« May 2014 | Main | July 2014 »

June 30, 2014

Update: Open source, in 3000 ERP style

OpenBravo roadmapAn extensive product roadmap is part of the OpenBravo directions for this open source ERP commercial solution

Five years ago today, we chronicled the prospects of open source software for HP 3000s. We mentioned the most extensive open source repository for MPE systems, curated by Brian Edminster and his company Applied Technologies. MPE-OpenSource.org has weathered these five years of change in the MPE market and still serves open source needs. But in 2009 we also were hopeful about the arrival of OpenBravo as a migration solution for 3000 users who were looking for an ERP replacement of MANMAN, for example -- without investing in the balky request-and-wait enhancement tangle of proprietary software.

Open source software is a good fit for the HP 3000 community member, according to several sources. Complete app suites have emerged and rewritten the rules for software ownership. An expert consulting and support firm for ERP solutions is proving that a full-featured ERP app suite, Openbravo, will work for 3000 customers by 2010.

[Editor's note: "We meant work for 3000 customers" in the sense of being a suitable ERP replacement for MPE-based software]. 

A software collective launched in the 1990s by the University of Navarra which has evolved to Openbravo, S.L., Openbravo is utilized by manufacturing firms around the world. Openbravo is big stuff. So large that it is one of the ten largest projects on the SourceForge.net open source repository, until Openbravo outgrew SourceForge. The software, its partners and users have their own Forge running today. In 2009, Sue Kiezel of Entsgo -- part of the Support Group's ERP consulting and tech support operations -- said, “We believe that within six to nine months, the solution will be as robust as MANMAN was at its best.”

From the looks of its deep Wiki, and a quick look into the labs where development is still emerging for advanced aspects such as analytics, Entsgo's premonition has come to fruition. Managing manufacturing is easily within the pay-grade of open source solutions like OpenBravo.

What we reported on five years ago is no less true today. Open source is an essential part of enterprise IT by now, though. Entsgo's predictions were spot-on.

Open source solutions can span a wide range of organization, from code forges with revisions and little else to the one-stop feel of a vendor, minus the high costs and long waits. Openbravo is in the latter category, operating with hundreds of employees after having received more than $18 million in funding. If that doesn't sound much like the Apache and Samba open source experience, then welcome to Open Source 2.0, where subscription fees have replaced software purchases and partner firms join alongside users to develop the software.

Openbravo says the model is "commercial open source business model that eliminates software license fees, providing support, services, and product enhancements via an annual subscription." Entsgo says you have a company that supports it, and you can subscribe to it and verifies it, upgrades it and maintains it — all of that under one company name.

“In the 3000 community, we’re used to the independence of the open source model,” said Kiezel. “We’re used to tools that are intuitive, and if you look at us, we should be able to embrace open source more than any other community.”

Open source practices turn the enhancement experience upside down for an application. In the traditional model, a single vendor writes software at a significant investment for high profits, then accepts requests for enhancements and repairs. A complex app such as ERP might not even get 10 percent of these requests fulfilled by the average vendor.

The open source community around Openbravo operates like many open source enterprises. Companies create their own enhancements, license them back to the community, and can access bug fixes quickly—all because the ownership is shared and the source code for the app is open.

07:33 PM in Migration, Newsmakers, Web Resources | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 27, 2014

Mansion meet takes first comeback steps

A few hours ago, the first PowerHouse user group meeting and formation of a Customer Advisory Board wrapped up in California. Russ Guzzo, the guiding light for PowerHouse's comeback, told us a few weeks ago that today's meeting was just the first of several that new owner UNICOM Global was going to host. "We'll be taking this on the road," he said, just as the vendor was starting to call users to its meeting space at the PickFair mansion in Hollywood.

We've heard that the meeting was webcast, too. It's a good idea to extend the reach of the message as Unicom extends the future of the PowerHouse development toolset.

CoeThis is a product that started its life in the late 1970s. But so did Unix, so just because a technology was born more than 35 years ago doesn't limit its lifespan. One user, IT Director Robert Coe at HPB Management Ltd. in Cambridge, wants to see PowerHouse take a spot at the table alongside serious business languages. Coe understands that going forward might mean leaving some compatibility behind. That's a step Hewlett-Packard couldn't ever take with MPE and the HP 3000. Some say that decision hampered the agility of the 3000's technical and business future at HP. Unix, and later Linux, could become anything, unfettered by compatibility.

Coe, commenting on the LinkedIn Cognos Powerhouse group, said his company has been looking at a migration away from Powerhouse -- until now.

I would like to see Powerhouse developed into a modern mainstream language, suitable for development of any business system or website. If this is at the expense of backwards compatibility, so be it. We are developing new systems all the time, and at the moment are faced with having to use Java, c# or similar. I would much rather be developing new systems in a Powerhouse based new language, with all the benefits that provides, even if it is not directly compatible with our existing systems. 

The world would be a better place if Powerhouse was the main platform used for development! I hope Unicom can provide the backing, wisdom and conviction to enable this to happen.

There were many business decisions made about the lifecycle and sales practices for PowerHouse over the last 25 years that hampered the future of the tool. Coe found technical faults with the alternatives to PowerHouse -- "over-complicated, hard to learn, slow to develop, difficult to maintain, prone to bugs, with far too much unnecessary and fiddly syntax."

But he was also spot-on in tagging the management shortcomings of the toolset's previous owners:

  • Cognos concentrated on BI tools, as there appeared to be more money in them 
  • IBM bought Cognos for its BI tools for the same reason 
  • Powerhouse development more or less stopped many years ago 
  • Licences were very expensive compared to other languages. which were often open source and free 
  • Powerhouse was not open source and therefore didn’t get the support of the developer community 
  • Backwards compatibility was guaranteed, stifling major development
Powerhouse is a far superior platform for development of business systems. I cringe at the thought of having to use the likes of Java to replace or current systems or to develop our future systems!

Bob Deskin, hired by UNICOM to advise the new owners on a growth strategy for the toolset, reminded Coe that things like Java, Ruby, Python and Perl were not purpose-built for business.

Don't be too hard on those other languages. Some of them aren't what I would call complete programming languages. Some are scripting languages. And some are trying to be all things to all people. PowerHouse was always focused on business application development. Hang in for a while longer and watch what UNICOM can do.

07:51 PM in Homesteading, Migration, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 26, 2014

3000 sages threwback stories on Thursday

DirtydicksTwo weeks ago in the modest London pub Dirty Dick's, a few dozen veterans and sages of the 3000 system had their personal version of a Throwback Thursday. This is the day of the week when Facebook and Twitter users put out a piece of their personal history, usually in the form of a picture from days long past.

BruceTobackIf pressed for a piece of June Throwback Thursday material, I might reach for our very first blog post. Nine years ago this month we kicked off our coverage of new, every-workday reporting. My first story was a tribute to a just-fallen comrade in the 3000 community. Bruce Toback died in that month the Newswire's blog was born. As I said in that first blog article -- "A Bright Light Winks Out" was already a throwback, before the term gained its current coin -- Toback was extraordinary, the kind of person that makes the 3000 community unique. He lived with a firm grip on life's handrail of humor. He died unexpectedly of a heart attack at age 48. As part of a gentle and generous Toback memorial, David Greer hosts pictures of Bruce like the one above. Many of these were taken as Toback became important to the Robelle Qedit for Windows project.

Bobgreen-beachThe passing of a special life is a good reason to celebrate what remains for all of us. That's probably what motivated those London veterans to gather at Dirty Dick's Pub this month to toss off stories and toss back drinks. Bob Green of Robelle (pictured here in a throwback picture in the spring of 2001, when he was working from his Anguilla island headquarters) shared some pub photos and a brief report about this month's Throwback Thursday for your community.

BrianDuncombe“It was great to catch up with 3000 colleagues from around the world: Steve Cooper, Dave Wiseman, Brian Duncombe, Kim Leeper, Brad Tashenberg, the Nutsfords and many more (about 20 in all). We exchanged notes on the current state of the machine -- especially the new emulator -- and discovered what each of us was doing. [Editor's Note: Duncombe (above) had made this trip in a record 48-hour-complete turnaround, from Canada to the UK and back. The intensity still burns bright for some of your community members.]

