June 29, 2012
Celebrate net printing's anniversary: use it
Seven years ago this week HP's 3000 lab engineers announced that networked printing was ready for beta testing. This was one of the last enhancements first demanded by a wide swath of the 3000 community, then delivered by HP. The venerable Systems Improvement Ballot of 2004 ranked networked printing No. 1 among users' needs.
MPEMXU1A is the patch that enables networked printing, pushed into General Release in Fall, 2005. HP had given the community a OS-level substitute for good third party software from RAC Consulting. It might have been the last time that an independent software tool got nudged away by HP development.
The HP 3000 has the ability to send jobs to non-HP printers over a standard network as a result of the enhancement. The RAC third party package ties printers to 3000 with fewer blind spots than the MPEMXU1A patch. HP's offering won't let Windows-hosted printers participate in the 3000 network printing enhancement. There's a Windows-only, server-based net printing driver by now, of course. The HP Universal Print Driver Series for Windows embraces Windows Server 2008 and 2003.
Networked printing for MPE/iX had the last classic life that we can recall for a 3000 enhancement. The engineering was ready to test less than a year after the request. This software moved out of beta test by November, a relatively brief 5-month jaunt to general release. If you're homesteading on 3000s, and you don't need PCL sequences at the beginning and end of a spool file, you should use it. Commemorate the era when the system's creator was at least building best-effort improvements.MPE/iX 6.5 was still being patched when networked printing rolled out. That's a release still in steady use at some homesteading shops. Plenty of later patches were only created and tested for the 7.0 and 7.5 PowerPatch kits.
Deep inside the Internet somewhere is a white paper that HP's Jeff Vance wrote, a guide he called "Communicator-like" after the classic HP technical documents. HP's pulled off its Jazz repository of tech papers where NWPrinting.html once was available. Our open source software expert Brian Edminster tracked down that gem at the Client Systems website -- the company was one of two which licensed HP's tech papers. But you could check in with your independent support provider, to see if they've got it.
Networked printing was never as comprehensive as indie solutions for the 3000, but at least it was delivered on the OS level via patches. The vendor warned that adding new printers was going to be an uneven process.
HP will support this enhancement on a “best-effort” basis, meaning we will attempt to duplicate and resolve specific spooler problems -- but we cannot guarantee that all ASCII based printers are supported by this enhancement.
While that might sound like a show-stopper seven years later, you'd be surprised how many printers of that era are still attached at homesteading 3000 sites.
Where do you get the patch? That's where HP's still doing its work. The MPE/iX patches were given special dispensation from the pay-for-patches edict of 2010. They're still free by calling HP. The printer and MPE might seem like old technology. But HP's still using telephones to deliver them, so there's that throwback.
June 28, 2012
Long MPE future, longer list to learn about
Up on a favorite technical mailing list of mine, one HP 3000 manager laid out his future for MPE and the 3000. While it may well be a long one, he's now looking to learn IBM mainframe technology. Yes, studying up for work on a system whose legacy is even longer than MPE's.
Yes, I know that COBOL is dead and there's no future in mainframes. Somehow, I think they're both going to be around as long as I am. Remember, I work for state government. We have at least one agencywhere their idea of application modernization is converting from Assembler to COBOL.
Our veteran manager wants to make a shift that looks like this:
The common element in there is COBOL, a language almost always essential to supporting 3000 applications. In spite of its repeated death announcements, COBOL's in use on every platform being run by enterprises today. Not everywhere, by a long shot. But since COBOL training won't be a big part of our manager's tech learning list, he could move on to newer tech. Maybe you're interested in Java, for example. One of HP's arch rivals is streaming free training for a language that's being classified as legacy. It should be so lucky.
Virtual Developer Day: Java SE 7 and JavaFX 2.0 is being billed as "everything you wanted to know about Java including Java SE 7, Java FX 2.0 and the roadmap to Java SE 8. Discover how Java can help you reduce your project risk and build more advanced, more portable desktop clients." Oracle's set up a webpage that leads you to videos and PDFs of slide sets.
One other 3000 expert, who arrived at MPE after a career in IBM mainframes, said there's lots of crossover between the two platforms. Job control, for example, reads about the same. "JOB cards, EXEC for RUN, FILE = DD in IBM land, etc. -- you could probably take an IBM JCL listing and understand it with little problem."
"As to COBOL, quite similar as well. The CICS [terminal display module] is sort of like VPlus, in that it uses subroutines and program-managed content and buffers. The non-display feature allows you to hide variables on the screen and pass them along which can be handy."
3000 managers may not understand how fortunate they are to have their strong fundamental experience with a classic enterprise environment. Another migration veteran reported the long-lived MVS is just a more wooly version of MPE.
"I suspect that having worked on an HP 3000 is one of the best preparations for working on the IBM OS," he said. "Because my impression of MPE is that it was MVS without the fluff."
June 27, 2012
Marking Time To Recovery: No Mean Feat
MB Foster led users through 45 minutes of MTTRO fundamentals this afternoon in a webinar. That's Mean Time To Recovery of Operations, or the amount of effort measured to get an IT operation back online after a disaster like a hurricane. Here in Texas, the state's coastal cities including Houston were once bracing for the arrival of Hurricane Debby, which was predicted to make landfall later this week before it turned back out to the Atlantic.
MTTRO "really has to do with what it takes to get back in operation after the disaster occurs," said MB Foster's CEO Birket Foster. "Also, what the skill sets are for building the new environment." Communications between team members are one issue to consider, now that company operations are often spread out geographically.
"One of my favorite stories about a disaster recovery team was the one that was getting on plane to fly from New Jersey to their Colorado disaster recovery site," Foster said. "On check-in, the communications specialist was told that the test scenario was 'You're on vacation in Mexico and unavailable.' So he was told to go home, and the cross-training was then put to the test."
With HP 3000s often running in mission-critical mode, plans for DR are crucial. There are many items to track, starting with an estimate of what it will cost to recover. A good MTTRO plan calcuates the length of time that each business unit can survive without a system. In other words, estimating the pain and cost of each of the following timeframes: the increasing impact of disruption for the first hour offline; after 4, 8 and then 12 hours offline; then after one full day offline, then after one week offline.Foster's outline for the key issues recognizes that there's different MTTROs for different scenarios.
- Equipment (computers, phones, payment devices)
- Vendors – Hardware & Software – specs and versions, license keys
- Hot and cold standbys
- Have user procedures in a document that is current
- Each recovery scenario depends on the event
- A communications plan is everything
- Know who needs to be notified on System Management Team
- Who declares the emergency, and who executes the plan?
- What is the phone tree process for staff notification?
- Who is the media contact?
- What other vendors, customers, and service agencies need to be notified?
- Where will the recovery site be – the same or different for each scenario?
- What is integrated with each application?
- Are the interfaces real time or batch (asynchronous)?
- Can the application be made operational without the other apps (standalone)?
Foster's company, being a services provider as well as a software company, thinks through all these issues with clients. It's a timely issue here in the US during storm season. Unlike Debby, it's not a subject that's going to blow away, so to speak.
One of the biggest hurdles for one manager attending the webinar was keeping information current. "We have to research everything, to make sure it's current from the last DR test," said Wendy Durupan at Harvard Pilgrim Health. "We test twice a year."
June 26, 2012
Reductions via migration feed 3000 pipeline
It's a fact of life in 2012 that HP 3000s are being retired by some companies. Migrations are far enough along -- in some cases -- that backup 3000s are finally being turned off and sold. Many migrators report there's a 3000 still running just in case, even after the MPE applications have been replaced, re-hosted, or re-written.
However, the exits of these servers are usually not from service to the community. By this year, the latest-generation 3000s are coming available on the market once they move out of an IT shop. At the US sandwich chain Arby's, an N-Class 3000 is on offer at a price below $4,000.
Speedware, which is now making a fresh mark as Fresche Legacy, moved out more than 730 HP 3000s between 2002 and 2011. Speedware (the fourth generation language) provided the landing platform for Arby's move off MPE, too. Paul Edwards recently announced an entry-level N-Class for sale that once worked at Arby's. Recently, Fresche reports that it's landed a new project to "eliminate the mainframe environment at a major North American railway, providing $10 million in cost savings and improved performance."
Not all of Arby's change in platforms is spinning off of HP's strategy, however. Arby's and Wendy's married up over the last few years. They're splitting up after a short union, and the IT resources are being dispatched as a result. A 3000 that feels stale to one company may look fresh to another.Edwards reported that a PC-centric, Web-based instance of Speedware was the target for Arby's newer serving of servers.
