August 20, 2014

Small office — but a modest, social market

The building in Austin, Texas wasn't even devoted to the newspaper entirely. Off in the northern side, the single-story offices housed a insurance company and a optician. The beginnings of the HP Chronicle matched the position of the HP 3000 in 1984. It was not the most significant tenant in the Hewlett-Packard building of products. It was never the biggest earner on the HP ledger. It was just the most social office of the HP structure. People built events and associations around it.

HP closed out its fiscal 1984 a couple months after I arrived in the offices of the Chronicle. We were so cautious that we didn't even include "HP" in the publication name at first, because we were not welcomed at that year's Interex user group conference. I heard about the argument on the show floor, where it was plain we'd started a publication to compete with the user group. They'd cashed the check, said the publisher John Wilson. They had to let us in. But seeing that resistance, nobody was going to make us change our name in that kind of environment. Leave the HP off the front page.

Screen Shot 2014-08-20 at 5.36.27 PMIt never occured to us to make a big story out of the annual HP numbers which were reported in mid-November. HP wasn't a sexy stock (trading in the mid $40s, with good profits) and its board of directors was full of technical expertise and HP management experience. John Young, the company's CEO on the August day I began, was not the chairman. That job was in the hands of one of the company founders, David Packard. His partner Bill Hewlett was vice-chairman. HP management moves didn't involve mergers or acquisitions as the splashy plays of today. The photo of the HP Touchscreen connected to a 3000 at left was one of just four in the annual report with a person in it. This was still a company that knew how to connect with customers, but struggled to sell its story of people.

There was a full range of things the 1984 Hewlett-Packard was not. One of them was an adept player at being in a partnership. The Not Invented Here syndrome was in full throat on the day I arrived and looked at the PC 2622 box atop that PC monitor. Walker, Richer & Quinn was selling an alternative to HP's hardware. Within a few years HP would be launching a product to compete with WRQ, Advancelink. Because HP believed that every dollar, from supplies to support, had its best chance to help the company if it were on the HP ledger.

Computer sales made up the biggest share of the $6.1 billion HP posted 30 years ago, but test and measurement systems were not far behind. $3.2 billion for computers, $2.2 billion for test gear. The latter was the best-known product for the company, as the Silicon Valley's hardware engineers were likely to have HP measurement products in their development labs. Test and Measurement was also more profitable than computers. Used in hospitals, medical labs, research facilities -- this was the business that started the company, and it was still the major driver in profitability, with strong sales.

Test and measurement was also completely outside my beat, thank goodness. But that didn't mean I only had the HP 3000 to learn. The Chronicle covered HP 1000 real-time systems and HP 9000 engineering computers, but mostly because our California competitors at Interex did so. The serious ad revenue came from the most social side of HP's $3.2 billion: business computers, charting the lives of companies and their employees. But even a chart off an HP business computer had a radical distinction from today. It used six pens to make its appearance.

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Posted by Ron Seybold at 05:54 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

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August 19, 2014

What Changed Over 30 Years: Bespoke

Warmup suitsI arrived here in the community of my career when gas was $1.15 a gallon in the US, the Dow was at 1,200, a new truck sold for $8,995, the Cold War Olympics featured no Soviet atheletes in LA, and Stevie Wonder had a top hit on the record charts. Because there were still records being sold for pop hits, along with cassettes. Nary a CD could be bought. The Mac was brand new and still didn't sport a hard drive. Those fellows to the right were right in style with warm-up suits that you're likely to see in a senior's happy hour cafeteria line today.

There were thousands of applications in the Hewlett-Packard software catalog of 1984. It wasn't a new idea to collate and curate them, either. MB Foster had one of the first compendiums of HP 3000 software, several years before it occured to HP to offer products the vendor did not make (or buy up, then sell back). But in the month when I entered this market, during that August you were at least as likely to find custom, bespoke software running a corporation as any Commercial Off The Shelf package.

People built what they needed. The bespoken software was often created with the help of fourth generation langauges, so Speedware and Cognos' Powerhouse were big players during 1984. Not the biggest of the 3000 vendors, in terms of customer size. Unless you counted several thousand MANMAN sites, all running the Quiz reporting tools that ASK Computer included with the MRP package. Back in those says, Enterprise Resource Planning hadn't been conceived. 