Steve Cooper Kim LeeperGreen noted, while posting photos of Cooper and Leeper in conversation, or the sweet couples' photo (below) of Jeanette and Ken Nutsford, "An amazing number of people are still doing the same thing: helping customers with their IT concerns. But in reality, most of the time was spent swapping war stories from the past, which was great fun.

Nutfords"Here are some photos from the party. Everyone is older, but perhaps you will remember some of them." This photo of the Nutsfords, ever the COBOL and HP Rapid standards-bearers, is something of a coup. The couple retired from the world of the 3000 to set off an epic career of cruise line travels, so catching them for a picture requires some foresight. They are circling the globe in a lifestyle that shows there's another, more rewarding kind of migration awaiting the luckiest of us.

06:25 PM in History, Homesteading, Newsmakers, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 25, 2014

What level of technology defines a legacy?

Even alternatives to the HP 3000 can be rooted in legacy strategy. This week Oracle bought Micros, a purchase that's the second-largest in Oracle history. Only buying Sun has cost Oracle more, to this point in the company's legacy. The twist in the story is that Micros sells a legacy solution: software and hardware for the restaurant, hospitality and retail sectors. HP 3000s still serve a few of those outlets, such as duty-free shops in airports.

Stand By Your Unix SystemMicros "has been focused on helping the world’s leading brands in our target markets since we were founded in 1977," said its CEO. The Oracle president who's taking on this old-school business is Mark Hurd, an executive who calls to mind other aspects of legacy. Oracle's got a legacy to bear since it's a business solution that's been running companies for more than two decades. Now the analysts are saying Oracle will need to acquire more of these customers. Demand for installing Oracle is slowing, they say.

In the meantime, some of the HP marketplace is reaching for ways to link with Oracle's legacy. There's a lot of data in those legacy databases. PowerHouse users, invigorated by the prospects of new ownership, are reaching to find connection advice for Oracle. That's one legacy technology embracing another.

Legacy is an epithet that's thrown at anything older. It's not about one technology being better than another. Legacy's genuine definition involves utility and expectations.

It's easy to overlook that like Oracle, Unix comes in for this legacy treatment by now. Judging only by the calendar, it's not surprising to see the legacy tag on an environment that was just finding its way in the summer of 1985, while HP was still busy cooking up a RISC revolution that changed the 3000's future. Like the 3000's '70s ideal of interactive computing -- instead of batch operations -- running a business system with Unix in the 1980s was considered a long shot.

An article from a 1985 Computerworld, published the week that HP 3000 volunteer users were manning the Washington DC Interex meet, considered commercial Unix use something to defend. Like some HP 3000 companies of our modern day, these Unix pioneers were struggling to find experienced staff. Unix was unproven, and so bereft of expertise. At least MPE has proven its worth by now.

In the pages of that 1985 issue, Charles Babcock reported on Unix-for-business testimony.

NEW YORK -- Two large users of AT&T Unix operating systems in commercial settings told attendees at the Unix Expo conference that they think they have made the right choice. Both said, however, that they have had difficulty building a professional staff experienced in Unix.

The HP 3000 still ran on MPE V in that month. Apple's Steve Jobs had just resigned from the company he founded. Legacy was leagues away from a label for Unix, or even Apple in that year. It was so far back that Oracle wondered why they'd ever need to build a version of its database for HP 3000s. IMAGE was too dominant, especially for a database bundled with a business server. The 3000, even in just its second decade of use, was already becoming a legacy.

That's legacy as in a definition from Brian Edminster of Applied Technologies. The curator of open source solutions, and caretaker of a 3000 system for World Duty Free Group, shared this.

A Legacy System is one that's been implemented for a while and is still in use for a very important reason: Even if it's not pretty -- It works.

A Legacy System is easy to identify in nearly any organization:  It's the one that is constructed with tools that aren't 'bleeding edge.'

09:22 PM in History, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 24, 2014

Robelle shows off uniformizing phone data

The latest newsletter from Robelle Solutions Technology shows off how to normalize phone numbers in databases. (To be precise, this is a process that's different from classic database normalization: It's more like "uniformization," to cobble together a term, since normalization has already been taken, years ago while creating database maintenance procedures.)

The object of this uniformization is to remove the non-number characters from a phone number byte container. Normalization is a significant element in data cleansing. As IT pros on the move in a migration, or just diligent about their use of company resources will report, cleansing doesn't happen only when you're moving data between platforms or app to app.

Suprtool expert Neil Armstrong of Robelle said that "Considering the following data, you see that the phone numbers have all sorts of different formats."

>in myphone
>list
>xeq
>IN myphone (0) >OUT $NULL (0)
PHONENUM        = #123.456.7890
 
>IN myphone (1) >OUT $NULL (1)
PHONENUM        = (123)567-1234
 
>IN myphone (2) >OUT $NULL (2)
PHONENUM        = (321).123.5678
 
IN=3, OUT=3. CPU-Sec=1. Wall-Sec=1.

Robelle -- whose Bob Green also posted news of this month's HP3000 Reunion meeting at Dirty Dick's pub in London -- asked Armstrong to show how all of these phone formats could be fit into a consistent container.

"The steps in normalizing the data are to remove the non-numeric numbers," Armstrong said in his article.

>in myphone
>set cleanchar ""
>clean "^0:^47","^58:^255"
>def newphone,1,14
>ext phonenum=$clean(phonenum)
>out newphone,link
>xeq
IN=3, OUT=3. CPU-Sec=1. Wall-Sec=1.

>in newphone
>list
>xeq
>IN newphone (0) >OUT $NULL (0)
PHONENUM        = 1234567890

>IN newphone (1) >OUT $NULL (1)
PHONENUM        = 1235671234

>IN newphone (2) >OUT $NULL (2)
PHONENUM        = 3211235678

IN=3, OUT=3. CPU-Sec=1. Wall-Sec=1.
You can then use an edit mask to format it in the same way. You do need to redefine the field being edited with a define of the number with just the length of the phone number:
>in newphone
>form
    File: newphone (SD Version B.00.00) Has linefeeds
       Entry:                     Offset
          PHONENUM             X14     1
    Entry Length: 14  Blocking: 1
>def my,phonenum,10
>def targ,1,12
>ext targ=$edit(my,"xxx.xxx.xxxx")
>list
>xeq
>IN newphone (0) >OUT $NULL (0)
TARG            = 123.456.7890

>IN newphone (1) >OUT $NULL (1)
TARG            = 123.567.1234

>IN newphone (2) >OUT $NULL (2)
TARG            = 321.123.5678

IN=3, OUT=3. CPU-Sec=1. Wall-Sec=1.
 

02:35 PM in Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 23, 2014

New search for 3000 expertise surfaces

MEAS-HamptonPictureEditor's Update: This position is still open as of this writing, on June 27. Contact details are near the end of the article.

New openings for HP 3000 production and development jobs are uncommon prizes by now. Contract firms have been known to solicit MPE help while making a migration happen. Application support suppliers need IT professionals who know the details of mission-critical software, too. 

But every once in awhile, a company that's still dedicated to using MPE software sends the word out that it's hiring for HP 3000 and MPE specifics. Such is the case from Measurement Specialties. The location is at the company's Hampton Roads, Virginia headquarters. The job listing from Terry Simpkins, Director of Business Systems for the manufacturer which uses MANMAN, Fortran and VEsoft's MPEX and Security/3000 -- among other platform-specific tools such as TurboIMAGE -- describes both classic and specialized enterprise IT skills.

"The leading manufacturer of sensors and sensing systems" is seeking a Business Analyst.

Areas of responsibility include:

  • Daily user training and support
  • Participate in projects in all functional areas of the business
  • Serve as backup support for HP3000 operations and nightly processing

Key skills and capabilities include:

  • Strong MANMAN experience and expertise
  • Ability to read Fortran and perform some level of programming
  • Strong understanding of MPEX scripting and Security/3000 menus
  • Ability to handle multiple concurrent projects and tasks
Measurement Specialties has been installing HP 3000 systems in manufacturing plants around the world. A raft of facilities went online in China in the previous decade, all part of the MANMAN network for the company. Measurement Specialites is a public firm traded on the NASDAQ (MEAS).