Several years ago, I was involved in the migration of the Arby's HP 3000 Speedware applications to SpeedWeb on an Intel platform. The system for sale has been used as a historical lookup system by Arby's since then. Now, Wendy's has taken it over and is selling it. Arby's and Wendy's married, and then divorced a while ago.
With new 3000s being limited to such "eliminations," there's a bit of a silver lining in seeing some MPE systems rotated out of companies. People like Edwards, and especially the community's hardware brokers, can offer newer hardware to homesteaders as a result of these migrations. This one is a 440 Mhz single-processor with two internal and 16 external drives. Here's another MPE license that's come online, too.
This silver lining doesn't exist in other legacy modernization projects. Fresche Legacy shared a press release today about the replacement of a mainframe system at that railway. The target for the project is clear: Linux as the OS, along with Sybase as database. It's a commodity solution, something more industry-standard than HP's Itanium/Unix target.
Commodity computing platforms provide high functionality and high performance at a competitive price. The 100-plus applications support multiple business processes in major functional areas. This IT transformation will enhance the railway’s technical infrastructure, reduce costs and improve the efficiency of its IT applications.
A key step toward getting older systems replaced is convincing the migrator of the overall cost savings while spending capital costs on hardware and OS and migration services. Fresche had to "perform a mainframe migration discovery, assessment and analysis."
This analysis provided the customer with a clear understanding of the challenges including; inventory of objects, re-hosting requirements, re-hosting tools, effort, cost and timeline required to accomplish the mainframe migration. Fresche’s extensive migration modernization roadmap convinced the customer that this migration and re-hosting would create significant value by helping the railway more effectively meet its short and long-term business goals.
However, we don't read this eliminated system as an HP 3000. This is a server IBM's probably still selling, which means the used hardware won't be as unique as an N-Class system whose highest bid -- so far -- is $2,500, plus the fees to ship it.
Wendy's never based its decision to move out the 3000 on the server's service to the company. "I don't think Wendy's used it at all," Edwards said. "The migration was finished long before the merger. I assume Arby's used it only rarely. I believe they merged all the Wendy's data onto the [SpeedWeb] Intel system."
So while these two sandwich giants go through the painful period of separating everything -- including IT staff, now on different floors of the same building -- a 3000 has gone out the building's door. Then onto the market as a bargain for some homesteader. Re-hosting doesn't provide refreshes of hardware availability in other markets yet. That's because the AS/400 and mainframe markets don't face hardware needs that cannot be met by system vendors like IBM. Migration feeding the needs of homesteading -- well, that might be a part of the ecosystem which HP didn't understand when it first estimated the freshness of the 3000.
June 25, 2012
HP's deepest woes: ahead, or just behind?
The financial press is treating the HP 3000 customer to a full spectrum of Hewlett-Packard analysis by now. At the close of June 25 trading, the company's stock was at a seven-year low of $19.55 per share. (And that November, 2004 price was four years after a 2:1 split.) The price is tied to market valuation and makes this vendor of 3000 migration replacement systems a more attractive takeover target. This is no longer just a matter of HP's employees keeping fair value in their retirement accounts.
But HP's been within 10 percent of this newest low before, even within the last year. How much this should matter in selecting a replacement enterprise system -- well, it depends on who you're asking. Even the customers have views on this, although the ones making their stand on the 3000 have been more eager to speak up.
In response to one report on an HP breakup, which said even last summer "the reality is that Itanium is dead, dead, dead," Tracy Johnson said circling sharks wouldn't bite on HP's morbid tail. Sharks like Oracle haven't been imagined in HP's waters.
"Is it really a matter of Itanium, or any other product line?" Johnson wrote on the HP 3000 Community at LinkedIn. "HP is already the walking dead. It's not the sharks; sharks prefer live prey. It is rather the vultures and jackals that feed on carrion that will pick on HP."
Strong sentiment, but not unusual among the customers which HP left behind to maintain systems and an ecosystem without vendor assets. However, the business finance community has a few analysts who see this week as the deepest of HP's stock troubles. Some are believing HP's now got nowhere to go but up.In the San Jose Mercury News, an article said that the company's shareholders are already growing impatient with CEO Meg Whitman's turnaround.
Keeping investors happy isn't something corporations take lightly. In many companies, including HP, the top executives own much of the stock themselves and don't want to see it devalued. If the share price sinks too low, other investors may seek to oust management, the company could have a harder time raising money for acquisitions or capital improvements, and it could become vulnerable to a takeover. Moreover, if the value of its stock options plummets, it might have trouble retaining and attracting the skilled workers it needs.
Pessimism, or the extra dose of realism, is the most direct assessment of the company's futures. One writer at Seeking Alpha, however, sees at least a stock rebound in the near future. Tiago Romao writes that what he considers a hardware company in turnaround is being pummeled too hard in the markets.
"This company is very attractive and it has been consolidating at the present values for almost a month," Romao wrote last week. "Notice the book value per share is $20.87 and the market price has made a technical support around this value. In short, HP is a profitable company with an attractive price to earnings ration, good margins, trading near its book value and technically has been consolidating for a while and may be preparing a rebound."
NASDAQ's GuruFocus, which tracks picks of top investors, noted that 18 of 30 investors increased HP holdings in the last quarter. HP Chairman Ray Lane increased his holdings by more than 20 percent.
The other response to the decline of the company's fortunes and futures: sadness. One article in Fortune, just after Whitman arrived, detailed the live-blogging of her speech to employees, critical reports "that wish HP ill" coming right out of the room where she was speaking.
"It's so sad to see this happen to HP," said Kees den Hartigh, CTO at the social media provider Progmic. "I never worked for them. Probably never will." Progmic and den Hartigh develop communications to reach HP's consumers. As a career open systems technology expert, he's also posted from the Connect user group's Twitter feed as recently as last year.
Short of the science fiction needed to revive a CEO genius like Steve Jobs -- or as some in the LinkedIn community wish, the resurrection of HP's founders -- Hewlett-Packard is facing a long return to its strength in the era when it canceled its 3000 futures. From the stock split just a year before that 2001 event, to talk of sharks, carrion and a rebound back into the $20s and back into earnings and revenue growth, is a long trek as well. At the HP-UX group of LinkedIn, the discussions among those Itanium users are technical instead of business-related. The Unix customers may as well keep their eyes on IT tactics, since they can't do much for the strategy outlook, except look upward.
June 22, 2012
Database changes target weekend's quiet
The HP 3000s still serving throughout the world are often on all-day, every day duty. But activity can quiet down on the weekends. That's when Terry Simpkins, Director of Business Systems at the manufacturer Measurement Specialties, wanted to add an index.
"I need to add a new index into a detail dataset," he said. "But I'd like to complete this change on Sunday, if possible, while there are no users on the system." Simpkins hoped that DBGeneral would be able to adjust a Jumbo dataset in IMAGE, but a problem cropped up that didn't have an immediate weekend solution using that Bradmark tool in his IT belt.
The detail is a 'JUMBO'. The new index will be to a new Automatic master set. Using DBGeneral, I get an error when I attempt to 'activate' the change. It says the number of blocks exceeds the IMAGE max. The detail is very large. Is there some undocumented switch that needs to be specified for DBGeneral to work on JUMBO databases?
Whether DBGeneral has any undocumented Jumbo dataset switch didn't come up in users' replies to the issue. But Sunday support expectations, and the built-in nature of the alternative tool to DBGeneral, Adager, rose up. Not even a better tool can enable a change to such a very large detail dataset, however.
"I think that you probably are exceeding the MPE file size on your detail dataset when DBGeneral tries to add the new index pointers," Pete Eggers said. "My choice would be Adager over DBGeneral years ago, and I suspect that would still be true. But even Adager cannot create datasets that exceed MPE's file size limit." But these are the instances when such advice helps teach about the limits which applications must respect in IMAGE/SQL, as well as the tools to work around them.
"If this is true, your only option is to either reduce the record count of the dataset first -- if for instance, you can send some of the records to a history dataset or file," Eggers added. "You might be able to split the detail dataset into two datasets to add the index to the one with the field in question, but that probably won't happen on a Sunday, as all apps that access the dataset will have to be modified."
Steve Cooper pointed out that a Sunday call to Adager's support line would be answered promptly, "even if it is early -- and they will take your order for a copy of Adager, which will have no problem dealing with Jumbo datasets, no hidden switches needed."
