January 31, 2014
The Final 3000 Quarter at Hewlett-Packard
It's the final day of HP's Q1 for 2014, so in about three weeks we'll know how the company has fared in its turnaround. Analyst sites are rating the stock as a hold, or giving the company a C+ rating. It's instructive to see how much has changed from the final quarter when 3000 customers sent measurable revenues to Hewlett-Packard.
That would be the Q1 of 2009, including the final two months of HP's regular systems support sales of November-December of 2008. At the end of '08 HP closed its MPE/iX and 3000 lab. And without a lab, there was no way business critical support would offer much of an incentive to keep HP's support in a 3000 shop's IT budget.
The customers' shake-off of HP's support revenue didn't happen immediately, of course. People had signed multi-year contracts for support with the vendor. But during the start of this financial period of five years ago, there was no clear reason to expect HP to be improve for MPE/iX, even in dire circumstances. Vintage support was the only product left to buy for a 3000 through the end of 2010.
In Q1 of 2009, HP reported $28.2 billion in total sales. In its latest quarter, that number was $29.1 billion. Nearly five years have delivered only $900 million in extra sales per quarter, despite swallowing up EDS and its 140,000 consultants and billions in sales, or purchasing tens of billions of dollars worth of outside companies like Autonomy.
In January of 2009, HP 3000 revenues were even more invisible than the Business Critical Systems revenues of today. But BCS totals back then were still skidding by 15-20 percent per quarter, 20 quarters ago. And even in 2009, selling these alternatives to an HP 3000 was generating only 4 percent of the Enterprise Server group's sales. Yes, all of enterprise servers made up 2.5 percent of the 2009 HP Q1. But that hardware and networking is the short tail of the beast that was HP's server business, including the 3000. Support is the long tail, one that stretched to the end of 2008 for MPE, more than seven years HP announced the end of its 3000 business plans.
It's easy to say that the HP 3000 meant a lot to HP's fortunes. In a way it certainly did, because there was no significant business computing product line until MPE started to get stable in 1974. But the profits really didn't flow off the hardware using that 20th Century model. Support was the big earner, as the mob says of anybody who returns profits to the head of the organization. HP 3000 support was always a good earner, right up to the time HP closed down those labs and sent its wizards packing, or into other company divisions.
It had been a small business all along, this HP 3000. A billion dollars was a great quarter's worth, and the 3000 division never came close. But all of HP's business critical servers together only managed $700 million in sales -- five years ago. The profits from such customers were only significant because of support relationships. This is why those contracts were the last thing HP terminated.
This eventually became a good thing for the stalwart support companies that remained by the 3000 manager's side. At least there was no HP to quote against a company like Pivital Solutions that specializes in real MPE/iX support, for example. No vendor claims of "we can engineer a patch or software fix" that a system vendor uses to retain a customer. By January of '09, HP Support took on the remaining 3000 operations and briefed customers but offered no clue on how much contact the community might expect from support. HP's community liaison to the 3000, its business manager and lab experts departed.
The final months of 2008, which made up that very last HP 3000 quarter, capped a year with many months of no information whatsoever from the vendor. HP didn't appear eager to address much except the migration nuances still available to companies leaving the platform. To nobody's genuine suprise, Hewlett-Packard wasn't winning much migration business from 3000 customers making a transition.
We know that's true because of a report from Stromays during 2010. Sometime during 2008, HP re-established contact with the only company that made a concerted effort to emulate an HP 3000. According to Stromasys CTO Dr. Robert Boers, three out of every four departing 3000 sites chose a non-HP environment. And without MPE/iX to support, the only money a former 3000 owner would be sending -- if they were pragmatic, and not incensed -- would've been for HP's Intel-based Proliants, running Windows.
The quarters of 2009 and 2010 might have eked out a bit of revenue from 3000 owners. Some were determined to purchase the HP support that had no hope of fixing problems via new engineering. But HP was not encouraging this by the final months of Q1, 2009
HP strongly recommends that customers request all available PowerPatches and SW Media that they may need for the remainder of the life of their e3000 systems, before December 31, 2008. Customers under Mature Product Support without Sustaining Engineering (MPS w/o SE) can still request PowerPatches and SW Media during the remainder of the Limited Support Extension, through their local HP Representative or Contract Administrator; however, processing and delivery time may vary.
The one and only source of revenue today from the HP 3000 community to HP -- something that will comprise a scant trickle of cash -- is the $432 license transfers, still in place after five years to enable an emulator to replace a 3000.
The HP Software License Transfer process will continue to be used in the event an HP customer wishes to transfer an existing MPE/iX Right-To-Use (RTU) license from a valid e3000 system to an emulation platform of the customer’s choice that runs on other licensed HP products. It will be a system-to-system transfer, regardless of the number of CPUs on the destination platform.
Even in the situation of forcing companies off a server that was working, Hewlett-Packard attempted to keep them on hardware "that runs on other licensed HP products." Classy to the end. HP signed off in January of 2009 with a thanks for all the fish message, urging everybody to get to a lifeboat. But few of the boats would be flying an HP flag, despite these lyrical hopes.
Finally, we want to take this opportunity to thank OpenMPE, Interex, Encompass, and Connect for their dedication to customer advocacy over the years, our HP e3000 ISVs, tools, and support partners that have contributed a rich set of products and services on top of MPE/iX for our customers, and our migration service and tools partners for their invaluable services and products in assisting our customers with their migrations to other HP solutions. Most of all, our sincere thanks to our valued customers. HP looks forward to continuing to provide our customers the best-in-class services and the opportunity to serve you with other HP products.
January 30, 2014
Ensuring You Edit with the Right Quad
HP 3000 editors may be passe in many homesteading sites. Better tools for manipulating and tracking code are available on Linux, Unix, PC and Mac systems. But not many of them have the advantage of grabbing onto an MPE module during development. Robelle's Qedit has moved to PCs, but a 3000-native tool remains the free Quad.
You just have to be sure you're using the right version of this tool.
Walter Murray, who served in HP's Langauge Labs for many years, still likes using the MPE-centric Quad. He explained why, and noted an annoyance, too. One that another MPE veteran helped work around. Said Murray, "For editing, Quad has become my editor of choice. Among its bothersome limitations are that the search is case-sensitive (which leads us to avoid lower case in COBOL source code, except for comments)."
Alan Yeo of ScreenJet has pointed out that the version of Quad being used makes a significant difference. "All Quads are not equal," he said. (Quad can be downloaded from a link off the 3k Associates archival website, a terrific resource for MPE software.)Yeo explains about the many flavors of Quad, a tool which started in the labs of Quest Software several decades ago, but clearly has some utility left in it.
Whilst that case-sensitivity may be true of the HP version of Quad, it’s not true of other versions (of which there seem to be many).
For example, the HP version for LIST:
The List command lists a range of lines.
The format is
List Range [Offline] [Header] [Unnumbered] [Truncate]
Meanwhile, a Quest/SRN version has CASE NONLIT and WILDCARD options on LIST, FIND, CHANGE
The List command lists a range of lines.
The format is
List Range [Offline] [Header] [Unnumbered] [Truncate]
[Case] [Nonlit] [Wild]
So the Quest version given :L A I"mpe" will by default list any line containing the string in any case combination unless CASE is specified -- whereas the HP version can only show lines containing the exact match.
It is therefore wise to check what version of Quad you are using especially when logging on to a different HP 3000 than you do normally.
January 29, 2014
University learns to live off of the MPE grid
One of the most forward-looking pioneers of the HP 3000 community shut off its servers last month, ending a 37-year run of service. The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga IT staff, including its networking maven Jeff Kell, has switched over fully to Linux-based computing and an off the shelf application.
UTC, as Kell and his crew calls the school, has beefed up its server count by a factor of more than 10:1 as a byproduct of its transition. This kind of sea change is not unusual for a migration to Unix and Oracle solutions. HP 3000s tend to be single-server installations, or multiples in very large configurations. But to get to a count of 43 servers, IT architecture has to rethink the idea of a server (sometimes just a blade in an enclosure) and often limits the server to exclusive tasks.
After decades of custom-crafted applications, UTC is running fully "on Banner, which has been SunGuard in the past," Kell said. "I believe it's now called now Ellucian. They keep getting bought out." But despite the changes, the new applications are getting the same jobs done that the HP 3000s performed since the 1970s.
The heyday of the HP 3000 lasted until about 2009 or so, when UTC got all of the Banner applications up and running, Kell reports. Banner -- well, Ellucian -- has many modules. Like a lot of migrating sites that have chosen replacement software off the shelf, the transition was a stepwise affair.
It's Linux / Oracle replacing it. The configuration was originally Dell servers (a lot of them), but most of it is virtualized on ESXi/vCenter, fed by a large EMC SAN. They got some server hardware refreshed recently, and got Cisco UCS blade servers. I'm sure they're well into seven figures on the replacement hardware and software alone. I've lost count of how many people they have on staff for the care and feeding of it all. It's way more than our old 3000 crew, which was basically six people.
