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September 28, 2012

3000 Memoir Project: Wins from Easy Use

The 3000 Memoir Project is a living and growing history of your community, told by the server and its software. There are excepts of the book to be published next year, in paper as well as e-book formats. 2013 will mark the genuine 40-year anniversary of the system, while 1974 marks the start of the user group that integrated community pioneers.

We're looking for your stories of the first time you encountered a 3000. Call me at 512-331-0075, or send an email to the NewsWire's offices.

In this installment, the 3000 tells about relative ease of use versus mainframe standard, stories told to, and told by, Paul Edwards -- a former IBM mainframe manager, US veteran, and director of several user groups. By the HP 3000

I was sold on ease of use, and fun. 

PaulEdwards-atSaltLickI like what Paul Edwards and the others said about working with me, versus those entrenched mainframes. See, HP didn’t think of selling me as a big datacenter computer at the start. I was supposed to be a wheel-it-in computer. Some of my early ads showed people “rolling it up to the side of the desk,” Edwards says. My early models, the Series 30s and 40s, even had me built into desks as if I was part of the office furniture, instead of running the office.

That’s because I was a new idea in computers: something that regular office workers could manage, with the help of people like Edwards at HP.

They had a great database they gave me for good in 1976, IMAGE, and one of the fun examples of it used statistics from the NFL. Orly Larson at HP had cooked up the demo of IMAGE, “and every HP sales site had a copy of it. It was just a six-dataset database. But we’d say to the Systems 3 people, ‘let me show you how you can retrieve something, or update databases. They were amazed. It was fun. IBM systems weren’t fun – they were work.”

Edwards says that back in those early days, you couldn’t take fundamentals for granted. Like just writing a file. Me, I did it like a swimmer just jumping in after years of practice, not even thinking about it. “When I came to the 3000, I didn’t have to worry where on a disk I was going to put a file,” he says. “I just wrote out a file. On the IBMs, I had to specify which sector, which disk platter.” He called it one of the most advanced bits of tech that I had when he first started using me.

He says the other magic that made me easy was IMAGE, my strong heart of a database. I even had a built-in QUERY, something that the other computers’ owners had to write themselves. “It was fascinating to me,” Edwards says, “because you could just build an application with QUERY on the fly. You could just send a report out to a printer and show it immediately to the customer. It was the ease of sitting down to the terminals and developing with COBOL and IMAGE. Tools like QUERY, FCOPY for files, they would’ve loved to have had all of those built-in on the mainframes. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.”

Of course, my console was a 50-pound beast, the 2640 or 45. This wasn’t a weight contest, so I could even have little tape drives in those consoles. I also had card readers to help Edwards and his cohorts absorb the IBM mainframe programs into my MPE. HP gave me my own version of RPG — that code still feels funny on my bones — which was a lot like IBM’s RPG, Edwards says. He’d do my updates, in the earliest days, by using 9-track tapes with a new version of MPE. I even had a paper tape reader for early demos, although the tape wasn’t paper — it was really mylar.

Comparing tape to disk was another place where I could shine in stealing IBM’s customers. Edwards worked in Frito-Lay’s manufacturing operations before he joined my family.  “I went from a tape-based operating system to a disk-based one,” he says. “It was light years ahead of the mainframe.”

I had a lot of ardent fans coming on in those days. People would punch out programs on cards from the System 3s, then go to work using the Data Entry Library. It was my first part of my body that had a human name: the DEL/3000. “We’d build the screens quickly, so the customers could come in and review them,” Edwards says. They’d give HP guys T-shirts from my birthplace in California that said, “Series I Has Begun.” Call them out to what they called the factory, back when they actually built me next to the labs, so they could learn something new and sometimes have beer blasts afterward in the parking lots. They they’d go back and cross-train the others at their HP offices. SEs and CEs collaborated.

Eventually Edwards left my Dallas office to go out on his own. A lot of the sharp SEs would do that in the early ‘80s, when he was just getting a fresh start as an indie consultant. He worked with Speedware on projects, taught things like Robelle’s Suprtool. From a time when my 7910 disks, with one fixed and one removable platter, held just 10 Mb, I’ve grown my reach into places like 500Gb disks, and maybe soon, up in that vague and uncharted storehouse for data called the cloud. Edwards tells me that he’s still got a Series 928 of his own at home that he fires up for consults. “Once or twice a year I’ll vacuum out the fuzzies, but other than that, it just runs,” he says. I like that reputation. I’ve held on more than three times as long as Windows XP, another computer body that Edwards says has fierce loyalists. I might get inspired by Paul to go to newer heights. He wants to take his FAA exam to extend his piloting experience, so he might get to fly classics in the Commemorative Air Force like the T-28 trainer — a prop aircraft that’s 20 years older than me. “They’re now looking for younger guys,” Paul says about the CAF, “but not necessarily that much younger.”

11:20 AM in Hidden Value, History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 27, 2012

3000 Memoir Project: Jousts with IBM

The 3000 Memoir Project is a living and growing history of your community, told by the server and software that made HP's first business server a landmark, enduring success. We're introducing the Project as an except of the book to be published next year, in paper as well as e-book formats. 2013 will mark the genuine 40-year anniversary of the system, while 1974 marks the start of the user group that integrated the community pioneers.

We're looking for your stories of the first time you encountered a 3000. Call me at 512-331-0075, or send an email to the NewsWire's offices.

In this installment, the 3000 tells us of its days besting the old concepts of IBM. It earns its place as a minicomputer alternative replacing mainframes in the 1970s. It's a set of stories as told to, and told by, Paul Edwards -- a former IBM mainframe manager, US veteran, and director of several user groups. He's still working as a consultant today.

By the HP 3000

My easy magic made mainframes look hard.


Print-ExclusiveI’m not starting at my very beginning, but I sprang to life against mainframes. I’m the HP 3000 and I always have been, even after HP stopped making me in 2003. My operating system — the muscles and organs that have made companies stronger and my life much longer — has been passed down from one generation of computing to the next. My hardware bones have changed in obvious ways, like a youngster growing taller. But even when my muscles and organs were still new, and my bones hadn’t grown, I was still knocking off bigger and older mainframes. It was my time to claim a minicomputer’s place in white-coated DP shops. We didn’t call it IT then. Paul Edwards, who’s only about 30 years older than my 40-year-old spirit, was a lot of help in making my bones against IBM.

Those jousts happened in Dallas with him at my console or his head inside a cabinet. He was coming into my HP realm after four years of working with IBM’s mainframes at Frito-Lay’s headquarters, plus a bit of time tending EDS, he tells me. A mainframe guy coming onto my team. It was kind of like having a new big brother to help you stand up against those bullies of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. IBM spread FUD in the 1970s about using anything but their batch beasts. Edwards and others found my easy magic and showed it off to win me new customers. Lots of them were using System 3s, he said, until they saw me.

Back in those 1970s I was a six-foot tall box, and that didn’t even count the room I needed for my console and disks and tape drives. One of my earliest failure points back then, when HP didn’t even manufacture the drives that I used, was my two fans in the bottom of my cabinets. “They blew air across the circuit boards,” Edwards says, “because those boards were stacked horizontally.” My boards in my Series II era were three feet square. Edwards still talks about saving the removable blue nameplate from that earlier version of me, after I grew up into the better-known Series III. I had a switch panel in those early days, something Edwards used to boot up my MPE.

I should explain a bit about Paul. He was working as an HP SE after those mainframe days of his, coming into HP’s Dallas-area offices in 1976. He says he’s been working on me as well as my forebears for half his life. Considering that he’s 71, that’s unique. There aren’t many Navy pilots from the Vietnam era still working in data processing. He might be the only naval commander who can still command MPE. He’s still consulting with companies who have a hole in their tech know-how, the ones using me in 2012 without experience updating my OS, or even how to restart me.