Wyell Grunwald, a veteran of more than two decades of 3000 management, echoed the praise for a database manager like Adager. At Measurement Specialites, an empire of 3000s around the world manage manufacturing operations. Grunwald added that the situation there "Sounds like a repack would be in order -- to remove all your logically deleted records."
Keeping a 3000 in production use as a homesteader is most responsible when tools like database managers remain available -- and their support teams are quickly contacted, even on weekend hours. Best of luck to managers who are using this less-critical time to improve and expand the reach of their 3000 data. It's easier with good tools.
June 21, 2012
Heading North to find fast indexes and BBQ
The Eloquence database has become a drop-in replacement for IMAGE/SQL as part of HP 3000 migrations. The version 8.20 includes fast text searches using new indexes, and a 2.5-day seminar taught in North America takes place next month on July 25-27. Making travel plans soon might be in order -- plus there's a legacy of BBQ to follow the training.
MB Foster’s 25th Annual BBQ -- a cookout, for any unfamiliar with such a gathering -- caps off the gathering, taking place Saturday, July 28 at the Foster HQ in Ontario, about 45 minutes from the Ottawa airport. During the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday which precede the BBQ, extended training on the latest version Eloquence unfolds at the headquarters. This is the first year that Birket Foster has extended an open invite to anyone in the 3000 community to his event. Details are on the website.
MB Foster has released a detailed agenda (above) for those two-plus days leading to the BBQ. Eloquence has gotten regular improvements and new features for many of the years of the 3000 Transition Era. It's more than a database; it's an environment including its own language. Marxmeier understands 3000 structures enough to have created a QUERY/3000 which now runs on non-3000 platforms.
Over the course of the seminar, "There will be an opportunity to see and discuss the utilities that come with Eloquence B.08.0, B.08.10 and details of the recently-released B.08.20 version, with the 08.20 features including Full Text Indexing and ability to do indexing on numeric fields." Signing up for the seminar is a matter of a quick email, or a call to 800-ANSWERS, extension 204.On my own travels to MBFA's HQ, it's been simplest to fly into Ottawa's international airport. Managers might think a training journey is a tricky trip to justify for a 3000 homesteader, or any company that doesn't have specific plans for a migration soon. But Eloquence is an MPE-savvy tool toward a new IT future, for the 3000 customer who's feeling pushed away from MPE for any reason. The training that spans 2.5 days is $950. The BBQ is free, of course.
As you might expect, MBF-Reporter -- a software tool that can be used on 3000 systems as well as others -- gets demonstrated and explained during the seminar's second day. It's integrated with Eloquence in a way to help users who have a need for speed, as Birket Foster says. "What 8.20 indexing can do for you" is a highlight that can let a manager come away with concepts and structure for extending the power of corporate databases.
Accomodations for the July seminar and BBQ can be had at the Southway Inn, 2431 Bank Street in Ottawa just a few minutes from the airport. MB Foster's got a Corporate Rate of $139 CDN per night for the asking.
June 20, 2012
Blogging marks history, reports on legacy
Seven years ago this week, the 3000 NewsWire's blog opened for business. During that week of June that I consider historic, I reported on the Sun initiative to make its operating system an open source item. Seven years later, Sun's Solaris software (hawked by Oracle and former HP CEO Mark Hurd) is pushing Hewlett-Packard into a no-win situation with HP-UX. (We were also looking at customer uptake on HP-UX as a migration target. Trailing Windows, even then.) Back in 2005, the prospects for Solaris looked like a lipsticked pig, as one recently-fired Oracle executive said of the OS and hardware. Given seven years, pulling Oracle's futures out of HP-UX, OpenVMS and NonStop (via Itanium) will cost HP $4 billion in profits through 2020, according to the HP lawsuit against Oracle.
Seven years ago during that summer, Interex entered its last throes of existence by closing its offices and websites virtually overnight. An organization with three decades of activity and service on the books never created a history of itself. That's an omission that Bill Hassell, the former Interex board member and HP-UX expert, noted for us today. Wikipedia believes the former user group has been only a European-MidEast-African (EMEA) venture.
Looking around the Web one day, I typed in "hp interex" to see what showed up. Wikipedia defines Interex as EMEA-HP. Wow -- 30 years of history undocumented, at least at Wikipedia. Have you got any references and history for Interex? I started attending with the San Jose HP 1000 conference in 1980 or 1981. There’s a lot of misinformation about the beginnings of EMEA.
I made a comment one time in Wikipedia to clarify a term used in serial port communication, but I got critiqued for not having references ('net or paper) for most of my comment. The HP 3000 and the 1000 seem somewhat well-covered, but the history and legacy of Interex seems lost to the Internet.
Not lost, perhaps. But since there's no Interex archives online, you have to piece together the history of the group from accounts such as ours in the NewsWire -- starting with the '05 meltdown and working backwards. We have stories of the user group on the Internet that date back to 1996. Summertime used to be an important meeting point for your community, thanks to that user group. Its legacy is online, but scattered.
Someone with patience to pursue our archives will find a lot of history across the Internet about Interex. Even farther back in the electronic ether you might locate stories like the one about Hurricane Andrew chasing off much of the Interex '92 attendees in New Orleans -- including CEO Lew Platt. The refugees who held on were treated to a user group party tossed together in the New Orleans Hilton ballroom, where complimentary hurricanes were available for every table of attendee.
Hassell provided the improvised entertainment that I recall, doing a medley of songs to a karoke back-beat, sporting a stunner of an all-white suit. Not only was he the user group's go-to liasion for HP-UX (still being at HP), this volunteer also pitched in during a desperate hour at the year's largest conference. Interex (the show) revenues always paid up the tab for the rest of the user group's operations throughout the year.
That financed things like the Special Interest Groups (SIGs), the area of Interex where the finest advocacy and technical exchange took place at meetings like Interex. In '96 I interviewed Tony Furnivall, who was the then-current chairman of SIG-MPE. The operating system had sprouted its own SIG to put a face on a software environment.
Any group of people who get together with a common interest can legitimately regard that common interest as a special interest, in small letters. So no, I don't think that the presence of SIG-MPE is a sign that MPE needs special advocacy. On the other hand, as the group develops cares and concerns, the SIG becomes a good way of clarifying those issues, and working with HP to resolve them.
Advocacy is an important aspect of the SIG's activities, but it is not the only one! The sharing of information and other experiences is just as important. Human beings are social animals, and it is important not to underestimate the need for simple association with others who share the same interests and problems. Despite the ease with which we can communicate electronically, face-to-face encounters are still important for our human needs.
I like to think that one of the greatest benefits of SIG-MPE involvement is that it humanizes the platform -- we can see the people who create or use the product, and realize that they too are people.
Regional User Groups (RUGs) were more popular with the Interex management and board members, especially leading up to the HP exit announcement from the 3000. This push toward a mirror image of the international group, pared down to regional size, was a step that helped marginalize the user group in my view. People began to embrace ideas and concepts as their common denominator, not the part of a country where they lived. The Internet and the Web changed all that, and while Interex posted a great deal of advice and instruction online, it was wiped out in a single business bankruptcy. We're lucky to have a community left behind like Hassell, who cares and wants to help chronicle the life of Interex.
June 19, 2012
Keeping up with Cognos can demand a lunch
While IBM's enterprise juggernaut keeps rolling out in front of HP's, the share of business that Powerhouse contributes is miniscule. HP 3000 operations comprised far more of HP's business while the vendor was still selling MPE. Nudging along Powerhouse technology has become a tricky assignment for indie tool providers who need changes. Sometimes an informal lunch works a lot better than any official action on tech agreements between IBM and the long-time 3000 partners who hail from years before IBM bought Cognos.
In the era of this kind of response, 3000 software vendors such as MB Foster have promised Powerhouse-using customers like Dave Vinnedge of Accuride that their software would continue to keep up with Cognos changes. But communications into the 3000 community have become a low priority for the IBM Advanced Development Tools group. (IBM didn't respond to requests for comment on this story.)
Support for Powerhouse at Accuride is $6,500 yearly, a figure that buys the highest level of access for an HP 3000 user: Vintage Support, created in 2009 after the $5 billion merger. It hasn't improved via the association with IBM.