The 3000 was still pretty heavily used until 3-4 years ago, when they got all of Banner up and running. The 3000 continued to do some batch transfers, and our Identity Management. The 3000 was the "authoritative" source of demographics and user accounts, but they are now using Novell's Identity management -- which bridges Banner/Oracle with Active Directory, faculty/staff in Exchange, and the student accounts in Google Mail.
We had dedicated 3000s in the past for Academics. They later jumped on an IBM system, then Solaris for a time, and now Linux. We also had one for our Library catalog and circulation (running VTLS software), but they later jumped on the Oracle bandwagon. More recently, the whole module for the library has been outsourced to a cloud service.
Even in the days when the 3000 ruled at UTC, there were steps in a transition. "I think we peaked at seven 3000s briefly while we were in transition -- the days we were moving from our old Classic HP 3000 hardware to the then-new Series 950 RISC systems," Kell said. "After the delays in the 3000 RISC system deliveries and the promises HP had made, they loaned us a Series 52 and a 58, so we could keep pace with production while waiting on PA-RISC."
January 28, 2014
Cross-pond experts to meet in UK
Last month, Dave Wiseman organized the first SIG-BAR meeting in more than a decade in London. The turnout at what was an HP 3000 social and networking event was encouraging enough to put another meeting on the calendar. This one is going to have some HP 3000 experts on hand from across the pond, as we like to say about Transatlantic travels.
The next SIGBAR event is June 12, to be held at the same Dirty Dick's tavern and meeting room as the December 5 gathering. This time around, Brian Duncombe of Triolet Systems and Steve Cooper of Allegro are making the journey to be on hand. It's a long way from Canada, in Duncombe's case, or California for Cooper to re-connect with 3000 contacts. But yours is a world that was always founded in community.
And frankly, being in London in June is a brighter prospect than a December day. Literally. While traveling to London more than a decade ago in winter, the sun sets about 4 PM. To contrast, it comes up before 5 in the same month when Wimbeldon kicks off.
Duncombe, for the 3000 user who doesn't know him, created some high-caliber database shadowing and performance measurement software for MPE during the 1980s and into the '90s. He's planning a journey round-trip from Toronto that will literally span about 48 hours on the Canadian clock. That's how much he's engaged with the community and old friends. "I sleep well on planes," Duncombe said."I leave Toronto about 10pm on Wednesday June 11, arriving late morning on Thursday the 12th," Duncombe said. "It is about an hour train/tube to the gathering. I then leave Friday morning, arriving home Friday afternoon. While the flight times are each a couple of hours longer, I sleep well on planes, and the cost and total time away is about the same as going to California."
Cooper, one of Allegro's founders, didn't want California 3000 masters to be unrepresented -- so he's making the trip with his wife Suzanne. Alan Yeo, ScreenJet's founder and a fellow English 3000 expert, has also committed to being at the meeting.
Wiseman, who was well-known among 3000 customers as a live wire working for database companies before starting up Millware in the late 1990s, has been persistent in keeping the 3000 fellowship lamp lit in the UK. He presented details.
The feedback from the venue we had last time was pretty positive, so I have booked the upstairs of Dirty Dick’s again from 3PM onwards, and we have it for the evening
London EC2M 4NR
Tel : 020 7283 5888
Since I hear that we may have at least two participants from North America, to the rest of you, please do come over. (Why not have a weekend in London?) Closest hotels are the South Palace Hotel (approx £206/night) or the Liverpool Street Hyatt (approx £320/night advance booking)
It would be helpful if we can get approximate numbers for attendees, so that they set aside a large enough area for us. So please, could you confirm/reconfirm if you plan to attend? As always, please do pass this on to anyone who you think would be interested
+44 777 555 7017
January 27, 2014
Polymorphic computing still tweaks billing
Editor's note: more than five years ago, Hewlett-Packard was promoting an old concept with a new speech. HP's current Labs director Martin Fink spoke about polymorphic computing, and MB Foster's CEO Birket Foster was on hand to note what was nascent about the concept, as well as what still needed to be developed. Cloud computing has gone beyond nascent to become commonplace, but billing for individual apps -- not just CPU and bandwidth -- is still a work in progress. The apps on MPE systems are specialized parts of computing, but not easily available through most common clouds (like Amazon Web Services, or Google).
Until billing for MPE apps via the cloud is worked out, companies will be migrating apps to capture the potential of polymorphic computing. Foster's article still offers a lot to think about while considering the true benefits of a transition for MPE apps.
There's a marvelous stop-action film online that explains polymorphic computing. The film was made in 1959. The earliest design of MPE was still a decade away. Most people believe polymorphic computing didn't emerge until almost 50 years after the film was made. Enjoy it, as well as Foster's report below. The pieces are still in motion, and like transitions, they're not stopping.
By Birket Foster
The CommunityConnect 2008 conference in Europe featured Martin Fink, the Senior VP and GM for the HP Business Critical Server group. Fink gave a talk on Polymorphic Computing. What is that, you say? Well, Fink used an analogy from the car industry, one where you have different cars with steering wheels, engine, chassis and tires that can be changed on demand. Think of the object-oriented programming concept of late binding, he suggested.
Here's how it sounded to me, a software vendor sitting in an audience full of software vendors. Your polymorphic car would assemble itself in your garage for the purpose you need -- so you could have a sports car one evening for what Fink called “a hot date with the wife,” then the next day you could order up a minivan to go shopping, and in the afternoon the polymorphic assembly garage would deliver a pickup truck so you could pick up some lumber for a do it yourself project.
The current world of virtualization will allow computing resources to be configured for different tasks. The workload will be profiled so that the CPU, memory, disc space, and network IO matches the requirement. Once you get to that stage, you could be buying your computing in a metered environment. Utility computing will finally become a reality just in time for a change of name -- the current moniker is “Cloud Computing,” where your computing services get provided by a large company like HP, or Amazon or Google. In the cloud, the applications as well as the whole environment are built around the concept of a flexible billing system.
The issue is the billing system. There is no current standard for allowing a hosting company (ISP or RBOC or a Google) to charge for the individual utilities that complete the application environments. Not everything that will be required as a “completer app” will be done in “free” open source - there is still going to be a need for mashups and a way to pay the creators of the intellectual property.
If HP could figure out how to do the billing system for micro-cents, and offer that back to the software vendor community, they could get the brightest and the best to flock to helping HP take a lead in the innovation of cloud computing. HP will get a piece of the action as they bill customers on behalf of the developers, the developers get a check -- while the customer only has to deal with its cloud computing provider or application services provider who uses cloud computing. The strategy helps avoid licensing agreements and purchasing from lots of little vendors.
By the way, most of the really good innovation in software comes from small, high-performance teams. HP discovered this when the SAP/Oracle port to Itanium was completed. The top customers used about 150 applications to complete the environment -- things like development and test solutions, along with deployment, operations and support software: things like spoolers, schedulers etc. Cloud computing needs a high-performing team at HP to step up and help produce a standard billing mechanism, one that will be the differentiator for the ISVs choosing to partner with HP. Then polymorphic computing will be headed your way.
January 24, 2014
The Volokhs Find the Amazon Finds Them
In 1980, a 12-year-old boy and his father began to create a beautiful expansion of MPE for 3000 customers. These men are named Volokh, and that surname has become the brand of a blog that's now a part of The Washington Post. The journey that began as a fledgling software company serving a nascent computer community is a fun and inspiring tale. That 12-year-old, now 45, is Eugene Volokh, and along with this brother Sasha the two created the Volokh Conspiracy. Volokh.com became a blog in 2002 -- something of a breakthough in itself, according to the Internet's timeline. Now the new owner of the Post, Jeff Bezos, has replaced a long-standing blog from Ezra Klein with the Volokhs' blend of legal reporting, cultural commentary, and English exactitude.
Bezos, for the few who don't know him, founded and owns the majority of Amazon, the world's largest online retailer. And so, in one of the first Conspiracy posts out on the Post, the article's headline reads
In Brazil, you can always find the Amazon — in America, the Amazon finds you
This is a reference to the Russian roots of the Volokhs, according to founding father Vladimir. He recalled the history of living in a Communist country, one that was driven by a Party relentless in its dogma and control. With the usual dark humor of people under oppression, he reported that "In Russia the saying is, 'Here, you don't find the party -- the party finds you.' "
Amazon has found the Volokhs and their brand of intense analysis -- peppered with wry humor, at times -- because it was shedding Ezra Klein's Wonkblog. Left-leaning with a single-course setting, this content which the Volokhs have replaced might have seen its day passing, once Klein was asking the Post for $10 million to start his own web publishing venture. There may have been other signs a rift was growing; one recent Wonkblog headline read, "Retail in the age of Amazon: Scenes from an industry running scared."
This is not the kind of report that will get you closer to a $10 million investment from the owner of Amazon. That running scared story emerged from this month's meeting of the National Retail Federation, a place where 3000 capabilities have been discussed over the years.We've run reports of NRF from Birket Foster of MB Foster in the past. Those capabilities surround the need to secure commerce that runs through HP 3000s. At one point the server had scores of users of software that included Point of Sale aspects, although few 3000s ever integrated with such retail devices. But NRF isn't the point of this article. We intend to congratulate Eugene, Sasha -- and of course their proud father -- for breaking into the mainstream media with their messages, information and opinions.
