March 31, 2011
Making note of OpenMPE in its quietest span
Sometimes an event becomes noteable when it doesn't take place. Like the sound of a tree falling in a forest when nobody is around, OpenMPE had no election news this month. It's the first March since 2003 that we haven't reported the changes on the roster of its board of directors, a group of volunteers that's ranged from six to nine members since 2002. More than two dozen have volunteered since HP announced its 3000 exit.
In this month-end podcast to commemorate that quiet -- OpenMPE is waiting on an April 19 court hearing over a lawsuit before it starts to elect anyone again -- we take a summary look at what steps lay before the band of plucky volunteers who still dare to care about MPE's future. There's no lack of things to do that might help the HP 3000 homesteaders. But in the economics of 2011, quite a bit more persistence and innovation will be needed to make a business out of these community benefits.
March 30, 2011
Learn about migration's best practices today
The 3000 Transition Era has been underway for more than nine years by now. That means there's plenty of user experience to tap while planning a migration of applications away from the 3000. Today at 1PM Eastern time, Birket Foster shares some best practices based on years of helping customers make a move.
The founder of MB Foster leads a 45-minute webinar on Migration Best Practices. While you're looking at slides and listening to the presentation, you can be forming questions to ask and hear the other participant questions. That last part can be useful to help think through the many aspects of getting mission critical apps to run on a new platform.
You don't need to have made a commitment to migrate. The webinar is designed for "organizations that are thinking of migrating legacy applications," according to the company's summary of the event. You can register for free at the event's web page.
According to MB Foster's planners, more companies are taking a harder look at making a transition than the analysis of the past. Resources and budget have been harder to find, so justification has to be more considered. "Migration projects are challenging and different for every organization -- there is no one size fits all plan," the company says. MB Foster sees the choices as to build, to buy, or to migrate.
March 29, 2011
Webinar replay tracks newest HP storage
HP has poured billions into its storage business over the last two years. While HP 3000-ready products are still tied to the XP line of disks, there's a huge array of products that are a full generation newer. These are well-fitted for Windows server installations, not to mention Unix. Migrators should be tracking these options while they configure their target platforms. At left is the p4800 G2 SAN, a brand-new array that HP says is integrated with its blade servers.
Given these new players, it's not easy to embrace such a broad scope of products. We've found a WebEx webinar replay that does a good job of explaining the differences between 3PAR utility cloud offerings and HP's own brands of disk. It looks worth the time to review it, even if the audio is a little sketchy in places.
"HP Storage: The Path Forward" was hosted by the Connect user group earlier this month. The PowerPoint slide deck can be downloaded separately from reviewing the streamed WebEx presentation. (You will need to be a Connect member to access this, but if you're working on a migration and don't belong yet, it's inexpensive enough to simply join.)
The commentary attached to the slides is extensive, much more so than lots of slide decks. You could almost make an article out of it, but we're checking in with HP's Lee Johns, who led the webinar, before you can read it here.The p4000 series of storage is a product set HP describes as "pay as you grow," according to Johns. And the 2-node configuration of the SAN device has been cut in half at the entry level, he explains.
HP P4800 BladeSystem SANs are absolutely the most efficient SAN for HP BladeSystem as they utilize the full set of BladeSystem capabilities. HP can uniquely leverage its huge supply chain and market leadership in blade servers to now deliver a scalable high performance SAN for HP BladeSystem at a significantly lower entry point vs the competition.
Placing clustered P4000 nodes inside the shared infrastructure of the BladeSystem c-Class chassis eliminates the dedicated external storage networking typically associated with disk arrays… reducing networking costs by 65 percent while the common power and cooling infrastructure cuts those costs by over 30 percent. As an iSCSI array, the Flex-10 networking infrastructure of BladeSystem provides increased agility from virtual machine all the way to disk spindle without ever leaving the BladeSystem.
Before these feeds and speeds, the webinar also makes good cases for upgrading storage to comply with the fresh needs of expanding IT. Definitely worthwhile, if you want to be able to compare storage for your migration platform with options from EMC and other vendors.
March 28, 2011
Transition timing flows from manager savvy
Managers of HP 3000s sometimes have full control of what's to become of their systems. The most fortunate have management's faith in a skill set that has kept company business running for many years. Some of the best-situated IT managers see succession as a key element in sustaining business critical computing.
Enter Dave Powell, the prolific and veteran manager at MM Fab, a Southern California fabric manufacturer. Last week he gave the community notice of a potential job opening at his company. Powell was suggesting that learning the firm's 3000 environment might be a good first step in take over his own duties, someday. It takes a confident manager to start a job search for their own replacement.
Powell's story looks like a tale of savvy that's keeping his company on the 3000 -- and if they had a replacement to cover his retirement, maybe they'd delay a migration. He adds that MM Fab has not "picked a package yet. They've sent out an RFP and are in the early stages of evaluating a bunch of proposals."
Powell is proposing a plan to sustain the company's knowledge about a totally custom application, written in "some pretty horrid COBOL" in some spots. While he's still on hand to help, he'd like to see somebody else learn about that business logic.It might be a bit easier to step in to an off-the-shelf app situation for ERP like MANMAN, but this is a custom-crafted app. But that does not mean there's not an opportunity there for a 3000 veteran who's trying to preserve career value in MPE and COBOL skills.
"We might have something for someone later," Powell said in a public note on the 3000 newsgroup. "Or not. Nothing now and nothing definite. If we don't end up buying some sort of package, we should eventually want someone to help me enhance things here, and/or someone to replace me when I retire. That last is my Plan A -- after 30 years of enhancing this system, I'd much rather hand it off intact to someone than preside over its demolition."
Outlining the position as "a good opportunity for someone who likes MPE and warm Southern California weather more than high salary, prospects for future advancement, and their sanity," Powell laid out the specifics.
A possible replacement for me would have to wear a lot of hats -- I'm department head, system administrator, programmer (currently the only programmer), PC setup/support/security, evening operator. Basically, the computer department is me and an operator, and the operator spends half her time doing things for other departments.
I think the position would probably be full-time, "permanent" (well, as permanent as anything can be that involves computers and the fabric business) and on-site. Don't see how a telecommuter could wear all of my hats.
Requirements are COBOL / IMAGE / VPlus / MPE and ability to put up with a lot. But some of the MPE and COBOL stuff is a bit tricky. (Fair warning - some of the older COBOL is pretty horrid. It's easy to imagine a new guy taking one look and running away screaming.)
Powell says there's more than 50 percent chance that his company buys a package, a migration that he figures would put all of the COBOL and 3000 programming "into the bit-bucket. But I have a slightly better chance of persuading management to stick with our old system if I can show them that replacements for me are not impossible to find. A few impressive-looking expressions of interest that I can show management might help me fend off the migration/package fiends."
He's listening for email replies to his company's opportunity, if there's one on the horizon. At the least, Powell is doing his best to ensure the package selection committee doesn't make a decision only to find there's nobody left to help understand the existing 3000 application. This kind of task also comes under the heading of "sustaining."
And if the interest helps preserve the 3000 at MM Fab, then Powell has helped himself along with his company.
March 25, 2011
Phoenix police pull over its N-Class 3000
One of the earliest users of the N-Class 3000s has become one of the latest to pull its server off the road. The Phoenix Police Department shut down its last remaining 3000 this month, a system that Senior IT Systems Specialist Robert Holtz reports was an N-Class server.
Phoenix was among the major US cities that counted on a 911 dispatch software package written for MPE/iX. In the years that led up to HP's exit announcement, 911 installations were a point of pride for the platform. HP even said that 90 percent of large cities were using 3000s for law enforcement. These cities tapped an application from PSSI. One replacement, Sentinel, employs Windows. But that solution from the Motorola subsidiary doesn't use the term PC, Windows or even "the computer" in its data sheet. 911 has become computer telephony.
Holtz said the 3000's application, rather than MPE/iX or the 3000 hardware, triggered the shutdown of the system in Phoenix. "We replaced our Computer-Aided Dispatch (911 application) and support for our computers in the police vehicles with a new vendor," he said. "That vendor was to recommend new hardware, too -- hence, the retirement of the N-Class."
Not many HP 3000 N-Class servers were already installed, as the one in Phoenix was, before HP backed away from the platform's futures. Holtz said the department owned its server while HP was still promoting a future for the newest generation of 3000s."The N-Class was here for a short time -- I think about a year if memory serves me right -- before HP announced their exit," Holtz said. "The application was moved one year ago to another platform, and the HP 3000 was no longer needed."
Retiring an N-Class in 2011, plus buying it in 2001, puts Phoenix in a special category. Few customers can count a decade of operations on the final generation of 3000s that HP built. By Holtz's reckoning, he purchased this one within months of HP's exit-the-market announcement.
When HP made that announcement more than seven years ago, the vendor pointed to a declining ecosystem as the chief reason it wanted to put away the server on an end-of-life sentence. Application suppliers like the one serving Phoenix had little choice after HP's notice. They had to put development and sales efforts into other platforms, because their customers were more likely to see the vendor's exit as an emergency.
It was something like tripping a silent alarm -- and then when the police arrived in the lobby, accusing the bank of being an unsafe depository. Phoenix police continued to trust the 3000's reliability for almost seven years after HP's alarm. Holtz, and other IT pros like him, are finding their 3000 futures handcuffed at last.