"During disaster recovery testing, about the only time we ever called Cognos for quick support, it took about two hours for them to get us a 'disaster recovery key', " Vinnedge said. "At that time Cognos support needed to contact our Cognos sales rep for an okay. We have not yet tried to contact IBM's support during a DR test." Contact is tough; it took over 15 minutes to find a US support phone number to add to Accuride's DR docs, "and that was from using links in IBM's emails they sent when they merged in the Cognos support."The changes in IBM's response have had an impact on vendors' ability to track methodology across software changes, according to MB Foster's CEO Birket Foster. An informal lunch is the kind of initial contact that's now needed to stay in touch, all to enable the final 8.49F version of Powerhouse can stay in step with Foster's UDALink. In the interim, a customer like Accuride needs to maintain two separate Powerhouse dictionaries – 8.39 and 8.49 – just to keep using third party tools with Powerhouse. Accuride's got an automatic 8.49 DR license, but the 8.39 version it needed to remain in step with UDALink requires special dispensation from IBM, a company not easy for Vinnedge to contact.
"There's no direct jeopardy here," he said, "but we're tired of having to be sure that Powerhouse changes get compiled into two different dictionaries. We do not want to have to call IBM support during a disaster, or a DR test. We'd also like to be able to drop Vintage Support – or at least negotiate a lower cost."
Accuride has been a Powerhouse user so long that they remember when Cognos was called Quasar. A vendor like MB Foster began Cognos relationships in that era, but these partners must now recalibrate their efforts to stay in touch with the much larger IBM organization, Foster said.
CEO Foster said he figured a lunch between engineers was a faster way to get technology exchanged. Within a few weeks, MB Foster added support for the 8.49F version. IBM has stated that 8.49F is the last release for the HP 3000. Along with the update of UDALink, "MB Foster support quickly fixed two bugs we found in a new option," Vinnedge said.
Pinned in the middle of such an exchange is Bob Deskin, a Powerhouse product manager who's been working with the language since 1980. Today he's not able to make any policy statements, even while he posts messages on the Powerhouse newsgroup. "Although Vintage Support does not provide for any development support, it does allow customers with a legal support requirement to continue to use Powerhouse," Deskin stated on a Powerhouse mailing list.
Ken Langendock, a Powerhouse services provider offering new development, integration, conversion and migration, sees indelible value in using a 4GL. But he believes managers have lost the taste for continued investment.
"They seem to think it is a dying language, and resources are getting harder to find," he says, "even though there are still COBOL programs out there churning out data tirelessly. Programmers coming out of school have never heard of a fourth generation language. They would rather work in a 3GL with a Web front end. Give me a common data dictionary any day."
Another Powerhouse developer consultant, Richard Witkopp, says "Few programmers dislike Powerhouse. The hatred comes from upper management. They have to pay for it, and I think that's where Cognos killed its golden goose."
Brian Stephens adds, "I wouldn't hold my breath on IBM doing anything for Powerhouse. They bought Cognos for their Business Intelligence tools. Powerhouse was an established product they could maintain and use to open some new doors."
Without a clear initiative from IBM to revamp the products to support a streamlined platform base – Windows and Linux, Oracle or MySQL or SQL Server, a web look and feel – customers feel like their skills with a proven tool will continue to drop in value.
"The biggest issue is the invisibility of Powerhouse," said Darren Reely, another consultant in the Powerhouse community. "Most IS-type people seem to have never heard of it, and that is reflected in the job market. Besides looking ugly, supporting more platforms, the capability to run on the server, and a need to occasionally trick it, what can a Quick app do that an iPad app can't? The cutting edge companies use the hot new platforms and tools.
"Some things have a slow death. Powerhouse looks to be in that category," he added. "Hey, COBOL is still alive."
June 18, 2012
Powerhouse future spurs 3000 adjustments
After IBM's Cognos acquisition, the Powerhouse language now offers slower development prospects. Some long-term users are adjusting their expectations further in 2012, even while they work to make other software integrate with the fourth generation language.
It might be easy to pin today's prospects for Powerhouse onto IBM. The computing giant purchased the creator of that product, Cognos, in 2007. The years since that purchase have frustrated some users who try to rely on the 4GL. While the concept of a 4GL remains a useful Advanced Development Tool (ADT), the potential for adapting Powerhouse or extending its reach looks challenged.
One example is at the manufacturer Accuride, a 3000 shop using Powerhouse. Dave Vinnedge says he's been working to integrate the latest, 8.49F version of Powerhouse with MB Foster's UDALink software. As Cognos was edging into the realm of IBM, it was changing internals in the Powerhouse data dictionary. These differences were not communicated to such independent software allies in time to make the changes so the products might integrate. More than four years later, the liaison between a now-small Cognos ADT operation to allied companies still isn't working on an official level.
Customers expect this kind of technical exchange to continue between their vendors. But reports from the installed base of Powerhouse customers indicate that IBM's interest in Cognos remains largely in the Cognos Business Intelligence products. The ADT tools like Powerhouse look forlorn in comparison.
It's not like developers using the product have all lost faith. "We had a project to migrate from the HP 3000 a few years ago," says Mike Godsey. "I was told to compare a conversion to Powerhouse Web and a full Java design. We estimated it would take seven developers three years to do the Java, or four programmers two months to move to Powerhouse Web. Powerhouse Web was chosen. We delivered ahead of schedule and zero defects. How many Java apps can claim that?"
But the support from Powerhouse's new owner drives down hopes. "Realistically, what future does PowerHouse have?" asks Vaughn Smith, a developer working in HP's OpenVMS environment with the 4GL. "The products are 30-plus years old, but they still perform quite well on the right hardware. IBM has stated that Powerhouse will remain supported as long as it makes business sense. That said, there are no future updates planned at this time."
On the HP 3000, IBM supports only the 8.49F version of the language, tools which also include Quick, Quiz, and Powerhouse Web. To get an idea of how long ago this version was crafted, the IBM support document lists MPE/iX 6.5 as the build release for Powerhouse. 7.0 and 7.5 releases are also supported, so long as the OS is patched. While some IBM operations have a stellar track record for customer service, Vinnedge said his Cognos experience doesn't match that.
"I have not yet seen a lot of diligent customer service practices, at least on the Cognos side of IBM," he said. "For example, my boss started receiving the 2010 Powerhouse support renewal notice every 15 minutes. It took over a day for my boss to be sure that Kenneth Robinson at IBM knew that there was a problem — and two more days for IBM to fix it."
Vinnedge added that IBM has also changed the Powerhouse license to "Quantity 50 - E06CHLL" without telling Accuride. Even a simple request to explain what the new license meant didn't get a reply. "He has a good guess, based on our other IBM licenses," Vinnedge says, "so he has not really tried to shake that tree."
June 15, 2012
Oracle's legal jousts missing Media's marks
HP and Oracle have been squaring off in court over the future of the database on HP's Unix servers, jousting since the first week of the month. But after a break on Wednesday to attempt to settle the battle out of court, these two companies were back at it after talks crashed. Oracle's got HP's database futures in its hands, and testimony from its executives asserts those hands have crimping sales of HP's Itanium Business Critical Servers.
But that's just not enough to keep the attention of some Itanium owners. One migrator is already heading away from HP's Unix and onto Oracle's Unix. But the death-knell that Oracle wants to spread about the HP-UX platform isn't spooking Greg Barnes.
Barnes has an 3000 background that dates back to MPE III, but his company took its time getting away from 3000s. Media General, which agreed to sell off nearly all of it newspapers to a Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary, was using publishing software from Collier-Jackson until the late 1990s, when the shift started off 3000s. Barnes said the Oracle jabs didn't rattle him a bit in HP Unix management.
"I'm not aware that the snipe-fest had any effect whatsoever," he said, while reporting on the company's in-house migration to the Itanium servers. "Like much of the death knells I’ve read over the years, I have better things to ponder." Among his new interests are Oracle's direct competitor to HP-UX, Solaris. Media General is now phasing out the five HP-UX systems left in its datacenter. It's also focusing on its TV business, post-newspapers.In a shop that runs "an awful lot of Oracle," migrating away from those CJ applications led Media General to Solaris. Peoplesoft HR and FIS, as well as DSI Circulation, either required or recommended Solaris platforms. HP has said for months that Oracle's been attacking the Unix business with success, spreading doubts. But the FUD from Oracle, and its pointing at a sketchy future for the only processors that run HP-UX, was not clouding Media General decisions. Replacing the likes of Collier-Jackson's AIM -- the last of the 3000 apps to go -- determined the OS platform. It was the apps, not how long the chips would be enhanced or supported, that steered every decision.
