February 28, 2013
A Thorough Chill of the OS Business
The consumer product maker LG has announced it's purchasing the webOS team, talent and tech from HP. This means a company whose lineup includes french door refrigerators now owns the most modern mobile OS in the world. As it turns out, great technology like webOS doesn't have much value in the hands of a company which can't create demand for the magic.
There's so little value left in webOS that the joint release about the sale says "HP and LG do not expect this transaction to have a material impact on either company's financial statements." And so, without even a report of what webOS cost, HP froze itself out of another OS product line.
Some operating systems not only have enduring value, but they are also drawing top talent to their community. It happened late last year for RedHat's Linux; Jeff Vance took his next step away from HP's 3000 guru days, when he made his transfer from K-12 vendor QSS to the Hat. Vance arrived at QSS with gusto for newer development environments and got to ply his passion for years there.
But the signals sent by selling off an innovative OS for "no material impact," well, they say a lot about how system makers create their value in 2013. The mobile OS that was going to unseat Apple made its HP departure with the same language as 3000 customers shared about MPE/iX. The end of the line wasn't really the end of the line, was it?
At webOS Nation, the site's editors watched HP turn to a commodity technology the vendor doesn't own. They asked "Is this the end of webOS, or just the end of HP and webOS? Is this news of an HP Android tablet a nail in the coffin of Open webOS -- or is it just a nail in the coffin of HP webOS?"
Just swap in MPE/iX in those questions and you can hear the echo of 2002-05. An avid vendor base wanted a further life for MPE/iX, but HP didn't even want to sell out of that OS. The company got asked, too, in the months that followed the 3000-exit decree from HP. "Sell us the 3000 business, since you're getting out," one MPE stalwart vendor offered. HP declined while it went cold on its most storied business OS -- one used at big sites, too.
However, knowing deep secrets of extraordinary technology still has its advantages, even today. An HP veteran of 31 years sat at the Old Austin Cafe next to us last night. My friend Scott Hirsh, formerly of the 3000 world's system manager leadership and now tackling tech presales at Dell, wanted an authentic Texas chicken-fried steak to enjoy with us. That HP fellow "couldn't help but overhear" us raving about history and HP and the 3000. A handshake later he was sharing colleagues-in-common with Scott.
The HP veteran had started out in sales at the Neely Region (the US West) and soon moved to 3000 sales in the Series III era. He'd held jobs as a CE and an SE in a company where software was designed to sell servers. Where even a Local Area Network offering became LAN/3000. Just because it was a standard tech didn't mean HP wanted to brand it.
"I miss the days of Bill and Dave," he said by way of introduction. We were all on the same team for awhile over our steaks. But he also was carrying the torch of tech in newer environments, installing 3Par storage with its many nuances for an HP site.
"These days I never see the inside of offices at HP," he said when we talked about changing technical structures. He's on the road 80 percent of the time, with the off days at his home office. An expert in the 3000's OS might find a similar future, if they can find customers who still value their operating system.
February 27, 2013
Some version management required
Like the old saying of "some assembly required," the more current demands of application development will require version management, at the least, for 3000-bred apps. They are mission-critical programs, and we've not heard terrific reports about off the shelf replacements for 3000s during a migration. It's possible and has been accomplished, but many more stories are in our files concerning existing code, working on a new platform.
If you're moving code away from a 3000 to another platform, some version management is the minimum you will require. More likely, the solution will integrate a compiler suite with Windows Studio tools. There's something on the market called COBOL Studio from ATX II Tecnologias de Software, S.A. More familiar targets would include the Visual COBOL for Visual Studio, from Micro Focus.
What does it look like when a 3000 is doing more beyond a good programmer's editor? Perhaps like the story that Walter Murray -- who moved from HP's languages lab to a job managing 3000s for the California Corrections System -- shared with us.
For version management, I use HP SRC. I have one master library and one person responsible for keeping it in sync with what's in production. We archive not only the source, but also the compiler listing, object file, and executable, each time a new version is migrated to production. We also archive job streams, UDCs, tables, and so on. We have separate libraries for personal use and projects.
That last part might be just as important as any other Murray mentioned. Good developers have a yen for creating programs, and the ones you'll want to attract will have personal projects. The most broad minded companies set aside time for the code creators to work on these projects.
You never know when some personal coding will yield a breakthrough that can be applied to a mission-critical roadblock. But without management for version changes, the chain of succession for a development team is much weaker.
Murray had other recommendations for the coders who will stay on the 3000 to homestead. (After all, SRC is an MPE/iX tool.) He likes to use Quad, but notes that
the only bothersome limitations with Quad are that it doesn't handle files with variable length records (of which we have very few any more) and the search is case-sensitive (which leads us to avoid lower case in COBOL source code except for comments).
For debugging, I use XDB (HP Symbolic Debugger/iX). It's well worth the time spent learning to use it, even if it's not as good as HP Toolset as a symbolic debugger for COBOL.
February 26, 2013
All Star year may be on horizon for 3000s
This is the story of two Tims, one who you may know and one you probably don't. But they have something in common. Tim Duncan and Tim O'Neill have enjoyed success over long careers with underrated groups. They're both seeking additional years providing their fundamentals at a great value. And they're both optimistic about unsung but praiseworthy futures.
Tim Duncan is a man with fans. The two-time MVP for the San Antonio Spurs is called the Big Fundamental in his basketball career. This Tim can be easy to overlook at awards time in the NBA, because his game is based on superior execution of the fundamentals. Passing. Blocking shots. Rebounding. Scoring. All without flash to call attention to his efforts. He makes success, selflessly.
Tim O'Neill makes his first appearance in public in this month's printed Newswire. He's been managing HP 3000s since the system was only seven years old. He came to his work by way of a career in math and statistics. He is reaching out for more years for his 3000 by way of the new emulator. His organization, a test facility for the US military, has sustained itself using only the fundamentals: IMAGE, VPlus, Query, plus some HP Pascal.
Both Tims are looking for extra years in what they do well. Making memorable minutes on the court. Making MPE do its work quietly, providing the best value.
Like the HP 3000, Duncan's Spurs are being overlooked. They lack the youthful dazzle of teams from LA or even Oklahoma City. But like the 3000, it's a group he leads that's been elite for an extraordinary period. Duncan's Spurs will earn a playoff spot this year for the 16th straight season. There's been nothing like it in sports, not even the New York Yankees. But alas, unheralded today.
O'Neill wants to extend the value of his expertise, like Duncan. His systems run without software problems, thanks to the fundamentals of MPE. He'd like to keep running that environment without a need for HP-built hardware. The ability of the emulator to lift MPE into Intel hardware? "Incredible," he said while he learned about its particulars.
The ability of a 36-year-old power forward to stay among NBA leaders in blocking shots, rebounding, making points and minutes happen? Some might say incredible, but they'd probably have to live in Texas. In the wider consciousness of the basketball world, his team and effort are considered old.
But as all of us in this community get older, we believe there's no fundamental flaw in being old. A friend and former Newswire columnist, Scott Hirsh, is working for Dell this year, after providing mass storage savvy with a half-dozen other vendors. Before that, Scott was the SYSMAN Special Interest Group leader. He says with humility, "These days I'm usually the oldest one in the room" when companies seek their tech futures. "I used to be one of the youngest."
At the same time that the HP 3000 is considered one of the oldest servers in the datacenter's room, it is gaining one of the younger technologies in the enterprise. The 3000 hardware has been virtualized. And as anyone who's had hardware dropped by a vendor knows, virtualization can extend the months and years of service for a server environment. Digital's servers got this virtualization during the past decade. Virtualized servers are among the bedrock elements in a modern IT architecture.
At Tim Duncan's workplace, the extra pass to the open shooter becomes a bedrock element. On the Spurs' end of the court, a team effort makes for what the experts will admit is basketball the way it was built to be played. No single player needs to overwhelm an opponent. The Spurs practice a "good to great" habit in delivering the ball to a shooter. What they all covet isn't stardom. It's winning.