The organization says that "If you are interested in a challenging and exciting opportunity with a dynamic and growing company," please contact

Terry W. Simpkins
Director of Business Systems
Measurement Specialties, Inc. 
1000 Lucas Way, Hampton, VA   23666
Office:  +1 757-766-4278
Mobile:  +1 757 532-5685
terry.simpkins@meas-spec.com

09:11 PM in Homesteading, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 20, 2014

Time to Sustain, If It's Not Time to Change

LarsHomesteadIn the years after HP announced its 3000 exit, I helped to define the concept of homesteading. Not exactly new, and clearly something expected in an advancing society. Uncle Lars' homestead, at left, showed us how it might look with friendly droids to help on Tattooine. The alternative 3000 future that HP trumpeted in 2002 was migration. But it's clear by now that the movement versus steadfast strategy was a fuzzy picture for MPE users' future.

What remains at stake is transformation. Even to this week, any company that's relying on MPE, as well as those making a transition, are judging how they'll look in a year, or three, or five. We've just heard that software rental is making a comeback at one spot in the 3000 world. By renting a solution to remain on a 3000, instead of buying one, a manager is planning to first sustain its practices -- and then to change.

Up on the LinkedIn 3000 Community page I asked if the managers and owners were ready to purchase application-level support for 3000 operations. "It looks like several vendors want to sell this, to help with the brain-drain as veteran MPE managers retire." I asked that question a couple of years ago, but a few replies have bubbled up. Support has changed with ownership of some apps, such as Ecometry, and with some key tools such as NetBase.

"Those vendors will now get you forwarded to a call center in Bangalore," said Tracy Johnson, a veteran MPE manager at Measurement Specialties. "And by the way, Quest used to be quick on support. Since they got bought by Dell, you have to fill in data on a webpage to be triaged before they'll even accept an email."

Those were not the kind of vendors I was suggesting. Companies will oversee and maintain MPE apps created in-house, once the IT staff changes enough to lose 3000 expertise. But that led to another reply about why anyone might pursue the course to Sustain, when the strategy to Change seems overwhelming.

Managed Business Systems, one of the original HP Platinum Migration partners, was ready to do this sustaining as far back as a decade ago. Companies like the Support Group, Pivital Solutions -- they're still the first-line help desks and maintainers for 3000 sites whose bench has grown thin. Fresche Legacy made a point of offering this level of service, starting from the last days when it was called Speedware. There are others willing to take over MPE app operations and care, and some of these vendors have feet planted firmly in the Change camp, as well as staking out the Sustain territory.

Todd Purdum of Sherlock Systems wondered on LinkedIn if there really was a community that would take on applications running under MPE. We ran an article last year about the idea of a backstop if your expertise got ill or left the company. Five years earlier, we could point to even smaller companies, and firms like 3K Ranger and Pro 3K are available to do that level of work. Purdum, by his figuring, believes such backstops are rare.

Although I agree with the need for sustained resources to keep an HP3000 running, I'm not sure that "several vendors" can provide this. We have been in the business for over 23 years, and as a leader in providing hardware and application support for HP 3000s and MPE, I don't see many other vendors truly being capable of providing this.

Purdum asked, tongue-in-cheek, if there was a 3000 resurgence on the way he didn't see coming. No one has a total view of this market. But anecdotal reports are about all anyone has been able to use for most of a decade. Even well-known tool vendors are using independent support companies for front-line support. Purdum acknowledged that the support would be there, but wondered who'd need it.

Customers who use MPE (the HP 3000) know their predicament, and offering more salvation does not help them move into the right direction. I am only a hardware support company (that had to learn all HP 3000 applications) and it disappoints me a little that the companies you mentioned, most of which are software companies, haven't developed software that will allow these folks to finally move on and get off of this retired platform. 

I can't change it, I just sustain it... applications and all.

Sustaining mission-critical use of MPE is the only choice for some companies have in 2014. Their parent corporations aren't ready for a hand-off, or budget's not right, or yes, their app vendor isn't yet ready with a replacement app. That's what's leading to software rentals. When a company chooses to homestead, it must build a plan to Sustain. HP clearly retired its 3000 business more than three years ago. But that "final" moving on, into the realms of real change, follows other schedules, around the world. On the world of Tattooine, Lars first changed by setting up a moisture farm, then sustained. And then everything changed for him and Luke Skywalker. Change-sustain-change doesn't have a final state.

 

 

 

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

June 19, 2014

Making Sure No New Silos Float Up

SilosCloud computing is a-coming, especially for the sites making their migrations off of the HP 3000. But even if an application is making a move to a cloud solution, shouldn't its information remain available for other applications? Operational systems remain mission-critical inside companies that use things like Salesforce.

To put this question another way, how do you prevent the information inside a Salesforce.com account to become a silo: that container that doesn't share its contents with other carriers of data?

The answer is to find a piece of software that will extract the data in a Salesforce account, then transform it into something that can be used by another database. Oracle, SQL Server, Eloquence, even DB2. All are active in the community that was once using TurboIMAGE. Even though Salesforce is a superior ERP application suite, it often operates alongside other applications in a company. (You might call these legacy apps, if they're older than your use of Salesforce. That legacy label is kind of a demerit, though, isn't it?)

Where to find such an extraction tool? A good place to look would be providers of data migration toolsets. This is a relatively novel mission, though. It doesn't take long for the data to start to pile up in Salesforce. Once it does, the Order Entry, CRM, Shipping, Billing and Email applications are going to be missing whatever was established in Salesforce initially. The popular term for this kind of roadblock is Cloud Silo.

It reminds me of the whole reason for getting data migration capabilities, a reason nearly as old as what was once called client-server computing. Back in the days when desktop PCs became a popular tool for data processing, information could start out on a desktop application, not just from a terminal. Getting information from one source to another, using automation, satisfies the classic mission of  "no more rekeying." 

It's a potent and current mission. Just because Salesforce is a new generation app, and based in the cloud, doesn't make it immune to rekeying. You need a can opener, if you will, to crack open its data logic. That's because not every company is going all-in on Salesforce.

The trick here is to find a data migration tool that understands and works well with the Salesforce API. This Application Program Interface is available to independent companies, but it will require some more advanced tech help to embrace it, for anyone who's limited to a single-company, in-house expertise pool. You want to hire or buy someone or something who's worked with an API for integration before now.

"How do you get stuff in and out of Salesforce? It not something unto itself," says Birket Foster. "It's a customer relationship management system. It's nice to have customer data in Salesforce, but you want to get it into your operational systems later."  

You want to get the latest information out of Salesforce, he adds, and nobody wants to re-key it. "That started in 1989," Foster says, "when we tried to help people from re-keying spreadsheets." For example, a small business data capture company, one that helps other small businesses get through the process, needs a way to get the Salesforce data into its application. Even if that other app is based in the cloud, it needs Salesforce data.

Silos are great for storing grains, but a terrible means to share them. The metaphor gets a little wiggly when you imagine a 7-grain bread being baked -- that'd be your OE or Shipping system, with data blended alongside Salesforce's grains of information. The HP 3000 once had several bakery customers -- Lewis Bakeries (migrated using the AMXW software, or Twinkie-maker Continental/Interstate Brands -- which mixed grains. They operated their mission-critical 3000s too long ago to imagine cloud computing, though.

Clouds deliver convenience, reliability, flexibility. Data migration chutes -- to pull the metaphor to its limit -- keep information floating, to prevent cloud silos from rising up.

09:57 PM in Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 18, 2014

The Long and Short of Copying Tape

Is there a way in MPE to copy a tape from one drive to another drive?

Stan Sieler, co-founder of Allegro Consultants, gives both long and short answers to this fundamental question. (Turns out one of the answers is to look to Allegro for its TapeDisk product, which includes a program called TapeTape.)

Short answer: It’s easy to copy a tape, for free, if you don’t care about accuracy/completeness.

Longer answer: There are two “gotchas” in copying tapes ... on any platform.

Gotcha #1: Long tape records

You have to tell a tape drive how long a record you with to read.  If the record is larger, you will silently lose the extra data.

Thus, for any computer platform, one always wants to ask for at least one byte more than the expected maximum record — and if you get that extra byte, strongly warn the user that they may be losing data.  (The application should then have the internal buffer increased, and the attempted read size increased, and the copy tried again.)

One factor complicates this on MPE: the file system limits the size of a tape record you can read.  STORE, on the other hand, generally bypasses the file system when writing to tape and it is willing to write larger records (particularly if you specify the MAXTAPEBUF option).