Because so much of the community's software was customized, being well-versed in IMAGE/3000 -- not yet TurboIMAGE, let alone IMAGE/SQL -- was a key skill. Mastery of the database was more attainable if you had a database management utility. Adager was most widely installed, with Bradmark just getting off the ground in 1984. I nearly crashed my reputation with Adager and co-founder Alfredo Rego, less than a month after I began my career in the community.

MondaletoHartThe problem was a lack of MPE and IMAGE experience. Since I didn't understand the technology first-hand, I felt compelled to contribute to the effort of the HP Chronicle. Not by writing an article, but instead closely red-pen editing the writing of Rego. I didn't know yet that anything he shared with a publication -- his technical treatise was a big win for us at the HP Chronicle -- had already been polished and optimized. A writer well-steeped in mastery of his subject can insist an article be published with no changes. In the publishing business, stet means to ignore a change. I'd have been helped if someone had grabbed my inked-up printout of Rego's paper and marked "stet all changes" on the front. He had a legitimate beef.

Instead, we ran it and then I got to enjoy a rare thrill -- having my corrections corrected by the author, live in front of a local user group audience. Writers forming the troika of big independent vendors -- Bob Green at Robelle, Eugene Volokh at VEsoft, and Rego -- certainly had earned stet-all-changes. Their software became crucial in managing a 3000 that was gasping for new horsepower. Creating and maintaining customized software was a popular way to get the most out of the six-figure HP 3000s, already at the end of the line at the top but still more than two years away from getting a refresh.

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Posted by Ron Seybold at 11:57 PM in History, Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 18, 2014

This Is Where I Came In

It's the third week of August, but it's 30 years ago. I wear my wide tie and my oxfords to an office in Austin's northwest tech territory and start to write and learn about the HP 3000. I'm 27, father of a boy not yet two, a community news reporter with a new community to creep into -- because that's how it's done when you don't know anyone or much of anything. You ask a lot of questions and try to understand the answers.

Ronin1980sThe office is ribbed with wood paneling and mini-blinds and sports an IBM-PC knockoff, a Columbia. It's got an amber display and no hard drive. A box with the manual for Walker, Richer & Quinn's PC2622 software is on top of that monitor. It's connected for something called time-sharing, and it also connects to something called Compuserve. I watch my boss dial up on a phone with a modem -- I knew about those from using an Apple II at home -- and read the news. None of it's about HP, though. That's our story to tell.

Inside my editor's office there's a telephone transcription machine for recorded interviews, plus a Kaypro II portable. It weighs 28 pounds and has a screen that's nine inches across.  Kaypro_II_portable_computer_with_dBase_II_and_CPM_2013-04-04_00-57Imagine two Samsung Galaxy phones side by side, and that's about it. There are two books on the shelf, both printed by Hewlett-Packard. One is a catalog of third-party software and specialized hardware, all written in something called MPE V for a computer people are wild about, the HP 3000. The other book is a listing of the phone number of everyone in HP's Bay Area campuses. HP is not yet selling $7 billion of gear, support or software in 1984 -- and that includes medical and measurement systems that are so much better known than its computer products.

In my first week of a career writing about HP, one of the first things that I learn is that we've been scooped. The latest HP 3000, a real ground-breaker, is already in the pages of Interact magazine. The user group Interex has won again, because being physically near those HP Bay Area offices makes a difference. There's nobody on our staff or theirs who wrote news for newspapers, though, not until this week. It's the only chance we've got to learn something first: Get on that phone, son.

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Posted by Ron Seybold at 10:44 PM in History, Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 15, 2014

The 3000's got network printing, so use it

Ten years ago this summer, HP's 3000 lab engineers were told that 3000 users wanted networked printing. By 2005 it was ready for beta testing. This was one of the last enhancements demanded as Number 1 by a wide swath of the 3000 community, and then delivered by HP. The venerable Systems Improvement Ballot of 2004 ranked networked printing No. 1 among users' needs.

MPEMXU1A is the patch that enables networked printing, pushed into General Release in Fall, 2005. In releasing this patch's functionality, HP gave the community a rather generic, OS-level substitute for much better third party software from RAC Consulting (ESPUL). It might have been the last time that an independent software tool got nudged by HP development.

HP M1522N printerThe HP 3000 has the ability to send jobs to non-HP printers over a standard network as a result of the enhancement. The RAC third party package ties printers to 3000 with fewer blind spots than the MPEMXU1A patch. HP's offering won't let Windows-hosted printers participate in the 3000 network printing enhancement. There's a Windows-only, server-based net printing driver by now, of course, downloadable from the Web. The HP Universal Print Driver Series for Windows embraces Windows Server 2012, 2008, and 2003.

