April 28, 2006
User group hopes to Encompass tech travel
The Encompass user group has announced dates for the 2006 HP Technology Forum, the second edition of the event which found a place on the HP tech travel schedule after Interex imploded last summer. This year the Forum gathers in Houston, a hotbed of HP activity (from the HQ group which served Compaq before its merger with HP.) The town is also likely to be steamy, as is much of South Texas, even in mid-September.
The George R. Brown Convention Center will host the event, which drew about 4,000 attendees counting everybody in 2005. This year's show will be held Sept. 17-22, far enough away from HP's end-of-fiscal-year meetings that managers can attend sessions and meetings with top accounts and sales staff. The Technology Forum is as much a training ground for HP Americas Presales people as it is a resource for the HP customer.
This year's event costs $995 including the discount for being an Encompass member, and the user group and HP (co-creators) promise registration will open June 1. The content lineup includes MPE in the list, perhaps a nod to the migrating customers still seeking advice on embarking down their path away from the 3000. But the content list in this week's e-mail also includes HIPAA and SOX compliance and Tru64 Unix, so no tech stone is being left unturned. For now, Encompass is still seeking papers for presentations at the Forum Web site.
As Interex did before it, Encompass and the Tech Forum are reminding paper presenters that "sessions that include marketing “fluff” will not be considered for approval. There should be no sessions that pitch the sales of a product." This may not be the case for HP itself while presenting to its Presales staff. One session last year was titled "Winning against the IBM P5." Marketing might have crept into that one.
Encompass is also carrying on the tradition of surveying the HP customer community, a task it shared with the Interex user group last year. The HP Worldwide Advocacy Survey opens up for business on Monday at www.hpadvocacysurvey.org. Some survey takers will win HP digital projectors, iPAQ pocket PCs, and perhaps most valuable, two free passes to the Forum.
The user group also wants to convert its free members from the 3000 community to paid ones. It's using the lure of a conference DVD from 2005, and a promise of a 2006 edition, to bring over the Associate members. The upgrade costs $90. It's also the gateway to the $200 discount off the Technology Forum ticket. Interex members are in the first year of a complementary membership to the user group.
Details on the benefits of membership, and a good comparison between the free and paid levels, are at the "newly redesigned" Encompass Web site at www.encompassUS.org/membership/benefits.cfm.
April 27, 2006
HP announces power supply failures
HP has announced power supply failures on a range of its replacement servers for HP 3000s: the HP 9000 units most commonly installed by customers who have been migrating.
A message this morning from HP's Business Report Center tells customers using an rp7405/rp7410, rp7420 or rx7620 that the Bulk Power Supply (BPS) needs to be changed out for a new module. HP identified the failed BPS units with the serial number range 73040CG00452 to 73040CI01407. That's the serial number of the BPS, not the server itself. HP also notes an Engineering Date Code of 0437 or lower that needs to be verified.
The 7410 is an HP 9000 model in the same N-Class as the HP 3000's N-Class. Customers who converted their HP 3000 N-Class servers to HP 9000s created a 7410 after the conversion. HP's got a lot of power supplies to replace, but the vendor is only supplying parts for its support customers. This is a customer-installed repair, if you're relying on HP's support.
"The replacement BPS will be customer self-installed," an HP Web page on the failures reports. In something of a no-duh advisory, the Web page adds, "It is recommended that the BPS be replaced during a scheduled system maintenance outage."
HP posted details on how to check the serial number and Engineering Date Code, a console-based process:
- Log into the server's MP (Management Processor).
- Enter the command menu by executing the 'CM' command.
- Use the 'DF' (Display FRU information) command to obtain the BPS serial number and EDC.
The HP Web page also has details on how to order the replacement parts.
April 26, 2006
Looking for advice on unplugging Powerhouse
Thousands of HP 3000 sites relied on Cognos' Powerhouse at the language's peak, in the days when a home-grown application was the norm among the 3000 community's shops. That number has declined, along with the 3000's installed base, but some companies are still using Powerhouse while they try to migrate away form the fourth-generation language.
One such company is gm2 Logistics, Ltd. The company began using the packaged MPE application from Distribution Resources back in the 1980s, and the years have added a significant amount of customization through Powerhouse. John Boyd, the IT director there, is looking for a report from an HP 3000 site that has migrated away from Powerhouse.
gm2 is moving to the IBM iSeries servers, which Boyd has said are a revelation. However, it's the application migration which has run over budget, he reports.
We are an existing user on an Series 989-250 in the UK. Our entire system is written in Powerhouse and uses Omnidex and all the usual utilities: JMS, Orbit, Netbase and DBGeneral. We have about 450 users and are in the midst of this migration to an iSeries.
