August 29, 2014
Finding the Labor Your 3000 Site Needs
Homesteading on the HP 3000 — whether it's the bridge until migration, archival operation where little changes except backup tapes, or unlimited future-style — takes labor to maintain. Labor is on our minds here at the NewsWire this weekend, when much of the US has taken a few days off from the office or away from the computer keyboard to celebrate the American labor movement.
We're taking those days off, too. And we'll be back on Sept. 2, like a lot of you with work to do. There's a printed issue for the Fall for me to edit and write for, after all. We're flying in the face of advice that says it's a ticking clock to produce paper based information. We're betting you still count yourself as a pro who knows the movement to digital is not yet complete. When we started the NewsWire, we flew in the face of advice that said, 19 years ago, there was little future for the MPE user.
Your community has been experiencing that much movement, so any tools to track the travels of skilled 3000 pros can be useful. Let me recommend LinkedIn once again. The HP 3000 Community Group at the website -- and LinkedIn has started to specialize in finding people prospects for work -- well, the 3000 group began with a couple of questions that can still kickstart discussions. Again, the LinkedIn advantage is connecting to pros to share with specific work experience details, plus the chance to draw on others' networks through introductions.
Anybody can join for free. Since I launched the HP 3000 group in 2008, we've added 600 members in the group, and there are many others in the LinkedIn network with 3000 experience. Michael Boritz commented on our Group question back at the beginning about who's doing what with the HP 3000 these days.
Of course, this social networking stuff works, if you can just keep at it a few minutes a day. Us journalists are being told it's now essential if we want to keep our jobs in our field. Boritz tells of his stops along the way:
I’m still working on the 3000. I’ve been working on 3000s since the 1980s, at J.D. Abrams at that time. Since leaving JDA, I worked at Tivoli in Austin (i.e., Unison-Tymlabs) for a couple of years. Since then, I have moved four times — all for new HP 3000 positions.
I am currently in the Cleveland area, working at a Law firm, Weltman, Weinberg, and Reis, supporting their two legacy 3000s. I’ve been here since December, starting as a contractor, and becoming permanent in March. My current position is basically a programming position, supporting the legal documents created for the courts. It’s definitely different — I've never worked in the legal industry before.
Like most other shops, they are talking about migrating off the 3000 platform. It’s getting harder and harder to find 3000 jobs out there.
Put a little light labor into connecting with your community on LinkedIn. Staying in touch can make easier work of traveling between career stops.
August 28, 2014
TBT: Days of HP's elite software outlook
At the end of August of 1983, Hewlett-Packard mailed out a 92-page brochure that showed HP 3000 owners where to get the software they didn't want to create themselves. The Hewlett-Packard Business Software Guide covered the options for both the HP 3000 and the just-launching HP 250. The latter was a system that would sit on a large desktop, run software written for its BASIC operating system, and receive just six pages of specific notice out of the 90-plus in the HP sales guide.
What's interesting about this document -- apart from the fact that nearly all those photos have people in them -- is that HP's own programming development software and application tools are listed first in these pages. And in that order, too; owners of a system in 1983 seemed more likely to need software to create the bespoke applications so common in a system of 31 years ago. Applications from HP were always pushed before anything without the Hewlett-Packard brand.
But as I paged a bit deeper into this Throwback Thursday treasure, I found the genuine vitality that sold 10,000 of these minicomputers in less than 10 years' time: Third-party software, both in tools and in applications. HP made a distinction in this giveaway document for these programs, which they called HP PLUS software. A product could be Listed, or Referenced. But to get more information on either one of them, HP expected you to purchase a catalog with a lot more detail.
Not only was it an era without a Web, but these were the days when you'd pay for paper just to have a complete list of things you might purchase. The biggest issue was "will this run on my system?" That, and whether it really existed.The HP software in this Guide surely existed, and everything that HP listed as a PLUS product had a great chance of being available for purchase. Bulwarks like HP DeskManager were installed at thousands of terminals inside HP itself, and the minicomputer offerings were still supposed to be better for an office than something running off -- gad -- a Personal Computer.
The Listed products "Must meet certain Hewlett-Packard qualifying standards to be listed in either the Technical or Business version of the HP Software Directory." Meanwhile, the Referenced software products "have been further qualified by being rated very good to excellent by users in at least six different organizations." If you could assemble six customers who'd rate your software for HP, your MPE product had a chance of making it into this free brochure.
