June 30, 2008
Which HP world looks more real?
After a week spent at the HP Technology Forum, I found my way back to the NewsWire office, but I haven't been able to pinpoint the definitive location of your community. Is the experience all about expanding technical choice and excising the old systems? It certainly seemed that way in Las Vegas at the Forum, right from the start of the experience when the attendees were handed a 3-pound, wire-bound program to haul back to their hotel rooms. The book was crammed with more than a thousand sessions, keynotes, and hands-on labs, a tome festooned with tabs.
The assembly was so large it took three floors of the Mandalay Bay Convention center to contain it all. A 20-minute walk between two session rooms was not difficult to engineer. Over a day or so, I learned the shortcuts and elevator outlets, as well as where the comfy chairs and quiet, wi-fi-enabled salons were located.
This was a conference devoted to HP's enterprise computer offerings, including the vendor's storage systems. The show floor was broad enough to offer both an HP Store (complete with branded clothing and HP-logoed Leatherman tools) and a trick-shot pool artist playing one customer after another (all men, as you can see why at left) at the QLogix booth. Why not? Just a few years ago, when Interex hosted an HP World, Danica Patrick of race-car fame was the beautiful attraction at the Logical booth.
The conference was so jammed with ideas, new solutions and HP employees that I could believe this vision was the only possible one for a user of HP-built computers. Tromp those three floors, wander that expo hall with foosball table and a DriveSavers booth where disks were being destroyed for entertainment, and the vision of the HP 3000 faded quickly. I could believe the migration expert who said to me, one month before the conference
An IT director or CIO that does not have an active plan to migrate or terminate the HP 3000 applications is doing his company a disservice. I cannot believe that such a thing exists, it's unthinkable, but I'm sure it does exist.
And yet, sensible and responsible IT pros rely on the HP 3000 today. Some of the servers work inside HP's own IT operations, and yes, those do have active termination plans. It's the length of those plans that calls the other HP computer vision to mind, a location without trick shots, three pounds of sessions or the change which HP promotes to aid quick changes in an enterprise computer environment. How much change does a company need to observe and learn about?
For this other world of the HP enterprise customer, few pictures or three-color maps are needed. Instead of reaching for the novel innovation, the talent in the homesteader's world is learning to focus, like an elder whose heartbeat has become books instead of the 500 changing channels of TV. (For the record, I saw no displays promoting HP flat-screen TVs at the expo.)
Instead, the homesteader gives good reasons why the unthinkable is thinkable. "With 11 locations around the world," says ISIT Director Terry Simpkins of Measurement Specialties, "we have a substantial investment in the 3000's continued operation. At this time we have no plans to leave the HP 3000 platform."
"We are actively installing SAP," says Zelik Schwartzman of Estee Lauder Companies. "However as far as the HP 3000 is concerned, we anticipate this system will be around for many many years to come, as we use it as our MRP engine.
Valley Presbyterian Hospital has migrated away to another hospital information system. But they are doing the unthinkable and homesteading their 3000, too. "It doesn't look like the HP 3000 will be going away," says senior programmer/analyst Catherine Litten. "It has become our data repository for historical reporting. Nothing new going on, just lots of reports and data extracts."
General Manager Gary Shumm at IRA backoffice management firm IER says "we will be upgrading some hardware this year to continue its use." A consultant says his largest client operates more than 30 HP 3000s and will do so until at least 2011. "They are hard at work trying to complete their migration," says Mark Ranft. "The time and effort required to migrate will continue. After that the systems will remain for historical purposes."
More than 30 HP 3000s, most of the latest generation? Healthcare-critical customers making crucial use of MPE/iX systems? Ordering new hardware for a server that lose its HP lab support for in six months? A company with 11 locations using the 3000 with no plans to migrate? These scenes do match the HP enterprise vision I observed, recorded, and photographed in Las Vegas at the Technology Forum.
In the US over the past six years, just about the same time as the post 9/11 era, we're heard of a Red State vs. Blue State mentality. Diametrically opposed in vision, we have been told. But lately in my country we are hearing a message that we have more in common than we have in difference. Things don't look the same in Lawrence, Kansas as in Las Vegas — but there is an HP liaison to the homestead community in one town, while the other hosted the expertise to configure new blade server replacements (at left) at a conference in the other.
Nothing is unthinkable, however unfamiliar it may seem. I walked down to the expo floor in the waning hours of my Tech Forum visit and tried to explain that the HP 3000 community would be slower to adopt blades, new environments, and asked what steps the vendor could offer to ease the transition to the three-ring, wire-bound carnival of change. The HP employee at the booth struggled to understand that staying with older hardware could be responsible, not radical or reckless.
It's easy enough to acquire the need for the new. A movie about a beloved robot opened this weekend, and the discarded world in WALL-E was entertaining and inspirational. Tossing things away should be a considered action, one where re-use and renewal are options. Hey, HP even has an Alpha ReNew program now, one where you can purchase Alpha enterprise servers from the vendor for use in the VMS environment.
Another animated gem of a movie, Robots, lured its populace with the slogan, "Why be you, when you can be new!" You can be both. You can be an HP computer user whether Las Vegas or Lawrence seems more like home. With some skilled choices, you can find value in both forums for years to come.
June 27, 2008
A drive to beat the clock
OpenMPE is waiting to hear from the vendor about participating in a project to test-run the creation of a "build" of MPE/iX. In the meantime, the advocacy group has raised the flag on its future a little higher.
Director Matt Perdue sent us a note that reports that "The domain name openmpe.org has been renewed for five years. It will next expire on 9-13-2013, perhaps outlasting HP's involvement with MPE. That is of course if HP doesn't extend 'mature product support without sustaining engineering' beyond 2010."
The report arrived as an e-mail, but I detected a tone of persistent pleasure in Perdue's sign-off. There's a Web page that will tell you how many days of HP's 3000 support, with sustained (patch) engineering, the community has left.
For the customers who remain on the HP 3000 only so long as the vendor supplies support, we remind you that only six months remain of HP labs support for the system. Beyond December 31 of this year, it's workarounds "for the lot of ye," (as they said in The Meaning of Life) because the vendor has said "We lose our labs" starting in 2009. If you can arrange something better with HP on your own, good for you — but HP is making no promises for 2009.
For those who'd like to calculate the number of days until the only MPE/iX labs will be operated at third party sites — and OpenMPE has been persistent in its goal to become one — take a trip to timeanddate.com/counters/customcount.html and punch in 1-1-2009. You can calculate the time left on HP's 3000 business operations by typing in 1-1-2011.
Purdue offered a simple vow, one that a homesteading HP 3000 customer may count upon until a transition plan emerges for everybody. Transition for a homesteader can mean getting onto a new computer platform at a more reasonable cost or lower risk, or getting established with a new ecosystem (and third party labs/support) to remain an MPE/iX user.
Whatever the outcome for the customer who is homesteading now, and for the near future, they might be heartened to hear Purdue say, as he did, "Yes, HP, we intend on outlasting you."
June 26, 2008
A way to report screw-ups
When a session program aborts on the HP 3000, the users don't tell us. Is there a mechanism to report user screw ups?
Matt Perdue of the OpenMPE board and Hill Country Technologies replies:
At one of my clients' sites, all online programs (defined as used by anyone acting interactively with the application) have been coded to go to a common abort procedure when IMAGE, VPlus or other file errors cause the program to want to abort, at least somewhat gracefully. That section closes the terminal, calls DBEXPLAIN or prints some kind of status message and sends this information and what section caused the abort to the console. Each section of code starts with a line such as MOVE “6004-DELETE” TO ABORT-SECTION.
Of course there is the random, unprogrammed-for abort. Not much can be done about that, except write a transaction log record to a file or dataset so you can track the exact progress and last point a user was in before the abort.
I also have a mechanism to control users logging off gracefully for backups. All just part of learning and developing ways to manage remote users since 1985! And it makes my life easier in the process.
Each screen times out at five minutes, taking the user back to the previous screen or menu. When the main menu is reached, the program checks the setting of a log off control record and if set to “Y” the program will log off, very gracefully. I have another program that runs 20 minutes prior to the backups, setting the control to “Y”.