In short, STORE is capable of writing tapes with records too long to read via file system access. The free programs such as TAPECOPY use the file system; thus, there are tapes they cannot  correctly copy.

Gotcha #2: Setmarks on DDS tapes

Some software creates DDS tapes and writes “setmarks” (think of them as super-EOFs). Normal file system access on the 3000 will not see setmarks, nor be able to write them.

Our TapeDisk product for MPE/iX (which includes TapeTape) solves both of the above problems. As far as I know, it’s the only program that can safely and correctly copy arbitrary tapes on an HP 3000.

04:53 PM in Hidden Value, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 17, 2014

How a Fan Can Become a Migration Tool

LaskofanWe heard this story today in your community, but we'll withhold the names to protect the innocent. A Series 948 server had a problem, one that was keeping it offline. It was a hardware problem, one on a server that was providing archival lookups. The MPE application had been migrated to a Windows app five years ago. But those archives, well, they often just seem to be easier to look up from the original 3000 system.

There might be some good reasons to keep an archival 3000 running. Regulatory issues come to mind first. Auditors might need original equipment paired with historic data. There could be budget issues, but we'll get to that in a moment.

The problem with that Series 948: it was overheating. And since it was a server of more than 17 years of service, repairing it required a hardware veteran. Plus parts. All of which is available, but "feet on the street" in the server's location, that can be a challenge. (At this point a handful of service providers are wondering where this prospective repair site might be. The enterprising ones will call.)

But remember this is an archival 3000. Budget, hah. This would be the time to find a fan to point at that overheating 17-year-old system. That could be the first step in a data migration, low-tech as it might seem.

From the moment the fan makes it possible to boot up, this could be the time to get that archival data off the 3000. Especially since the site's already got a replacement app on another piece of newer hardware, up and running. There's a server there, waiting to get a little more use.

Moving data off an archival server is one of the very last steps in decommissioning. If you've got a packaged application, there are experts in your app out there -- all the big ones, like Ecometry, MANMAN, Amisys -- that can help export that data for you. And you might get lucky and find that's a very modest budget item. You can also seek out data migration expertise, another good route.

But putting more money into a replacement Hewlett-Packard-branded 3000 this year might be a little too conservative. It depends on how old the 3000 system is, and what the hardware problem would be. If not a fan, then maybe a vacuum cleaner or shop vac could lower the temperature of the server, with a good clean-out. Funk inside the cabinet is common, we've seen.

Overheating old equipment could be a trigger to get the last set of archives into a SQL Server database, for example, one designated only for that. Heading to a more modern piece of hardware might have led you into another kind of migration, towards the emulator, sure. But if your mission-critical app is already migrated, the fan and SQL Server -- plus testing the migrated data, of course -- might be the gateway to an MPE-free operation, including your archives.

06:08 PM in Migration, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 16, 2014

Going Virtual, or Getting More Live

Duncan ChampionWe were not there live last night -- but we remember what the Finals felt like, that seed that made the virtual rich enough.

Virtual is the new efficient. Going virtual in computing means doing away with what's not essential. But what it really means is re-thinking how to do something that's been done the same since before anybody can recall. MPE is going virtual this year, and every year for the rest of this decade that it can shed its Hewlett-Packard hardware, much of it built in the previous century.

There are good reasons for going virtual, as well as good reasons for going what -- actual? Live, there, that's the word for it, in-person and physical. Yesterday I got a Father's Day treat at the movie theatre. We don't go there often anymore, but when we do, we want to be in an IMAX Mini theatre, wearing 3D glasses. Otherwise, there's always streaming at home to experience stories.

Why even bother to leave your chair? In a world where information and experience can feel as real as being present, those are good questions to consider while investing. Last night an NBA championship game was being played just 90 minutes from my house. But while it was sorely tempting, I absorbed the experience from my purple leather sofa in front of a modest flat-screen TV. I wasn't in the arena with my San Antonio Spurs. I had a virtual experience. But as its greybearded leader Tim Duncan looked like a youngster in winning once again, late in the game which is his career, I felt like I’d been there -- because I remember when Abby and I were there, cheering for a title 11 years ago.

Scientists tell us that this sort of memory is what makes virtual experiences most powerful. We imprint on the emotion and richness of a live event, remembering the race of the heart and the sweat on our brow. Or maybe the feeling of being known and understood, in a meeting of IT pros or inside a conference hall. This emulated intimacy becomes palatable when you know the real thing. It makes it possible to become a powerful tool in a world we’re experiencing at a broadband pace. We can also control the mix of the event’s information and our own comforts.

At my house we had the network broadcasting its video on the TV, and we didn't time-delay with our DVR like we do during the regular season games. The pictures were live. At the same time, we live close enough to San Antonio to get a clear feed of the Spurs' flagship radio station WOAI -- where our comforting announcer Bill Shoenig called the action. I simply could not recreate this kind of multimedia inside the arena. Because I had dread as well as elation to juggle for three hours, the whole melange was more tasty when I could see what I want -- enhanced with replay ---while I could hear what I craved: that upbeat voice, making an outlook on a story Whose outcome we could not predict.

Virtual was better. An emulation can improve on the original.

We crave this kind of experience in our work, too. There’s a bit of an unexpected miracle going on in Hollywood this month. A legendary mansion will be the site of a PowerHouse user conference and advisory board meeting. It’s not the right time to attend, for some managers who use that development suite. So at least one of those pros has asked if the whole conference couldn’t be webcast. HP did this earlier this month at its Discover conference. 

COMMON VirtualCOMMON, the user group for the IBM enterprise server manager, has been trying to emulate a trade show for awhile. It's all well within the realm of reality, tech-wise. But a conference presentation is one kind of thing to splash over the Web. The interaction between users is far tougher to duplicate. HP tried this show concept, years ago, attempting to mount a virtual conference, complete with expo area. It’s a concept that’s still ahead of its time. Visiting the COMMON virtual conference above even shows a few animated people outside an expo hall, well-rendered. But without anything to share with you. There's no live-world reference with these people to recall.

Virtualization can only go as far as our experience will allow. Here in mid-June, a London pub was hosting a meeting of 3000 veterans for what amounted to a reunion. No presentations, just talk. This kind of exchange was sometimes the most profound part of a meeting, which is why the PickFair mansion in Hollywood and Dirty Dick’s London pub will resound with voices, handshakes, and a communal beverage. In my house, the beer didn't taste any different at halftime of the Spurs game, because I was drinking one alongside my favorite fan.

Earlier this month there were slick productions with TV-grade lighting and sound at the HP Discover conference. Live on your laptop, you could watch three relatively-fresh CEOs from Intel, Microsoft and HP explain why working together is a better idea for their companies than the alternative they’ve been trying: HP selling OS products, Microsoft peddling hardware, Intel integrating both into its own branded knock-offs. We did experience the novelty of watching a trade conference event live. But aside from the comfort and economy, going virtual didn’t make it any better.

I missed the coarse roar off the rafters of the AT&T Center at the timeouts, when the Spurs forced Miami to rethink its defense. But those camera angles, that replay, and the sharp commentary improved my virtual experience. Virtualization can multiply the gifts of its original. But when you don't know the original, it's a good time to experience it.

Wednesday evening we're going to the Riverwalk in San Antonio for the victory parade, a celebration where the team is ferried around the river on barges, with fans thronging the riverbanks. It will be a Spurs crowd ten times the size of any we've experienced inside an arena. We could watch the parade on that flat-screen. But it's better to have those live experiences to leaven a virtual loaf. That's why a mansion and a pub are still important parts of a world that's heading for the efficiency of virtual.

08:21 PM in Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 13, 2014

User group's mansion meet sets deadline

JoinUsPowerHouse


June 15 is the first "secure your spot" registration date

PowerHouse customers, many of whom are still using their HP 3000 servers like those at Boeing, have been invited to the PickFair mansion in Hollywood for the first PowerHouse user conference. The all-day Friday meeting is June 27, but a deadline to ensure a reserved space passes at the end of June 15.

That's a Sunday, and Father's Day at that, so the PowerHouse patriarchy is likely to be understanding about getting a reservation in on June 16. Russ Guzzo, the marketing and PR powerhouse at new owners Unicom Global, said the company's been delighted at the response from customers who've been called and gathered into the community.