August 1983 software from third parties that was referenced included the many flavors of MCBA financial applications, programs that were often customized as soon as they were added to a Value Added Reseller's price list. MCBA was really a suggested serving. Cognos didn't exist yet, but its applications were represented at Quasar Corporation offerings such as DOLLAR-FLOW ($FLOW$). "Budgeting, pro-forma projections, financial analysis, ad hoc spread sheet (two words!) reports, and performance reporting" were the treasures of $FLOW$.
Specialized apps such as Finished Goods Inventory--83 were simply Listed, cataloged with nothing more than the name of the company (DeCarlo, Paternite & Assoc. Inc.) and a telephone number. You'd find a program, ask your HP Customer Engineer if he knew anything about it, then call the software vendor. That's how DP departments rolled three decades ago, when the computer was making its bones growing up in the business markets. You went to a computer user group meeting to ask about these things among your colleagues, too.
A more detailed catalog, the New HP PLUS Software Directory, was also available that fall. Within a year it was two full volumes of software across all HP system platforms, although the vast majority of it was written for MPE. It was updated twice a year. This HP directory also gained a notoriety for being something of a wish book.
Companies would supply detailed descriptions of their software to HP, which would dutifully report it to the 3000 customers who'd bought the directory. Vendors said -- while telling stories at spots like SIG-BAR in the conferences everyone attended to keep up -- they'd write something up just to see if they'd get a call. If there was real interest, then software would go from Proposed to In-development. There was no community-wide reviewing service like an Amazon while shopping for packages which might sell for $10,000 or more. Some people felt lucky they had a resource with guidance. Precious few minicomputer apps were reviewed in the likes of Computerworld, Datamation, or Byte.
Of course, those last two publications are not being manufactured anymore. Unlike the HP 3000, they don't enjoy a virtualized reincarnation, either. Only the 3000 is doing as much current work as Computerworld.
August 27, 2014
A Virtual Legacy from the Past to the Future
VMworld 2014 wrapped up this week, with more than 25,000 IT pros and suppliers attending the San Francisco conference. Although the show was wrapped entirely around the VMware offerings -- and few other genuinely available products look to the future as much as the virtual machine vendor's -- there's also a legacy story to be told. As it turned out, that story was a message that virtualized 3000 vendor Stromays got to share.
West Coast sales manager Doug Smith, a 3000 veteran from the enterprise resource planning world, checked in on his way out of the Bay Area to report on the proximity between decades-old MPE/iX and just-days-old VMWare innovations like the enterprise cloud vCloud Air. VMware is offering the first month of vCloud Air free.
"VMWorld is a lot of people looking forward," he said, "and we're pulling people back, out of the past. It was great to see those little guys walking by and knowing what MPE, VMS and Alpha means. People were looking up and saying, 'Oh yeah, I've got one of those HP 3000s in my datacenter.' It was a sight to see."
The CHARON virtualization engine that turns an Intel server into a 3000 runs on the bare metal of an Intel i5 processor or faster, operating inside a Linux cradle. But plenty of customers who use CHARON host the software in a virtualized Linux environment -- one where VMware provides the hosting for Linux, which then carries CHARON and its power to transform Intel chips, bus and storage into PA-RISC boxes. VMware is commonplace among HP 3000 sites, so management is no extra work. But ample server horsepower is a recommended spec for using a VMware-CHARON combo.When a site can eliminate the need for a bare-metal Linux box, "it's kind of double-virtualization," Smith explained. Customers need to manage performance in this configuration which eliminates the need for a dedicated Linux box. "So long as you have enough memory, nice CPUs and disk, the performance is high," Smith said.
With all that noted, Smith said he had a 3000 running on his laptop during the conference on the show floor. "It kind of blows people away," he said. "All the old-school guys are used to seeing a big old box out there running MPE. We had an HP Envy laptop running our 4040 virtual machine." The 4040 is a 4-CPU N-Class server with performance clocked at 38 HP Performance Units -- the equivalent of an HP-branded N4000-400-440.
HP once carried an ultimate-generation 3000 under an arm of a product manager at a conference, but that was 13 years ago and the box was the size of a deep kitchen drawer. It was also an A-Class, which is a pretty good reference point for how compact the supporting hardware has shrunk to host one of the fastest MPE engines. It helps make that happen when the hardware can be Intel-based. Most CHARON installations for MPE don't run on laptops, but the installation turns heads at a conference.