With users scattered at dozens of locations in different cities this is the only way to painfully insure everybody is logged off for the backups. It’s automatic. Another program runs in a series of jobs after the backup that sets the control to “N” so the users can log on and stay logged on.
One application has users performing critical update tasks at various times, though not an IMAGE “critical update” for search key items. These critical updates involve changes to multiple datasets and if I need to force a user to be logged off I don’t want to do that in the middle of a critical update the user may be performing. DBBEGIN and DBEND don’t help any in this case as an ABORTJOB #Snnn will complete an individual database call, but not take into account the DBEND hasn’t been reached.
The solution is to have the program at the start of a critical update write a record to a dataset indicating the user info (LDEV, date, time, program section, “critical update”) and to clear this record when the update is completed. A management screen is programmed to check this dataset and display the status of each user by LDEV and I can instantly see who is in critical update and who is not.
I also use this function to have at the start of each screen a user goes into write a dataset record indicating what screen they are in (LDEV, date, time, screen name, other related data). My monitor screen tells me what screen each user is in at any time and if they’re in a critical update. This works great at one site to see if anyone still logged on after 5 PM is really doing any work — if not, I set the log off flag to “Y” so they get logged off after 5-10 minutes. The log off flag is set to “Y” or “N” by the push of a function key in the management screen — easy!
June 25, 2008
Blades on parade
One of the big advantages of conference-style learning is the ability to see, touch and ask questions interactively. Like, "How do these blade servers look and work, anyway?"
That's the question I asked HP at the latest Technology Forum. A movie of a couple of minutes gives a rundown on HP's latest blade servers, as well as a tour at the C7000 enclosure the blades need to operate. Have a look at the two minute blade demo movie from the HP booth on the Expo floor.
The cinematography on this movie won't rival The Fall, (excellent film, that one; go see it soon on the big screen.). Unlike The Fall, which will have a really brief run in theatres, blades are going to be playing for a long time at HP. Your vendor hopes they will play a part in your transition away from the HP 3000 hardware.
In the old days, HP 3000 sites would call these racked servers. But they were a lot heavier, larger, noisier and hotter, and oh yeah, they drew more power. HP actually called servers built on the PCI and PA-RISC hardware "hot servers" when I spoke to the vendor at the conference.
Nothing's perfect about any solution, of course. The blade servers only use the Intel chipset — that is, the Xeon-like successor to the x86 "Wintel" line, or the Itanium chips, also available in your vendor's Integrity business server line. And neither of these chips will run MPE/iX. Not yet, to be accurate — because the emulator projects for HP 3000 hardware could, within several years, shave down the size of an HP 3000 to the size of one of these blades.
There's a lot of engineering and testing to be done to call blades a homestead option yet. Today, they represent a new server form factor that HP is using to cut a bigger share of the server market.
June 24, 2008
Critical mass makes CEO access
HP celebrated the 30th birthday of VMS at this month's Tech Forum, marking the end of a third decade of service of the operating system that has bulwarked the user group now known as Connect. Before there was Connect there was Encompass for HP enterprise system users, and before that the DECUS user group represented customers to the vendor. The oldest operating system still sold by HP makes the backbone of the vendor's largest user group.
This year's meeting must have been especially satisfying to Nina Buik, president and leader of the new Connect group, as she lavished praise on the new allied group's members during Connect's coming out party at The House of Blues. "There," I said to Transoft's Rene Nunnington "is a person who was born to be a user group president."
After passing out awards and thanks for the many volunteers who give a user community backbone, Buik beamed during a short chat while she related her news of the day: HP CEO Mark Hurd gave her a 20-minute meeting at the conference, their first together.
With appropriate pride, Buik showed me her cell phone photo of her and Hurd together. I asked what he was like one-on-one, and she reported that he's all he appears to be onstage and in public. "And he expressed his strong support for the user group," she added.
The CEO of the world's largest computer firm can carry that kind of celebrity clout, impressing those whose job is to impress the opinions and decisions of HP's executives.
Such support is more important than ever for an organization that realizes its chief benefit is a link to HP's chief executives. With the alliance of three user groups into the single Connect, the entity "now has the critical mass" to earn more attention from HP than they might have had as individual user groups.
Critical mass is an important element in HP's valuation of its enterprise products. VMS achieved the critical mass which MPE didn't, even though the 3000's operating environment sold more than 80,000 systems in its HP lifetime. Once Hurd's predecessor, Carly Fiorina, looked over the enterprise assets of a merged company during 2001, the 400,000-plus customers using OpenVMS looked more critical to HP's business plans.
Of course, Fiorina wrote her own message of praise in support of the Interex user group, a document so widely distributed that it was still on the Greater Houston RUG Web site within the past year — years after both Interex and Fiorina left the HP stage. Connect will be doing its work in a different era and with a different style in the coming year. And just like OpenVMS, with a lot more critical mass.
June 23, 2008
One final Forum bow?
I wondered, while en route to the latest HP Technology Forum, which of these annual user meetings would offer HP's last e3000 update. Some signs from last week point to the 2008 edition as the last public event where HP will present news about the platform. This is, after all, the last year when the server will employ the services of HP's labs.
HP's Alvina Nishimoto, who's been leading the information parade for third party tools and migration success stories, gave an outstanding contributor award of sorts at the e3000 roadmap meeting. The award shown in the slide above had a commemorative tone about it, like a fond farewell to the days when something new was part of the HP message to 3000 attendees.
At the conference I learned that the Right to Use licenses have been more popular than HP first imagined. HP's 3000 work had to complete a lot of paperwork and presentations to get a licensing product onto the price list for 2007. "People have used systems, and they want to upgrade their license level on them," Nishimoto said.
So with just two HP speakers at the conference addressing the 3000 — Nishimoto and Jim Hawkins, the latter of whom spoke for five minutes at the end of the OpenMPE update — it seemed like those customers upgrading the used systems will outlast HP's MPE/iX participation in the Tech Forum. It's a great place to learn about technology that will never make it onto a 3000, but is readily available for HP's 3000 replacements.
I asked e3000 Business Manager Jennie Hou about HP's participation in the conference and what I should expect. The vendor has been stoic in its unchanging message during the past six months: migration is all HP will discuss now, since it's completing a PowerPatch (probably its last) and delivering some whitepapers to the community.
Hou said that I'd hear from HP when it's got more news to share with your community.
The e3000 community has always been and will continue to be an interesting place. It truly is one of a kind. This year, at Alvina's talk, HP will thank every e3000 partner and customer. HP recognizes that the e3000 community wouldn't be what it is without so many people's ongoing involvement and contributions. This also includes all your dedication in bringing the e3000 news to the user community over the past decades.
All of you deserve kudos for choosing and defending and expanding the 3000 community through your contributions. We'll have to wait another year to see if HP's 3000 group can offer any additional presentations about the server.
June 20, 2008
Anniversaries all around
Lapels and shirts all around the HP Technology Forum sported a jaunty badge this week. HP, having purchased Digital through its Compaq acquisition, is celebrating the 30th anniversary of VMS. DEC users who have endured wrong-headed management and unlucky timing on technology innovations should be proud. They use one of the last vendor-built operating environments, an OS with acolytes so ardent they gather for a Boot Camp each year in Nashua, New Hampshire.
Of course, the badges recalled the many pins HP 3000 customers wore with pride in the waning days of HP's 3000 business. Hewlett-Packard did not celebrate the 35th anniversary of MPE this year, even though the company uses the OS in its corporate datacenters to this very day.
This week's conference showed a lot of historical pros on display among much younger colleagues. Patrick Thibodeau called it the "salt and pepper crowd" in his story for Computerworld. You need salt and pepper to get to 30 and beyond. I genuinely wish more years to the VMS community. It perseveres on classic momentum, even while HP makes more noise about the IT strategies that do not revolve around operating environments.
And while the week celebrated something old, at least in IT timeframes, there was also a much younger anniversary. This 3000 NewsWire blog moved into its fourth year of service to our community and our committed sponsors. It's been a great thrill to be able to report within hours, like we did on Tuesday night, about 3000 news like the liberation of long-cloistered patches. The blog is a powerful tool for a journalist with loyal sources and a long memory. Thank you for your interest in our stories and inside information, data spinning ever farther from the home planet of HP.