"I think it makes a statement that we're in it for the long haul," Guzzo said of gathering the customers, "and that the product's no longer sitting on the shelf and collecting dust. Let's talk." 

We're taking on a responsibility, because we know there are some very large companies out there that have built their existence around this technology. It's an absolute pleasure to be calling on the PowerHouse customers. Even the inactive ones. Why? Because they love the technology, and I've heard, "Geez, I got a phone call?"

Register at unicomglobal.com/PowerHouseCAB -- that's shorthand for Customer Advisory Board. It's a $500 ticket, or multiple registrations at $395 each, with breakfast and lunch included. More details, including a handsome flyer for justifying a one-day trip, at the event's webpage.

11:34 PM in Homesteading, Migration, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 12, 2014

Virtualization still demands real iron

In the span of time between the publication of a hopeful magazine article and the close of this year's HP Discover conference, the vendor made a point about its hardware heritage. The point might have been unintentional, but it appears that the future is still a destination you'll achieve riding the vehicle of The Machine.

BrontobyteHPA lot of computing is going out of sight these days. The costs to careers are real, as companies decide that managing IT staff and in-house resources is a discretionery budget item. When they job out your computing systems to a cloud provider, all that remains is to keep up with the needs of your applications and business processes. That's a lot fewer jobs across our industry. The demands for information keep accelerating, through brontobytes of data and onward.

But HP believes that there's still going to be a need for a machine to run it all, one that they're trying to build from the concepts of tomorrow. A blog post on the HP website HP Next explained why the biggest HP Labs project in 20 years is being called The Machine.

Why do we call it The Machine? When we first started developing it, we wanted to be very careful not to call it a server, workstation, PC, device or phone, because it actually encompasses all of those things. So as we were waiting for Marketing to come up with a cool code name for the project, we started calling it The Machine—and the name stuck.

HP talks about a centralized learning engine. So that's another physical reference, one that will be powered by The Machine. "With The Machine, we have the opportunity to rethink security, data governance, data placement and data sovereignty from ground up and embed them into all of our products. This revolutionary project is on its way to changing the industry—and the way we compute."

The promise, really just a dream, is that a "a doctor could compare your symptoms and genomics with every other patient around the world to improve your health outcomes, instantly, without language barriers or privacy breaches."

That magic will still require real iron somewhere, managed by an IT pro. Iron, a box, or a virtual array of compute engines, they'll all an un-changing part of the way our industry computes. That's why the revolution of a virtual HP 3000 server still needs a ProLiant computer to emulate the old PA-RISC MPE system. That's why even at HP, tomorrow's data dream is called The Machine.

07:39 PM in News Outta HP, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 11, 2014

HP to spin its R&D future with The Machine

Big SpiralCalling it a mission HP must accomplish because it has no other choice, HP Labs director Martin Fink is announcing a new computer architecture Hewlett-Packard will release within two years or bust. Fink, who was chief of the company's Business Critical Systems unit before being handed the Labs job in 2012, is devoting 75 percent of HP's Labs resources to creating a computer architecture, the first since the company built the Itanium chip family design with Intel during the 1990s.

A BusinessWeek article by Ashlee Vance says the product will utilitize HP breakthroughs in memory (memsistors) and a process to pass data using light, rather than the nanoscopic copper traces employed in today's chips. Fink came to CEO Meg Whitman with the ideal, then convinced her to increase his budget.

Fink and his colleagues decided to pitch Whitman on the idea of assembling all this technology to form the Machine. During a two-hour presentation held a year and a half ago, they laid out how the computer might work, its benefits, and the expectation that about 75 percent of HP Labs personnel would be dedicated to this one project. “At the end, Meg turned to [Chief Financial Officer] Cathie Lesjak and said, ‘Find them more money,’” says John Sontag, the vice president of systems research at HP, who attended the meeting and is in charge of bringing the Machine to life. "People in Labs see this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

Fast, cheap, persistent memory is at the heart of what HP hopes to change about computing. In the effort to build The Machine, however, the vendor harks back to days when computer makers created their own technology in R&D organizations as a competitive advantage. Commodity engineering can't cross the Big Data gap created by the Internet of Things, HP said at Discover today. The first RISC designs for HP computers, launched in a project called Spectrum, were the last such creation that touched HP's MPE servers.

Itanium never made it to MPE capability. Or perhaps put another way, the environment that drives the 3000-using business never got the renovation which it deserved to use the Intel-HP created architecture. Since The Machine is coming from HP's Labs, it's likely to have little to do with MPE, an OS the vendor walked away from in 2010. The Machine might have an impact on migration targets, but HP wants to change the way computing is considered, away from OS-based strategies. But even that dream is tempered by the reality that The Machine is going to need operating systems -- ones that HP is building.

SpiralOS compatibility was one reason that Itanium project didn't pan out the way HP and Intel hoped, of course. By the end of the last decade, Itanium had carved out a place as a specialized product for HP's own environments, as well as an architecture subsidized by Fink's plans to pay Intel to keep developing it. The Machine seems to be reaching for the same kind of "change the world's computing" impact that HP and Intel dreamed about with what it once called the Tahoe project. In a 74-year timeline of HP innovation alongside the BusinessWeek article, those dreams have been revised toward reality.

PA-RISC is denoted in a spiraling timeline of HP inventions that is chock-a-block with calculator and printing progress. The HP 2116 predecessor to the HP 3000 gets a visual in 1969, and Itanium chips are chronicled as a 2001 development.

The Machine, should it ever come to the HP product line, would arrive in three to six years, according to the BusinessWeek interview, and Fink isn't being specific about delivery. But with the same chutzpah he displayed in running Business Critical Systems into critical headwinds of sales and customer retention, he believes HP is the best place for tech talent to try to remake computing architecture.

According to the article, three operating systems are in design to use the architecture, one open-source and HP proprietary, another a variant of Linux, and a third based on Android for mobile dreams. That's the same number of OS versions HP supported for its first line of computers -- RTE for real time, MPE for business, and HP-UX for engineering, and later business. OS design, once an HP staple, need to reach much higher to meet the potential for new memory -- in the same way that MPE XL made use of innovative memory in PA-RISC.

Fink says these projects have burnished HP’s reputation among engineers and helped its recruiting. “If you want to really rethink computing architecture, we’re the only game in town now,” he said. Greg Papadopoulos, a partner at the venture capital firm New Enterprise Associates, warns that the OS development alone will be a massive effort. “Operating systems have not been taught what to do with all of this memory, and HP will have to get very creative,” he says. “Things like the chips from Intel just never anticipated this.” 

06:24 PM in Migration, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 10, 2014

Security patches afloat for UX, for a price

If an IT manager had the same budget for patches they employed while administering an HP 3000, today they'd have no patches at all for HP's Unix replacement system. That became even more plain when the latest Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) alert showed up in my email. You never needed a budget to apply any patches while HP 3000s were for sale from the vendor. Now HP's current policy will be having an impact on the value of used systems -- if they're Unix-based, or Windows ProLiant replacements for a 3000. Any system's going to require a support contract for patches.

For more than 15 years, HP's been able to notify customers when any security breach puts its enterprise products at risk. For more than five years, one DDoS exploit after another has triggered these emails. But over the past year, Hewlett-Packard has insisted that a security hole is a good reason to pay for a support contract with the vendor.

The HP 3000 manager has better luck in this regard than HP's Unix system owners. Patches for the MPE/iX environment, even in their state of advancing age, are distributed without charge. A manager needs to call HP and be deliberate to get a patch. The magic incantation when dealing with the Response Center folks is to use transfer code 798. That’ll get you to an MPE person. And there's not an easy way for an independent support company to help in the distribution, either. HP insisted on that during a legal action last spring.

In that matter, a support company -- one that is deep enough to be hiring experts away from HP's support team -- was sued for illegal distribution of HP server patches. HP charged copyright infringement because the service company had downloaded patches -- and HP claimed those patches were redistributed to the company's clients. 

The patch policy is something to budget for while planning a migration. Some HP 3000 managers haven't had an HP support contract since the turn of this century. Moving to HP-UX will demand one, even if a more-competent indie firm is available to service HP-UX or even Windows on a ProLiant system. See, even the firmware patches aren't free anymore. Windows security patches continue to be free -- that is, they don't require a separate contract. Not even for Windows XP, although that environment has been obsoleted by Microsoft.