When a laptop with an i5 processor, 8 GB of memory and a 1TB drive can deliver an application screen from an OS first launched in 1974, that's looking forward -- with an viewpoint toward preserving the value of the past, too. There's been interest in the 3000 community in hosting CHARON over a cloud-based server. VMware vCloud stands out as one of the ways to put a solution such as that into practice, at some point in the future.
August 26, 2014
See how perl's strings still swing for MPE
The HP 3000 has a healthy range of open source tools in its ecosystem. One of the best ways to begin looking at open source software opportunity is to visit the MPE Open Source website operated by Applied Technologies. If you're keeping a 3000 in vital service during the post-HP era, you might find perl a useful tool for interfacing with data via web access.
The 3000 community has chronicled and documented the use of this programming language, with the advice coming from some of the best pedigreed sources. Allegro Consultants has a tar-ball of the compiler, available as a 38MB download from Allegro's website. (You'll find many other useful papers and tools at that Allegro Papers and Books webpage, too.)
Bob Green of Robelle wrote a great primer on the use of perl in the MPE/iX environment. We were fortunate to be the first to publish Bob's paper, run in the 3000 NewsWire when the Robelle Tech long-running column made a hit on our paper pages.
You could grab a little love for your 3000, too. Cast a string of perls starting with the downloads and advice. One of HP's best and brightest -- well, a former HP wizard -- has a detailed slide set on perl, too.The official perl.org website has great instructions on Perl for MPE/iX installation and an update on the last revision to the language for the 3000. First ported by Ken Hirsch in 2000, the language was brought to the 5.9.3 release in 2006.
An extensive PowerPoint presentation on perl by the legendary porter Mark Bixby will deliver detailed insights on how to introduce perl to your programming mix. Bixby, who left HP to work for the 3000 software vendor QSS, brings the spirit of open source advocacy to his advice on how to use this foundational web tool.
As an example, Bixby notes that "it's now possible to write MPE applications that look like web browsers, to perform simple HTTP GET requests, or even complicated HTTP POST requests to fill out remote web forms." It's no box of Godiva, or even the classic blue box from Tiffany's, but perl might be something you love to use, to show that 3000 isn't a tired old minicomputer -- just a great sweetheart of a partner in your mission-critical work.
August 25, 2014
Shopping While Lines are Dropping
HP's third quarter financial report showed that a company making adequate profits can also be making products that are not popular any more. The time comes to every product line, but the Hewlett-Packard of 2014 has made steady progress toward commodity-style enterprise computing. The pull into Windows has become a vortex -- and in a bit of irony, Windows' age helped HP's sales this quarter.
The overall numbers were impressive to the markets. Investors lifted the price of HP's stock more than $2 a share, after the briefing, sending it closer to $40 than it's been in years. Meanwhile, the continued downturn of Business Critical Systems scarcely earned a minute's mention. It's off 18 percent from the same 2013 quarter. But it gets less than a minute because BCS products like the HP Unix line, and VMS computing systems -- even the steady but meager business of NonStop -- only comprise 3 percent of the company's enterprise sales. In the circle above, BCS is the rounding error, the most slender slice. Click it to see a bigger picture of that smallest piece.
And Enterprise represents just one dollar out of every four that HP earns in sales. This is activity in the Industry Standard Systems. These are the ProLiant servers driving Windows and Linux, business that grew 9 percent. Specialized operating environments like HP-UX just aren't producing new business, and they're losing old customers. If you look over the last three years of Q3 numbers, each and every one shows a double-digit BCS decline. There's only so much clock time on that product wall before irrelevancy pushes a community off HP's futures map. It happened to the HP 3000, but MPE never ruled over HP business computing like Unix once did.
"When I look at the way the business is performing, the pipeline of innovation and the daily feedback that I receive from our customers and partners, my confidence in the turnaround grows stronger." -- Meg Whitman, CEO
So when HP's business in your installed platform shows poor numbers, what do you do? The rest of the company's report looked tame, although you'd wonder why anyone could be sanguine about the future of the company. Printing, Services, Software and Financial Services all dropped their sales top lines. The Enterprise Group grew its business 2 percent overall on a $27.5 billion HP sales quarter. This was accomplished by $57 million of expense cuts.
