January 30, 2013
Minisoft directs its e-forms, okays emulator
A few weeks after its founder okayed the use of the 3000 emulator with its middleware, Minisoft announced a 9.0 version of its eFormz package, one that generates forms on Windows 8 and Mac Mountain Lion clients, using data from servers including an HP 3000.
A new Director module in 9.0 consolidates all eFORMz toolkits and print monitors into a centralized service, one which uses a new Web App for management and configuration. Minisoft says the the Director "can execute and manage multiple print monitor configurations. Processes can be selectively paused, reconfigured and resumed without affecting other output processes."
Its founder Doug Greenup checked in after the Stromasys freeware A-202 version of the 3000 emulator rolled out late last month. He says his lab staff has passed the technology and will recommend it to customers.
We got access to the freeware edition a little early. Neal Kazmi downloaded it and ran it through some tests with our ODBC, JDBC, OLEDE middleware drivers for MPE/iX and TurboIMAGE. It worked perfectly! We also tested it with our HP terminal emulator for Windows, Macintosh, Linux and Java. The connections worked as expected. So from our perspective, Stromasys has done a nice job. We will be recommending this HP 3000 emulator to our customers.
eFORMz draws its data off several servers including HP 3000s and their IMAGE databases. The solution operates using a desktop software component, making the 3000 emulator even closer to the form generator. In the world where 3000 sites are employing the Stromasys product, their IMAGE database resides on the same server where eFORMz works -- a Linux-capable desktop or laptop system.
Minisoft's added PostScript & Zebra ZPL printer support, job scheduling and a built-in archiving capability to store and manage business forms and reports generated with eFORMz. These can be produced and saved in formats including PDF, PNG, JPEG, XML, or HTML.
Minisoft has a free 30-day evaluation download for eFORMz 9.0 available at its website.
January 29, 2013
Trends in Retailing on Wednesday Webinar
Retail users once made up the hottest part of the HP 3000 user base. Hot in terms of their rate of growth, in their visibility by delivering major brands' recommendations about choosing MPE. And hot in terms of handling large data stores and building the most crash-proof applications.
Several dozen customers of the Ecometry multiple Point of Sale technology are waiting to make a switch to another platform. In the meantime, the sector has a lot to teach any manager who's obsessed with uptime and high performance. Few datamarts are larger than those in retail.
The 3000's position in the retail market is shrinking, but the leading edge nature of the sector remains as potent as ever. On Wednesday Jan. 30 at 2 PM EST, data mart solution provider MB Foster shares what they've learned at the most recent National Retail Federation conference. The one-hour webinar intends to pinpoint what mission-critical enterprises are doing with current technology.
MB Foster provides critical technology to leading retailers throughout North America, and Europe. To insure our customers have the right technology and infrastructure to maximize their sales, we review and write about leading conferences in retail incorporating ideas into our vision and roadmap for our solutions.
The National Retail Federation puts on the “Big Show” a conference in New York as a showcase for innovative trends in retail. In this webinar, Birket Foster, CEO of MB Foster, shares his insights on those ideas that retailers can use today to increase customer engagement, build brand, streamline operations, and increase sales.
Registration for the free event is online, as is the content itself. You can have the company's automated phone technology dial your line for the audio portion, of listen to it via a very complete and intutive web interface.
January 28, 2013
Five years after, which environments died?
Five years ago this month, the OpenMPE volunteer group was running another slate of directors for its election. Micro Focus had assimilated Acucorp in its mission to become all things COBOL to all platforms' users. The Greater Houston RUG was releasing details for its 2008 conference, one that would feature Alfredo Rego as keynote speaker. At HP, its 3000 lab savants were starting up their final year of development of patches.
Meanwhile, Windows XP users were lobbying Microsoft to save their OS from extinction. An InfoWorld article reported that a group of users had launched a petition.
With Microsoft saying it will stop both OEM and shrink-wrapped sales of the OS come June 30, the clock is ticking. But we know lots of you want to keep XP alive, to not be forced to upgrade to the less-than-stellar Vista. Millions of us have grown comfortable with XP and don't see a need to change to Vista. It's like having a comfortable apartment, one that you've enjoyed coming home to for years, only to get an eviction notice.
Windows XP just dropped below a 40 percent market share last month, according to Net Applications. That firm uses signatures from Web browsers to calculate these figures. Windows XP patches are still available for free. So are patches for MPE/iX. XP has not changed any more than the 3000's OS during these five years — so they have that in common, too.
But obtaining your free MPE/iX patches might take quite a bit of waiting on hold with the HP Response Center now, five years after HP stopped creating the patches. In a bit of special handling, MPE/iX users got a free pass, literally, on patching, a savings that users of HP's Unix, VMS and NonStop do not get. It's just that acquiring the patches means explaining you want a patch to an enterprise server, not an HP printer.Five years is a long time in the computing business. It's such a long time that the competitors in the enterprise sector now consider cloud computing their best bet to grow a customer base. It's a strategy that didn't even exist in early 2008.
The wait time for seeing enterprise server growth feels like the kind of endurance required to extract MPE patches directly from HP.
"Right now I am on hold with the HPRC, trying to find any existing security patches for MPE/iX 7.5," a 3000 manager told us last week via email. He didn't succeed, ultimately, after more than an hour. It's a good bet that an independent 3000 support company would get whatever patches are needed. There's not that many, compared to the number of patches for XP, or even Windows.
But just like those users of XP, the customers still relying on MPE/iX will not be deterred by a vendor's newer products. The complaints of 2008 were about Windows Vista, and from the looks of them they appear to be spot-on, in a historical review. This year the complaints from these "homesteading" XP users are about Windows 8 -- although Windows 7 has finally gained the largest share of desktop server market.
Put another way, it took Windows XP about five years after Microsoft announced it would stop sales of the OS to cede its No. 1 ranking as the world's most-installed OS version. The same five years have seen the departure of OpenMPE elections, the elimination of RUG groups of all sorts, lab experts from HP's MPE group working at indie software companies, and Micro Focus turning toward the homesteading 3000 sites as a source of new customers.
There are enough prospective 3000 sites out there to encourage a company the size of Micro Focus to pursue them in a North American campaign. It takes a long time to exterminate a user base completely. There are ways to try to do it quickly, like Hewlett-Packard did more than a decade ago. But pushing toward commodity solutions when older ones are working is like extreme pest control. You can release poison gas in the house to get rid of rats, but something that severe harms the existing business, too.
Microsoft never tried to eradicate its XP users this way. But HP performed this on MPE, and now the company's feeling the effects of poison gas over its enterprise practices, with the proprietary legacy profits and growth all but dead. MPE/iX never had a majority of HP's OS business like XP did at Microsoft. It just pattered along on quiet feet doing things like recording tests of military vehicles, a software system still in use today in the US, we've learned.
The manager at that site said today that "I like the idea of keeping MPE alive, even if I don't have a 3000 to run it on." He's got a test archive and a 3000, but would prefer to use modern hardware along with an OS that HP last patched in 2008. He has a sound idea: it's the environment and the software that make a customer stand fast, whether it's MPE or XP.
An emulator probably won't make the 3000 market pick up new customers. A modern development suite can aid in growing new applications. However, if growth in your organization isn't as keen a mandate as stability is, it's feasible to take refuge in a technology designed to cradle MPE and keep it alive.
January 25, 2013
Raise your stock, maybe, with emulation
You might not have any COBOL running at your 3000 installation. We just heard from a customer who was in this unique position, this week. He is also a candidate to let the Stromasys emulator take over for his 3000 iron -- even at the regular production-grade emulator price of $25,000.