It’s those restarts where I got to shine against IBM. Edwards says, “We’d ask the IBM guys about their mainframes, ‘What if I go unplug it?’ “ And they’d get a look that told me I was special in the late ‘70s. Those mainframe boys once got hammered by a Texas thunderstorm, Edwards says. I remember the day that storm swept in and a temp receptionist wasn’t looking out the windward window, like they usually did. The IBM boys would power down their systems to avoid a lightning strike that’d kill the power. They didn’t have the early warning that day, though.

When the power died, “I heard this wailing from the IBM guys,” Edwards tells me. “They had to call up specialists from IBM, because the power outage had destroyed their entire file system. They were there for a couple of weeks rebuilding file pointers because they didn’t have a good backup. The tech magic was its reliability and ease of use,” he says. “As far as something you could show the customers, the power fail restarts could be demonstrated. It showed the reliability of the hardware.” But I had an edge in pleasure, too.

Next time: Ease of use, compared to IBM iron

07:16 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 26, 2012

Is There a Glacier in the 3000's Future?

By Brian Edminster
Applied Technologies

I heard about Amazon's Glacier service a couple of weeks ago, and was interested in it enough to pull the technical documentation for it. The front page for the service describes it so:

A storage service that provides secure and durable storage for data archiving and backup. In order to keep costs low, Amazon Glacier is optimized for data that is infrequently accessed and for which retrieval times of several hours are suitable. With Amazon Glacier, customers can reliably store large or small amounts of data for as little as $0.01 per gigabyte per month, a significant savings compared to on-premises solutions.

Why did I pull the techncial docs? I wanted to see if I could build a 'client' for MPE/iX. The answer looks to be yes, but it's not quite that simple. Just because something can be done doesn't make it a viable solution, at least not for every situation.

AWSEarlier this week Infoworld posted an article that asserts cloud storage is the final nail in tape's coffin. The crux of the article is about the new Glacier service, and how the pricing structure enables the possibility to use the Cloud as your archiving store, rather than tape of one format or another. It would also eliminate the need to periodically refresh your backup medium (regardless of format, tape medium ages, even when not read/written. It must be read and transferred to new medium periodically; or more correctly, it must be if you intend to rely on it as a backup)

In analyzing Amazon Glacier's anticipated usage patterns, it looks like they're intending it for partial or application backups or archives, rather than massive full-backup archives to be used for any large full system recovery.

There's some kinks to work out though, that aren't talked about in the article. If a Glacier client were to be built on 'native hardware' MPE/iX instances, there are a number of things that need to be considered, in event of a system failure which would require a rebuild.

To begin with,

1) Is this a full system recovery, or just an application or two? Regardless, you'll need to have rebuilt your system to the point you can start retrieving the requisite backups over the network, and that will likely require a local CSLT and tape drive to match.

2) You need to be able to have sufficient space to retrieve the STD backups, so they can be restored.

3) Can you afford the downtime to pull many gigabytes of backup over the network, then restore it, then do whatever post-restore work is necessary — before your system can go live again?

Number 3 is the real kicker here. The Glacier service requires approximately four hours from the time you request your backup be made available, until you can start retrieving it, whether it's a 'all in one piece' backup (a 'VM' disk-image?), or if it's 'chunked' like an MPE/iX Store-to-Disk backup becomes when it's storing more than 2Gb of data. I've not seen any figures published that indicate that this 4hrs is a worst case, or not – but they make no guarantees of faster delivery.

Then there's the issue of transfer time from the Glacier service back to your 3000. 

So tell me, just how fast is your inbound internet access, and even if you have fiber or broadband, how fast can your 3000 receive and put it away? The answer will probably depress you, because it certainly did me — unless you have a big N-Class system w/multiple 100Mb NICs and really fast disks.

The thing that's keeping me from burning the midnight oil on an MPE Glacier client isn't the four hour 'lead time' that Glacier wants. That's probably going to be the smallest elapsed time portion of the recovery effort. In fact, the Glacier User's Guide specifically talks about receiving data to archive – by shipping them your disk or other (yes, even thumb) drives. They recognize that even their networks have bandwidth limits. And if it's a limitation going in, it'll be a limitation coming out.

In short, in order to have recovery that's acceptably quick, you need to build your system to be fault tolerant — so it doesn't fail irreparably (requiring a complete system restore from backup) in the first place. That was not so much a revelation as it was a cold slap in the face.

Large systems, 3000s included, have become large enough that complete conventional 'bare metal' restores aren't practical as recovery mechanisms anymore. That's something I'm outlining for another part of my backup article series (Backup and Recovery Best Practices, or, Don't fail hard in the first place.)

Can something like Glacier work for a 'small to mid-sized' 3000s? I think the answer there is yes. But you'll have to find or make a Glacier client along with the integration and backup/recovery planning to go with it.

The only 'gotcha' is that conventional wisdom says the majority of the remaining 3000 sites generally only come in two sizes now: large, and small. And the small ones are the hard ones to find — and even harder to sell 'new stuff for their 3000' to.

I think that the IT environment that the 3000 lives in might change the dynamics of the above. For example, is there local Network Attached Storage that can be a backup destination?  But then Glacier wouldn't directly be part of a 3000 backup tool, it'd be part of a tool for backing up the NAS.

09:39 AM in Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 25, 2012

App design changes induce homesteading

At the e-commerce site Musical Fulfillment, ERP manager Chris McCartney would prefer to remain on the HP 3000 with an app which has been working well. But migration mandates at these kinds of satisfied sites are triggered by many things, including the loss of HP support or acquisitions by larger companies.

AMSLogoMusical Fulfillment has used the Ecometry application for more than 10 years. The company even moved up to the N-Class HP 3000s just a few years ago. "We were hoping to get a few more years out of it before we had to make a decision to upgrade or move to a different ERP system," McCartney said. Her firm is the parent company for musical suppliers such as American Music Supply.

"Personally I love HP 3000s," McCartney said. "They are sturdy, they run forever, and they are just one box with none of this load balancing across multiple servers."

The alternative path away from the 3000 induces changes, sometimes ranging beyond a new environment. It starts with a new vendor, in McCartney’s case. Red Prairie acquired Ecometry’s creators last year.

Accomodating a new vendor for your app induces change, but a shift in the product's designs through a replacement version can be more serious. It might be difficult to duplicate all software functions with a replacement package, even the Unix and Windows-based replacement from Red Prairie.

Customers want to carry their business rules and customized code to another platform. It can be tough if application changes have drifted away from the MPE designs. More than five years has elapsed since the vendor last cut Ecometry code crafted for MPE/iX.

One question to put to a vendor inducing a migration to a commodity replacement version: What have you got in software that's going to emulate the operations of our last MPE/iX release, for a minimal amount of change to my site's configuration? If you don’t like the answer, getting more years out of the 3000 is another plan.

Making a stand on MPE, or the 3000 hardware, poses a different challenge to delay a migration. One way to go is some kind of emulation, to get MPE/iX onto newer, non-HP 3000 hardware. AMXW, an emulated platform, lets a company move their MPE environment to a Windows, Linux or Unix host. The product creates a shell above the host hardware.

Another ploy to stay with an MPE application that's working well might be to deploy the MPUX software, from Ordina Denkart. (It's sold as part of the company's ViaNova 3000 solution.) MPUX is really meant for a move to  HP-UX. MPUX hasn't been moved forward to Windows 7 yet, and there's no mention of Windows 2008 on the Ordina Denkart website. Additionally, it would not be a good fit for an Ecometry client.

"Most Ecometry sites go to Windows," said MB Foster's Chris Whitehead. "Therefore, MPUX is not a fit. Secondly, most Ecometry sites want to convert Suprtool, COBOL and JCL to native scripts."

Newer e-commerce solutions which run on other hardware platforms have licensing practices in place with application vendors. For something like the Stromasys HPA/3000 emulator, an Ecometry Direct Commerce customer would need a license from Red Prairie to run Ecometry on it. This licensing for emulator is an area where the app vendors are waiting for customers who want to go to a 3000 hardware emulator.