At Tim O'Neill's workplace, simple and elegant designs that have served for three decades are at the bedrock of tests and tracking. The subjects are military vehicles, the fundamentals of modern defense. All he wants to do is keep MPE working. He says any hardware that keeps his environment winning will get the job done.
You don't find many customers who can tease apart the 3000 success to say that it's the software that made the system a winner. But like "good to great," the software that represents the 3000's fundamentals makes a winner.
This month Tim Duncan earned a spot on the NBA All Star team. He was overlooked for the award in 2012 for the first time. "I thought those days were over for me," he said this year, a reasonable belief at age 36.
In the same way, many IT architects think that MPE's days as a fundamental are over. Tim O'Neill thinks otherwise. He's not ready to put in a purchase request yet for the emulator, even while it sounds incredible. But if he does, his procurement department will have it easier in one respect than when it bought 3000 service recently. They need to take the low bidder. There's nobody who can virtualize 3000 hardware other than Stromasys.
It will be a marvel to watch a 30-year-old application take its place on the IT court of today, on an emulator. Much like a marvel of watching Duncan pass the ball the length of the court, like a touchdown pass to the end zone in football. There's nobody else in the game who can make that play turn into points more often.
In a few more months we'll know if Duncan can repeat his championship success. He already has four titles, an elite number in the NBA. But if his Spurs sustain their "Drive for Five," he will be the player with the greatest number of seasons between first championship (1999) and the last.
Watching a fundamental All Star regain elite status is fun. It's the kind of game that makes being a Spurs fan, or a 3000 reporter, such an incredible experience during 2013.
February 25, 2013
Forms? Are we still talking forms in 2013?
Well yes, we are. The HP 3000 is still attached and networked to printers which produce forms, based upon what we've heard out of the homesteading customer base. Much like the overall "paperless" dreams of the 1990s, using forms in some format remains a constant for companies.
It's not an inconvenience to IT. There's been multi-platform solutions in the market for MPE/iX, and other allied environments, for nearly two decades. Some companies have helped to eliminate the need for such software since the start of the PA-RISC era. Hillary Software comes to mind with its byRequest lineup. It works on reports to what seems like any platform, including the BYOD devices. The object with byRequest is to eliminate the need to ship off paper, and thoroughly automate the distribution of electronic files.
You can employ any form created on printer with byRequest. It re-creates and fills in these forms, and it adds fax (needed for US government communications) and email distribution.
Indeed, there are workflows where the customer expects to receive paper. The dead-tree practice tends to involve paying and receiving revenues, especially billing. One of the 3000-friendly apps which handles this has gotten an update to add features.The 9.0 release of Minisoft's eFORMz has been rolled out, adding a web app for managing and configuring its print monitor configs and processes. Minisoft calls these toolkits in the software, a product that was long-ago revived to employ Java for easier multiple-platform support.
The software, whose major elements run on a workstation under Windows (including 8) and Macs (including Mountain Lion OS), has added support for high-res Postscript plus older-school tech: Zebra barcode label printers.
There's also a new job scheduling feature in 9.0. "Schedule the time and date for any print or email process to execute," the product's release reports. "Process your larger print files and/or bulk emails during slower periods."
Minisoft has also added new archiving capability to eFORMz, which could be useful for storing anything that's still got to be printed. But by the same token, there's a transFORM add-on module for byRequest. With more than one solution available to 3000 managers, this must be an accepted practice in the MPE marketspace. We edge ever closer to paperless, but it might be like the horizon. Seemingly nearby, but always just out of reach.
February 22, 2013
Where You Can Check for 6 and 7.x
All 3000 customers have MPE/iX installed, but the operating environment comes in three flavors. In the homesteading world of 2013, two of those three will need to be served up by your community's comrades.
Last week 3000 manager John Watson -- one who says he worked for HP for awhile -- asked around to see who had a copy of MPE/iX. He was after a version 6.x or 7.x. If that request was for a 7.5 release, it's easy to obtain. In fact, the Stromasys freeware HPA/3000 emulator can be downloaded with a 7.5 MPE/iX included. No subsystem software, of course.
But the earlier MPE/iX versions? Ask your neighbors, because there's no official way to get that software. Pivital Solutions' Steve Suraci, whose company was among the very last to be an official HP 3000 reseller, confirmed the comrade-swap situation. Pivital continues to support 3000 sites, as its primary business. But that won't make the earlier MPEs any more available, by the book.
"HP has made no provisions for this situation that I am aware of," he said. "My guess is that this customer will easily come across what he is looking for. But we would not be able to legally provide it to him."
Resolving this problem is not as simple as moving up to 7.5 from other releases, for reasons that anyone managing a 3000 would know well.HP built the 6.5 release to accomodate Large Files features that were needed by Amisys/3000 healthcare customers. The 7.0 release included support for the new PCI IO bus. These releases tend to have been frozen in place around the homesteading community. Customers are loathe to change these, because things remain stable if they do not.
You've got to be careful about which MPE/iX SLT you use from another system, too. "I just recently got a 939," said Watson, "but the SLT tapes I have from 2006 have been cut from a different model. I think patch MPEMX90 should have been applied before cutting the tape."
Without the patch, his 3000 "just hangs a little about you try start norecovery," he said.
Problem? What problem? When the community decides HP is done with the 3000, it can share what's needed. And nobody needs to know who has helped.
February 21, 2013
HP ends red ink overall, but BCS tumbles
HP is likely to remain intact for a long time, based on the comments from its CEO Meg Whitman at the latest quarterly report briefing. "The patient shows signs of improvement," she told an audience of analysts and the press. "We did better than we expected we would, and I think we should be encouraged by that."
Even though the company halted its quarters of red ink at two — Q1 delivered a profit of $1.2 billion, compared to the loss of $8 billion in the previous quarter — the top management delivered a dire report on business server enterprises at HP. Sales dropped company-wide by 6 percent to $28.4 billion. Its Enterprise Group sales fell $245 million, led by the continuing troubles at the Business Critical Systems unit.
"Our server business has a particularly strong market position in EMEA," said CFO Cathy Lesjak, "and the economic backdrop of that [region] is still dismal. The Itanium challenges within BCS are also still with us. There are key challenges still out there."
Lesjak said the news from the PC group — which HP said it has no plans to spin off — couldn't even meet HP's hopes. "Frankly, the business deterioration we are seeing in Personal Systems — particularly in EMEA and with notebooks — is worse than we expected."
One analyst on the call noted that the profit margins for the Enterprise Group have dropped for nine straight quarters. He wanted to know why, and Whitman laid the first pile of blame upon Business Critical Systems, the unit where HP sold 3000s until it dropped the server 10 years ago.
"The negative factor is the decline of BCS," Whitman said. "It was a big and profitable business, and you see that it's declined by 24 percent year over year. The good news is that we've got the best product lineup we've had in a long time in [the Enterprise Group.]" Whitman went on to note that HP is making investments behind the Enterprise lineup.
"R&D is the lifeblood of this business," she said of HP's enterprise products such as HP-UX servers and storage. Whitman believes that the enterprise customers will bring along Technical Services business to improve HP profits overall.
So how did the company turn a profit for the period? It didn't have to write off the value of Autonomy this time around, or subtract the valuation (through a goodwill writedown) of its Enterprise Services Group. Those were multi-billion-dollar hits in the last two quarters, including $8.8 billion in the previous quarter alone.
Even though Whitman called 2013 "a fix and rebuild year," the company still expects to be delivering $3.40 a share in fiscal year profits. That amounts to $6.6 billion HP believes it will earn using non-Generally Accepted Accounting Practices. These non-GAAP numbers are usually twice as high as accepted numbers. It still adds up to billions in profits for a year where HP says it's going to remain a single company.
"We have no plans to break up the company," Whitman said. "I feel quite strongly that we are better and stronger together." She believes that the past 10 years of business has built "the most valuable franchise in IT, particularly as we look forward to the most significant change in how IT is bought, paid for and consumed. We have a terrific set of assets, and we're going to drive that to really great business performance."