We haven't seen much of this yet. Most of the inquiries are "will it run?" or "how can I get it for less?" or "what promise do I have my software can be licensed on it?" That last one is the least predictable, unless you have your own application in-house, and use only MPE utilities from third parties. No problems there.
Apparently in that in-house situation, a Maryland IT manager asked me if it's feasible to let the emulator make him a hero, by raising his stock in his career at his company.
The transfer from PA-RISC HP systems to Intel-based hardware -- of Pascal programs -- would do the job to get to heroic reality.
Do you realize how much my personal stock would rise if I could go to management and say this?
"Our existing legacy TurboIMAGE data bases on the HP 3000 and the code that runs them (a few Pascal programs that drive VPlus for entry, a few more Pascal programs, and a few Query files that generate reports) can be replaced by Intel hardware and mass storage."
If the above statement (in quotes) were true, and we could make it happen for $25K, we might become a Stromasys customer.
Is it realistic?
We'll see once we interview him and learn about licensing. But with a budget ready, in-house code at hand, and nothing but standard MPE/iX FOS software, there shouldn't be a problem here. This may be a way to get a stock rise -- something Apple would love to see happen pretty soon. Personal stock is easier to lift than the corporate securities. Switching to Intel-based MPE provides security, so long as the software licenses don't get in the way.
January 24, 2013
How record sales, profits cost you billions
Unlike Hewlett-Packard, Apple reported record sales, record growth, and record profits for its latest quarter yesterday. The company has more than $100 billion in cash reserves. Its latest products are outselling the records set by preceding models.
And Apple just lost $60 billion in market cap in today's stock trading.
These are the rules of stock shenanigans that have kept scuffling companies alive while rocket-ships get pelted by analyst eggs. Nothing is more important than beating the estimates of these students of business. Beat them all, too. So if a company sells only 22.9 million tablets in 90 days -- a quarter-million iPads a day -- instead of 23 million, that's a "miss." Not just beat the estimates of profits, where Apple posted $250 more than the outrageous $13.55 a share estimate. It needs to exceed all estimates, not just slam out a $13.81 per share mark.
The coverage is being couched in terms of analyst estimates, and they need to protect their “phoney-baloney jobs,” as Mel Blanc’s Governor said in Blazing Saddles. Today’s fallout from the wiseguys’ reports were great news for the analyst clients who want to climb on board the stock at $450, I suppose. There’s been too much hype to withstand the “knock-em-down” counterpunch that always follows a brilliant run-up of anything.
For contrast, recall that HP's entire stock price is $17 today -- and it spent much of the latest quarter priced at the value of Apple's profit per share. HP is looking at a quarterly report in about a month that may determine if the company needs to break up the band. Back in the days of its hits like the 3000, it spun off Agilent and continued to grow. Agilent, the old instrument arm of HP, is where the HP Way went to live and thrive.
What does $60 billion in lost market cap matter? A lot compared to HP. That would be two times the value of all of today's HP cap. Destined to split itself in two, the former rival for personal computing will then have an enterpise business market cap of one-fourth of just what Apple lost today. Just for some perspective, folks.
HP got cuffed around not long ago in the same way by analysts -- but after it announced a fleecing it took in the Autonomy deal, plus reporting record red ink. What matters for any customer is still black ink, and not the kind that propped up half of HP's profits, flowing out of the printer division. Profits fuel R&D, unless a company is buying up its innovation. Even with a $60 billion hit, Apple will still be funding innovation tomorrow after 52 million shares changed hands today.The R&D at HP means the most to an enterprise customer, honestly, and especially to anyone migrating to a non-3000 enterprise product. It's hard to see right now where the R&D funding will come from at HP, unlike the Apple outlook.
With sales and earnings and growth tossed to the winds of worry, there seems to be no number that will generate a story other than “Apple is weakening.” Not an increase in profits to a record level, or a jump in revenues to the same. iPad sales, at 22.9 million, were just 100,000 tablets short of the analyst estimates. This is called a “miss,” even while the sales outstripped every other tablet 2:1.
One hidden issue is the lack of new iMac shipments, but that doesn’t seem to have hurt those top-line numbers. Operating margin decline is an concern, too, a measure of the cost in the future to create those rising profits. The estimate of the cash reserve on hand at Apple is more than $100 billion. And the latest quarter delivered $13 billion in profits. These numbers are so outrageous that it reminds me of the quote from Citizen Kane. Kane’s been told he’s losing $1 million a year on publishing the Enquirer. “You’re right. I lost a million this year. I expect to lose a million next year. At that rate I’ll have to close the Enquirer – in about 60 years.”
Apple could deliver record, quarterly earnings for almost two years just on the strength of its cash on hand — and sell nothing at all. But you can expect the machine to outpace itself by another 7 percent this quarter, by Apple’s now-cautious estimates.
So there’s not much wrong with any company still making the best product in the mobile market and raking in billions in profits for its R&D needs in the future. Contrast it with HP — trading at $17, with analysts forecasting a breakup and terminating dividends. Likely outcome for the former development, perhaps sketchy on the latter. But that’s a 13-cent a share dividend at HP. And Apple’s paying $2.65 a share, right?
HP should be so lucky to have the problems from numbers like Apple just posted. Not again in our lifetime, perhaps like the $700 Apple share price that those cheapskate analysts' clients never want to pay again.
January 23, 2013
Developer tools for 3000 redux, not re-dos
We asked 3000 veterans what they're using while they do development in the MPE environment. Several steady and stable solutions emerged, over and over. Like a lot of life in the 3000 world, there's a lack of surprises that contributes to higher productivity. Just because there are more elaborate developer tools on migration platforms doesn't mean that the MPE tools don't serve 3000-caliber needs.
For example, Tracy Johnson of Measurement Specialties uses three editors to maintain and develop on the 3000.
I'll use whatever editor suits my need for the moment. Qedit lets me edit a file that someone else may want to open at the same time. (I only need single user access when I need to do a KEEP.) Especially those pesky SECURCON or STREAMX config files that something else may open for less than a second. Saves me the extra step of having to make a copy then edit the copy. Then their full screen feature lets me use the arrow keys.
Quad has those convenient WHITEN and DEBLANK commands. The faux full screen seems easier for one-key page flipping than Qedit's real full screen.
EDITOR has LENGTH and RIGHT commands if I need to change the record width. Also, it is my editor of choice for mass changes with MPEX's hooked EDITCHG command.
Consultant Roy Brown of Kelmscott Ltd, describing himself as a hired gun, says "I'll use whatever the client possesses. Basic FOS tools, at a pinch -- Query, FCOPY, KSAMUTIL, etc." But he recognizes the better, third party favorites and wants to use them whenever possible.
I'll take MPEX, QEdit and Suprtool if I can get them. Quad rather than EDITOR at another pinch. I carry a file that, executed in Quad, sets the userkeys for me.
I also carry Reflection, and hope that the HP 3000 end of that will be on the client's machine.
But these days, I like, where permitted, to copy all the source to my Windows PC and work on it with UltraEdit and UltraCompare. The productivity boost is amazing.
Brown likes to sign his emails with the William Morris quote, "Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."
January 22, 2013
Older 3000 Birds, Earning New Wings
Since the 3000 community is full of veteran (older) IT pros, its members face a classic challenge. These old birds must earn new wings in some way, just to stay in flight. Most of us are consigned to a life of working without end -- because we love what we do, or because we must for other, practical reasons.
That means learning new technology and new approaches to information designs. Architecture meant something different while we moved through elementary school, but by college days your community saw it as design of systems. Today there are development tools that include architecture modules. They're not in use in 3000 environments, but they're waiting on the other side of a migration.