Networked printing for MPE/iX had the last classic lifespan that we can recall for a 3000 enhancement. The engineering was ready to test less than a year after the request. This software moved out of beta test by November, a relatively brief five-month jaunt to general release. If you're homesteading on 3000s, and you don't need PCL sequences at the beginning and end of a spool file, you should use it. Commemorate the era when the system's creator was at least building best-effort improvements.

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Posted by Ron Seybold at 03:12 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading, Web Resources | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 14, 2014

TBT: Affordable IT in Acquisition Aftermath

Blanket-AdThere it is, in all of its comfy, trustworthy glory: The only two-page spread advertisement HP ever bought to promote the HP 3000. From a 1998 issue of Computerworld, it's a ThrowBack Thursday entry, from an era when the 3000 was battling for prime position in datacenters. (Click it to have a closer look.) Harry Sterling was the general manager of the 3000 group by that year. Serious business.

Simpkins AdAs part of another ad series, Terry Simpkins, now the Business Systems Director of Measurement Specialties Inc., testified to the value of running HP 3000 ERP systems. At the time MANMAN was owned by Computer Associates, who'd dubbed the software's owner the MK Group. (Click to have a closer look at his testimony.)

Now comes word that Simpkins' current company -- probably one of the single largest users of MANMAN -- has been purchased. An acquisition can be a trigger for change. Some HP 3000s have been decommissioned as a result of running a company which now must march in a new corporate file. 

It may not be so at MSI. We've heard through the MANMAN support network that TE Connectivity Ltd., which will own MSI perhaps as early as next month, was impressed by the low costs of operating more than 10 separate ERP installations around the world. MSI was purchased for $1.4 billion, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

There have been some instances in the system's past where the HP 3000 edged out other mid-size enterprise platforms during a merger. AS/400s got replaced in one case. At MSI, the system is running manufacturing for a company that is moving into stronger business.

Read "TBT: Affordable IT in Acquisition Aftermath" in full

Posted by Ron Seybold at 11:54 PM in Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 13, 2014

When a taxing situation might shuffle plans

Out in the 3000 community some select customers are seeing subpoenas. According to a source familiar with the matter, a vendor's been having some issues with the Internal Revenue Service, and the US Government is intent on gathering what it believes it's owed.

1120pictureTax matters go to subpoena when information is being demanded in a case against a corporation or an individual. We're still seeking confirmation of the information about which vendor's name is now out among its customers, attached to a subpoena. [Update: And we have gotten it, plus a copy of the vendor's response. It's a long-term battle with the IRS, the vendor says. We've found documents going back more than 15 years. They claim that the fight is personal, not related to their company. Nonetheless, the vendor's customers got subpoenas.]

It illustrates the unpredictable nature of doing long-term business in the IT industry. HP 3000 users often do long-term business. They have a reputation for sticking to suppliers, especially in these days when companies are shifting focus away from MPE. When you get a tool that works, and a company that pledges to support it, you stick with it while you stay with the 3000.

"What do I do if they go out of business?" one of the customers has asked. The answer is simple enough: the products will go onto the open market to be purchased as assets. Software with customers who pay support fees, well, that's likely to be bought up sooner than later. An IT manager will have to manage new product ownership -- and perhaps new strategy and roadmaps for the product.

But just because there's change at the top of a product's ownership doesn't mean all else changes. It's pretty easy for a company to acquire a product and change little. Especially if the customer base is providing a profit to the vendor at the same time that the software continues to earn support contract renewals.

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Posted by Ron Seybold at 09:36 PM in Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 12, 2014

Where a Roadmap Can Lead You

In preparation for its upcoming VMS Boot Camp, Hewlett-Packard has removed some elements of its roadmap for the operating environment. What's disappeared are no small thing: dates.

HP 3000 customers saw their roadmap get less certain about its destination. At the end of the vendor's interest in selling and creating more systems, an elaborate PowerPoint slide showing multiple levels of servers. The roadmap actually got a cloud creeping in from the right hand margin.

Okay, that was 13 years ago this very month in Chicago. But it was not the last HP World conference -- that would be one decade ago, this month -- not any more than next month's Boot Camp for VMS enthusiasts and customers will be the last. But there have been times when VMS had promises from HP's management of another decade of service. Here's the before, and the after. 