As something of a personal crusade on my part, do you know of any similar companies over your side of the pond that have successfully re-engineered their Powerhouse applications to something else, and been successful? The costs of the new project to migrate to an ERP system seem to be mushrooming, and I would just like to see if there are any other similar migrations from a similar outfit.
April 25, 2006
3000 support includes former HP engineers
HP has spread its expanse of experience all across the 3000 community — perhaps nowhere more obviously than through ex-HP staffers working at third party companies supporting the computer, its operating system and applications. Even though HP has got a 2-3 year exit plan for its 3000 operations, its expertise will work on after the HP support center no longer takes calls.
Many third party support companies use former HP staffers. One example of ex-HP staff still working for the 3000 community comes from Abtech. Although the company endured some rough times seven years ago during HP's pogrom against used 3000 resellers, the firm has maintained its presence in the 3000 space through support of the systems.
"The majority of HP 3000 business that we are doing these days is in regards to support," said Abtech president Bob Russell. "We have the intellectual capital and capability to support customers who chose to stay with the HP 3000 platform, for many years to come
Russell said his company has several CEs in its support network who have HP employment on their resumes.
"We have CEs spread across the US in major cities to deliver hardware support on both HP 3000 and HP 9000 systems, he said. "We have a software support team both on the east coast and west coasts. Some are former HP engineers. Abtech supports both hardware and phone-in MPE operating system support.
MPE/iX updates, of course, must be obtained from HP directly. That's a better prospect now that HP has extended its lab calendar to "at least the end of 2008," according to the vendor.
3000 support requires "feet on the street" to do onsite maintenance. Russell said that Abtech "employs several dozen customer engineers who maintain HP 3000s and other systems. We cover the majority of the major metropolitan areas of North America."
The company is also selling parts for HP 3000s, now that HP claims there's a shortage of some of them.
Russell added that Abtech has a dedication to full compliance with the law. "When Abtech sells or services any HP products, or other manufacturers' products, it is done with full compliance with all copyright laws that HP or the other manufacturers may have. We employ two IP attorney firms who are fully conversant with HP's copyright laws, and in particular the HP 3000 equipment. We defer to our attorneys if we have questions, and follow their advice fully."
April 24, 2006
How HP bails out those patches
Last week we took a look at the bailout process for HP 3000 patches. By "bailout" I mean the green light to release a patch from beta testing to the 3000 community. More than 80 patches across three versions of the MPE/iX OS are in beta. Getting them out is a matter of having them tested. But tested how much?
I posed the question to HP labs member Jeff Vance late last week, who assured me that the issue was being looked into. While I wait for HP's answer, I looked up the last reply I got from last summer. Ross McDonald, chief of the 3000 labs, said the number of test reports needed, well, it depends. On how complex the patch is, what the scope of the change covers.
Quite awhile back (late summer of '04), the 3000 lab members gathered at an OpenMPE meeting during the final HP World. I could sense the frustration, even back then, on how little testing the user community could offer for the labs' enhancement work.
2004's HP comments during that OpenMPE meeting led me to believe that fewer customers might now be required to test patches -- fewer than, say, back in 2001, before the market got busy migrating their 3000s. How many are enough? Until I receive an update — I have asked how many of the 80 "jailed" patches have at least some beta report — I'll let McDonald speak for HP, in his 2005 reply.
As with many things, the real answer is “it depends.” The goal is to deliver solutions to the customers in a timely fashion without causing other side effects. It requires engineering judgment to determine the right balance. They engineer needs to consider several factors when deciding when to move a patch to General Release (GR) status. Some of these factors are:
- How many customers that have tested the patch?
- How was the patch tested (in test environment or heavily used production environment)?
- How many systems was the patch tested on?
- How long was the patch tested?
- Does the patch solve the problem (or provide the functionality) is was designed for?
- Does the patch introduce any side effects?
- Does the code that was change have a history of introducing side effects?
- How complex was the code change?
- How urgent/critical of a problem is this solving? (we may need to take more risk when solving a very critical problem)
- How often does the problem occur?
As you can see, number of customers testing a patch is only one of many factors that go into determining when to GR a patch. We rely on the judgment of the engineers involved when deciding when to GR a given patch.
April 21, 2006
LIsten up: Tell HP support to look at the clock
In our weekend podcast (3MB MP3 file) we talk for about 5 minutes about the way time doesn't move fast enough in HP's support arm. We hear from 3000 customers like John Bawden of Qualchoice. John wants to test those 3000 patches, the ones that HP's 3000 group is asking about. HP won’t let him. John has moved on from HP support, like a lot of you. He represents the kind of customer who asked for enhancements.
Did HP tell Bawden and others that when they stepped off the HP support train, they'd lose the chance to get their enhancements on their systems. We bet not. But HP can reset its clock and start treating beta-test reports for 3000s different than the systems they're not cancelling. Ask HP to do this, now that it's asked you to test its enhancement engineering.