New wings come to mind as I read news about one of the older birds in our community, Paul Edwards. He announced that he's mastered a fresh skill at his 70-plus years (more than 40 of them in IT). It's technical in nature, because it engages a complex system: aircraft.
I now have a Commercial Pilot certificate with the following ratings:
Airplane Single Engine Land
Airplane Multiengine Land
And I have had a solo in a Cessna 172R. Now I have to decide what to do with the certificate, and where do I go from here. Any suggestions are welcome.
Edwards also has skills in Suprtool and Speedware, to show a broader range of the tried and true.
Do you have a new certificate that helps you spread your wings in computing? Or even technology experience gained through modernizing systems, something newer than the HP 3000's Perl/iX? One notable 3000 shop that's building migrated 3000 software, QSS, has a deep bench of MPE veterans who've added new feathers to their IT wings over the years, making flights into a fresh environment.QSS has gathered among its developers Jeff Vance and Mark Bixby of HP's 3000 Labs -- as well as most recently Gavin Scott, a longtime vet of the development and support house Allegro Consultants. What all of these pros have in common is expertise in a newer generation of tools. Things like Ruby on Rails, or modern releases of Java. QSS has been using Ruby to get its K-12 customers onto Linux.
Lately, however, there have been warnings about Java -- which while still evolving, looks to be getting less secure. Oracle owns it since it purchased Sun, but the US Department of Homeland Security and some of the 3000 community point out that Java has become the new "foistware." That's software that is foisted upon every PC like Adobe's Flash once was -- and so a funnel for hacker attacks -- with "crucial" automatic updates. That's a billion plug-ins now at risk.
One 3000 vet said that friends don't let friends install Java on their browsers. So what was once a benign and useful new technology has become -- let's push that flight metaphor a little higher -- wings attached with wax like those Icarus wore. And so security plummets while Java is enabled.
However, new technology can be based upon old and secure concepts, like COBOL development environments. Something as basic as an Eclipse environment for COBOL development. Such new wings are waiting on the other side of migrations. Acucorp once developed the Extend environment, which was so 3000-aware that it knew MPE intrinsics, and was integrated with the ScreenJet toolset to transform VPlus screens into ACUCOBOL interfaces. Now the product is called Micro Focus Extend. While it began its life as ACUCOBOL-GT, it now has a COBOLVirtual Machine for app deployment. Micro Focus says this VM gives COBOL apps a reach across more than 600 platforms.
That's the kind of reach that Java was destined to achieve, the push that got it to those 1 billion plug-ins. Now COBOL is reaching into a golden legacy technology that has been spun into virtual deployments. Tools like this probably won't spur migrations -- but once a former 3000 site is on another platform, these wings are waiting to be pinned on, after certification and training.
January 21, 2013
Making Changes to Continue Vital Business
After enjoying the Inauguration's ceremony, pomp and poetry this morning, we turned to the business of the day here in Austin and elsewhere. Our local paper reports that hometown Dell is taking itself private, a serious change in financing that might spark some recovery for HP's primary PC rival.
Financial recovery will be at the top of the US political negotiations starting tomorrow. There's also recovery to consider in the 3000 community. Some of the businesses that remain as 3000 customers do so because the computer is still the best value for their business plans. Even without vendor participation, a server that works because its OS is stable and the hardware is durable looks like a better investment than making changes.
But some businesses are not so fortunate. A recent article in Computerworld tells the tale of several corporations which build change into their plans. They're in high-competition markets, these customers, the kind where even fractions of a dollar per transaction can help turn red ink to black. One example is Hertz, where the HP 3000 held on for so long that Hewlett-Packard extended high-touch MPE support for years after the official end-date. At Hertz, there was no 2009-10 limited support plan.
The Computerworld story comes from the CIO's office, so it's short on details like legacy servers (the CIOs like to call older systems legacies) such as the 3000. But a few notes stand out on this day when changes in the US are now underway, even while the President's strategies strive to continue vital business growth. Like including more middle-class citizens in a recovery. Ironically, if the US economy launches into a robust recovery, more small businesses might be able to follow in the Hertz footsteps -- and afford to make changes which will fail, which lead to changes that succeed.We like Hertz here as a car rental choice, just as we prefer to believe in a middle-class recovery that includes more citizens. Years ago I wrote a fun editorial about a trip to Hawaii to celebrate Abby's 50th birthday, a tale where Hertz played a role. Long's Drug, Chrysler, potato chips, and Hertz -- everywhere we seemed to look, the 3000 was supporting our trip.
So much has changed since that trip of the 1990s in the car rental business. Hertz -- whose bedrock systems looked more like mainframes than 3000s, owing to the need to link to IBM systems -- tried to install kiosks in airports in a significant change to its sales tools. Tried and failed, according to the article. In a section called "A Second Life" the company IT managers described the bad and then good of change.
Sometimes projects fail fast and then sit on a shelf until technology catches up to the idea. For instance, in late 2008, Hertz tried to launch car rental kiosks similar to those used by airlines. "It failed pretty fast," CIO Joseph Eckroth recalls. "Our process is so much more cumbersome than just checking in for your boarding pass and picking a seat. There are so many added things we want to sell, so it really didn't take off."
By 2010, the article notes, new video technology gave the kiosk changes a comeback. The new kiosks have two interactive video screens and Eckroth says they're a game-changer for Hertz.
Hertz, Hyatt Hotels, Steelcase, and Capital One were profiled in that report. They are not part of the 47 percent, as it were, of IT customers. They have large IT teams, and can build in the cost of failure on the way to change. Smaller companies, even if they're market space leaders like Dayton T. Brown, have to manage budgets differently, more slowly. Changes need to succeed sooner, if not on the first try.
A broader-based recovery of middle-class IT customers, just like the one the administration seeks, might be just the thing to trigger changes. To put it another way, if the tide rises for small companies using the HP 3000, some of them might be able to afford major changes to their environments. Like migrations.
January 18, 2013
Bridges to Cross Before Useful Emulation
It's been a month since the community got its hands on a freeware version of the Stromasys emulator. Some reports from these freeware testers have emerged. But the next installment of this saga comes from more installations and software license agreements. An MPE license is in place, but the subsystems such as COBOL II are not covered. More bridges lie ahead for this software to bring some homestead systems back to the future.
One example reported to me came from a manager of healthcare 3000s, all doing work with customized code in a healthy-sized datacenter. The company hears the clock ticking on the life of their MPE commitment. The veteran manager there, already experienced in the consulting world, says some more time needs to elapse with success stories and production testing before his employer would consider HPA/3000 as a new path toward some extra years on the 3000.
He approached the freeware release with gusto. I heard from him more than two weeks before the pre-Christmas unveiling of the A-202 version, crafted to two users only and licensed for non-commercial use -- unless you're evaluating it for production purchase. "I downloaded the emulator as fast as I could the Monday that it became available," he said two weeks ago.
I've been playing with it since, and am currently looking for a new (to me) computer to host it. My current computer is an Intel i3 Core with 6GB of memory. The emulator runs fine on it, but I'd like to find a computer that I can dedicate to the emulator, so that I can have my desktop PC back.
So far I'm happy with what I've seen and have run into only one issue. That being, accessing a remote tape drive. I'll get back to that issue later and gather more info, because I'm not sure of the cause.
I hope to get a copy for my customer so that we can demo it, and hopefully get them to buy a license. But we've got a ways to go before that happens.