"At 15 years [of migration], it was very gradual," Barnes said about a shift that started in 1997. "CJ AIM was the last to go, and the new app Mactive also required Solaris."
We originally ran CJ Payroll and AIM. The Circulation and FIS systems were home-grown. They all had their limitations, and management were looking for more features and less programmers.
Payroll was the first to go and that went to PeopleSoft using Oracle. That transition was a major zoo. Next went FIS to the same PeopleSoft/Oracle arena, and that was slightly better. Then AIM to Mactive. Circulation went from the HP 3000 to HP-UX using DSI. We are still migrating it from HP-UX to Solaris.
I was the last man standing to manage MPE: Two 969KS-320s running MPE 6.0. Now I'm the last man standing managing both HP-UX and Solaris, plus Solaris x86 OS.
Barnes reports he was working on HP 3000s just four years after the systems had their true 1974 release. While he jokes that he thinks he's getting entirely too old for this kind of churn, he does have four major operating systems in his resume. "Try managing both Unix and MPE systems, remembering the commands, and not messing up anything if you want a challenge," he says.
Oracle's been meeting challenges of its own since it purchased all of Sun, both software and servers. The latter have seen large sales dips since the 2011 acquisition closed. Selling Unix to new sites has become a trial for HP as well. It's that Oracle database that's got a comfortable spot in places like Media General.
What's slipping away are owned operating profits of more than $2 billion a year off HP's Itanium business that relies on Oracle. A memo from HP's enterprise server chief Dave Donatelli in 2010 said these servers were more profitable than HP's massive PC business. According to an article from All Things D's Arik Hesseldahl, HP's been drawing about 15 percent of its earnings from Itanium business.
HP’s Business Criticial Server business combined with its Technology Services business, which includes the support and services associated with the Integrity line of servers that uses the Intel-made Itanium chip, was at that time larger on a revenue basis than HP’s personal computer business.
And even if HP prevails in its suit, Whitmore isn’t seeing much benefit: “Regardless of the outcome of this particular suit, we expect HP-UX customers to continue fleeing what is increasingly looking like a dead platform — creating a major headwind for HP’s medium-term earnings.” Ouch.
June 14, 2012
Open Sourcing Access to Linux or Windows from MPE/iX
DSLINE is a classic networking access service provided for HP 3000s. The software is so classic that HP once charged separately for NS3000/iX Network Services. One user wanted to employ DSLINE to make connections, starting from MPE systems and into remote Linux and Windows servers. Sending commands was the task to be performed.
"I currently use a Reflection script to do the job," said Krikor Gullekian. "However, we are moving away from that and creating a JCL for it. I am using FTP to create a file on the host system which is activating commands to run, and that works, but it's a little cumbersome. That's why I was wondering if there were any other way."
Another community member pointed to using the ssh client included on the HP 3000. In theory, so long as the Linux and Window servers have an ssh server, then Gullekian should be able to run remote commands via ssh. But there's some hurdles to overcome in using ssh on a 3000 for remote command execution.
Brian Edminster of Applied Technologies, who's maintaining a repository of these sorts of open source tools for 3000s, warns that ssh needs some improvements to let it perform the same level of work as Linux or Windows versions of the remote access tool.
Unfortunately, the available ssh client for MPE/iX is none too current, and is essentially 'broken' with regard to remote command execution. As I recall, it has something to do with SELECT being busted on MPE/iX. It works well enough to support scp and sftp though, but that's pretty much it.
Edminster has created workarounds for anyone who needs password-free invoking of secure remote scripts, however. What's more, it appears that the MPE way of writing such received files to disk is more secure than the other platforms' FTP services.
"What I've had to do in environments," Edminster says, "where I want passwordless secure remote script invocation (ala ssh) is to have a scheduled task (via cron or whatever) that looks for and executes specifically named scripts, one that then removes the script when done executing."
To avoid having the remote cron beginning to execute a partially sftp-put file, I'd send it with a '.tmp' suffix, and then rename it upon successful completion of the put and/or chmod the file to make it executable when I'm ready to have it run (rename and chmod being atomic operations). This is necessary because, unlike MPE/iX, many systems FTPd (and likewise, sftpd) will start writing the received content to disk as soon as it receives it -- making a partially received file 'visible'.
Yes -- we've been spoiled in MPE/iX Land.
For what it's worth, on my bucket list is either an update to the OpenSSH port (with an attempt to fix remote command execution), or port of other, simpler ssh implementations. If the OpenSSH implementation for MPE/iX is what you want to try, you can get the necessary files either from the fine folks at Allegro (from their website), or from www.MPE-OpenSource.org.
I'd be happy to work with anyone that needs help getting this OpenSSH port installed and operating -- including how to get around some of its limitations.
Over at the Allegro website, Edminster's MPE OpenSource site is named as the best destination for such software.
Those looking for MPE/iX ports of Open Source software that were formerly hosted at HP’s “Jazz” and other sites will appreciate http://www.mpe-opensource.org. Currently the site offers an updated all-in-one package of the components required to implement the SFTP Secure File Transfer Protocol on MPE/iX 6.5 or later. This package includes Perl, the Gnu Compiler Collection (GCC), as well as GNU tools, SSL, SSH, and required dependencies.
With that said, Allegro's Donna Hofmeister did point out that the company has a great whitepaper on using SFTP, as well as accompanying downloads. Look for "SFTP" on the Allegro whitepaper page.
June 13, 2012
Is HP porting HP-UX to Xeon, or not?
Just as soon as it seemed obvious HP's Unix was going to run only on its Itanium processors and the Integrity/Superdome servers, new data has emerged to change that limited future. HP CEO Meg Whitman was interviewed as part of the Wall Street Journal's All Things D conference last week. She tossed off a message that HP-UX is on its way to the Intel Xeon processor line.
"She also said that HP will create a version of HP-UX, its version of Unix that will run on Intel’s mainstream server chip known as Xeon," reporter Arik Hesseldahl wrote in Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman Has a Lot to Say. Drilling into the text of the interview, the HP CEO seems to acknowledge that Project Odyssey and a Xeon-native HP-UX are two distinct projects.
We have a lot of customers on Oracle Itanium who... do not want to get off of HP Unix and on to something else. And they kinda like what they have and they’d like to stick with it. I think either way, [the VP of HP Servers, Storage and Networking] Dave Donatelli’s got in the works the next generation of Business Critical Servers on a more open platform. It’s called Odyssey, which is pretty cool. Ultimately we’ve got to build Unix on a Xeon chip, and so we will do that.
"We've got to build Unix on a Xeon chip" means something very different from Dave's Odyssey. The first is a project that HP calculated at $100 million in costs five years ago. The Odyssey takes the best of HP's Unix and puts it into a "hardened Linux" from SUSE. Long before Whitman got to HP, Hewlett-Packard managers at HP SSN decided that the $100 million port was a non-starter. It all reminds me of the no, then yes, then no dance of MPE into, then out of, the Itanium architecture. HP called it IA-64 back then. It used a TV broadcast to its offices to step back from IA-64, then relented a few years later.
But having a CEO confirm a business unit-level project can be scant assurance, especially while talking to anyone but internal HP executives. Carly Fiorina once pledged fealty to the 3000's future, after all.
About one year before the HP 3000 lost its futures inside HP's plans, Fiorina was introducing a sunnier prospect at the 2000 HP World conference. "HP World has grown out of a single customer commitment, one that has lasted 27 years,” Fiorina said. "In 1972 HP introduced the HP 3000, our first multipurpose enterprise computer, a product that has been praised as one of the computer industry’s more enduring success stories. But it didn’t begin that way," she added. "In fact by many counts it got off to quite a rocky start."
The first few systems were plagued by software glitches. And Dave Packard’s personal commitment to his customers turned the HP 3000 story around dramatically. First he sent teams of engineers to work around the clock until the system worked flawlessly. Second, he made sure that any customer upgrades could be easily integrated into existing 3000s. And thanks to his promise to be flexible and grow with the customer, what we’re now calling the e3000 has experienced almost three decades of success, and continues to thrive with a loyal following.
Ann Livermore, another HP executive who's left the HP business unit management team, then followed up Fiorina, telling 3000 customers that their future was unlimited. At least that was the view from her podium during the fall which followed the Y2K transition.