April 20, 2006
HP makes case to get patches into PowerPatch
HP informed the 3000 user community that the MPE/iX 7.5 PowerPatch deadline is hard upon the 3000 lab, and there are more than 30 beta-test patches still not qualified to be included in the PowerPatch. Tests of PowerPatches must be completed by customers on HP support. The 7.5 patches can only be tested on a subset of the 3000 installed base: any server released before the 9x8 systems won't be able to run 7.5.
HP's Jeff Vance sent a message about the beta limbo to the 3000-L newsgroup and OpenMPE mailing list today. He pointed out the many possible testing prospects — customers who asked for enhancements, customers who voted for an enhancement via the Systems Improvement Ballots of 2003 and 2004.
(Yes, some of these enhancements are still not in General Release status, more than three years after a customer's request. Time moves slower in the 3000 community; many customers are still running a 6.5 version of MPE/iX, or even earlier releases.)
HP's 3000 labs may be frustrated about the lack of response to its engineering work. Vance said:
If you have requested, installed but not provided HP feedback please do so ASAP, and thanks!
If you have requested a BT patch but have not installed it please do so ASAP and let us know how it works.
If you voted for one of the many SIB items which are stuck in beta-test, waiting to become GR patches, and have not requested any of these patches, please do so ASAP.
It really doesn’t do the user community much good to have a bunch of MPE enhancements stuck in beta-test, maybe never to see the light of day...
HP's Jazz Web site contains the IDs for all of the BT patches. This work hasn't been very popular with testers in the 3000 community, but it could be much more so if some of HP's patch processes were changed. A testing policy that allowed non-support customers to request, install and report on the work would expand the test base. There are 33 patches listed on the 7.5 Web page. Six are enhancements to the Large Disk feature added to the HP 3000, which supports disks up to a half-terabyte.
Even though these patches might not make it into this PowerPatch for 7.5, there's probably another opportunity for them to enter a later PowerPatch. HP has plans for a PowerPatch on a yearly basis for each of its supported operating systems. With more than two and half years left of HP support, 7.5 hasn't seen its last PowerPatch, we'd bet.
The bigger issue: the pall this user disinterest casts over newer projects in the HP 3000 labs. If the lab chief Ross McDonald and other managers see that their prior work can't get out of testing, what might that do to further enhancements' chances.
HP support customers need to break this Catch-22 chain. Yes, 29 of the 33 patches require a reboot, something that a 7.5 system might not be able to accomodate without a break in computer services. Even scheduled downtime can be difficult to work into a company with a 24x7 requirement.
Patches in limbo in the HP 3000 labs now number more than 80, across 6.5, 7.0 and 7.5. Some resolve system aborts and large file corruption, and others are as simple as making DISCFREE report correct numbers for the Large Disk enhancements. The full field of useful HP 3000s can test the 6.5 patches. As for the others, a customer will need to have a newer system, ready to survive a crash, abort or some unexpected behavior.
It seems possible that HP might have to revise its beta test expectations if it wants to free up these 80-plus patches. In the meantime, maybe the user community can show some good faith by testing up the seven-patch package for the Large Disk enhancements. We've heard it doesn't take too many beta reports these days to spring an enhancement from patch jail.
April 19, 2006
OpenMPE and belief in changes
In this week's saga of the cut-rate Series 987 on auction in South Texas, another Texan has pushed the bidding to triple digits. Matthew Perdue, who operates the ISP hillcountry.net, consults for HP 3000 clients in the healthcare biz, and sits on the OpenMPE board, holds the current high bid of $153 today.
Perdue, who will be the subject of our 3000 NewsWire Q&A interview in our upcoming May issue, wants to use the system for experimentation at first, then press the 9x7 hardware into service at a client site that's on a budget but needs more horsepower.
We first wrote about Perdue several years ago when he was offering a 3000-based ISP application, since the ones that he'd tried to use from the Windows world were so bad. This year he reports that he's hoping that 9x7 systems will eventually be able to run MPE/iX 7.0, to help with all of the HP patch beta-testing that's still to be done. It's a request HP has refused several times, even through extra help offers from the OpenMPE network of customers.
"When we at OpenMPE were trying to get HP to change the corporate mind set and let 7.x boot on 9x7 boxes, we offered to provide test hardware through various clients for HP to use, since they indicated the general unavailability of 9x7 boxes internal to HP was part of the problem. As you know, they didn’t change their minds."
"Should OpenMPE be successful in eventually getting read/write access to the MPE/iX source (and I do believe OpenMPE will) then 7.x booting on 9x7 boxes is on the list for work to be done — if of course the community puts up the funds necessary! Programmers at that level don’t work for free."
But advocates and free-thinkers like Perdue are working for free for the 3000 community on the OpenMPE board. That generousity ought to be rewarded somehow. Perhaps Perdue will win that 987 in the auction. The bidding wraps up Friday.
