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July 31, 2013

Tools trace patterns of IMAGE databases

Is there any program that will show the network of a TurboIMAGE database? I want to output the relationships among sets and items.

CFAWireframeIn 2011, Connie Sellitto researched the above question, a query posed again just today on the HP 3000 newsgroup. Sellitto was aiding new programmers who were charged with moving a pet organization's operations to a non-MPE system. Understanding the design of the database was important to this team. Sellitto mentioned a popular tool for PCs, but one not as essential as an IT pro's explanations.

You might try Microsoft's Visio, and you may need to have an ODBC connection to your IMAGE database as well. This produces a graphical view with search paths shown, and so on. However, there is still nothing like a detailed verbal description provided by someone who actually knows the interaction between datasets.

To sum up from 2011, we'll refer to ScreenJet founder's Alan Yeo's testing of that Visio-IMAGE interplay

Taking a reasonably well-formed database into Visio and reverse engineering, you do get the tables and items. It will show you what the indexes in the tables are, but as far as I can see it doesn't show that a detail is linked to a particular master. Automasters are missing anyway, as they are really only for IMAGE.

My conclusion: if you have done all the work to load the databases in the SQL/DBE and done all the data type mappings, then importing in Visio might be a reasonable start to documenting the databases, as all you would have to do is add the linkages between the sets.

If you don't have everything in the SQL/DBE, then I would say we are back where we started.

ScreenJet knows quite a bit about moving 3000 engineering into new formats. It built the EZ View modernization kit for 3000 user screens that are still in VPlus. Yeo said the ubiquitous Visio might be overkill for explaining relationships.

If you have Adager, Flexibase, or DBGeneral -- or already have a good schema file for the databases -- just generate the schema files and import them into Word or Excel and give them to [your migrators]. If they can't put together the data structure from that, no amount of time you can spend with Visio is going to impart any more information.

Visio has free and open source competition, software which HP support veteran Lars Appel pointed out a few years back. "Perhaps Visio has similar 'database graph' features, such as the free or open source tools like dbVisualizer or SquirrelSQL."

Barry Lake of Allegro pointed out that users "may want to take a look at Allegro's DBHTML product, which creates a browser viewable HTML file documenting the structure of an IMAGE database." Allegro's site has an example DBHTML output on its website, although it doesn't draw pretty pictures.

At a more fundamental OS level, Michael Anderson points out to understand the structure of a TurboIMAGE database, "you could use QUERY.PUB.SYS, then issue the command FO ALL, or FO SETS."

A few other options for tools came up. Yeo said that "I think there was a schema draw option in Flexibase SQL that drew a neat block diagram of the database and the linkages." And finally, Brian Edminster of Applied Technologies looked through his toolbox and found software written by theKompany, an enterprise founded by former Newswire columnist Shawn Gordon. Edminster reports

There's DataArchitect from theKompany, founded by Shawn Gordon. I bought an early copy of it, and found it useful for satisfying those people at my client's sites that just had to have such a tool to believe that the DBMS was 'industrial strength.' 

But alas, Edminster's research showed theKompany.com's website is offline today, and so getting a copy of DataArchitect might be a fruitless pursuit. When a database can outlast the industry-standard (Linux-based) tools that are built to track it, that says something about oldest-school design.

08:44 PM in Homesteading, Migration, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 30, 2013

Resource planning options can be cloud-y

HP 3000 sites who're migrating face a wide range of tasks. Even if some of them can take their operations onto Windows -- and it seems nearly all of them want to -- they may not be able to transfer their applications. Apps like GrowthPower, for example, don't have the design to run on Windows. Making a transition off MPE will trigger the time to choose another resource planning suite at these sites.

"Can I move GrowthPower?" might seem to open the door on a major project. Especially if the MRP solution is tightly integrated with scripts, with job control software, and more. It's possible to rethink the concept of where MRP or ERP is hosted, though. It might not even be in your datacenter.

Kenandy Software has been offering an alternative to MANMAN for example. MANMAN is another one of those MPE applications that don't have a Windows landing pad, so anybody eyeing a new environment will be revamping their hosting architecture. If replacing MANMAN with Epicor or SAP looks like too large a project, Social ERP from Kenandy, run from up in the cloud, might be a better fit. It's for companies that design, manufacture and distribute products.

Kenandy talks about ERP as a collaboration resource, with "clear visibility both upstream and downstream, shared access to the right information for the right people all the time." 

The manufacturing and financial management system has a manufacturing business process flow:

  • Driving revenue and sales through communication with business partners
  • Improving customer satisfaction by sharing real-time information with a supply chain
  • Using a unique Salesforce Chatter, so a user can follow business processes between sales, purchasing and suppliers
  • Controling supplier portal data access with Kenandy's security profile settings
  • Gaining "a single source of truth" and 360 degree view between suppliers, company and customers

Kenandy calls it cloud ERP for the social enterprise, "everything you need for complete manufacturing and financial management in one integrated application, including complete opportunity-to-cash management." 

Kenandy made a pitch to MANMAN users about its software at one of the previous CAMUS RUG meetings. The call was full of 3000 managers. The more time that elapses on this new idea, the more study of it appears. Bandwidth, redundancy, security -- the march of technology brings all of these within the realm of replacing an application on MPE.

There's an 8-minute video to explain more at the Kenandy site. This is an alternative that's been tracked and aided by contributions from The Support Group, MANMAN experts. If going into the cloud is being discussed at a un-migrated ERP site, Kenandy looks like it's got MPE bones: ASK Software Sandy Kurzig is one of the architects.

06:11 PM in Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 29, 2013

'13 economy continues to delay transitions

BudgetcutHP 3000 owners who've already taken their computing to another platform might consider themselves lucky. They may be counting their good fortune of being able to afford a project to replace an app or migrate one -- because some willing migrators now have unwilling budget guidelines.

Even in 2013, a year when the stock markets are roaring and Hewlett-Packard shares have rebounded into the middle $20s, companies still struggle toward profits. "If it were up to me, we'd already be off MPE," one IT manager said during his analysis of transition solutions. "But we didn't earn a profit this year, so we can't get started."

HP 3000 users in the trenches, battling for consumer dollars or selling commodity goods, have the most common struggles. Some understand that their companies might be better served with a newer server hardware line -- even though the virtualization options are erasing that worry. Others believe they owe their companies the pragmatism to replace themselves. Out at LAACO in California, the self-storage company made the move to Windows because its 3000-centric IT staff was 65 and 72 years of age, respectively.

It tells you something about a 3000's utility when just two IT pros can maintain and update a mission-critical application for a company selling storage space. On the other hand, that's an industry that's growing as our consumer class keeps looking for places to store its stuff. When closets, like the tiny rooms where older 3000s live in companies, overflow then LAACO has more customers and revenues. If a closet of clothes overflows, there's always a donation truck coming along to relieve the space. At least there is in my neighborhood.

Every other week, the Salvation Army, Texas Paralyzed Veterans, the ARC of Texas and more call up to solicit used goods. The boxes go out onto our porch for pickup and perhaps some consumption of new goods gets delayed. A working HP 3000 could appear as useful as a donated wardrobe, slightly worn.

 "In the economy that we're in, its the total cost of the [transition project] that's holding us up right now," another manager said. While explaining that migrating to Windows made plenty of business sense, he still had to acknowledge the lack of gusto for IT spending.

"There is that resistance to spending a big chunk of money," one veteran IT manager said. At some companies -- where an assessment is the smartest way to start -- revenues have to build up before the 3000 shop gets a solid start.

In spots like this, the alternative of a 3000 emulator has to overcome speed gaps. In a best case, migrations could come in at prices similar to making a virtualization transition, if you factor in licensing costs for software as well as the adequate top-end Intel hardware. $20,000 is not out of line for replacing the firepower of a top-grade N-Class server with Intel's multi-core chips.

But a free migration assessment could be worth just about what a customer would pay for it. The success of service vendors such as Speedware (now Fresche Legacy) or MB Foster -- both say they've never had a failed migration project -- doesn't counter some bean counters.

"The most accurate way to begin is an assessment," says MB Foster's Chris Whitehead. "The second most accurate way, at least to start, is an estimate."

Such initial cost estimates might include replacing MPE applications -- and the shopping that would accompany the choice of a new app. Or expanding the headcount in IT, when 3000 managers retire and their efforts now fall on the shoulders of industry-standard server managers. Some of these bigger-item costs might be estimated by delayed 3000 managers as a way of toting up the bill.

But the success of transitions, say the migration vendors, usually stems from detailed planning. An inventory of an IT portfolio is at least as crucial as estimating costs -- and it eliminates guesswork.

A sliver of hope in this situation is that economies have been on the rise more recently, according to US financial experts. On Friday, a report came out from Bloomberg that stated US consumer confidence unexpectedly increased in July to the highest level in six years, as Americans’ views of their finances improved. A similar kind of review from boardrooms about IT finances could get some delayed 3000 transitions moving again.

07:04 PM in Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 26, 2013

Baking Up the Layers to MPE on iPads

LayercakeSome of the best baked delicacies use layers for their goodness. Croissants have multiple layers of dough and butter, each to refine the flake-factor of that fine pasty. Impressive cakes come in a handful of layers, to include extra encounters with their filling and frosting. It's the same way today with getting MPE onto iOS devices. An MPE/iX author shared how he did it, with a photo to prove it, with a twist: his recipe includes the HP 3000 emulator from Stromays.