At the Tech Forum we heard one VP anticipating another milestone, ready to celebrate the 25th anniversary of HP-UX. But the vendor putting HP-UX concerns up at the top of the keynote might have sent a mixed message about that history. HP was assuring the hundreds of thousands of UX users their environment isn't going extinct. As we noted earlier this week, Executive VP Ann Livermore reminded those salt and pepper folks that HP-UX still did $10 billion in business last year for HP.
But when technology climbs into the quarter-century and beyond demographic, it fights an uphill battle on a vendor's product line. These products fight to show growth, an attribute that a vendor desires far more than the customers of the product. There have been exceptions. IBM has made AS/400 and mainframe customers an indelible part of its computer legacy. Will HP do the same for HP-UX and for OpenVMS, or NonStop? The monetary momentum at HP is rolling away from vendor-built environments. Unlimited virtualization and its software gyrations, deep flanks of service experts, hardware built with industry standard components — all are ramping up much faster at HP than any of those environments which are old enough to celebrate.
Meanwhile, the chip architecture that started this revolution, x86, celebrates its 25th anniversary this month, too. HP still pays homage to the x86 designs in every Itanium processor it purchases from Intel. After all, the Itanium was built to float upon the vast sea of x86 code passed from DOS to Windows to XP to Vista.
The 25 anniversary of a mediocre design like x86 only proves that elegance and ardor are not the essential elements to longevity. Computing has been a business ever since it crawled out of university and government labs, and so what sells is what stays on to celebrate more anniversaries. Treasure and polish what you own, and care for its future. Only the community of an OS has the dedication to keep relighting the candles on the anniversary cakes.
June 19, 2008
Which HP blade will cut it for you?
HP's VP of marketing for Business Critical Systems said here at the Technology Forum that blade technology was the biggest message for critical systems users like you. The one printed press release I was given touted a new blade system for the Non-Stop operating environment. It's important to show that non-standard operating systems can be matched up with blade technology.
The headline read "HP introduces World's First Blade Server for 24/7 Mission-Critical Computing." You can be excused if you believe you already own Mission-Critical operating environment in MPE/iX. Michelle Weiss even pointed out that some Non-Stop servers manage 911 systems. That's something the 3000 still does for some US entities, but that's not the point. Blades are an HP product you will only need if you're migrating.
Since many of you are doing that, a Blade 101 article seems in order. We'll soon be providing a better one that this introduction. HP's written a few, but the most important number is not 101, but 69. This is the share of the world's blade market which HP and outside analysts estimate that Hewlett-Packard holds today.
That's something just a bit less than Apple's hold on portable music players with its iPod. And HP seems to have the equivalent of the iPod of blade servers — so named because they are long and slim and so small they make disk drive enclosures seem bulky. Blades consume less power and can be managed from HP's "single pane of glass" interface.
Blades represent a solution where HP leads the field. But which patch of the field should the HP 3000 users who migrate consider as a new hardware platform? And which migrators can start farming out their 3000 computing onto blade servers today?
As it turns out, being able to virtualize an operating environment instance is a good measure of whether a blade will offer new opportunities to help offset its capital costs. In a 3000 update meeting on Tuesday, HP said that replacing a 3000 of A-Class or lower power was a good match for a blade. N-Class replacements are going to need a faster generation of processor to capture all the advantage of blade servers.
HP has been quick to remind us here that faster Itanium processors from Intel like Tukwila are only a matter of months away from getting to the vendors who build blades.
Blades support all five HP operating environments still on the "we'll sell you those" list: Windows, Linux, HP-UX, NonStop and OpenVMS. The blade servers support small to medium workloads individually, accept Integrity Virtual Machines, have moderate scalability requirements and moderate failover requirements.
Down in HP's booth in the Expo show floor, a senior product engineer showed me two enclosures in which to place your blade servers, the c3000 (coincidence, no?) and the c7000. It's a matter of how many blade systems you'll want to install and how much attached storage you will need, but the blades which you install in the c3000 enclosure can be moved to a c7000 if your needs grow.
HP made it easy to feel good about taking away more details on the products. In a clever use of green technology, HP placed laptops around its exhibit space to request product literature about the key solutions for mission-critical customers like you. Tick a box next to a product, fill in an e-mail address, and you get an HP e-mail with links that will drop datasheet and whitepaper PDF files onto your desktop. Save a tree.
HP got a glowing review of its blade solution with big mention of the power savings the solutions deliver. There's also a roundup of the blade server family, as well as a good primer on the why's of design of the blade server enclosures and why HP believes they're a good fit for a midsize company.
Whatever saves energy and space deserves a closer look in our world where energy and resource capacity are growing issues. Getting things smaller and cooler seems like a great idea this week, sitting in one of the largest resort complexes in the world with the highs outside nearing 110 degrees.
June 18, 2008
Press that's not completely approved
Running a user conference is no easy task, especially if your organization must partner with a powerful ally. There are many places where the gears can jam up on a machine that gathers thousands of people for four days of talk and learning.
But after 24 years of covering Hewlett-Packard user events, my experience with this sort of meeting has been changing — and I'm sorry to say, not entirely for the better. No, not crowded flights, 25 minutes to hail a cab, $12 burgers and so on. It's the restraints I feel tugged by HP. Years ago, editors and reporters were courted and curried at these events, meetings hosted and controlled by a users group, while the whole event was financed and supported by the computer vendor and its reseller partners.
Two events in the past two days suggest that those days of sway are long behind me and other editors. Yesterday morning I wanted to attend an OpenVMS roadmap breakout session. It was only an hour of the OpenVMS Security Product Manager talking about what's coming up for OpenVMS. (Luckier users, they are, than a customer who still must rely on the 3000.)
I was not so lucky getting into the doors of that breakout session. A "temporary employee" waved written instructions that the press was not to be admitted to any breakout sessions. Also barred from entry at that moment: Patrick Thibodeau of Computerworld. I might understand why a specialized newsman like me wouldn't get access, but blocking Computerworld seemed like a mistake.
And it appeared to be an honest mixup, one which the PR agency rep Chase Skinner fixed with persistent talent. But we sped to a quick meeting with HP's manager of press relations for the event — who treated us media types to a fine dinner just the night before — to educate me on the nature of "roadmap" sessions. They sounded like they've become sorta, kinda, well, the type which HP isn't keen on letting anybody into except customers and partners. Even though there's no confidential disclosure agreement (CDA) needed for anybody to pass into such a roadmap session. And believe me, there are plenty of CDA talks here where the "I promise not to tell" document is needed. The CDA is so ubiquitous that it's printed into the conference session guide, complete with signature line to fill in and submit.
Patrick and I got new badges rushed to us after we'd been escorted into the meeting. Our new papers were upgraded from a press pass that could not pass us into the hundreds of breakout sessions. Okay, a mixup, and an education for me about what a roadmap might mean now and in the future. Face it, HP: Roadmaps promise news, and that's what we get paid to write.
The education about my editor's access didn't stop at the revision of what a roadmap means, though.
After the OpenVMS roadmap, I was told in an editor's briefing that blade technology represents HP's biggest push into the enterprise server solution arena. So after a baffling blades talk where a customer finally asked "Are you going to talk about blades?" I went down to the HP booth to push through the throngs to find out more. I got just what I wanted to hear in just a few minutes, but was I got was also trouble as far as HP was concerned. My Senior Product Manager interview subject, who was standing at the booth, was told by a cohort "you're not press-approved."
Two days of this special handling from HP are making me feel like the vendor's information control has been dialed up to a level as uncomfortable as the heat outside.
I've got nearly a quarter-century of making a career at these meetings, always with the assignment of writing stories to report customer views and HP's messages about new products. But this has been one year I'd mark among the hardest of those 24, right alongside the time an Interex user group employee tried to bar me from the HP 3000 management roundtable.