Even though HP's PC business contributes only 10 percent of the company's total profit, Whitman managed to spin that number into a positive. HP thinks pricing for PCs is going to be a problem, so it's glad that PCs only contribute a minimal share of earnings. The CEO thinks there's a better road ahead for an HP that remains intact.
"Customers want this company to be together," she stressed. "We heard that loud and clear on August 18, 2011." That was the day when HP released a quarterly report that it was studying a PC-Enterprise breakup. Shareholders sold down the stock that week on the news, along with the damage of dumping CEO Mark Hurd.
The return to black ink on HP's reports is a good sign about the company's futures, Whitman said. "The turnaround is on track. We have three more quarters to go in this year. We feel very confident about delivering the full year results. But we have to deliver, and we have to execute as an organization."
HP executed 3,500 employee departures in the first quarter, and it reduced its headcount by 11,800 in the fiscal year that ended in October. "We've now asked 15,300 people to leave the company," Whitman said. "We can actually see savings from that, and see a more streamlined and focused organization. This is the financial capacity we will need to hit our numbers. And it's the financial capacity we will need to invest."
February 20, 2013
One decade later, change remains complex
I just retired the pages and stories of the latest Newswire printed edition, our 137th. It's always a celebration day when the pages go onto the press for each print edition. But print, plus one monthly Online Extra email update, used to be all there was to the 3000 Newswire. There's been so much change since February of 2003 -- in your community, not just in the Newswire -- that I went back to look at what was crucial one decade ago.
To my surprise, the message from HP was mixed with migration as well as emulation. HP held a Webcast for C-Level staff at their customers' companies. About 70 people arrived online, but it didn't look like a lot of them were CFOs, CIOs, or any of the other Cs. There was a lot of talk to explain how HP got to its decision to drop the 3000 off its lineup. In 2003, every HP message was based upon future directions they believed customers would take. But the company also acknowledged some sites wouldn't ever migrate -- or take so long that HP would not be supporting the server by the end of a migration.
Yes, migrations are still underway. HP predicted that correctly.
In 2003's February, 18 print articles got the reporting done, along with another three articles' worth of Online Extra. In the month of 2013 that led to our printed date, we published 22 articles. A decade later we're one article up on our report count. But the news appears five days a week now, instead of once every 30 days, with one extra day of Online Extra.
How could the news stay so constant, given the reduction of installed 3000s over 10 years? Well, this has been an era full of migrations, as well as the transitions to sustain which the homesteaders have pursued. The migrations are as complex as ever. The homesteading has new wrinkles to write about, like that emulator. But like the change factor of migrations, it turns out we were writing about emulation during 2003, too.
Here's a current report from a customer who's been working on a migration for about six years now. We just heard this on the day we sent off February, 2013 -- or as we say in publishing, Volume 18, Issue 2. The launch date for this project was 2007.
We worked on system configuration and data clean-up/migration during all of 2008, and went live with the first module (H/R and Payroll) in January 2009. We went live with the Finance module (my area of support) in July 2009, and with another critical module in January 2010. A very aggressive implementation schedule. The modules still on the HP 3000 are our telecommunications system and our computer user tracking system.
"Of course," our correspondent added, "the general economic meltdown that occurred in 2008 affected our entire process. It affected the ERP budget as well as the organization's general budget." He went on to say the organization had to stop hiring temp workers to do office tasks while regular workers were in training. "It made an already hard process even harder."
When I thumbed through our pages of 2003, I didn't find any reports like that. Nobody had a current migration project to summarize. Early 2003 was a planning and deciding era, one that would last about another two years before projects genuinely began. Although building 3000s and selling them was going to end eight months later, everyone figured they had at least until December 31, 2006 to get projects finished.
And as it turned out, HP's support end date was extended another four years. Like a lot of migration projects. We talked to the Interex Advocacy Manager Deb Lawson in that issue, and the user group estimated 25 percent of all companies had not made a decision to migrate by early 2003. "Many [of that group] aren't going to migrate at all," she said, "while some will eventually migrate, just not in the short term."
It was a much larger pool in that year, of course. 25 percent of the customer base would've represented 5,000 servers that hadn't decided to migrate yet, if at all. Interex estimated that out of a 25,000-machine base (as estimated by IDG), 77 percent would be underway in a migration by the end of 2004. Nothing moved nearly as quickly as expected. Including the arrival of an emulator.
A hardware replacement for the 3000 boxes was a keen need, according to Lawson. "The biggest need for the 3000 base is a hardware emulator and getting the 2006 date extended," she said. I know HP is aware of those two huge needs."
A decade later, the Stromasys emulator is only now marking its first year of availability. Just like migration got extended or stalled, key elements of Charon HPA/3000 were delayed.
Hewlett-Packard could only go to the brink of devising a license for MPE/iX on any unbuilt, unstarted emulator. A plan to have Intel-based emulator license terms announced in February, 2003 had slipped from the “early in 2003” promises made in the fall of 2002. We believed "HP’s commitment to its homesteading customers shows no apparent signs of slipping."
But that depended on what part of HP you could see. The 3000 division was doing what it could, although it was 2004 before any license plan emerged. But in the HP legal division, decisions were made that held up key technical data that could have made a 2004 license relevant in a few extra years, at most.
And for anyone left in our community who believes OpenMPE didn't have an active role, they can look to our story about that Webcast's homesteading message. HP's Mike Paivinen, working out of the 3000 division, said "We’ll continue to work with OpenMPE to understand the needs of the users they represent.” HP said it would hold teleconferences with some of the homesteading community, to “better understand how customers expect to use their 3000s after HP’s end of support date." The division's last GM, Dave Wilde, said he wanted OpenMPE "to have the lead on this" emulator license issue.
Migrations got compared to homesteading, especially their costs, during that Webcast. Staying versus going was a choice that triggered an HP statement that "many HP 3000 owners have discovered those two curves have already crossed, or will be crossing very shortly." But out on the migration road trip three months earlier, HP said that migrations would cost hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars, unless customers were moving Powerhouse or Speedware apps to HP's Unix. Nobody could say they were spending that much to homestead.
For the HP 3000 customer hiring their first Oracle DBA in a migration effort, HP was advising that a sharp question ought to be asked. "Ask them about data structure differences [between IMAGE and Oracle], automatic masters, have them draw the map for you," said a manager from one of HP's Platinum Migration partners in 2003. " If they don't understand, you don't want them working for you."
That's because just like the situation in 2013, the migration changes were going to be costly enough to trigger scrutiny from the C-level. Birket Foster of migration partner MB Foster said back then that customers "need to start planning from the end, like on what date does it become too risky to say on the 3000? You probably should have started last year. A lot of folks haven't got a grip on when they should have actually started."
A decade later, some people still want to know about how to manage MPEX use, track the latest improvements to Suprtool, or even get support for 9x7 systems. We reported on all of that, too. The complexity of changes led me to advise in an editorial that even measuring twice, before taking one cut at migration, might not be enough. Carpentry experience was a pretty apt allegory, until we mentioned that getting a fresh piece of wood to create a baluster rail was easier than a restart on any migration.
I looked back on our Volume 8, Issue 5 with a fond gaze, admiring a list of more than two dozen sponsors and 50 percent more pages. But there was no blog in that February, or its sponsors, to keep everybody up to date. A lot less was available to report on migrations. But the conclusions about change weren't going to shift. It would take longer than expected and cost more than planned, most of the time. The 3000 story is no less complex today, even after we've all taken a decade's leap in expertise and technology.
February 19, 2013
HP aims at Enterprise ally uptick for 2013
Hewlett-Packard will be reporting about its past in a couple of days, briefing analysts at 5 PM EST Feb. 21 about the quarter just ended in January. But the company will be looking ahead at its fiscal quarters to come starting tomorrow, when it briefs HP allies at its 2013 Global Partner Conference.
Issues and opportunities for customers who are migrating, or have already moved, will dominate the conference. That almost goes without saying; HP's closed off all other 3000-related business including support. But HP is also going to share information that could be just as useful for those analysts, being briefed in the same week. HP's going to talk about its Oracle alliance at the meeting in Las Vegas (see the detail at left). The story might be the same for partners as analysts and the business press. Sales ally presentations will have an optimistic slant in Vegas. Eveyone wants to be hopeful in that town, at least when they arrive.