"When you ask them how they feel about it," Vladimir told us this week about his sons and their blog's transition, "they say, 'We will see.' " The Conspiracy didn't need the Post and its mainstream megaphone. The compensation is slight, Eugene wrote as he explained why volokh.com will slip behind what he calls "a rather permeable paywall" in a few months.
The main difference will be that the blog, like the other Washingtonpost.com material, will be placed behind the Post’s rather permeable paywall. We realize that this may cause some inconvenience for some existing readers — we are sorry about that, and we tried to negotiate around it, but that’s the Post’s current approach.
In exchange, the Conspiracy, with its ample roster of bloggers covering legal and intellectual subjects, is going to remain free for the next six months, even up at the Post website. "For the first six months, you can access the blog for free. We negotiated that with the Post, by giving up likely about half of our share of the advertising revenue for that time. (Six months is the longest we could get.)"
The website the Volokhs established has an avid readership. Along with that blogosphere presence, Eugene has been visible enough in places like The New York Times, CNN and NPR that I'd give him the award for Most Famous Person that MPE Prowess Ever Launched. It was back in the year when he worked as a teenaged, seasonal programmer for Hewlett-Packard that MPEX was born to become the developer and DP manager's power tool, an express lane for managing and hyper-driving an HP 3000. Vladimir and Eugene created that software, which founded VEsoft.
But more than three decades later, the 3000 and MPE have become a minority of Eugene and Sasha's work-weeks. These men are now professors of law at UCLA and Emory. When asked if the millions of dollars you'd imagine coming off a Post blog would change them, Eugene exhibited a typical pragmatic quip.
What will [we] do with all the millions we’ll rake in? We are sharing advertising revenue with the Post, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be much. Our hourly rate for our blogging time will remain pretty pathetic. We’re not in it for the money; if we were, we’d be writing briefs, not blog posts.
The HP 3000 doesn't take a turn in the subject matter of the Conspiracy. The blog's metier is the law, how the law impacts social behavior like privacy and information sharing, as well as intellectual property rights. It's wide-ranging, a lot like the 3000 has been since it began in the era of "general-purpose computer." To keep reading the Conspiracy for free after July, Eugene says, you can subscribe to its RSS feed, register at the Post with a .gov or .edu address, follow it on Twitter, or look for an imminent Facebook page.
January 23, 2014
Unicom sets new roadmap for Powerhouse
Nobody is certain what will happen to the Powerhouse ADT tools in 2014, but it's certain they're not going to remain the same as they've been since before 2009. For the first time in five years, the Powerhouse, Powerhouse Web and Axiant advanced development software will be getting new versions.
The new versions were announced on the LinkedIn Cognos Powerhouse section, a 320-member group that for the moment is closed and requires approval of a moderator to join. (The HP3000 Community section of LinkedIn, now at 618 members, is the same sort of group; but admission there only requires some experience with MPE/iX and the 3000 to become a member. I was approved in the Cognos Powerhouse group in less than 24 hours.)
Up on LinkedIn, Larry Lawler told the members of the group that "Unicom is an Enterprise Software company, and fully committed to the further development of the Cognos ADT suite." Lawler is Chief Technology Officer at Unicom Global. He mapped out the future for the software's 2014, calling the following list "New Version Release Considerations."
• PowerHouse 4GL Server - V420 Early Release (EA) scheduled for 2Q/2014
• Axiant 4GL - V420 Early Release (EA) scheduled for 2Q/2014
• PowerHouse Web - V420 Early Release (EA) scheduled for 2Q/2014
• PowerHouse 4GL Server - V420 General Release (GA) scheduled for 3Q/2014
• Axiant 4GL - V420 General Release (GA) scheduled for 3Q/2014
• PowerHouse Web - V420 General Release (GA) scheduled for 3Q/2014
There's a 90-day period of crossover as Unicom acquires these assets and arranges the integration into its development and support team."Due to the transition services agreement with IBM, please continue to follow the existing IBM Technical Support Procedures," Lawler said. "We value our relationships with our customers, and we assure each of you that great care will be taken to ensure this transition is a smooth one. Once the transition has completed, please contact 818-838-0606 for the Unicom technical support team."
Lawler added that after the 90-day period, which ends April 1, customers can contact Unicom about issues at email@example.com, in addition to the phone contact. Overseas customers will be able to call +1 973 526 3900. A list of UK and European office locations for Unicom is at www.macro4.com/en/about/contact-us.
"It will be nice to see some forward movement of the product," said Brian Stephens, Powerhouse Lead at transition services and application support firm Fresche Legacy. The company formerly known as Speedware had an arrangement to support Powerhouse customers in 2007, before the sale of Cognos to IBM. “And maybe some backwards movement... like putting Powerhouse back on the [IBM] iSeries.”
January 22, 2014
UDALink for MPE adds capability and speed
MB Foster is rolling out news of a refreshed UDALink for MPE, software that handles data access and delivery, reporting writing, client-server and analytic capabilites for HP 3000 customers. Those capabilities got a lift in the latest release, as well as speed improvements. UDALink is part of what the company calls its Universal Data Access (UDA) Series of products.
HP has been working to upgrade its PC-using customers to Windows 7 this year, using repeated attempts to wrench Windows XP servers out of enterprises. A recent webpage pointed to HP's equanimity about moving to 7 or 8. An article on a ZDNet website said that HP's never stopped selling Windows 7, really, even though the version has become hard to get in the consumer market. HP seems to understand that its customers might not be prepared for the "Tile World" of Windows 8. Windows 8.1 regained the venerable Start button that Microsoft lost in its 8.0 release. But choosing between either of these updates to PCs can lead a customer to upgrade its free, ODBCLink/SE bundle-ware in MPE/iX to UDALink, Foster said in a release.
UDALink is the logical upgrade path if the organization is considering:
• Upgrading desktops to Windows 7/8
• Deploying a DataWarehouse or Operational Data Stores
• Deploying generic or strategic DataMarts as part of your enterprise reporting strategy
• Required to extract, off-load or preserve legacy data on Microsoft SQL Server
• Upload data into a cloud application like Salesforce
New capabilities of the latest release of connectivty software include a 64-bit driver; QuickConnect and support for JDBC3 and JDBC4; support for the ultimate version of Powerhouse, 8.49F; along with the ability to run in the emulated Stromasys HPA Charon environment -- which expands the potential uses of UDALink.UDALink started its long lifespan in the late 1980s as DataExpress, then one of the seminal client-server access utilities for putting IMAGE/SQL data onto user desktop applications. It's evolved and grown to embrace the latest in software standards as well as new strategies such as cloud computing. Foster says that the software adheres to both Windows ODBC and Oracle/Sun Java standards. "It uniquely combines middleware technology with Microsoft Windows 7/8 desktop applications, and any Business Intelligence product, to help you get up and running fast."
MB Foster reports that it is offering a 30-day downloadable evaluation version of the software. The company's labs created the bedrock ODBC software that's installed on every HP 3000, ODBCLink/SE. It then took over for HP's ODBC labs in 2007. UDALink extends that rudimentary access capability. Not as many companies aim a new release at MPE/iX customers by now. There are hundreds of sites using UDALink today, according to the vendor.
January 21, 2014
Hewlett-Packard decays, not a 3000 killer
The Unicom acquisition of Powerhouse assets finally showed up in the news section of the Series i and AS/400 world. The website Four Hundred Stuff ran its report of the transaction which proposes to bring new ideas and leadership to one of the oldest tools in the 3000 community. It will be another 10 weeks or so before Unicom makes any announcements about the transaction's impacts. We're looking forward to talking to Russ Guzzo of the company once more, to get some reaction to the idea of transferring licenses for the Powerhouse ADT suite. Millions of dollars worth of tools are out there on 3000s that will go into the marketplace.
We're not eager to hear one of the more unfocused definitions of what happened to the HP 3000 more than 12 years ago. According to Four Hundred Stuff, Hewlett-Packard killed the HP 3000 more than a decade ago. Not even close to being accurate. HP did kill off the future for itself to particpate in the 3000 community. Eventually it killed off its own labs for MPE and PA-RISC hardware. Eventually it will kill off the support business it still offers for a handful of customers, relying on a handful of MPE experts still at HP.
The 3000's operating system lives on, in spots like the one the IBM newsletter pointed out. We find it interesting that within a month, the company that created the first virtualized HP 3000, Stromasys, and the company that created the most widely installed 4GL, both had assets purchased by deep-pocketed new owners. Powerhouse itself is entrenched in some places where IT managers would like to get rid of it. At UDA, a Canadian firm, a Powerhouse application is scheduled for removal. But it's complex, a living thing at this company. Fresche Legacy, formerly Speedware, is reported to be maintaining that Powerhouse app for UDA while a transition comes together.
The IT manger realized, however, that it wouldn't be easy or inexpensive to replace the system, and that a thorough assessment and long-term plan was the best approach. The first step, however, was to ensure the viability of the aging system for the foreseeable future. A search for IBM PowerHouse experts quickly lead Mr. Masson to Fresche Legacy.