Jon Diercks has baked up a entree of many layers between PC hardware and iPad tablet, all with MPE/iX in mind. He started with a Windows 7 PC and ended up with a colon prompt on the iPad. Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) was the key to making iOS take its place alongside MPE/iX.

RDP is what Microsoft uses for Terminal Services. There are many RDP clients for iOS -- my current favorite is Remoter from RemoterLabs. I used Remoter to access the desktop off my Win7 PC, which was running the Charon emulator within VMWare Player. Linux is still involved (the virtual machine running under VMWare is running Fedora Linux, and the Charon emulator is running on that.

IPadCharonThe photo shows xhpterm running inside the Fedora VM. I have since also successfully used Minisoft WS92 running natively on the Win7 PC, talking to the emulator over the virtual IP network created by VMWare. I'm sure Reflection would work as well if I had it.

Diercks said that the total protocol/software stack, in sequence, is as follows:

Remoter app on iPad
RDP (optionally tunneled through SSH) over wi-fi
xhpterm (or Minisoft/Reflection)
NS/VT
MPE
Charon emulator
Fedora Linux
VMWareWindows 7

He is glad to admit that its "Lots of layers! Because it's a protocol, NS/VT "shows up" in both the terminal emulator and MPE."

xhpterm is Linux-specific, the closest thing to Reflection that can be found there, though it's much more limited. It's a graphical front-end to freevt3k, a related project that implements the client side of the NS/VT protocol. Both come pre-installed with the Charon emulator's virtual machine.

Remoter pops up the on-screen keyboard of the iPad if it's needed (transparently overlaid, so that the full screen is still visible underneath), but I prefer to use an external bluetooth keyboard. Block mode screens generally perform as expected, but xhpterm is not as robust as Reflection or Minisoft's MS92.

Okay, lots of layers. But Brian Edminster of Applied Technologies -- who was so impressed he'd printed the picture out and pinned it to his cubicle wall, "just to show you can teach an old dog new tricks" -- took note of what you can savor in all those layers.

Yes, lots of layers — but it gets you 'console' on the virtual-3000 and a 'HP' block-mode compatible terminal.

I was thinking it might have been simpler than that (i.e., a full-screen telnet client on the iPad, connecting via WiFi) but this is even better -- in that you can run VPlus applications on it.  As far as I know, there isn't a native NS/VT client for iOS, nor is there a telnet client that supports HP terminal emulation mode (like QCTerm does). Until then, this may be the only way to 'run' VPlus applications using your iPad.

06:24 PM in Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 25, 2013

Where Three 3000 Pros Have Gone

Jon Diercks. Jim Sartain. Jim Hawkins. Each of these pros have had a large profile for the HP 3000 community. If one of these J-Men escaped your attention, we can recap. But first, understand that all technology prowess moves on -- not just MPE's -- hungry for the next challenge.

JondiercksDiercks is the author of the only professional handbook for MPE/iX. Written during the year 2000 and published less than six months before HP's 3000 exit announcement, The MPE/iX System Administrator's Handbook is virtually out of print by now, but Diercks still has his hand in 3000 administration, on the side. He raffled off author copies of his book at the 2011 HP3000 Reunion. The book remains alive on the O'Reilly Safari website, where it can be referenced through your browser via your Safari subscription.

IPadCharonToday he's the IT director for a tax accounting and financial services firm in Northern California. In his spare time he's managed to put the console screen for the HP 3000 emulator onto an iPad for control. First time we've ever seen that done; the 3000's native MPE/iX colon prompt has been there before, but not a BYOD interface for the Stromasys product. See for yourself, above.

SartainJim Sartain became the essence of IMAGE at HP while it was adding its SQL to its name. In his final work at the vendor, he ran the Open Skies division of the HP 3000 unit at Hewlett-Packard. What's that, you may ask. In the late 1990s, general manager Harry Sterling bought a software company outright to capture 3000 business and prove the server was capable of modern IT. Open Skies offered online reservations software for JetBlue, RyanAir, Virgin Express and AirTran, among others. 

Today Sartain has become a VP again, this time at another software icon. After managing quality assurance for Intuit, Adobe and McAfee, he's leading the Engineering 4.0 Initiative for Symantec. As usual, Sartain is reaching for the big goal. The initiative will "transform Symantec Product Development world-wide," according to his page at LinkedIn. He's running an Engineering Services organization for the company's security, tools and shared software components.

When TurboIMAGE was facing a campaign of disrepute at Hewlett-Packard in the early 1990s -- one of the database's darkest times -- Sartain was in charge of sparking new engineering requests for the 3000 keystone. Sartain may be best-known in the 3000 community, however, for work he led in response to a customer revolt in 1990.

Once customers expressed their displeasure at a waning emphasis on IMAGE, the 3000 division of 1991 had to respond with improvements. Sartain was directly responsible for HP's offering of an SQL interface for IMAGE, the first advance that signaled CSY’s commitment to what the unit called the Customer First strategy. Sartain worked with a revived IMAGE special-interest group to revitalize the database. Dynamic detail dataset expansion and third-party interface work also began on his watch.

HawkinsAnother HP Jim, Hawkins, was among the last deep-technical pros to work on MPE/iX at the vendor. His name became synonymous on the 3000 newsgroup with IO expertise, and for more than six years he worked post HP-announcement to lead "various Roadmap teams to deliver on HP e3000 end-of-life roadmaps to meet basic customer and partner needs."

Hawkins can still be seen posting occassionally on the 3000 newsgroup, delivering engineering history that can be helpful for the IT pro still meeting IO issues. Today Hawkins has become HP's Integrity System Quality Program Manager, which includes programs to detect product issues earlier in the lifecycles of Proliant and rx2800 Integrity servers. He's still at the vendor after entering his 3000 era on the MPE customer and R&D support team in 1986.

These J-Men helped to build intelligence, software engineering and hardware prowess for the 3000. They're out in newer fields looking for challenges in technology. They all have worked in the era where HP wanted to be known as a 3000 customer's Trusted Advisor. You might say they're still proving that Trust Never Sleeps.

03:56 PM in History, Homesteading, Newsmakers, Web Resources | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 24, 2013

Delete disks completely after replacement

As HP 3000s continue to age their disks go bad. Disk failure is the top cause of HP 3000 downtime by now, here in the fourth decade of the server's era. While no 3000 internal disks go back that far, it's not tough to find a drive that first went online during the previous century.

Turbo SSHDIt's the fate of any component with moving parts. There's a long-term way around these kinds of failures of legacy drives. MPE/iX apps will run on a virtualized 3000 server, so new and whizzy disks like the world’s fastest hard drive— the Seagate Enterprise Turbo solid state hybrid drive (SSHD) -- can become the harbor for MPE LDEVs. Seagate is touting its device as "The industry’s first enterprise SSHD that combines the capacity of a hard drive with solid-state flash enabling high-speed performance for mission critical data."

Seagate notes that their Enterprise Turbo is part of IBM's System x (Linux) server options, and it performs three times faster than a 15K RPM drive. To be fair, Seagate's new drive only has a five-year warranty. The original HP disk hardware obviously had a lifespan of twice that, as a MTBF.

Even after replacing a faulty HP-grade drive in the original Hewlett-Packard iron — certainly not expensive at today's prices, when you can find one — there are a few software steps to watch. For example, one failed system disk was a member in MPEXL_SYSTEM_VOLUME_SET. When the 3000 was restarted after replacement it reported that this LDEV 4 -- a new drive -- was not available. Even a trip into SYSGEN would give a warning that the LDEV "was is part of the system volume set and cannot be deleted." There was an INSTALL from tape because some of the system files were on that device, which worked successfully. But how to get rid of this disk?

Gilles Schipper of support provider GSA said that the INSTALL is something to watch while resetting 3000 system disks.

Sounds like the install did not leave you with only a single MPEXL_SYSTEM_VOLUME_SET disk.

Could it be that you have more than one system volume after INSTALL, because other, non-LDEV 1 volumes were added with the AVOL command of SYSGEN -- instead of the more traditional way of adding system volumes via the VOLUTIL utility?

You can check as follows:

SYSGEN
IO
LVOL

If the resulting output shows more than one volume, that's the answer.

Schipper offers a repair solution as well.

The solution would be as follows:

1. Reboot with:

START NORECOVERY SINGLE-DISC SINGLE-USER

2. With SYSGEN, perform a DVOL for all non-ldev1 volumes

3. HOLD, then KEEP CONFIG.SYS

4. Create a new SLT

5. Perform INSTALL from newly-created SLT.

6. Add any non-LDEV1 system volumes with VOLUTIL. This will avoid such problems in future.

If you do see only one system volume with the LVOL command, then VOLUTIL was used to add LDEV4 to the MPEXL_SYSTEM_VOLUME_SET after the install.

08:51 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 23, 2013

IT's print populace loses a weekly citizen

InfoWeek Digital WinsWord came today that the last issue of InformationWeek has left the presses. The weekly magazine that covered Hewlett-Packard's rise into an era of open systems -- and noted HP's shift to the Internet for its 3000 business -- shut down its printed edition with today's issue. InformationWeek started printing 28 years ago when there was no Web. Today it took its steps out of postal boxes by proclaiming, Digital Wins.