What HP sketches at this sales meeting -- the year's largest partner conference -- will shape what these partners say to customers about Oracle. The database vendor has been forced by the courts to keep working with HP on Itanium server technology. Nobody knows what that enforced alliance will yield yet. The court ruling and Oracle's capitulation only happened in September. Partners have fielded too many questions about the FUD that Oracle spread, and HP's said in previous quarterly reports that FUD choked off Enterprise business.
However, it's an article of faith: applications determine where a customer will go when they leave the 3000. But an application off the shelf always needs a database, and Oracle is underneath a lot of them, especially on HP-UX. If a migrating customer can ask an HP partner, "What's the database feeding that application?" then the answer -- leavened with this week's Oracle alliance message -- can shape a migration decision. You'd want to know if you were entering the Oracle enterprise airspace by migrating onto an app in Itanium, wouldn't you? Especially with a court order driving Oracle development.Application suppliers will sometimes overlook this kind of tech detail as they present to a customer's higher management. This is the sort of question that an IT manager, or a system architect, would be first to ask. For example, if you're moving your 3000 asset application for higher-ed to Banner on a Unix box, you won't see much reference to Oracle on the Banner webpages.
A migrating manager would have to go into the product roadmap pages at the website of Ellucian, the company that owns Banner after buying up Sungard. Sure enough, there in the PDF presentation for Banner is a twin track -- using Microsoft databases and using Oracle's.
Those columns represent Windows vs. Unix choices. You could probably assume if you're picking HP-UX for any application it'll be running Oracle. That's the same setup for the Ecometry Open migration solution for retailers.
Oracle still has a lot of clout in driving the migration choices for 3000 sites. Some want Windows for staffing reasons and lower hardware/support costs. They might also be choosing a path were the HP alliance with the database vendor isn't something that requires a briefing at a Partner Conference.
February 18, 2013
When Bigger Isn't Better for Commerce
There are at least 60 companies in the world that are still using Ecometry direct commerce software on an HP 3000, according to members of that software's community. Perhaps four times that number have already made a migration off MPE/iX, many taking the road to Ecometry Open on Windows.
But that path might have become steeper than the migrated sites expected since Ecometry's owner RedPrairie decided to join JDA Software. JDA is to logistics software as Infor is to manufacturing: a company with a practice of purchasing other companies. Bigger is better to these kinds of entities.
A deal announced in November to combine the two companies says that RedPrairie is acquiring JDA by purchasing JDA stock, but it's a reverse takeover. RedPrairie is the smaller entity, buying up JDA stock to plow through the regulatory scrutiny if the deal was the other way around. The merger was announced as complete about six weeks later, during the Christmas week where news gets dumped because nobody is supposed to be looking.
A larger owner can sometimes not be looking at the best of interests of smaller, acquired customers. It matters enough that some users say say they're freezing Ecometry projects until they get convinced the software will still exist in a year. The 131 products that are now part of JDA, post-merger, suggest something's got to give -- at least in the software development resource derby. At Infor, plenty of software checks in with an ability to continue to pay for support. But development often slows for these acquired products, such as MANMAN.
There was a time -- and not so long ago -- when Ecometry was the sole focus of its ownership. Those owners included people who'd grown the customer base from its HP roots while the server was rebranded the e3000.It's not easy to remember what the "e" was supposed to stand for in e3000, but HP added the vowel as a way of trying to brand the server as a web resource. (Okay, you'll read something about Enabling growth, Enhancing app partner and solutions focus, and Embracing new technology. Less than two years later, Hewlett-Packard was using the little "e" to mean "extinguish," as it shut off HP futures for the server.)
Ecometry, named to draw upon the new e-commerce strategy, was a flagship app partner in that e3000 era. Even as recently as 2005, Ecometry was just taking its first departure into the realm of equity capital ownership.
The founders of the company, Will Smith and Allan Gardner, retired and sold off their firm in 2004, but that transaction didn't change things for customers as much as another retirement. The equity firm Golden Gate Capital, guided by Ecometry executives led by CEO John Marrah, mothballed a strategy that all Ecometry HP 3000 customers had to leave the platform by HP’s Dec. 31, 2006 support deadline.
Even though that deadline was extended twice by HP, that timetable never mattered as much as establishing a continuing support business. That's the strategy at Infor and JDA, too. MANMAN and Ecometry sites, regardless of their platform, buy support for their applications from the current owners.
Question 17 of an FAQ about the merger explains how a customer would know if their product had been terminated.
JDA’s general policy is that products are not sunset, and that customers are not forced to upgrade to specific versions of our products. Our customers are our top priority and we are committed to continue to provide customers value for the maintenance fees that they pay.
Additionally JDA has a comprehensive solution investment policy available online that outlines JDA’s industry-leading policy for supporting legacy versions of products. This policy will carry forward to the merged company.
JDA established that investment policy in 2011, after it acquired Manugistics and i2. These company brands like Ecometry, Escalate and even RedPraire all become integrated, running behind the shield of JDA. Some of the largest retailers in the world are being served by the combined product roster now, according to the FAQ. The combination of the two companies creates a customer list of more than 3,200. At its height of direct commerce focus, Ecometry had less than 400 companies in its client base.
What JDA now calls an impressive customer roster includes 82 of the STORES Magazine global top 100; 87 of the Consumer Goods Technology global top 100; and 22 of the Gartner Supply Chain Top 25. If that sounds like a mismatch against smaller retail customers such as Seeds of Change, TLA Video, Stumps and Diamond Essence, its because these smaller companies believe they're entitled to some assurances. One problem is the preferred system integrators for JDA, CAPGemini, Tata, and Wipro, can't work on projects of under $5 million. There's too much overhead to start the integration engines for less than that figure. Integrations figure large in the customer experience of "omni-channel" retailers like the Ecometry sites.
Smith and Gardner retired after building up their company to the point where they renamed it Ecometry. As it moved into equity capital ownership, it represented one of the biggest single groups of HP 3000 packaged application customers. There were the best-known brands in the 3000 base there as well, such as M&M/Mars, Brookstone and Title Nine.
The buy-up plan began in 2005 with the Ecometry doing the acquiring. It grew its customer base off competitors through purchases. Marrah said that Ecometry, bolstered by Golden Gate’s $2.5 billion wallet, "would pursue an aggressive acquisition strategy, buying companies to both extend its customer bases and advance its technology."
But in the meantime Ecometry was spreading the word that 3000 sites could expect application support of its MPE-based software during 2007. The 3000 sites can still buy support, six years later.
Customers say they want to know more than support plans for the lifecycle of a retailer app. The JDA Focus conference is scheduled for May 5-7. If there's one thing in common with those classic Ecometry days for these customers, it's the location of Focus. The show is held in Florida, the state where Smith and Gardner founded their company. RedShift, the RedPrairie conference, was to be held in Las Vegas -- where HP is opening its Americas Partner conference tomorrow.
February 15, 2013
3000 pro uses open source version control
We've been polling the 3000 community about its choices for development tools, but the range runs wider than QUAD or versions of Notepad. One enterprising veteran has tapped the free, open source toolset git to create a batch transfer system for EDI.
The git solution is one of those software choices that seems to defy the traditional structures for care and feeding of software. Like the Joomla Content Management System, git is supported by a vast range of users, comes free of charge for any Windows, Unix or Linux-based workstation or server, and is used by very large companies as well as untold thousands of smaller ones.
One 3000 IT pro, James Byrne of the trading specialist and freight forwarder Harte & Lyne Ltd., checked in to report how git is helping him manage the development of new modules which connect to newer enterprise environments. The git techology supports Behavior Driven Developments. BDD provides developers and business analysts with shared tools and a shared process to collaborate on software development.
Last year I had to create an EDI batch transfer system from one of our suppliers into our billing system hosted on the HP 3000 and written in PowerHouse. For that project I created a git repository for the HP on our source archives' Linux host, and then transferred over all of our source code, job files, udc and cmd files -- and anything else I believed to be locally developed source -- into the git repository using the HP 3000s HFS layout.