April 18, 2006
HP enhances its 3000 analyzer tool
HP has made improvements to its free System Inventory Utility (SIU), the script which is designed to give the System Manager everything from a full summary to a detailed view of what exactly is installed on a given system. HP's MPE/iX engineer Jeff Vance reported that the newest version of the tool has been enhanced
so that when the “level” parm is set to FILES it displays additional “special” MPE files. Example file types include: KSAM (data, previously just KSAM key files were reported), KSAMXL, KSAM64, CIR, RIO, MSG, etc.
When the SIU first made its debut more than four years ago, our TestDrive reviewer John Burke said "it is intended to help the team planning a migration to identify files and systems that might have to be dealt with. For the homesteader... it is intended to help organize the 3000 system and target areas that might need your attention."
You can download the improved SIU (version B.06) from HP's Jazz Web site — the resource devoted to free software and utilities for the HP 3000 — at jazz.external.hp.com/src/scripts/siu/index.html. When the program was first introduced, Burke had this summary of its potential:
Should you download the SIU and run it on all your systems? Absolutely. Regardless of whether you are planning a migration or expect to homestead, the SIU will provide you with useful information about your HP 3000 system, something you can never have too much of.
April 17, 2006
Turn spoolfiles into PDF documents
HP 3000 data becomes more useful if it can be e-mailed as industry standard report documents. After more than a decade of pushing at it, Adobe has made its PDF format pretty much the de-facto way to exchange docuements, even the complex ones.
Which might have prompted this question from HP consultant and Suprtool trainer Jeff Kubler:
Does anyone have a lead on a tool that converts spoolfiles to PDF files? Are there any Contributed Library tools?
It's not exactly free from the Interex Contributed Library (and what ever happened to those programs, anyway, since the Interex bankruptcy?) but the txt2pdf toolset works nicely to make this conversion. Even in its most advanced version it's under $1,000, at last glance. Bob McGregor reports as much.
Jeff, txt2pdf does this. We have a job that runs that:
1. Checks a pseudo device we have setup for any spoolfiles that are on the device with an PRI >0
2. If it finds a spoolfile, we convert it to PDF and move it to a server
3 Sends an e-mail to the streamedby variable telling them the PDF doc is ready on the server.
4. Alters the priority to 0 to mark it processed
We've been using it for a couple years, and it works great — of course, once we got the bugs worked out. What's cool is if someone delete the file, we just adjust the priority to something greater than 0 and it gets reprocessed.
We also have an emailpdf command file that will convert the spoofile to a PDF doc and e-mail it as an attachment.
If you e-mail Bob, we bet he'd share those command files of his with any 3000 customer who wants to ship out PDF reports instead of work with spoolfiles.
April 14, 2006
Why moving on quick is good for the future
Change can be scary, costly for customers. Software vendors hate it — until it opens up their markets. In our Weekend Edition podcast, (3MB MP3 file), I talk for six minutes about how options and imagination – those are essential to staying ready for the future, changing fast enough to make a difference.
Customers are considering where to go from their cozy 3000 world. A lot has changed in systems since they last made such a choice. You have to be sure your vendor — or the platform provider for your new system — has the commitment to follow through on change. In a couple of instances, HP's management couldn't, um, manage this for the 3000.
Try not to worry about whether the vendor is leaving some software vendors behind. Those that have the legs to maintain the pace, they will keep up. It's a lot more serious when your vendor cannot, or will not, keep up with what the market needs from a system.
April 13, 2006
What $7 might have cost in 1993
A few days back we took note of an HP 3000 Series 987 server selling this week for $7 on auction. (It's gotten exactly one bid since it went up at Lemons Auctioneers; the auction ends in about a week.) I scratched around our offices to dig up the HP original announcement of the /150 version of this server, just to see how much this kind of system used to cost.
Bottom line: A customer would've paid $138,320 for this RX version in October of 1993, which included a whopping 64MB of memory, a 100-user MPE/iX license a full 1GB of disk. Even at the usual 10-20 percent discount, this was easily a $120,000 system when outfitted for real use.
Armed with the numbers, I calculated the discount, in the event this system sells for under $10. Figure a savings of more than 99.99 percent on this unit. (I had to reach for an HP product even older than this Series 987 — my HP 14-B calculator, circa 1989, and still working with its original set of batteries — to figure the result to beyond five decimal places.) Only the cost of shipping and power makes this anything less than a steal, compared to its original asking price.
Configuration data shows this is a 110-pound system, so shipping it across half of the US will be the most costly part of the deal. But even sending it by UPS 2-Day would be less than $500, according to the UPS Web site. Shipping would cost a lot less by slower means.