"We know that you count on the e3000 as part of an always-on infrastructure, and also that it needs to continue to deliver competitive price performance," she said, adding another promise. "It’s a great platform. We really appreciate the strong loyalty you’ve shown HP, and we commit to show that loyalty back to you. If you ever want to transition to another operating environment, we intend to be the best possible partner to help you do that. And if you want to use the e3000 forever, that’s great, too."
It all felt good at the time, with the 3000 having crossed Y2K successfully carrying millions of lines of '80s-era code, plus the new PCI-bus servers ready in the wings. But things changed in a dramatic way with HP's acquisition of Compaq. Those 3000 shops who've migrated to HP-UX and Oracle might not want to make a change, and so they will want to draw assurance from the latest public comment from HP's CEO. But it's Donatelli who makes that call about where HP-UX is going -- into a future locked onto Itanium, or toward a commodity platform like Xeon.
June 12, 2012
ODBC provides link to analyzing data stores
An essential database feature of the HP 3000 is still providing the means for advanced analysis. A new alliance between the top-rank ODBC provider for MPE and a data analysis firm is also delivering better access to the value of deep data on HP 3000s, as well as other servers in the enterprise.
Tomorrow MB Foster and InfoPlanIT will show off tools and practices to make operational data stores and warehouses more valuable to companies. InfoPlanIT has been working with manufacturers who use HP 3000 and MANMAN for more than a decade. MB Foster created the bundled ODBC driver in MPE/iX, ODBCLink/SE. That product has evolved to become the UDA Series during the 15 years since HP wired ODBCLink/SE into the 3000's data services.
The June 13 Webinar at 2PM EDT (11AM Pacific) will show how to monitor the vital signs of a business by combining the InfoPlanIT Visual Analyzer. The companies say that the Visual Analyzer is "web-based and works with virtually every desktop, laptop and mobile device." It can be fed with data from ODBC sources, not to mention the ubiquitious SQL Server, Oracle, DB2, MySQL, MS Access, SQLite and even Excel.
MB Foster has created report templates that streamline integration with the Visual Analyzer capabilities. The 45-minute program will also show the benefits of using an operational data store or a data mart. You can sign up online for the presentation, which is free.Business applications such as MANMAN are especially reliable IT resources, but the reporting elements often can use help. There's been a healthy cottage industry that's grown up to serve ERP and MRP apps like MANMAN. The better ones make an offer to simplify analysis using connection wizards and templates for data. The InfoPlanIT product has got both of these. Visual Analyzer's very deep web page says the product can let users skip Excel skills to get business insights into circulation among managers.
The beauty of using InfoPlanIT Visual Analyzer is that there is no need to take your data to Excel. InfoPlanIT Visual Analyzer has a lot of built-in functionality that enables real time visual analysis. If you do find that you need to take your data into Excel, there is a built-in export for that.
The product also ships with a Microsoft Office Add-In that allows analysis results to be easily embedded into PowerPoint presentations, Excel spreadsheets, and Word documents. Using this add-in, users can simply choose a layout from their drop down and add it to their report. Next month, they simply have to update the chart with the latest numbers.
June 11, 2012
Staying in Orbit of 3000's Spoken Stories
I've been lucky to see enough 3000 transitions that I can record many of those stories. I turned 55 this spring and have spent half my life writing about the HP 3000. It's been one of the greatest pleasures to continue to be able to take telephone calls. You're a community that still enjoying speaking its stories.
Phones were all we had while I grew up with your issues, all tied to a single vendor, while the 3000 market sported a thick catalog of third-party software. Today the stories might come from cell phones, or via Skype, but the calls still transmit a warmth that reminds me of why I do this work. The people, the stories, and finally, the history to be written. I won't be calling it a history, but there's a biography of the HP 3000 coming late this year. Your stories are most welcome, looking back at what launched the 3000.
It's said that life must be lived forward but understood backward. Living into the afterlife makes such understanding crucial -- and sometimes darkly comic, too. The Cloud is just a newer, deeper incarnation of timesharing, Application Service Providers, even Infrastructure as a Service. You're skeptical about its security. You should be, without the belt and suspenders practices that made your generation of IT management legendary. A hair-raising story of six years of email, erased by a hacker from Google's Gmail cloud, will have you resetting passwords and doing more backups. Especially for the cloud.
But you've always been told you could do with less metal boxes, fans, spinning platters and files inside your company's buildings. Given enough time it might turn out to be true. The technology of virtualized computers will also require a migration of sorts -- the testing of MPE software against a host not built by HP. But it will be simpler than Y2K, much simpler than migrating to a new OS or apps. But 2012 is a learning year for this emulator, education to the community and maybe with some lessons on what price will reduce time to close sales.
A member of the Colonial Congress said that time is at once the most valuable and perishable of all possessions. A phone call is made up of precious little but time. Nothing there to be mislaid, broken or tarnished. At least once a week this spring, during the fledgling months after my novel had sailed into the world, I've gotten a call from one of the eldest members of your community. He was an early reader of the novel who corrected small typos, plus called to talk about correcting MPE calendars, the rate at which we are all dying, even details of languages used in stories or on computers. After each call, I hang up my phone with a sense of remaining connected to the past -- and a little more hopeful about this system's afterlife.
One great story I heard this spring involves drawing circles, the shapes which represent what we know inside, then what we don't know outside. The wider anyone's circle inside grows, the longer the path around it, a track that can show what we don't know. If that circle of knowledge is small, we're less aware of what we don't know. The tiniest circle is a point -- so those who know nothing think there's nothing more to learn.
Instead of a small archival MPE system, you could consider your 3000 as an expanding point of reference. If it turns out to be a point of reverence, too, that can help ensure that your circle keeps expanding.
Learn more about the drop-in DB for IMAGE
Marxmeier Software is hosting the first in a series of instructional webinars about its Eloquence database today. In dozens of independent software vendor customer bases, and hundreds of other HP 3000 sites, Eloquence has been praised as a drop-in replacement for IMAGE/SQL when moving to Linux, Windows, and even HP-UX.
Full Text Search is the most prominent enhancement to Eloquence in the new 8.20 version. FTS offers new ways of searching the contents of Eloquence databases beyond what key, search and index items allow.
We will discuss FTS concepts, use cases and benefits and show practical examples of setting up full text indexes and using them in your application without the need for extensive code changes. You will be surprised to see the flexibility and speed of FTS searches.
The webinar from the company's HQ in Germany, led by Eloquence creator Michael Marxmeier, begins at 11:30 EDT/8:30PDT today. You can register for the free class at a GoToMeeting page. Marxmeier is using VOIP audio as a default for the meeting, but you can also dial in via telephone. If you change the audio option to use a telephone, the GUI will then display dial-in numbers, an access code and an audio pin for you to use. There's more details on the process for the webinar at the Marxmeier help page for the event. Another webinar is scheduled for two weeks from today, same time on June 25.
June 08, 2012
3000's orbit decaying slower during 2012
The HP 3000 orbits our community like a GPS satellite. It was launched long ago and now provides us with reference to reach destinations in our future. For some companies the 3000 and MPE have represented a waypoint to move away from, a technology mile-marker to show you how far they've come. But fewer shops are moving off by now. That orbit of this system and its users is now decreasing its rate of decay.
The big projects that supported a deep bench of larger vendors are much harder to find this year. If a vendor is efficient enough to survive on $10,000 a month of billable hours for an engagement, then there's still business to be written, of course.
Given enough time, migrations will draw to a close just like new MPE software did. The end of these transitions may signal a door opening for new revenue. We've always argued that sustaining a 3000 demands spending, and vendors are now seeing application and operational support business rise. Migrations are not ended yet, but turning the last 20 percent of your market into Linux, Unix or Windows shops, or something more virtual, is going to take a long time -- maybe twice as long as the other 80 percent took to launch or complete migrations. It took migrators at least seven years to move that much.
Now that the 3000 can be pared down to its essence of MPE and IMAGE, about to be freed from physical hardware, there could be another 15 years of homesteading life. It's been called the afterlife, yes, but that's a force as durable as vampires in our storytelling. Abraham Lincoln hunted vampires, according to a summer movie. What story isn't better with vampires?
Although you can't see a satellite, you can count on its echo in the dark. This spring there's enough dark shadows in our community to cloud a bountiful way toward the future. Careers can be restarted after training, but that will take time. Migration used to be quicker business to win, while the worry about risk was being churned up and colleagues' transition stories were everywhere. Now your market is settling in for its afterlife. I've been told this year looks to be a period where people are sitting tight, waiting for the world to change. Another migrator said 2012 is certainly going to be slow on the migration side. The advent of an emulator will extend migrations over a much longer timeframe, he believes.