I then checked out the specific directories and files into a working directory on my Linux workstation, wrote the new stuff and edited the old stuff in GVim, and checked everything back into the remote repository.
Byrne said he then FTP’ed the new stuff onto the HP 3000 and ran it. "If there were any bugs -- and when are there not? -- I edited the source on the workstation, checked it in to the repository, and FTP transferred it from there to the HP 3000 for the next iteration."
It seeems to me that written out it appears more cumbersome than it actually is. It all went fairly smoothly once most of the gotchas and ‘oops-I didn’t-know-that’ were gradually uncovered and weeded out the the workflow.
One of the major benefits of doing things this way was that everything was built using BDD methodology and the new systems is covered by reproducable tests. Recently a change occured external to our system that broke one of the transfer scripts. We were able to identify the exact problem in our code and fix it with remarkably little effort in an amazingly short time, all because the test suite identified exactly where the exception was occuring and in what way the new behaviour varied from what was expected.
Byrne said the next thing he expects to be writing for, if not actually on, the HP 3000 is a set of Quiz reports to extract the company's 3000 database data into XML files, for transfer and loading into a new billing system. "After that is done," he said, "it seems very likely that then we will bid adieu to our old workhorse."
February 14, 2013
Can a new IDE push a migration forward?
We're looking for evidence of this concept in the 3000 community:
"If you get more modern development tools, then a migration to a new platform is worth the effort. Well, more so."
We've received reports from the user community about what they count upon when they need to code for their 3000s. Some answers have run to Whisper Programmer Studio (a fine piece of software that lost its vendor, WhisperTech, years ago) or the QUAD Editor. Even EDITOR/3000 got some votes in our simple poll.
A robust editor -- Robelle's Qedit, ready for both 3000-hosted use and Windows, cited most often -- is a great tool for keeping HP 3000 software maintained. When a company grows fast, however, the change sometimes seems to spark a major uptick in the demands on development. The next thing you know you're being challenged to support mobile versions of applications, integrating with existing apps that were developed elsewhere on other platforms, or tying into expansive Integrated Development Environments (IDEs) in the company that acquired you.
We're thinking Eclipse there, but the product names don't matter as much as the concept.
Those larger companies and wider scopes of app delivery can trigger a need for a bigger IDE. We're pretty sure of that, but just missing some stories that it's been true in the 3000 world. We're on the lookout for reports that the bigger IDE can help push a 3000 migration down the slide. At customers like SBCTC (that college consortium in Washington State) and at an Australian insurance company, 3000 sites became Unix and Linux operations. Did they base their decision, in part, on getting a chance to use big IDEs for growing application development needs?Most of the migrations we have tracked were sparked by two things: a loss of faith in the 3000 because HP's support was ending; or the need to have modern hardware that was still being upgraded by the manufacturer. The other most-cited reason was a departure of 3000 expertise from the IT staff. Also near the top of the list: application software vendors, selling the off-the-shelf solutions, then leaving the MPE marketplace.
But it stands to reason that modernizing what the vendors call a "legacy server" environment includes a shot at more elaborate development tools. The 3000's architecture was simple and elegant in its initial generation. Not much has changed to expand tools into an Eclipse-like scope. 4GL suites came closer than anything, when you recall the modules from Speedware and the Powerhouse tools. It seems an extensive environment has never been needed at most 3000 sites, based on what we've heard from the homesteading customers.
The sites who have made their transition, however, are the ones who could report about the value of using these Eclipse IDEs. Visual Studio becomes the tool that's mostly to be employed by migrated customers. For a former 3000 developer, these IDEs would have to be very friendly to COBOL -- because that's the language in almost universal use among 3000 home-grown applications.
Did you acquire better tools for development -- or bigger ones, anyway -- when you made your migration? The most interesting question of all might be: Did this extra development capability have an impact on your decision to migrate?
We've said in the past that one community analyst considered this "buying a new car because of its tires." That seems unlikely. But maybe it's more like "buying a new car because it's got an integrated GPS navigation system and a hybrid engine." You can go further on that kind of vehicle with the same energy cost, and have a much better idea of what's all around your environment.
Tell me (email to [email protected]) if the concept has made any sense to you -- if you're migrated, or are nearly ready to cut over. I would love to talk to you (512-331-0075) as well.
February 13, 2013
Where they've gone: TV George, on from HP
For awhile in the 1990s, George Stachnik was the equivalent of Ed McMahon for the HP 3000 world. He hosted the first set of telecasts, via satellite feed to HP offices, directed at improving the HP 3000 customer experience. You were likely to see him at Interex user group events. And then he had a reprise as HP's voice of migration advice in a series of Webinars, back when that was still a new medium.
This year Stachnik has made his exit from HP, after more than 29 years of service. He has joined the staff at Porter Consulting in the Bay Area. The company develops marketing programs, collateral material such as articles and white papers, enterprise marketing management, and content delivery via websites and mobile channels.
In summary, it's the same kind of work Stachnik did for HP for the past two decades and more. He made a transition from HP support engineer to marketing in 1991 and never looked back. After the era of educating customers via satellite and videotape ended, he trained customers for HP's NetServer Division. These were Windows enterprise servers. To the last of his HP days, Stachnik was an enterprising face in the 3000's cast. One of his wilder moments involved destroying an HP 3000. Or attempting to do so.To be fair, it wasn't Stachnik who pushed an HP 3000 off a two-story building's roof during the 1990s. But he narrated the stunt that the marketing group had designed to prove the system's durability.
It's part of HP 3000 lore, and a simple 7 MB download that opens in the world's tiniest web video player window (as a Quicktime file). We scooped it up when the Web was a lot newer and that 7 MB seemed like a big file. His audio, however, is bigger than the movie looks.
Stachnik was also a prolific writer, penning a series of more than 30 articles for Interact magazine that educated the novice IT pro on using the HP 3000. The articles first appeared in 1997, at the 25th anniversary of the system. The full extent of that series is available at Chris Bartram's 3k.com website, in the papers section.
We say congratulations to him for landing in a new spot after taking leave from HP. He was one of the last lights from the 1990s 3000 group who'd remained at the company, at least in a very public job. Some engineers remain, working in other divisions. But nobody who could narrate a Parachute Event for the HP 3000 Games is wearing an HP badge anymore.
February 12, 2013
Our Chain of Succession, and Yours
Early last week I fell victim to a brief bout of flu, but the fever was intense. It kept me away from the newswriting screen for the Newswire, and so we appeared to be off the air and away from our regular schedule.
There is a way to prepare for something like that outage, by simply banking stories in the CMS engine that powers the Newswire. I say simply with a little shudder, because writing ahead of developments is the heavy lifting that goes into sustaining the only HP 3000 news information resource.
A genuine chain of succession, in a pinch, would be to have another writer-editor at the ready to call or text and say, "take the helm for today, Brian." And Mr. Edminster, who's written and researched articles, would kick into gear. But that's still in the planning stages, as people like to say who don't have a plan finalized. There used to be other news resources for the 3000 world. But the likes of Interex, HP Professional, HP User and other former competitors has vanished. A lot like the raft of companies who wanted to help you migrate in 2003.
To draw the focus away from this weathered keyboard artist, a chain of succession works well if you have people in your network who could do your job. At least half as well for a little while, or a team of them to call upon serially, until you're back in the saddle. Your special knowledge of your company's business operations? Probably close to impossible to succeed, unless you work in a team where tribal knowledge is shared religiously.
The MPE-style backstop is an independent support company. In time, this sort of resource could even learn your business practices. We just got a request from a long-time 3000 customer who's started to look around for this help. Things as basic as "where in the world do I get patches" come up on the succession to-do list.
It might not be a news flash to hear that support companies can ensure your 3000's reliability. But for a customer who's never used anything but HP -- and maybe not even them, recently -- relying on outside help is a good answer. To answer those questions from the customer, you can get patches from HP, given enough wait time with support, even though you have no 3000 contract with HP. And third parties are a great way to manage that kind of patch advice.
