March 27, 2014
Beyond 3000's summit, will it keep running?
If you consider the last 40 years and counting to be a steady rise in reputation elevation for the HP 3000 and MPE -- what computer's been serving business longer, after all? -- then 2027 might be the 3000's summit. A couple of 3000 experts have climbed a summit together, as the photo of Guy Paul and Craig Lalley above proves. What a 3000 might do up there in 20 years prompted some talk about 2027 and what it means.
The two 3000 veterans were climbing Washington state's second highest mountain, Mt. Adams, whose summit is at 12,280 feet. On their way up, Paul and his 14 year old grandson had just made the summit and ran into Lalley, and his 14 year old son, on their way to the top.
The trek was announced on the 3000 newsgroup last year. At the time, some of the group's members joked that a 3000 could climb to that elevation if somebody could haul one up there. "Guy is a hiking stud," said his fellow hiker Lalley. "Rumor has it that Guy had a small Series 989 in his back pack. I wasn't impressed until I heard about the UPS."
After some discussion about solar-powered computing, someone else said that if it was started up there on Mt. Adams with solar power, the 3000 would still be running 20 years later.
Then a 3000 veteran asked, "But won't it stop running in 2027?" That's an important year for the MPE/iX operating system, but not really a date of demise. Such a 3000 -- any MPE/iX system -- can be running in 20 years, but it will use the wrong dates. Unless someone rethinks date handling before then.
Jeff Kell, whose HP 3000s stopped running at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in December, because of a shutdown post-migration, added some wisdom to this future of date-handling.
"Well, by 2027, we may be used to employing 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?"Kell added that "Our major Y2K issue was dealing with a "semester" which was YY01 for fall, YY02 for spring, and so forth. We converted that over to go from 9901 (Fall 1999) to A001 (Fall 2000), so we were good for another 259 years on that part. Real calendar dates used 4-digit years (32-bit integers, yyyymmdd)."
At that summit, Paul said that two climbers "talked for a few minutes we made tentative plans to climb Oregon's tallest mountain, Mt. Hood, pictured in the background. We have since set a date of May 16th."
We've written before on the effects of 2027's final month on the suitability of the 3000 for business practice. Kell's ideas have merit. I believe there's still enough wizardry in the community to take the operating system even further upward. The HP iron, perhaps not so much. By the year 2028, even the newest servers will still be 25 years old. Try to imagine a 3000 that was built in 1989, running today.
Better yet, please report to us if you have such a machine, hooked up in your shop.
Why do people climb mountains? The legend is that the climber George Mallory replied, "because it is there." 2028 is still there, waiting for MPE to arrive. Probably on the back of some Intel-based server, bearing Linux -- unless neither of those survives another 14 years. For Intel, this year marks 15 years of service for the Xeon processor, currently on the Haswell generation. Another 25 years, and Xeon will have done as much service as MPE has today.
There is no betting line on the odds of survival for Xeon into the year 2039. By that date, even Unix will have a had its own date-handling issue. The feeling in the Linux community is that a date solution will arrive in time.
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