In these sorts of cases and more, the HP 3000 lives on. Not killed by by its creator vendor. If any definition of what happened can be applied, HP sent the 3000 into the afterlife. Its customer base is decaying with a half-life, but only at a different rate than the IT managers reading Four Hundred Stuff.
January 20, 2014
How to convert 3000 packed decimal data?
Independent consultant Dan Miller wrote us to hunt down the details on converting between data types on the HP 3000. He's written a utility to integrate VPlus, IMAGE/SQL and Query for updating and modifying records. We'll let Miller explain. He wants to expand his utility that he's written in SPL -- the root language of MPE -- to include packed decimal data.
Can you tell me how to transfer a packed decimal to ASCII for display, then convert ASCII characters to the corresponding packed decimal data item?
I wrote a utility that integrates VPlus, IMAGE/SQL and Query, one that I used in a Federal services contract for data entry and word processing. Basically, VIQ lets me design a VPlus screen with field names the same as IMAGE data items. From the formatted screen a function key drops you into Query. You select the records to be maintained, specify "LP" as output, and execute the "NUMBERS" command (a file equation for QSLIST is necessary before this). From there, you can scroll thru the records, modify any field, and update. I never marketed it commercially, but I have used it at consulting customer sites.
I recently had occasion to use it at a new customer's site and realized that I never programmed it to handle packed decimal format numbers; the customer has a few defined in their database. Typically, database designers use INTEGER or DOUBLE INTEGER formats for numeric data, which occupy even less space -- the goal of using packed decimal) employing ASCII/DASCII, or BINARY/DBINARY intrinsics.
I need to discover the proper intrinsics to transfer the packed decimal numbers to ASCII characters and back. I'm sure there's a way, as QUERY does it. In COBOL, I think the "MOVE" converts it automatically, but my utility is written in SPL.
HP's documentation on data types conversion includes some help on this challenge. But Miller hopes that the readers of the Newswire can offer some other suggestions, too. Email me with your suggestions and we'll share them with the readers.
In the Data Types Conversion Programmer's Guide (tip of the hat to HP MM Support), we read about techniques to convert to real data types when when working outside of the COBOL library and compiler. From HP's documentation:
To Packed Decimal
The compiler procedure HPACCVBD converts a signed binary integer to a packed decimal. The input number is considered to be in twos complement form, from 2 to 12 bytes long.
Packed-decimal procedures must be declared as intrinsics to be called from within high-level NM languages. In languages other than COBOL and RPG, follow these steps to convert from an input real to a packed decimal:
1. Multiply or divide the real number by an appropriate power of 10.
2. Convert the resulting value to an base-ten integer.
3. Convert that integer to a decimal.
The MOVE command is used to change one decimal to another within COBOL or RPG. But outside of COBOL or RPG, use the compiler library functions HPPACSRD and HPPACSLD to perform right and left shifts on packed decimals. You specify the amount of offset (the number of digits to be shifted).
To convert a packed decimal to a BASIC decimal, you should convert first to a twos complement integer or type ASCII, and then convert to decimal within BASIC with an assignment. For example, assign an integer value to a decimal with decval = intval * n0, where n00 is the appropriate power of 10. To convert between ASCII and decimal, use the VAL or VAL$ internal functions.
January 17, 2014
Licensing software means no resales, right?
Almost for a long as software's been sold, it has not really been purchased. There were the days when a company would pay for the actual source code to programs, software which was then theirs to modify and use as they pleased. Well, not as they pleased entirely. Even a sale of the vintage MRP software source for MANMAN had conditions. You couldn't resell it on the market as your own product, for example.
Ownership of software has been defined by licenses-to-use in your enterprise market. When a municipality in Southern California switched off its HP 3000 Series 969 -- 12 years after it began to migrate in-house programs to Windows .NET -- the software on the old system immediately lost all of its value. Not the programs written to serve departments like Building and Permits. Those apps belong to the city forever. But the tools used to build them -- specifically a high-dollar copy of Powerhouse -- become worthless once the city stops using them.
You can pass along the value of MPE/iX and its included software subsystems -- TurboStore for backups, IMAGE/SQL, even COBOL -- when you sell and transfer ownership of an HP 3000. But third-party software is controlled by a different sort of license. At least it has been up to now. Here in the HP 3000's afterlife, there's a potential for another sort of license transfer. In the case of Powerhouse, its new owners Unicom Systems get to define license terms. It's never been a matter of ownership, because that always remains with its vendor. A retired product manager of Powerhouse checked in to remind us of that.Bob Deskin was a constant voice in the Powerhouse community for more than 20 years, even passing out information about the 4GL after Cognos was sold to IBM. A decade after HP stopped building the 3000, Deskin retired from IBM, but he had a personal opinion to share about ongoing Powerhouse value.
"Keep in mind, as is the case with most software, the product was licensed to the buyer, not sold," he said. "And as such, the rights cannot be transferred without the permission of the owner, who is now Unicom."
When a computer becomes a vintage machine and has lost its original value -- like the Series 969 in Southern California -- a company is resigned to knowing it will never be worth the 70 grand originally paid for the product. Transferring rights is a process the vendor defines. Now Unicom has the opportunity to establish its own terms for that arrangement. So far, nobody from the Powerhouse community can recall a transfer of a license.
Alan Yeo of ScreenJet, a company deeply involved in development tools for the HP 3000, walked through the possibilities for considering a software license transfer of anything other than an operating system and subsystems on the 3000.
In general most software is sold as a "license to use" by an individual/organization. The terms of that license will determine if it is transferable and under what circumstances/terms. It is not unusual in a license agreement for a license to be transferable with the agreement of the licensor and that such approval should not be unreasonably withheld.
The reason for this is that Companies, Organizations and the like quite frequently buy/sell parts of themselves, or complete businesses, and systems normally come/go as part of the deal. Thus it is quite normal for software licenses to be transferred to the new owners.
Most software companies -- if the software remains under support -- are normally only too happy to agree. A nominal administrative fee may be charged (although I have never seen one) and there may be some adjustment in the support fees charged. (For example, if the seller had multiple of copies on a discounted basis, and the new owner has taken one out of the bunch).
I have seen Cognos products change hands in this manner without any fees many times, and even seen support period balances carried over. At times, even when a company has been into liquidation and bought out again ("liquidation/administration/bankruptcy" is quite often a specific clause that terminates a license agreement).
So unless Cognos just chose not to enforce specific terms of their license at these times (which may be possible to retain support revenues) I would suspect that their license does allow transfer. But you would have to ask someone who has one.
If it does allow transfer, then the case of that Series 969 is interesting. Even though I suspect that the license does exclude the resale of the license, if the hardware and software was transferred as part of a business sale (like if someone was selling the legacy applications part of their business) then I suspect that theoretically Cognos would have found it hard not to allow a license transfer. Of course, how easy they made that transfer would depend on if there was an existing support contract, and if the purchaser of the business was intending to take out support.
We're going to have a chat with Unicom about these Powerhouse prospects soon, and we'll report back on what we're told. Unicom's Russ Guzzo is monitoring the Powerhouse newsgroup mailing list, where we've started to ask about the terms and the experiences of licenses and licensees.
January 16, 2014
Replacing parts a part of the 3000 lifestyle
We'd like to hear from the community about 3000 parts: the ones that will push them away from MPE, as well as the parts that will keep decade-old servers running. Check in with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Customers who continue to rely on HP 3000s place great store on parts. Spare parts, the kind that tend to wear out sooner than others like disk drives, or the ones which can force a company into disaster recovery like a CPU board. The veterans in the community know that there's no support without a source of parts. And the demise of 3000 installations, like a well-run junkyard, can be a source.
However, a dearth of spare parts forced one 3000 customer into entering the world of HP 3000 emulation. Warren Dawson had systems that were aging and no clear way to replace what might fail inside them. Dawson's in Australia, a more remote sector of the 3000 empire. But his need became the spark that moved HP's iron out and replaced it with Intel-based hardware. Commodity became the follow-on costume that Dawson's information now plays in.
While there are portions of the HP 3000's high-failure parts list that can be replaced with third party components -- drives come to mind -- a lot of the 3000's body is unique to Hewlett-Packard's manufacture. Another company in Mexico, a manufacturing site, moved its applications off MPE because it figured that replacing 15-year-old servers was a dicey proposition at best.
This leads us to our latest report of HP 3000 parts, coming from a switched-off site in California. Roger Perkins has a Series 969 that he's working to give away. Like everybody who paid more than $50,000 for a 3000, he'd like to believe that it has value remaining. But on the reseller market, he might be fortunate to get a broker to haul it off.