Indeed, one vendor of software for the 3000, who's also helping companies migrate, said he's still concerned about protecting his products in a HPSUSAN license strategy that revolves around a USB key. It's a design that is just one removal of a thumb drive away from stopping a production machine, although Stromasys could replace that key in a matter of days, or maybe even hours.
The issues with licensing third party software remain untested, although Robert Dawson in Australia got Cognos software and some other packages transferred without incident. He left his reseller of Cognos to do the finagling. There's plenty of software tool support from the likes of Robelle, Minisoft and more, but application vendors are still in the process of letting their emulator policies be known.
In case the replacement of non-MPE versions of things like healthcare software doesn't go as smoothly as planned, there is an important place for HPA/3000, even in migrating shops. But while an emulator's lifespan is measured in decades, there are only fewer 3000s running as the calendar pages of 2013 flip away.
It needs more than technology success. Out front and obvious commitments from app companies in the 3000 space; controlling virtual disk behavior that might let multiple copies of software run at the same time (a concern voiced by two veteran MPE companies); file transfer that needed to be addressed by a tool from indie software consultant Keven Miller of Ranger 3K; a lack of testimony in regard to scaling the solution -- there is much to document and announce about this invention in order to give it wings in 2013.
We hope there's good information on all this coming out to retain 3000s in production status, using the emulator. The alternative is a freeware hobbyist tool or a clandestine consulting solution (2-user, 948 horsepower 3000s would do nicely for consultants). Not the destiny for something built to carry MPE over the bridges to the future, however.
January 17, 2013
Battleship HP clears the $17 waterline
Hewlett-Packard's share price opened and remained above $17 per share today for the first time in more than three-and-a-half months. The last $17 day was October 2, when CEO Meg Whitman delivered a devastating report to investors and analysts about profits and sales for HP's year to come.
HP shares fell 13 percent on that day, one marked by the admission that Hewlett-Packard's profits would sink by 10 percent in fiscal 2013. Rock bottom for the darkest quarter in HP history came about six weeks later, when the news of fiscal shenaigans by the acquisition of Autonomy drove shares below $12.
That rugged news now behind HP still must be balanced by the company's Q1 performance. Sales close in two weeks, HP's first full quarter without the FUD of Oracle's pullout from the Itanium server line. Stronger sales in the Business Critical Server unit will signal a better investment target for migrating customers -- at least the ones who want to choose HP-UX for the systems to replace HP 3000s.
The HP quarterly Earnings Conference Call will take place on February 21. HP hasn't released any signal that it will spin out its enterprise business from PC operations, a move which investors are calling for.
January 16, 2013
Retailing is up, according to NRF leaders
CEO Birket Foster of MB Foster has just returned from the largest annual conference of retailers, and he's filed this early report on trends that will help shape IT plans to meet rising consumer activity.
By Birket Foster
Retail has become the economy's recovery engine. That's what the National Retail Federation NRF (NRF) touted as its theme at the Big Show in New York this month. Among other companies, Ecometry sites, including some using HP 3000s, have a strong interest in retail trends. They are in a time of change with the software which they consider an ERP application.
They might be encouraged to make such IT changes because business in retail is on the rise. The 102nd version of the NRF show -- what's new in the retail industry -- reports that the sector is creating jobs, careers, community and innovation. Speakers at the Big Show provided insight into the role retail will play in the economic recovery of 2013.
The retail industry (restaurants included) was touted last year as providing 25 percent of the jobs -- and triggering plenty of the votes -- in America. The NRF became active in addressing US candidates and the legislators to send advocacy messages on policies, ones that advance jobs and growth in the retail sector. These included tax reform, retail fairness, workforce flexibility and even healthcare.
During 2013 it is still about changing America, but this time taking a leadership role. The NRF wants to get retail leaders to take action and make plans to help the economic recovery happen. Some of those plans will involve commitments in IT, in expansions or migrations.
The message is clear: retail needs to take a leadership position and set an example for all of America and get everybody to look at how they can help with recovery. Even Newswire readers can be thinking what they can do -- personal consumption is an easy way to boost the economy. [Editor's Note: There's also local consumption in our IT community to consider -- by shopping local for services and software from 3000-savvy vendors.]
At MB Foster we are tracking the trends, and leading a January 30 Webinar on Retail, all to provide more details.
As consumers in your community, you can help through volunteer projects, by buying local where possible, and providing leadership by starting things: hiring people, launching projects, innovating and making changes. These are steps along the path forward to a vibrant economy. Mentor the next generation -- invest in the processes and people that grow your business and keep the economy rolling.
Our January 30 webinar will provide lots more detail. If you are interested in starting a project in 2013, MBFoster would be pleased to be your technology partner and trusted advisor, helping you to change your world by moving from a vision to reality. We deliver on time and on budget -- it sounds cliché but it is what we do -- whether it is a data migration and application migration, integrating systems or even rethinking your customer's mobile experience. Give us a chance to give you a great experience in innovation and change.
Birket Foster can be reached at 1-800-ANSWERS (800-267-9377) extension 204, or by email at [email protected]
January 15, 2013
Foster looks into IT crystal ball Wednesday
Journalists like me are always a sucker for trend stories. People expect a message of the future to emerge from analysis, and IT consumers look farther ahead into the future than most buyers. You're expected to be ready for change at the moment it occurs. I enjoy it when somebody else is doing the trending.
That's why it will be most interesting to see what Birket Foster and his team at MB Foster have to say about IT trends tomorrow, January 16, starting at 2 PM Eastern Time. This is the first Wednesday Webinar of the new year for the company. They're reaching out to predict what will happen in a wide array of 10 sectors:
- Big Data
- Social Media
Registration for the event is free, at the MB Foster website. The webinars usually take less than an hour, including questions and answer sessions.
Foster and his team have been on the HP 3000 scene for 35 years, starting from his work as an independent software representative and consultant in the days before Cognos was named Cognos. That's why he asks
Remember when we used Excel or Lotus spreadsheets to create sophisticated reports? Whereas today Business Intelligence (BI) and the future trend of analytics and ‘information is power’ are emerging as the norm.
We’ve got our eyes on a list of 10 Information Technology trends that should help anchor your business, present or future, and help you build a broader, more agile enterprise.
Every year we reflect on the IT world and the trends we see that will matter for the coming year. At MB Foster we have the advantage of working with customers in many industries and in different countries; this gives us a unique perspective on upcoming trends in technology.
Even though 2012 was a remarkable year for technology, we’ve got our eyes on a list of 10 Information Technology trends that should help anchor your business, present or future, and help you build a broader, more agile enterprise.
Attending will offer new understanding to tech advancements "that are sure to gain significantly greater mind and market-share over the coming year and by organizations around the globe." Birket loves this stuff and looks forward instinctively. We'll want to watch him connect the dots that lead away from the world of the 3000.
January 14, 2013
Could migrations be sparked by fresher development environments?
In a recent poll I conducted about the tools of the 3000 developer, I found a lot of classics. Finding classics at work is common among the 3000 community. And just because technology is steeped in legacy doesn't make it a fool's tool. Micro Focus likes to tell customers who are using its COBOL and development environment software, "Just because it's old doesn't mean it's not gold."
However, nearly all of the three dozen veteran coders -- architects, designers, maintainers and more -- use something first released in 1980s. And only one who replied to our December poll mentioned any change management or version control software as part of coding and creating for MPE. Perhaps everybody works with code they created, on a small team --perhaps as slim as just themselves.