Only PC sales grew along with enterprise business. How can a company reporting a 27 percent drop in profits, one that missed its forecast by more than 10 percent, be rewarded on the trading floor? Jim Cramer of MSNBC said there's just enough to like about HP now. That might be due to the history the company has turned back. Everybody on the trading floor remembers HPQ at $12 a share with a fired CEO having followed an ousted CEO. Historic lows are a faded memory now, although the company's gotten no bigger over that stretch of clock time. The good feelings come from a turnaround tale that's still in the middle of its story.But it is history that is the biggest concern for owners of the plunging VMS and HP-UX servers. Hewlett-Packard may never kill off an enterprise product line again like it did with the HP 3000. But becoming irrelevant is a fatal blow, too. Customers choosing to manage their own datacenters are taking shelter in Linux and Windows, according to HP's report. The analysts are pleased with the company's net operating cash position, which at $4.9 billion is 80 percent higher than last quarter. But that's $2.2 billion extra not being spent on R&D for the company's specialized technology running in HP 3000 migrated sites.
This kind of sour outlook is like a chart-topping record back on '60s radio. As a customer you hear it all the time. But it's not a concern to the corporation making the Unix servers, or to the investors who propel that company into the future. You have to wonder why anyone else would care. It's an even more distant piece of history to recall the day MPE slipped into HP's under-a-minute bin. Enterprise outlook is not part of what Cramer likes about HP this month.
There's shopping until you drop, and shopping until the product line is dropped. The latter's probably years away for the enterprise products that are not commodities. The HP 3000 migrated base has experience in how to manage their investments in a line HP won't watch any longer. At some point they'll draw the line on whether their servers need to be powering Unix or VMS applications. It's the apps that steer operations investments. By this point, it would be news if BCS numbers did not drop.
It's a good thing that Windows XP dropped out of Microsoft's support plans. The demise of a popular OS left companies with a problem that required replacing aged PCs. The CEO is getting good at keeping HP's aged strategy from pulling down growth, but it's been flat for a long while. If there's a future to owning and staying loyal to Hewlett-Packard enterprise systems, few analysts can see it. You must look at customer applications -- and the dug-in nature of legacy computing -- to see the staying power.
August 22, 2014
30 years ago, 1984 seemed like news
I've been writing about my own experiences of the year 1984, since this has been the week that marks my 30th anniversary of my technical journalism career. It was the era of personal 1200 baud modems manufactured by US Robotics, now owned by PowerHouse's parent company Unicom Global. It was a time when HP's PC, the Touchscreen 150, operated using a variant of CPM -- the alternative to MS-DOS that lost like Betamax lost to VHS. It was a year when HP's worldwide software engineering manager Marc Hoff announced that 1,783 new products would enter HP's price list on April 1, products ranging from less-expensive software to "application-experienced CEs" called CSRs.
HP's new PICS phone support centers in California and Georgia each operated from 8 AM to 6 PM, giving the customers a whole 13 hours a day of call-in "toll-free" support in the US. It was an era when toll-free mattered, too, and to save money in your DP shop (we didn't call it IT) you could read a column on how to make your own RS-232 cables for the HP 3000, based on instructions from the Black Box Catalog. The HP 3000 could output graphics to magnetic tape, files that could be passed to a service bureau to create 35mm slides for your Kodak Carousel projector for those important boardroom meetings. But there are stories that 3000 community members have shared about that year, too. Here's a sample of some.
Alan Yeo, ScreenJet founder - In 1984 I had just gone freelance for a contract paying “Great Money” and spent the whole year on a Huge Transact Project. Actually it was the rescue of a Huge Transact Project, one that had taken two elapsed and probably 25 man-years and at that point was about 10 percent working. A couple of us were brought in on contract to turn it around. We did, and we used to joke that we were like a couple of Samurai Coders brought in to Slash and Burn all before us. (I think Richard Chamberlin may have just starred in the hit TV epic Samurai at that time.)
We were working on a Series 70, configured as the biggest 3000 in our region of the UK (apart from the one at HP itself). We used to have lots of HP SEs in and out to visit -- not because it was broken but just to show it to other customers. That was the year we started hearing rumors of PA-RISC and the new “Spectrum” HP 3000s. It unfortunately took a few more years for them to hit the streets.