I am instructed to learn what kind of software support is available for MPE. We are on 7.5 already. What this means is how we get important patches, especially network subsystem patches. This is to try to prevent systems being penetrated. Is anything available from HP, for fee or for free? Can third parties obtain and provide these to us?
The providers of this sort of service sponsor the Newswire, so you could look around our webpages to find the likes of Pivital Solutions, The Support Group, the MPE Support Group, and more. There's also the host of contractors who could step in on quick notice. John Stevens of Take Care of IT comes to mind, as do Mark Ranft of Pro3K and Keven Miller of 3K Ranger.
There's a healthy list of contractor help up on the OpenMPE News website, one that we recently updated. If I've overlooked you, please let me know and we'll bring the world up to date.
In the meantime, I'm taking up offers for anyone who'd like to write a Newswire article in a pinch, or a fever. A little list of these stalwarts could forestall an outage like last Monday's -- along with a few more articles banked away.
The truth of it, in our case as well as yours, is that nobody could do our jobs in place of us. As one of our writers just said today, "You're planning for the unexpected. Not the apocalypse."
February 11, 2013
What'll you do if they bring their own?
Whether you approve of outside devices or not, they are in your company. Pretty few places have no smartphone users checking their mail. Many want to tie into company mail systems. That's just the beginning of the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) surge. It's said that PCs are pretty much considered dead tech, although that seems severe considering how many laptops you'll see. But the tablets and phones have already assumed their place, even alongside HP 3000s. What happens next is up to you.
HP pushed this message out last week in a small business newsletter article. Management of the BYOD's is their aim, a sound one for a company that's looking for business management opportunities.
Adopting a BYOD strategy can also lower your initial capital expenditures. To manage and secure a wide array of personally owned and hard-to-track devices, your IT team needs to implement clear policies, procedures and safeguards to protect applications and sensitive business data against malware, device loss and failure.
A Wednesday Webinar this week from MB Foster gives the 3000 community, migrated or homesteading, a chance to ask questions and see strategies localized for managers of these systems.Birket Foster, CEO, is your host for the Webinar at 2 PM on the 13th. You can register online. (It's a pretty nifty system that lets them call your number when you're ready to take the call. Pops up with a spiffy web app that includes a chat option as well as a way to see the slides while you listen to Birket speak.)
It is not a question of if, but when companies will embrace BYOD with confidence.
In this webinar we will outline and guide you through some of the key considerations related to the implementation of BYOD polices; including
Virtualization: Provide remote access to computing resources.
Walled garden: Contain data within a secure application so that it is segregated from personal data. Allow secure access to email, applications, and data from outside the corporation.
Limited separation: Policies to ensure minimum security controls.
February 08, 2013
Software Love, Marriage and Breakups
In every IT manager's life they'll experience emotions. The ones that come from a deadline beaten, budget broken or program crashed seem most expected, even if managers cannot tell if the news will be good or bad. But the love between software companies, their marriages through mergers, and the breakups of product lines or entire corporations are a different matter to manage.
Software love is evident when two companies make their products work together to complement one another. You don't see as much of this as you did even a decade ago, not on the midrange level. Tick off the list of apps and utilities you use and count the ones that take data or processes from another. The 3000 vendors excelled at this, even while they were competing. That's what you get out of firms where the lab is three coders, and as they used to say in the old days, "sitting in a room across from each other and yelling." Software love comes out of labs at first, is blessed by marketing, then approved by the sales force or resellers at its culmination.
Marriage is everywhere by now, but it usually has little to do with love or with needs of customers. At least not the midrange customers of older products. When one software company acquires another -- like JDA being acquired by Ecometry-Escalate-Red Prairie in a reverse takeover -- not many customers get consulted. Those big enough to be already using products from both suitors get a handful of rice to throw. Users of older, established software get something tossed, too, but it is often at them, or overboard.
Companies acquire each other because the expansion of customers, coupled with retraction of jobs and products, makes the deal look good to finance chiefs and big shareholders or investors. It's too early to tell what's going to come of the smaller, but public, Red Prairie acquiring the larger JDA. One early metric is that this new conglomeration now has 131 products -- and fewer product managers than the former aggregate of these two corporations.
Marriage looks good on financial paper, attracts large customers who prefer large vendors, and triggers big change. In some cases, like when Infor bought MANMAN and dozens of other companies, everything got to live together on a massive product list. Your support-paying experience was uninterrupted, but these things signal the end of new features for old products, in many cases.We'll have more to report from the trenches of the multi-channel, or omni-channel, retail world. One survey has noted that 60 percent of retailers in the under-$200 million space are using Ecometry. And a surprising number of Ecometry sites -- well-known brands -- are still hosted on HP 3000s.
Like Infor in the manufacturing world, the bigger JDA suggests everybody's product is safe.
Will any products be discontinued? How and when will I know?
JDA’s general policy is that products are not sunset, and that customers are not forced to upgrade to specific versions of our products. Our customers are our top priority and we are committed to continue to provide customers value for the maintenance fees that they pay.
Additionally JDA has a comprehensive solution investment policy available online that outlines JDA’s industry-leading policy for supporting legacy versions of products. This policy will carry forward to the merged company.
By May it will be time for hard questions at what's now going to be a combined user conference for the two companies. Once again, managers are in the limited season of change for retail and e-commerce. By mid-year, all projects are locked down, and everything is finished by October. Some retailers make 80 percent of their sales in the final quarter of each year -- not a smart time to be installing, testing or even planning changes.
On the other end of marriage, the breakups become the most devastating emotional events for IT managers. A company whose parts get hurled to the winds of separate buyers loses more intelligence and experience than any other kind of relationship event. True, in a merger the sales rep you know might be one of the departed, judged against new peers who've sold differing products to other clients.
But in a breakup, the customers and accounts are all that a sales force of reps get to cling to -- because the ground they stood upon is crumbled. HP might be facing that kind of breakup, according to some analysts, this year. Others say there's a contingent in the company devoted to keeping it all together, one led by the CEO Meg Whitman.
An online finance publication as "sources familiar with the matter" say HP's leadership is considering a breakup. But that other factions in the boardroom don't feel the need, or even an urgency, to split up.
In a Dec. 27 SEC filing, HP said it was evaluating "the potential disposition of assets and businesses that may no longer help us meet our objectives." But the board has not formed a special committee to assess a breakup option, and does not currently have plans to do so, the people familiar with the matter said.
At issue is not so much how well HP's products are received in the market, as how the stock markets rank the share price. Breakup fans believe their companies are under-valued. Here in Austin, Dell averted a breakup of its services and hardware groups by buying itself back. That's the confidence and swagger of self-love, a rare event in the technology business. Software suppliers usually start with non-public money from venture capitalists. They get rewarded when their investment goes public. But when fortunes slide like Dell's has in a market that's forgotten how to buy PCs, keeping the band together is only possible when you own the stage, so to speak. Private companies are more reactive to customers, even while they have to answer to a new investor group.
At Dell, that group is founder Michael, as well as a large investment group which is said to have serious Microsoft money funding the buyback. Companies can get too big to serve the majority of their customers well. Or to put it another way, too large to serve customers better than smaller competitors. They say that being a market leader pulling in big margins of sales is like walking with a target on your back. Everybody wants to do what this kind of company does, and they get a chance because they can compete on price. A small company can get along with 15 percent margin on sales, instead of 40. They have fewer names on the HR chart to feed.
February 07, 2013
Deals can improve for customers who wait
In the two years that the Stromasys emulator has been talked about, touted, tested and installed, the value of the product has fluctuated. In its earliest days it was a technical marvel which its creators figured could be a $200,000 collection of software and hardware to replace a half-million-dollar 3000. There was always room for smaller installations in the plan, but Stromasys seemed to be swinging for the home run, or the bicycle kick goal as regular time expired.