There was a time when that headline might've proclaimed a market victory for a computer vendor of the same name. But the realities of producing what had become a 36-page weekly, printed in four colors and mailed around the world, caught up with the advertising preferences of today. My partner Abby Lentz heard the news and said, "They contributed to that win themselves, didn't they?"

This was not the first news of an IT weekly shutdown. PC Week left the postboxes years ago. Earlier this month, PC World stopped its printed editions. Earlier in 2013, Newsweek and US News & World Report took their exits from the world of ink and paper. All were general interest magazines. Specialization is a more modern business model for information.

It's not that these information outlets have outlived their utility. But the means for news delivery has changed as much as the publishing of books. I learned the news of the InformationWeek shutdown from David Thatcher, a former HP 3000 vendor who's seen his MPE software product ADBC thrive and then decline.

ADBC is database middleware which linked the IMAGE/SQL database closely with Java. It was released in the era when Java was touted as the language most likely to succeed at crossing platform barriers. Java might be replacing something else, a technology standing on a predecessor's back as surely as the InformationWeek print issues helped lift the Web into dominance.

ADBC continues to have utility for some 3000 managers. One 3000 manager, whose clients provide a very crucial military service, runs a 3000. The system design at the shop included a tool advanced at its first release, the middleware that uses Adager's Java-based tool designs.

Twenty-eight years is a long time in an industry that paves itself over like IT does. Last summer I marked 28 years on the job writing about Hewlett-Packard, and the last 18 of those have included a print edition we've published. It's been an interesting time for print purveyors. At one time, publishing a print edition or hailing from a print staff was needed to confer competence. Today, simply writing on a regular basis with attention to the facts and exclusive reports will do the job. Look in the front of most best-selling paperbacks and see that more than half of the glowing reviews come off websites.

We're heading toward a day when printing a periodical will seem like a luxury, or even a vanity, instead of a stamp of validation. Major publications take their pages out of circulation when the economics of print take a back seat to the habits of readers. We still hear from readers who say they focus on their 3000 news once our print editions arrive in those postal boxes.

One advantage of having a weekly deadline was the ability to research a story without a need for hurling it into plain sight even faster than overnight. But research happens so much quicker than it did in 1984. Archives are online. Our own references to software created in 1997 like ADBC are just a handful of keystrokes away.

Meanwhile, that paving proceeds apace. The technology that once looked invinceable, like Unix or even C, takes its place in the back rows of the parade. InfoWorld, still printing a weekly edition, reported that Java's owner Oracle wants the language to take the place of C -- at least in spots where C's been embedded for years.

With an upgrade to the embedded version of Java announced Tuesday, Oracle wants to extend the platform to a new generation of connected devices, aka the Internet of things. Oracle also hopes that Java can supplant the C language in some embedded development projects.

The Internet of things includes devices ranging from street lights to home automation and security systems, said Peter Utzschneider, Oracle vice president of product management. "It's basically the third generation of the Internet."

Just as there's a Web 3.0 on the horizon, publication has already gained a new generation. We subscribe to the local newspaper here in Austin, because without it there would be only cursory coverage of the city's issues. (You can't rely on 150 seconds of a TV story to understand something.) But our daily is giving us fewer reasons to pick up that recyclable newsprint off our driveway, even as we still purchase it. I read the Statesman's digital edition without getting out of bed, before sunup. When the carrier missed delivery, we could still print out the puzzles to enjoy.

If print reaches out better than digital formats, it can continue to win readers. But in a world of $29-a-month 6-megabit broadband service, the unique format of paper, ink and staples wasn't enough for large publishers like the Washington Post Company (Newsweek) or UBM (InformationWeek) to keep presses running. Companies track when their tools retain their value -- like the 3000 -- and when to take steps away from established solutions. So long as someone reads, regardless of the medium, a proposition of value remains.

04:49 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 22, 2013

When needed, 3000 can stick to the fax

It's easy to assume that the fax machine has gone the way of the electric typewriter. But just as CIOs misread the need for 3000-grade data efficiency, the facsimile still works in business around the world. Just as you might expect, there are still a couple of applications that can take HP 3000 data and push it into a fax.

FaxLifeIn a delightful article from the website Mobiledia, author Kat Ascharya tells the story of how this technology refuses to disappear. In our own experience here at the 3000 Newswire offices, we learned that the US government's Social Security Administration requires some payroll documents to be verified by fax. Ascharya tallies up the places where this late '80s tech has held on.

Fax machines are relics of the Stone Age, yet they still persist around the world. It turns out heavily-regulated industries -- like banking, finance, law and healthcare -- are one reason sales hold steady. And despite strong competition from cloud-sharing services like Dropbox and Google Drive, over 35 million all-in-one fax machines were shipped worldwide in 2011 and 2012, according to Gartner. And that doesn't include single-function machines, which the firm stopped tracking years ago.

"There are still plenty of fax machines out there," Ken Weilerstein, a Gartner analyst, told Fortune. "Declining in this space doesn't mean disappearing by a long shot."

In the 3000 community one of the best known and most versatile software tools, Hillary's byRequest software, includes fax distribution among its report methods.

As Ascharya's feature asked, "Why do businesses insist on fax when you can just scan, convert and e-mail? You can do it to anything and send it anywhere at any time." The byRequest description does include a broad range of sending -- including the fax.

In a single step, report files, data files, and business forms can be securely selected, formatted and distributed to one or more users in any variety of popular PC desktop files.  Create formatted files in PDF, Word, Excel, HTML and more. Use unlimited delivery options to distribute files to PCs, LANs, WANs, network folders, server archives and the Internet. Files can also be emailed, faxed or printed.

By the year 1987, I had to persuade the owner of The HP Chronicle -- my entry to the HP market -- to get our publishing company its first fax machine. European markets for HP and Sun were opening up to us. An LA Times article of the following year touted the fax as "revolutionizing office environments."

And in 1987 HP released its first PA-RISC HP 3000s, using chip technology so durable that it's now being emulated in the Stromasys CHARON HPA/3000 virtualization engine.

There's even an HP 3000 application, AventX MPE (nee Fax/3000) that started out as a fax-only solution.  STR Software's owner Ben Bruno told us in 2010 he'll be supporting the MPE version of the software until every 3000 owner using it gives it up. "We sold 600+ customers a license of AventX MPE from 1988 to 2002," he said. "We have retained about 100 of them on non-MPE platforms, and 50 of the remaining MPE ones will never replace it."

We're not saying that the HP 3000 is computing's equivalent of the fax machine, except in one aspect -- it's lived on for a long time. Ascharya wrote about a tool's durability as a means to cement itself as a standard.

It lives because, for a long time, it was the best and often only way to share documents quickly. Sure, there are faster and more convenient options, but no one standard has emerged to dethrone the king from its place atop the office machine kingdom. And to understand why, we have to look at its history.

The facsimile transmission has had over 160 years to cement itself as a business-world standard. In 1843, Scottish inventor Alexander Bain received a patent for a method to "produce and regulate electric currents in electric printing and signal telegraphs" -- in other words, the first fax transmission.

A short film, The Secret Life of the Fax Machine, provides an entertaining tour of why this classic technology has survived.

08:43 PM in Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 19, 2013

Software as Service: Answer to OS's Ebbs

Yesterday we noted the story of LAACO, a self-storage company which had to replace HP 3000s, so automated, with Windows partitions running a Windows application. A new which, IT manage John Wolff was quick to note, did not perform all the work of the 3000.

The spark under the kindling, which fed the fires of change and disruption, was the age of the MPE-trained staff. When your average IT employee age is nearly 70, it's probably time to make some changes. But they do not have to include leaving an MPE application that fuels your company.

Welcome to the world of Software as a Service. SaaS, as it's called on the PowerPoint slides in pro-transition presentations, eliminates the need to maintain staff that is savvy in MPE. They now work for a services company, one that hosts the application, maintains the code and adds features as needed. The application becomes as simple to use on-site as opening a browser window. Your own IT staff only need to know business workflow.

HP embraced the concept more than 14 years ago when it promoted the idea as Apps on Tap for the 3000. The computer was taking hits on its populace as Unix and even Windows systems were getting plucked for replacements. Even earlier, 3000 advocate and software engineer Wirt Atmar of AICS used his QueryCalc as the model for what we now call SaaS. Atmar had a mantra about where the 3000 was running in those days of the 1980s and '90s. "These places were using steel filing cabinets instead of computers when we came along," he said.

Brian Edminster of Applied Technologies reminded me of the late, great Atmar and how his idea connects to our modern era's SaaS. Facing the facts, a company should know that going forward there's going to be extra staff to pay when the high-level IT salaries go out the door along with MPE knowledge. Sometimes the veteran programmers don't go, just move on to other projects. Even at LAACO, they had to hire two staffers to do IT tasks which the Windows replacement could not do.

Thinking outside of the box, Edminster said, "I'm surprised more IT managers haven't thought of this -- especially when migrating is cost prohibitive."