March 24, 2011
OpenMPE gets notice of its day in court
The OpenMPE volunteers have reported their first scheduled court date to hear motions on the Nov. 23 lawsuit against the group, one filed by former treasurer Matt Perdue. The volunteers' counter-motion to dismiss will be heard April 19, according to vice-chairman Keith Wadsworth. The venue will be the 407th Texas district court in Bexar County, where Perdue filed his suit pro se, representing himself.
OpenMPE's board has been sued, along with Wadsworth and chairman Jack Connor individually, for allegedly not dealing in OpenMPE's fiduciary interests during 2010. (In something of a puzzle, Perdue was a member of the board that he is suing during the period of the alleged injuries.) Perdue's suit claims that Wadsworth contacted a co-location service in San Antonio where Perdue had been denied access to his equipment, a rack that included OpenMPE’s donated servers. Perdue claims in his suit that Wadsworth took a hand in keeping OpenMPE out of the dispute between Purdue and his vendor.
The group had been paying Perdue to host the equipment, a step on a year-long quest to create a new Invent3k server and Jazz outlet. Perdue is suing the co-locator, CCNBI, for turning off the 3000s and other computers over a disputed invoice. Invent3K went online last fall on servers outside of Perdue's control. The board removed him on Nov. 12.
OpenMPE is seeking declaratory judgement -- a judge's dismissal -- to confirm that Perdue "has no rights or interest in, or authority to act on behalf OpenMPE; and the HP Source Code license is owned by OpenMPE." It has hired a San Antonio lawyer, as well as relying on another attorney, one who Wadsworth retains for his own business matters.Members have termed the lawsuit a distraction and worse, something that is taking the focus off other matters for the volunteer group's future. OpenMPE still owes Wadsworth $5,000 on a loan taken out to purchase the OpenMPE source code license it was granted one year ago.
As of today, the source is back at HP's offices in California, secretary-treasurer Tracy Johnson confirmed. Perdue was induced to return the source to HP, after claiming he'd already done so, in late January. Johnson said the group was working to get the source back into the volunteers' hands. OpenMPE's got no paid technical staff to work with this source code. Any technical work with source would have to come from contractor engineers.
OpenMPE floated a request on Feb. 14 for more funding in the form of contributions. The volunteers are seeking $50,000 to carry them through legal defenses and the assembly of paid services including resale of HP 3000 software.
If the motion to dismiss the suit is turned down by the judge in Texas, it could be a long wait to take the matter to trial. Court dockets are crowded enough in Bexar County, where Perdue does business, that a November trial date is not out of the question.
March 23, 2011
Oracle steps off Itanium; Intel stays on rails
There's no love lost these days between Oracle and HP, a pair of vendors who are serving more than a few HP 3000 migration customers. Oracle's often the database that corporate IT HQ dictates to 3000-using divisions. For a serious share of the transition-bound customer, HP's Unix drives the apps bought off the shelf to replace MPE software.
Oracle announced yesterday that it's ending development for the processor line that drives HP-UX, curtailing work for the Itanium 2 chips inside HP's Integrity servers. Just a year ago the Itanium clan was pleased to announce Oracle's Business Suite 12 was ported to the latest Itanium chips. Twelve months later Oracle has completed its Sun acquisition, sells systems to compete with Integrity servers in a group by former HP CEO Mark Hurd -- and wants the world to believe Intel is stepping back from Itanium, too.
Intel says that's bunk. "Intel’s work on Intel Itanium processors and platforms continues unabated with multiple generations of chips currently in development and on schedule," said Paul Otellini, president and CEO of Intel. “We remain firmly committed to delivering a competitive, multi-generational roadmap for HP-UX and other operating system customers that run the Itanium architecture."
Oracle wants to believe that something it heard in an Intel briefing spells an end of life for the chip that holds the future for HP-UX. More to the point, it wants the customers who invest in HP's Integrity servers to believe that. Some software experts say that Oracle's probably lost the tech resources needed to keep up with Itanium."I question that Oracle has the technical capability to long-term develop on [Itanium]," said one engineer inside HP who's supporting enterprise alternatives to MPE/iX. "This announcement from Oracle is just a couple of vendors poking each other in the eye, but has little substance."
HP's Dave Donatelli, head of the company's server business, called the Oracle play a grandstand move.
“We are shocked that Oracle would put enterprises and governments at risk while costing them hundreds of millions of dollars in lost productivity in a shameless gambit to limit fair competition,” Donatelli said in a statement.
While there's been a steady exodus from Unix to Linux over the last five years, Oracle seems to want to throw dirt on one of its oldest partners in the Unix business. "It just sounds like Larry Ellison and Oracle trying to put a spin on something they (mis-)heard from their Intel buddies, so as to make HP look bad as part of their ongoing personality problems and feud," said another developer working in both MPE/iX and Itanium systems.
Oracle issued a compact shot across HP's bow yesterday with Oracle's Itanium exit news.
After multiple conversations with Intel senior management, Oracle has decided to discontinue all software development on the Intel Itanium microprocessor. Intel management made it clear that their strategic focus is on their x86 microprocessor and that Itanium was nearing the end of its life.
Both Microsoft and RedHat have already stopped developing software for Itanium. HP CEO Leo Apotheker made no mention of Itanium in his long and detailed presentation on the future strategic direction of HP.
This kind of advice from a competitor is common fare in the Unix world, where both HP and Sun made customers question the career moves of staying with Solaris or HP-UX. While Oracle was eager to point out it believes there's no future in Itanium, it was careful to add in its announcement that "Oracle will continue to provide customers with support for existing versions of Oracle software products that already run on Itanium."
What Oracle never makes clear in its announcement is that it now sells servers that compete directly with Itanium. You can only imagine what might have been said in those multiple conversations, but the 3000 shops steering toward Itanium might dream up this exchange between Intel's Otellini and Oracle's Ellison:
Oracle: Paul, are you going to stop making that Itanium stuff?
Intel: That's never even come up in a meeting.
Oracle: Why not? Nobody's buying it but HP. And we're selling the databases those HP Unix customers need for it.
Intel: Larry, we sell enough Itanium to keep our developers busy. How about your Itanium developers?
(Sound of shuffling papers and scraping chairs)
Oracle: Paul, we're going to use our developers on other projects. We just wanted to know if you were going to keep Itanium as a little side project. Or put it down.
Intel: We'll let you know when it looks like the end of life for Itanium. We work on a lot of technologies at once here. I bet you're spreading out like that over there now, with all that Sun hardware business. Larry, how's it looking for us getting some processors into those servers of yours? Isn't that Sparc stuff a little out of date?
Oracle: Mark Hurd says you're focusing on x86, right?
Intel: Larry, you really need to get off the sailboat and into the office a little more. Everybody knows that. We always wondered what Hurd had against Itanium. He never mentioned it in any long, detailed presentations before he left HP.
Oracle: Hold on; I'm coming about and trimming the sail. There. I got a summary of that Leo guy's speech from Hurd. Nothing in there about Itanium.
Intel: So then nothing's changed about HP's Itanium plan, has it?
Oracle: Paul, you're breaking up. Must be the damn Golden Gate getting in the way of the cell. Nice talking with you again.
March 22, 2011
3000 products remain on sale at Quest
Quest Software is sticking to a steady path with its software for the HP 3000. The company which created the NetBase clustering software (sold as SharePlex by HP through 2007) continues to offer its 3000 products on a web page dedicated to the company's 3000 business.
Quest has a much bigger presence in the database utility market today, but its product manager John Saylor pointed out that disaster recovery for 3000s has remained among the company's ongoing businesses.
"We continue to provide the homesteaders continued support for all MPE products," he said. "None of products have been end-of-lifed. Many customers have blended together multiple HP 3000s into clusters to create the horsepower necessary to support their business and to create a highly available disaster tolerant environment."
BridgeWare, a solution to synchronize IMAGE data with Oracle databases, is a much newer Quest product than NetBase. Nine products, plus several spinoffs, show the heritage of Quest development. The company's even got an NFS network file system version for HP 3000s."We still have our MPE installed base," Saylor reported in a message to us. "We have our migration tool BridgeWare that has performed several hundreds of very successful migrations to different platforms. Our clustering software Network File Access (NFA) allows the combining of the HP 3000s to look to the user community as a single HP 3000. We handle all the networking between the servers for data and spooling. The customer then can have a remote server for Disaster Recovery for the auditors, and to safeguard the business environment."
Homesteading customers sometimes need software to sustain their environments. In particular, NetBase was the most unique of Quest's products, installed at some very high profile sites over the last 20 years. Clustering is tricky and painstaking technology. HP's OpenVMS environment excels at this kind of mission-critical service.
While more than a few HP 3000 software providers have had to de-commission their MPE development, it's encouraging to see a vendor continue to show unique technology, plus a raft of takes on fundamentals like spooling and file sharing. Genuine dedication to a computer HP stopped building in 2003 starts with sustaining a product lineup.
March 21, 2011
Framing Wires for 3000 Management Plans
Last week we reported the plight of Connie Sellitto, an IT manager at the Cat Fanciers' Association who's the 3000 expert at CFA. The association is just starting a move to Windows and using a contractor who's most comfortable with "wireframe" maps of systems. Sellitto had just a few days to create one of these diagrams that outlined its 3000 databases.
Sellitto got a lot of advice from the 3000 community to help solve her problem, a challenge that began when the Microsoft Visio charting tool wouldn't work with 3000 information. She reported back to us at the end of last week. "I've gotten the Minisoft ODBC driver to work with the 2003 version of Visio. Really a major time saver. When you select 'Load Automatic Masters' in the ODBC definition, Visio even draws the relationship lines. Some tweaking is needed, as for primary indexes, but all in all, this is a good solution."