Open Systems Ecometry looks to be the path of least change for an MPE Ecometry customer. Whatever ROI there might be could come from eaving the 3000 community (and its need for MPE IT skills) behind. At this point in the assessment, customers ought to ask themselves if they could hire someone to replace their MPE/iX experience.

However, the adoption of SQL Server or Oracle represents another significant change in using Open Systems Ecometry, plus new exposure to reporting tools which are unlike Cognos Quiz. 

At least Suprtool — also key surround code for Ecometry — runs on HP's Unix. Many more Ecometry sites have moved to Windows when they stayed with Ecometry. Suprtool is also within reach of running on Windows, because Robelle has made tech changes enable a new version for Linux, too. Some sites remain on watch for a more sensible package to replace Ecometry on MPE.

09:55 AM in Homesteading, Migration, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 24, 2012

E-commerce sites examine migration plans

One year after the Red Prairie buyout of Ecometry's owner Escalate, the e-commerce suite is getting a more secure open systems future. Ecometry once represented the largest and most vital part of 3000 growth, especially during the dot-com boom of the late 1990s. A list of 3000 customers circa 2003 showed that one customer in five was using the e-commerce software.

ElectricGuitarWhen satisfied users of 3000 apps are sparked to make a migration away from the server, they often rely on the considerations of their longtime app vendor. At e-commerce and catalog firm Musical Fulfillment, manager Chris McCartney is still searching for a solution that will improve on the 3000-based Ecometry software she's managing. Her company serves several e-commerce sites such as electricguitar.com.

Even though the Ecometry app's supplier Red Prairie sells a commodity version of the software, that migration target is not registering a higher note at McCartney's company.

"Unfortunately there is very little ROI in an upgrade to the Open Systems Ecometry," McCartney said, "so that is a hard sell."

Print-ExclusiveThe application and its creators have moved from part of the Escalate software group to an even less prominent part of Red Prairie, which now has 43 software solutions in its stable after a series of acquisitions during the last three years. But recent signs point to protection for this application suite -- at least its versions built for non-3000 environments.

Red Prairie has now found some gusto in keeping the Ecometry solutions in its portfolio, according to Birket Foster. His MB Foster company partners with Red Prairie to help migrate Ecometry sites like Musical Fulfillment. Companies still looking for the right moment to make their migration cover a wide scope.

"They're either really, really small, or really, really large," Foster said. A tough economy stalled smaller customers, while the larger ones might be hemmed in by corporate IT procedures. An app that's doing its job won't always be put in flight by a vendor's support changes. Costs are always a factor, whether the customer is large or small.

"You pay Red Prairie to migrate your application," Foster said, "then pay someone else to migrate your surround code." Migrating off Red Prairie products might cost $5 million, while shifting to an open Ecometry version could be $2 million, he estimated. 

McCartney has been researching alternatives to the MPE-based Ecometry software called Direct Commerce. The alternatives don't improve the application capabilities at the company which fulfills orders from American Musical Supply, zZounds.com, ElectricGuitar.com, and SameDayMusic.com. A competitor, Musician's Friend, made a migration off Ecometry to Junction Solutions several years ago.

"We have been looking at other solutions like Junction Solutions," McCartney said, "but I have yet to find a good reason or some fantastic functionality that the others provide that we don't already do with Ecometry/Direct Commerce. Maybe I am missing something."

If there's a silver lining in the situation for the Ecometry sites still running a 3000, it's the renewal of vows on the part of Red Prairie. There's a version that runs under Windows, and another that runs under Unix. But Red Prairie is no longer in danger of running off Ecometry sites to one of the other software packages in its sea of ships, Foster said.

"There was a question of whether they would keep Ecometry in the boat," he said. "That was a year ago, though. The management shuffles are done."

Just as MB Foster has hundreds and hundreds of customers who continue to rely on its products for MPE/iX, McCartney would prefer to remain on the HP 3000 with an app which works well.

The company has used the application for more than 10 years and moved up to the N-Class HP 3000s a few years ago. "We were hoping to get a few more years out of it before we had to make a decision to upgrade or move to a different ERP system," McCartney said. "Personally I love HP 3000s – they are sturdy, they run forever, and they are just one box with none of this load balancing on multiple servers."

01:22 PM in Migration, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 20, 2012

Stromasys unplugs emulator field testing

Development has passed out of a beta testing phase and into sales for the HPA/3000 emulator, according to Stromasys founder Robert Boers. The company is focusing on selling the product, an effort that led people away from kicking tires and onward to lighting the fires of production releases.

"So long as you're running a field test program, everybody is glad to participate," Boers said. "But then nobody buys. So we're pulling the plug on our field testing program."

The personal freeware version of the product will serve as a demonstration vehicle. It's been months since a bug request needed to be fulfilled, Boers said.

The product is stepping into an ecosystem where resellers are still providing upgraded 3000s at costs well below any of HP's 3000 list prices. But even those larger servers represent a proven solution which has tangible performance limits. So far, the embrace of the HPA/3000 emulator for PA-RISC 3000s has ramped up slowly. Outgoing CEO J.P. Bergmans said customers are ready to take their emulators from test to production status. Some are checking results from their 3000 hardware off a month-end closing against results from the HPA/3000.

“They’ve been running in parallel,” Bergmans said. “People want to see the same report executed before they take a decision.” But this kind of test represents the confusion over HPA/3000. Some companies who want to compare results don’t understand what the emulator product does in its design.

This virtualized server replicates the PA-RISC hardware, which makes comparing report results between a 3000 and a virtualized server no crucial test of HPA/3000. Any MPE and application errors which take place on HP’s hardware will also take place on an emulator. The best designs strive to emulate everything — bugs as well as features. “But if that month-end test what it takes to convince them that the emulator runs the same, let it be,” Bergmans said.

Bergmans said technical issues around hosting an instance of a virtualized 3000 server, one which would be located in a cloud service, are nearly resolved. This matter doesn’t involve the security of customer data — it would be covered by a typical Service Level Agreement of the hosting provider. Instead, it concerns the security of the code which makes up the emulator. “Because it’s related to security, I can’t really explain what we’re testing,” he said. “it’s like the Army: they never tell you where you are while in combat.”

A hosting service such as Amazon’s is a possible place for the model which was called Son of Zelus to reside. But “we need to complement it with some access control to block the code which is running.” The issues of protecting the unique HPSUSAN ID codes for each HP 3000’s MPE/iX licenses are also being addressed, he said.

Licensing of applications for the virtualized 3000 remains a personal matter for customers to arrange, however.

Bergmans said that the initial customers for the emulator have arranged their own licensing of 3000 software for their installations. HP offers an emulator license for MPE/iX at $500, but the vendors of other software elements will be negotiating with customers' companies on a private basis, at least at first. Stromasys has no plans to arrange emulator licensing for independent software products.

“Dealing with the licensing is something that Stromasys will help to do, but we will not do it by ourselves,” Bergmans said. “Our own customers are the application vendors. In the two cases of our [impending sales] there haven’t been problems.”

05:49 PM in Homesteading, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 19, 2012

Virtualizing MPE/iX? Check.

Last week Ray Shahan, a 3000 programmer at Republic Title in the Dallas area, asked about virtualizing MPE/iX. Could it be done, and how, and who has done it?

I was asked the question, "Can the HP 3000 be virtualized," and of course, I have not a clue. My intial thoughts would be no, it's not possible (or it would have already been done). But I don't know that it hasn't already been done.

For the benefit of the casual reader of the NewsWire, I'm pleased to report not only that MPE/iX plus an HP 3000 can be virtualized. It's been done, too. An interview yesterday with the new CEO of Stromasys (Ling Chang) and the company's founder confirmed that two customers have gone live with the Charon HPA/3000 virtualization engine. Many in the community know this as The Emulator.

Stromasys isn't ready to provide the names of the customers as reference accounts, but the founder Robert Boers said that reference accounts are coming. One of the customers is in Australia. That's about all we've been told for now about the entry of HPA/3000 into the working world.