Migrating/Transitioning is not the only answer for this application, or any home-grown application. It's come later than it should, but Wirt Atmar's proposed SaaS (Software as a Service), using the 3000 as the host, is a concept whose time has come.
I'd argue that with lower cost than doing a migration, and with less risk (and likely lower total cost) transitioning to alternative software solutions a 'home-grown' app could be documented and turned over to a service organization. One that will host it, and do all operations and maintenance on the application for you.
Replacing also has secondary costs. This is having to add personnel to do work that the system used to do for them, or just plain losing functionality that previously gave them a competitive advantage.  There are other examples, for sure, but I'd bet doing this kind of SasS Homesteading would be less costly and disruptive to companies like LAACO. Less costly and disrupting than salaries for two new office clerks, plus the cost and maintenance of the replacement package.

07:29 AM in Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 18, 2013

Staff's expertise sparks 3000's replacement

One of the more entrenched MPE advocates in the 3000 community has seen his server move into archive status. John Wolff, who was formerly the Vice Chairman of the OpenMPE group, reports that the Series 928 that drove the self-storage provider has been replaced with a Windows application. However, the MPE architecture and the health of the 3000 did not drive this replacement.

This was actually done for an interesting reason. My programmer was 72 years old and an expert at Transact, and I am 67 years old.  Looking at the future it would be very difficult to find replacements for us given the "ecosystem" for the HP 3000 at this point.  I think the hardware could be kept going for another 10 years, but the personnel could not.

So the programmer retired, and the computer operations were moved to a Windows application. It's less efficient than the 3000 -- so much so that LAACO has hired two additional staffers to do processes manually with the Windows app that MPE and Transact did completely automatically, Wolff said.

The migration mantra says that retaining and finding MPE-savvy staff is the hardest part of homesteading. This case study is about a replacement of the application however. Change is the common element, but replacing an app is less dependent on knowledge of the code's internal structure. A replacing company is making a transition. 

We're shifting the name of the "Migration" category to "Migration & Transition" as of today, to reflect the two approaches to change.

Despite the cost of acquiring the Windows application, and hiring the extra staff to do what MPE and Transact did, plus the capital cost of more compute power for an existing server, Wolff said LAACO is in better shape for the future. 

Naturally we transferred our data, which was no big deal. The new application does not require any Windows pros, as it is totally maintained by the vendor. Judging support costs between the two systems was not even considered, as they are both nominal. The Windows hardware was already leveraged because it runs as a virtual server. So, costs of ownership were not even considerations. It had much more to do with specialized future human resources.

01:41 PM in Migration, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (1)

July 17, 2013

An MPE Power Tool: Byte Stream Files

Although he left HP's MPE labs long ago, system architect Craig Fairchild still subscribes to the Newswire to keep an eye on with 3000 matters. Four years ago, after he'd ended his official 3000 work, he educated the community on the use of byte stream files in the OS. The knowledge is still useful for any homesteader today.

StreamThese fundamental files are a lot like those used in Windows and Linux and Unix, Fairchild explained. HP engineered "emulation type managers" into MPE/iX, an addition that became important once the 3000 gained an understanding of Posix. In 1994, MPE XL became MPE/iX when HP added this Unix-like namespace.

It's a rare gift to see a primer on 3000 file types emerge from HP. Understanding the 3000 at this level is important to the customer who wants 3000 third party companies to take on the tasks HP has dropped. Although migration advocates point out that HP support is long gone for MPE, the knowledge remains intact among independent providers. Fairchild explained the basics of this basic file type.

Byte stream files are the most basic of all file types. They are simply a collection of bytes of data without any structure placed on them by the file system. This is the standard file model that is used in every Unix, Linux and even Windows systems. MPE's file system has always been a structured file system, which means that the file system maintains a certain organization to the data stored in a file. The MPE file system understands things like logical records, and depending on the file type, performs interesting actions on the data (for example, circular files, message files, KSAM files and so on).

Fairchild detailed how HP gave MPE's byte stream files the knowledge of "organization of data" for applications.

To bridge the gap between standard byte stream file behavior (only the application knows the organization of data) and traditional MPE file type behavior (the file system knows what data belongs to what records), emulation type managers were created. To an MPE application, a byte stream file looks and behaves like a variable record file, even though the data is stored in a way that would allow any Posix application to also read the same data. (Posix applications also have emulator type managers that allow them to read fixed, variable and spool files in addition to plain byte stream files.) The way that the byte stream emulator detects record boundaries is through the use of the newline (\n) character, which is used, by convention, to separate data in ASCII text files on Unix-based systems.

The underlying properties of a byte stream file is that each byte is considered its own record. In MPE file system terms, a record is the smallest unit of IO that can be performed on a file. (You can write a partial record fixed length record, but the file system will pad it to a full record.) Since the smallest unit of IO that can be performed on a byte stream file is a single byte, that becomes its MPE record size. In the MPE file system, the EOF tracks the number of records that are in a file. Since the record size of a byte stream file is one byte, the EOF of a byte stream file is also equal to the number of bytes in the file. This is why one 4-byte variable sized record is equal to 5 byte stream records (4 bytes of data + 1 \n character).

It's also worth noting that any file can be in any directory location and will behave the same way. (Well, almost. CM KSAM files are restricted to the MPE namespace. And of course the special files (that you don't normally see) that make up the file system root, accounts and groups are also restricted... one root, accounts as children of the root, groups as children of accounts. And lockwords aren't allowed outside the MPE namespace. But other than that the first sentence is true.)

The general model that we had in architecting the whole Posix addition was that behavior of a file does not change regardless of where it is located. This was summed up in the saying, "A file is a file." So there are no such things as "MPE files" and "Posix files." There's just files.

What does change is the way you name that file. Files in the MPE namespace can be named either through the MPE syntax (FILE.GROUP.ACCOUNT), or through the HFS syntax (/ACCOUNT/GROUP/FILE). You can also use symbolic links to create alternate names to the same file. This was summed up as a corrallary to the first saying, "But a name is not a name."

08:40 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 16, 2013

Ecometry's clan plans for JDA changes

As our At-Large columnist Birket Foster wrote in February, application vendors get acquired and trigger changes. Even vendors who've already moved many customers off of the HP 3000. Some portion of the migrated Ecometry community, as well as those still running the MPE version of the ecommerce software, are weighing their timelines for migration and changes.

JDALogoThe company pulling that trigger is JDA, which merged with the current Ecometry owner RedPrairie early this year. The result has been a stable of 133 software products, between the two vendors' lineups. Every one of them has a story for the customer, a report still in the making for many products. JDA recently said that nothing will be discontinued for five years. That makes 2018 something of a execution deadline for retailers using Ecometry, which is being called Escalate Retail.

"This was a merger of equals," Foster told us last week, right after the company educated some managers on data migration practices. Neither of these entities want to obsolete a product, because that would be a big loss of revenue. If nothing else, the current customers pay support fees. If there's versions to upgrade towards, there might be upgrade license fees to pay.

The greater ricochet from the trigger-pull is mapping out and planning for the use of the surround code that supports Escalate Retail, as well as the MPE-based Ecometry. More companies than we'd think have a loose track on workflows that require surround tools, such as Suprtool -- which is pretty much essential to reporting and extracting data out of their applications.

The changes in the environment of ecommerce users became evident at the JDA conference this spring. About 100 people in the Ecometry community were on hand, by Foster's estimate. When the shows were Ecometry-only -- a long while back -- more than 500 attendees was common. There were fewer sessions offered for Ecometry customers who are now looking at if, and when, they'll need to make a migration away from their bedrock application.

How many fewer sessions? There were four Ecometry-specific sessions, plus the JDA super-session, to occupy the time of CIOs, IT directors and supporting third party vendors. "They were still adding content to the conference up to the last week," Foster said. As an element in last year's RedPrairie Focus conference, Ecometry sites had 10 sessions. Foster estimated that 300 people from the community were on hand.

JDA has moved its operations for the Ecometry software to India, a change that can require extra effort and patience to embrace for the customer. While the support of the product has been guaranteed for five more years, no software company will ever guarantee the quality of the support.

In the time before that support comes under review once again, a site that's moved along with the Ecometry migration path should come to understand their application's workflows. "You'll want to compare it to the new, approved solution [from JDA]," Foster said, JDA Direct Commerce. He added that documenting the current workflow is an essential step.

MB Foster's got a JDA-Ecometry update webinar set for July 17 (Wednesday) at 2 PM Eastern Time. Register at the website, especially if you're interested in surround code migration expertise, to plan and execute a migration to JDA Direct Commerce. "Attendees will learn about advantages and risk mitigation strategies that will allow you to get started and deliver a rough order of magnitude timeline to the senior management team," the website reports.

05:09 PM in Migration, Web Resources | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 15, 2013

OpenSSH may get unquiet for 3000's users

OpensshSavvy HP 3000 managers who need to move files securely are finding that SFTP works under MPE/iX. But OpenSSH, the root of the open source service for encrypted communication sessions over a computer network, is still short of being fully operational for the HP 3000's environment.

Brian Edminster, the senior consultant at Applied Technologies, explains that "with a bit of work, you could get OpenSSH v 3.7.1p2 working. If I recall correctly, the issue is that 'select' is busted under MPE/iX, and that's what's required for ssh to work correctly."

The fact remains: ssh cannot connect to a remote system and execute commands that produce any output. Ken Hirsch did the original port, but he only really needed the SFTP client -- so the issue with ssh wasn't addressed.   