I have lots of good memories of HP SEs from that time. HP employed some of the best people, and a lot of them were a great mix between Hardware Engineers, Software Engineers and Application Engineers. Great people to work with who sort of espoused the HP Way, and really made you want to be associated with HP. Where did they go wrong?
Brian Edminster, Applied Technologies founder -- As you've said, bespoke software was the meat and potatoes of the early 3000 market. I still believe that a custom software application package can be warranted -- as long as it gives your business a competitive edge. The trick is to make sure the edge is large enough to justify the expense of having something that's not Commercial Off the Shelf.Doug Greenup, Minisoft founder -- In 1984 Minisoft was just one year old. We had just begun marketing our first product, a word processor for the HP 3000 known as Miniword. At that time a lot of HP 3000s only did 2400 baud, so typeahead was pretty important. Users were losing characters because they typed too fast. Typeahead helped to solve that problem. Because the HP 3000 did not have typeahead we had to manufacture a little box that sat between the HP3000 and the terminal we called a “SoftBox.” One of our best moments was when we were able to get 9600 baud on a serial connection.
Also at that time we were timesharing on an HP 3000 Series III with another company called Western Data. The spinoff of that company became Walker, Richer and Quinn, the makers of Reflection. Marty Quinn came into my office one day complaining that he couldn't develop from home. He had this piece of hardware called an IBM PC. I remember laughing at the thought of making this IBM PC look like an HP2622 block mode terminal. Marty went on to develop PC2622 which became Reflection.
Denys Beauchemin, MIS manager, backup vendor, developer and Interex chairman -- By 1984 I had been working on the HP 3000 for over seven years. I was at Northern Telecom in Montreal with a pair of Series 70. The Spectrum project was announced by HP at the same time as the cancellation of the Vision project, and the Series 70 got an upgrade to keep it viable for a few more years waiting for Spectrum.
Donna (Garverick) Hofmeister, SIGSYSMAN chair, Longs Drug developer/analyst, OpenMPE board director -- By 1984 I was two years out of college and working for the Army, tracking equipment readiness on a 3000. It was replaced by a Series 70, just about as soon as the 70s came out, too. We were very proud of that system, because at time of delivery we were told it was the biggest 70 ever made.
Over the years we pushed that box pretty hard. It was very much a case of “if you build [the application] they will come.” We gave weapon system managers on-line access to their data -- something they had never had. And when we started graphing the trend data -- oh boy! You'd think we had built a better mouse trap! I was particularly fond of the DSG/3000 decision support graphics application. By the time the Army and I parted ways, I think we had a grand 6GB of disc attached to the system.
Chris Bartram, 3k Associates founder, NewsWire Webmaster - In 1984 I had just taken a fulltime system programming job on the 3000 after deciding to give up on college for a while. My work there inspired me to start 3k a few years later in 1987. That was the year when I bought my first 3000, a 3000/37 Mighty Mouse which cost me about $10,000.
Gilles Schipper, founder of third party support firm GSA, NewsWire columnist -1984 was one year after I left HP and started out on my own. At that time, MPE/VE was starting to be out in full force after HP had just announced the 42 (as well as the 48 and 68). Shortly thereafter, as regular contributor to The Chronicle, I wrote an article entitled “The HP3000 Series 41?” in which I suggested that lots of HP 3000 users were being shortchanged by HP with the Series 40 to 42 “upgrade kit,” because it did not include the necessary CPU board replacement that actually made the upgrade complete.
Guy Smith, Chronicle columnist and founder of Silicon Support Strategies - Wow, where the hell was I in 1984? I was running a couple of boxes at Canaveral Air Force Station at that time. 16-bits and many megabytes of RAM were considered serious hardware (which my laptop that I'm writing with mocks, smugly superior with its two 64-bit CPUs and 8GB of fast RAM).
Important at that point in time was the growing number and sophistication of HP Users Groups. The Florida Users Group was particularly vibrant and was a great feeding ground for young and hungry bitheads like me. They were small, intimate and high powered, allowing me to meet and discuss HP 3000 innards with the likes of David Greer, Vladimir Volokh and other gurus. Interex later became the locus, but regional groups were the launching pads for most of us in 1984. NASA at Kennedy Space Center and neighboring Cape Canaveral Air Force Station had many HP 3000s. I know the concentration of machines and talent there influenced FLORUG.