Wireframes like the one above (click it for detail) are common planning tools for website designers. Sellitto says the contractor's primary business is websites. But just because websites seem like an odd match with enterprise IT doesn't mean that wireframe diagrams are ill-suited to 3000 planning. Sometimes you need that 30,000-foot view to start -- or to sustain.Microsoft's software -- which after all, is going to run CFA in the future -- was Sellitto's path to providing a wireframe in about five days.
I was first able to connect to my database using MS Query, so I knew the ODBC part was set up correctly. However, Visio2010 did not recognize the names of the datasets nor data items. Apparently, this is due to its use of unicode, rather than the ASCII names on the HP 3000. Minisoft support was most helpful; they indicated they working on a version of ODBC that will work with Visio2010, and suggested trying an older version of Visio, which the migration company supplied.
Downloaded a copy of Visio2003, connected with the ODBC HP3000 driver, Voila! Worked like a charm! Checking the ‘Load Automatic Masters’ box in the ODBC setup allowed Visio to draw the relationship lines. Data item names and definitions came across accurately.
The results are exactly what I needed, and I believe this will help others who may find themselves in a similar position -- having to provide a diagram of an IMAGE database.
Sustaining a 3000 enterprise still requires this kind of management. That's especially true if the systems were designed by DP managers from another decade, now long-gone from a shop. Both sustaining and migration require more expertise than the diagram above; you need to know IMAGE architecture, or at least have a tool like the database migration tools from MB Foster (UDACentral) or Speedware (DBMotion) or Transoft (DBIntegrate), if you're moving.
But sustaining means, "meeting the needs of an environment that has business changes," too. If nothing else, the wireframes can be part of a documentation package -- an element nobody wants to spend one extra minute creating.
March 18, 2011
Itanium Chips Into Its Second Decade
The best vehicle for HP-UX to grab any new system sales crosses the 10-year mark this month. Itanium made its debut in HP servers one decade ago, arriving just as HP was ready to cross out its futures in the HP 3000 line. HP started its migration mantra with a serious push toward Itanium servers and HP-UX. But that was long before Linux and low-cost Intel Xeon systems fractured HP's world domination plans. If this were golf, the current decade would be a chip shot after an errant drive off the tee of 2001, and iron-work to get HP's customers closer to the cup.
It's hard to remember that when this chip started, both Intel and HP predicted a hole in one: there would be little else to purchase by the early part of last decade. Itanium didn't even have a separate server line until Hewlett-Packard rolled out the Integrity servers, but a few HP 3000 sites adopted those initial Itanium systems anyway. These were the rx7xxx servers, and it didn't help their popularity that they were only marginally faster than PA-RISC systems for several years. Itanium 2 started to change all that, but by the time that next year's Poulsons got promised and today's 9300s had a shipping date, the markets had moved on to the other Intel chipset, x86-compatible Xeons.
It's now old-school thinking to believe that any hardware can spark sales on its own. IT managers need to see an ecosystem to invest, although they're good at sticking with technology that's efficient and not yet obsolete, with some growth options. Itanium still offers all of those, but its Unix software prospects are on the decline, with Linux taking in all the new enterprise installations which aren't Windowed. Linux runs on Itanium, but there's a spotty future there too, with the largest Linux vendor RedHat backing away.
HP's got an Itanium fan club in the Connect Itanium Solutions Alliance, a user group outpost where vendors (mostly) and users trade news and prospects for the chip ecosystem. One year ago the Alliance announced that Oracle's E-Business Suite Release 12 was being certified on the HP-UX Itanium platform. HP shipped off its latest Integrity servers running the 9300 Itanium, and this spring chip supplier Intel showed off a peek (above) at the future for a chip nobody figured would become so niche so quickly. The Alliance has its own newsletter online, plus a Twitter feed if keeping up with your migration target's only HP-UX platform is important to your planning.
Offered as the Valhalla of HP 3000 futures in 1999, what HP first called IA-64 had little chance at the broad popularity promised during the '90s. Six years ago Intel told analysts that Itanium "will be positioned as a high-end box designed to run data-intensive applications such as recognition, synthesis, and data-mining, "as well as high-transaction rate applications." We've said over and over that as Itanium goes, so goes HP-UX, because HP's Unix runs on nothing else by now.
But Intel likes the volume of sales that HP supplies today for the Itanium foundry. The chip vendor has never hinted that Itanium has been considered for end-of-life, as HP likes to say. But to say that Intel doesn't plan to cancel a chip that was unveiled with so much hubris in the 90s shows how far those plans have fallen. HP called the whole architecture Tahoe at first, and then Merced as it crept along at a suprisingly slow development pace.
By the time HP had divested itself of most technical control of Itanium, the chip still looked to be a guarantee of long life for any HP customer's platform. HP aired a dramatic telecast in the late '90s to tell 3000 customers IA-64 was not in the 3000's future. By 2001, the chip looked so important that one 3000 vendor tracked it against the future of the 3000. When IA-64 was delayed for the 3000s, the software vendor figured the writing was on HP's wall for 3000 futures.
That vendor turned out to be right, but Itanium didn't carry much sway outside of HP designs. Even last year the Alliance was pointing to a new Chinese OEM which was building Itanium systems. But while an IT manager might not track chip hardware anymore, the software suppliers certainly so, just like that 3000 vendor. Intel has a Data Center Group of chips now, and the DCG includes Mission Critical entries for both Itanium and what is termed "Expandable Xeon" chips: Boxboro-EX, Westermere-EX. Poulson and Kittson will join that group next year, so HP's probably designing Integrity systems to tap those, too.
March 17, 2011
That Sound You Just Heard, Post-Hurd
By Brian Edminster
In truth, "the sound you just heard" in HP's CloudSystem rollout this week was HP realizing that being in a commodity market isn't where they want to be -- because that inevitably results in a price-based (and therefore profit margin) race to the bottom. My only question: what took them so darn long to figure that out?
Over the years that included the reign of Mark Hurd and Carly Fiorina before him, we saw that race in decreasing quality of hardware, decreasing quality of support services, increasing reliance on 'outside sources' for both operating systems and applications, and increasing occurrences of having to purchase their 'innovation' from outside companies. I hesitate to even mention the apparent decreasing quality of senior management's ethics.
The only problem with this model is when (in reality) you're only competing on price, there will always be someone willing to operate with a smaller margin. The larger the company, the harder it is to operate on razor-thin margins that are ever-decreasing -- especially in a down economy. For a large company, it's just too hard to be nimble enough in such an environment to remain competitive. Even IBM had a hard time teaching the elephant how to tap-dance.
This commodity approach worked to some degree in the early days -- when HP could cash in on its historical reputation for making bullet-proof systems that were well-integrated like the HP 3000. Unfortunately, as they continued down that commodity hardware path, HP would end up no different than any other hardware vendor, and were being chosen only on price.
I believe HP saw the writing on the wall and realized that soon enough, Linux-based hardware would have eroded any difference in 'value added' for their HP-UX based systems. In short, why buy a HP-UX based system when you can get an ever-increasing level of value and capability from a Linux-based competitor? It's a shame, but I predict that Linux will do to HP-UX, what HP-UX did to MPE/iX, with regard to what server operating systems they'll support.
The real trick -- and what will make or break this in the long run -- is availability of webOS apps. When you are in a non-commodity market, added value is king. For these new generation OS's, that would be apps. In order to be something more than an also-ran, HP will have to beat Apple and Google at bringing good developers to the webOS platform to build great apps. There are ways to do this, but I'm not seeing HP accomplishing it yet. It should also be interesting to see how hard it'll be to get webOS apps to talk to 3000s, when webOS devices larger than phones become available this summer and beyond.
Given that a systems provider has so little control of this last app piece of the puzzle, I sorely hope that HP isn't buying the farm, instead of just betting it.
Brian Edminster is founder of Applied Technologies, a software consulting, development and systems management company with clients in both the HP 3000 and open source environments. His company specializes in open source solutions for all platforms, including the HP 3000.
March 16, 2011
Schedule time for a scheduler webinar today
MB Foster will offer a webinar on the scheduling challenges for Windows managers today at 2 PM EDT. Migrating to Windows, or just pushing more production work to these ubiquitous servers, includes solving problems with what Microsoft doesn't provide -- the IT tools that HP included with MPE/iX. Birket Foster explains that his lab and company discovered Windows' shortcomings in this enterprise essential.
"The scheduler that comes with Windows doesn't understand how to start the next process, or how to send an email to someone to say something completed, or it didn't," he said. "We take all of that for granted because we've been in the 3000 business." He goes on to say that once you have a whole collection of processes called Day End, or Month's End, "how do you stop them all from starting at once?"
If your migration planning, or that push toward Windows, does not include answers to those questions, then about 45 minutes this afternoon, with a chance to ask questions, could be well spent. Concepts that have been in HP's scheduler like JOBFENCE have been migrated, if you will, into a product that's been in the field for more than a year now. Register and dial in and have a quick briefing. It may be well worth the spot in your schedule.
March 15, 2011
CloudSystem fuels HP's exit from systems
Fifty percent higher and 100 million more points of integration: These are the numbers Hewlett-Packard used to get the industry's attention in a presentation yesterday. Even though HP remains in the systems business, it will define system as "software and networking" over the next four years. HP calls its new strategy CloudSystem. But the fact that the plan was unveiled about a week before HP's annual shareholder meeting might show how much weight the strategy carries in HP's top offices.