We also got updated on the progress of the personal freeware version of this product. It's a version of the software for evaluation use, but it will operate at the capacity of a Series 918, which a few developers consider a useful machine. There doesn't appear to be a user limit attached to this freeware, but it's not available yet for downloads off the NewsWire's website, or any other.

However, Boers and the CEO Chang reminded us that the Stromasys site has a working version of the emulator available for remote use. This is a version of the software hosted at the Stromasys site, and it runs with the power of an N-Class HP 3000.

During a virtualization demonstration of HPA/3000 this spring, product manager Paul Taffel showed how MPE/iX, as well as the code to create a PA-RISC processor, could be compressed into a disk image and copied between systems. Not only was the hardware virtualized, but MPE/iX travelled in a file equivalent to the 4GB startup disk for 3000s.

Language on the Stromasys site which was spotted by Shahan sounded like it needs refreshing by the company. "The ZELUS products that are under development will be very similar to our current Virtual VAX and Alpha products and do not require modification of the MPE/iX operating system, database or application." With the release of this product into the production world of the 3000, the "will be" can be adjusted to "is very similar." And the "are under development" phrase should be replaced with "have been developed."

One point that Boers made during our briefing was that HPA/3000 (which was code-named Zelus) wasn't built piece by piece, each feature triggered by a customer request. That would have dragged out the development over many years. The success of the VAX/Alpha version put Stromasys on the direct path for a wide range of performance on initial release, Boers said.

As for being cost-effective -- another question of Shahan's -- it will depend on how HPA/3000 is employed. As a replacement for a migration project of more than $100,000, an virtualized solution which costs half that looks like a better deal. As a long-term development platform that needs access to advanced technologies only present in Windows or Linux servers, the virtualization is harder to cost-justify. But it's far too early to tell about return on investments. Until we learn who the early customers are -- and maybe more importantly, how the cloud-based instance of the solution works -- the jury will be out on the case for a virtualized MPE/iX.

But it's a reality, not a virtual concept.

 

04:00 PM in Migration, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 18, 2012

Staying on the road: Job 1 to own a classic

CartalkAs autumn bears down on us this week — it begins on Thursday — I'm struck by changes of more than just seasons. A pair of experts about older engineering are retiring from the radio airwaves here in the US. They'll live on in a virtual format, with older shows full of the same rich information — just a little more aged. The comparisons to the 3000 community seemed apt to me.

Riding on a very old technology this summer, I filled my ears using a bit newer technology, to hear about tech with both innovation and heritage. I rode my bike, tech first envisioned and built in the 19th Century. I listened to a radio show while I pedaled my 13-mile circuit around my hilly neighborhood. It's often an hour that's blessed by the miracle of podcasts, smartphones and Bluetooth transmissions to my earbuds.

But I listen to talk from a show first created for a medium that's over 100 years old. My ears fill with laughter, troubles, innovation and love for technology that's not new. I listen to Car Talk, and I sometimes think about all of you, and what you do and have done.

Car Talk is a top-rated NPR radio show created once a week by two auto-repair garage owners, the brothers Tom and Ray Magliozzi. These fellows are winding down an amazing career of detailed engineering advice and inspired comedy. Known as the Tappet Brothers, they're ending their radio show creation as of the end of September. They've been on the air since the HP 3000 was brand-new.

There are a lot of similarities between a radio show that starts with a bluegrass riff followed by with hard Boston accents, and your community of minicomputer owners.

Of late I've been hearing the 3000 called a minicomputer because I've been talking with MPE experts as old as Tom and Ray. The younger Ray is 63, the older Tom is 75. Your community's founders are from that generation, mostly Boomers, with their elders born pre-War. All of us were taught to mind our elders. A lot of us thumbed our noses at that rule, until we got older ourselves.

There's only one guiding rule on Car Talk: keep a perfectly good car on the road. Technology that's old might have been bypassed unfairly, so it's easy to hear the ardor coming from Tom while praising some cars built in the 1980s and '90s. The important word back there is some cars. Not all. Beloved as the original Volkswagen Beetles are, Click and Clack call them death traps.

It's essential to have florid language ready if you're going to keep your place in radio for 35 years. You also need to tell stories on yourself as well as idiots and innocents who offer up their problems.

Just like my job for the past 28 years, listening to Car Talk always makes me feel important (for remembering) and ignorant. But like so many of you, I can learn. One of my favorite septuagenarians, Vladimir Volokh, took me under his tutelage this year in an advanced course of 3000 technology. He started to call in earnest once I published my first novel -- because like an older car, it needed some tuning up.

Your HP 3000s could use a tune up, some time spent with as much honesty as ardor. They're running on borrowed time, some of them, but they're still on the road. Their disk drives have been spinning, some of them, since the Simpsons was brand-new. Some of them hum with MPE versions that were first designed while the Dallas Cowboys were winning NFL championships. Others have gotten new drives or memory or fresher MPE/iX. But Vladimir says their system's insides can be as clotted as a senior's veins off a diet from the Midwest, all cheesy, creamy and eggy. (Okay, and oh so tasty.)

Some of you are driving Dodge Darts along your roads of computer commerce. That's a car so storied, legendary and disrespected that Chrysler is reviving it. The commercials here during the Olympics gave us a teaser for the Dart II. The folly and glory of that venture reminded me of the Magliozzis' comic instruction, as well as the path for the 3000's remaining journey.

Yeah, it's old tech, all of it: radio, two guys taking phone calls, talking about 30-year-old vehicles. But like a classic and classy computer system, a car is vital to commerce and enjoyment. It's hard to hold a job without a car, but not impossible. It's hard to run a business without owning a computer, but it's becoming more possible. 

Like a Dart that you hear about on the radio, business computers are becoming virtual. Even a classic like a 3000 is going to be virtual one day. That means the essence of its spirited engine, MPE, and its carb of IMAGE will be run someplace other than the circuits, disks and memory in a chunk of iron down the hall in a workplace. It will run in a server farm thousands of miles away from that office, rolling its bits and bytes along what we once called the Information Superhighway.

Click and Clack never see the cars which are the subject of the callers' ire and adoration. Things like the Dart, the Beetle, a Lincoln or a Mercedes are only understood by what the brothers have seen in their own garage, or the talk that good mechanics certainly share about the most frustrating and mysterious machines in their lives. Now the brothers themselves are going virtual. Car Talk will remain on the air, rebroadcasting shows, enough of them that producer Doug Berman figures it will be at least eight years before they have to repeat anything.

Would eight more years of a useful HP 3000 be enough for your company? It would be for most of you. If you're like me or Vladimir, you might dream of seeing your beloved MPE machine run longer, even beyond 2027, another 15 years of service. It's just as possible as seeing a 1971 El Camino rolling down a Texas highway, driven by another 3000 septuagenarian, Paul Edwards. 

Edwards started his 3000 career about the time Click and Clack took their first radio call. Paul's not going any more virtual than Vladimir will this year. With tuning, memory and respect, lots of us want to stay on the road behind the wheel of a classic. If you turn yours off the pavement, I hope it's with a good plan for driving something you love just as much.

Would you like to be a part of the 3000's story of its journey, from the Sixties to infinity and beyond? Call me, or write a little email to the addresses on the back of this page. The 3000 is writing its memoirs, as told to this writer, retold from the ears of others. Tell me your role in keeping it rolling on the road.

06:37 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 17, 2012

Migration planning by application fits better

By Birket Foster
CEO, MB Foster 

Second of two parts

At the highest level, a 3000 site’s migration plans and due diligence are a process of discovery. Like planning out a dream kitchen, you will consider ways to improve your workplace. Innovation before migration can deliver an immediate return on investment. These investments will have a positive impact and provide dramatic improvements that can be carried forward when moving to your ultimate objective. Thinking of these improvements and how to set up things to accommodate life after migration during discovery will pay big dividends down the road.

Detailed Plan by Application

AppliancesApplications represent the appliances in your kitchen. Details in an application migration plan should include designs for your surround code and surround data. Surround code is the application code that interfaces between applications APIs, included in this category are extracts, and reports added by the in-house IT team. Surround data are often extra tables added to your database. These might be put in place to do a process like EDI, or reports, extracts and interfaces between applications, systems, suppliers and customers. While not in the main application, they support the functions and workflow of the company. 