As for power, HP's specs list the 987s at 810 watts/hour of power dissapation; the 9x9 line has a number 50 percent higher. Of course, much of the 9x9 line is 2-3 times faster than a 987, too.
HP rolled out the Series 987/150 at the 1993 Interex HP Computer Users Conference, so this computer has now outlived the organization which provided its debut venue. HP's general manager of the 3000 division at the time, Glenn Osaka, offered the party line on the value of running a business with the HP 3000.
"More than ever, customers are looking for flexible and scalable IS solutions that will allow them to maiximize their technology investments over longer periods," he said. Longer periods of up to 13 years might not be what HP had in mind when it wrote that quote. He called the /150 model "an easy and cost-effective upgrade for the Series 9x7 systems." That was at six-figure pricing. It's hard to imagine what Osaka might say about the value of six-dollar pricing.
The base 987 model now on auction has half a megabyte of on-board cache, while the /150 offered four times as much. Comparing it to the latest generation of HP 3000s, the 987/150 uses a PA-7100 chip; PA-8600s drive HP's A-Class 3000s.
HP took note of how popular the 9x7 line has become in the fall of 1993, saying the 9x7 "is the highest-volume package in the HP 3000 line of business systems." Some say that the resilient value in these 9x7s didn't get calculated into HP's business growth plans. Customers didn't replace them for many years — as evidenced by this 987 on auction, which went out of service in 2001 — and so HP struggled to sell enough 3000 systems to its installed base.
There were other ways to entice HP 3000 sales in the middle 1990s, technology HP was testing to boot more than one operating system on a 3000. More on that tomorrow, prompted by a dramatic step by Apple this month.
April 12, 2006
Independent MPE Ed options are en route
Since HP is stepping out of the HP 3000 education business, a third-party team with several decades of experience in MPE training is ramping up its first offerings this spring. These days, getting people to attend in-person training is getting to be the exception which proves the rule: online, Web-based training.
In years past this was called Computer Based Training, but CBT was a soul-less experience compared to being in a seat in front of an instructor. Now with software like the kind used during last summer's OpenMPE meeting in Cupertino, students can raise their hand, ask questions, chat with other students, even refer to a Web page within their messages.
The training partnership of Frank Smith at Alden Research and Paul Edwards of Paul Edwards & Associates reports that they are continuing the transition process from HP to their venture in accordance with the agreement signed by both parties last year.
Smith and Edwards report:
We are in the major process of reformatting, making corrections to, adding notes to, and updating the PowerPoint slides we received from HP for the MPE classes they have taught over the years. Many of the older course materials are in ancient formats that we are not able to view yet. Some of these formats may become accessible as we continue our conversion effort. The MPE Fundamentals course materials are about 95 percent finished, and then work will start on the System Manager course. The other classes, TurboIMAGE, System Performance, and Network Administration, will follow later this year.
We plan to offer classes starting in the June, 2006 timeframe. The response for training has been encouraging and we have enough potential students for several classes. Most of the requests have been for MPE Fundamentals and System Manager courses. We even received a request from HP's India operations. We plan to offer Suprtool classes, too.
Our investigation into delivering instructor-led Web based training is ongoing and will probably be our format of choice for all classes. The cost savings, little downtime, and no travel requirements are very appealing to the companies and the instructors. We plan to provide access to an HP 3000 for labs, white board capability, interactive discussion, and live instructor interaction. All the students will need are a Web browser and an HP terminal emulator. We plan to send the course materials to each student on a CD.
We will continue to update our Web site, www.mpe-education.com with course details and schedules as information is finalized.
April 11, 2006
Amazing: 1,200 3000 users for $7
Nothing holds its value for long in the world of computing. But HP 3000s do better than many business systems, selling for a significant fraction of their cost even a decade after they were purchased new. However, an exception this week shows the potential for unbelieveable savings for homesteaders.
An HP 3000 Series 987RX is up for auction at a current asking price of $7. The system, which was turned off five years ago, "was running fine" in 2001, according to Spring, Texas school district IT manager Michael Anderson. The system was turned in to the fixed assets department of the district earlier this year, after it had served as a disaster recovery system between 2001 and 2005.
It's difficult to describe the nose-dive in value for such a system, should it sell for less than $10. Imagine a BMW sedan, built in the 1970s, selling for under a dollar and you get the picture. Perhaps that comparison might include the note that the car could only travel less than 25 MPH, but was in great shape and a bargain to update. HP lists the relative performance of the 987 at 3.2 times the speed of a Series 918. This $7 server is still more powerful than the first generation of the A-Class servers released in 2001, according to the Relative Perfomance chart at AICS Research.
Memory for the 987 Series is still available online at $129 for 128 MB. The 987 tops out at 784 MB for RAM capacity. And this server will never boot up with MPE/iX 7.0. But it runs MPE/iX 6.5, still a supported version of the 3000's OS.