This work out here in the desert and in steamy places like Houston is hard enough without changing the rules and building new barricades to communication. Confusing, restrictive access run by "temporary employees" — who need to walkie-talkie to yet another company (not HP, or a PR firm) to allow editors inside of meetings, places where we might hear customers talking out loud — well, it all smacks of a lot of unnecessary control. The roadmaps are presentations where HP future plans are discussed. They have been so for many years, and every slide in them has a stock footnote of "Plans are subject to change." The strategy of putting HP employees "not approved for the press" onto the show floor just doesn't befit a company of HP's history and stature in the industry. What can there be to approve, steer or shape about which blade server enclosure is the right choice for an HP 3000 migrating customer? Can HP really need to control what we hear about how concerned OpenVMS customers might be this year about their roadmap?
I can use what I learned in my floor briefing on blades with my "not approved for press" senior product manager, but because I don't want to get him in trouble, his name won't appear. But why the trouble, the alarmed management? Six years ago, when HP and Compaq first came together and Interex ran a shared user event with lots of confusion, somebody at a door wanted to keep me from reporting by invoking a rule that HP insisted upon, a new snag in my long-worn fabric of industry-to-press communication. Back in 2002 I asked in a NewsWire headline, "What's there to hide?"
I truly want to know the answer to that question, even if it means these events are no longer useful to our readers like they were in the past. As I've said more than once this year, you won't get far with a professional journalist by telling them they cannot have access to a source. I don't want it to be true that these user conference events, which have now content jointly managed by the vendor and the user group, have now become a controlled showcase for HP's polished product and strategy message. I am looking for another reason to explain the roadmap redefinition and show floor incidents of this week. "Never attribute to malice what can be explained by error," I remind myself. But if the Tech Forum is more useful to HP as a means to teach and train and test its partners, and influence customers in person, why not just say so?
We editors have been invited, most respectfully, to these events to help HP influence customers. In fact, I had a delightful interview with VP Lynn Anderson, an HP veteran since 1983 who started with COBOL and RPG on a 3000) whose title is "TSG Influencer Marketing." I'm an influencer, apparently, something that made us both giggle.
In a couple more hours I'll be back down on that show floor, invited as a guest of the new Connect user group for a reception, with all HP product engineers on hand. Since the press room is empty right now, I may have trouble getting a list of who is among the "press approved" HP staff I can interview. That might make for some trouble for me. But it will feel less troubling than the impression that the world's Number One vendor tightens the leash on editors who ask what's happening.
It's too early to draw conclusions for the future of user conferences, but I carry the hope that next year's press credentials will include access to all the non-confidential meetings, along with the ability to talk to anybody on an expo floor wearing an HP badge. That last one is most important to HP's stature. I'm old enough to remember a Hewlett-Packard founded by two fellows who would encourage that professional courtesy — especially at a meeting which bears the company's name.
A few other HP notes of 3000 news
HP shared three other pieces of news in its Tuesday briefings at the HP Technology Forum. The set of slides presented by HP vCSY staffer Alvina Nishimoto showed no changes from the slides shown in May for HP EMEA partners and customers.
But in less than 10 minutes at nearly 6 PM Tuesday, HP's Jim Hawkins shared three bits of news from the HP division about the 3000.
1. Cost of the RTU licenses is coming down, expecially on the high end server Right to Use licenses. HP has been selling RTUs for the customer who is upgrading an HP 3000 — instead of migrating, or as an interim step toward moving off a 3000. How many RTUs HP's selling is not known, of course, but it appears that the RTU is generating more revenues than HP R&D Lab Manager Ross McDonald predicted last year at RTU introduction. HP is looking at 35 to 50 percent reductions in the RTU fees.
2, As mentioned yesterday, HP will be shipping out its PowerPatch 5 for MPE/iX in August. HP's support chief Bernard Determe — who was listed for the first time yesterday as a customer contact for the 3000 community — within the remains of the lab services available to HP's 3000 operations. The support chief said that the 3000 support arm "will be losing its lab" 27 weeks from now.
3. Maybe most important to the long-term use of the HP 3000, HP's problem resolution database will be available on HP servers after 2010, when HP plans to exit the 3000 community.
Hawkins said that HP's servers will continue to host the information on solutions to HP 3000 problems — usually references to HP MPE/iX patches — until at least 2015.
"We won't be wiping off those disks just because they have MPE information on them," Hawkins said.
Since HP won't be selling support in 2011, it's possible those knowledge base reports — called Service Requests (SRs), among other names inside HP — will be available to the HP 3000 community in total, not just HP support customers. After all, in January of 2011, HP won't have anything to sell a 3000 site other than upgrade licenses, license transfers at $400 each, and whatever under-wraps support the vendor might sell.
June 17, 2008
HP to release more 3000 patches
HP engineer Jim Hawkins reported here at the HP Technology Forum that Hewlett-Packard will be moving some more of its patches to improve 3000 reliability and add features.
HP issued a letter from OpenMPE liasion Jeff Bandle outlining the extra patches available to everyone in the 3000 community.
The issue of MPE/iX patches that are in Beta-Test (BT) status has been a subject of mutual interest between OpenMPE and HP. HP is pleased to inform you of some positive developments in this area.
As you recall, patches in BT status have been tested by the MPE/iX lab but are still awaiting end-customer testing and validation before they can be moved to General Released (GR) status and made available to all HP e3000 users. These quality assurance processes have been in place for several decades and contribute to the high patch quality level that HP e3000 users have come to expect.
For the last several months MPE/iX Lab and HP Support engineers have been working together to accelerate the movement of MPE/iX BT patches to GR status while not compromising patch quality. As a result of this effort, nearly half of the candidate BT patches have been moved into GR status. Patches for release 7.5 saw the most activity with nearly two-thirds of the 7.5 BT patches finding their way to GR status and they have been incorporated into the forthcoming 7.5 PowerPatch release.
While we are very pleased with these results, there are still patches in BT status. HP is continuing to work on its plans for these remaining BT patches and we are planning to announce details on the disposition of these patches before MPE enters the MPS w/o SE phase of support.
"We did a lot of work in that area," Hawkins said at the Tech Forum. "For a lot of patches that have been languishing in beta test status, we've been able to move them into General Release status so they can be downloaded from the HP ITRC, which makes them freely available."
Some of the delay in getting these patches out to the community at large lay in HP paperwork, Hawkins added. "We kept the same criteria we had in the past," he said. Delay of the patch release "was more often a bookkeeping measure. There were patches where the feedback wasn't good from the customers, and wasn't good from the customer support people back to the lab."
Refreshing those chains of information and being proactive about contacting the testing customers helped to release some of the patches. HP will send a letter to the OpenMPE members and the 3000 community later tonight.
"Part of the beta test process for patches is always evaluation and engineering decisions," Hawkins explained to group of five attendees at an end-of-the-day 5:15 OpenMPE update meeting.
He added that HP focused on releasing patches for MPE/iX version 7.5. That release will have a PowerPatch 5 (a collection of general released patches) available to HP support customers in August.
Some surprises in keynote show
And yes, I do mean show. A top-notch cover band played as several thousand attendees streamed into the biggest ballroom of the South Convention hall this morning, all to hear HP Executive VP Ann Livermore deliver a pledge to support HP-UX as long as customers need the environment.
Livermore handled the segment of the keynote troika originally scheduled for HP CEO Mark Hurd, who had more important appointments than delivering a complete keynote address. (As a joke, one of many moments of humor in the morning, HP then played a short video of Hurd pounding away on a video poker machine as one of his more important appointments.)
Whatever the reason for the limited CEO appearance — he weighed in ever-so-lightly on the EDS acquisition and the HP's commitment to Intel's Itanium/Integrity model line — Livermore elaborated on HP CIO Randy Mott's tour of the consolidation of HP's internal IT operations. One brief photo showed a forest of circa-1995 servers from a wide range of vendors at an HP datacenter. Only one HP 3000 could be seen. Then every server got labeled in PowerPoint magic with the replacement system which HP moved in.
As for the future of HP-UX, popular enterprise platform for 3000 app providers who migrate the community's users, Livermore used language just as deliberate as then-CEO Carly Fiorina's promise to 3000 customers in the summer of 2001.
About a half dozen videotaped questions were shown on massive screen, the queries taped the previous night at a lavish opening of the Forum's Expo. The HP-UX question "was asked a lot" on that night, and Livermore addressed it first.