10 months of market and technical realties have set in since the product's first public demo over the Internet. About 8 months after that date a freeware version of limited licensees poked its way into the markets. Now the number 8 is being discussed as a new price point, as in an 8-user license. It's not fair to say the company's creators misunderstood the 3000 community. I dreamed right alongside them in a Skype call a couple of years ago, when they thought there might be as many as 20,000 systems running worldwide.
Since it's a number a lot lower than that -- and the homesteading sites are running on must-need budgets --prices have come down while the prouduct has matured. This week the vendor held a meeting to brief partners sitting beside some prospects about the tech marvel which wants to play a role in stabilizing the future of the un-migrated sites. Or at least slow the exodus considerably.
ScreenJet's Alan Yeo was part of that meeting this week, and he's preparing a report on what was said and promised and how it might affect customers in your market. He called the product a disruptor in December, but now also sees that it might have wheels, ones that even migration partners could ride for the customer's benefit. However, the emulator is no different from any migration project in a crucial way. Emulation is going to demand genuine planning on the part of the customer installing it.Not to crib too much from Yeo's report showing up here soon, but he noted that to start, a customer is making the move up to MPE/iX 7.5 by taking on the Stromasys solution.
A change to the emulator requires some serious plan, and knowledge of what you're going to be moving. What you're going to need to reinstall. Don't take it for granted that the third party apps that you haven't paid support on for a long time won't just move -- and that you will have to get in touch with the supplier. Just so you can reinstall them on 7.5.
There are many frozen HP 3000s out there which would not consider a MPE version change from a stable environment. On the other hand, going to MPE/iX 7.5 and dragging along your vendor's license and a fresh support agreement to an emulator -- that's going to be a lot less expensive than a migration. Just be sure you either have great help in your company, or are willing to hire companies to assist in the success.
It reminds me of a talk I had with Birket Foster this week. "It you're still on the 3000, it always starts with an inventory of what you have on the server," he said. Foster, just like his cohort Yeo, knows customers make these migration choices in thier own timeframe.
Yeo pointed to all work that's waiting for every in-house expert, some who won't admit to rusty 3000 skills. "it's not for people who don't want to spend any money, or who don't want to assign good people from the outside." he said. "It's not a $500 get out of jail free card."
Are you using DTCs? Or have a significant reliance on tape drives? Plan for a future without them, because they are not the stuff which Linux and modern Intel hardware live alongside. Carrying a 3000 virtualization engine into the next decade is going to require savvy people. Look to the migration partners to make an emulator a success at your company. By now you can look over this blog and see who they are: many of our sponsors, making the best of a tiime of change.
February 06, 2013
Personal emulator may help indie vendors
For some small but stellar vendors, holding the fort on aging MPE software, a little help with HP hardware costs wouldn't hurt. If the creators of the Charon HPA/3000 emulator didn't have this in mind when they built a 2-user freeware license for the software, maybe a report from the field could spark some discussion.
A vendor of more than 15 years' experience in the marketplace was getting files on a PC into a format that the 3000 could understand. Why? Months before it rolled out, this vendor was preparing for the A-202 version to be released. The personal-sized freeware emulator turns out to be just fast enough for an MPE developer to keep their code alive, even while the code is not running live at the developer's site.
At least not live on a Hewlett-Packard box, sporting the 3000 badge.
These days I don't run my 3000 unless I have to look at my code. For simple questions that need a quick look at the code, it would be faster to have the source on the PC and not have to spin up the 3000 for the few times I need to actually read the code to answer questions.
I still have a significant number of 3000 sites. They run into problems that, with the passage of time, I can't recall the answer for, so I have to go to the code for a refresher. One question last week took about 10 minutes to find the answer, after starting the 3000. And each time I start that 3000 I cringe. It's old, you know? With the code on the PC, I could find the answer while reading the customer's email.
Nowhere in the Stromasys user license for the A-202 is there a provision for software companies to use the personal emulator for this kind of support purpose. But if you think about it for a minute, these companies and Stromasys are in the same business. Both of them are working to keep MPE software alive and useful. And on many of those revived systems, small vendors' software is essential, as is the need to have it supported by its creators.To be sure, this expansion of the 2-user license concept, to registered HP 3000 ISVs who still have customers, is going to cost Stromasys some licensing fees. At the worst, a minimal fee -- maybe a way to build an alliance of 3000 partners for the emulator -- could be the cost. Low-cost single-user emulator licenses could give Stromasys one of the most savvy test beds and advocacy platforms any new product, entering an old market, could wish for. Imagine having this testimonial from a vendor with years of savvy demonstrated in the community.
The personal emulator is what I have been waiting for. To be able to run an HP 3000 in a VMware VM, to be able to see the code and compile or whatever I might need, with no reliance on actual HP 3000 hardware, is a dream come true. This is looking good for my needs as a developer -- and to keep being able to support my customers indefinitely.
It's that indefinitely word that sticks with me. Maybe it's a crazy idea. But a "Powered by the HPA/3000" badge on a website might carry more clout in 2013 than the original HP label on the HP-built iron of 2003 or earlier. Instead of "Intel Inside," the hardware that carries HPA/3000 might say, "MPE and IMAGE Inside." Maybe Stromasys dubs it the A-201, and makes it single-user.
After all, without the success of the vendors who brought our community to its golden years, there would be far less need for any emulator. Build something new, and people rush to figure out a way to get it for less. Letting some of these founders have the equivalent of a National Parks Senior Pass (age 62, to go to any park you want for the rest of your life for one $20 fee) would demonstrate goodwill, and perhaps be good business. Testimonials, after all, are harder to come by in 2013 than when the community was much younger.
February 05, 2013
Planning for a Chain of Succession
Editor's note: I missed posting an article Monday because of a serious bout of the flu. (If you think 103 is tough on the outside themometer, try it on the inside.) One of our dauntless and profound supporters and sponsors, Brian Edminster, emailed to ask if everything was okay here. He reads us religiously and often sends articles which I'm happy to publish.
Today is one of those lucky days for me, while I get back on my feet. Brian asked about a chain of succession here at the Newswire, a great subject that most of the community should consider about their own operations, too. I plan to write a bit more about our succession here, later on this week.
By Brian Edminster
Some things are more noticeable by their absence, than by their presence. Highly reliable systems (like the 3000) fit in this category, as does regular delivery of news -- or any other product we've come to regularly rely upon. Can you imagine suddenly not receiving a newspaper or magazine because a key person became permanently unavailable? Most well run businesses have succession plans in place to cover this contingency.
And succession planning for a small business isn't that far removed from the Continuity/DR/Growth-Upgrade-Path planning process for an IT department. Or to put it in even more 'close to the heart' terms: For a small business run by it's founders, succession planning isn't too far removed from the planning required to successfully homestead on a 3000.It's all about how to keep things running -- when key components (or individuals) are no longer available. There's an old adage about: "Failing to plan is planning to fail". It's true in succession planning, and it's true for homesteading.
In a small business, if the founder or other key individual dies, eventually the assets (both physical and intellectual) will likely be acquired by someone. The question is: Will that someone be as interested in continuing the business as the founder -- who might have been keeping the business going as much for the love of it and the platform as for the potential for maximizing profit? If you use third party tools and/or applications, it's prudent to ask about their succession planning. Same goes for your hardware support vendors.
The availability of the new Stromasys emulator for HP PA-RISC hardware greatly extends the potential lifespan of MPE/iX based applications -- by freeing us from the limits of the current pool of HP PA-RISC hardware (processors, interface cards, disk storage, etc), in the same way that having 'new blood' learning, appreciating, and working to keep the wheels turning in a small business does.
The question for long-term viability of the MPE/iX platform is not really just having an an answer to long-term hardware availability, but rather long term availability of those with the skills to program and administer them. When was the last time you found someone fresh out of college that was looking forward to the prospect of working on a 'legacy' platform, and how long until your current technical resources retire, or worse?
Robelle has noticed this and has recently started offering a scripting service -- to help sites that already have their products in house, but may be losing, or have already lost the expertise to use them effectively - to do modifications as application requirements change over time. I expect that we'll be seeing more of this 'maintenance outsourcing' as time goes on.