So when these experts said their software toolset runs to Qedit, QUAD, EDITOR/3000, MPEX, Suprtool -- or in one gruesome report, the bare-bones vi -- we assume they're using what they grew up getting adept with. Success breeds habits, and then practices. It's a good strategy for decades if nothing much changes. But when a corporation acquires other companies and IT environments, it eventually gets a datacenter architecture too big for a few favorite tools and nothing else. These kinds of companies and corporations are on the path to migrations away from the 3000. What they'll use to create systems on the new boxes will be designed to embrace change while it feeds multiple-platform developer teams.
The question is, can these advanced and high-productivity tools ever push a maybe-migrator across to engaged status? Put another way, can the likes of Visual Studio, Eclipse, or InDesign sell a company on Windows PCs, Linux enterprise servers or networks of iMacs? Can a toolset lead a company to modernize its enterprise environment? Perhaps it can, when you consider what IDEs yield: application software, the element that's supposed to trigger all enteprise platform decisions.
There's a nifty IDE primer online at the Mashable website, but it's more of a way of understanding what types of IDEs are out there. It admits it's only a sampler of everything available for enterprise developers.One long-time 3000 vendor, now in heavy engagement with migrators, calls this strategy "offering a great set of tires to try to sell a car." Better development tools are more than just very good tires, though. A better analogy might be smartphones. Apple wants your iPhone purchase, and they lure you with App Store gems. Google wants to sell Android phones, and their hook is the superior contact, syncing and mapping tools built into that phone OS.
Many 3000 companies who are left using the server rely on bulletproof solutions, running at a cost they can justify. Something more than the loss of HP-branded support, or worries about parts supply chains, will have to be at work to get them to migrate. Newer tools might not be enough by themselves. But there's always the skills of newer developers, the kind a company must hire eventually when veterans retire or depart. Younger development teams will expect collaboration and coordination. The 3000 experts are so good at this they don't seem to need an integrated development environment.
In the 3000 world, among those who are not yet migrated, there's no apology about using the battle-tested favorites. "I designed on paper and pencil -- still do, but have added Visio for the diagrams," said the community's security expert Art Bahrs. "Then I used editors on my PC and uploaded the code, compiled/ran/said proper incantations, and debugged on the PC. I repeated the cycle until done."
Chuck Trites, an independent consultant and developer, said "I still use EDITOR, and have used Quad and others too. I also use Ultra Edit, which is nice for large files and large rec sizes. Still doing FORTRAN and COBOL. I use MPEX and Suprtool and a few other gadgets."
Other 3000 sites have a simpler answer about what to use to develop. "Contractors," said Tracy Johnson, a former OpenMPE director who works on the IT staff of Measurement Specialties. Perhaps that means that the tools that a contractor brings along are the spark for any changes and modernizations.
At one point, Acucorp offered a COBOL development environment that hooked up with ScreenJet and Eloquence, all in the service of speeding up modernizations. Acucorp developed a 3000-aware COBOL, just about the time HP was announcing its end-game in the 3000 business. Then Acucorp got acquired by -- wait for it -- Micro Focus. It sells Visual COBOL for Visual Studio 2010. Mike Howard, whose Unicon Conversion Technologies is one of the companies who have made 3000 migrations across to .NET, testifies about Visual COBOL. He calls it the fountain of youth for legacy COBOL shops.
A supplier of COBOL solutions tries to make its developers more powerful and aware as they stick to an olden, golden language. Micro Focus is nearly the only game in the COBOL community by now, aside from Fujitsu. If the language remains constant but expanding across vendors, then the differences might lie in IDE feature sets.
January 11, 2013
What If: Fault lay not in the 3000, but in HP?
In the early years of my HP reporting career, the company tried to sell PCs against IBM. It had innovative technology in touchscreen HP 150s with strong links to enterprise office software via those PCs. HP's ad slogan began with an invitation to a customer to imagine something more connected to the customer than IBM: "What If?"
It's a good question today, nearly 30 years later, especially when used to evaluate HP 3000s. HP lopped off its futures with the server in 2001, less than a year before it attacked the PC market by purchasing Compaq. Some products had to go, if HP hoped to convince institutional shareholders that a $25 billion acquisition was good business.
So the 3000 was derided and deprecated by HP. The server had a failing ecosystem. Customers wanted other HP products, like PCs for businesses, running Windows. Over a few more years, HP acquired even more love of outside products. It changed itself as a company, while it fled from the challenge of asking customers what if about its unique technology like the HP 150. Now there are calls for HP to return to the company that it was before it became a consumer-obsessed, low-touch customer service juggernaut that's careened into a financial ditch.
What if the fault lay not in the HP 3000's starry design, but in HP's leaders themselves? When Steve Jobs takes a walk through the neighborhood of Palo Alto to counsel an ousted CEO of HP, you can be pretty sure that a great deal had changed for HP, and none of it for the better. And that walk took place more than two years ago. Jobs believed that Mark Hurd should've never left HP.
That's how completely Hewlett-Packard had faulted from its enterprise line. A leader who slashed R&D, and rubber-stamped even more pell-mell pursuit of the consumerist strategy, was now the bulwark. Proof enough HP had changed completely, and offered in a story this week from the Apple community.If the HP 3000 were a sound product -- and it has been HP that's grown unsound since that 2001 Fall of the Compaq and MPE disasters -- perhaps we can hear a "What If" about the indelible value in the 3000 concept. A computer whose intellectual property, from silicon to software, is controlled by its creator. A system built on the use-it-forever designs of PA-RISC, rather than the churn of commodity systems.
Today I interviewed a former 3000 manager at Dayton T. Brown, the largest and most thoroughly equipped independent engineering and testing laboratory in the U.S. They purchased a Series 917 and a Series 937 in 1994. They stopped using them completely in 2007. That's 13 years at a major US business running on servers built to last. By way of contrast, that was a typical kind of enterprise product. When Dayton T. Brown bought their 9x7 systems in the early 1990s, only HP's printers were commodity items driving enterprise IT.
In the Apple world, this lifespan is the equivalent of desktops from 2003 still running the largest printer and mailing house in Austin. iMacs from a decade ago are still on the job in shipping, planning, even design at Touchpoint. Apple controls all of that intellectual property in those Macs, just as HP once did with the 3000.
The story circling in the 3000 community this week about Steve Jobs has him imploring Mark Hurd to return to HP. Hewlett-Packard was an essential part of the Silicon Valley ecosystem. Losing another CEO -- Carly Fiorina had left five years earlier -- was going to be bad for HP. MacRumors reports that Bloomberg Businessweek is telling this story about that fear of HP's faults.
Three days after he’d resigned as CEO under pressure from the company’s board of directors, Hurd received an e-mail from Steve Jobs. The Apple founder wanted to know if Hurd needed someone to talk to.
Hurd met Jobs at his home in Palo Alto, according to people who know both men but did not wish to be identified, compromising a personal confidence. The pair spent more than two hours together, Jobs taking Hurd on his customary walk around the tree-lined neighborhood. At numerous points during their conversation, Jobs pleaded with Hurd to do whatever it took to set things right with the board so that Hurd could return. Jobs even offered to write a letter to HP’s directors and to call them up one by one.
The BusinessWeek article takes a look at how HP fell from its dominating position in tech. and if new CEO Meg Whitman can pull it out of the ditch. She's hearing many analysts say a split of HP -- into what it once was in the 3000 days, and another part of what it became afterward -- is the only way.
What if Hewlett-Packard wasn't right for the HP 3000 anymore, by 2001? The company had let its board fall under the spell of consumerist forces which made printers the primary profit engine. PCs were a natural product to follow a printer, and Compaq owned a dominant part of that market. That's why HP bought them -- to become number one and overtake Dell.