First, the 50. HP announced it will be increasing its dividend from 8 cents a share to 12 cents. The 50 percent increase in dividend returns might help keep skittish institutional shareholders in HP's investment club. Many technology companies don't pay dividends on stock anymore. The investors would be happier with a company trading at IBM's record levels, or at Apple's, of course. But since HP can't do that overnight, it can at least raise dividends. (Investors sold the stock down 56 cents in day-after trading, despite the dividend boost.)
Then, there's that 100 million. It's the number of computing devices HP plans to ship each year which can use webOS, the operating system built by Palm which HP owns. HP said it will be shipping desktops and laptops, phones and tablets, as well as printers by 2012 ready for webOS. "HP ships two PCs and two printers a second. That gives us an enormous install base that is going to grow," said CEO Leo Apotheker. "The fact is, people like working on PCs and that isn't going to go away." He added that HP won't be dumping Windows in favor of webOS. But the company is hawking its shiny new OS.
The tech outlook for webOS is cheery, but its market prospects are cloudy indeed. That's where CloudSystem hopes to create a compelling strategy for the Number 1 vendor which could use a thunderbolt of a software leap. HP wants to leverage enterprise demand in building a webOS world.
That sound you just heard was HP pushing its hardware into the back seat in favor of driving with its software and web services. Sure, there's always going to be millions of HP laptops and printers shipping. But there will always be enduring relations with customers who are tethered to a vendor via software. After all, the MPE/iX OS still holds HP 3000s in place at thousands of companies, more than seven years after Heweltt-Packard ended its manufacturing of the hardware. The newest HP operating software is now the best candidate to double company profits by 2014.
MB Foster's founder Birket Foster, who pointed us to the webcast of the summit, said the CloudSystem strategy is still building its parts needed to play a role for remaining 3000 migration candidates. Apps, the crucial element in webOS, are still on the way.
"This is a new infrastructure," he said. "You're going to have to wait for the cloud applications to actually show up. Larger companies will be able to take advantage of it because they already have staff who know about things like Java. The small and medium enterprises will have to wait for the finished apps to be there. There's some assembly required right now, and data integration is not included yet."HP's fiscal leader Cathie Lesjak predicted profits of $7 a share in four years' time. The path to such an increase will get charted as HP transforms its business from boxes and printers to a world linked over networks of a solutions lab, maps to cloud provisioning and services to get computing to the cloud. Dick Donatelli, leader of HP's Enterprise Solutions group, said the vendor's got a unique offering.
"CloudSystem is a unique combination of the hardware, the software, fully wrapped in services based on our experiences," Donatelli said at yesterday's summit. "It makes CloudShare unique to anything else that's in the industry today."
HP will offer an open Cloud Marketplace for secure cloud services. HP says its services will span private clouds, hybrid clouds and "the public cloud," Donatelli said. "We'll enable our current enterprise customers... to get to the cloud through the full host of services that we offer. In putting it together, we're helping everybody on the cloud."
His last phrase is the tag-line for HP's new marketing campaign built around webOS devices, Everybody On: seamless, secure context-aware experiences for a connected world.
You don't get noticed in today's marketplace by shipping a lot of servers, except by the customers and experts who track servers. Sales numbers rise and fall and a lead can get leapfrogged in a single quarter. Industry momentum comes from broad market notice, something that Apple's iOS has earned and Android desires. Apple estimates that more than 160 million devices around the world use iOS. Android's number grows closer to that total with every quarter. These devices are used in both business and personal settings. HP is banking on a blend of that computing use. Smartphones and tablets have become the truest examples of "personal computing," which is what PC stood for back at the inception of the term.
IBM and the Windows empire hijacked PC by the late '80s to equate it with Intel chips and Microsoft's OS. But now Apple has blazed a trail away from servers and systems like laptops. Mobility is most important to win mindshare and retain market share. Apple has proved that putting a phone in a pocket or a tablet into a briefcase will tear down the walls that traditional IT erected for protection. HP needed an equivalent of iOS or Android, and it is betting big on webOS. Todd Bradley, HP's head of Personal Systems, ran Palm before joining HP. Bradley spent 20 minutes out of yesterday's summit explaining how webOS is the software skeleton of HP CloudSystem.
"WebOS will deliver a differentiated customer experience," Bradley said. "What really matters is how we use great technology to make great products. We've accomplished this with webOS because of the unique architecture that it permits." When every vendor selling a PC solution sells the same components (Intel, ARM, AMD chips, or Samsung processing), integration and pricing don't establish a unique value to retain customers. You need the advanced architecture that only an OS can bring. This kind of strategy made the HP 3000 a great product for Hewlett-Packard while it believed in software.
Some analysts who commented after the summit were mostly impressed with what was billed as Apotheker's debut in strategy. A few who'd criticized HP for cloudy forecasts in recent reports said HP did what it needed to do by forecasting profits in 2014.
Skeptics say HP is still in a transition mode under Apotheker. Wells Fargo analyst Jason Maynard said in his coverage that "The HP pitch centered on the notion that the company is levered to the mega-trends of mobility and cloud computing. HP gave the 30K-foot view, and didn't include much granular product or distribution detail. For the most part, the new strategy represented a repackaging of existing technology."
But Cowen and Company's Peter Goldmacher countered that it was wise for HP to offer few details in the strategy rollout, saying in a note, "We view this lack of info as a thoughtful exercise in restraint. HP is starting down a path that will take years to unfold, and too many explicit details would unnecessarily limit the company's options."
March 14, 2011
Architecture Toolbelt Emerges for 3000s
When Connie Sellitto of the American Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA) asked for help preparing for a migration, the 3000 community hacked out suggestions and pointers. But much of the toolset designed to identify what's to be migrated off a 3000 can also be put to use in sustaining projects. Sustaining is what a manager should be doing to homestead, if they are not migrating. As the word suggests, sustaining is an activity that goes beyond glancing at a console to see if the 3000 is running, plus ensuring there are enough backup tapes.
The advice from 3000 managers and experts was aimed at Sellitto's deadline of tomorrow; she needs to present a "wireframe" diagram of the system's database architecture by March 15. The document will go into the hands of a web design company the CFA's board has chosen, one which has won the right to migrate its HP 3000 to a Windows environment.
Wireframe is architectural terminology for the map of website design, page by page. In the environment at CFA, databases and applications take the place of website pages. Alan Yeo of ScreenJet, which has built the EZ View modernization kit for 3000 user screens still in VPlus, said the ubiquitious PC tool Visio that Sellitto was learning quickly might be overkill.
If you have Adager/Flexibase/DBGeneral, or already have a good schema file for the databases, just generate the schema files and import them into Word or Excel and give them to [your migrators]. If they can't put together the data structure from that, no amount of time you can spend with Visio is going to impart any more information.
A schema file isn't difficult to understand, and if they can't, there isn't much you can do to help them.
Yeo added a few pointers on understanding the schema file.
A Primary Key is a sorted key, and indications that a specific numeric has (n) implied decimal places should be the most they should need, plus a couple of pages from the IMAGE manual that describe the data types. IMAGE structures aren't complex.
But 3000 consultant and developer Roy Brown wrote us to advise further, with detailed pointers on how anyone who needs to chronicle and maintain the architecture of a 3000 can get the job done -- whether they're migrating, or sustaining.
Visio (Professional, let's hope they gave her Professional) can read the details of a SQL database and produce a visual schema automagically, so it's not like she's got to chart them manually. And standard HP 3000 tools let you generate SQL views of TurboIMAGE databases, for Visio to chomp on.
The SQL extensions to IMAGE are covered in the HP Communicator at docs.hp.com/cgi-bin/doc3k/B3021690178.13563/65
Brown added that IMAGE/SQL specifications, to help train any migration contractor, are also online at HP's 3000 web pages.
It's been a while since I used these tools, but they let you work on TurboIMAGE databases as if they were SQL ones. We were using them to pull data into Business Objects.
I recall using one of the tools (IMAGESQL) to even extend the definitions of the items, so the SQL access would know how many decimal places numeric fields had, something not held in IMAGE schemata. All these tools run on MPE, on the HP3000.
With all the above defined, you can then use the supplied ODBC client on a PC linked to the HP 3000, so that ODBC-compliant programs 'see' a SQL representation of the TurboImage database, and can work with this just as if it was a SQL one. Birket Foster (whose company created ODBCLink/SE) will probably know a great deal more about this than I do. And also in what ways his paid-for ODBCLink is superior.
But if I recall correctly, you configure things so the ODBC-compliant program on the PC knows: to use the ODBCLink driver; where the HP 3000 is (IP address or hostname), and how to authenticate -- and away you go.
Visio has free and open source competition, software which HP support veteran Lars Appel pointed out. "Perhaps Visio has similar 'database graph' features such as free or open source tools like dbVisualizer or SquirrelSQL."
Stan Sieler of Allegro noted that "You might look at our DBHTML product, with example output on our website, although it doesn't draw pretty pictures."
Sellitto checked back in on the 3000 newsgroup and reported some progress, but her migration contractor really seems to want those diagrams.
The SCHEMA file produced by Adager and/or FO from QUERYNM provides sufficient detail as to the tables (datasets) and fields (items) of an IMAGE database. I have provides these, along with an explanations such as ‘X6’ means a ‘char’ of 6 characters, ‘search item’ would be an ‘index’ and so on. In addition, I provided narratives of what each ‘table is used for, FO listings of representative records, and screen shots of how our users access the data. Should be sufficient -- and they seemed to indicate an understanding.
