, and IMAGE/SQL)."
White's work for the 3000 community came in two stages. The first was his innovations while working for HP, building a network database which won awards until HP stopped selling IMAGE and included it with the HP 3000. (Bundled software would not be considered for prizes like the Datamation award bestowed on IMAGE in 1976.) IMAGE, integrated at a foolproof level with the MPE intrinsics and filesystem, delivered a ready field for a small army of developers to plant applications and tools. Without White's work, the 3000 would have been just a footnote in HP's attempts to enter the computer business.
The second stage of White's gifts to the community began when HP had infuriated him for the last time. Never a fan of large organizations, he left Hewlett-Packard when it became clear the vendor had no interest in enhancing IMAGE. But before he departed HP, White met with Rego when the latter was visiting HP in an effort to learn more about IMAGE from the vendor, in preparation for a forthcoming database manager he'd create. As the legend is told, White decided he'd try to help Rego just to ensure that the creation to be called Adager could emerge a little easier.
"He hoped we would answer his questions," White said in a post-retirement interview. His partner Jon Bale "said that kind of help would be contrary to HP company policy. I said to him, 'Jon, this guy’s going to get this done whether we help him or not. All we’re doing is helping a fellow human. Whatever it takes, Alfredo’s going to do it anyway.' "
"At that point, Jon said it was up to me, but he couldn’t do it because it wasn’t HP company policy. He wished Alfredo the best of luck and left. So I answered his questions, and even told him things he couldn’t possibly have thought of, such as privileged mode intrinsic calling and negative DBOPEN modes, things peculiar to the software rather than the database. We chatted for an hour and a half or so."
The exchange in 1977 pointed toward the door to the Adager segment of White's career. The years between 1980 and 2001 allowed Fred to make up for his reticence inside corporations by becoming the conscience of accuracy and fairness. Innovations for IMAGE finally arrived in the middle 1990s. But White's most saucy moment of advocacy came in Boston when HP was trying to make IMAGE a separate product once again.
Read "Fred White, 1924-2014" in full
November 18, 2014
Replacing rises as migrator's primary choice
It's the end of 2014, just about. Plenty of IT shops have closed down changes for the calendar year. Many 2015 development budgets have been wrapped up, too. Among those HP 3000 operations which are still considering a strategy for transition, there's only one assured choice for most of who's left. They'll need to replace their application. Not many can rehost it.
We've heard this advice from both migration services partners as well as the providers of tools for making a migration. An HP 3000 is pretty likely to be running an application with extensive customization by this year. We've just now edged into the 14th year since HP announced a wrap-up of its interest in all things MPE/iX. Year One began in mid-November of 2011. After completing 13 years on watch during the Transition Era, there's a lot of migration best practices to report. More success has been posted, at a better price and on schedule, when a replacement app can be integrated along with a new server and computing environment.
Of course, massive applications have been moved. One of the largest was in the IT operations of the State of Washington Community College Computing Consortium. It was a project so large it was begun twice, over enough elapsed time that the organization changed its name. The second attempt better understood the nuances of VPlus user interface behaviors. There were 40 staffers and at least four vendor services groups working on the task.
One of the issues that's emerged for rehosting organizations is a reduction in MPE expertise. Companies can still engage some of the world's best developers, project managers, and rewriting wizards for MPE/iX. It's harder to assign enough expert human resources who know your company's business processes. That's why a top-down study of what your apps are doing is the sort of job that's been going out-of-house. By this year, it would be better to engage an outside company to replace what's been reliable. This hired expertise ensures a company doesn't lose any computing capability while it makes a transition.
You'll need the use of tools to manage data in a replacement, though. Everything else is likely to change, even in a replacement, except for the data. "Replacement requires reorganizing data," Birket Foster of MB Foster told us this summer. "You could start cleaning your data now." Foster is presenting a Webinar on the subject of the Three Rs -- Rehosting, Replacing, or Retiring -- tomorrow (Wednesday) at 2PM Eastern Time.
November 17, 2014
HP's 3000 power supply persists in failure
Amid a migration project, Michael Anderson was facing a failure. Not of his project, but a failure of his HP 3000 to start up on a bad morning. HP's original hardware is in line for replacement at customers using the 3000 for a server. Some of these computers are more than 15 years old. But the HP grade of components and engineering is still exemplary.
"I was working with a HP 3000 Series 969, and one morning it was down," he reported. "All power was on, but the system was not running; I got no response from the console. So I power-cycled it, and the display panel (above the key switch) reported the following."
Proceeding to turn DC on
On the console it displayed garbage when the power was turned on, but the message on the display remained. I wasn’t sure what to replace. I was thinking the power supply — but all of the power was on. As it turned out, even in the middle of a power supply failure the 3000 was working to get out a message. The back side, the core I/O, FW SCSI, and so on, all appeared to have power. That is why I found it hard to believe that the power supply was the problem.