HP said the lawsuit was resolved when the support company agreed to suspend their practices that were alleged in the suit. 

HP, like Oracle (owners of Sun) and other OS manufacturers, have chosen to restrict updates, patches, and now firmware to only those customers that have a current support agreement. Indie support companies can recommend patches; in fact, they're a great resource for figuring out which patch will fix problems without breaking much else. But customers are required to have their own support agreement in order to download and install such patches and updates.

Even following the links in the latest HP emails landed me in a "you don't have a support agreement to read this" message, rather than the update about DDoS exposure. It's more than the patches for migration platforms that HP's walled away from the customer base. Now even the basic details of what's at risk are behind support paywalls.

The extra cost is likely to be felt most in the low to midrange end of the user community. Dell's not getting caught up in what HP calls an industry trend to charge for repairing malformed software or OS installations that get put at risk. Dell offers unrestricted access to BIOS and software updates for its entire server, storage, and networking line.

06:29 PM in Migration, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 09, 2014

Heirs to the 3000 Family's Fortune

It was about this time nine years ago that the Newswire's blog began, and one of our first few items in that season was a personal one. Squirreled away in an email update we once called the Online Extra, we noted a happy event in the Volokh family. Eugene -- now a tenured law professor, had become a father once more -- making his dad Vladimir a grandfather again.

Now the family has another milestone. Vladimir reports that younger son Sasha, also a law professor, has earned tenure at Emory University in Atlanta. Two tenured law professors as sons, and each of them had their HP 3000 experience, chronicled in publications.

SashaDCSasha was first depicted in the DC Daily, a daily newsletter that Interex published during the 1985 DC user conference, in a pictorial called Kids at the Konference. "While mom and dad are attending the round tables, the kids are enjoying the conference in their own special way." This show, almost 30 years ago, was my first exposure to the Interex yearly meetings. I have a firm memory of the young Sasha making his way happily from vendor booth to vendor booth, wearing a vest that was festooned with the giveaway buttons from the vast array of 3000 vendors.

SashaEmoryLike his brother, Sasha was just shy of age 12 during his debut in the wide HP 3000 community. His parents Vladimir and Anne shared the photo above of a 12-year-old Sasha -- now tenured. It's a marker that your community has enough tenure that it's produced father-son heritages. And yet another generation has been born to these heirs. There are others to note, too.

In addition to the Volokhs, we've written up -- during a week that like this one is nearing Father's Day -- the combo of Terry and David Floyd. During the past year, David has moved into the ranks of an established manufacturing system manager, after his stint of leading the Support Group. He too had early first steps onto the path of his father, writing an application that he finished at age 15. David's first HP 3000 experience was at age 5, in 1981, on a Series III.

Sasha is among the youngest of 3000 family's progeny.  David has not seen his 40th birthday yet. David was a tender nine years old at the time of that 1985 conference, the first show since HP had announced that its Vision program for the 3000 would be replaced by Spectrum. Below is a pictorial wrap-up from the Daily of that year. (Thanks to Sasha's mom Anne for the 3000 photo history.) Note the picture of David Packard, enjoying attendees at the conference.

DC Daily Final FarewellAnd from our own late May, 2005 Extra -- sent out two decades after that DC show -- and in the same season as Father's Day, we offered the new-dad news below. It extended the third generation of 3000-related family members.

Volokh empire adds another heir

Eugene Volokh, the co-founder of HP 3000 utility software vendor VEsoft, added another member to his family with the birth of his son Samuel. Volokh, who has added the career of constitutional law professor to his roots programming for HP 3000s, now has two sons by his wife Leslie Periera. Proud grandpa Vladimir, who heads up the VEsoft empire, reports that Benjamin was born at 10.5 pounds, bigger than Eugene’s 9-pound birth weight.

While Eugene’s technical legend remains fixed in the minds of HP 3000 customers who cut their teeth during the 1980s — the son of Russian immigrant Vladimir, he worked at HP as a teenager and created MPEX with his father before graduating high school — his later life illustrates even broader interests. His writings on law and society are profound; his Volokh Conspiracy blog (volokh.com) bristles with a wide scope of commentary. Now the father of two, Eugene might have even more drive to accomplish one of his more nascent desires: to write children’s fiction. In an interview with blogger Norman Geras while Samuel was already on the way, Eugene admitted a wish to entertain:

Q. What talent would you most like to have? 
A. Being able to write memorable and entertaining fiction, especially children’s fiction.

Fifteen years ago, we wrote a full-throttle feature for our printed Newswire edition celebrating the fathers of your community who had heirs in their footsteps, or upon their shoulders. The Floyds -- David has a couple of sons of his own, by the way -- were captured in the following account from 1999.

Fathers pass 3000s to next generation

For MANMAN/HP expert and founder of the Support Group, inc. Terry Floyd, working with his son David has been the return of an often prodigal son. David first began to work with his father by writing an application he finished at age 15 — but worked for another HP 3000 company as a programmer/analyst before returning to tSGi last year.

"David wrote a program I'd always wanted — a Labor Summary Report for the 3000 — in 1989, because there was no such thing in MANMAN," Terry said. "He wrote in FORTRAN and IMAGE, and called a subroutine I'd written, one that exploded a Bill of Materials 150 times faster than ASK had been able to. Every user should have it. We sold it for $1,500 four or five times, and David was filthy rich at 15, made about $4,000."

While David did take a FORTRAN class in college, learning IMAGE was an on-the-job education. His father brags that his son learned FORTRAN in night school and got the best grade in the class at age 15.

Working together on the Labor Summary Report "was a lot of trial and error, because we went back and forth, setting new goals and changing the specs, so he would get used to the real world," Terry said. "He learned a lot of IMAGE by himself, by looking at the ASK programs."

Working together on an application "that was unique and different was what really got him excited, and me too," his father said. "We worked in the house for so long, he couldn't avoid learning how manufacturing companies work." Later on when Terry taught a FORTRAN class, David was one of the students. "He'd ask questions like 'Could you explain that part to them a little better?' " Terry said.

"My dad and I worked on cars together that would last three years," Terry said. "But that's a lot more static than working with customers, asking you questions. When David's in the middle of that, he picks up on all that."

Terry is happy to have his son use his experience as a springboard. "There's a lot of stuff for us to talk about now, besides fun and cars and running around," Terry said. "He's been in and out of the company often enough to have five different employee numbers, including employee number three after me and [my wife] Caren."

The master-apprentice relationship between the two HP 3000 technicians moved faster because of the familial bond. "I'm a lot harder on him than I would be on anybody else," Terry said. "He's a test case, and I try things out on him. He's really into volunteering to help prototype ideas, and he's always done that with me. I've always told him everything, to give him the advantage of all the mistakes I've made. I don't just admit my mistakes, I advertise them. We're alike in many ways, and it's because we've worked together."

Later on in 2011, we gave David his own spotlight as president of the Support Group. In the introduction, we noted

David can say he was at the console in those early years, even though he wasn’t born until the Series III was shipping and ASK was enhancing MANMAN. He first used an HP 3000 at the age of 5, in 1981. 

DavidFloydHe says he would “connect our kitchen phone to a 300-baud acoustic coupler modem to dial a terminal into one of the ASK 3000s. There I could play Mystery Mansion, Adventure, Dungeon, and other games.” He started doing paid work on a 3000 in 1991, at the age of 15. His first project was creating a MANMAN report called the LSR/3000 (Labor Summary Report). He continued working summers in high school programming and providing MANMAN support, got a job at Belvac Production Machinery in 1995 as a MANMAN programmer, and became a consultant in 1996.  

Your dad started the ball rolling on your family’s MPE experience, and you believe there's another decade left for MANMAN users. What would another 10 years of MANMAN mean to your family?

    My dad timed it so [the 3000] will be the entirety of his career. He had an HP 1000 right out of college, and within five years he had an HP 3000. If we manage to get another 10 years out of this, which it looks like we will, that’s his entire career on MPE and HP systems. He’s thrilled about that.