HP's rolled out the last of the 9x7 Series in the spring of 1994, making this auctioned gem the first generation of the 900 Series to deliver a 96MHz CPU in the PA-RISC lineup. HP's configuration documents claim the system could support up to 1,200 users. At the current asking price, plus shipping for several hundred pounds, a thrifty customer might be able to pick up a disaster recovery system for about $3 per user.
More likely, this system will sell for the value of its parts inside, perhaps to a third party support company. There is the HP license for MPE/iX to consider, too. Since the Spring ISD was the only owner, providing purchase documents to have the license transferred should be no problem.
Is the 987 worthless? Not if you check on its availability online. 360 Technologies based in Austin lists two units available. It's a buyers market for machines of the 9x7 vintage. But a surprising number of such HP 3000s are still in use, either as primary system or disaster machines. Not many of them will sell for under $10. The auction runs through April 10.
April 10, 2006
HP points out 3000 security enhancements
Some customers might not call them enhancements, but the new security patches to the 3000's OS released last week represent some internal improvements that no company but HP can deliver to the computer. For the next few years, anyway; HP has stopped OpenMPE's source code lab plans until 2008 by announcing a couple more years for the vendor's support to 3000 customers.
Not that there's anything wrong with that, as Jerry Seinfeld might say. But now HP's 3000 group has some new work before it — figure out how to extend the lifespan of MPE expertise in the company. For years, HP's virtual CSY group was estimating its on-time departure from the 3000 space at Dec. 31, 2006. Now these engineers and managers will need to make a couple more years of time in their workloads for MPE/iX. At least you'd hope so, anyway, since support issues with the 3000 could be non-trivial over the next two-plus years. When an OS gets 30 years mature, things that require the vendor's repair are closer to its core. You will want lab-level HP backup for support now; even completing what's on the to-do list is going to need seasoned engineers (think IMAGE LargeFile datasets).
The exceptions are those parts of the 3000 environment built to bring the system into the world of the new decade, or even the 1990s. File Transfer Protocol (FTP) services have lagged behind the rest of the world's FTP for some time. New patches for MPE/iX 7.5, 7.0 and 6.5 (sorry, 6.0-and-earlier users) improve FTP in several areas. HP says it makes SOX compliance easier. HP has engineering resources in place to bring these enhancements to general release, once beta test reports roll in. Get the patches while you can, if you're on HP support.
James Hofmeister, still working on FTP/iX even though much of his time is devoted to other HP environments, posted a message to the community to detail the improvements. He notes that the latest work is still in beta-test status.
The latest security enhancements to FTP/iX are now available as Beta Test in patches FTPHDG9 7.5, FTPHDH0 7.0 and FTPHDH1 6.5.
These patches include:
- deny del, overwrite, rename
- chroot limiting cd, dir, put, get, mput, mget
- new enhanced semantics for 'noretrieve'
Jeff Vance of virtual CSY pointed to documentation on the new features, then extended the call for beta testing:
There is documentation now on Jazz at: jazz.external.hp.com/papers/Communicator
There you’ll find the SIB FTP pages for Phase I and II security enhancements. These enhancements should help with SOX audits. Also, just for reference, the entire FTPDOCS.ARPA.SYS file is available on Jazz too.
We need FTP beta testers. James will run the beta-test program, so please let him or your friendly neighborhood HP support person know if you are interested.
Patch IDs are:
FTPHDH1(A) for 6.5
FTPHDF5(A) for 7.0 ** note, this patch is for some general FTP fixes
FTPHDH0(A) for 7.0
FTPHDG9(A) for 7.5
April 07, 2006
Platforms: The easier part of migration
HP 3000 sites juggle two kinds of migrations when they leave their MPE applications behind. The first is the choice of a new platform. After all, that's the reason many sites who have decided to migrate do so: their view of the 3000's future agrees with HP's.
Then there's the application migration. In many cases, the MPE/iX apps are just too complex to migrate. IT pros, or their management, choose a new application, one which will expand and improve on the 3000's functionality. They hope. But first there's the work, to bring the new app into production.
At gm2 Logistics in the UK, platform promise has been delivered, according to John Boyd. IBM's i5 — known as the iSeries and AS/400 in its earlier generations — is stepping up nicely to improve on the 3000's ability there. The application migration has been a different story, so far.
"The IBM (i5) has been a revelation," Boyd reports. "The operators say it is where the HP 3000 should have been, if HP hadn’t given up 12 years ago."
He explains the more knotty details of bringing a new app on board:
As ever in migrating to a system with a three letter acronym whether it be IBM, SAP, IBS or ASW, things are never quite what they seem. We are not moving to SAP but ABM, IBS, and ASW are now firmly embedded in our souls. What was to be a move to a new all powerful, all singing, all dancing, no modifications either needed or allowed [application] has resulted in a project where we are now looking at hundreds of man-day’s of development, missed delivery dates (software) , wrong assumptions, and total misunderstandings by all parties.