By now, the advice that's become rampant among investors -- the same audience that cheered HP into buying Compaq -- is that enterprise systems like the 3000, or Integrity, will continue to fail when paired with PCs.
And at Dayton T. Brown, no more HP servers run the largest labs in the US. Dell's servers, running Microsoft's Windows, have replaced the Hewlett-Packard products from the old HP Way. If HP wasn't right for the 3000 anymore -- instead of the other way around -- there's hope in a future where the gleaming heart of the system, MPE, can live beyond anything that HP might become over the coming year. As Shakespeare might have told the HP board and braintrust, "The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in the stars, but in ourselves."
January 10, 2013
Tech countermeasures protect migrators
Editor's Note: HP 3000 shops migrating will encounter new challenges to security. Whether it's a move to Windows, to Unix, or to Linux, all non-3000 environments carry greater risk of breaches. the issues are current, even for existing 3000 sites continuing to homestead. One manager of N-Class servers was seeking backup tape encryption solutions this week, after his auditors required it.
After showing the penetration testing required to assess the risks in yesterday's article, Certified Information Security Professional Steve Hardwick explains tech countermeasures to secure enterprise servers. Passwording always has been a skill in the 3000 community. Entering the commodity systems world makes password practices even more critical to security.
By Steve Hardwick
Second in a series
There are always problems with passwords. Using easy to guess passwords -- especially dictionary words -- creates a vulnerability in any authentication system. It allows a hacker to streamline a brute-force attack (applying specific password attempts to determine the actual password). One way to mitigate this is to develop a password construction rule. For example, a password would have to contain an uppercase/lowercase letter, a number and a symbol, be 6-8 characters long -- and be changed every 90 days. The length is chosen so users can remember the passwords but they are not too short to easily guess. Unfortunately, this approach creates a new vulnerability.
Take an example of a 4-character password. If no rules are applied and any of the 90 standard printable keyboard characters are allowed in passwords, the number of possible combinations is 90x90x90x90 or 65,610,000 combinations. If the above algorithm is used one upper case, one lower case, one number and one symbol, then the resulting number of combinations is 26x26x10x28 or 189,280. This gives a hacker an advantage: if the password rules are known, then the number of allowable password combinations is reduced significantly. This is the basis of Rainbow hacking. Pre-computing these various password combinations, using a Rainbow table, can be fairly straightforward and save a lot of time guessing. In fact, there are websites dedicated to producing Rainbow tables.
Then there is always social engineering: tricking someone into giving you their password over the phone. A typical method is to masquerade as a trusted user. For example, a call into the IT department pretending to be a senior manager and explaining that you have forgot your password. With the right amount of verbal threat ("I'll report you to HR for insubordination") it may be possible to have the IT support tech change the password to something that the hacker gives them.
One of the most publicized security breaches was the loss of system backup tapes. In 2011 an SAIC employee had backup tapes containing 4.9 million healthcare records stolen from their car. The backup tapes were not encrypted. Similarly, many IT departments routinely create system backup tapes that include a copy of the password files (full backup). Very often these backup copies are not encrypted and can provide an easy way to get access to password files.
One other countermeasure to stop brute force or rainbow hacking is to limit the number of password attempts. For example, after three incorrect password attempts are made, the user is locked out of the account until the account is reset. But this has a nasty side-effect. A denial of service attack can be launched that will deliberately use invalid password attempts to block out a user. Although this may not compromise any information, it can cause a lot of frustration and require considerable resources to correct. A disgruntled employee may resort to this type of tactic as a parting gesture.
The next countermeasures fall under Change Management -- an area of security concerned with ensuring that the software platforms are maintained to a specific security standard.
With respect to passwords, there are two key components. First, security measures that ensure no unauthorized changes are made to the software. One of these measures is Unified Threat Management. This encompasses measures to prevent hackers installing tools -- such as key loggers to steal passwords -- onto users' machines. It also detects user privilege escalation used to compromise authentication.
The second measure is server hardening. Among other things, it involves removing default passwords and accounts. The NIST has a good site to review hardening procedures. Part of any pentest should include attempting to access default passwords and accounts.
One area that is overlooked is factory-default passwords. (Ed. note: Even in classic HP 3000s, key accounts were always shipped with defaults that hackers claimed to discover unchanged.) On many devices, there is a factory default password used to access the machine should the user forget their password, particularly an administrative password. A good example of this are routers, wireless or wired.
Such a device can be reset in one of two ways. Physically, when a user uses the reset button, typically using a paper clip, on the device. Remotely, by overloading the system and forcing a hard reboot of the device which results in loading from factory defaults. Another example of a factory default is the Guest account on servers. These most be removed what the system is commissioned or they can offer a simple method of attack as the password is non-existent or trivial.
Finally, let's have a look at passwords used in browsers. Passwords are entered into web applications using a browser, or mobile applications. This can be a web service or part of a cloud-based application. In either case, the authentication mechanism may involve comparing the password value to one stored in a database using SQL queries. This opens up the webserver to SQL injection.
A great place to start to understand this type of vulnerability is the Open Web Application Security Project. This non-profit group is a worldwide organization that is dedicated to improving server-side software. Not only will this site give you valuable information regarding web-based security threats, but it also has tool kits for specialized pentesting of web based password input software.
Managing passwords and other authentication mechanisms is a key component of any security program. There is more just appearing on the horizon. Another driving factor forcing re-evaluation of password security is the new Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) strategy. Not only does it exacerbate the control of classical password methodologies, but new approaches have to be taken into consideration: voice/face recognition, such as the new Windows 8 picture password for example. Even that won’t assure protection: Windows 8 picture password will still be susceptible to shoulder-surfing.
Steve Hardwick manages security for pre-payments provider Oxygen Finance, a Euro-founded company now extending its services to North American IT operations.
January 09, 2013
Secure the Enterprise: Understand, Pentest
Editor's Note: HP 3000 shops which are on the move will be encountering greater challenges in security. Whether it's a move to Windows, to Unix, or to Linux, all non-3000 environments carry greater risk of breaches. Certified Information Security Professional Steve Hardwick explains the investigation and penetration testing that will be needed to secure any enterprise that's migrating away from the obscure-but-less risky MPE operating environment.
By Steve Hardwick
CISPP, Oxygen Finance
First of a series
When making a move in the HP 3000 environment, your first order of business is to understand the security solutions that are currently in place. Many organizations conduct a security assessment in response to a specific regulation, such as a compliance initiative. However, using a broader risk assessment approach can result in a much stronger security posture.
For example, a HIPAA assessment — common in the 3000 healthcare billing environments — may only be directed toward healthcare information. Other users may not be included in that assessment, so would pose as a target for would be hackers. Among the wealth of information regarding how to approach a security assessment — many auditors provide security assessment services — one good free tool is a publication from NIST, a guideline for the Federal government that’s been in place for several years.
SP800-30 has just undergone a revision and a September 2012 version is now available at the NIST website. This document gives a good framework for a general risk assessment. It can form the basis of assessments for specific compliance projects. There is also SP800-63, a more in-depth overview of password and authentication methodologies and vulnerabilities.
An important part of risk assessment methodology is testing. The next countermeasure to look at is penetration testing, or pentesting. Penetration testing actively seeks vulnerabilities within a security architecture.
Unfortunately, in most cases this type of testing is limited to testing technical security countermeasures only. One common approach is network scanning. Network scanning involves presenting network data that’s specifically designed to exploit technical vulnerabilities within a network.