OpenVMS MapOnly seven months elapsed before the OS releases started being named things like "V8.next."

OpenVMS Rolling Map

 Very few products last for lifetimes. Knowing when they're going, and how soon to make plans for replacement, is serious business for an IT manager.

During an August in 2001 when the future looked certain and solid for some customers, a PowerPoint slide told more than could be easily read in Chicago for HP 3000 customers. For the record, the slide below delivered everything promised up until 2003. The PA-8800 never made an entry into the N-Class.

HP 3000 Roadmap 2001 Chicago

That would be known, in the roadmap parlance, as a PA-8xxx. The PA-8yyy (8900) never made it into a 3000, either.

Roadmaps might be an old tradition, but they're moments to establish and renew trust in a partner. Specific, and follow-through, make that possible. Some VMS customers are already underway with their migration assessments.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 06:58 PM in History, Migration, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 11, 2014

Classic lines push homestead tech designs

Sometime this week I expect to be updated on the latest restructure at Stromasys. That's the company that has created a 3000 hardware-virtualization product installed in more sites than we first thought. They hold their cards close to the vest at Stromasys, especially about new installs. But we keep running into MPE support vendors who mention they have emulator-using clients. These companies are reticent about reporting on emulation.

Lakshorelimitedposter3000 people have dreamed about emulators ever since 2002. And for the next eight years, people figured emulation wouldn’t matter by the time HP approved MPE emulator licensing. Better not tell that to the customers who have plans to go deep into the second decade of the 21st century with their 3000. Emulation was rolling by 2012 for the 3000. Within a couple of years between now and 2023, that technology could be well polished for MPE. Enough to stop using HP's 3000 hardware, boxes that will be at least 20 years old by that time. Most of them are at least 15 years old right now.

A great deal of time has passed since the 9x9 3000s had their coming-out, but much has changed that we couldn't predict back then. Come with me to the magical year of 1997. We had little idea what we'd see in just 10 years' time.

It’s 1997. (Humor me a minute, and turn back the year.) You're here? Okay, think about what we don’t have yet. Google. BluRay. DVDs, for that matter. Hybrid cars. Portable MP3 players of any kind. PayPal. Amazon turning a profit. YouTube. eBay was so new it was called AuctionWeb. Thumb drives. Digital TV. Viagra. Caller ID. Smartphones, warmed baby wipes, online banking, Facebook and Twitter. Blade servers, cloud computing, Linux, virtualization — the list of technologies and designs we didn’t have 17 years ago is vast.

We don’t even have to talk about clouds, tablet computers or 3D TVs. Now, roll ahead to 2023. In that year, there will still an HP 3000 running a factory in Oklahoma. That’s the plan for Ametek’s Chandler Engineering unit. By that year MPE will be 50 years old, COBOL more than 75. And what will keep those two technologies viable? Well, probably technology that we don’t even have out of design now, nine years ahead of that shutdown date. People have been throwing rocks at old stuff for years, but it hangs on if it’s built well.

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Posted by Ron Seybold at 11:14 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 08, 2014

Classic Advice: Adding a DLT to an HP 3000

I'm trying to add a DLT to a my HP 3000 939KS and it keeps reporting media as bad. I can FCOPY but not run an Orbit or MPE store. It does mount the tape normally. The MPE store gives the following error:

STORE ENCOUNTERED MEDIA WRITE ERROR ON LDEV 9  (S/R 1454)    
SPECIFICALLY, STORE RECEIVED ERROR -48 FROM THE IO SYSTEM (S/R 1557).

The server which this drive is being added to has DDS-3s on it, but we are adding another disk array, so we are going to outgrow what we have very quickly.

DLT4000DLT8000s have not been manufactured in perhaps 10 years. Even five-year-old drives are SDLTII or DLT VS160, or some form of LTO. Also, using HVD-SCSI is so last century. At any rate, the heads on the DLT drives do get used up depending on the media used. Try another DLT drive, if possible.

Unfortunately, this is the exact issue facing homesteaders and others who are delaying their migration off the HP 3000, especially if they have pre-PCI machines like the 939. The hardware to run with it can be difficult to find, but it's out there, although it can be of varying level of readiness. You have many options open to you, but as time goes by they will more difficult to implement.