We have a very aggressive project go-live of December 31, 2006, with a smaller go-live scheduled for a smaller part of the system this coming June.
We are also involved with an American company 3MHighJump (Minnesota), who are providing a warehouse management system. This is going very well and set to go live on our two big warehouses in May and June this year. This is a Windows product.
As for HP, well I think they have forgotten about us — and would probably be overwhelmed by the IBM sales people who do come to site, who do offer suggestions and do make a difference.
Sorry it’s not better news on the HP front, Their only saving grace is that they still seem to be cheaper than IBM on Wintel boxes!
April 06, 2006
Migration and Chinese history
Even though HP's 3000 decision is more than four years old, frustration with the transition struggle still lives among the user base. The veteran IT staffers understand that change will be part of a lively career. Some don't savor living in such interesting times.
One recently-prolific customer, Dave Powell, spoke out on the 3000 newsgroup about how migration seems to compare to a bit of Chinese history.
The Chinese sage Mencius, 4th century BC, was asked by Prince Wen of Kung what to do about pressure from larger neighbors. Mencius replied with a tale of King Tai of Pin, who in ancient times (which is saying a lot, coming from him) had been under pressure from barbarians.
He tried to appease them with tributes of furs and silk, to no avail. Likewise tributes of dogs and horses. Ditto pearls and jade. Finally he told the elders that for their own good he had to migrate to another land. Most of his people followed, but there were others who said it was their ancient homeland, built up over generations, not something for one person to throw away, and they would rather die than abandon it. Mencius told Prince Wen to make his choice.
So, based partly on my own ancient recollections of a college course in Classical Chinese, and partly on the original source in a textbook that I find mysteriously harder to read than 35 years ago, I offer the following modernized, “relevant” translation.
The IT manager of the Unix shop asked the Consultant saying, “I am under pressure from the advocates of commodity computing. How can I deal with them?” The Consultant answered saying “In ancient times, at least in computer years, the Management of Cupertino was under pressure from the forces of industry-standard computing. They implemented Posix and could not stem the tide. They ported Apache and Samba and their ecosystem continued to erode.They protected price-points and investments but market share did not increase. Finally they told their oldest customers that for their own good they must migrate to HP-(S)UX. Most migrated, but there were also those who said it was their System, built over many years, not something for one person to convert, and they would rather suffer resume death than abandon it. Pay me to make the choice for you.”
April 05, 2006
Advice on which database issues matter
Transoft's Business Solutions Division manager Robert Collins offered advice awhile back on migration, the kind of overview that can be the first step to moving off an HP 3000. It's a 30,000-foot view, with some close-ups. But his counsel outlines several issues relative to relational databases — the ones nearly every 3000 manager will adopt in place of IMAGE/SQL.
Collins said, "You have several options. Just depends on what your company goals are:"
Using various tools (like those we sell), you can move to Eloquence or you can make more changes to the new environment you are going to. Or you can run in more of an emulated mode where you change the back end of the application to be more modern (RDBMS, VB, etc) but the code still looks and feels the same.
For instance, you can move the IMAGE database to an RDBMS such as SQL Server or Oracle, while keeping the COBOL code looking and feeling just like it always has. You can even move your KSAM files to the RDBMS but make no changes to the source.
Same on the JCL. You can run the JCL in an emulated mode on the target platform.
Same on VPlus, but with some added benefits. You can emulate VPlus on the target platform and your users still get character screens. Or you can point them to VB or ASP type screens with no code changes on the back end.
Or you can go more “native” and convert everything to use more of the native OS features. You can change the IMAGE calls to native SQL. You can convert the JCL to VB script or UNIX korn shell script, and so on and so forth.
RDBMS have become more prevalent due to several facts, one big one already mentioned is SQL. The other is flexibility.
Doing something like adding a field in a hierarchical database can force changes across the entire application. Which is typically not the case with a relational database.
Some shops are willing to live with the limitations because Retrieving data from Hierarchical databases is historically faster due to the same organizational structure that limits the flexibility.
You can implement an RDBMS without changing the DBGET’s to SQL.
We have a piece that sits between the program and the RDBMS to intercept the database calls, convert them to the appropriate SQL calls to the RDBMS. (I think there are a couple of others out there who do this as well.)
We built it because of the simple fact many shops want to go to SQL Server or Oracle. But the amount of code changes to go native SQL code would be massive. The product is called the Transoft Data Access Module (TDAM).
April 04, 2006
Creating rich text from 3000 report files
Dave Powell, an ignited resource from the HP 3000 user community, is considering enhancements to his HP2RTF command file for transforming MPE/iX reports to the Rich Text Format. His work is a great example of how the 3000, given its do-it-yourself nature, is going to have a longer lifespan than any vendor might give the system.