Ken also posted on the 3000-L newsgroup in 2008, asking if there was any interest in getting an ssh and sshd/sftp-server working (server daemon) -- so the 3000 could do port forwarding, act as a SFTP server, receive inbound ssh connections, and so on. Apparently he didn't get enough response to carry forward.

Back in 2005, Hirsch posted his goal. 

I could get an interactive ssh client to work on MPE/iX.  I don't know how, but I know it's possible! It would not be possible to get an ssh server working in such as way that an ssh client could run any program. But it would be possible to get enough of the server running so that you could use the server to do port forwarding.

In 2008, he added the note which Edminster referenced. "If anybody knows a way to actually write to a terminal while there is a read pending, I could use OpenSSH as a server on the HP 3000. Apparently there are undocumented MPE/iX sendio() and rendezvousio() calls, of which I know nothing. There are also tread()/twrite() routines in libbsd.a that I think are intended for this, but there's no documentation for these, either."

There is another way to let SSH speak up on MPE, however.

Edminster, who keeps a repository of open source tools available for the community at his MPE-OpenSource website, said "OpenSSH isn't the only implementation of the ssh/sftp/scp protocol, although it is arguably the definitive open source one." He said he's looking for a client or two to help underwrite his R&D to port across this key encryption utility.

That said, in my 'copious' spare time, I'm working on porting the 'dropbear' ssh application.  It's much simpler, and much more restrictive -- but it appears to have a much greater chance of success than having to significantly rework OpenSSH to make it work under MPE/iX.  

Unfortunately, the current OpenSSH v 3.7.1p2 port meets my client's needs -- so if I want to spend any significant time on the dropbear (or other) ssh packages, I'll need a benefactor or two.

As always, if you have questions, don't be afraid to ask. If you have some spare time, try putting up SFTP (from Allegro or MPE-OpenSource) on your HP 3000. You'll find it suprisingly easy.

Hirsch said that with an interactive SSH client, an enterprising IT manager could tunnel a telnet connection over the SSH connection.

So on your PC, you would run:

ssh -L 9999:hp3k.yourcorp.com:23 justforwarding@hp3k.yourcorp.com

Then connect Reflection (or other terminal emulator) to localhost::9999

You can do this with an ssh server running on some computer other than the HP 3000, of course. Just set up a PC or Linux system as an ssh host. There would be a secure connection between the PC and sshhost.yourcorp.com and an unencrypted connection between sshhost and the HP 3000 (presumably both behind the same firewall).

07:44 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading, Web Resources | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 12, 2013

Glossary to the Future: SDN

Editor's Note: Some HP 3000 IT managers and owners are preparing for a world where the old terms and acronymns lose their meaning -- while newer strategies and technologies strive to become more meaningful. This series will examine the newer candidates to earn a place in your datacenter glossary.

SDN ArchitectureServer virtualization is going to change the way computing resources are delivered. In many shops in the HP 3000 world, virtualization is already at work. What's more, with the rise of the Charon HPA/3000 emulator, a virtualized HP 3000 server will become another resource, one that extends the life of MPE applications.

But for the company that's designing its move into commodity computing, there's another level of virtualization which is in its early days: Software Defined Networking. Its architecture is detailed above. HP explains the SDN technology this way in a white paper.

With SDN, you're using commodity server hardware (typically on top of or within a virtualization hypervisor) to manage, control, and move your network's data. This is different from the pre-SDN approach of running management and control software on top of purpose-specific specialty chips that move the bits to and fro. SDN means you can deploy entire new network components, configure them, and bring them into production without touching a screwdriver or a piece of sheetmetal, thanks to SDN.

HP's technology to deliver SDN to a commodity server network near you is called OpenFlow. Its relationship to the HP 3000 of legend is slight. But a company that will use virtualization to full potential will want to make plans for SDN, and if your vendor of choice is HP, then OpenFlow.

Like a lot of HP's newest technology, OpenFlow is pitched as a tool to ramp up agility. The vendor says "aging networking environments" hold down innovation.

Enterprise network design and architectures have remained largely unchanged for more than a decade. While applications and systems have evolved to meet the demands of a world where real-time communications, rich-media, and mobility are the norm, the underlying network infrastructure has not kept pace.

HP 3000 IT managers will recognize the tone of "what you've got is holding you back," but in the case of deploying more virtualization resources, SDN could have a role to play for any company heading to the cloud.

Enterprise network design and architectures have remained largely unchanged for more than a decade. While applications and systems have evolved to meet the demands of a world where real-time communications, rich-media, and mobility are the norm, the underlying network infrastructure has not kept pace.

A new paradigm in networking is emerging. SDN represents an evolution of networking that holds the promise of eliminating legacy human middleware and paves the way for business innovation. With SDN, IT can orchestrate network services and automate control of the network according to high-level policies, rather than low-level network device configurations. By eliminating manual device-by-device configuration, IT resources can be optimized to lower costs and increase competitiveness.

The desire for automated and dynamic control over network resources is not new. However, with the emergence of technologies such as OpenFlow, the ability to implement SDN to increase agility has never been simpler.

OpenFlow platformsIt's early days for SDN, according to several articles from Infoworld. Switch and router vendors such as Cisco are grappling with how to offer their purpose-specific, hardware-based networking devices at the same time as SDN software starts to take the lead in network management. But Infoworld's Matt Prigge says that "SDN is most certainly the way of the future, especially as more and more on-premises networks move into the cloud, where the technology is nearly ubiquitous." 

SDN VisionHP touts its lineup of SDN-ready network hardware (above) such as the HP 3500 Intelligent Switch, while it shows the end-to-end SDN solutions vision (at right; click on either graphic for more detail). HP says that since virtualization has redefined how apps, servers, and storage are deployed, it's now heading toward the network. "Once a brittle bottleneck standing in the way of dynamic IT, the network’s future is one of greater agility, scalability, and security. Now is the time to make that future a reality." 

05:38 PM in Migration, News Outta HP, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 11, 2013

A New Opening for Old 3000 Skills

Sometimes we've noted the opening of a contract or consulting opportunity that requires HP 3000 experience. We're usually following the initial posting. In December we broke the ice on an East Coast position for 3000 work, offered at a contractor level. This time we're helping a reader who's ready to hire someone, looking for "the elusive COBOL programmer" to employ.

The 3000 Newswire is happy to make this kind of news a part of our daily feed. If you have an opening, be sure to contact us. For candidates, other avenues exist while looking for a place to deploy your senior skills. The HP 3000 Community on LinkedIn has a Jobs section of its discussions, for example.

Today, the opportunity rests in an Ecometry-centric shop. It's either full-time, or long-term contract, and telecommuting is an option, too.

A leading ecommerce/direct-to-consumer service company is seeking a COBOL programmer with Ecometry and HP 3000 programming experience. They will be involved in every phase of the development lifecycle. He/she must be able to attend requirements meetings, translate the requirements into design documents, code from a design document, create test scenarios/cases/scripts, perform and support various testing cycles, create implementation plans and implement the change. Telecommuting is an option, so all qualified candidates are encouraged to apply regardless of location.

For any community member who'd like to apply, they can send an email to techjobs@musicalfs.com, using the subject, "Cobol/Ecometry/HP3000 Programmer." You'll want to include a cover letter, resume and salary history and expectations.

The skill set is well within the range of many candidates. Last December when we passed along that consultant and contractor opportunity, 24 leads blew into our in-box in 48 hours. Here's the lineup of needs at that Ecometry shop.

ο Extensive knowledge of COBOL and Ecometry, either on the MPEix platform or on Open Systems

ο Bachelor (4-year) degree in Computer Science, MIS or related field and at least five years of programming experience

ο Experience with either HP COBOL and IMAGE DB or Fujitsu Netcobol for Windows and SQL. 

ο Knowledge of  Ecometry accounting, warehouse, shipping, order management and merchandising functionality.

ο Ability to work within a team, interfacing with Ecometry support staff and  third party vendors  for problem resolution

ο Ability to make sound judgment and develop applications that make a positive effect on business.

ο Ability to work with minimal supervision on complex projects.

ο Must be resilient and possess solid ability to multi-task.

ο Perform efficiently under pressure

ο Advanced computer skills.

 

Experience with the following is a plus:

ο SQL Server database experience

ο Suprtool and Qedit knowledge

ο MPE to Open Systems conversion

ο Windows programming languages 

ο Ecomedate data warehouse using SQL Server

This position will include the opportunity to learn other technologies (C#, VB.net, ASP.net, SQL Server) for those candidates who are interested.

05:00 PM in Homesteading, Newsmakers, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 10, 2013

Learn about the 1 migration for all: data

At 2 PM Eastern Time today MB Foster leads a seminar on the steps to migrate data. It's the one kind of migration that every IT manager, homesteading or migrating, will have to face over and over. Birket Foster's company, having migrated data for more than 30 years, is the leader in this field.

Offer up a question about data migration, even if you can't attend. We'll act as your proxy and take note of the answer. Sign up at the MB Foster website. The interface for the webinar is smooth and interactive. You can dial in by regular phone, or use IP telephony through your laptop or PC. As Foster says about Data Migrations Made Easy

The complexity of a data migration can't be underestimated. In this presentation we will look at the steps in a data migration project.