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Posted by Ron Seybold at 03:31 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 07, 2014

Who's got our history, and our future?

Migration takes on many problems and tries to solve them. A vendor stops supporting the server. Investing in a vendor's current product by migrating makes that go away. Applications slide into disrepair, and nobody knows how to re-develop them. Ah, that's a different sort of problem, one that demands a change in people, rather than products.

Yesterday we heard a story of a company in Ohio, running a 3000, whose IT manager planned to retire rather than migrate. Telling top management about your retirement plans is not mandatory. Frankly, having an option to retire is a special situation in our modern era. Figuring that you could be replaced, along with all of your in-company experience and know-how about things like COBOL, is far from certain. Legacy systems still run much of the world, but the people who built and tend to them are growing older, out of the workforce.

NutsfordsPair2004It's a glorious thing, knowing that your server's environment was first crafted four decades ago. Some of the brightest players from that era are still around, though not much active. Fred White built IMAGE, alongside Jon Bale at HP. Neither are at work today. Fred's now 90, as of April. 
NutfordsIn another example of a seasoned 3000 expert, Ken Nutsford's LinkedIn account reports that he celebrates 45 years at Computometric Systems, the development company he founded with his wife Jeanette. In a Throwback Thursday entry, here they are, 10 years ago and now, still together. Not all of us wear so well, but they've retired enough to have travelled the world over, several times, on cruise ships. That's what more than 40 years will earn you.

HPWorld2004SIGCOBOLIt's been a decade since there's been a HP World conference like the one pictured at left, hosted by the Nutsfords, complete with a hospitality buffet as well as a board of trivia (below, click for detail) technical details that just a tiny set of experts might know. The number of people who know the operating system and the hardware at hand at that level has been on the decline. Not just in the MPE world, but throughout the computer industry. SIGCOBOLTrivia

BusinessWeek recently ran an article titled, "Who'll keep your 50 year old software running?" Even though the Nutsfords retired from leading SIGCOBOL in 2004, there's plenty of COBOL around. But not anywhere near enough people to maintain it, although companies continue to try.

The baby boomers that brought us the computer revolution, developing the products and programs we now rely on, are retiring. But many companies are still using programs written in such software languages as COBOL and Fortran that were considered “cutting edge” 50 years ago. Indeed, the trade publication Computerworld has reported that more than half of the companies they surveyed are still developing new COBOL programs

"Staffing is the first thing to go these days," said Birket Foster in a Webinar briefing this week. His MB Foster company is still doing migrations, including moving a Unix customer off the Progress database and onto SQL Server. Progress is a youngster compared to COBOL and IMAGE. Some people decide to migrate because of the migration of their most expert people.

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Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:47 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 06, 2014

Password advice for migrating managers

PasswordsStolenMore than a billion password-ID combos were stolen by a Russian gang, according to a report from a cybersecurity company. Mission-critical, revenue-centric passwords are probably the ripest targets.

Once you're making a migration of mission-critical systems from MPE to more-exposed servers, passwords will become a more intense study for you. Windows-based servers are the most exposed targets, so a migrated manager needs to know how to create high-caliber passwords and protect them. Given the headlines in current news, today's probably the day when you'll get more questions about how safe your systems are -- especially in the coming era of cloud computing. Here's some answers from our security expert Steve Hardwick.

By Steve Hardwick, CISSP
Oxygen Finance

Everything needs a password to access it. One of the side effects of the cloud is the need to be able to separate information from the various users that access a centrally located service. In the case where I have data on my laptop or desktop, I can create one single password that controls access to all of the apps that reside on the drive, plus all of the associated data. There is a one to one physical relationship between the owner and the physical machine that hosts the information. This allows a simpler mechanism to validate the user. 

In the cloud world it is not as easy. There is no longer a physical relationship with the user. In fact, a user may be accessing several different physical locations when running applications or accessing information. This has lead to a dramatic increase in the number of passwords and authentication methods that are in use. 

I just did a count of my usernames and passwords and I have 37 different accounts (most with unique usernames and password). Plus, there are several sites where I use the same usernames and password combinations. You may ask why are some unique and why are some shared. The answer is based on the risk of a username or password be compromised. If I consider an account to have a high value, high degree of loss/impact if hacked, then it gets a unique username or password. Let's look at email accounts as a good example.

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Posted by Ron Seybold at 05:55 PM in Migration, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

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