HP2RTF is an everyday solution to an application need: convert files to be used across a company (in this case, MM Fab). Powell explains:
Input is a normally a fairly plain-vanilla report saved in a cctl regular file, but can be a spoolfile, or anything with cctl. Output is a file in rich-text format so it will be readable on any PC word-processor once you send it to a PC. We use it, plus an e-mail program, to send reports to sales reps and customers.
Powell distributes HP2RTF by sending the command file to users who e-mail him. He says the command file has had a few tests outside his company, but he's got a desire to expand its reach:
I have sent HP2RTF to several other sites, with mixed results, possibly because they have non-COBOL apps which use different cctl codes. HP2RTF handles everything we need it for here, but doesn’t (yet) handle much that we don’t expect to ever need here. Time permitting, I can enhance it for things that other sites need even if we don’t (or anyone else is welcome to mod it).
Powell has ideas for HP2RTF and is volunteering to make it a solution more 3000 customers can use. He's also made a tool available to help test it:
I have a command file that makes it relatively easy to see what the actual codes are. If anyone is having trouble with HP2RTF, it might help if I send it to you, and you send back to me the results of running it on your problem files. Or, if anyone else is curious about what there printouts are doing before they print, I can send it or just post it on the 3000 newsgroup. Be advised that spoolfiles keep some critical info in “secret” parts of the record that you DON’T get with MPE ‘input’ or COBOL “read”. It is much easier to see what is going on if you direct your reports to a non-spool cctl file.
He goes on to suggest things he'll be willing to add to this utility. (We'd point out that this kind of behavior rarely comes from a vendor, unless they are selling an upgrade, but that would be churlish. So never mind.) And here's Powell's "I can do this" list. All 3000 users need supply is interest.
I’m thinking about some improvements, now that I don’t have to keep it lean and mean for performance reasons. Is there anybody who might have a use for support of any of the following:
Portrait mode printing? (this looks really easy and might happen even if nobody asks for it).
Non-Cobol carriage-control codes? For example, Cobol double and triple-spaces with codes %202 and %203, but other languages can use %60 and %55. The fwrite section of the intrinsics manual lists zillions of codes we don’t use here. Some look hard to implement, but codes like %55 & %60 would be a snap.
Subscript & superscript?
Any other print enhancements? (besides boldface, italics & underline which already work).
Postspacing? (Cobol “write before advancing”, also $stdlists). If I do this, it might be limited to $stdlist and standard (non-spool) cctl files. Spoolfiles keep the info on pre / post spacing in a hard-to-get-to location (see appendix A of Native Mode Spooler Manual) and I don’t think I will ever get around to ferreting it out. Stdlists I can simply assume to be postspaced, and standard cctl files use documented codes in the normal place.
Non-cctl input files?
April 03, 2006
Reliable advice on speeding up 3000s
About a month ago our editor Gilles Schipper posted a fine article on improving CPU performance on 3000s "in a heartbeat." One of our readers asked a question which prompted Gilles to clarify part of the process to speed up a 3000, for free.
(And no, unfortunately the article doesn't report that HP has pulled out the MPE/iX code that slows down the latest generation of 3000 systems. We're still waiting for that news from HP, perhaps in vain. But you never know...)
Gilles, who offers HP 3000 and HP 9000 support through his firm GSA, Inc., has also replied to a recent question about how to make a DLT backup device return to its speedy performance, after slowing to about a third of its performance.
The Heartbeat article focused on needless CPU overhead that could be caused by a networking heartbeat on 3000s. He points out:
Fortunately, there is a very simple way to recognize whether the problem exists, and also a simple cure. If your DTCs are connected without transceivers, you will not be subject to this problem.
Otherwise, to determine if you have the problem, simply type the command
and look at the reply that follows
Compete details are in the February 27 article, which we've revised to include this update.
On speeding up backup time, Gilles replied to this question:
We have a DLT tape drive. Lately it wants to take 6-7 hours to do backup instead of its usual two or less. But not every night, and not on the same night every week. I have been putting in new tapes now, but it still occurs randomly. I have cleaned it. I can restore from the tapes no problem. It doesn’t appear to be fighting some nightly process for CPU cycles. Any ideas on what gives?
Something that may be causing extended backup time is excessive IO retries, as the result of deteriorating tapes or tape drive.
One way to know is to add the ;STATISTICS option to your STORE command. This will show you the number of IO retries as well as the actual IO rate and actual volume of data output.
Another possibilty is that your machine is experiencing other physical problems resulting in excessive logging activity and abnormal CPU interrupt activity — which is depleting your system resources resulting in extended backup times.
Check out the following files in the following Posix directories:
If they are very large, you indeed may have a hardware problem — one that is not "breaking" your machine, but simply "bending" it.