Jeff Vance, HP developer for MPE, community liaison -- In 1984 I was working in the MPE XL (really named HPE at the time) lab. It was the year that Spectrum (which became PA-RISC) won the battle over the Vision architecture, and we re-wrote much of the low-level OS to Spectrum, while simply porting the higher level code.
The “HPE Cookbook,” written by the late Chris Mayo, was “published” May 15, 1984. The table of contents shows: Development Environment Map, CookMOM - How to Build “Hi Mom,” CookHPE, Useful Directories, User Information, Spooling, Customizing Makefiles for HPE, and RDB - The Remote Debugger.
August 21, 2014
TBT 1984: The Days of Beauty and Wonder
When I arrived in the HP 3000 world, three decades ago this week, spreading the word about DP was supposed to be an attractive effort. We brought the workmanlike, newsprint-with-staples Chronicle into a marketplace where the leader was a slick-papered, four-color magazine bound like a book and produced as if it were a high-end design assignment.
In a Throwback Thursday covering the week my career started, the covers of Interact look like concept art. Much of what was inside was black and white with line drawings at best. But the outsides and even the big ads on the inside told the story of presentation in '84 style: focus on the beauty of the concept, and tout the details of the wonders of features. And some advertisers reached for the same level of art in their messages. Adager's ads often ran with little except a picture of the tape that carried the software, set in a mountain landscape or like the above, converted to a globe.
How else but with high concept could you make a full page of copy about a terminal that only worked with HP 3000s? There was a story in the HP ad, well-written, but like almost every other page of the user group's magazine, it was bereft of images of people.
The DP workers in these ads look flummoxed and beaten much of the time, because they don't have the invention of the year that will making using their 3000 the value it was promised to be. Some of the magic of the day included HP's Dictionary/3000, designed to eliminate the tedious writing of COBOL Identification Divisions. A cartoon depicts those who still perform this task as cave dwellers. Meanwhile, the wonders of fourth generation languages were touted as if these would soon become as universal as anything such as COBOL. Technically that would have made things like these 4GLs third generation languages. One of the things that made COBOL universal was that everybody knew it and you could find it running anywhere.
The abiding element in all of the messages from 1984's advertising was this: because you know how tech works, we know the decision lies with you. Years ago, the HP enterprise user group of our modern day began to separate the tech-steeped customer from the ones who knew business and partnerships and budgets. The geek customers were dubbed technologists. It would have been a compliment 30 years ago, because the days of magic were always amid our steps into the future. Magic about things we take for granted, like understanding that germs cause disease or that mother's milk builds smarter humans.
It was a year when knowing would get you promoted, and I grappled with all there was to learn. Some of the mystery would always elude me; the power of IBM's System Network Architecture had to be explained to me years after TCP/IP made SNA an afterthought. I never learned what the readers already knew and practiced. But like the wafer artwork that graced the front cover below, grabbing their technical wisdom and replicating it, one month at a time on tabloid newsprint, was enough to complete the circuits between what one DP manager knew and another desired. Especially when, like the best of the chipmaking, those circuits that we built ran faster than the competition. In the good months, with luck, you could see the advantages of speed.
August 20, 2014
Small office — but a modest, social market
The building in Austin, Texas wasn't even devoted to the newspaper entirely. Off in the northern side, the single-story offices housed a insurance company and an optician. The beginnings of the HP Chronicle matched the position of the HP 3000 in 1984. It was not the most significant tenant in the Hewlett-Packard building of products. It was never the biggest earner on the HP ledger. It was just the most social office of the HP structure. People built events and associations around it.
HP closed out its fiscal 1984 a couple months after I arrived in the offices of the Chronicle. We were so cautious that we didn't even include "HP" in the publication name at first, because we were not welcomed at that year's Interex user group conference. I heard about the argument on the show floor, where it was plain we'd started a publication to compete with the user group. They'd cashed the check, said the publisher John Wilson. They had to let us in. But seeing that resistance, nobody was going to make us change our name in that kind of environment. Leave the HP off the front page.
It never occured to us to make a big story out of the annual HP numbers which were reported in mid-November. HP wasn't a sexy stock (trading in the mid $40s, with good profits) and its board of directors was full of technical expertise and HP management experience. John Young, the company's CEO on the August day I began, was not the chairman. That job was in the hands of one of the company founders, David Packard. His partner Bill Hewlett was vice-chairman. HP management moves didn't involve mergers or acquisitions as the splashy plays of today. The photo of the HP Touchscreen connected to a 3000 at left was one of just four in the annual report with a person in it. This was still a company that knew how to connect with customers, but struggled to sell its story about people.