As thought leaders we will deliver practical methodologies to help you prevent costly disruptions and solve challenges. We will demonstrate techniques to lift and shift data to popular databases, manage complex data structures and mitigate risks using MB Foster’s processes and UDACentral, a data migration solution.

Let us help you design, control, automate and implement an internal data migration factory.

09:47 AM in Homesteading, Migration, Web Resources | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 09, 2013

What Kind of UPS Best Protects Your 3000

Editor's Note: ScreenJet's founder Alan Yeo wraps up his investigation of UPS units, having had a pair fail and then take two HP 3000s offline recently. Here he explains what sort of UPS to buy to avoid a failure that knocked solid 3000s offline, by way of dirty transfers during the all-important Transfer Time (TT) window.

By Alan Yeo
Last in a series

First off, the answer to the problem: Double Conversion UPS units are what you want. They are more expensive than Line Interactive ones, but it is claimed they are cheaper in the long run, due to increased battery life.  I’ll let you know in a few years. The HP 3000

DualConversionWhilst a Line Interactive UPS claims that attached equipment shouldn't be at risk during the TT window, as far as I can read it can be before it is disconnected from the mains.  APC for example have a compensation scheme which wouldn't be required if this wasn't possible. Note: It's interesting that APC only offer this protection policy on 120V products, for those of us using 220/240V supplies the risk is obviously deemed to be too great to cover. The fine print:

If your electronic equipment is damaged by power line transients on an AC power line (120 volt) while directly and properly connected to a standard APC 120 volt product covered by the Equipment Protection Policy (EPP), you can file a claim with APC for compensation of your damages. Coverage of damages is determined by the limits of the EPP.

TT seems to be related to the Sensitivity Level: High, Medium or Low.  And the Sensitivity Levels can be altered by how you configure the UPS, for example on many UPS's you can adjust at what upper and lower input voltages it should transfer to/from battery. On 120V UPS's this range is typically 127-136 at the upper end, and 97-106 at the lower end.  In High Sensitivity mode the TT is something like 2 milliseconds and if set Low around 10 milliseconds.  Switching to/from battery frequently is bad for battery life, as is protracted running from the battery on a Line Interactive UPS.  So the compromise is between High Sensitivity with possibly frequent but low TT, and Low Sensitivity with less frequent but longer TT.

Theoretically during the TT there is no power going to the connected equipment, so long TT's may be a problem for some equipment, also if transfers are frequent equipment may see a pulsed power supply.

Keeping it clean On-Line

If Line Interactive UPS technology can fail, what should you use? On-Line or Double Conversion technology seems to be the answer.  These can be hard to spot as the word “Online /On-Line” is used to describe a mode of virtually any UPS: i.e. a Line Interactive UPS is described as being in online mode when it is feeding mains direct to the attached equipment. So it's probably best to use the term Double Conversion, as this is less misleading. In a Double Conversion UPS the equipment is always fed from the inverter, which has tandem input supplies, one from the battery and one from a mains fed rectifier. This means that the equipment never sees “Mains” power, and there is never any TT as the supply from the inverter is continuous regardless of which power source it is using.

Double Conversion UPS's are more expensive to buy than Line Interactive ones, but it is claimed they are cheaper in the long run due to increased battery life. I'll let you know in a few years.

In just checking a few facts I have just discovered that Wikipedia has a great page that clearly covers the different types of UPS technology. So much so that I wish I had found it before, and also hadn't bothered trying to write this explanation. So if you want more info, or are totally confused by my description, try: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uninterruptible_power_supply . There is also a great white paper, The Seven Types of Power Problems in PDF format on the Web.

Wow, are we an HP customer again?

Rack-ups_170x333Surprise, Surprise. Apart from the odd printer cartridge, we haven't bought anything HP since 2001, and I couldn't see much likelihood that we would. But we have just bought a new HP UPS!  It appears that as a result of the “Invent” phase (which I understand has now been terminated) HP are one of the leaders in advanced UPS technology, and they do a range of Double Conversion units. We were fortunate and picked up a really nice HP unit, plus a huge auxiliary battery pack (we now have an estimated 2 hours full load uptime) for less than the cost of a smaller new APC Line Interactive.  Okay, they were customer returns due to damaged packaging, but were brand new and unopened.  

The sad part for HP is why we got it so cheap!  I had to ask the UPS reseller why the HP one was a lot cheaper than other makes of similar Double Conversion UPS's he had for sale, especially as the new list price was as high or higher than the others. His answer surprised me.

“They are difficult to sell, because nobody recognises HP as a UPS supplier.”  He told me that customers who ran data centers with HP Servers would buy new HP UPS's, but that in his experience nobody else did.  So if they got returns or cancelled orders, they found them very hard to shift unless they discounted them heavily. He did say that in his opinion that it really was nicely-made equipment, and that we were getting a great deal (well he is a salesman!).

It's an ill wind that blows no good

Well the wind may have caused this, but its certainly blown away a few misconceptions we had about how protected we were and how good our backup recovery strategy was.  I think we had OK strategies for either total loss, or losing a single Server to a specific problem. But I don't think we had anticipated multiple (but not total) failures at the same time, or an HP 3000 outage that was caused by multiple problems that could only be discovered in a serial manner.  Our total recovery time was days, not hours!  The upside is that we are now better protected, have less kit running and plans for even less (feet on the ground, head in the cloud) and are now working on a recovery/disaster plan that encompasses what we have learnt.

Hopefully this saga may be a warning to others to pull out the manual for your UPS and see if it really meets your needs and expectations. 

Good Neighbours?

Oh by the way, on the Saturday after the outage I had a visit from an engineer from the local power distribution company, to check out our voltage that had been running earlier that day at about 264V (standard here in the UK is 240). He said our problem spikes were probably caused by a commercial neighbour with a badly-configured backup generator setup. Or it could have been the power company themselves using one to fill in a hole in the grid due to downed lines. But that we would never be able to prove it!  Anyway to finish, here’s a couple of nice quotes I found at the APC site:

How large can a surge be?

Electrical industry standards indicate that electrical power surges inside a building can reach levels up to 6,000 volts and 3,000 amperes, which could deliver up to 90 joules of energy.

How often do electrical surges occur?

Very large surges could occur a few times a year in medium exposure areas or as often as 40 times a year in high exposure areas. All of which may be storm induced. Beyond storm induced electrical disturbances, normal equipment operation can also produce surges, some over 1,000 volts. These surges may occur several times a day.

About that Dual Conversion claim of increased battery life, I’ll let you know in a few years. HP 3000s are certain to still be running by then!

Alan Yeo is a developer and entrepreneur at ScreenJet, which delivers the TransAction any-platform replacement for Transact, as well as ScreenJet software, plus interface modernization services for HP 3000s which rely on VPlus today.

09:25 AM in Homesteading, News Outta HP, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 08, 2013

UPS Redux: Finding Gurus and a False Dawn

Editor’s note: Previously, when a pair of HP 3000s were felled in the aftermath of a windstorm that clipped out the power, a sound strategy of using an Uninterrupted Power Supply in the IT mix failed, too. After a couple of glasses of merlot, our intrepid IT manager Alan Yeo at ScreenJet continues to reach out for answers to his HP 3000 datacenter dilemma — why that UPS that was supposed to be protecting his 3000s and Windows servers went down with the winds' shift. 

By Alan Yeo
Second in a series

Feeling mellower, with nothing I really want to watch on the TV, I decide to take a prod at the servers and see what the problems are. 

Decide that I'll need input to diagnose the Windows problem, so that can wait until the morning. Power-cycle the 917 to watch the self-test cycle and get the error, do it again. (Well sometimes these things fix themselves, don't they?) Nope, it’s dead! 

“Take out my long spoon and sup with the devil,” as they say, with a Web search. Nope, Google turns up nothing on the error, apart from a couple of old HP-UX workstation threads, where the advice seems to be “time to call your HP support engineer.”  Nothing on the 3000-L newsgroup archives, either. (I'd tell you the 3000 error code, but I've thrown away the piece of paper I had with all the scribbles from that weekend).

Where's a guru
when you want one?

I really wanted to get the 917 back up and running over the weekend, as it had all our Transact test software on it. Dave Dummer (the original author of Transact) was doing some enhancements to TransAction (our any-platform replacement for Transact) and we had planned to get some testing done for early the following week, to help a major customer.  

So it's 11:30 PM UK time, but it's only 3:30 PM PDT! I wonder who's around at Allegro? A quick Skype gets hold of Steve Cooper, who with the other Allegroids (interesting, my spell checker thinks Allegroid is a valid word) diagnose within five minutes that the 3000 has got a memory error. The last digit of the error indicates which memory bank slot has the problem.

Okay, I'm not going to start climbing around the back of the rack at this time of night. I leave it until the morning, but at least I know what the problem is.

False Dawn

Feeling refreshed, let's get these hardware problems sorted. Get the Windows server booted with “Hirens Boot CD” magic set of tools for fixing loads of stuff. Diagnoses that there are a couple of missing .DLL's. Okay, patch them in, still problems! seems to be a hall of mirrors every time we patch something in, the next missing file is found. This could go on for ages. 