A second type of penetration testing is physical: trying to exploit physical weaknesses within the environment. This type of pentest launches social engineering attacks (trying to trick users into revealing password information through phishing) and searches for physical copies of password information. Pentesting, especially physical, can be a very revealing tool that highlights physical password vulnerabilities.
User training is one countermeasure that is often overlooked. What’s more, this testing can be badly delivered. A lot of user training is dedicated toward telling users what not to do, without explaining the justification for the instruction. This can easily result in users not taking any ownership in the overall security solution. The common response is that the training is viewed as a check-mark on a compliance report, and has little overall value.
IT managers show users the value of security training by showing the impact of a lax approach to security. All too often, security training is a reactive response rather than a proactive response. This results in a view that the training is punitive. When coupled with a good penetration testing philosophy, users can understand how easy it is to gain unauthorized access to their systems.
Other Physical Countermeasures
It can be fairly simple to steal usernames and passwords of individuals by shoulder-surfing. It may seem that the solution to this is fairly simple: make sure no one can see you type in your credentials. You can show your users certain steps to take that facilitate this. First, positioning the computer screen in a way that prevents this type of attack.
However, with mobile devices this may not be so straightforward. There are display solutions which limit the off-angle view from the screen, in order to help reduce shoulder surfing. User training can help prevent this type of attack. This is a key area to include in a physical pentest.
Controlling information as it leaves the corporate environment is also part of physical security. This falls into two areas. Physical transfer of information while in use, as well as decommissioning of computer equipment.
Physically transferring information is typically employed when using back-up media such as tapes. However, it can also include mobile devices, especially any with magnetic storage. One of the best tools for protection is encryption of data while it is at rest. In the case of back-up media and laptops, this involves encrypting any security data that is on the systems — not just user data.
A second option is removing the need to physically transport the data, using electronically transferred back-ups. Quite often a laptop can be lost or stolen. Even if the thief's target was not the data it contains, such a theft can surely compromise it and constitute a security breach.
One caveat regarding encryption: care needs to be taken in storage of encryption keys. The keys should be afforded the same level of protection as a password.
With regard to decommissioning equipment, prior encryption of the data significantly reduces this exposure. In many regulations, loss of encrypted data may not constitute a breach. The best policy is to have a disposal policy that renders any decommissioned machine or media useless. There are a lot of commercially available solutions that securely overwrite the data, or there are physical destruction methods.
One of my personal experiences involved receiving a replacement laptop hard drive. When I ran an unformat program, I found out that the previous owner was the CEO. I immediately returned the drive without viewing any of the data. (Incidentally, using an unformat command was not a violation of my acceptable use policy.)
Next time: Technical Countermeasures
January 08, 2013
How to Make HP's Diagnostics Free on MPE
More than two years ago when HP officially closed its formal HP 3000 support, the vendor left its diagnostics software open for use by anybody who ran a 3000. Throughout the years HP sold 3000 support, CSTM needed a password only HP's engineers could supply. But the CSTM diagnostics tools started to run on January 1, 2011 without any HP support-supplied password.
However, managers need a binary patch to free up the diagnostics. Support providers who've taken over for HP know how to enable CSTM. The community has a former Hewlett-Packard engineer to thank, Gary Robillard, for keeping the door to the diagnostics open. Robillard says he is "the engineer who, last worked on CSTM for MPE/iX when I was still a contractor at HP back in 2008."
A 3000 site must request a patch to get these expert tools working. HP arranged for 3000 sites to get such patches for free at the end of 2010. We tracked the procedure in a Newswire story, just in case that HP link above goes dark.
One such patched version of CSTM needs a binary patch. This month Robillard was revisiting his binary patch fix, which can be a part of using these diagnostics, with the HP patch ODINX19A noted below.
Versions of CSTM [patched] with ODINX19A or ODINX25A allow the expert tools with no licensing, but you still have to issue the HLIC command.
If you install ODINX25A/B/C (6.5,7.0,7.5) you won't need to do anything except issue the hlic command with any password. The HLIC command might say it was not accepted, but the license is activated anyway.
At the end of 2010, Robillard said his patch corrects the problem with ODINX19A -- and gives 3000 managers access to these system diagnostics -- for servers running the 6.5, 7.0 or 7.5 versions of CSTM.
If you have installed ODINX19A, you need to do the following:
Logon as MANAGER.SYS. It's safest to create an input file to sompatch.
1. Run editor.pub.sys
2. Add the following three lines EXACTLY. The sompatch will only work if the instruction at offset 268 matches 86a020c2. The message "Error: Old value does not match" is displayed and no changes are made)
Here are the contents of BINPCHIN file (You will want to copy and paste these);
~~~~~The 3 lines are below~~~~~~~
; Fix problem in DIAGMOND after 12/19/2010
modify ms_init_manage_sys + 268,1 86a020c2|08000240
~~~~The 3 lines are above~~~~~~~~
• Make sure DIAGMOND is not running (run STMSHUT.DIAG.SYS)
• copy /usr/sbin/stm/uut/bin/sys/diagmond,DIAGMOND
• run sompatch.pub.sys;stdin=BINPCHIN;INFO='DIAGMOND'
• copy DIAGMOND,/usr/sbin/stm/uut/bin/sys/diagmond;YES
• Restart DIAGMOND (run STMSTART.DIAG.SYS)
After a few minutes, a "SHOWPROC 1;TREE;SYSTEM" should show the DIAGMOND process, and either the mapping processes, or memlogd, diaglogd and maybe cclogd (on A/N Class 3000s only).
January 07, 2013
New freeware utility moves STD files
It's been more than two weeks since we've written about the new HP 3000 emulator, the Charon HPA/3000. While you were away over the holiday, wizards have been busy installing and extending the Stromasys solution for the future of 3000 utility. One even designed software to assist in moving data off a 3000's disks and onto the virtualized 3000.
Keven Miller of 3K Ranger found his setup of the freeware Charon virtualized system set back a little. As he described the problem, he announced a solution.
Miller isn't a part of the Stromasys technology team. "I have no relationship with Stromasys, other than running the Freeware Emulator," he said.
In the process of setting up my Charon HPA/3000 VM box, I noted that I could not put an MPE STD file into the LDEV7 file and restore from it.
Not a huge setback, but one I thought someone might find a need for a solution. It would use TAPECOPY to create STDs from tapes, and have those STD files ready to restore from. This would create accessable backup tape-files.
So I introduce a utilty for this purpose: HPASTDX - An HPA/3000 Charon utility. This will convert MPE's STD (Store-to-disk) files to/from HPA/3000 Tape Image files.
As noted in my brief text file with the program, this version 1.01 has not been tested on files larger than 2GB. Charon is noted to support files larger than 4GB, ones for a Tape Image file. At some time, I'll get that much data loaded to test a STORE/RESTORE of that size.
See http://www.3kranger.com/3ksoftw.shtm under MPE Software item 14, and also under Unix Software item 5 (the Unix version of hpastdx).
I might be going out on a limb here, but this probably won't be the last freeware utility written for the users of the Stromasys VM solution. Creating utilities is just how the 3000 community rolls (their own).
January 04, 2013
3000 Contracting Help Collected and Ready
About three weeks ago we reported on the needs of a HP 3000 site, searching for contracting help to run and maintain HP 3000s systems. Their servers were acknowledged as being at "end of life" by the customer, but to keep them running the company needed help to back up its 3000-savvy staff.
Put plainer, if the IT manager who knows the 3000 retired, or was disabled, this company would need fresh help to keep their 3000s online. We reported that more than two dozen suppliers, both individual consultant-contractors as well as support firms, responded via the 3000 newsgroup -- where we first posted the notice.