"We want to be sure that you understand that HP-UX is a business that HP loves," she said. "It's a business HP is investing in. I want it to be clear that you should not be worried about HP's commitment to HP-UX." She noted that HP is doing $10 billion a year in HP-UX business with customers, but there was no mention made of HP-UX business growth. The 3000 was doing nowhere near $10 billion in HP business when it was dropped from HP's product line. But growth of 3000 business was a major element in HP's exit of the community.
Another element of some surprise at the keynote was the appearance of Paul Otellini, CEO of Intel. The leader of the company which designs and builds the Itanium line of processors was also on hand to assure customers about Intel's commitment to the only current processor which runs HP-UX. (HP announced the end of life of its PA-RISC HP-UX servers earlier this year, with 2009 final sales date.) As the fate of Itanium goes, so goes the future of HP's Unix. Otellini shared the stage with Hurd for a few minutes, then the HP CEO went on to mention the EDS acquistion — but with few details on a deal still moving through regulatory approval.
June 16, 2008
HP and its users heat up Vegas again
There used to be a saying that an HP user group's hottest moment was the HP Management Roundtable, where HP executives took the heat from users. In the modern world of HP as the world's No. 1 computer company, the heat is all around this now-fixed meeting in Las Vegas, the Nevada desert's theme park for all manner of games.
The fourth HP Technology Forum started today with pre-conference training sessions on topics like the ITIL information technology practices, a kickoff expo floor reception and the meeting of media writers and the HP executives on hand. We writers and HP VPs come together in modest rooms deep in the innards of one of the strip's biggest hotel-casino-convention centers. Outside my window here in the wide halls between session rooms, a pool with a sand beach beckons under 107-degree sun.
That won't impress me too much this week, on a journey from a Texas where the Austin heat has soared above 100 every day since this month began. But we don't have the heat of meetings or the warm gathering of collegues and comrades that you find in a user group conference. Despite the overwhelming number of Hewlett-Packard attendees, this is still a conference of users. They are the reason HP turns out in a show of force unparalleled in the rest of its fiscal year.
The Big Three — CEO Mark Hurd, Executive VP Ann Livermore and Chief Technology Office Randy Mott — all speak tomorrow morning. Meanwhile, a volunteer who's not an employee of HP, Nina Buik, oversees the effort and engagements as the president of Connect, the alliance of user groups which will unveil its logo and some plans this evening on that expo floor.
HP 3000 partners, sponsors and suppliers take a place on that expo floor as well as in some of the session rooms. MB Foster, Speedware, Bay Pointe Technology, The Support Group, Transoft and DB-Net all have booths on the floor of varying sizes. Also on the floor are the suppliers Logicalis, Canvas Systems and Canvas Systems. Cognos is on the expo floor as well, maybe the only direct competitor to HP to show its wares. Cognos, after all, has been a part of IBM since this spring.
In an interview with Buik, who's heading up the user group for the third straight year, she noted that advocacy is a word that's been replaced with "community voice." It's a less confrontational approach in a world where a company like HP has been hundreds of billions of dollars large, while its special interest members represent a small share of HP's mind.
That mindshare grows large, however, while you consider how much of HP's solutions a customer could be using. Blade servers, storage, services ranging from enterprise product support to professional consulting a la EDS, the PCs and laptops, the software that HP has acquired (like Mercury Interactive) or built itself — it's a big universe out there.
So we can all grow nostalgic and wonder if the old model of user group meeting — with every attendee concerned with HP's business servers, HP 3000s or HP 9000s, pushing for advocacy of business and technology decisions by HP — was the better meeting to attend. So much has changed since then, from HP and the way the company spreads its technology across partners and throughout technologies and solutions, to the share of voice a few thousand customers could command with a company that was already more than $50 million large in the waning days of Interex conferences.
When you say "HP" these days you describe an organization of more than 200,000 employees, a group so big that Buik described it like her earliest days as an undergraduate at the University of Georgia. "That was a 30,000-student place," she said. "I was in a sorority, which helped me connect with such a large organization."
Connect — the alliance of Encompass, Interex-Europe and the ITUG user groups — intends to be that fraternity to help the "D-level" customer have a voice with HP. The D-level, director-level IT pros are Connect's "sweet spot," Buik said during a half-hour briefing with me. "Our sweet spot is with people in the trenches," so the user community will open up a social networking site created by Leverage Software, a company "which specializes in these kinds of online solutions."
Special Interest Groups (SIGs) will be a feature of the Connect online community, something a user can start up. So if you tick a box to report you use HP 3000s, the software is supposed to locate others on the site who share your experience. Best of all, sharing the community social networking experience will be free and open to everyone, regardless of Connect membership or not.
In part, the openness is motivated by the need for user-generated content. But Buik was also careful to point out that HP monitor chatter on the SIGs, much as does today on the HP 3000 newsgroup and mailing list. The difference might lie in the level of HP employee doing the monitoring and responding. Bigger groups, closer in partnership with HP, show a promise of results — although you need to take action, as Buik says, because "hope is not a good business strategy."
June 13, 2008
Tell HP about your satisfaction
If your company is among those which still consider HP to be an important partner, you might be on the road next week. HP launches its annual HP Technology Forum in Las Vegas on Monday. The content for the conference is a shared endeavor between HP and the four user groups uniting as Connect. The user groups are conducting the usual annual survey of satisfaction with HP.
There is not much direct HP 3000 content at next week's conference, but HP is bringing its executives to listen to the customers who do attend. The user groups' Worldwide Customer Survey is a means to bring your measure of HP's success to the notice of the vendor's representatives.
It will serve little but a yen for nostalgia to recall the days of an HP Roundtable at such meetings, the ones operated by Interex. Customers stood at microphones and related stories of HP's shortcomings, the kind of upbraiding which IBM still takes in stride at the annual COMMON conference for its enterprise iSeries (AS/400) community. Things changed for the better, or not — but people who spoke up felt heard and acknowledged.
A Web survey takes the place of those broadsides, public speech which HP dismissed in its support of the Technology Forum as an alternative to those HP World and Interex meetings. "No more hockey fights" was HP VP David Parsons' vow, meaning you now must communicate with HP as a partner or a customer, not a combatant. However, the survey of today is a means of advocacy. You can take it at www.hpadvocacysurvey.org. Be sure to complete it by June 26.
Encompass (and Connect) president Nina Buik says the survey results have been presented to HP's top managers for review and recommendations:
Last year, the survey management team spent a full-day reporting the results of the survey to nearly 100 HP executives and decision-makers. Several of the recommendations from previous surveys have been implemented to the collective benefit of all HP users.
Taking the survey takes a little while, with some questions spanning a great range of topics. For example, you're to judge on a 1-10 scale ten different aspects of your satisfaction with Hewlett-Packard. And don't try to skip any questions, either. The survey will highlight the aspects you haven't responded to.
On the other hand, you can suspend your response and come back to it using a system-generated PIN. If you want to be heard, take the survey. It's less costly than making a trip to Las Vegas, even if you don't get the chance for a 1-on-1 meeting with an executive who can make a promise about a problem.
June 12, 2008
Emulate what, exactly?
Customers on the HP 3000 newsgroup have started to ask how the emulator project is proceeding. There's a little confusion about what emulation means when they ask, as well as what non-HP companies might provide.
Most emulators used by people in the IT community put an operating environment on top of new hardware. For example, on my Intel-based Macs, products like VMWare or Parallels let us run Windows on our systems. In the same way, people want to run MPE/iX on hardware which HP does not designate as an HP 3000. This is a means of getting MPE/iX loose of HP's predictions for the 3000's ecosystem, as well as the vendor's plans, promises and processes.
Another significant value in an emulator is to give the 3000's operating environment more power and flexibility than it it will ever have on HP-built PA-RISC systems. The other power is an independence from Hewlett-Packard, a company which will end all of its 3000-MPE/iX business in about two and a half years — if it sticks to its schedule.
So there's talk out there now, as well as a message from a European company which reports that Software Research International (SRI) will have a pilot emulator solution ready to deploy in tests this fall. The hardware which this SRI emulator will use is not the most crucial component in an emulator's future. The biggest thing to test and deploy is the HP software license that acts as the fulcrum to leverage MPE/iX and IMAGE onto non-HP systems.