Don't for a minute believe that application software can remain static forever, and still retain its business value. I once heard an interesting comparison of software and sharks -- in that they both must keep moving, or they'll die. It's as imperative that the expertise required to keep your application systems maintained be preserved, as it is to ensure the availability of hardware to run it on. Fortunately, in the 3000 community, "growing your own" by mentoring new staff is a tradition as old as the platform. Just don't forget to start the process, while it's still possible to learn from those who've blazed the trails we follow.
While it's true that every organization's tolerance for risk is different, it's also true that every organization anticipating long term survival needs to have something in the way of a plan to support that goal. There are several companies in the 3000 community that specialize in this kind of work - any of which would be happy to help develop a plan, regardless of whether it's to replace, migrate, or homestead.
Do you have a plan yet? If not, there's no time like the present to start developing one - before it's desperately needed.
February 02, 2013
Unix's Future: How much does it matter?
At the LinkedIn HP-UX Users Group -- as friendly a spot as you'll find on the Web -- users are deciding that the future of the environment won't matter much to them. As users, of course, and administrators and developers.
Naturally, Linux is talked up as the replacement for HP's proprietary OS. Plenty of HP 3000 migrated sites went for HP-UX over the last decade, although nothing close to what HP desired or the number of Windows replacements for MPE/iX.
But if an admin who's loyal to the OS isn't bothered much by this evolution, why should a company concern itself about the decline of another Hewlett-Packard OS? In this case, the vendors selling off-the-shelf applications will decide how severe the pain of change will be over the next several years. Be sure to ask your app provider about their plans for Linux. If you're astute, like the school districts using the QSS K-12 apps that grew up on MPE, Linux was always the migration target away from the 3000.
Unlike the transition away from MPE/iX, however, a migration off HP-UX to Linux represents little change for the IT pros and their skill set. Nobody is suggesting that HP-UX is the same as Linux or IBM's AIX or Solaris. But in a world where Linux is so ubiquitious that it acts as the cradle for the 3000 hardware emulator, the Little Penguin that Could seems to have almost chugged to the top of the mountain of enterprise choices.
HP 3000 users and vendors remember what happens when new sales fall off in an HP product line. The company cares for its installed base as best it can, all while it keeps its eyes trained on the business figures.
One member of the Linked In group knew his history. "I guess open systems and the Open Software Foundation weren't such a bad idea after all," said Martin Anderson. The OSF, formed two decades ago, supposed that every Unix was alike at its roots. MPE never had a chance at joining those Open Software ranks in the market, not even after HP added Posix extensions and renamed it from MPE/XL to MPE/iX. The technology trench-workers knew the differences. The differences made MPE better in many cases, but bigger mattered more to system suppliers.
Anderson, a former Compaq technologist, belongs to two Red Hat Groups. And so it appears that Linux is the cradle of all virtualized servers, and the graveyard for any OS not named Windows or Mac OS X. The latter seems headed toward its mobile progeny iOS, from the signs I saw this week at the annual Macworld/iWorld show this week. The name of the conference tells the future well.
February 01, 2013
An Emulator's Obstruction, or Opportunities
Change has always cut through certainty with a double-edged sword. HP's elimination of the HP 3000 from its product line is a great example of a stunning swing of that sword. I learned from users immediately that they felt abandonded and betrayed about that decision. I've written novels' worth on that.
Over the years I also heard from some IT directors -- who didn't have much invested personally in MPE -- that cutting the 3000 from HP's line was the opening they craved. Now their IT center could be uniform, in step with something they knew better and admired for different reasons. It might be Unix, so their corporate masters would be pleased, or Windows, to make it easier for them to hire newer, less costly (younger) talent.
Then there has been the migration challenge which introduced new commerce opportunity. Companies could sell services and especially know-how, as well as tools to make changes (almost like Y2K, but with a more serious impact when the work fell short of expectations).
Change is a disruptor, even when it attempts to sustain the status quo.
This sustenance is the role the Stromasys emulator plays in 2013. Some software and service suppliers have been frank about it being an obstruction and a disruptor. Alan Yeo of ScreenJet said just that, while he was testing the freeware version of the Charon HPA/3000 Model 202A. He also said that after wading through a lot of installing steps, it worked as promised -- and he was impressed with the marvel, one that gave Intel hardware plus Linux a way to preserve MPE/iX. Yeo added that he figured just the promise of an emulator slowed down migrations in 2012, and he was correct about that, too.
Some of the 3000 software vendors have seen the HPA/3000 software tested by their customers, and that's good enough for the vendor's proof. If their customer wants to pay Stromasys $25,0000 to sustain MPE/iX, that's just fine with the vendor. It helps preserve the 3000 -- and its support payments to the vendor. If staying on a 3000 is an obstruction to vital growth, well, a company will see that at the right time. It's always been about timing, since HP's exodus. HP wanted everybody off the server six years ago, even expected it. That didn't happen, because risk is something that's a personal matter.
Risk shows up as problems, and problems always come up when software and hardware get together for mission-critical computing. Homestead or migrate, there's always risk. Perhaps the vendors who will make products for the emulator figure that's why you'll buy support from them, as well as from an indie company like Pivital Solutions, Allegro, Beechglen or others. In IT, things break and you fix them, or you hold your nose and use a workaround.
By now, there's a new aspect to the change introduced by the Stromasys product. People are writing software to help use it. Keven Miller created a free utility to transfer Store to Disk files to the "virtualized 3000" in the HPA/3000. This week's newest wrinkle: a product license created especially for the emulator, one that works inside the limits of the freeware version's 1-2 user license.
It's a small and initial development that almost lets you believe there's a marketplace emerging for the sustaining aspect of the 3000's change of life. There's been a decade of evidence of the commerce for the exodus of HP from the 3000 world.The new business offering, tailored to the Stromasys product, comes from Minisoft. The company's been a 3000 vendor since the 1980s, selling a terminal emulator (remember those, you veterans?) as well as middleware to link 3000 databases with other servers and databases. Years ago the MS92 terminal emulator became Javelin (rewritten to use Java). Now the product's got a Javelin license created for anybody who wants to employ HPA/3000 as a tool toward full virtualization of a 3000, or perhaps just a non-commercial 3000 installation.
"We have a special Javelin 2-user HP700/92 Terminal Emulator that is customized to work with the Stromasys CHARON MPE Emulator," said the company's Danny Greenup. He pointed me to a press release that outlines some details of this, the first license built for an emulator since's HP's MPE/iX license in 2004.
Minisoft has enhanced its Javelin HP700/92 Terminal Emulator to work in concert with the Stromasys CHARON MPE Emulator by adding support for raw connections to the TELNET type and support for SSH tunneling. With the communications set to TELNET(raw)+SSH, the console ports are accessible from outside the Fedora (Linux) system to a user with SSH logon privileges.
The cost of this special 2-user version of Javelin is $49. In addition to HP 700/92 terminal emulation, Javelin support access to legacy host computers requiring IBM 3270, IBM 5250, and DIGITAL VT320/420 terminal emulation. All Minisoft Terminal Emulators include scripting, SSH/SSL connectivity and network file transfer.
Minisoft Terminal Emulation products run on Windows, Windows Mobile, Apple, and Linux. Customers that have a current support contract for the [HP] products listed above may download an update of these products from the Minisoft website at no extra charge.
Minisoft 92 Secure 220.127.116.11
Pocket 92 18.104.22.168
The company also sells these 2-user versions for Digital and IBM host software. For this software supplier, the Stromasys emulator represents an opportunity, and the $49 price is a lot less than the $400 HP demands to transfer a license away from a working 3000 and onto an emulated 3000. A transfer that makes the HP iron a set of bolted-together parts, because that's how HP's business model worked. Any emulator was only going to be tolerated so long as it took 3000s out of IT datacenters.
We've seen a lot of years of migration and decommissioning that sparked the engines of IT spending and vendors' revenue. It's been an amazing example of dexterity and faith and hope to watch that part of your community pivot its business model. Perhaps 2013 will be the first year to watch companies sell software and service to spark IT engines around a model of 3000 sustenance. At least we have this first effort to observe.