Those who do are likely to take the system for its parts. What's more, the HP 3000s that are going offline are not the only resource for replacement parts. Other HP servers can supply this market, too. Finding these parts is the skill that homesteading managers must master.One of our bedrock sponsors, Pivital Solutions, makes a point of ensuring that every support customer has a depot-based spare parts source. Whatever you'd need to get back online, they've got on hand. Not something to be hunted down, ordered and then shipped in a few days. Steve Suraci of Pivital asked questions back in 2012 that still need answers, if homesteading's risk is to be fully considered. And sometimes the parts aren't even inside a 3000. They just have a MPE version that's got to be hunted down, if a support provider doesn't depot-stock parts. Hostess Brands had a Series 969 back then, one which needed an fiber router.
How many HP 3000 shops are relying on support providers that are incompetent and/or inept? The provider was willing to take this company's money, without even being able to provide reasonable assurance that they had replacement parts in a depot somewhere in the event of failure. There are still reputable support providers out there. Your provider should not be afraid to answer tough questions about their ability to deliver on an SLA.
The easy questions to answer for a client are "Can you supply me support 24x7?" or "What references will you give me from your customers?" Harder questions are "Where do you get your answers from for MPE questions?" Or even, "Do you have support experts in the 3000 who can be at my site in less than a day?"
But Suraci was posing one of the harder questions. "Here are my hardware devices: do you have spares in stock you're setting aside for my account?" Hardware doesn't break down much in the 3000 world. But a fiber router is not a 3000-specific HP part. Hewlett-Packard got out of the support business for 3000s for lots of reasons, but one constant reason was that 3000-related spare parts got scarce in the HP supply chain.
There are other support companies that guarantee parts availability. But many sources of support services to keep 3000s online wait to acquire customer parts as needed. Some of them pull components like power supplies out of the plentiful HP-UX servers from the early decade of this century. HP called those boxes K-Classes, servers that were both Series 800s as well as Series 900s.
A Series 969 server like the one turned off by Perkins and pushed to the curb serves a need for homesteaders. A reseller first has to take it out of a datacenter, clean up and test what's inside the cabinet, then do triage on what's worth keeping in the 3000 food chain. Not many places have enough storage to run the equivalent of an auto salvage yard. You know, the kind of place where a steering wheel bearing you need is deep inside a junked Dodge Dart.
Depending on the model of HP 3000, many have value in their spare parts. An owner who's getting rid of a 3000 shouldn't expect much compensation for a system they're selling off for parts. But the operators in the 3000 community who are both selling used systems as well as supporting these servers need a supply of components. How much they need depends on the limitations of available warehouse space.
Governments are beginning to insist on responsible recycling. Purchasing a computer in California now includes a recycling fee built into the sale at retail and consumer spots like Best Buy. But Goodwill Industries' Reconnect takes on many computers, regardless of their working status.
There's a lot to consider when keeping an HP 3000 running as a mission-critical component. MB Foster summed up the elements well in a Sustainability Plan document you can download from their website. Way back in 2010, Foster asked some good questions that a Sustainability Plan should answer.
Okay, so let’s look at the impact of a crash on Friday afternoon when the HP 3000 was backed up last Saturday (you do verify your backup tapes, right?) You have a full backup from last Saturday and daily backups from Monday through Thursday. The spare parts are not on site, and you have to contact your provider to get the parts and a skilled technician to the site, and then you can start restoring your hardware and application environments. How long will it take to restore all the data, applications and the whole system?
Way, way back in 2005 -- yes, more than eight years ago -- one of the bigger sources of HP hardware said the savvy customers were arranging for their own inventory of spare parts. Genisys' Robert Gordon said that customers who know the 3000 have their own spare parts options to rely upon.
"They're either going to go to third party maintenance, or they're going to self-maintain," Gordon said. "I think a lot of people are technically savvy on the 3000; they know it's not rocket science, and they're going to buy spare board kits. So we're going to see that business pick up. We'll see a lot 3000 sales in the year 2006." There are fewer 3000s to sell in the marketplace today. But that doesn't matter as much as locating the ones which are still around.
January 15, 2014
Foundation for the Emulator, 5 Years Later
This month five years ago, we reported that HP had revised its licensing to accomodate for a hardware emulator that could run MPE/iX. No such product existed, but the evidence started to surface that Hewlett-Packard wouldn't stand in the way of any software or hardware that'd step in for PA-RISC servers.
It would take another three years, but a working product was released into the customer base despite serious doubts voiced back in 2009. One customer, IT director James Byrne at Canadian shipping brokerage Harte Lyne, said HP was unlikely to allow anything like an emulator to run into the market.
It is more than seven years since the EOL announcement for the HP 3000. If an emulator was going to appear, then one reasonably expects that one would be produced by now. Also, HP has demonstrated an intractable institutional resistance to admitting that the HP 3000 was a viable platform, despite their own 2001 assessment to the contrary. This has had, and cannot but continue to have, a baleful influence on efforts at cooperation with HP by those producing and intending to use said (non-extant) emulators.
During that 2009, Stromasys got the HP cooperation required to eventually release a 1.0 version, and then a 1.3. After more engineering in 2013, a 1.5 version has just been rolled out. So has a new company ownership structure, according to its website. Changes remain the order of the day for the 3000 community, even among those who are homesteading or building DR systems with such virtualized 3000s.The privately-held Stromasys announced at its latest annual general meeting that it has a new major shareholder, as well as a new CEO. Australian George Koukis has become the chairman and majority shareholder of the company. He's the creator of the Temenos banking software solution, sold by the Temenos Group that is traded on the Swiss Stock Exchange and headquartered in Geneva. Stromasys began its operations in Switzerland, founded by Dr. Robert Boers after his career in the Digital Migration Assistance Center there.
Koukis founded Temenos in 1993, but his work in IT management goes back to the era of the HP 3000's birth. In 1973 Koukis began his career at the Australian air carrier QANTAS, and after computerizing the airline's accounting and management systems, moved on to Management Science America in Australia. He became Managing Director there. By 1986 he was introducing Ross Systems and the Digital VAX servers to Asian companies. Koukis took Temenos public in 2001 and retired in 2011. One website, Greek Rich List, whose mission is to "celebrate and document entrepreneurial stories, and to inspire young entrepreneurs and to promote Greek heritage and culture" placed Koukis on its list last year with a reported wealth of $320 million. The website noted that Temenos AG is worth $3 billion. Koukis remains on its board as Non-Executive Director.
At the same time, Koukis has brought in a new CEO, while Ling Chang has been retained to "build the new services business in North America first.
"This completes Dr. Robert Boers' retirement plan," she said, "and he serves as the Technology Adviser to the Board. For the HP 3000, we have a new employee, Doug Smith, to provide both sales and pre-sales functions. We are very excited about the strategic change, as this brings new investment and energy to the market we serve."
The new CEO is John Prot, who began his career at The Prudential in 1988 and has 25 years of experience in business development, operations, and finance. Before joining Stromasys, Prot managed the Hertz Greece car leasing business with a fleet portfolio of 15,000 vehicles, the company's release noted.
Prior positions include serving as restructuring CEO of two airport logistics companies with c. 1,000 staff, as an investment director at Global Finance, a leading private equity institutional investor in Southeast Europe, and as an equities analyst at ING Barings. He is a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) and has a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from Oxford University.
The 1.5 release of CHARON HPA/3000 was mentioned in a November press announcement. Details on its enhancements are being made available to VAR partners, but the goal for this release was to match the fastest three models of the HP 3000's N-Class servers, and to exceed them. Stromasys described the release as focusing on "improved performance of the HP 3000 guest machine," meaning the system that's emulated from the Linux "cradle" that steers this emulator.
Five years ago, Byrne had one other set of issues with the concept of a 3000 emulator. MPE/iX, he said, was far behind other environments in features such as file transfers, compatibility with leading-edge networking protocols, as well as price-performance valuations.
An MPE/iX emulator, given the OS’s dated capabilities, would be a hard sell for most company’s IT departments, even if it and the license transfer were free. Having to pay for either, and no doubt facing considerable third party fees to transfer licenses like [Powerhouse] and such, makes this path a non-starter in all but what can only be a very few extreme cases.
The relative value of MPE/iX capabilities is a matter for every user to consider, although it should be balanced against the risks of attempting to change application platforms. (For some companies, there are risks to stay as well, depending on who's doing hardware support. But an emulator running on Intel servers could resolve that risk.)
It ought to be noted, though, that Powerhouse has a new owner in nearly the same timeframe. If somehow the financially-boosted Stromasys of 2014 could work with a Powerhouse ownership that believes it has bought solid technology, it's up to the markets to decide what is a starter, and what is not. The emulator has gained a majority shareholder who founded a $3 billion software company, and it's added a CEO with degrees from Oxford.
The questions five years ago included, "Will any MPE/iX emulator be permitted by HP to run on an open source OS, and commodity hardware?" The answer in 2014 is yes to both, with the open source Linux cradle for CHARON sitting firmly on the foundation of Intel's x86 family. It's interesting to take note of the fresh limbs in this arm of the 3000's family tree, too.
January 14, 2014
PowerHouse licenses loom as used value
At the City of Long Beach, a Series 969 has been decommissioned and powered down. It's waiting for a buyer, a broker, or a recycler to take it to another location. But the most costly single piece of this HP 3000 might be rolling out the door unclaimed. It all depends on how the new owners of PowerHouse, and the other 4GL products from Cognos, treat license transfers.