There was a full range of things which the 1984 Hewlett-Packard was not. One of them was an adept player at being in a partnership. The Not Invented Here syndrome was in full throat on the day I arrived and looked at the PC 2622 box atop that PC monitor. Walker, Richer & Quinn was selling an alternative to HP's hardware. Within a few years HP would be launching a product to compete with WRQ, Advancelink. Because HP believed that every dollar, from supplies to support, had its best chance to help the company if it were on the HP ledger.
Computer-related sales made up the biggest share of the $6.1 billion that HP posted 30 years ago, but test and measurement systems were not far behind. $3.2 billion for computers, $2.2 billion for test gear. The latter was the best-known product for the company, as the Silicon Valley's hardware engineers were likely to have HP measurement products in their development labs. Test and Measurement was also more profitable than computers. Used in hospitals, medical labs, research facilities -- this was the business that started the company, and it was still the major driver in profitability, with strong sales.
Test and measurement was also completely outside my beat, thank goodness. But that didn't mean I only had the HP 3000 to learn. The Chronicle covered HP 1000 real-time systems and HP 9000 engineering computers, but mostly because our California competitors at Interex did so. The serious ad revenue came from the most social side of HP's $3.2 billion: business computers, charting the lives of companies and their employees. But even a chart off an HP business computer had a radical distinction from today. It used six pens to make its appearance.I didn't have to write much about HP plotters, but they were a marvel to watch whenever we'd get one into our offices for a test run. The HP ThinkJet printers were less than a year old at HP at the time, and the LaserJet was announced in the same summer as the 3000's Office Computer. I didn't know it at the time -- maybe nobody outside of HP was aware -- but the year 1984 was the moment of watershed for HP's computing product futures. Printers which had graphics capability of a plotter and were faster than dot-matrix devices were the hottest product in offices other than PCs. In the years that followed, HP would hew ever harder to the course of ink-jet and LaserJet model: using commodity resellers and little in-person contact with customers.
We didn't run a column devoted to printers. We ran one on managing company staff, written by Dr. E.R. Simmons, who'd founded a fourth generation language firm called Protos. E.R. was also a psychologist. HP 3000 customers were often called analysts, meaning they had to understand the way people worked as well as how to code up a program. E.R. column was the easiest for everyone to understand. Including me.
Writing about HP's LaserJets that year would have had nothing to do with its big office computers, or even its engineering line. HP EasyChart ran off a 3000, yes, and it output to no devices but plotters that year. Same thing for the more advanced HP graphics apps, HP EasyDraw and DSG/3000. They all used data from IMAGE, but the LaserJet was too new to work with anything except Personal Computers at first. HP sold 10 million of these printers, which retailed for about $3,000 each, in 10 years time. The company had never created anything that sold so much, so quickly. But it never had a popular consumer product before, either.
The LaserJet, of course, had no conferences. No user group formed around it, and it only gained a Special Interest Group late in the '80s -- and even then, people wondered why. The HP 3000 had dozens of Regional User Group meetings, often with some kind of meal or multi-day agenda. I went to my first at the Florida RUG's December conference, feeling fully unprepared to talk in person about business computing without the aid of taped notes to decipher afterward. This was my first field work with the people who knew and loved MPE. They turned out to be some of the most generous and patient pros I'd interviewed in journalism. They knew they needed to explain a lot to me. They seemed to be eager to tell their stories.
But I came in at an odd moment for the 3000 community. Interex produced the biggest conference of the year, one named after the user group. In August of 1984 we were six months past HP's admission that its Vision architecture was going to be scrapped. Something named Spectrum was taking its place, but the next conference -- the best place to find and interview dozens of people in one place -- would not be held for another full year. I was used to in-person reporting and writing. Everything would need to happen over the phone. Fax wouldn't become popular for another year. Compuserve had nothing on it about HP products.
FLORUG, and then the Southern California SCRUG, would have to serve, to put me in front of experts and learn the personalities starting in December. We all read papers -- published in thick volumes after a conference -- or publications, or HP's technical bulletins, to learn about new tech and case studies and field reports. Computerworld was useful, but the HP 3000 drew scant notice in there.