That won't feed the vendors that need new revenues. I've asked to hear from migration customers and there have been a few who've called. But their stories either describe projects just begun with no need for outside help, following others' lead in a few years to replace applications -- or long-completed and now in another transition, moving beyond migration. That's a kind of afterlife, too.
June 07, 2012
Chief Meg roars out HP's future at Discover
While the HP Discover party animals rock out to Don Henley and Sheryl Crow tonight, a swan song rings in their ears. HP CEO Meg Whitman sang off the grow-to-be-big era of Hewlett-Packard at the annual show of HP and its partners. About 10,000 were on hand in Vegas, but only a modest fraction of them heard the notes of a coda to consumerization strategy. HP will pivot to IT pros even while its consumer operations retract. It will be quite an act to observe, worthy of anything in the zoo of Madagascar, to see the needed cash emerge for overdue R&D.
HP will still sell its products to the world at large. Whitman said he loves HP's printers, and she decided to hang onto the PC unit after HP tested the concept of a spinoff. But she's calling a tune that leads Hewlett-Packard back to business computing. The company is so far off that track that Whitman is calling the new strategy a turnaround, one that's going to take years to finish. Longer than your average Dreamworks animated feature takes to draw and render, using HP's systems.
Meg's keynote, complete with a finale from a cartoon lion, wasn't viewed live by all that many working on the busy expo floor, each trying to connect with as many prospects as the three days would allow. CEO speeches are given for big customers who don't need to see things at an expo, the analysts who tell these customers what to think and buy, and user group officers and volunteers. They shouldn't expect overnight change, which may disappoint the investors who put money behind a company that has been getting bigger for being the sake of No. 1, ever since Carly Fiorina became the first non-HP CEO in 1999.
"Most turnarounds in American industry are anywhere between four and five years," Whitman said. "And we’re at the beginning of the journey, not the end of the journey." HP's been bleeding new business and seen its stock at five-year lows at the start of that turnaround. The shares are down 8 percent since she took over nine months ago. This was her first HP Discover keynote.Patrick Thibodeau, covering the show for Computerworld, quoted Whitman's speech in his article as a credo of confidence.
"The kind of turmoil that HP has had at the top of the company can take a toll on companies, employees, shareholders," said Whitman. "But I've been surprised at the resilience of HP people -- HP is a remarkably resilient company." As the wall-to-wall screens displayed a large flock of birds literally darkening the sky, Whitman said "HP will darken the skies with the magnitude of our response."
Thibodeau, who covered the 3000's ouster from HP's product line for Computerworld, had the classic press experience during Whitman's talk. He sat next to a customer and watched what they took down for notes, then asked afterwards how they felt. Most of them didn't think the future of Itanium was of any express concern. But the enterprise manager still using HP products has a different scope of future than most of us. One manager who runs a NonStop system -- HP bought up this business when it acquired Tandem -- thought even half a decade away from too soon to weather changes in his server. He called it "the Tandem." This gives an idea of the loyalty HP bought into when Tandem become NonStop. It all runs on Itanium now.
Arens said the coming layoffs are a concern, but HP, the company, seems solid. His main worry is about Itanium. A platform change, if it were to happen, would be at least five years off. But even that time frame would make him "a little nervous."
"There's too much on the Tandem that is mission-critical [and] to jump out of it five years from now would be crazy," said Arens.
Whitman didn't address specific product lines in her speech. We're reminded of the direct shout-out HP managers forced onto Carly in 2000, when a CEO speech assured the users at HP World the server had a certain future in HP's plans. What sort of future was revealed about a year later.
HP's Services unit, now working to justify its 140,000 headcount, came in for special mention in Whitman's speech. "That's our future," she said. "The power of hardware, software and services, delivered as solutions." HP will play out its comeback with the pieces it's got left on the game board. No more consumer-aimed tablets, no devotion to making a reseller model built for printers do the job on enterprise business. That last one was former board director Dick Hackborn's dream, after building a massive printer empire that made HP a household name in ink.
The one hour of Meg's keynote is online. It's complete with a visit from the lion Alex of Madagascar 3, the summer film opening tomorrow that the studio's Jeffrey Katzenberg said wouldn't be possible without HP computing. "Don't worry," Meg said after Alex was onstage. "Alex is one lion that Jeffrey and I can both handle."
The roar of a reboot of HP is another kind of beast that can't be herded onto the stage of the future so easily. HP wants to capture the future with its cloud concepts. That's going to take as long as the company's comeback, so Whitman wants time to discover how to make users disregard massive layoffs and focus on big product ideas.
June 06, 2012
Migrations replacing apps, working in-house
3000 migrations are continuing at companies that choose to follow one of two paths. At the Visalia school district in California, operations for its 40 schools will continue to be served by the QSS K-12 applications they've used on 3000s. But IT manager Al Foytek said that Visalia will be following the QSS customers who are moving to the Linux version of the app.
"We will be moving as soon as that's ready, and the front runners are poised for this year," Foytek said. "We won't be in the first wave or two." Schools have a narrow window during the year to make such a transition, typically in the summer between school years. "July 1 would be the ideal time," he said.
He added that Visalia won't move this year and is not likely to make its transition next summer, which would mean its 3000 apps may be migrated to the Linux version of QSS software by 2014.
Customers with packaged applications see advantages to migration beyond just having commodity hardware supplies. Foytek said that moving to an SQL database is also a plus. But QSS has engineered that change for the app, rather than an outside firm selling services to the district. QSS adopted the Postgres SQL database for the Linux version of its 3000 app. Founder Duane Percox has hired key developers from HP's labs such as Jeff Vance and Mark Bixby to do work on the new app's technology.
Foytek said the decision to leave the migration engineering to his packaged app vendor was easy. "A migration of a major system like this is very painful," he said. "QSS provides the lowest cost, by far, solution for schools. Their next competitor is twice as expensive. They manage to hold their prices for software as well as support phenomenally low. If that wasn't true, a lot of us wouldn't still be on the HP 3000. Theirs is an application system that works. Similar systems don't have as many refinements and reporting."
In-house applications — which are best understood by staff rather than service consultants — don't provide the migrations they once did. At the MMFab company in the Los Angeles South Bay area, the maker of fabrics is migrating to a fresh packaged app on another platform. The assistance will be coming from the app vendor, in large measure.
"We aren't converting the old system," said system manager Dave Powell. "There's no business for any of the traditional MPE migration solution providers, so we won't show up on any of their business results. The HP 3000 may keep running for quite a while for history lookups. We aren't migrating historical data like invoices.
"The plan is to move everything off the 3000. Our in-house mail system is separate enough that we could run it without the rest, but I think they are planning to switch to plain-old email — compared to a lot of our custom apps, moving off our mail system should be easy. Everyone has email too, and the in-house stuff is just for some special purposes."
Powell, who's been working on the 3000 30 years, said that programs to send data to the new system regarding inventory and customer files are done and tested. "They just need to run one last time, closer to switchover day." The system will make the leap from traditional 3000 software — only MPEX is running alongside the COBOL that MMFab's developers have customized — to the cloud.
At MMFab, production differs from most manufacturers. "Production to us is placing an order for one of our designs to be made for us, then keeping track of expected completion date, ETA, shortages, quality problems, do-overs, and so on," he said. "It's much different than what I expect most other companies do — no bill-of-materials, for example."
This kind of production — order, invoicing, and sales commissions — all are on the HP 3000. AR, AP and GL live in an old Windows-based package, Powell adds, which is also being dumped. The Windows transition looks easy in relation to the HP 3000 migration already underway. But the nature of such migrations to packaged apps leaves Powell skeptical about a swift cutover.
"The people selling and setting up the new package say things will be ready in by June. I don't believe it," he said. "There's custom programming that hasn't been finished, much less tested, for stuff like designer royalties that their package doesn't handle. User training is in its infancy."
Although the migration at MMFab has eliminated the chance for provider service, the company didn't wear blinders about its method to migrate. In 2011 Powell invited the community's migration vendors to bid the business.
"Consultants with experience with emulation are welcome to contact me to share experiences and fish for future employmment," he said back then in a post to the 3000 newsgroup.
"Whatever we do, it will probably involve more work than I can do myself. Solution providers are welcome to contact me with promises that they can do everything but tie my shoelaces — and especially with promises to enhance their products as needed to do whatever I find out the hard way that they cannot do."