08:16 PM in History, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 06, 2014

A Long Time in Passing

TimpassingIt's very late spring here at my house, and that means our basketball ardor is at its zenith. This year my beloved San Antonio Spurs are already playing in the championship round. The NBA calls this The Finals. But for the last seven years, there's been nothing final about the Spurs' work to win a title. Each year the organization, as they like to call the coaches, managers and players that comprise the team, seems to make a serious Drive for Five after four previous championships. Their last championship was in 2007 -- or in the middle of HP's first "wait a minute" two-year extension of its 3000 business.

Over the past three years, though, analysts in the sports community have tried to write off the Spurs as too old to compete at the highest level. Tim Duncan, Spurs superstar and Hall of Famer in waiting, is about as old as a Series II HP 3000. Unlike that CISC model of server, Tim's gotten better with age, more crafty with the minutes he plays in what's clearly the last act of his career. The former monster scorer has become a passer.

By his side on the court, two other stars play, to make up the Spurs' Big Three. Everybody's got a Big Three now in basketball, from the Celtics to the Miami Heat. The Spurs were the first. Their other stars are as old as a Series III (Manu Ginobilli) and Tony Parker, a younger man, but as old as a Series 68.

One of my first assignments in journalism was as sports editor. I covered five prep school districts and wrote a lot of stories about boys and girls who were 13-18 years old. There was plenty of drama and heroics. What I learned back then was that age didn't matter, if you had the right coach and you were focused enough to learn how your skills could shape each game. Del Coryover was a star at 15 in Leander, carrying the football for a couple of touchdowns a night. Nobody told him he was not the right age to fly past bigger defenders.

So it seems, sometimes, for HP 3000 installations begun in the 1980s. Like those Spurs stars, these servers and the pros who manage them just keep coming back for more work. On the ABC network, they've taken to calling the Big Three and their legendary coach Gregg Popovich "The Same 'Ol Spurs," with affection by now. Their continued championship relevance, over a stretch of time that goes back to before there were A-Class and N-Class servers, has earned them respect. They are not flashy. Nobody pounds their chest and screams to the rafters after a monster dunk, or a back-door cut, or dropped-bomb three-pointer, or the blocked shot -- although they perform all of these nightly.

 

Last night they played badly, under brutal conditions. The AC failed in their homecourt at the ATT Center, and in that 90-degree indoor swelter they failed to pass crisply. Miami stole the basketball like bloodhounds after loose pork chops. But the Spurs play their bench men often, and in crunch time, too. It's a full-team approach, instead of superstars like cloud servers and Oracle databases. They survived on reliability last night, counting on the fact that fresh players make better plays. What makes the 3000 great is what makes the Spurs great: consistency, the clockwork-like execution that happens from hundreds of hours of practice, all laid down upon a bedrock of team-first strategy. They practice passing "from good shot to great shot."

As one example of delicious good to great dependability, consider something called the outlet pass in basketball. You probably never heard of it because it's fundamental. Tim has been re-coached by Coach Pop, as he's called, to use stunning talent to make these offense-sparking plays perfect and extraordinary. At their best, they can be the long-bomb touchdowns of basketball. For the basketball geek, the YouTube video embedded here gives you a taste of these Duncan veggies, whizzing the ball down-court to make the sizzle happen at the other end.

How is it possible that the outlet pass -- or a bank shot, one of Tim's mainstay plays -- still works wonders in the modern NBA? He does these things as a trademark that's earned him an un-flashy nickname: The Big Fundamental. When sports analysts are agog at the success of a bank shot -- first performed in the 1950s -- I think of the consultant who observed companies using the equivalent of the bank shot, PowerHouse.

"I am amazed to know that Powerhouse is still running on any platform," Bob Kaminski said, after Unicom bought the product and worked to revive it. As a young employee with the vendor he said, "I started with Quiz, Quick and QTP in 1983-84. Sold it, until I left Cognos in 1989. It was great then, and I assume is still a great tool."

But this passing year means more for the Spurs, and perhaps more for the 3000, than many others before. This season is one of redemption for the team, having seen that Fifth title slip away last year with 28 seconds left to play. It was a gut-punch few other teams could recover from, losing like that. The team responded by leading the league in wins during the next regular season, and now returning to The Finals to gain their revenge -- as well as their respect. Tim Duncan is in the twilight of his career, just like HP's hardware that runs MPE/iX is running out of time.

There's a future for the operating system, the brand of computing that's as extraordinary as the selfless, ball-sharing approach Coach Pop teaches. In the Spurs locker room there's a hungry young star named Kawahi Leonard, gifted with speed and wingspan and intelligence that make him the next generation of The Big Fundamental.

And in your HP 3000 community there is CHARON, the HPA/3000 emulator that will sail higher and faster than any iron HP could ever design. Kawahi needs a coach of the caliber of Pop. CHARON needs coaching that should remind people of Harry Sterling, the last HP general manager who practiced the fundamentals of computer product management. Push the technology to something better like N-Class servers. Be selfless about your own HP future, because the customers matter more than your career. 

When there's a Kawahi around, a Coach Pop tends to emerge. It might take awhile for them to find one another, and in the meantime there are pronouncements about how the star will never amount to championship material. Or a product won't make a mark on the market.

It's a long season for host-based servers, though. While IBM sells off its low-end server business, while Dell crawls into the services space and downplays its iron, the concept of managing an MPE machine yourself is still alive out there. It's pounding the ball up and down the court and looking for its leader, the one who will take a revitalized MPE platform and score. Not so that a lot of people will see and notice. But for a group of companies who are as small as any TV marketplace in San Antonio, it matters because it's history, carried out every day. 

The Big Three and Coach Pop and the Spurs are passing -- both in the sense that they share the ball in their 10-man community of players, and they are working toward that final act of their careers. But it's been a long time in passing, their retirements. Some here in Texas say that even at advanced ages, the Big Three could hang around for another season, challenge for another title. Anything in life that hangs on longer than predicted, and remains productive and relevant and unique while it does, should be applauded and cheered. Those are the sounds coming from my living room this month, while we watch a legend extend days and nights of excellence.

And if it takes any team even longer than expected to make its passing -- while it remains essential -- what a gift, for those of us who love the fundamentals.

08:23 PM in History, Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 05, 2014

A World Where Amazon Trumps Big Blue

It almost sounds like grandpa-talk to say "things have changed so much." Life is built from changes, and since our industry runs at a pace faster than almost every other, our rate of change is exemplary. There are long-held rules that are giving way, too.

TrumpCardMost of the HP 3000 managers remember the saying that "nobody ever got fired for buying IBM." It was an unfair advantage. Big Blue was the default IT choice for most of the 3000's lifespan as an HP product. But during the decade-plus since MPE started to vanish from Hewlett-Packard's mindscape, IT hosting and computing resource defaults have been reset. The changes are serious enough that Amazon trumped IBM on a $600 million project to build a compute center for the CIA.

Unlike the NSA (No Such Agency), the CIA exists and processes countless pieces of information. A story in BusinessWeek reported that the CIA wanted to build its own private cloud computing system. This is the type of IT project that would've been handled on the ground, not in the cloud, while HP was selling 3000s. A type of project IBM would've been a finalist in. Indeed, IBM finished in the top two. But IT pros now live in a world where buying compute power with a credit card is a valid strategy. The stakes were high for the winner. 

For the bidders, more was at stake than a piece of the lucrative federal IT market. Whoever won the 10-year, $600 million contract could boast that its technology met the highest standards, with the tightest security, at the most competitive prices, at a time when customers of all kinds were beginning to spend more on data and analytics.

The CIA awarded the contract to Amazon.com. The e-commerce company had persuaded the spymasters that its public cloud could be replicated within the CIA’s walls. Amazon had been bleeding IBM for years—its rent-a-server-with-your-credit-card model was a direct threat to IBM’s IT outsourcing business—but this was different. Amazon beat IBM for a plum contract on something like its home turf, and it hadn’t done so simply by undercutting IBM on price. IBM learned that its bid was more than a third cheaper than Amazon’s and officially protested the CIA decision.

The 3000 community lives in a world where cloud computing is being selected for large-scale projects -- and it's being chosen from companies like Amazon who don't have the ballast to carry you'll see from HP, IBM, Dell or others. The servers, and the expertise to make them sparkle, work elsewhere. HP's got a cloud offering, as does IBM. But Amazon Web Services is way ahead of these classic server providers. IBM's gotten so far off the server sales strategy that it sold its low-end servers group to Lenovo.