Hewlett-Packard is glad to transfer its MPE/iX licenses from one customer to another. The software doesn't exist separately from the 3000 hardware, says HP. A simple $432 fee can carry MPE from one site to another, and even onto the Intel hardware where the CHARON emulator awaits. You've got to buy a 3000 to make this happen, but the 969 at Long Beach could be had at a very low price.
For the Powerhouse license, this sort of transfer is more complicated. An existing PowerHouse customer could transfer their license to another 3000 they owned. Cognos charged a fee for this. At the City of Long Beach, there's $100,000 of PowerHouse on the disk drives and the array that goes with that 3000. It's hard to believe that six figures of product will slide into a disk shredder. Some emulator prospects have seen that kind of quote just to move their PowerHouse to the emulator.
But the new owners of PowerHouse have said that everything is going to be considered in these earliest days of their asset acquisition. Right now, Unicom Systems owns the rights to licenses like the one at Long Beach. If the company could turn that $100,000 purchase in the 1980s into a living support contract -- with the chance to earn more revenue if PowerHouse ever got new engineering -- what would the risk be for Unicom?The obvious risk would be that PowerHouse might never gain another new customer. Used systems could be transferred instead of copies of the 8.49F release being sold. But let's get realistic for a moment. A new MPE/iX customer for PowerHouse, PowerHouse Web, or Axiant, on a computer no longer being sold or supported by HP, is not much of a genuine opportunity cost.
Instead, Unicom could be focusing on maintaining support revenues on such $100,000 licenses. The current Vintage Support fees are, according to a recent report, running in the $6,500 yearly range for a 9x9 server. You could make an argument that $6,500 yearly wouldn't be much to a Cognos running a much larger business objects product lineup. When all you're selling with a PowerHouse badge is the ADT software, however, the support money could well matter more to Unicom.
"That PowerHouse cost us $100,000 just to upgrade," said Roger Perkins at Long Beach. "But the license goes with the 3000's serial number, I think."
Could a used 3000, whose operating system license can be transferred for $432, be used for Powerhouse work by a new owner of the system? It's something for the executives at Unicom to consider, if they're serious about keeping PowerHouse alive and even growing.
January 13, 2014
HP to surf legacy OS onto new platform
HP's Unix customers aren't so lucky, but the companies that rely on the NonStop OS have been told they're getting an x86-ready version of their fault-tolerant environment.
“No matter what HP NonStop hardware architecture you choose, you will continue to get 100 percent NonStop value that makes what you do truly matter,” CEO Meg Whitman explained to the installed base. It's a message that might make an HP-UX customer wonder if what they're doing, strictly on Itanium hardware, will truly matter.
What matters to HP is the stickiness of the NonStop customer. They demonstrate the same kind of product and company loyalty that the 3000 customer did, at least until HP announced the end of its MPE business. Technically, there are possibilities for c7000 blades to run the environment first released when Jim Treybig left HP to form Tandem.
There are no promises here, and no roadmap for release of this transitional product. It's much further out than the reality of running MPE/iX on Intel servers -- and that Stromasys solution won't require special Intel hardware from HP. But it's more of a future than the OpenVMS and HP-UX enterprise customers are facing.NonStop is in heavy use in the banking industry, and the dollars it brings to Hewlett-Packard are rich with profits. There's never been a transition that HP has managed to sweep a legacy -- sorry, proprietary -- OS like NonStop onto the wave of commodity hardware. MPE/iX got its marching papers, HP-UX was kept on the Itanium leash, OpenVMS was leashed until last year -- when its customers learned the OS was going to freeze on the current generation of Itanium chips.
But it's possible that this vendor is finally seeing a way to model another kind of migration, one that delivers more options to a customer instead of declining levels of support and relevance. A broad-brush HP document that waves the flag toward the future is online. NonStop is about three years younger than MPE/iX, and it's been a part of HP since the Compaq acquisition of 12 years ago.
This is what choice might have looked like for three other HP-owned operating systems. It's also the first significant product announcement that could have an impact on the careening fortunes of the Business Critical Systems group. If there's going to be a migration in the future for this group of business computer customers, HP would rather see the transition from one set of hardware with an HP badge to another.
January 10, 2014
Another Window is flung open to malware
HP continues to flog its customers off of Windows XP, reminding everybody that April 15 is the end of security updates for Microsoft's equivalent of MPE/iX. That's similar as in "designed more than a decade ago, still doing useful work, and not broken in many places." We spoke with Dave Elward of Taurus Software this week -- he's got an interesting project he's been doing on the history of HP 2000, one we'll cover next week. Elward pointed out most of his development these days is in Windows. The latest is Windows Server 2012, "the complement to Windows 8."
"For the most part, I work in Windows XP," Elward said. He's beyond brilliant in his understanding of the relative operations and virtues of environments. His first major product for the market was Chameleon, software that made HP 3000s use the new RISC-based UI, even when the 3000s were running MPE V. Chameleon let customers emulate the then-new PA-RISC HP 3000 operating system on Classic MPE V.
When someone as thorough as Elward is using an OS that HP seems to be exiting, it might be proof that security doesn't rely exclusively on software updates. Plenty of damage can be done through Windows via phished emails. The latest scheme involves sending email that purports to confirm an airline flight, or track a package from an online retailer. Our resident security expert Steve Hardwick explains how it's done, and what might be done to keep a Windows system from the latest malware infection.
By Steve Hardwick
I was recently asked to help out a colleague who had inadvertently opened an email containing malware. The email was a false notification of an order that had not been placed. Inside the email, a link led the unsuspecting user to a site that downloaded the first part of the virus. Fortunately at that point, the user knew something was amiss and called me. We are able to get rid of the virus, mainly due to the fact he had already taken good security precautions. Ironically, two days later, I received a notification email myself regarding airline tickets I did not purchase. This one included a Windows executable attachment. Since I was using my Ubuntu Linux desktop, it was easy to detect and no threat. All the same, it shows that there has been a wave of attacks out there taking advantage of seasonal behavior.
This method of attack is not new. In fact UPS has a list of examples of false emails on their website. The reason that these emails are more of a threat is that they get blended in with an unusual number of real ones. When people at Christmas order more on-line shipments and plane tickets, it allows the hacker to use this tactic more effectively. The other danger is that new viruses can be used as part of the attack. In the case of my colleague, the virus had only been identified a couple of days before he got it. Most of the AntiVirus, or A/V, software packages had not developed a detection update for it yet, This type of attack is commonly called a “Zero Day” virus infection. If the A/V cannot detect a virus, what can you do to mitigate this threat?There are several things you can do to protect your system against Zero Day attacks prior to any infection. Here is a list of actions that you can use.
1. Keep all software up to date. Viruses attack weaknesses in the code. Vendors provide software updates, or patches, to close the holes that are in there. Keeping the operating systems and all applications, including your browser, up to date can help prevent viruses from exploiting the software weaknesses. In many cases, these updates are automatic if the updater is enabled.
2. Save your data. There are a lot of services available now to be able to save information in the cloud. By backing up the information you can always make sure that your data is safe when any repairs are made to remove the virus. Further, some viruses are designed to attack your data directly. Called Data Hostaging or Ransomware, these viruses encrypt all of the data and then you have to pay to get the encryption key to retrieve your data.
3. For Microsoft Windows the concept of a System Restore point was introduced. This allows the user to restore a system back to a previously captured system configuration. It is very useful if you are infected with a Zero Day virus. Not only will it remove any infected program files, it will also clean out any changes made to the registry.
Many viruses operate as a two part system. First the payload is downloaded and then the nasty part of the virus is loaded on re-boot using a registry change. A system restore will prevent the reboot portion of the virus from infecting your machine by providing a clean registry. A word of caution: if the system restore is created when the machine is infected, then the restore will also restore the infected files. You will need to replace the System Restore point with a clean version of the operating system.
The other alternative is to prevent getting the virus in the first place. Here are some tips that will help prevent downloading a virus.
1. Attachments: In many cases the company sending you a notification will not place an attachment to an email. An executable attachment will definitely not be sent out. So think twice before clicking on any email attachment. In fact many email programs will block executable attachments by default.
2. Check the link address in any email (normally you can just mouse over the email and see the URL -- but this will depend on your email application). Many people are easily fooled with malicious email addresses. Things like amazon.somesite.com look like they are a valid Amazon web site. However, the website owner is really somesite.com. Another easy trick is to use www.amaz0n.com (a zero in place of the “o”). Easy to spot if lower case, but how does this look: WWW.AMAZ0N.COM.
3. Use a website to check information instead of the email. When I got my email notification, I went to the airline website and entered the verification code in the email. The site told me it was an invalid verification code. By manually entering the site address, you are going to a site you know to be safe.
4. When you are planning to do a lot of on-line shopping, it is a good time to make sure your programs (including your email application) and your anti-virus are up to date,
The information is really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the topic of safe computing. There are some excellent sites out there that will give you some more information on how to deal with home computer security. Here are two of my favorites.