But now, with a few days before they visit our office, they have again requested the diagram approach.
Denys Beauchemin, who's written database tools for the 3000, wonders if automating these architecture layout tasks for 17 database is really worth the learning curve -- especially on a one-time, leave-the-3000 project.
You’re spending an enormous amount of time trying to make tools work. If this was something that would be ongoing, I can see spending the time for that, but for a one off thing?
I would sit down with the schemas and some paper and simply draw the two-level diagrams with a pencil, showing the links between master and details. Then I would simply scan the papers into a PDF file and call it good.
Beauchemin's opinion shows where a sustaining project could benefit from architecture automation, while a migration project won't enjoy the same payoff.
In a final test, Yeo worked with Visio and other tools and has broken down the process to show the architecture of 3000 databases.
The only databases and tables that I could access are those set up in the SQL DBE definition. So if you haven’t gone through all that work in the first place then its a non starter. As far as I can see the DBE only contains information about the datasets that someone has chosen to add (or probably that is make available via a view). When adding the databases' datasets to the DBE, if only the default item mappings were used, then all you are going to find out is that an item is char or numeric -- but you would have no idea about "date" types or decimal places etc. So again, not much good if you're trying to provide a data structure description.
Anyway, taking a reasonably well formed database into Visio and reverse engineering, you do get the tables and items. It will show you what the indexes in the tables are but as far as I can see it doesn't show that a detail is linked to a particular master. Automasters are missing anyway as they are really only for IMAGE.
My conclusion: if you have done all the work to load the databases in the SQL/DBE and done all the data type mappings, then importing in Visio might be a reasonable start to documenting the databases, as all you would have to do is add the linkages between the sets.
If you don't have everything in the SQL/DBE then I would say we are back where we started.
Go into QUERY, open the database just do an "FO" it will tell you everything about all the items, all datasets, all indexes, paths etc. Do a select all, copy, go into Word and paste. Then if you want to be really helpful, go through the item defs and mark up if they are a date format, of if numeric how many implied decimals. Oh, and if you're using a char as a numeric, or you have a field overloaded with undescribed children, that is probably the most useful info.
March 11, 2011
Why webOS Matters to Migrating Customers
On Monday, HP's new CEO Leo Apotheker will spin stories for the press about the new HP. He will doubtless make many references to webOS while explaining Hewlett-Packard intends to regain its soul by pursuing such projects. The March 14 event will be widely reported as a breakthough for HP's software business, if Apotheker is lucky.
But webOS, first pumped up in early February and at the very top of Apotheker's Q1 comments later in the month, can mean so much more. Especially to the 3000 site which wants to bet HP can continue to create software as unique as MPE/iX, a breed apart.
HP made waves last month with this Web operating system splash, but these were ripples that some 3000 vets squelched quickly. The responses might be premature reactions to webOS initiatives. Launching something different, designed inside HP, is an element of capitalism that’s been in short supply in HP’s world.
No matter how slick the TouchPad (above) looks while it carries webOS into the enterprise, you can’t blame the observers in our market for being skeptical about the effort. HP has often failed at software. Its last attempt to break ground in OS software was NewWave. NewWave was technology ahead of its time. But you will be able look to today's Web to find any reasons to believe in webOS: partners to join the effort. HP says its putting webOS on PCs during 2012, on top of Windows. NewWave offered the same spread on Microsoft's OS. HP wanted app developers to work with objects in 1989. It laid out the basics of the architecture that year in several HP Journal articles (PDF of the issue), hoping to attract industry adoption and partnership. (This may have been the only time in HP's history the company devoted an entire issue of the Journal to one software product. If there's a time when HP's heart thumped with software, the late '80s would be its most soulful period. MPE's new 32-bit version was just taking hold. HP was pushing open systems with HP-UX environments.)
For webOS, the product that was part of Palm when HP bought the company, HP’s also got to gather app partners to give the OS any market share that can be taken seriously. This OS is important to any 3000 customer who continues to invest in Hewlett-Packard’s technology after leaving MPE/iX.
The HP tech in Windows hardware, the ProLiant line, succeeds with innovation in power control and virtualization. However, HP’s enterprise-level software technology will matter more to the migrating 3000 customer. To retain the involvement with the application community — builders of apps — HP-UX is going to need OS innovation on a par with webOS and HP's new TouchPad tablets.
Better technology is only the first step of HP’s extension of webOS. With Apple and Google staking out big chunks of the mobile market already, HP’s got to lead a parade for third parties to adopt webOS as one of their platforms. HP’s failure in this kind of software push, NewWave of 1988, promised to be such an advanced user environment on top of an MS-DOS. HP wants the same kind of role for webOS. But HP couldn’t get past the Microsoft momentum during the 1980s.
Before long, Microsoft started to open up its Windows, and attracting app partners was a game HP lost quickly. NewWave was designed to take the place of HP’s Deskmanager office suite. It turned out that a world of third parties were essential to the solution the market needed. HP used to do unique OS technology as part of its pedigree and DNA. The webOS work might point to a return to that advantage — the kind that could retain a company in the HP customer fold.
For any platform, it’s all about the apps. The HP 3000 succeeded for HP in an era when crafting your own targeted in-house app was not unusual. When the era of the business computer got its tinted Windows, rolling your own wouldn’t yield more sales to that wider field of business customers. HP had to win app converts for the 3000 from big third parties during the mid-90s, and HP didn’t succeed. It paid for ports, it tried to snare Internet mindshare for smaller business (thus the e in e3000). It even bought a software company in the airline field, so it could sell an ISP (cloud) solution.
As easy as it is to snicker at a contender, it’s in the 3000 market’s best interests for webOS to succeed. Innovation needs to be encouraged at this vendor that has commoditized its OS business growth. If not, leaving operating environments to third parties eliminates another advantage HP can offer to keep its entperprise customers happy and productive.
March 10, 2011
HP's leader puts company's soul on notice
An interview at BusinessWeek quotes HP's CEO as saying the company "has lost its soul." HP 3000 advocates and experts may not count that epiphany as news. MPE/iX, after all, became viewed as a liability to Hewlett-Packard instead of an OS asset. The company started to think that the iron was what held customers in thrall, instead of what the iron carried.
Leo Apotheker impressed so few people on his debut at HP that the stock actually dropped on the news. That's the first time that ever happened, but look how the other CEOs turned out after being lauded by shareholders during their premeires. Carly Fiorina drove a wedge so deep into HP that the founder's son battled her and lost. Mark Hurd remains in the news today, more than a half-year beyond his ouster, because his search for integrity still appears like it came up short in the company of a pretty woman.
Apotheker didn't spin anybody's pinwheels when he blew into the CEO's office. But when a leader talks up software and equates it to HP's soul of innovation, it could herald a sparkly day for customer futures. That's especially true for the customers still building upon HP software, rather than Windows, to replace 3000s.It's no surprise that Apotheker would predict a big renaissance for HP's invention via software. He came to HP from SAP, but said Hewlett-Packard has no interest in aquiring that kind of software company. He wants HP to buy technology bones, yes -- but also break with tradition by pushing its newest software platform, webOS.
Talk about the soul of a 72-year-old company is daring and provocative, but Apotheker is backing up his sermon with walks in HP's fields. He's been visiting the company's operations around the world including Boblingen, Germany -- a place where the HP 3000 and MPE advantage once burned brightest. Boblingen hosted the biggest party to celebrate the 3000's 25th anniversary. In 1997, HP still had enough soul to light a disco night.
Today there's his talk and determination to put webOS on the millions of PCs HP pushes into business and homes. Apotheker believes in ecosystems built upon the least tangible of goods, software. The HP 3000 customers still using the system might wish this religion had arrived sooner in HP leadership. And there's no guarantee that webOS success will mean anything better for HP-UX, VMS or NonStop environments. However, it can't hurt when a new CEO gives a green light to R&D that was stalled under Hurd's hand. With Android and Apple's iOS breaking ground around the world, it's a good time to introduce software innovation that is aimed at ecosystem building.
HP might have gotten confused from its printer prowess. Over in Imaging & Printing, counting units sold remains very important. But the element that once delivered half of HP's profits was not these devices. The ink the printers carried could be counted on to carry the day in quarterly profit reports.
Being "smarter than the room" is a saying in comedy that means you can't bring along your audience. Apotheker's intellect hasn't been questioned during the quarter he's logged at HP. But his history at SAP suggests he's familiar with pushing a contrary agenda. He's clashed with executives, something that might be a part of reclaiming HP's soul. From BusinessWeek:
"Being most of the time the smartest person in the room, Leo could get visibly frustrated with the other people not getting it," said Pascal Brosset, SAP's former chief strategy officer and now senior vice president of innovation at Schneider Electric SA.
"I'm not perfect," Apotheker said. "Temper comes with temperament; it comes with passion." He said he realized at SAP that a CEO can't sway "cynics" to his agenda by arguing.
"The one thing I've learned is to try to manage my temper better and get rid of cynics sooner," he said. Some of Apotheker's biggest skeptics these days may be investors.
For anyone relying on HP's enterprises, it's become time for HP to consider its customers to be its most essential investors, instead of its shareholders. The stock hasn't recovered the 10 percent drop off the Hurd firing; fair-weather fund managers have stayed away. Perhaps better that they do, even if it impacts some of HP's ability to make grandstand plays like buying 3Com. If Apotheker makes a habit of listening to customers instead of wooing analysts, the people who stick with HP might find a richer soul in their alternative software environments.