November 14, 2014
Our World's Greatest Cartoon, Ever
Because it's so crucial, and because Alan Yeo was brilliant in commissioning it. Mark your calendars. (Click it for detail)
November 13, 2014
Thursday Throwback: IMAGE vs. Relational
As a precocious 18-year-old, Eugene Volokh wrote deep technical papers for HP 3000 users who were two or three times his age. While we pointed to the distinctions between IMAGE master and automatic datasets recently, Eugene's dad Vladimir reminded us about a Eugene paper. It was published in the fall of 1986, a time when debate was raging over the genuine value of relational databases.
While the relational database is as certain in our current firmament as the position of any planet, the concept was pushing aside proven technology 28 years ago. IMAGE, created by Fred White and Jon Bale at HP, was not relational. Or was it? Eugene offered the paper below to explore what all the relative fuss was about. Vladimir pointed us to the page on the fine Adager website where the paper lives in its original formatting.
The relationships between master and automatic and detail datasets pointed the way to how IMAGE would remain viable even during the onslaught of relational databases. Soon enough, even Structured Query Language would enter the toolbox of IMAGE. But even in the year this paper emerged, while the 3000 still didn't have a PA-RISC model or MPE/XL to drive it, there was a correlation between relational DBs and IMAGE. Relational databases rely on indexes, "which is what most relational systems use in the same way that IMAGE uses automatic masters," Eugene wrote in his paper presented at COBO Hall in Detroit (above). QUERY/3000 was a relational query language, he added, albeit one less easy to use.
Vladimir admits that very few IT professionals are building IMAGE/SQL databases anymore. "But they do look at them, and they should know what they're looking at," he explained.
Relational Databases Vs. IMAGE:
What The Fuss Is All About
By Eugene Volokh, VESOFT
What are "relational databases" anyway? Are they more powerful than IMAGE? Less powerful? Faster? Slower? Slogans abound, but facts are hard to come by. It seems like HP will finally have its own relational system out for Spectrum (or whatever they call it these days). I hope that this paper will clear up some of the confusion that surrounds relational databases, and will point out the substantive advantages and disadvantages that relational databases have over network systems like IMAGE.
What is a relational database? Let's think for a while about a database design problem.
We want to build a parts requisition system. We have many possible suppliers, and many different parts. Each supplier can sell us several kinds of parts, and each part can be bought from one of several suppliers.
Easy, right? We just have a supplier master, a parts master, and a supplier/parts cross-reference detail:
Now, why did we set things up this way? We could have, for instance, made the SUPPLIER-XREF dataset a master, with a key of SUPPLIERS#+PART#. Or, we could have made all three datasets stand-alone details, with no masters at all. The point is that the proof of a database is in the using. The design we showed -- two masters and a detail -- allows us to very efficiently do the following things:
- Look up supplier information by the unique supplier #.
- Look up parts information by the unique part #.
- For each part, look up all its suppliers (by using the cross-reference detail dataset).
- For each supplier, look up all the parts it sells (by using the cross-reference detail dataset).
This is what IMAGE is good at -- allowing quick retrieval from a master using the master's unique key and allowing quick retrieval from a detail chain using one of the detail's search items.
November 12, 2014
Public server with a mission: CHARON cloud
About a month ago, Stromasys announced that the CHARON HP 3000 emulator was going to be finding a home in the cloud. The company says it's talking to prospective partners to put such a 3000 capability onto a standard cloud provider, such as Amazon Web Services. That would establish a working environment where the 3000 has already performed a mission. More than a decade ago, Hewlett-Packard believed that a 3000 for public use would help the 3000 community.
The server was dubbed Invent3K, because its mission was to further the 3000's lifespan through the invention of software. HP stocked it with subsystems, offered accounts for free, and let development commence. Some useful products came out of Invent3K. The first that comes to mind is a version of perl ready for MPE/iX. That's a version that continues to work.
Now CHARON might do similar work to help extend the MPE/iX lifespan. Plenty of people want to experience the emulator's powers. Tapping a free server, including free accounts where homesteaders' applications and test databases could reside, would offer the world a useful test bed for transition onto Intel hardware and away from HP-branded boxes.
Last fall the MPE expertise inside Stromasys suggested if there would be interest, from a volunteer, in putting a public-access CHARON-fueled machine on the Internet." It's the sort of mission OpenMPE might have done in its heyday. A lot has changed since HP's labs shut down and OpenMPE was left without much mission. A public access server for the world's only HP 3000 emulator would get ample traffic. It could also be a vital proof of concept for using a 3000 based in the cloud.