1. Originally started by Carnegie Mellon, the US Computer Emergency Response Team - US-CERT - site is a good one stop shop for information security information. The “Tips” page gives a compendium of topics on computer security. These are easy to read and cover a wide range of security topic
2. The Anti-Phishing Working Group provides a good page on steps to avoid phishing scams. There is also a lot of additional information on their site about phishing attacks and the work going on to stop them.
Hopefully the tips in this article and those I have referenced will help you avoid any nasty email surprises. By the way, my colleague had all of his data backed up and had a recent system restore point. He also detected that a file had been created which he did not recognize. So he came off unscathed from his brush with a Zero Day threat.
January 09, 2014
Eloquence: Making a Bunny Run Elsewhere
An email poll over the last week asked 3000 owners and their suppliers what was in store for their systems this month. One reader in Long Beach, Roger Perkins, has a 3000 they've shut down at the City of Long Beach and wants to find "somebody who's interested in taking that out for us. I don't know if it's worth any money, but I was hoping we wouldn't have to pay anyone to take it out." Perkins left his number for a recommendation on recycling a 3000: 562-570-6054.
Our experience with this situation is that individuals -- fellow 3000 owners -- will be interested in the machine for parts, provided they don't have to bear too much freight costs. But there's something more unique than a collection of slower CPU boards and decade-plus-old discs on hand. The city has an MPE/iX license attached to its 3000. It's a system element that's not being sold any more, and essential to getting a virtualized 3000 online.
But little will change in that sort of transition transaction, except the location of a boot drive. In contrast, at Genisys Total Solutions, Bill Miller checked in to report that a change in databases has extended the reach of the application software for financials that has been sold by Genisys since the 1970s.
Though we have migrated all of our software to a Windows platform running Eloquence, we still have an HP 3000 that has been in operation for close to 13 years and has not failed at all during that time. We still support a handful of HP 3000 clients, who also seem to think the HP 3000 is the Energizer Bunny and see no reason to move from it.
Our main business is selling and supporting our applications on the PC platform. We have found Eloquence (as is IMAGE) to be a reliable and easy to maintain database.
January 08, 2014
Unicom sees PowerHouse as iconic estate
The new owners of the PowerHouse software products are talking about their Dec. 31 purchase in a way the 4GL's users haven't heard since the golden era of the 3000. While Unicom Systems is still fleshing out its plans and strategy, the company is enhancing the legacy technology using monetary momentum that was first launched from legendary real estate -- an iconic Hollywood film star home and a Frank Lloyd Wright mansion.
Real estate in the wine district of Temeulca, the Wright-inspired Wingsweep -- "a remarkable handcrafted residence that is Piranesian in scale" -- along with the iconic PickFair Mansion first built by Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks comprise several early vertebrae in the backbone of a 32-company global conglomerate. VP of Sales and Marketing Russ Guzzo, who told us he was Employee 4 in an organization that now numbers thousands, said Unicom's real estate group was once a seedbed for acquisition capital.
In the days when Unicom was smaller, "we used to [mortgage] those properties, then buy another company and go from there. We used these real estate assets to fund some of our acquisitions in the early days." Operating with cash to acquire assets such as Powerhouse is a mantra for Unicom's Korean-American founder Corry Hong, said Guzzo. "Our CEO likes to pay cash, so he's in control that way."
Guzzo said he's been put in charge of organizing the plan for the latest acquired assets. The former Cognos 4GL is the first Advanced Development Tools (ADT) acquisition for a company that has more than 300 products, counts a longstanding partner relationship with IBM, and now owns assets for Powerhouse, Axiant, and Powerhouse Web.
The piece that remains to be established is how much of the IBM-Cognos staff and executives will be coming along as part of the acquisition. Longtime product manager Bob Deskin retired during 2013, but Christina Haase and Charlie Maloney were on hand when the cash purchase was finalized.
The company is spending the next 90 days talking to PowerHouse customers and partners to determine what the next step is for a software product which is, in some ways, as much of a legacy to the 3000 as PickFair is to Hollywood mansions. "We buy very solid technology, and then make it better," Guzzo said one week after the asset purchase was announced. It will be several months before an extensive FAQ on the new ownership is ready, he added. "Eventually, each and every customer will be visited," he said.
But he pointed out that Unicom "has never sunsetted a product. That's not our mindset. We find successful technology and say, 'We can make this better. This will be a nice fit for our customers.' There's going to be a lot of new enhancements. We got feedback from people that they've never really gotten a lot of new [PowerHouse] enhancements or releases. That's all going to change."Real estate mortgaging is no longer needed to fund the M&A at Unicom. PickFair is now the site of corporate social functions, while Wingsweep serves as a corporate training site and retreat. But few technology companies of Unicom's size can boast of a real estate operation with such legendary and evocative properties. Another 70-acre pedestrian gated master planned community, Roripaugh Ranch
is a 70 acre tract of land in Roripaugh Ranch, and Unicom is working with local authorities in the planning of a UNICOM IT Village. The IT Village will host a range of services, products and distribution facilities creating critical jobs in the US IT industry in one of the most attractive locations in the country.
Building out the future of PowerHouse may be a project that requires as much energy as jump-starting an idled front-end loader. Customers in the 3000 community and those in the VMS world have been vocal about seeing little that's new in the software. Cognos froze development on the 8.49F version of PowerHouse and PowerHouse Web, as well as Axiant 3.4F, before selling itself to IBM in 2009.
That purchase was focused on IBM taking hold of the Business Intelligence and Business Objects products and customers that Cognos developed. BI represented most of the company's revenues; the ADT unit was the equivalent of pocket change in the scope of the total Cognos picture, although the operation was profitable. Some measure of that success came from rigorous pursuit of upgrade licensing and renewal charges for PowerHouse. Moving applications built from the 4GL sometimes stood in the way of upgrading an MPE installation. The 4GL is still working at major manufacturers in both MPE and OpenVMS versions, more than three decades after its introduction.
"That's 30-year-old technology, but it's solid," Guzzo said. "It's been looked at [by us], and there's a lot of opportunity there. It's just that there was really nothing being put into it, not that we saw. Now the development team is doing their best to figure out what they want to do with that. With that comes a lot of interviews with the current customers."
Unicom intends to learn what customers are doing with PowerHouse, how they're implementing it, and what plans they've got to go forward with the 4GL. The last wholesale upgrade to the solution came when Axiant, a Windows development bench meant to interoperate like Visual Basic with the product, was introduced in the 1990s. That led to an 8.1 release of the 4GL. The ultimate version was 8.49, frozen some 10 years later.
The company's attempts to serve both the evolution needs of existing PowerHouse applications as well as Visual Basic-style PC development through Axiant didn't work. "It was in response to what people were asking for," said Robert Collins, director of Cognos 4GL product development in 1997. "In retrospect, that was not the right way to go about it. It's very hard to bring out a new product and accommodate 15 years of history at the same time."
But Cognos always believed that its PowerHouse apps would outlast the hardware where they've been hosted since the early 1980s. A director of customer operations in 2003, Bob Berry, said customers "may be choosing to maintain their environment as it exists today, and migrate in three to five years. Or they will keep those legacy apps on the 3000 box in the corner of the room and it will run forever, and they’ll take on some kind of high-falutin’ application company-wide. These legacy apps will always be there.”
Like other 3000 software providers, PowerHouse generated a good share of its MPE revenues from support contracts. These are among the assets that Unicom has purchased. One example is a $6,500 yearly fee for a a small A-Class server. Berry said in 2003 those support renewal dollars “have declined very gradually, and they have declined because of the change of the cost of the license. There was a rapid decline after Y2K, but it’s going down at a slower pace now."
Leaving the product in Vintage Support status "is all being re-evaluated," Guzzo said. "We're tickled pink with this, because the product fits in very well with Unicom's core technology. Our relationship with IBM is also 30 years old, a value added reseller as well as a development partner." Unicom started operations in the early 1980s by selling an artificial intelligence program for the CICS transaction server on IBM's mainframes. "That was a product that was ahead of its time," Guzzo said about the software developed by the CEO. Guzzo said that Hong still develops from time to time, when he's not directing an M&A of a publically-traded company that Unicom is taking private to place into its Global brand.
The Unicom Systems, Inc. division of the company was founded in 1981, the original part of an extensive Unicom enterprise which now even includes light manufacturing. Guzzo said that hardware systems integration has been part of the Unicom business practices. A set of white papers and road maps for PowerHouse "will be released as they are created," he added.
Some skilled developers at Unicom might even go back further than PowerHouse, Guzzo said. "We're big on holding onto our senior talent. While we have people here with 20 years experience, we also have some with 30 and 40 years."
January 07, 2014
Consumer drives: as robust as enterprise?
One of the components most likely to fail -- and the one which often fails first -- in an HP 3000 is its disk drive. Consider the average age of disks attached to HP 3000s. Hewlett-Packard built the last HP 3000 and inserted onboard drives in that server one decade ago. Replacement and upgrade drives from HP, built after 2003, were for sale from HP for the 3000 through 2006. And there have always been drives purposed for one HP computer, but used for another. Those would be even newer devices.