This plan will need to include time for reviewing and implementing good processes to manage the changes in the application code and automating the testing. As an example source management software is used to check in/out the surround code (The VSS source safe is an example of a source code management application).

The details of planning for your application and data migration make up the next biggest share of your migration budget. How big? It depends on the number of applications you need to migrate. There's a wide range of activities which go into a detailed plan. These costs are what you’ll use to integrate the experience of your guide with your objective.

Tools to do the work may represent additional costs, just like purchasing new appliances for a kitchen or renting a table saw for renovation. You’ll also want to find out if you need a budget to contract for migration services your staff can’t, won’t or shouldn’t perform. In any migration project there will be these items where it doesn’t further the learning experience for your team, or there is no time or need to go through some steps, so it will make sense to outsource these items.

A successful migration should fit into the bigger picture of a company’s business and computing strategy. Close study of what sits in your kitchen’s cupboards can reveal items that haven’t been used in years — so you don’t have to make space for them in the new kitchen. With the same kind of diligent planning, you can find applications that aren’t serving the company needs or workflows — and aren’t contributing to the bottom line any longer. These will not have to be migrated or repurchased.

CookwareOnce you’ve got a detailed plan, the migration implementation — the actual journey, or building your kitchen space — makes up 40 to 60 percent of your total costs to migrate. If you’re expecting a small migration project, spending $40,000 on an executive seminar and detailed planning, plus the cost of tools, may bring the whole project in at a much more reasonable cost. Without the detailed plan, the project will cost more and take longer.

Plans Need Blueprints

Good implementation should include data blueprinting. It is like measuring your available kitchen area. No matter whether your applications will be migrated or replaced, your data is making the journey — just like your pots, pans and dishes will continue to be used in a new kitchen.

What’s in a data blueprint? It’s a complete inventory of what’s on your current servers, and can include file formats, file types, database designs, metadata sources and the number of volumes and storage needs. A blueprint examines how useful your data really is — so you can see why you’re storing old data. A blueprint also identifies data constraints and relationships between your data.

Testing

Whether you buy an application or migrate your current one to a new environment there will be testing, typically about three times as much as is usually estimated for the entire project (so closer to 30 percent, not 10 percent). There will be testing to prove that all the data got moved; testing to be sure that migrated surround code and the application performs well under load; testing for the application integration with other application systems; and also user acceptance testing.

By hiring subject matter experts with experience, you achieve system acceptance in a timely manner by getting the users scheduled early as part of the quality assurance and test process.

Training

Once the transition is complete you will need to be in a position to function in the new kitchen; the new skills in operations, programming and even end user deployment will need timely and comprehensive training. Budgeting and planning for training mitigates risks and is a critical success factor.

Budgeting for training costs is another tricky bit that requires experience. It can be as low as 1 percent of the total migration or as much as 5-10 percent if business process reengineering will take place. All education needs to be considered, from the early steps of training for new operational skills required in IT, plus new application skills to be taught to end users. 

Managing a Project

Application migration is a project that demands management and planning. With the help of your guide, analyze your budget and include a skilled project manager. Typically the project management will be 17-25 percent of the project. This is another critical success factor.

Everyone needs to plan their resources: people and finances for projects, so they can determine what resources will be required to build the cabinets, fix the plumbing and purchase the desired appliances and light fixtures. Or in this case, the applications and services required to make their migration a success. There are so many aspects to consider and be managed.

Post-project activity list

Once the project has completed its “go-live” process, there is still work to do. First there will be the parking lot items: things that came up during the project which did not need to be addressed immediately, but should be scheduled now that the project is finished.

You also need to have a decommissioning plan: a strategy which will take care of deciding how to best manage the historic data. You want to get things to a point where the old servers can be shut down and disposed of — not to mention the savings that can be obtained.

Oh, and don’t forget to celebrate. It’s been a long process, but you finished a migration project on time and within budget, because it was well planned and budgeted. It is time for the after-party.

12:07 PM in Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 14, 2012

How to Budget for a Migration

By Birket Foster
CEO, MB Foster

First of two parts

KitchenWhether you’re renovating your kitchen, or migrating your IT platform and applications, projects that change your life need planning to succeed — and planning starts with details including a budget. If you’ve never created a dream kitchen, how do you know if you can afford it? Adding new refrigerated spaces that pull out like drawers, or rerouting traffic between refrigerator, sink and stovetop, you’ll need an expert to guide and help you get the job done on time and within budget. A guide’s experience not only saves money, by ensuring you can muster all the resources needed to mitigate challenges and prepared for the tricky bits.

What are the drivers?

There has to be a reason for the project. Whether it is more mouths to feed or equipment that is too old and doesn’t function properly there is always some reason for the kitchen project to get chartered. The same is true with a server or application replacement project – is there a need to scale up the processing because your business is growing or the business wants to mitigate risk on an old server? There is always a driver for this kind of project. Start by documenting your business drivers and what the cost is to keep the status quo versus making a change.

The following aspects of framework will determine what you’ll spend.

Five Stages: Kick-off

In general, there should be five stages in your project: a kick-off, assessment, detailed planning, execution (implementation) and a post-project activity list. The kick-off is really important as it defines executive sponsorship, the high level scope, facilitates governance for the project and develops the organizational communication plan. The tricky bit is to gain approval for the project, including the second stage, the assessment — which is often man-weeks of effort across all of the enterprise, with looking at the major workflows (one example: order to cash), and collecting data from every group that is impacted by the application. 

The kick-off earmarks a budget for the assessment stage and sets the project in motion with a budget, timeline and deliverables for this phase — which include a report on the ROM (Rough Order of Magnitude) for completing the overall project, and major decisions that will have to be addressed. Once the kick-off takes place, the assessment can proceed. Coming out of the assessment should be a ROM for the costs of the next stage as well as for completing the project.

The Assessment

Making a project work is never without costs, and estimating migration costs involves both high-level planning and a detailed study. Once you’re beyond dreaming and looking at kitchen brochures it’s time to enlist the help of an expert. The experience from a migration guide starts you on a path — a trail whose first steps are often taken in front of your company’s executives. 

The assessment sets out the facts in great detail — what are the current costs and risks both on a business and technical side? It takes into account all the business benefits that this system supports and looks to see what the business impact could be if the server and its application are not changed out. To be more specific, what if the server fails, the cost of the downtime — the calculation that’s called MTTRO, Mean Time to Recovery of Operation.

Getting the facts for this kind of executive seminar — where top managers build their confidence in IT’s ability to ensure that the job gets completed on budget and on time — is the least costly step. Set expectations with the executive management team that the first step and funding requirement will be $25,000-$50,000. Extra costs will come if applications workflow, data quality and technology options need to be researched.

A migration expert can help take IT through the options, and have detailed discussions with the impacted business units about workflow and business goals that are impeded by the current system. During this process the wish-list items and critical success factors can be documented and put into an Assessment report that can be shared with the executive sponsor.

Your migration partner can bring skills to the table in organizing the presentation and rehearsing it before making the presentation to your executives. Often the migration partner is invited to help deliver the presentation, which gives the meeting the benefit of being able to call on that partner team’s experience in similar migration scenarios. The report presented should include the ROM — timeframe and budget as well as the options on both the business and technology sides and be actionable by the client.

Next time: Planning by application, execution and testing, and the post-project list

12:36 PM in Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 13, 2012

Stromasys names ex-HP exec as new CEO

Ling_W._ChangHP 3000 emulator maker Stromasys named a new CEO this week, with the current chief executive retiring Oct. 1. The privately-held company, still headed by its chairman and founder Robert Boers, named Ling W. Chang as CEO after her 13 years at Compaq and then HP.