HP said way back in 2003 that it intended to make an MPE/iX emulator license available — if anybody would ever create such an emulator. HP was guessing at the time, or estimating, but it figured such a license might be available at $500 per emulated system. HP said in a letter to its customers and the 3000 community:
[HP] intends to establish a new distribution plan for the MPE/iX operating system (OS) which will likely be effective by early 2004. The MPE/iX OS would be licensed independent of the HP e3000 hardware platform. The license terms would grant the licensee the right to use a single copy of MPE/iX on a single HP hardware platform subject to certain terms and conditions. Such terms and conditions would require MPE/iX to be run in an emulated environment, hosted on an HP platform, and would include a statement that MPE is provided "AS-IS" with no warranty.
Nobody had a way to check and see if the PC hardware that might host such an emulator would be HP-branded. But there's a bigger question than whether this license will be valid on non-HP PCs.
How much MPE/iX will be licensed to run on non-HP hardware? Remember, any such emulator might forestall a migration onto HP's alternative products, such as HP-UX servers.
Matt Perdue, the diligent OpenMPE board member who's been peppering HP with sharp questions about the 3000's future, explained to us that even though a new hosting hardware system is the end-game for companies like SRI, and even Strobe Data, it's the 3000's operating environment that really is being emulated. "Emulate what?" I asked.
Emulate MPE/iX, some release or multiple releases. The talk is to “chop off” MPE at a lower level point, generally where the OS passes requests to the hardware drivers — including disc, network cards, PDC (processor dependant code) and possibly memory) — and have the complete “upper level” version of the OS running on the emulator.
Think of it as complete MPE/iX with all the hardware interfaces handled by something else. That includes TurboIMAGE, V/3000 (aka View/3000) all file types, all commands, all compilers, all network communications (NS3000, FTP, Apache SSL, etc.) and everything else that’s in the OS today.
Perdue said that Strobe's Alan Tibbets "was quite open" in a teleconference representing Strobe, Allegro Consultants, SRI and HP's OpenMPE liaison Jeff Bandle. The call included Perdue, OpenMPE chair Birket Foster, and OpenMPE board members Donna Hofmeister and Tracy Johnson. Tibbets explained how Strobe emulates the HP 1000 in their Kestral emulator line. "Both Allegro and Strobe have agreed that they’ll participate as the lab for the emulator, and have OpenMPE be the actual front end for the emulator and handle the project management and payments," Perdue explained.
What market will there be for an emulator product, once HP and the creator of such a product come to terms and get this solution tested? It might surprise you to know that later is better than sooner. Willard West, the founder of Strobe, explained to me in 2002 that an emulator is a long-term product offering. The harder the original hardware gets to obtain, and the slower it runs compared to more modern designs, the better deal an emulator becomes.
June 11, 2008
What emulation might mean to tomorrow
We hear of emulation as a potential lift for homesteading. A 3000 hardware emulator is a product that won’t have a market for another three years, judging by the ready availability of resellers’ systems and peripherals.
The only thing that can solve 3000 problems, at least those unsolved by third party workarounds, is HP’s licensing of MPE/iX source code to a lab with a commitment to serving for the long term. With each passing month, I hold less hope that the HP Services group will ever let that licensing happen. But those third party support teams in the community grow ever more clever, now being stocked with ex-HP expertise.
Documentation is important to homesteading. Recently a 3000 customer was striking out in a search for a manual for their HP SureStore Autoloader tape library. A remarketed replacement arrived with no manual while a configuration problem loomed.
It took from Friday until Monday to find the needed manual, but HP could not supply it online this homesteader. A Phoenix Police Department IT pro located the manual at an Irish university, still online in PDF format. Now that's community at work.
I can hear the snort — that if that’s the state of manual availability, good luck in 2011. That university server could crash, be backed up poorly, storage device fail, and so on.
Well, as for server failures, I recall that the HP Invent3k server went offline this year. Community developers worried they had lost years of work. Mark Klein feared that the outage would make him a victim of a verb that includes a screwdriver. Lucky for all, the Invent3K sprang to life again. That server at HP held the keys to the Gnu tools Klein ported, code vital to the open source options for the HP 3000. So HP’s Public Development Server is also subject to an outage of the unexpected variety. What server is not?
No site is immune from bad luck or component failures. The tragic part of the story is that HP is clearly not managing such 3000 resources with the same funding, in spite of mission statements about supporting the community that still homesteads for now or the foreseeable future. HP’s effort at keeping homesteaded businesses running is being curtailed. If the liaison to the OpenMPE effort has no power to make this a priority, it seems clear that HP believes migrating right now is the only choice the vendor will fund.
Migrating today may not be for some of you, mired in this trough of the economy. I hear from enough sources that migration won’t work today, but maybe tomorrow. “To-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow,” begins a speech from Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth. The speech adds that “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more.”
Everything dies, and there lies the tragedy if you loved that thing. Tragedy is a risk in any computer’s lifespan, whether moving or staying. To dismiss or deride either choice “is full of sound and fury and signifying nothing.” We do our best here to keep track of tomorrows for this community, while we take note of what’s not online anymore.
June 10, 2008
A future bleak for homesteading?
After many months of communicating with the 3000 community, I am sure there are many homesteading customers who no longer have IT staff, so there are no belts or suspenders holding up their HP 3000 support. (3000 types were called "belt and suspender" pros because they took no chances at all, and learned to build redundent systems.) MB Foster's Birket Foster calls this “flight attendants flying the plane,” and it’s risky as all get-out. Get help, get trained, get advice. Don’t fly solo.
“Migrating right now keeps things under control” is somewhat optimistic, from what I hear. It’s not unusual to embrace a packaged app as a replacement, then to find a year or so later it cannot preserve a set of business rules. Or worse, like out in Socorro County, New Mexico, where the vendor is more than a year overdue on the municipal application replacement. Worst of all, some come to the realization that a promised replacement app is vaporware.
Then there’s the PSSI 911 software application, running a pretty crucial MPE/iX program in some cities. If the 3000 is still running well, and since PSSI has not turned off customer support, it’s risky to switch over to something else — and maybe have a 911 dispatch call get dropped. Use your own imagination about what kind of trouble sparks a 911 call, and be sure to leave out the cat-in-a-tree jokes.
A bleak future for all homesteaders is one viewpoint, and I have mine. Everybody leaves this platform eventually, but the same is likely to be said about OpenVMS and HP-UX. The level of a homesteader’s support, availability of hardware and parts, and a customer’s internal 3000 skills and experience determines whatever level of bleak.
Some of these companies have no way to move other than offering themselves up to be acquired by a competitor or parent company, who will then throw bodies and money at the migration which the 3000 company couldn’t afford.
The other option is that this recession lifts in a torrent of commerce. We wish for that kind of better tomorrow, and soon. In the meantime, things are slowing down out there in the 3000 transition, rather than winding down — with plenty of work still to be completed.
June 09, 2008
To-morrow may not be moving day
First of two parts
Now that it's crept into the second week of June, all of the US Presidential primary campaigns are decided. No matter who Americans will support in the fall, it’s clear the top issue for our voters is the economy in the US. (It’s no better overseas.) When I pull my minivan away from the pump, having spent my 65 bucks on a fill-up, I cannot drive more than 400 miles before I spend again.
There’s a recession roiling out there, driven in part by those oil prices. I see signs and reports the recession is having an impact on the outlook for homesteading versus migration. If revenues are down for a company, it’s got to cut back on spending. A delay in a migration strategy is something like not driving so much. You combine trips, ride-share with friends. Your life changes and so do your plans for the future, your next car. You shop for a winner in fuel economy. If you drive an efficient car, you hang onto it longer if you cannot afford a new car payment.
My partner Abby Lentz and I invested in a new car payment in November, but we moved across to a better-outfitted model, more efficient and at about the same price as our last one. We love the new car (it fits three bikes nicely, plus camping gear) and manage the payments okay. Our last van had become a monthly service bill we couldn’t predict.