All of the above devices are considered enterprise-grade. As the 3000 moves into its second decade of post-manufacture, owners will be looking for disk replacement strategies for the HP-branded servers. A virtualized unit, like the ones from Stromasys, have no such problems -- so long as their drives are of a high caliber.
But what is the caliber of a drive that is suitable for business enterprise use? A vendor of cloud-based computing argues that the failure rate of enterprise disks is actually a little worse than that measured for consumer-class drives. Through three years, one sort of drive might be replaced for another with little concern. It's possible, however, that years 4-10 are where the enterprise advantages emerge.
Jeff Kell, who's managed HP 3000s since the 1970s, as well as Linux and Unix servers more recently, said the promises of enterprise hardware for 3000s have never been guaranteed. That's especially true in an era where HP now won't warranty hardware of any sort attached to an HP 3000. But Kell added that pure math proves that drive failures will head upward as the size of the devices soar.
"I don't know overall if disks have gotten "better" or "worse" by themselves," he said. "But the sheer order of magnitude has certainly changed -- and simple math would show you the probability of error increases as the data density increases. Old disk drives only had to keep up with a few megabytes of data. Current ones may be a terabyte or more."An article written by Backblaze, an online backup provider, asserts that a study proves enterprise drives have about the same failure rate as consumer-grade disks. For three years, anyway. Brian Beach of the company looked at the 25,000 drives (consumer grade) used by the service.
It turns out that the consumer drive failure rate does go up after three years, but all three of the first three years are pretty good. We have no data concerning enterprise drives older than two years, so we don’t know if they will also have an increase in failure rate. It could be that the vaunted reliability of enterprise drives kicks in after two years, but because we haven’t seen any of that reliability in the first two years, I’m skeptical.
Data loss is unacceptable for many customers, but for those who maintain their own drive farms, the blame can cost someone their job while it costs the company real money. An online solution costs money for the loser of data. The rest of the fallout is hypothetical.
Kell said that in a world where the HP 3000s often mirrored their data through RAID or Mirror/3000, 3000s still had failures of enterprise-caliber drives.
Our original 3000s had drive failures, sure. Then we had the days of Mirror/iX and having redundant drives. Then you get into the disk arrays; we've had both Nike and the VA arrays. Our "retired" N4000 had a 32-drive VA array, dual fiber channels, the whole nine yards. I think we replaced 4 drives over its lifetime of about 8-10 years. The current philosophies revolve around "expecting" failure, and keep on trucking, at various levels.
January 06, 2014
IBM divests Powerhouse development tools
IBM has sold off the Application Development Tool operations from its Cognos acquisition, moving the Powerhouse, Axiant and Powerhouse Web customers and products to Unicom Systems, Inc. Financial details of the transaction were not reported as part of the news, which was broken to customers in the last few days of 2013.
The new owner of Cognos software, support operations and contracts, as well as customer accounts, is a division of Unicom Global, a 32-year-old company that's led by CEO Corry Hong. According to an IBM VP of mergers and acquisitions, Hong's business enterprise holds and manages more than 30 corporate entities in operations throughout the US, Germany France, UK, Ireland, Belgium, Italy, Spain and Switzerland. Unicom says on its websites that it acquires publicly-traded companies as a regular part of its expansion.
The parent company, which is a privately held concern, has strong ties to IBM's mainframe and midrange customer base. The latter is represented in Unicom's SoftLanding division, makers of program change management, automation and performance management on the i Series.
Hong said the scope of the PowerHouse tools' installed base impressed Unicom. "Application development tools play a key role in enterprise technology," he said in a release, "and PowerHouse is the most widely installed 4GL in the industry, with customers continuing to achieve substantial economies in reducing application development efforts.
“This is a strategic acquisition for [this division of] UNICOM Global. We appreciate IBM’s trust in selling us the Cognos Application Development Tools suite, and IBM’s confidence in our ability to effectuate such a complex global transaction. We will collaborate with IBM to ensure smooth transition for customers."
A letter to PowerHouse customers made a clear statement that as of Dec. 31, 2013, Unicom has full responsibility for customer support contracts as well as development plans, sales and license renewals.
That last element has been a classic point of negotiation and some contention for the PowerHouse customer. For example, one site discovered last fall that a license transfer from an A-Class to the CHARON emulator was going to cost the HP 3000 shop more than $100,000. IBM told its PowerHouse customers on the day of the sale that for any renewal quotes for Powerhouse software, "please take no action. A new quote will be issued to you by Unicom. Further instructions on how to process your renewal with [Unicom] will be provided to you shortly."Unicom is also the owner of the US Robotics product line, customers and technology, as well as a maker of products for the IBM Z Series and the i Series. The latter is the latest generation of IBM's AS/400 line, thought of as a complement to the highly-integrated structure of the HP 3000. Cognos had terminated development for the Series i version of its PowerHouse toolset and sent the product into Vintage Support in 2005. Five years later the MPE version of the product moved into the same category.
A few members of the Powerhouse community speculated on what the latest change of ownership might mean for the customer base. Consultant Ken Langendock said on the PowerHouse mailing list, "I would hope it means it will continue to improve. IBM has not wanted to do anything with the product since the takeover [from Cognos]. I have been trying to find out if they added a patch for Oracle 12c and nobody will answer me. If I had a wish, it would be that Powerhouse will work with MySQL."
PowerHouse was the most widely installed 4GL in the HP 3000 community as well, ranging from simple Quiz reporting included in MRP software like MANMAN all the way to complete suites. IBM bought Cognos in 2008. While some IBM operations have a stellar track record for customer service, Dave Vinnedge of Accuride reported in in 2012 that his Cognos experience didn't match that.
“I have not yet seen a lot of diligent customer service practices, at least on the Cognos side of IBM,” he said. “For example, my boss started receiving the 2010 PowerHouse support renewal notice every 15 minutes. It took over a day for my boss to be sure that IBM knew that there was a problem -- and two more days for IBM to fix it.”
IBM's VP of Mergers & Acquisitions Robert White said in a letter to customers the deal is "a move we believe will benefit our Cognos ADT customers by including it as part of the broader portfolio of UNICOM application offerings." White's letter described Unicom as "providing enterprise software, computing hardware, telecom platform, IT services, IT real estate, M&A and financing services for Fortune 500 and Global 2000 companies, and federal, state and local government organizations."
The holding company also has an IT real estate arm. Unicom reports that its greatest asset for the entity is "expertise in storage, security, enterprise and carrier communications" and says it has the "largest portfolio of purpose-built turnkey platforms." Another group, Unicom Engineering, is a light-manufacturer of appliances, with primary facilities in Canton, Massachusetts; Plano, Texas, and Galway, Ireland.
The company also offers 30 standard products and a large selection of turnkey platforms and appliances. Offerings include solution design and system integration services, ways to deploy what the company calls "the best-fit, form and functional platform for their application," in a scope from robust enterprise security appliance to a highly integrated carrier-grade rack mount system.
The Unicom press release announcing the acquisition gave special mention to HP's Allbase database as among those supported by Powerhouse, but failed to describe the IMAGE/SQL databases that PowerHouse taps on HP 3000 servers. But it says that its Global Services unit "is a component of the company's strategy of providing IT infrastructure and business insight and solutions to clients."
January 03, 2014
Replacing 3000 meant dozens more servers
Tony Shepherd (left) and Jeff Kell switch off an A-Class and N-Class server at the December decommission of the UTC's HP 3000s. MPE drove the operations of the university for more than 30 years.
At the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, the HP 3000 was decommissioned last month. The university's operations had been managed under MPE and MPE/iX since 1976. After 37 years of service -- the last five as an archival system -- the servers went dark as the team of original 3000 experts executed a shutdown and a power-off.
By the time that legendary legacy system went offline for good, more than 43 servers had been powered up and maintained to replace its operations. Jeff Kell, who not only chaired the MPE Special Interest Group but also started the 3000 newsgroup on the Web, explained the replacement strategy that requires dozens of servers. Kell has gone into networking management for the university.
Every one of them are at the very least a virtual guest VM (and those are in the majority). Most of the database systems (Oracle) are standalone physical servers. There are a few dedicated blades left as well.
And yes, it makes me ill just looking at it, in contrast to the single 3000 we had running everything. Of course our new application Banner includes fancy report writers (Argos) and front-end web portals and Oracle management/monitoring -- but still, times change.
Networking inherited one of those blade chassis last year, and we run our own ESXi cluster on it. Our DHCP / DNS / etc infrastructure servers are all redundant. Typically we have a physical server in the main datacenter and a VM in our secondary datacenter for each, so you have "physical redundancy" for all of the core services that make things work.That includes physically redundant routers, network connections, and fiber as well.
There was a "whole lot" of my life poured into that beast. Not that specific model, but in the systems that it ran (we have had numerous chassis). It is something you don't see very often these days: "in-house code."
Kell pointed out, in an extensive report about the changes, that most computer owners only have web pages, by now, to represent in-house coding. At UTC there was so much more, including some programming that remained useful and vital for more than three decades. We'll have more on that next week.