The wisdom from decades of 3000 experience still has value in a migration, contributions which might come from either inside or outside of a shop. Power of Sector7 said the community has always been a pleasure to engage in such large projects.
"We love the old HP 3000 guys," he said. "In today's software world, endless redevelopment is normal. Us old timers instinctively know how to do the job right, and do it right the first time. That is the key to migrating applications — using engineers who just know what to do."
June 05, 2012
Contemplating Migration Era's Completion
Like a flock of geese receding beyond the horizon, customers who are still migrating from the HP 3000 are getting harder to spot. Although engaging this business hasn’t ended altogether, signs are mounting that the 3000 sites which are on the move may not need much help finding the door to migration.
During March one of the original HP Platinum Migration partners reported that no new migration business had been booked over the prior fiscal year. Speedware, which has made a transition to legacy systems service by becoming Fresche Legacy, said they hadn't written new migration business for a period since April, 2011.
Some projects are still underway at the company. But much more of its legacy transition operations and engagements are growing in the IBM marketplace where it sells tools and services. The past year has led the company away from relying on HP 3000 migration projects.
"We thought that HP 3000 migrations would be a significant contributor to the business," said CEO Andy Kulakowski. "As it turns out, we were forced into this transition a lot sooner than we thought -- and it ended up being a good thing for us. Fresche Legacy’s Chris Koppe, as the firm’s business development director, doesn’t think the migration era for the community is over.
"Not by any means," he said. "I think we won’t be moving the last 3000 anytime soon. There will be a trickling of that business over time."
The vista is changing, however. While Fresche isn’t banking on the 3000 market to sustain its business growth, the other remaining Platinum Partner, MB Foster, is still booking migrations. "I guess we’ll be the last man standing," said CEO Birket Foster. "We’re still doing migrations, and we’re assisting a customer right now with a proof of concept. Their initial estimate is about 10,000 man-hours, which is five man-years. There are still people with larger projects out there."
Other companies have pulled back from 3000 transition operations, although they'd be glad to help if they could locate another prospect. Sector7 hasn't done a major project in more than five years, according to its CEO Jon Power. "In all honesty the 'free for all' HP 3000 migration spree slowed down about three years ago," Power said. Transoft has stopped promoting its migration business to the 3000 world. Unicon is still looking into 3000 migrations, but its efforts have moved largely in the mainframe world.
"Our focus over the past two years has moved to the IBM and Unisys mainframe systems," said Mike Howard, "but I would like to revisit the HP 3000 market, if the numbers compute."
One supplier of a key 3000 migration tool, Michael Marxmeier of Marxmeier Software, believes the biggest projects are over. His Eloquence database and language is a drop-in replacement for IMAGE, something taught and deployed by MB Foster. Marxmeier can see companies that need to migrate, and the tools such as his database have matured. The biggest share of Eloquence business up to now has been with application vendors who needed to move customers, such as the Spectrum credit union software sold by Summit.
"By now the majority of that migration business is over, and that's okay," said Marxmeier. "ISVs have settled in place; they've probably already moved on. At the beginning they had to come up with a solution to keep their customers successful, and quickly.
"But there also are quite a few end-users out there, and with all the knowledge we've gained we will address the needs of those users specifically. They will benefit from almost a decade of successful migrations, so things have become easier than they were at the beginning."
June 04, 2012
Pigs fly in Classic 3000 storage skies
Terry Simpkins was looking for a piece of HP storage history recently. Simpkins once worked for the fabled HP disk division in Boise, Idaho. Now he's managing the IT empire for Measurement Specialties, a manufacturer with more than a dozen HP 3000s churning in China and elsewhere. Simpkins heard a phrase that culled up a memory of a circuit board with an insider's message about accomplishing the impossible with an HP 3000.
A friend made the comment, "when pigs fly" during a discussion and for some reason, this memory popped into my mind. I was at HP's Disc Memory Division in Boise when the HP7933/5 was designed and introduced in the early 1980s.
The story goes (and is attested to by several of my co-workers at the time) that a manager, upon hearing of the plans to make the disc pack removable, proclaimed this plan would work, "When Pigs Fly"! Hence there is etched into one of the PC Boards of the 7933/5 drives a little pig with wings. I've decided that I'd like to have one of these boards to go with some of my other "conversation pieces." I had (and disassembled) several of these drives over the years, and have no idea why I didn't keep one of these boards. But I didn't.
HP 3000 users are a sentimental lot. It wasn't long before Simpkins got what he needed from the community. There's more out there for collectors -- or gad, anyone who's still got a Classic 3000 tucked away in a garage.Brian Edminster of Applied Technologies in Maryland came through with a 7933/5 drive. "I gave my last 7933 disk to Terry Simpkins of Measurement Specialties last week," Edminster reports. "He drove all the way up here to Frederick from the Hampton/Norfolk area to pick it up."
Technically the 7933 was the 'fixed' pack drive, but you could swap packs by popping the shroud and clicking the chamber release latch with a screw driver, or strong fingers. Don't ask how I know this.
For anyone else that's interested, I'm consolidating my offsite storage (and doing a proper inventory in the process), so if anybody has need for parts/systems from that Classic era, drop me a line.
I have a number of systems and spare boards for: Micro/XEs, Series 42, and even an old Series 30 with 8-inch floppy and what at least used to be a bootable copy of MPE/V on 8-inch diskettes for it! It took 10 floppies to boot, if I recall correctly. Let me know what you're looking for, and I'll see what I can dig out. Regardless, I can post an inventory of things that are looking for a good home when I'm done sorting it all out.
I gotta move this stuff to make room for some 918s and 989s that I've recently acquired.
June 01, 2012
Community volunteers to extend EMPIRE
One of the original role-playing games for computers gained a home on the HP 3000 during the era of text-based interactive gaming. Reed College in Portland hosted the first board-game version of Empire (at left), giving the game a Pacific Northwest home that would lead it to the HP 3000. In 1971 Empire first emerged from Unix systems, created by Peter Langsdon at Harvard. It resurfaced under the name Civilization on an HP 2000 minicomputer at Evergreen State College, where an HP 3000 would soon arrive.
When that HP 2000 was retired, the source code to Civilization was lost -- but Ben Norton wrote a new version of the game for MPE, EMPIRE Classic, in 1984. Built in BASIC/3000, EMPIRE became the 3000's best-known game, in part because it was included in the 3000's Contributed Software Library.
While Civilization was having a graphical life on personal computers like the Amiga, EMPIRE on the 3000 is text-only, using prompts and replies designed to build economic and political entities, with military actions included. That's right, we mean present-day: the game remains in use today, nearly 30 years after it was first launched for MPE. Tracy Johnson, a volunteer with the OpenMPE advocacy group, sent along the story of how EMPIRE has gained a web address -- so now anyone in the world can join a multi-player game.
By Tracy Johnson
For about a dozen years in various incarnations, starting with an old HP 3000 922RX and later on a 957, IT management at my company Meaurement Specialties undertook a small, fun-time project: to enable some of the old Interex Contributed Software Library games written for the HP 3000 to run on the web. Notably, the game of Empire and a few others. The website needed something to hang its hat on, so the name EMPIRE was chosen to encompass everything at the site.
We also got in contact with one of the original contributors of Empire, Ben Norton, who started making enhancements to the game after 20 years. Another programmer eventually picked up the mantle, and improvements to the game are still being made to this day.
Eventually, someone in upper management asked what our EMPIRE machine was being used for.
So all good things must come to an end, but it was arranged to port the game (and its website) over to the INVENT3K server. By coming off an old 957 on MPE/iX 6.5 onto INVENT3K's four-processor 969 on MPE/iX 7.5, the move became a positive upgrade.
The former host machine had no domain name. This made it rather difficult to promote the game, because any time you referenced website in an email -- http:// followed by an IP address -- all the heuristic spam blockers marked it as spam. Now it has a domain name, and you can put empire.openmpe.com into your Reflection, Minisoft, or QCTerm configuration. Meaning of course I can now reference the website as http://empire.openmpe.com, and not get this the message treated as spam.
Porting the game and website was rather easy. The original site used Orbit+/iX disk to disk backups (courtesy of Orbit), and it was simply FTP'd to the new machine and then restored. Additional assistance was provided by Keven Miller at 3kRanger to make the website fit in with the regular INVENT3K website. INVENT3K's website now has a button that links to EMPIRE. Both sites are hosted on the same machine where the games are running.