Our new car might represent a new computer environment for the 3000 user. An assured expense, rather than uncertain needs that cost lord knows what. These new car analogies break down quick, since trading to a new car is dead simple compared to most migrations. (Among the dead-simple migrations we hear about are the Eloquence database and Speedware swaps, or tools that move across like Suprtool and MB Foster’s suite. They all make a point of acting like an HP 3000.)
You will hear, from many sources, that homesteading for the long term is bleak. You will hear that only migration gives you a measure of control for your company’s enterprise tomorrows. You will hear the majority of the 3000 community is migrating or already has finished.
We hear different. Nobody can ever measure a majority of a customer base which no one can contact top to bottom. Not even HP, which still gets in front of customers from time to time to spread what I’d call a favorite fable. HP’s liked the idea of most of its 3000 customers moving away, liked it since 2002. Remember then, when 80 percent of you were going to be migrated in four years? We heard that from the HP 3000 General Manager — back where there was an HP 3000 GM — the same person who decided the 3000 customer was at risk of using a declining ecosystem.
HP is among the leading species in that decline. Your app supplier might have done a belly-up. Your tool provider might have lost interest in your 3000. But most often, we see evidence that HP’s impact and efforts for the 3000 are being curtailed, and swiftly.
Migration from a 3000 that’s been ignored can be extra difficult. The ignorance is without malice. With an economy stumbling now, the accepted wisdom makes 3000 spending look like a risk. Unearthing what makes the 3000 reliable, to try to migrate it, takes special skills. One migration advisor calls himself a “Computer Paleontologist.” Clever, accurate, but wrapped up in one viewpoint. And not the only view.
I disagree about the long term risk and relative folly of homesteading for the longer term, or having no migration plan whatsoever. Specifics on migration are missing from some customers who say they’re migrating. People say they are migrating but then do little to nothing. I get this report from both The Support Group and MB Foster, who do their own search for anthropological sites of the 3000 community. Foster is a HP Platinum migration partner, and The Support Group migrates customers, too. That’s a dual viewpoint.
More than once they’ve found a system manager — spending most of the time to keep a Windows or Unix installation running — say they wondered what that 3000 was doing in their shop. Things like “we always thought that thing in the closet was important. It runs the applications we rely on most. We’re glad to find out what it is.” I heard this just last week from Jeff Kubler, a 3000 advisor in our Q&A interview. He works in migration support, too.
June 06, 2008
Applied Technologies talk spotlights open source
Second of two parts
At this spring's GHRUG International Technology Conference, HP 3000 advice flowed freely. One community services provider, Brian Edminster of Applied Technologies, gave attendees a tour of how open source helped his firm beat an impossible HP 3000 project deadline.
Open source software can keep HP 3000s online and productive, even in the face of industry requirement changes and new government regulations. Edminster told of a 3000 installation processing Point of Sale transactions, a customer which faced new PCI compliance demands. He was tasked with finding a solution to the new credit card compliance rules late in 2005 — with a January 2006 deadline.
“What we were struggling with was not that uncommon,” he explained. “The solution of choice was a version of the package OpenSSH, an open source implementation of a secure shell.” OpenSSH offers publicly exchanged authentication, encrypted communication for secure file transfers, a secure shell command line, port forwarding. “It’s amazing how much you get, and it’s available for many operating systems.”But at first, none of those operating system implementations included MPE/iX. OpenSSH requires a shell for the MPE/iX version; it doesn’t run at the MPE command line. But it’s been ported using OpenSSL for the HP 3000 and Perl/iX, both available from the Jazz Web server. “The version of Perl that’s available for the 3000 is about as current as you can get for any platform,” Edminster said. Perl, another open source tool, “was designed for portability across platforms, and it works nicely,” he said.
OpenSSH protects from “man in the middle” security attacks by using DNS resolution, another open source utility that Bixby has wired into MPE/iX. Edminster recommended “the definitive guide to OpenSSH, commonly known as ‘the snail book’ from O’Reilly Press, Second Edition.”
That 3000 site working on its POS security requirements enabled DNS resolution across its enterprise, so Edminster was able to use a handy MPE/iX script written by Jeff Vance, retired from HP, called DNSCHECK. “It’s a beautiful piece of scripting that checks, step by step, all the things necessary for name resolution to work” on an HP 3000.
OpenSSH uses cryptological software to pad out blocks of data which are being transferred. The HP 3000’s random number generation routines are “not so good” for this, Edminster explained. Random number routines must have a much longer cycle length of repeats than MPE/iX provides. MPE has no random number generation built into its kernel, unlike other operating environments. The solution is “the Entropy Gathering Daemon, which is already packaged up by Ken Hirsh with his port of OpenSSH,” Edminster reported.
Open source solutions to the POS project included ZLIB, a compression library included in the Posix implementation on the HP 3000. The ZLIB on the 3000 is version 1.1.3; consultants insisted on a newer 1.2.3 version for needed security. “I just downloaded it from the ZLIB Web site, and executed the MAKE command. It’s probably the simplest package you can port on the HP 3000.”
The collection of PCI security tools from open source resources had to be integrated with the existing HP 3000 application. STR Software, which now specializes in communication packages and message delivery, has a POS/3000 package. “In spite of the fact that it was written in SPL, and almost 20 years ago, they worked with us to make the modifications necessary to allow us to integrate this new secure communication protocol,” Edminster said.
He warned that the port of OpenSSH for the HP 3000 includes a remote shell module that doesn’t work very well, “due to the peculiarities of the Posix implementation on the HP 3000. So we had to think outside the box, which is something you must do sometimes — for open source software that didn’t port completely, or only has the basic functionality working.”
Edminster wrote a simple shell script to execute the few remote commands OpenSSH required. “It was executed once a minute by cron,” the open source scheduler utility included in MPE/iX. What we ended up with was a retail replacement project which we were given a month late to start, but we met by the completion date with the use of open source software.”
June 05, 2008
Open source opens homestead options
First of two parts
And yes, Virginia, even some migration tasks are made easier by the bounty of open source software for the HP 3000.
HP and its engineers, and especially the 3000 community's volunteers, worked hard to bring open source solutions to MPE/iX. Brian Edminster showed off the glories and tricks of using open source software during a speech at this spring’s GHRUG International Technology Conference. And if ever there was a technology with international scope, it’s open source. These programs and subsystems have already helped 3000 owners expand networking, establish Web servers and share files. Edminster, who heads up Applied Technologies, noted other advantages of open source — like a broader set of experts who understand it.
“If you want to install and integrate an open source application on your 3000, it’s a whole lot easier to find someone who has open source experience, instead of 3000 experience,” he said.
When HP carried the 3000’s OS from MPE/XL to MPE/iX in the middle 1990s, the vendor added a Unix interface to 3000 intrinsics, as well as key Unix tools. The 3000’s Posix environment is “Unix-like enough that a standard Unix guy will have no problems getting around,” Edminster said.
Finding open source applications is also a no-brainer. The top three places to find pre-compiled binaries of open source tools are the HP Jazz Web server’s software section (jazz.external.hp.com); former HP engineer and QSS developer Mark Bixby’s site, bixby.org/mark; and former HP support engineer Lars Appel’s Web space at editcorp.com/Personal/Lars_Appel.
The HP 3000 engineers Bixby and Appel created these “load and go” versions of popular open source apps for the 3000, along with other Hewlett-Packard engineers. But Edminster told attendees about other open source repositories for apps that can be used after they’re ported. Bixby’s and Appel’s pages also offer white papers on how to do such porting for the 3000 manager who wants to do the work themselves. Bixby’s paper identifies the open source apps that could be ported more easily, as well as those that provide more complex challenges.
“Most open source software is designed to be easy to port, so you don’t need to be a Unix or C guru to do these,” Edminster said. Using outside-the-3000 expertise on open source can improve the efficiency of a port to the 3000, he added. Mark Klein, who ported the first Gnu C++ tools to start the 3000’s open source era, is available to help on a port at www.dis.com. Managers should also scan the archives of the 3000 newsgroup for any notes on apps that have already been ported.
Since the 3000 community has been built on do-it-yourself skill sets of its most seasoned users, HP created an open source porting paper this year, also available on the HP Web site. Edminster pointed out The “Samba 3.0.22 Porting Whitepaper” by Vidya Sagar (jazz.external.hp.com/src/samba/samba-pw.pdf) “a white paper that explains how to do a port, starting from scratch including the tools needed. He also describes the limitations and peculiarities of the Posix environment on the 3000,” Edminster said.