We also got resumes, follow-up phone calls, plus a raft of emails at the Newswire asking for direct contact information for that prospective site. The customer didn't want their name used or spread out to these contractors, but we've forwarded the contractor names and resumes to the site. (It's just the way some companies who use the 3000 work -- they keep their operations under wraps. We respect this.)
That 3000 manager says he's contacted some of the leads we helped to gather. But he started off by asking if there was a webpage which listed available contracting suppliers. We've just finished updating such a page up on the OpenMPE News website, openmpe.wordpress.com/hp-3000-consultants. (That's a volunteer effort I began two years ago, sort of a skunkworks information outlet beyond the regular OpenMPE site.) There's a score of professionals and companies up on the OpenMPE news webpage, and no recruiters. It looks like there may be even more to come. Anyone available for contract work can add their information, using the comments section below the listings.
The 3000 Newswire is supported by sponsorship from some of these kinds of vendors. Pivital Solutions, the Support Group Inc., and the MPE Support Group serve 3000 sites, primarily in the support business. They also help make the Newswire possible. I'd be remiss if we didn't draw notice to those companies first.We've got those contractor-consultants on that OpenMPE page divided into verified (the ones who've responded to us, or on the 3000 newsgroup) and those we'd gathered from the long-ago-created OpenMPE website's consultant page. Among the 21 verified contractors, there's one UK-based and two based in Canada but also available for contracts elsewhere.
There's also 13 companies and independent consultants on that page we haven't verified. If you're reading this and are still in this line of business -- and can help a 3000-using company do its everyday operations -- we invite you to have a look at that webpage and see if you're above the verified line, or below it. Something as simple as a comment below on that page, or this one, will help us move you up into the verified listings.
We can't pretend that this web page is the biggest list of 3000 help, but at least it's among the most recently verified. We also received other email messages that reported a consultant might be interested, or would take on a project only if it was under 30 hours, or they knew a friend who'd like that 3000 site's contact name.
One other resource that comes to mind is the consultants page which Robelle maintains. It's got a built-in connection to using the Robelle tools -- Qedit and Suprtool -- but the skill sets range widely beyond those utilities. About a dozen of those consultants don't appear on the OpenMPE list we've just updated. Some of those dozen specialize in specific applications.
The community that continues to rely on the 3000 this year needs to know its back is covered. One way to do this is to contract with independent resources which supply support -- the kind where if you lose your only 3000 manager or systems administrator, they can take over day-to-day ops.
January 03, 2013
Panel producer pursues PDF processes
Norbord, an international producer of wood-based panels, runs some of its operations on an HP 3000. This $1 billion company with 13 operating sites around the world needed to create PDFs on its 3000, a task assigned to John Pickering of the company. He went to the 3000 newsgroup for advice on how to do this, working to discover free, online resources already stocked away by indie support companies.
Pickering began by pursuing shareware, which is can sometimes be the budget choice for 3000 shops. (There's a superior and tested PDF-creating solution from Hillary Software, byRequest, which does this for 3000s as well as other enterprise systems.) But if a site wanted to bale together shareware like the txt2pdf software, a manager like Pickering needs Perl to run.
I'd be happy to use the shareware txt2pdf, but I don't know where to begin. The Sanface web site indicates that Perl is required, but that isn't on this 3000, either.
Allegro Consultants, supporting 3000s and crafting MPE software even in 2012, ponied up the Perl that Pickering needed to run txt2pdf.
I've placed TXT2PDF.c version 1.1 from Phil Smith onto my site (It's MPE Software item #13) for those that might want to review it.
It's most likely not as advanced as the Sanface product. Probably need to change its name also.
Finally, Robert Mills reported that while he managed 3000s at Pinnacle Entertainment from 2001 to 2008, txt2pdf version 1.1 never gave him many problems in production use.
I had to increase the size of either the pageObs and/or locations arrays, because some of our reports were causing an abort (think that I doubled the size of them).
We didn't have HP's C compiler, so I downloaded GCC and it worked fine. Also, I had some other utilities that were only available in C source, which also compiled and worked when using GCC.
The Gnu C Compiler (GCC) Mills mentioned is the public domain bootstrap software of the 3000's open source software era. It was first forged in the 1990s by Mark Klein, whose DIS International hosts the compiler's software. The latest versions of GCC and related tools may be downloaded from DIS.
An open document format such as PDF was once locked away from HP 3000s until such open source options appeared. We chronicled the other aspects of PDF techniques for HP 3000 use in a story almost two years ago.
The longer that HP 3000s remain online worldwide, the more these updated features will need to be added to the MPE toolbelt. The community is not shy about sharing its experience, and it seems to be well-stocked in what's needed to use open source solutions.
January 02, 2013
2012 Items That You'll See More Of In 2013
Some news signals an end, and other items signal starts of trends. HP probably won't be shedding 43 percent of its market cap in 2013. The HPA/3000 emulator has already had its only debut. But some other 2012 developments will continue to evolve this year to make the 3000 ecosystem appear changed and fresh.
Support interests will continue to make a clear path for indie providers. The HP 3000 owners and the system's managers will move even further away from HP-supplied support contracts, even for hardware. In many of the cases where we've uncovered HP support in a 3000 environment, it's the HP hardware such as disk units that remains under the umbrella of a site-wide service agreement. HP continues to move farther away from a comfort point with spare parts -- something that doesn't worry indie support companies.
It might be commonplace, but HP's exit isn't yet universal. Steve Suraci of Pivital Solutions told us that when he does run across HP trying to sell 3000 support, "it’s on a sales office-by-sales office basis, because that’s who’s doing support at this point. When you get your supported equipment list from HP today, there’s three things on it. HP’s being very selective about what they’re actually covering."
Tablet access signals a growing BYOD era for 3000s. Bringing Your Own Device creates new management issues for system administrators, but even HP 3000 users want to connect to the server via tablets and iOS phones. Allegro Consultants came out with the first management tool to collect 3000 data via an iPhone, iAdmin. Managers traded techniques on connecting to a 3000 via Telnet. As tablets replace laptops, expect to hear more about BYOD as it relates to MPE.Archival servers for 3000 services continue to emerge. Even though 3000s were pulled out of production service in 2012, a company's need for an MPE server to run historical data remains on hand. The vendors who invested in many a 3000 to create and maintain products, or those in the support business, are keen to run archival versions of those servers. We saw AICS move into archival service during 2012, after that vendor spent decades selling QueryCalc. The Support Group, Fresche Legacy (nee Speedware), and many others will host your 3000 code and data. There will be even more of these vendors in 2013, expanding the concept of offsite-but-important 3000s, linked well beyond the old-school timesharing roots of MPE.
MPE expertise will become more available, ready and willing for contracting. One 3000 customer wanted to contact prospective contractors to manage a 3000 installation in December. We found dozens of them with just a simple notice to the 3000-L newsgroup and a story in the Newswire. The prospects ranged in size from companies booking several millions of dollars in business to individuals who weren't certain how much longer their employers would be using the HP 3000.
This would be a good place to look back at our predictions for the 3000 world of 2012. We did pretty well with the trio of developments we could see in the near future: Decommissioning, emulation and virtualization, and computing in the cloud. Those latter two showed some prospects for combination, but that mash-up remains a coming-in-2013 story.
Emulation was the biggest story of 2012, and it didn't take much crystal ball mojo to see that one coming. We didn't predict a freeware version of HPA/3000, but it's good news for a community pinched by budget restraints to see a better bridge to any 3000's tomorrow, even if that 3000 is being migrated. A freeware emulator product gives the community the best way to see a pilot in production.