March 09, 2011
A 3000 Family Member to Turn Out the Lights
David Floyd ensures that somebody in the 3000’s family tends to the lights. Perhaps the youngest member of a community which started in the early 1970s, the 34-year-old is president of The Support Group, the firm that caters to needs of manufacturers using HP 3000s and MANMAN. He’s leading a company his dad Terry founded in the 1990s. (The elder Floyd's 3000 experience goes back to the beginnings of the system.)
David can say he was at the console in those early years, even though he wasn’t born until the Series III was shipping and ASK was enhancing MANMAN. He first used an HP 3000 at the age of the age of five, in 1981. He says he would “connect our kitchen phone to a 300-baud acoustic coupler modem to dial a terminal into one of the ASK 3000s. There I could play Mystery Mansion, Adventure, Dungeon, and other games.” He started doing paid work on one in 1991, at the age of 15. His first project was creating a MANMAN report called the LSR/3000 (Labor Summary Report). He continued working summers in high school programming and providing MANMAN support, got a job at Belvac Production Machinery in 1995 as a MANMAN programmer, and became a consultant in 1996.
He’s worked his way up through the ranks of The Support Group until he took over as president in 2007. The Support Group partners with BlueLine Services for overall 3000 support contracts. Together the companies have offered enough service to supplant HP and give MANMAN more years of productivity. The question, in this first year without HP support, is how many years?
Your dad’s started the ball rolling on your family’s MPE experience, and you believe there's another decade left for MANMAN users. What would another 10 years of MANMAN mean to your family?
My dad timed it so [the 3000] will be the entirety of his career. He had an HP 1000 right out of college, and within five years he had an HP 3000. If we manage to get another 10 years out of this, which it looks like we will, that’s his entire career on MPE and HP systems. He’s thrilled about that.
That puts me at a point that if we get 10 more years out of this, I’ll be in my mid-40s, and I’ll have to find that next thing. I’m excited about that, and it’ll be a second career for me. It won’t be Unix or Linux, more than likely.Have you found anyone in your age range who’s working in this marketplace, at a point in their career where you’re at?
In the HP 3000 marketplace? No, I’m it. I get to turn off the lights, in a very respectful way and a memorable way. I have a relationship with the Computer History Museum as a donor, but I’ve never visited.
But we’ve got more than 10 years until we get to that point, and we’ll get to rewrite that story many times before that day, whenever it comes.
What difference do you believe MPE source will make in the community?
To the current base of homesteaders, and people who haven’t migrated, I don’t know that it will. They feel confident in the stability of the platform where it is. When they need the additional functionality of technological innovations, they get it elsewhere. They find ways to interface the 3000 to other systems. We’re talking like NAS or SAN storage, so they find ways to connect their 3000 to other servers.
I think having the source code in the community will be of benefit, but not required. There’s always the possibility that something unexpected is going to pop up with MPE. I think our community has identified all the date restrictions that are going to happen in the future. What if one of them popped up that we didn’t know about, and Stan [Sieler] or Gavin [Scott, both of Allegro] haven’t explored yet? Having the source code available through seven companies is going to be nice.
What’s been your experience in locating HP 3000 customers? Are you finding some that haven’t been on anybody’s radar?
We have a database of our customer list, and we think we have a pretty good one. We have primarily a MANMAN customer list. Every few years we like to go back and touch base with everybody that’s been on a 3000 within the last several years.
On one customer, we’d called in every couple of years. At first we were told they didn’t need any additional 3000 resources, and eventually, after more than three calls, they claimed they didn’t have a 3000 at all. It turned out there was an HP 3000 there. We were able to identify it by telling them what to look for in the computer room that they never went into anymore.
Their computer room consisted of the patch panel, a UPS, and an HP 3000. It was essentially a closet with the lights turned off. When we told them what their 928 physically looked like, they said, “Oh yeah, we’ve got one of those.” It had never had any tapes changed. It had never been power cycled in at least five years.
They hadn’t backed up this system that was running inventory control, their corporate financials on it. The system just ran. They didn’t have an IT department. Once we identified it, they got on board that they needed a little extra help with that. The company has more than $50 million a year in revenues.
Is there still a recession going on for companies of that size, the typical 3000 shop?
I think so. The recession has been happening for North American manufacturers a lot longer than since 2008 — the better part of that decade, for sure. Our customer base has been hit by manufacturing moves to lower-labor-cost areas, overseas and south of the border. It’s been hard for the smaller companies, and their locations in small towns in middle America, like Oak Hill, West Virginia.
Does The Support Group go outside of the manufacturing sector to offer application support?
No, we like MANMAN because it fits our strengths. The mix of our skill sets is MPE Fortran and manufacturing distribution on the other. Where those two meet is MRP and ERP applications. We combine our skills so we can meet a problem like making a German or Japanese manufacturing process fit in MPS, or if it’s a code problem when the 25-year history of MANMAN pops up because of the way they’ve set those common variable switches. We believe MANMAN is a business model that can keep a small number of people in business for another 10 years.
March 08, 2011
Manufacturing Options for a 3000 Future
David Floyd ensures that somebody in the 3000's family tends to the lights. Perhaps the youngest member of a community which started in the early 1970s, the 34-year-old is president of The Support Group, the firm that caters to needs of manufacturers using HP 3000s and MANMAN. He's leading a company his dad Terry founded in the 1990s. Given his age and the lifecycle of the 3000, the younger Floyd is pretty sure he's going to be on the scene to help give the 3000 the ending that it deserves.
As the 3000 community enters its first year without official HP support, it seemed a good time to check in with the new-generation 3000 lifer who's got the best chance to be providing support whenever end-of-life takes place. We talked over a TexMex lunch just before this year's Macworld Expo, three weeks into the HP-free era.
Does the absence of a single, large support entity like HP mean as much in our modern world of 3000s?
No, just like we don't watch the CBS Evening News as much. We have 16 news channels now. They're each smaller, and they have different flavors.
2011 migrators are making their moves for far less money than 2005 migrators. Why would you think that today's budget picture would be changed?
These migrators have external deadlines, but even those are flexible. One example is a company that's been told by their corporate overlords that they're going to SAP. They have been talking to us about this for at least five years, and they are now doing it. They plan to be off of their 3000 by this summer, but they have been in migration implementation for at least six months now, and they've generated a one-year plan. The people who have waited may end up getting the best deal of all.
OpenERP and OpenBravo are the idea behind the commercial open source solution. We've always felt that OpenBravo will be a good fit for the MANMAN community, because one of the special things about MANMAN is that it always shipped with source code. It gave them two benefits. One, they could modify anything they wanted. Two, we really learned the system and how it works from the source code. It's why we have such a great understanding of the internals, and how MANMAN works.
Speaking of how MANMAN works, its modifications work with a Fortran 77 base of code. How hard is it to find Fortran people? It's one of the technologies that's supposed to be fading, like COBOL.
They are still teaching it, to engineers. They're not teaching it in computer science courses. My cousin graduated as an engineer from Texas A&M in the last 10 years, and he had Fortran courses.
So that's over a decade of Fortran support. Is 10 years a reasonable amount of time to think MANMAN will be viable?
It's reasonable to think people will take MANMAN to 2020. It's because of a couple of things. Initially we thought, when we got HP's end of production notice, we'd have to consider a lack of replacement parts. That turned out not to be the case. There are apparently warehouses full of these things. They are for sale on the 3000-L all the time. People have purchased multiples just to keep a single 3000 alive.
There's plenty of companies out there doing hardware support. We're partnered with BlueLine, and they're doing a tremendous job. We work with Abtech, especially on the OpenMPE side of things.
On the software side, it's a combination of MPE support providers -- and yes, we are in that camp as well with BlueLine. There's so many independent consultants floating around that could solve problems as well. We're the people for MANMAN, and we've got plenty of resources behind us to serve that group.
March 07, 2011
Support firm hires engineers off HP's rolls
The countdown to an HP-free 3000 environment came and went on Dec. 31 with little anxiety among customers compared to the Y2K deadline. The calm transition took place because many customers have already moved to independent support, taking a cue from HP's own exit of US support facilities and engineering staffers.
The independents are marking wins in the sector, according to Raul Guerra, VP of marketing at provider SourceDirect. 3000 customers are moving, Guerra reports, even while HP is trying to retain sites for support around the country.
"We encourage customers to take a look at what they're getting for what they're paying," he said. "The underlying fact of the matter is that the equipment is so robust. With very low-level maintenance, they start assessing what they're paying. They're looking for alternatives."In a field that seems to get busier by the month, suppliers are trying to find ways to stand out. SourceDirect, based in Dallas with offices around the US, likes to point to parts availability. Its marketing VP Raul Guerra says that local sourcing makes a difference in response time.
But even as the company works to make itself unique, its aim is to emulate HP service -- of the classic years. Not the current levels of support, which Guerra describes as delivered by "people whose heart are in the right place, trying to do the right thing by the customer — but find the obstacles insurmountable at this point." Contract administration, offshore diagnosis of problems before dispatch of HP technicians, each is contributing to the marked decline in customer satisfaction, he adds.
SourceDirect says it counts on about 20 percent of its HP business coming from the 3000 market, accounts it services with "100 percent former HP employees." When HP closed down its West Coast call center, SourceDirect hired from that pool, Guerra says, adding employees with 20 years experience and more to its staff. These engineers are what he called "lightly loaded, with no more than 12-15 accounts per engineer." That's a different mindset, he says, than HP's load on support engineers.