Try various Windows recovery reinstalls, but they all fail, Windows 2003 doesn't think it's installed, but would happily install if I let it reformat the hard drive. Not the recovery I was looking for. Run some disc-checking utilities and basically whilst the disc checks out okay, the file directory (or whatever it's called) is smashed. Do we spend a lot of time rebuilding a Windows system that's only running one piece of software that should have been moved off anyway? Simple choice, no. Leave it to my co-worker Mark to figure out what to do to get mail flowing again, whilst I take a look at the 917 memory problem.

Pulling the memory card is no problem. Working out which of the five banks is bad takes a bit more work, but a bit of plug engineering and a couple of reboots shows that we have 64MB (2x32) of bad memory. No problem, plenty left, so remove it and reboot. Great, get to the ISL prompt, do a START NORECOVERY and go get a cup of coffee and a cigarette, and I’ll soon have this system back up.

SYSTEM ABORT from SUBSYS 143

SYSHALT 7,$0267

FLT DEAD

Oh, hell.  

Long Story Short (or another one bites the dust)

Okay, it's about time we cut this story short — although I am certain you want to read about someone else's trials and tribulations, even as I suspect you’re only reading to find out why your UPS is useless. Suffice it to say that the 3000's LDEV 2 had also been fried, which we replaced, then the DAT drive was dead, which was replaced, but was still dead.

So in the end, we decided our fastest recovery solution was to scrap the 917 and merge its data with a 918 that has a clone in the shop. It’s a choice which makes DR recovery a lot simpler, also one less piece of kit burning electricity, that should help save the ice caps!

So what got Fried? HP 3000, Dell Intel Server, one modem, one DTC 16 -- and of course the two APC UPS's that were supposed to be protecting everything.

Why? Okay, okay, I've finally got around to the Meat and Potatoes bit. Given that the APC “Smart” UPS's had done such a wonderful job of protecting everything, it didn't seem much point sending them off anywhere for repair and putting them back into service. Also, I needed to get some replacements in ASAP. But the conundrum was why they hadn't protected everything as had been my expectation, so it’s about time to do some research on UPS's.  

It turns out there is a little bit of a clue in the three letter acronymn. The “U” stands for “Uninterruptible” not “Clean.”  I discover that there are two main types of UPS: the normal Line-Interactive. Everyone makes them, everyone's got one UPS like the APC Smart UPS. Then there’s the “On-line” ones. The major difference is that standard “Smart” UPS's (most of the time) feed a mains supply out to everything plugged into it. In contrast, the  on-line versions feed everything from an inverter 100 percent of the time.

But I hear you say (and as I thought) “My APC UPC filters the power, chopping down over voltage, boosting under voltage, and supplying power if the mains fails.”  Well the answer in classic 3000-L mode is, “Yes, but it depends.”  Now I'm no electrical expert, but I’ve worked up a layman's interpretation.

There’s something in the mix called Dirty Transfers.

Line Interactive UPS's do AVR, Automatic Voltage Regulation. Instead of going to battery during low or high input voltages, this sort of unit will use an Autotransformer to increase or reduce the voltage to a safe operating range without running on the battery. Within their stated tolerances, they can run almost indefinitely doing a number of things.

  • AVR Boost, where the UPS is compensating for a low utility voltage;
  • AVR Trim, when it is compensating for a high utility voltage.
  • If the voltage fluctuates outside a set range, or on some of them if the rate of change of the voltage exceeds a given threshold, then they will Transfer, using the battery power via an inverter. The UPS then monitors the AC supply and when it deems it is back within tolerance it transfers back to the mains supply.  

It is this Transfer Time (TT) that can cause some problems. Such as those at our shop.

In the finale: Keeping it clean, and learning you're an HP customer once again.

09:10 AM in Hidden Value, Homesteading, Newsmakers, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 05, 2013

Would You Like Fries With That 3000?

Editor's note: Intrepid veteran developer Alan Yeo of ScreenJet in the UK had a pair of HP 3000s felled recently, despite his sound strategy of using an Uninterrupted Power Supply in his IT mix (or "kit," as it's called in England). In honor of our fireworks-laden weekend here in the US, we offer Yeo's first installment of the rescue of the systems which logic said were UPS-protected. As Yeo said in offering the article, "We're pretty experienced here, and even we learned things through this about UPS." We hope you will as well.

New UPS Sir!
or
"Would you like fries with that?"

By Alan Yeo
First of a series

"Smart UPS" now has a new meaning to me. "You're going to smart, if you're dumb enough to buy one" I guess this is one of those stories where if you don't laugh you'd cry, so on with the laughs.

By the end of this tale, you should know why your UPS may be a pile of junk that should be thrown in the trash. And what you should replace it with.

Lightning_bolt_power_stripA Friday in early June and it was incredibly windy. Apparently we were getting the fag end of a large storm that had traversed the Atlantic after hitting the US the week before. Sort of reverse of the saying "America sneezes, and Europe catches a cold." This time we were getting the last snorts of the storm.

Anyway, with our offices being rurally located, strong winds normally mean that we are going to get a few power problems. The odd power blip and the very occasional outage as trees gently tap the overhead power lines. Always worst in the summer, as the trees are heavily laden with leaf and drooping closer to the lines than they are in the winter, when they come round and check them.

So this situation is not normally something we worry about. We are fairly well-protected (or so we thought) with a number of APC UPS units to keep our servers and comms kit safe from the blips and surges. The UPS units are big enough so that if the power does go out, we can keep running long enough for either the power to come back -- or if we find out from the power company that its likely to be a while, for us to shut down the servers.

We keep all the comms kit, routers, switches, firewalls and so forth on a separate UPS. This UPS will keep them running nearly all day, so that way we still have Internet access, Web, email and more, so can keep functioning, as long as the laptop batteries hold out.

The wind picked up during the morning and we had the expected a flick of the lights, and the odd bong, ping, and beep from the computer room as the UPS's responded to the odd voltage fluctuations and the momentary outages. Around 12:30 we had a quick sequence of power blips, followed by a couple of minutes of power gone, at which point the UPS's started bleeping loudly as they took the load. This is normally the trigger for me to wander in there and just do a visual glance at battery levels. I was stood in there as the power came back and was watching as the server's UPS came back normally. Then the comm's UPS flashed all its lights, beeped and went dead!

It's not dead, its just
sleeping after a long squawk!

Humm… First I thought it must be the overload switch, so disconnected all the load, grovelled around behind it and pressed the reset switch. Nothing. So I disconnect from the mains, reset, power it back on, nothing. Check the fuse in the plug, all okay, its still dead. Dig out the APC manual, whose symptoms say "don't use, return to your supplier for service." 

At this point the power goes completely for 10 minutes, and as I can see that the server UPS batteries are already half empty (or half-full if you're an optimist). "They must have been taking more of a load during the morning than I thought," I say to myself. I decided it was time for a controlled shutdown of the servers, which I did. Now I was going to have to rejig the power cables, so that we could feed power to the comm's kit (which was now on a dead UPS) from the server's UPS. A couple of minutes of work commenced, to move their supplies to spare outlets on the APC Switched Rack PDU that is fed by the UPS. The PDU is a network-addressable Power Distribution Unit, one that can power up/down individual power outlets, and thus we can remotely shutdown or reset the servers if needs be. 

So at this point the power comes back, and I power up the comm's kit, leaving the servers off. Decide I'll go for lunch, let the batteries recharge a bit, and make sure that the power is staying on before I restart the Servers.

Lunch passes, with a glass of Merlot. 

Now the power seems to be stable, so it's back to the computer room to bring up just the essential servers. Our main HP 3000 test server. A Windows mailserver, and a Windows file server that also handles our VPN connections (because everyone works remotely now). 

I'm in the middle of this when the power goes out again. I look at the PDU which tells me that we are drawing 3 amps (240v * 3 = 720 watts) = about 10 minutes worth on a half-charged 2200VA UPS.  Not worth it, so I shut the servers down (but I don't throw their power switches).

Fireworks!

At this point the power comes back and stays on for about five minutes. There's me standing there trying to decide what to do, when the power goes off again, and then comes back. At which point the sole remaining UPS goes BANG! It flashes its lights a bit whilst beeping manically, and then goes dead. The room fills with the smell of over-heated insulation, so I pull the UPS power plug.

Okay, "Sod this for a bunch of Soldiers," thinks I. Was going to finish early that day to help some friends set up for a weekend Charity Clay Shoot. "I'll go now and come back later -- when hopefully the wind has died down and the power is back to normal -- and then pick up the pieces."

Back in the datacentre at 8 p.m. and the wind is gone, with power back to normal. Okay, should just have time to get everything working before dinner. Play with the UPS for 10 minutes, but it's dead. So we are going to have to "walk the tight rope without safety harness or net" and run everything direct from the mains. 

Not exactly completely unprotected computing, because when we had had the new office wired 18 months ago, we installed surge protection on the mains supply. Its like a couple of cartridges that sit next to the distribution panel that absorb a surge, decaying in the process, until the point they need replacing. They have a status indicator on them telling you if they need changing, but they were showing green, so I thought I'd risk it for a few days, until we could source a new UPS. 

Why do these things always hit at a weekend?