Chang, who holds an MS in Computer Engineering as well as business education from the Wharton School, said she's excited to be joining Stromasys "as it embarks on a higher-growth journey." She added that the company's products such as the Charon HPA/3000 virtualization engine "offer a bridge to the future where customers can leverage the cost savings for new initiatives such as cloud services and big data."

Boers thanked Jean-Paul Bergmans "for his contributions as COO and CEO over the last years, which has seen a strong growth in sales as well as new products that are about to enter the market. Jean-Paul will assist Ling with the transition and remain on the board of Stromasys."

Stromasys said Chang's group at HP, the Integration and Technical Services unit, "partnered with Stromasys to increase our mutual share of customers for several years." HP revived its contacts with Stromasys in 2008 regarding the 3000 emulator, which Stromasys had to delay due to a lack of HP technical cooperation. Chang will make her office in New York City, but Stromasys will retain its headquarters in Geneva, along with labs based in Moscow.

The company will proceed with its project to release the Charon HPA/3000 product for emulation in a personal freeware version, Boers confirmed.

"There is no change in our HP 3000 plans at all," Boers said in an email update. "This is an integral part of the CEO transition plan. Be assured that the freeware version will go ahead as planned."

The Stromasys press release said that positioning its new CEO in New York should assist in attracting the business of large commercial and government clients.

Locating Stromasys' new CEO in the heart of world's most dynamic business region brings many new opportunities, as we move closer to many large corporations and government organizations that we count for many years as customers. This becomes even more important in a dire economy, where large scale data center modernization necessitates tangible cost savings, which Stromasys' products are designed to accelerate without the cost and time of lengthy migration projects.

"With our increasing focus on direct, management level sales, Ling is very well qualified to grow our company," Boers said in the release. "She also worked many years in IBM in both engineering and account management functions, and in direct sales in Computer Associates."

With the appointment of the new CEO, Stromasys described its core business as "leadership in classic system virtualization, which provides a rapid and smooth transition of critical legacy applications to the modern virtual data center."

05:37 PM in Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 12, 2012

The Actual Size and Start of the 3000 World

Ask around to discover how large the 3000 world grew to be, or when it all began. You're likely to get a couple of stock answers. The size of the world counting every system ever sold might be reputed to be more than 50,000 servers shipped. Its genesis is regularly quoted at 1972, so this November would mark 40 years of the 3000's lifetime.

That genesis is only correct if you count the 3000s days of gestation. An out-of-print book by one of the longest-termed 3000 veterans, Thomas Harbron, tells a story of a often-patched, crashing computer. In Thinking Machines, Harbron reports that so pot-holed was the 3000's start that the delays gave HP enough time to rename the system the 3000CX, instead of the System/3000. As has been reported all over, the start was so flawed that HP's founder vowed no HP product would ever be announced before it could be demoed.

Harbron shared a section of his book with us that explains why HP needed the lengthy delay. (We'd love to bring Thinking Machines back into e-print, especially as part of the 3000 Memoir Project.)

After all, is it still a 3000 without a database or a business langauge? He says neither IMAGE or COBOL were ready to demonstrate until mid-1973. BASIC and the 3000's unique SPL were the only languages a customer could use to create software for most of 1973. (And creating your own software was the only way an application suite could go into work in the early 1970s on a 3000.) HP limited access to its lab 3000s in 1972 to communication via teletypes.

Harbron also reported that the first 3000 training seminar of two weeks in California was "classes that were mostly taught by Bob Green," the founder of Robelle. Even at the 3000's start, familiar faces of today were there spreading its seeds.

Harbron says in his book that things turned bad in a hurry when some of the other eight customers in that class tried to use that 3000 in December, 1972. This multi-user system couldn't support more than four simultaneous users. Time between crashes had a mean of about two hours, he says.

Every time I logged onto the system... a newer version of the operating system had been installed. In the two weeks I was there, the version number increased by more than 50, meaning there were that many versions in just two weeks. Clearly the developers were frantic. The effect on the people in the class was devastating.

While we were in the class, HP released a schedule for MPE. In it they acknowledged that they would not be able to deliver the full operating system on schedule. They showed an initial release in December with three subsequent releases which would bring MPE up to full specifications by June 1, 1973.

Harbron also notes that HP celebrated the shipment of the 25,000th HP 3000 in 1982. The company took a picture of the 1,000 people in the 3000 division and mailed this postcard to customers. Around that time the personal computer became such a serious alternative to business computing that HP began to sell the 3000 against it, even while it offered a touch-based console PC.

To continue those calculations, doubling that number of ever-shipped 3000s over the next 10 years -- before HP swung to Unix for preferred enterprise sales -- seems realistic. But the decade between 1992-2001 probably only showed give-and-take shipments. Losses of 3000s, some to HP's own efforts, which were then offset by new customers. Harbron published his book in 2000, showing the same kind of optimism we used in sizing up the 3000 market, as he looked back on that 1982 postcard.

The 3000 had become the fifth most popular computer ever made [by 1982]. Today, nearly 30 years after its advent, it is still selling briskly and has probably climbed even higher in the rankings (microcomputers excluded).

05:43 PM in History, Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 11, 2012

Emulator to add personal freeware version

Print-ExclusiveReaching out for a way to let the 3000 community experience its emulator, Stromasys will be delivering a free, personal copy of the software as a download. The personal experience could be starting as early as this month.

The Charon HPA/3000 freeware will be fully functional but trimmed back in its horsepower. It's the same kind of model the company has used for many years in the Digital marketplace, where the Charon product has built its reputation. Charon is powering MANMAN sites in the world of DEC servers. Some IT managers there have testified during CAMUS meetings about the success of using an emulator.

Stromasys director Jean-Paul Bergmans invited the 3000 NewsWire to host these downloads, which would be the first program ever to come off a NewsWire web host. There is no competition in the world for a product built to emulate the HP 3000’s hardware.

"People will be able to play with it, test it out, and even run small archival solutions," said Stromasys director Jean-Paul Bergmans. The freeware emulator will have a 1 e3000 Performance Unit rating -- equivalent to a Series 918 -- and it will be limited in its number of users. Details were still being arranged about how to handle support questions arising from using the freeware . But Stromasys has already managed a similar program for the VAX and Alpha hardware emulators in the Digital community.

Bergmans also announced there will be "more granular price points" for HPA/3000 in the near future.

One objective is to make the product fit in smaller budgets at 3000 homesteading shops. Another will be to re-size the power and profile of the emulator on the highest end of its performance curve.

The company said it has too few models now, "which does not precisely match the performance requirements of our prospects," Bergmans said. 

"There’s more granularity in the new pricing structure so we don’t overcharge people, or undercharge people. We’ll give more granularity on the number of CPUs," with details to come this month, Bergmans said. 

Stromasys comes to its 3000 mission well-steeped in selling emulation. The company’s made its mark on the Digital enterprise space, emulating PDP and Vax systems, and finally the Alpha processor which HP stopped creating.

Late last year Stromasys updated a Personal Alpha version of its Digital product, calling it Personal Alpha Plus. The update to Personal Alpha — which Stromasys says was downloaded 10,000 times — "has twice the power of Personal Alpha." It runs at about 15 percent of the speed of the full AXP Stromasys emulator.

01:09 PM in Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 10, 2012

HP reports new job cuts as computers slip

Hewlett-Packard gave notice this week that its job cut program will run 2,000 employees larger than forecast back in May. The total reduction in HP's workforce will run to 29,000 by the end of fiscal 2014, according an Securities and Exchange Commission filing. HP has already seen more employees take enhanced early retirement (EER) than it expected.

Those early retirements are part of HP's workforce reduction plan. Some of the enterprise talent is being forced out, while others are taking HP's EER offer. Bob Chase, an experienced Business Recovery Specialist in HP Support, started his own consulting practice after a WorkForce Reduction. Chase counted 16 years of HP experience including years of 3000 support. The company expects to spend $3.3 billion on workforce reductions through October of 2014.

At the same time these fresh cuts were announced, analysts expect to demote HP out of the top spot in computer shipments. Although HP has been left far behind in computer company measurements of market cap, as well as total sales (both figures eclipsed by Apple), until this month HP had shipped more computers per quarter than any maker.