There's also an assessment of complexity in the customer's shop. Some are candidates for what SourceDirect calls in-house services, covering commands, backup help, and standard operations. The more complex installations get access to another tier of support partners working with SourceDirect, such as Paul Edwards & Associates or Beechglen. "We can backfill with a partner after first- or second-level calls, to get to that level of expertise," Guerra says. Independents of all stripes, he adds, "are on the streets now who know as much or more as anyone left in HP anymore."
"We maintain 100 percent local parts stocking, just to make sure that if a ribbon cable or backplane should fail they're not going to have to wait days for a part to come in." CPU boards would be the most sensitive of parts to stock, and the company uses local HP services to flash a board with fresh HPSUSAN numbers when a replacement is necessary.
These services are impacted by HP's Time & Materials costs for its engineering, but that's a constant that the market's support companies face in equal measure — at least those that use HP for the CPU work. Guerra adds that the increases in T&M costs have been incremental and fairly small over recent years.
Robust equipment at 3000 sites makes entry-level support costs a fraction of HP's. "When I was an HP SE I used to visit accounts where they hadn't rebooted the system in 4, 5, even 7 years," Guerra said.
HP was once in the preventative maintenance business, but that former offering is still in the SourceDirect stable. Customers can sign on for a regular on-site visit to check the health of the 3000's robust hardware. Errors in memory, disk or IO errors get checked, along with system logs. Guerra adds that the engineers are sometimes "literally on hands and knees, vacuuming out cabinets."
The pattern that's serving SourceDirect, the VP adds, is to put these experts on-site instead of passing the "feet on the street" knowledge from a hub engineer out to spokes of less-experienced technicians. "They're looking for anything on a proactive basis."
It's a good time to point out the differences between HP's former support levels and its current staffing, especially in the 3000 practice. A former Atlanta-based call center is now staffed out of Costa Rica, Guerra says, and he adds that HP's support teams which once practiced in California out of the old Mayfield Mall have been moved out of the US, too.
March 04, 2011
Legal matters may not matter for volunteers
A rough guide to the OpenMPE saga of this year: The group's website was hijacked for the holidays, then revived by fresh volunteers; it made a pitch for $50,000 of contributions; it has proposed new services; its source code was returned to HP by its ousted treasurer -- and the volunteers are arranging its return.
There’s nothing quite like a lawsuit to focus attention on a dispute. In the hours that followed the OpenMPE announcement that it’s been sued by former board member Matt Perdue, more people commented and called about the volunteer group than any taking notice of any new services, files or elections. Somebody called to quip that any suit filed pro se (without a lawyer) is Latin for “you lose.” A lawsuit is sometimes a black and white battle over something that matters.
Except in this matter, Perdue v. OpenMPE et al, the suit might not matter at all. Whenever this lawsuit gets a hearing in a courtroom, either for a chance to dismiss it or otherwise, the two sides will have genuinely joined in battle. Until then, the unprecedented suit of a volunteer board by a former member won’t settle much of the future for this volunteer group.
It’s no fun to have to tell a story without an ending. Whenever a journalist is asked what’s going to happen, and we have to answer “it’s too soon to tell,” you can see the asker’s eyes roll. I’d be guessing to say I figure the suit is going nowhere, or that OpenMPE will do the same in 2011. The most interesting part of this dust-up is that Perdue says he’s defending the right to let OpenMPE make a difference to the community, and keep the group open. Lawsuit damages will kill OpenMPE. In a situation like that, you apparently need to threaten a life to make life-saving changes.Changes are a big part of OpenMPE’s 2011. Keith Wadsworth, who joined the board this year along with chairman Jack Connor, has pointed out the structural shortcomings and lack of mission the volunteers labor under. He’s on the record as saying that this collective, which managed to win a copy of MPE/iX source, either needs to find something to do and fund it, or close the doors.
Wadsworth isn’t alone, either. Paul Edwards, who gave over six years of service while OpenMPE argued with HP about the 3000’s “end of life,” believes the group is at the end of its life now. Like Wadsworth, Edwards believes that if a business model had been offered a year or two ago, OpenMPE would either be on its way to success or hitting the wall they still must scale to go corporate. Edwards has got a viewpoint unique to anybody who’s steering the OpenMPE group. He served as an Interex director back when that group had a $10 million budget and plenty of mission to pursue.
Another element that’s interesting in this story is how passionate people are getting about a volunteer group. Perhaps it’s because about one year ago HP sent MPE/iX source to Perdue’s offices, along with a $10,000 invoice. The source is a live wire to some community members, people who don’t really feel comfortable with any source in the hands of developers to create patches. Patch control, they say, is going to be very hard to coordinate by now. The problem with that argument is that those patches are already out of the bottle, and there’s no putting them back. Even if OpenMPE’s source code remains back in California at HP offices, where it resides today, the world of 2011 will have custom patches requiring workarounds from software vendors.
People have written me, much off the record, to check in with their versions of the story and their beliefs about the future. So much that I feel like I’ve read a good-sized novel, but a story with less sense than savvy, and without a climax.
Then there’s the stories that are spread with the goal of influencing the reader by implication. I didn’t hunt these down; they were offered. Two newspapers in San Antonio reported at length on Perdue’s 2009 battles within the San Antonio Tea Party. The accounts in the daily, and the alternative weekly, tell stories of a man who’s been on a board which no longer wanted him as a member, and so reorganized just to ensure he wasn’t part of their efforts, after a big-name event that he hawked hit the wall. Not long after that bust-up, the website for SATP stopped working, so there’s that echo in the OpenMPE saga.
Perdue’s story in reply to openmpe.org going dark on his watch is he was never contacted about the matter, never told he was voted off the board, didn’t have his emails returned and didn’t have exclusive access to the domain management. (There's a flaw in that logic, it seems; if he was still a member of the board, then the duties of webmaster would include keeping the site online.) There were no lawsuits between San Antonio Tea Party factions, but appearances from the stories published by the San Antonio papers paint a picture of a volunteer whose ardor had exceeded his civility. It’s hard to square any other conclusion with invective like “a spoiled child stomping your feet in a temper tantrum because you cannot get your way instantly,” or invoking promises of FBI investigations as a matter of course. (Thing about the FBI: It never confirms an investigation, but using the implication suggests some guilt.)
I’ve written so very much about this group from the first month of its existence onward, and I believe the results of its talks with HP 2002-08 will stand up on their own. HP wouldn’t have licensed source or done a dozen other things it added to its exit plan from the market, unless a team of volunteers was hectoring the vendor to think through every detail. There can’t be many who believe HP revised its exit plans on its own.
But like some of you, I’ve sent a few hundred dollars to OpenMPE to help it buy that source license — and one year later, that code is back at HP’s office. It might return, but it’s not clear at this point why it needs to make another appearance. Not any more clear than HP’s plans to enable emulator HPSUSAN numbers, or why this bunch of several dozen volunteers (so far) insists on becoming a corporation. If you think of this volunteer effort as a start-up, it’s on the carpet for its third round of venture capital funding, even if it’s just $50,000 this time.
I wrote my version of this story for our print edition on Valentine’s Day, a celebration of true love. If you love somebody you write a valentine to tell them. The finale to this volunteer love affair with the 3000 will be written soon enough. The ultimate chapter may arrive too late to matter any longer.
March 03, 2011
Lawsuit simmers vs. OpenMPE volunteers
Ousted treasurer Matt Perdue has filed a suit against OpenMPE and two of its directors, while the group seeks a fresh round of funding to launch services. But that suit is more than three months old, and although there's been a counter-motion written and served by a lawyer serving OpenMPE, the suit doesn't have any hearing date scheduled in Texas, according to one board member.
The OpenMPE advocacy group has been in search of a mission ever since HP finally agreed to license MPE/iX source in 2008. The volunteers have a mission to survive this year, facing a lawsuit filed by a board member they removed, a matter that’s pending in a Texas court. At the same time, the six-person board has floated another kind of plea, for a fresh round of funding to pursue projects.
The civil lawsuit was filed by former board member Perdue in November, just 11 days after OpenMPE voted to remove him from treasurer duties as well as from the board. The group’s minutes report that Perdue was voted out due to failure to pay a check approved by the board. Within a month after he was removed, board members say monies in the OpenMPE bank account that Perdue controlled exclusively were no longer under available to them.Perdue’s filing in the 407th District of Bexar Country, where he does business, accuses board members Wadsworth and Jack Connor individually, and the OpenMPE board as a whole, of “not performing their fiduciary duties with respect to removal of... Wadsworth for admitted self dealing in his own personal interests.” His suit doesn’t specify an amount of damages.
The facts submitted in the lawsuit, which is pending in the district court but has no hearing date set, allege that Wadsworth contacted a co-location service in San Antonio where Perdue had been denied access to his equipment, including OpenMPE’s donated servers. The group had been paying Perdue to host the equipment, a step on a year-long quest to create a new Invent3k server and Jazz outlet. Perdue is suing the co-locator, CCNBI, for turning off the 3000s and other computers over a disputed invoice.
OpenMPE has hired an attorney who’s drafted a counter-claim to the suit, a document that seeks to dismiss Perdue’s filing. “OpenMPE seeks declaratory judgement that Perdue has no rights or interest in, or authority to act on behalf OpenMPE; and the HP Source Code license is owned by OpenMPE,” the counter-claim reads.