Comms come back okay, although I noticed that an old dial up modem was dead that was still hooked up for dire emergency remote access if Internet access failed. Okay, now for the servers: power up the Series 917 and let it start its self test check (which takes ages, and lots of memory); power up the Series 918 (it does its memory tests much quicker); power up the Windows 2008 file server and a Windows mail database server. Plus, an older Windows 2003 server that still ran the SMTP software, which should have been moved to the 2008 server, but hadn't because we had never got around to it.

The HP 3000 918 comes up clean, the Windows 2008 server comes up, the Windows mail database server comes up. But HP 3000 917 is downed with an FLT error, the Windows 2003 Server is looping around boot start-up into Windows launch, then straight back to boot start-up. Wonderful! Sod it, go and have dinner and decide if I'm coming back later.

Next time: Where's a guru when you want one? 

03:12 PM in Homesteading, Newsmakers, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 03, 2013

As legacy iron ebbs, virtual servers swell

Business must the good in the HP server replacement industry. Stromays sent its customers and allies a notice the firm is moving into larger headquarters in North Carolina. 

Since opening our region in 2008, the Stromasys North Carolina office has experienced great success, thanks to the support of our partners and valued customers. Due to our continued expansion and planned growth, we are moving to a larger office space.

PlugPhotoThe new address (2840 Plaza Place, Suite 450, Raleigh NC 27612) certainly doesn't need to accomodate more servers built upon HP's PA-RISC or DEC Alpha and VAX designs. Everything Stromasys sells rolls out in virtual software mode, except for the USB keys that contain the official HP 3000 HPSUSAN ID numbers. (CTO Robert Boers told us last year that those keys cost $50 each to create, so they aren't your Fry's Electronics models.)

The company continues to investigate how to get a virtualized 3000, running on Intel hardware, up into the cloud. Even the HP Cloud, which can accept applications running on Linux -- but not HP-UX. The Stromasys virtualized HP 3000 is cradled in Linux, after all.

With a tip of the hat of congratulations to this partner in MPE's future, we also take note of another physical 3000 going offline. But the HP Series 987 (at a customer who wants to remain unnamed) is being replaced with the final model of Hewlett-Packard branded entry-level 3000 iron.

A score of MPE-using companies rely on this A-Class server, as they have being using this virtual 3000 host for 20 years from this provider. We once called this virtualized strategy timesharing, and then Apps on Tap. It all means replacing a physical 3000 inside a datacenter with something elsewhere -- or never relying on HP's iron onsite in the first place.

And while one of those companies may migrate to Windows in the near future, it will be a slow process. There's lots of application customization at that site. Corporate overseerers of IT want all of that organization which still relies on MPE to run on the same platform. "Otherwise they'd be happy," said a manager.

That MPE computing has been a part of this manager's life since 1984. "It’s such a workhorse! Some companies that have gone to Windows-based systems talk about performance issues." For those who haven't made the move, perhaps they sleep better at night, like those OpenVMS customers have been -- the ones which HP is cutting loose by the end of this decade.

07:28 PM in Homesteading, Migration, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 02, 2013

Latest HP exiting outrage may be delayed

HP won’t leave their customers hanging, and although going through a migration may not be on the horizon, it appears that support will be around for many years to come. In many ways you can look at it as job security, because that operating system talent you have supports a vital niche market.

ConnectlogoThat message was delivered from the CEO of the Connect User Group, Kristi Elizondo. She wasn't talking about MPE or the HP 3000, but you could be forgiven if you'd seen that sentiment from early in 2002, from another user group. Elizondo -- many more in the HP community know her as Kristi Browder -- has advocated for DEC systems and VMS users for much of her career. She was making her case that although HP won't extend the lifespan of VMS to what's probably the last generation of Itanium, things don't look that bad.

In fact, some users came together at last month's HP Discover conference in a Special Interest Group devoted to OpenVMS. There was no rancor or outrage at the meeting, by her blog report. The customers were in the room to learn something. Elizondo said that for the last 30 years she'd selected and promoted VMS "because I can sleep at night" knowing it's at work. Those OpenVMS customers were searching for hope that their nights wouldn't become sleepless on the way to 2020.

"Anything past 2012 is a bonus," read her post on the user group website. Some customers who may feel differently were not in that HP Discover room. So hers is a conciliatory approach to getting HP's assistance after its latest platform exit. Anyone back home who expected a leader with deep OpenVMS roots to challenge an HP business decision was observing the new user group mantra: getting along means going along, and everything goes away anyway.

Which sort of makes you wonder about the concept of a vendor-focused user group. Chuck Piercey, the executive director of Interex, asked the same question in 1998. If the IT world accepts that everything gets replaced, what's the point of coming together? If it's all paved over in favor of industry standard choices, what's the career benefit of being in a group?

Vendors used to listen to customers as a group. Now they'll listen as long as the customers aren't outraged and want to find a new way to get a good night's rest. While they don't disturb the vendor's business plans.

Just like in the HP 3000 edition of this exiting saga, the customers who could ask HP questions didn't get many answers. Or none that were reported in a 650-word blog post.

The OpenVMS SIG meeting was a small meeting of some very concerned customers and partners. This group was present to make recommendations, not attack HP about the decisions. HP was there to listen. One suggestion was to make Virtual Machine an option. There were also several questions about licensing. Will operating system licenses transfer with the hardware if bought off the gray market? When are they going to end of life the sale of licenses?

Licensing? Those are the questions that last the longest. Just ask anyone in the MPE world today, a decade later. Unlike many in the 3000 community of 2002, Elizondo can be pragmatic about what to expect from Hewlett-Packard. She has the benefit of seeing a decade of HP shedding any business which has profits on the decline.

"It is no surprise to me that there is not a lot of high margin in these systems and the lifetime of a system goes on forever and the party never ends," she wrote. "HP has to make money, and investing in systems that have no planned obsolescence forces some hard decisions. You have to applaud that the systems will be supported until 2020."

That's a glass-half-full approach, but the glass is emptying year by year in a community that was 10 times the size of the 3000 world in 2001. Even now it's likely to be more than double the 3000's size at the time HP cut its 3000 futures. None of that size is large enough to propel outrage from current era of user group leadership. Interex took a similar approach in 2002 and onward, making a platform for the "get off very soon" messages from the vendor. Then came 2004, when HP made it very clear that the roundtable whipping posts of the 1990s Interex meetings were not going to be installed at the new HP-sponsored conferences.

By that time, Interex had chosen to run in an independent direction, and walk away from a user group alliance that became Connect in a few years. Interex didn't last another full year after it chose to walk a path separate from HP's going-my-way trail.

So if the outrage manages to surface in a community like VMS, it will be delayed by months if not years. An OpenVMS bootcamp that won't happen until sometime in 2014 will bring out customers who might not restrain their attacks. They can look toward a marketplace where their specialized skills don't bring so many offers of interviews. They'll need the interviews when an organization follows HP, as well as the user group leadership, away from the computer environment which let the customer sleep well at night.

Elizondo's report was far from the top of the latest Connect Now online newsletter. But she left readers a message that would let them sleep better. Not her sign-off of "So while I expected to attend a funeral at this meeting, it was not even a wake," or even, "Keep the passion -- we can support this together." The most prophetic words came in an explanation of why HP's proprietary OS always let her sleep at night.

"And in reality, we all know that since these systems never die, they will never die." HP hasn't started to use "end of life" language to describe OpenVMS. That will come soon enough, but it will arrive later than the outrage -- which used to boil up at user group management roundtables.

06:01 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 01, 2013

Will MPE spell its end date in 2028?

CalendarPage9thWe've covered this topic about a year ago on our blog, complete with a thorough examination from VEsoft's Vladimir Volokh. But a couple of recent reports about the future of MPE deserve some air time. The premise has always been that the calendar handling of the 3000's OS will be kaput in about 14 years' time, owing to some 20th Century-style thinking about the CALENDAR intrinsic.

But CALENDAR won't make a 3000 stop working. Jeff Kell, the networking wizard whose employer the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga still has 3000s on the premises, offered this opinion.

Well, by 2027, we may be used to mm/dd/yy with a 27 on the end, and you could always go back to 1927 :)

And the programs that only did "two digit" years would be all set (did you convert all of 'em for Y2K?  Did you keep the old source?)

Our major Y2K-issue was dealing with a "semester" which was YY01 for fall, yy02 for spring, etc.  We converted that over to go from 9901 (Fall 1999) to A001 (Fall 2000) so we're good for another 259 years on that part :)  Real calendar dates used 4-digit years (32-bit integers yyyymmdd).

Another manager checked in to tell us his system won't get to experience the new two-digit power of a 2028 edition of the virtualized HP 3000 -- certainly driven by a CHARON virtualized 3000 at that point.

Entitled "Schlegel's HP3000 end of life," the message was delivered by Tom Ruganis, MIS Manager Emeritus.

I have been an HP user/manager for 37 years at Schlegel in Rochester, New York, starting on a Series II. We are now running a single 968RX, down from a network of six 3000s. For the last 20 years, we have run a mix of MANMAN and in-house Sales/Order Entry with a lot of local “enhancements.”

Our plans are to replace this with Enterprise IQ from IQMS, running on a Windows-based server, based in South Dakota. Hopefully this will occur soon, as I will be retiring as of this Friday (7/5/13). In the meantime, I will be providing contract support.

It will be a sad day when we finally pull the plug.

09:06 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (1)