SpectreOneBut the IBM spinoff of its PC business, Lenovo, is poised to take first place from HP. Even as HP tries to capture and retain the 3000 migration server business, its biggest revenue generator has slipped. HP shipped more than 13 million business servers and PCs in the second quarter of 2012. The September figures for PCs will change that, confirming a slide that Dell has also been experiencing -- even as HP tries to retake some sales with Apple-like designs.

MB Foster's Birket Foster -- whose company has tracked PC issues even longer than it's offered database extractors and middleware connecting PCs and 3000s -- says it appears the market's enterprise sales have taken a hiatus. He noted that Dell's earnings on desktops and business servers dropped 10 percent in its latest quarter. That vendor once battled with HP for top PC sales spot, but that all ended after HP merged with Compaq. Now both Dell and HP have seen the curse of Moore's Law hit their sales.

"There may be something going on where the economy is just not spending on infrastructure," Foster said, "because Moore's Law says they can skip two more years and do their systems refresh then." Moore's Law promises that processor speeds, or overall horsepower, will double for computers every two years.

Hp-spectreHP's still trying to capture fresh sales of desktops by releasing new products like the Spectre One, a new all-in-one desktop that bears a near-identical look to Apple's iMacs, right down to trackpad and keyboard. But Foster says that the enterprises which lifted up Dell and HP on laptop sales "are in some cases giving people Imac-with-trackpadsmartphones instead of laptops. Or iPads, once they get around the security problem. Somebody will figure it out, and there's billions to be made in this."

Sales of HP's desktops and laptops worked in tandem with enterprise servers, during the years when they were working. HP booked enterprise business because it provided the down-line desktops and laptops, too. Those laptop sales helped smooth the choice of HP in markets like Unix, where there continues to be plenty of competition for a declining marketplace.

HP rolled out a press release in advance of new all-in-one models shipping by November, one which promises the vendor will even try to climb back into the tablet market. "Additional PCs and a tablet made for business will be announced in the coming weeks." The company's strategy came in for some hard commentary from Om Malik, whose GigaOM analyst network tracks the devices both HP and Dell have been trying to keep in the mainstream.

HP's pivot to enterprise servers represents a diversion, Malik said, from a failed mobile offering.

Dell, in fact, is no different than HP which also has blown the shift to mobile and now is trying to do a comb-over by using cloud and enterprise as its areas of focus. They are tied at the hip with Microsoft and its operating systems and as a result they cannot look beyond Microsoft. The fact is that both Dell and HP have offered consumers pretty much nothing in terms of innovation when it comes to PCs. Compare that with Apple and Samsung and you start to see that these two PC giants have been essentially twiddling their thumbs.

06:32 PM in Migration, News Outta HP, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 07, 2012

The First HP 3000 You Can Download

Print-ExclusiveWe are on the cusp of a milestone here, one that's bigger than the impending start of our 18th year of publication. As part of our desire to help the 3000 community, we hope to be sending out HP 3000s. Virtually, of course. There's never been HP iron or MPE code here in our offices.

We've had an offer to distribute the freeware copies of a new Personal-sized Charon HPA/3000 emulator built by Stromasys. We haven't been shy about the prospects for this product, one that has no competition. One of the experts with the longest tenure in the marketplace, Alan Yeo of ScreenJet, said at this time last year that the emulator has the potential to be a game-changer. It's already taken on the role of a governor — as in the part of an engine which keeps a limit on how fast an auto will barrel forward.

WideWorldHead185When we last checked in with Yeo, he was saying that the migration business had slowed to almost a trickle in the first half of this year. Six months earlier, he believed that emulator would be giving companies a reason to reschedule their migration plans. A tough economy would be another reason, but having a vision of a virtual 3000, to replace aging iron, would be the newer and more novel element in the postponements.

We've never served up anything off of our web hosts besides video, audio, PDF files and contents of web pages. So being an outlet for these freeware downloads is a new mission for me to manage. I ask your patience if there's a beta period of the downloading process.

If we accomplish what we hope, we will just be helping the community get a taste of a low-powered version of a virtual 3000, something that might replace HP's hardware with anything built using an Intel chip of i7 or greater horsepower. Think a modern laptop and you get the idea of the typical host for freeware 3000s.

The very idea that you'd combine those two elements in a single solution — freeware to make an HP 3000 — shows how far the Web has carried us all to this new brink of virtualization. During the 18 years we've been in business, only one other company ever asked the NewsWire to deliver anything other than information and advice and entertainment.

The last time we got asked the Web was pretty brand-new, and that software had competition which we could not overlook. It's the unique nature of HPA/3000 that makes it possible to say yes this time. That, and how it could change the future for preserving an investment in MPE computing. That said, older iron will sell well. There are surprising values for the physical devices called HP 3000s.

Like the vapors of the Web, it's the substantial, invisible magic of MPE that's going to define owning an HP 3000 in the years to come. I'm already gathering stories for the 3000 Memoir Project, and plenty of them focus on the software that has made the computer great enough to keep running "just a few years longer." Year after year, that's what we hear.

So watch this space for details on how to download your first free HP 3000 off the Web.

10:53 AM in Homesteading, Migration, Web Resources | Permalink | Comments (2)

September 06, 2012

Core memories spark a cold start for 3000s

Editor’s Note: Jon Diercks, the author of the only comprehensive MPE/iX administration book, offered us this story of the 3000’s very first year. It was a time of HP retreat from the minicomputer market: HP staff resigning, others unselling a system touted just months earlier as “a happening,” as the slogans of 1972-73 said in HP labs and offices.

Diercks worked at Anderson University in the 1990s alongside Tom Harbron, who’d been the college’s computer department director during 3000’s first months on the market. Diercks said Harbron was heavily involved in early discussions with HP about MPE and IMAGE. 

The institution began as Anderson College, and its very first HP 3000 was one of the earliest models. Diercks said the bragging line in those days was "Anderson College has the first HP 3000 ever installed anywhere between the Rockies and the Appalachians."

Harbron’s report on the 3000’s 1973 is part of Diercks’ 3000 memories, and so he’s contributed the writing as part of our 3000 Memoir Project — in all of its authentic, human and humbling beginnings. It's the first story I've read that details the 3000's retreat. An HP employee who couldn't look his customers in the eye about the 3000, and so resigned. A man whose job was to unsell the 3000s -- and later would bundle the greatest software HP ever wrote, IMAGE, to the Classic hardware, which not long after, fell behind the state of the art.

By Tom Harbron

Reports of problems with the HP 3000 operating system, MPE, continued to be received in the opening weeks of 1973. While it was not encouraging, I had confidence in the basic soundness of the 3000’s design and the integrity of Hewlett-Packard to ultimately deliver what had been promised.

HP’s Phil Oliver called and scheduled a meeting with me for February 6, 1973.  He brought along Bob Stringer, who had replaced Ed Pulsifer as the District Sales Manager; Ed McCracken, who was now HP's Market Manager for Government, Education, and Medical Markets; and Jay Craig, who was a new HP salesman from Indianapolis. McCracken would tell me, years later when he was the 3000 division manager, that the morning in my office was the most difficult day of his career. The people that HP hired were, mostly, an honorable group of people.

On that day in 1973, they had some bad news to deliver. Specifically there were seven points:

1. HP cannot bring the software components of the system up to full specifications before Fall 1973.

2. They are devoting “maximum resources” to correcting the problem.

3. The system will currently support no more than 4-6 simultaneous users.

4. HP will loan an additional 64K bytes of core storage to bring the system up to this 4-6 user level of performance.  (We had ordered the system with 64K bytes of core storage.)

5. IMAGE will be further delayed to January 1974.

6. Because of hardware difficulties, a slower console printer would be provided.

7. They would like us to cancel the contract.  Lacking that, they wish to amend the contract.

It was a tense meeting. McCracken was going about the country, visiting customers, and unselling the 3000. It was hard for everyone. Phil Oliver would return to his office later that day and resign. He told me he couldn’t look his customers in the eye. Ed Pulsifer had already resigned for similar reasons. 