Different flavors of Unix have different levels of completeness as well as their own peculiarities, he added, so the 3000’s nuances are not an anomaly. Software written for the Posix environment is a better prospect for a port.
Open source applications without load-and-go implementations are posted on Web sites such as gnu.org, sourceforge.net and freshmeat.net. SourceForge is not only a searchable library of applications, but a home for hosting open source projects. “It can provide a footprint for people who want to do a porting project,” Edminster said. The framework provides forums, categorization tools, bug reporting and training.
Freshmeat.net is primarily an announcement site. “Prepare to be astounded at the volume of software that’s announced daily on freshmeat.net,” Edminster said.
June 04, 2008
Learn a little about ITIL online
Encompass is setting up a Webcast for 1 PM EDT tomorrow which promises a "sneak peek" at training in ITIL offered by ITPreneurs at the upcoming HP Technology Forum. ITIL stands for Information Technology Infrastructure Library, a tool which HP has helped build in its latest version.
You can sign up for the Webcast at a Go To Meeting page that links you to the Encompass site.
ITIL version 3 has become an important standard for companies of a certain size (larger than midrange, for the most part) and companies who are using HP as their main systems and software supplier. As we explained last summer after the Technology Forum, these are practices and solutions for the customer headed for HP-UX and Windows. The practices can be followed with MPE/iX systems, with some tweaks. But HP's solutions are strictly for the non-3000 environments.
Hewlett-Packard delivers the services and software solutions to attain compliance in ITIL. Auditors and shareholders and C-Level executives see ITIL as one solution to make IT a vital part of a company's growth plans.
The Encompass sneak peek is offered by ITPreneurs, a Rotterdam-based company with a US office. The firm specializes in training for such operational practices as ITIL.
Abbey L. Wiltse of ITpreneurs will present the Webcast of her HP Technology Forum & Expo 2008 full-day pre-conference seminar, "Discover the Best Practices of ITIL v3."
This webcast will provide a brief overview of the IT Service Management (ITSM) process and ITIL's contribution to demonstrable IT service value. This sneak peek into the "Discover the Best Practices of ITIL v3" pre-conference seminar will give you a glimpse into what ITIL is, how ITIL fits with other best practice frameworks, and what others have done to define, document, and obtain a return on investment from ITIL.
June 03, 2008
HP's migration choices vs. the vendor's end
In our final installment of the NewsWire's print issue Q&A with consultant and community expert Jeff Kubler, we asked him to share what he sees about customer care and feeding of the 3000s still in service.
How much "flight attendants flying the plane" do you find in HP 3000 administration these days?
I see people who could use some more knowledge They're flying the plane according to the radio instructions from the tower. They're still up there, but if they need to land sometime, they might get in trouble.
While working with Summit customers, oftentimes there were not people there who were very experienced. These people have good knowledge but don't have training because people aren't investing in that. Now the dis-investment process has gone far enough that they can have trouble: maybe disk drives that are not mirrored and starting to fail.
HP says the predominant choice for migration is HP-UX. What do you see?
If they have HP-UX in the environment already, and knowledgeable people, they do that. But a lot of things are now being driven by "Well, we looked at that five years ago and four years ago and it was too expensive. And today, another company purchased us. And they run AS/400s, doing the same thing our 20 HP 3000s are doing. So let's just go over there."
Then you see them say, "I thought we were migrating off the HP 3000 because it was proprietary. Now we're being purchased by a company that's running proprietary stuff, so we're running on their proprietary stuff."
These things can be driven by what people are familiar with, like a large Windows implementation. Or we see a lot of benefits in the HP-UX move because of things like Suprtool, so they go that way. Otherwise, people wait around until some natural environmental thing causes them to move, like being purchased.
What do you see out there as far as customer satisfaction with third party HP 3000 support?
There's a lot of people very happy. Now you have all that knowledge base from people who are advocates for the 3000 working together at a single company, rather than having it spread throughout HP. When you go to a company that is specifically providing this for the HP 3000, you talk with people who really know what they're talking about. You don't have to go through a buffer.
When you do appeal to HP, it's sometimes hard to find knowledgeable people. I've made some calls on behalf of clients and asked about HP 3000s and got some very puzzled responses. "What kind of printer is that?" they say. "That's a server," I say. "Where's that come from?" Finally you do get to somebody who can give authoritative support. You just have to wade though a few layers before you get to them.
What difference will it make, to you or to the customers you serve, once HP leaves this 3000 market entirely?
Some people are so unhappy with HP abandoning the platform that they aren't using HP anymore. Those that are staying with HP like the confidence of having that big entity behind them. For the people who are staying because of that confidence, when HP's gone, they will be rather antsy and wanting to get onto something else. Big Brother isn't there anymore - even if they were using third party people for support, there's some confidence they can appeal to HP for help if the third party can't help them.
HP is leaving this environment, yes. But sometimes I wonder, why did they spin off Agilent and not the HP 3000 business? I imagine it's because of the competition it would set up for their own HP-UX servers. Maybe they wanted people to buy HP-UX or the HP Windows servers. In that sense, it didn't make sense for them to spin off their own competition.
My observation is that when you do this kind of [exit], then confidence is shaken in all quarters. Customers wonder if HP-UX is going to be around. "We used to buy all of our laptops from HP, but when they pulled the rug out from under the 3000, we switched that too."
June 02, 2008
Migration connections, as well as about-faces
Second of three parts
In our 3000 Newswire print issue Q&A interview with 3000 community performance and management consultant Jeff Kubler, I asked him where the advantages seemed to rest in the customer base he's encountered during the Transition Era.
What makes migration a better choice for some customers?
I think re-creation with Eloquence [as a database], and using one of the portable COBOL compilers can make a migration happen very readily. I've heard stories of people getting a huge, expensive picture painted for them, the cost to migrate to .NET, C Sharp and a SQL or Oracle application. Then they make the decision to go to Eloquence and use some of these tools, see how little investment they must make, compared to what the full-blown thing would have cost, and how easy it was.
If a person has a very functional application in the main, solving the problems of your entity, and you want to get to a place where if you have a problem you want to get an HP-UX box that could be 2-3 years old, instead of 5-8 on the HP 3000 — and the UX box can be supported by HP or some other competent provider, a person can get to a migrated state using compilers like AcuCOBOL. You can get 500 programs compiled in a couple of days solve a few other issues and be up and running.
Do companies report they're migrating, but do little once they say so?
"We are migrating off next year," is the most common thing I've heard, year after year. It puts everything in a dangerous place, and many companies have only been saved by the rock-solid nature of the HP 3000. Companies have stopped investing in software, support and training.
Even announced migration plans, once they pass through the do-little period, are being rescinded. The major reason for this kind of an about-face is an inability to locate a third party application that does everything an HP 3000 app has been doing. Kubler said
I've seen a lot of places where they're migrating for three, four or five years since 2001. They still haven't migrated, and they don't have a plan to go anywhere. And while they're migrating, they're not going to make any investment in training, or keeping their third party tools licensed, or even knowing if they're supported, or by whom.
I even had a company who made that migration statement for years, then realized they couldn't find an application of what they had now, designed for their business rules. After saying they're migrating for a number of years, they've started to come back and reinvest in 3000 things.
Why hasn't that neglect caused more turmoil?
It's the dual-edged sword of the 3000, it's ease of use and hardiness. At one large customer in Minnesota, I was consulting on performance and capacity. The CIO was describing the environment and he said nothing about having HP 3000s. When I went down to talk to the datacenter manager, he shows me the three of these, ten of those and four of that. Then he said, "Now these three, 997 whatevers, are the most critical boxes in the room here. They do all the things that haven't been migrated, and consequently, they're the most important ones. The non-important tasks are being done by these other ones now."
The CIO didn't have any knowledge of the 3000s. You ask them, "What's that box over there?" and they say, "That's where I set my bucket of water next to when I mop." There sits an HP 3000 that no one even recognizes as the critical system, because it never needs to be rebooted, and it just runs.