To put it another way, IBM's selling as many small servers this year as HP is selling 3000s.

In the BusinessWeek story, the demise of IBM being fireproof got exploded. At least while going up against Amazon.

A federal judge agreed, ruling in October that with the “overall inferiority of its proposal,” IBM “lacked any chance of winning” the contract. The corporate cliché of the 1970s and ’80s, that no one ever got fired for buying IBM, had never seemed less true. IBM withdrew its challenge.

08:01 PM in News Outta HP, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 04, 2014

Don't wait until a migrate to clean up

Not long ago, the capital of Kansas District Court in Topeka made a motion to turn off their HP 3000s. During the report on that affair -- one that took the court system offline for a week -- the IT managers explained that part of the migration process would include cleaning up the data being moved off an HP 3000.

This data conversion is one of the most important attributes of this project and is carefully being implemented by continuously and repeatedly checking thousands of data elements to ensure that all data converted is “clean” data which is essential to all users. When we finally “go live,” we would sincerely appreciate your careful review of data as you use the system.

Not exactly a great plan, checking on data integrity so late in the 3000's lifecycle, said ScreenJet's Alan Yeo. The vendor who supplies tools and service for migrations has criticism for the court's strategy statement that "we either move on to another system or we go back to paper and pen."

Fisker"Interesting, that pen and paper comment," Yeo said. "It has the ring of someone saying that we have an old car that's running reliably, but because it might break down at some time, the only options are to go back to walking or buy a Fisker." The Fisker, for those who might not know, was a car developed in 2008 as one of the very first plug-in hybrid models. About 2,000 were built before the company went bankrupt. Moving to any new technology, on wheels or online, should be an improvement over what's in place -- not an alternative to ancient practices.

"Oh, and what's all this crap about having to clean the data?" Yeo added. "That's like saying I'll only bother cleaning the house that I live in when I move. Yes, sure you don't want to move crap in a migration. But you probably should have been doing some housekeeping whilst you lived in the place. Blaming the house when you got it dirty doesn't really wash!"

09:58 PM in Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 03, 2014

Paper clips play a role in 3000's guardian

The HP 3000 was designed for satisfactory remote access, but there are times when the system hardware needs to be in front of you. Such was the case for a system analyst who was adding a disk drive to a A-Class HP 3000.

BentpaperclipCentral to this process is the 3000's Guardian Service Processor (GSP). This portion of the A-Class and N-Class Multifunction IO card gives system managers basic console operations to control the hardware before MPE/iX is booted, as well as providing connectivity to manage the system. Functions supported by the GSP include displaying self-test chassis codes, executing boot commands, and determining installed hardware. (You can also read it as a speedometer for how fact your system is executing.)

The GSP was the answer to the following question.

I need to configure some additional disk drives and I believe reboot the server. The GSP is connected to a IP switch and I have the IP address for it, but it is not responding. I believe I need to enable it from the console. Can this be done from the soft console, using a PC as the console with a console # command?

A paper clip can reset the GSP and enable access, says EchoTech's Craig Lalley.

Lalley added that a GSP reset is an annual maintenance step for him.
Look on the back of the CPU and you will see a small hole labeled GSP RESET.  You need your favorite techie paper clip. Just insert the paper clip, and you will feel it depress. It takes about a minute to reset. Don't worry, it only reboots the GSP, and will not affect the HP 3000.

I find it is necessary to reset the GSP about once a year.  It seems to correlate to when you really need to get access, and you can't get physical access to the box. Good old Murphy's law.

Lalley calls the GSP, which HP introduced with its final generation of 3000s, one of the most useful things in the A-Class and N-Class boxes.

The GSP is a small computer that is always powered on when the plug has power. With it, it is possible to telnet to and be the console. While multiple admins can telnet in and watch, only one has the keyboard.

It is possible to reboot, do memory dumps and even fully power down the HP 3000 from the GSP.  Use the command PC OFF to power down. The GSP is probably the best feature of the N-Class and A-Class boxes.

Allegro's Stan Sieler has a fine white paper online about MPE/iX system failure and hang recovery that includes GSP tips.

11:03 PM in Hidden Value | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 02, 2014

Looking Up, from a Vision to a Spectrum

While I'm researching for another Newswire story, I've found an archive of reporting from the year that HP was taking its first full turn onto the path of RISC computing. RISC is the architecture that grew from the MPE XL version of the 3000 and its 900 Series systems, until finally HP evolved it into the Integrity lineup -- the only host that will ever run HP's Unix replacement OS. Back in 1985, it really looks like the company's CEO didn't know any more about 3000 designs than any other CEO at HP has since that time.

Young Misunderstands RISC Oct 85John Young was HP CEO, interviewed in the week while the Interex user group was hosting its Interex Washington DC conference. But the CEO wasn't at the conference. The company's founder was there, but David Packard wasn't the subject of the Computerworld interview. Young was asked what was prompting HP to pursue RISC as a computing strategy. He spent some time conflating and mixing several HP servers' technology. In the most baffling part of his answer, he said this about how muddled HP's computer architecture was -- and how RISC was going to change that.

We had desktops with one architecture, factory floor terminals with another and the HP 3000 with yet another stack architecure. The 9000 series terminals emulated the 3000 architecture in some ways, but not really completely.

Young went on to add that HP spent 90 percent of its development time changing things to make its networking perform correctly. "And those changes propagated down the whole computer line. I just decided, when I became HP president [in 1978]... that we wanted to find some way of bringing a harmony out of this unique business opportuntity. We needed to make a jump, and the conjunction of all those things was a program we Spectrum."

9000 series terminals? He probably meant the HP 9000 desktop systems, built for engineering. The 3000 architecture was Complex Instruction Set Computing (CISC), but so was the 9000's. Just a different design, called FOCUS. The factory floor terminals might have been attached to HP 1000s. One of the engineers on the scene at the time, Stan Sieler, told us he figures emulated in Young-speak might have been more philosophical than technological. Sieler also said that the sparkplug of RISC at HP was eager to get the Vision project out of the way, so Joel Birnbaum could enjoy his spectrum.

Sieler said, "I suspect [Young's] referring to the 9000/500 that was based on the FOCUS chipset.  It was, if I recall correctly, a stack-based chipset. I think he meant 'emulated' more in the 'inspired by, and is similar to' manner, not what we'd normally think of as emulation."

At that point in the era where the PC was only just starting to be a dominant business tool -- it now drives the largest share of HP's revenues -- and such computers were called micros, HP was sweeping technology away that it had spent years creating but never released. Failure was always HP's first option for the predecessors for Spectrum, Sieler said in his interpretation.

At one point, I was part of a task force that designed the "FOCUS-II,", which was pre-Vision (and pre-PA-RISC). It was supposed to be the next CPU architecture for the 3000, 9000, and 1000.

Scott Stallard was the chairman (he later became an Executive VP at HP), and others worked on it. But when we presented the report, we discovered that no one had told us we were supposed to fail -- so that Vision could be given the official blessing.

But neither FOCUS, FOCUS II, nor Vision were RISC CPUs. Birnbaum was hired away from IBM after Big Blue didn't want to create a RISC system, Birnbaum's dream design. Sieler went to work on Vision, then, only to learn that he'd been put on another blind alley. "I don't think that Vision fell short of what Spectrum became," he said.

To the contrary, it could do things that no subsequent architecture can. But, that came at a cost. Vision was definitely a CISC instruction set.

In 1983 (and somewhat earlier), I was doing design/development of process management for the HPE operating environment (for Vision). "Process management" meaning creating, starting, controlling, and killing processes (programs).

When I left HP (late September, 1983), we had one or two minimal (breadboarded) Vision computers running. Most of the time we used emulators/simulators involving re-microcoded HP 3000s. About a week after I left, HP killed Vision in favor of PA-RISC.

I once mentioned to Joel Birnbaum that it was cause/effect: I left HP, HP killed Vision. His response was quick: "If I'd known that, I'd have gotten rid of you earlier."

Sieler laughs at this today, bemused at the way things changed so quickly -- and then have not changed since. "HPE was renamed MPE XL," he said, "and most of the code written for it survived, To this day, much of process management in MPE/iX is still my code."

09:19 PM in History, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)