I resisted their pleas to cancel the contract for four fundamental reasons. 

First, I had faith in the basic design of the system. I had run benchmarks that had come in almost exactly where I had predicted from the timings in the ERS. MPE was clearly a better design than nearly anything else then available. The combination was more cost effective than anything else by a factor of two or three. Moreover, I had met many of the people involved with the project and had confidence that they could do the job, given the time and resources.

Second, there really were no viable alternatives on the market at the time. DEC tried long and hard to sell us, but in the end their salesman conceded that the systems DEC had were either too feeble or far too large for our needs; the HP 3000 was a perfect fit. IBM tried hard to sell us on various timesharing patches to their systems, none of which worked well. The only systems available that would do the work were the XDS Sigmas and they cost five times as much as the 3000.

Third, I thought that HP had to make the 3000 succeed if they were to remain a growth company.  At that time, HP had about half of the instrument market and could not significantly expand their market share without anti-trust problems.  Their other market areas, such as microwave, were respectable, but in small markets that were not growing very fast.  

The only way that HP could continue to grow at historic rates was by entering the computer business in a major way. With $25 million already invested in the 3000, they were unlikely to write off that investment and content themselves with their existing markets.  If the 3000 failed, they would have had to immediately start over on another computer project.

Fourth, we had already invested several man-years in application development for the HP 3000 at the time that HP was trying to unsell the system.  It would have been a financial disaster for us to write off all of that work and begin again with a different system.  We really had no option beyond the 3000.

Years later, in a speech before the Users’ Group, McCracken said “I want to thank those of you who had faith that the HP 3000 would succeed at a time when many at HP had profound doubts.”  I’m sure he was thinking of that cold February day he spent in my office.

05:55 PM in Hidden Value, History, Homesteading, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 05, 2012

HP's migration target gets Oracle green light

After spending almost a year and a half telling the world that HP's Integrity servers are doomed, Oracle has changed its message. In the face of Hewlett-Packard's win in a lawsuit against Oracle, the database vendor looks like it will back off the warnings and continue to service the future of HP's Integrity users. Those users include customers running HP-UX, a frequent choice for HP 3000 migrators.

GreenlightA second phase of that year-long court battle begins soon. A jury will decide what damages to award HP, if any, in reparations for that 18-month campaign against Integrity. When a preliminary decision went HP's way on August 1, Oracle continued its campaign, promising to appeal Judge James Kleinberg's ruling in the Superior Court of California, County of Santa Clara. The ruling became final August 29. As of a Sept. 4 statement, Oracle has dialed back the doom.

Previously, Oracle announced that it would stop developing new versions of its software on Itanium microprocessors. For example, that meant version 12c of the Oracle database due out in early 2013 would not be available on Itanium.

However, a judge recently ruled that Oracle has a contract to continue porting its software to Itanium computers for as long as HP sells Itanium computers. Therefore, Oracle will continue building the latest versions of its database and other software covered by the judge's ruling to HP Itanium computers. Oracle software on HP's Itanium computers will be released on approximately the same schedule as Oracle software on IBM's Power systems.

IBM and HP are Oracle's leading competitors for non-Linux business server installations, so the "as soon as IBM gets it" timeline might be a fresh way to drag development feet. Oracle hasn't started to campaign against IBM's Unix and OS400 platform hardware, Power. However, you can still find Oracle's pot-shots about Itanium on the corporate newsroom webpages.

As recently as six weeks ago Oracle said "we became convinced that Itanium was approaching its end of life" and therefore pitched the anti-Itanium case to shared customers of HP servers and Oracle databases. "HP's argument turns the concept of Silicon Valley partnerships upside down," a statement from August 1 still reports.

Customers of HP-UX servers might feel some relief that Oracle has relented. The database is the most widely installed DB on HP's Unix, including some sites which moved from the Ecometry app on MPE/iX to the Ecometry Open version of the ecommerce programs. Oracle's departure from Integrity's futures was labeled an attack on HP customers, according to the Connect user group and its 2011 president Chris Koppe.

Non-Oracle solutions have been popular with 3000 migrators, however. Eloquence databases have a work-alike IMAGE-3000 mode, and Marxmeier Software has been installing the product across Unix, Windows and Linux customer sites, as well as serving ISVs such as Summit Technology's credit union vendors. That product which was once called HP Eloquence -- so close was the relationship to the HP customer -- has been offered to migrators since the earliest days of the 3000's transition era.

PostgreSQL, another alternative to Oracle's database, was being talked up by HP during the past year of the Itanium battle. For its part, IBM sells an Oracle alternative with deep roots in mainframe-sized enterprises, DB2. For the time being these two Oracle competitors will maintain their places as Oracle partners in the database market.

OraclevsItaniumHP sued Oracle for breech of contract after a March 2011 Oracle statement shutting down Integrity development. Relations got testy between the two companies after Oracle hired HP's ousted CEO Mark Hurd in September 2010. The settlement between the companies about that hiring included a clause to continue Oracle's support of Integrity. Oracle battled that language but lost, after presenting thousands of pages of internal HP documents that detailed the planned demise of Itanium (click on the graphic at left for a screen capture of Oracle's website details).

HP remains steadfast in its plans to keep HP-UX on Itanium exclusively. The only window of escape for the Unix environment seems to be in a port of its leading features to a hardened version of Red Hat Linux. HP's called that effort Project Odyssey.

05:52 PM in Migration, News Outta HP, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 04, 2012

New software checks 3000s for PCI2 rules

Allegro Consultants has released the latest in its lineup of HP 3000 software tools. PassPCI2 is software which scans HP 3000s for unencrypted credit card numbers.

Safe_card1But to return to that lead for a moment: This is new software which runs on MPE/iX. That's a item all by itself. The 3000 has become a highly stable environment to use in business computing. But part of that stability flows from the lack of change to the system's ecosystem. We haven't seen a new app in awhile.

Security and audits drive PassPCI2. Allegro's president Steve Cooper said the product grew up from a customer's need to pass audits on a 3000, security inventories which are needed to protect credit card numbers in IMAGE databases.

The latest PCI2 compliance requirements demand that credit card numbers reside in one of two states on a 3000: encrypted, or off the server completely. "There are lots of ways to do encryption on the HP 3000," Cooper says. The new product ensures that everything in every field of every record can be scanned for the 13-to-16-digit signature of a credit card. Encryption is a matter for other tools. Removal of the numbers from the 3000 is a more likely resolution.

After a scan of the 3000, the Allegro software identifies any field that has a string of digits which produce a valid checkmod number, a figure recognized by credit card providers such as Visa. You can look at a specific group, or account, or system-wide, Cooper says, or all KSAM records or all databases.

"We'll go through looking for these strings of digits," Cooper said, "which look like credit card numbers. Then we report our findings at several levels." PassPCI2 gives reports on which fields are discovered. The program searches disk drives for numbers stored in files or databases -- which if found, would put a 3000 in violation of PCI2 compliance.

Credit card compliance rules have been identified as a possible trigger to starting a migration off a 3000. Encryption programs have been devised for MPE/iX, but this is the first product that leads a search to finding these numbers.

The PCI regulations have been both relentless and malleable all at once. Relentless, because auditors cannot pass a system which runs afoul of them. Any computer used in ecommerce or credit card commerce must abide. But PCI is also fuzzy, because the standard defines compliance elements which are not entirely certified. Major consulting firms like the Big Six (or really the Big Four, due to consolidation) promise PCI certifications.

However, these scans for credit cards are relatively new. If there's been no tools for a 3000, at least now there's something to use so a company can "complete and obtain evidence of a passing vulnerability scan with a PCI SSC Approved Scanning Vendor (ASV)." Allegro points out that "While there are currently no known ASVs for the HP 3000, Allegro Consultants is in the process of applying for this certification, using our PassPCI2 product."

11:50 AM in Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)