The control of the group’s copy of source code, its bank account with a one-signature scheme, the servers and the openmpe.org domain were all in Perdue’s comand on the day the board removed him, according to board members.
The action which sparked the board’s dismissal of Perdue was failure to pay a $5,000 check to Wadsworth, a return of a loan which Wadsworth extended to the group to pay for the source code license. The vote of the remaining board members to remove Perdue was unanimous.
OpenMPE charges in its counter-motion that “Perdue has stolen certain computers and property owned by OpenMPE,” and the group “seeks damages and attorney’s fees.” The group has since replicated the computers, domain and hosting facilities through donations and low-cost agreements with Client Systems, The Support Group and Allegro Consultants (which owns openmpe.com). Invent3K, which Perdue promised would be online in fall 2009, finally was booted more than a year later, running on the replacement system.
In mid-February the volunteer group emailed a letter to the 3000-L and openmpe-L mailing lists that started a fresh appeal for funds, in part to pay for the legal defense against Perdue’s suit.
The letter references “the loss of the original Invent3K HP 3000 server and cash related to the dismissal of our former treasurer,” adding that “our 2010 tax liability is at zero.” Tracy Johnson has assumed the duties of treasurer, in addition to current secretary duties, and the group has a new bank account after it froze the one Perdue controlled.
Perdue said in a mid-January email that the hosting company locked him out of the facility over an unpaid bill. “CCNBI never completed work on a particular server (having nothing to do with OpenMPE). CCNBI demanded full payment of the remaining balance, then illegally locked me out of the space.” What's at issue is whether Perdue and Connor acted counter to OpenMPE's interests by refusing to be a party to Perdue's suit against his hosting company.
According to OpenMPE’s counter-motion, Perdue was not authorized to engage any attorney on the board’s behalf to sue CCNBI. But a letter from an attorney representing Perdue’s company in the suit says that Anthony Schram was “retained by OpenMPE” in Perdue’s suit filed in another Texas court.
There have been no hearings scheduled on either the OpenMPE suit or the group’s counter-motion, according to the Bexar County clerk’s office. Perdue filed his suit pro se, meaning he’s represented himself, something that court records in Texas show he’s done on multiple occasions.
The conflict on the board has led to changes in its officer rolls. Jack Connor, voted onto the board last spring, has been made chairman. The group has suspended its usual spring elections to the board in the wake of the lawsuit, Connor said, as well as the fundraising efforts.
OpenMPE’s fundraising letter — which proposes a for-profit corporation to resell HP’s 3000 subsystem programs such as COBOL II, operate Invent3k, recommend consultants and more — says it is “restructuring to function as a truly viable corporation. We will move forward as a self-sustaining entity.”
Once the group regained control of its website, it posted a PayPal button to solicit contributions for any expenses related to maintaining its servers and the legal defense. The volunteers want to raise $50,000. Details to contribute are at openmpe.com.
March 02, 2011
Zero-dollar prep cages Fanciers' migration
At the US Cat Fanciers' Association, Connie Sellitto needs help on a very small budget. The CFA got itself new leadership last year, top management that has voted its HP 3000 off the island. But at the moment it looks like the migration can't get off the sandy beach without a wireframe boat.
A wireframe what? Sellitto send a request to the 3000 community this week that asks for help finding a wireframe mapping tool to outline the 3000 system design that's been running CFA for more than 20 years. Wireframe is a term more often used in web page design projects, a way to outline everything that a page touches in a website. It's no wonder the term is in use there, since CFA's lead migration consultants are web designers by trade.
"CFA has just signed a contract to have a web-design company rewrite our entire business application on a Windows platform," Sellitto reported last month. "The timetable has been stretched from six months to something a bit more realistic, but as yet there are no firm dates. I have already met with the project manager of this formidable undertaking, and expect that I will be acting as 'technical coordinator' for CFA."
The most immediate need at CFA is for a wireframe application, of zero cost, to identify all of the 3000 apps and allied tools and databases. Sellitto needs to provide to the web designers a map of "several IMAGE databases, as well as the 350-plus COBOL programs that feed them. This will be used by the contractors who are planning our imminent migration off the HP 3000. I have already sent copies of the schema files, source code, COPYLIB layouts, and so forth."
On a zero-budget, can you recommend any software which might be of help to me? Otherwise, I'll be using QUERY or ADAGER to create copies of the schemas, capturing screen shots of all applications using Reflection and/or MS92, and fluffing up our text-based documentation.
"Our Board is determined to get the migration underway," Sellitto reported last fall. "I have therefore spent a considerable amount of time educating CFA's IT Committee as to the uniqueness (and great reliability) of the HP 3000 system, researching options, having demos and discussions with migration solutions partners, getting quotes, etc. and still handling the day-to-day issues that arise, as I'm the only staffer on the HP 3000."
One 3000 manager recommended a website with a roundup of 10 free apps that will do wireframes, but most of these turn out to be far better matched for web designers than application/systems architects. Speckyboy Design Magazine describes wireframe as follows.
A wireframe is a visual illustration of one Web page. It is meant to show all of the items that are included on a particular page, without defining the look and feel (or graphic design). It’s simply meant to illustrate the features, content and links that need to appear on a page so that your design team can mock up a visual interface and your programmers understand the page features and how they are supposed to work.
Such an apparent disconnect on specs can arise from misunderstanding how much a 3000 does to run an organization. Sellitto is still working hard to see an impact from her reports about databases and other un-webby elements at CFA.
A major consideration is the data itself, as we have several TurboIMAGE databases which will be converted to SQL Server. I had recommended that CFA (or their designated IT consultant) contract with an HP-specific knowledgeable vendor, so the data and various links would be preserved. To date, I have not been informed as to the status of that plan. The actual business logic? That's another story -- I've been updating and fleshing out our documentation, but it's my understanding that our current Board may be revising policy and procedures as part of this migration.
As of this week, CFA's plans will permit a new consulting company to manage the entire IT operation, with regard to web interface and background processing. CFA plans to employ a network administrator in-house, but actual programming changes will be done by the consultant.
Sellitto, whose IT roots go back into the 1970s, said the situation "reminds me of a migration I took part in back in the early 1980s, where the small bank at which I worked as programming manager was assimilated into a holding company. Our IT philosophy was "make the computer system do whatever management policies dictate," but theirs was "buy an off-the-shelf system that meets 80 percent of your needs, then change your policies to match the other 20 percent."
Sellitto is expecting "an interesting year." And if you've got an idea on how to "wireframe" an HP 3000's system architecture on a zero budget, she would love to talk to you. Soon, as she reports she's got a deadline of the Ides of March to deliver this first map for the migration.
March 01, 2011
Legacy line means servers sing low notes
Last week the Cleveland Orchestra offered its mothballed HP 3000 to the community. This non-profit group had been using 3000s since the 1980s, so its Series 987 probably still seemed relatively new, even in the back-end of the '90s when the N-Class 3000s were on the horizon. The system manager David Vivino only wanted a good home for the beast, which is why he posted his note with the subject line "HELLO HP3000.PLEASE/TAKEME."
The Orchestra has gone on to a newer movement for its patrons, making the transformation from the PACT/iX application to Windows-based Tessitura. PACT/iX, at its peak in those late 90s, was used by 38 symphonies, operas, ballets and arts organizations starting with the Dallas Opera in 1983, a user base that included ballets and symphonies in San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, New York, Phoenix and Baltimore, as well as the Cleveland organization.
"Most all of the performing arts people have transitioned to Tessitura, a SQL based product that combines ticketing, fundraising, and marketing into one common database," Vivino said. "We moved there in 2006. PACT was in place since the '80s, I believe. Yes, we made code changes ourselves, but never really needed to adjust the core system."
An Ohio-based services company gave this 987 a new home, perhaps as a parts repository. Sustaining a 3000 until it's the right time to transition can mean buying backup systems. But sticking with a legacy can mean the hardware is nearly free. This is the second 987 that has been sold for a song. But hardware is only note to juggle to sustain a legacy.An earlier blow to the PACT user base helped to kick some servers off their chairs. PACT/iX was created by Gary Biggs' Performing Technologies and eventually sold to Joe Geiser, whose name and writing can be found in our NewsWire editions of the 1990s. PACT never got the enhancements that some arts companies had funded, so eventually software support and enhancement fell to shops like Vivino's. Coupled with HP's exit from the 3000 market -- at first set for 2006 -- these dance, music and performing arts dropped their 3000s like a duet partner who couldn't hit the high notes anymore.
From one company's decision to transition, however, flows another's resource to sustain their 3000s. A Series 987 weighs several hundred pounds, so nobody was going to pay to ship a server that was not being built by Y2K. But it was perfect for a pickup truck transfer, so Sherlock Services snagged a server that cost at least $120,000, logging a new record discount. Back in 2006 a Series 987 sold for $255 on auction out of a Texas school district.
We calculated the 987's "legacy discount" back then at 99.8 percent. A customer would've paid $138,320 for a a 987RX in October 1993, a box which included a whopping 64MB of memory, a 100-user MPE/iX license and a full 1GB of disk. Even at the usual 10-20 percent discount of the '90s, this was easily a $120,000 system when sold new.
There are businesses still running such 9x7 servers with HP's support long gone, thanks to independent firms like Sherlock. But every one of them needs a plan and purchasing to sustain 3000s, if they're not ready to transition. Sustain, or transition: neither of these are free. It's comforting to know that the 3000 community is deep enough, and connected enough, that this 17-year-old system still can find a home -- so close by that the new owners can arrange a transition by truck.