HP's entire product line fought for space in any general computing interest newspaper. There were still several dozen makers of minicomputers and personal computers to write about. This specialization was the whole reason the Chronicle existed -- all HP news, on every page. Specialization was also the reason I got to enter the technical field. This was a community, and I'd shown success at community journalism in the three years before I went to work in that single-story set of rooms on Research Boulevard.
August 19, 2014
What Changed Over 30 Years: Bespoke
I arrived here in the community of my career when gas was $1.15 a gallon in the US, the Dow was at 1,200, a new truck sold for $8,995, the Cold War Olympics featured no Soviet atheletes in LA, and Stevie Wonder had a top hit on the record charts. Because there were still records being sold for pop hits, along with cassettes. Nary a CD could be bought. The Mac was brand new and still didn't sport a hard drive. Those fellows to the right were right in style with warm-up suits that you're likely to see in a senior's happy hour cafeteria line today.
There were thousands of applications in the Hewlett-Packard software catalog of 1984. It wasn't a new idea to collate and curate them, either. MB Foster had one of the first compendiums of HP 3000 software, several years before it occured to HP to offer products the vendor did not make (or buy up, then sell back). But in the month when I entered this market, during that August you were at least as likely to find custom, bespoke software running a corporation as any Commercial Off The Shelf package.
People built what they needed. The bespoken software was often created with the help of fourth generation langauges, so Speedware and Cognos' Powerhouse were big players during 1984. Not the biggest of the 3000 vendors, in terms of customer size. Unless you counted several thousand MANMAN sites, all running the Quiz reporting tools that ASK Computer included with the MRP package. Back in those says, Enterprise Resource Planning hadn't been conceived.
Because so much of the community's software was customized, being well-versed in IMAGE/3000 -- not yet TurboIMAGE, let alone IMAGE/SQL -- was a key skill. Mastery of the database was more attainable if you had a database management utility. Adager was most widely installed, with Bradmark just getting off the ground in 1984. I nearly crashed my reputation with Adager and co-founder Alfredo Rego, less than a month after I began my career in the community.
The problem was a lack of MPE and IMAGE experience. Since I didn't understand the technology first-hand, I felt compelled to contribute to the effort of the HP Chronicle. Not by writing an article, but instead closely red-pen editing the writing of Rego. I didn't know yet that anything he shared with a publication -- his technical treatise was a big win for us at the HP Chronicle -- had already been polished and optimized. A writer well-steeped in mastery of his subject can insist an article be published with no changes. In the publishing business, stet means to ignore a change. I'd have been helped if someone had grabbed my inked-up printout of Rego's paper and marked "stet all changes" on the front. He had a legitimate beef.
Instead, we ran it and then I got to enjoy a rare thrill -- having my corrections corrected by the author, live in front of a local user group audience. Writers forming the troika of big independent vendors -- Bob Green at Robelle, Eugene Volokh at VEsoft, and Rego -- certainly had earned stet-all-changes. Their software became crucial in managing a 3000 that was gasping for new horsepower. Creating and maintaining customized software was a popular way to get the most out of the six-figure HP 3000s, already at the end of the line at the top but still more than two years away from getting a refresh.One accounting software package was in place that was basically a template for its resellers to customize for customers. Meanwhile there was talk in our offices about the new Account Management Support, a Systems Engineer (SE) and Customer Support Representative (SCR) tandem for supporting HP 3000s. An SE would visit your site once a month; nothing new about that in 1984. But HP would be sending a CSR for each of your applications. The 3000 community always knew that HP wanted to be onsite to talk about optimization and resolve management operations issues. The CSRs were all about making sure that the HP applications were satisfactory -- and edging out the third-party alternatives.
But so much of what was running neither HP or third-party. It was custom-crafted. And that year could get a new level of support, via phone in the US out of Santa Clara, Calif. and from Atlanta.
In my offices, the 3000 was limited to an amber terminal emulator screen, representing time on a system down at Futura Press, where the newspaper was printed monthly. We never saw any SEs unless we were at a conference -- where they gave talks. We never installed an HP 3000.
It was an era where PCs were on the rise, but not being much trusted in the Data Processing departments. The financial forces started to carry the day with PCs and MS-DOS, but the established MIS sector analysts figured that PCs would saturate the market quickly enough. One $400,000 study reported "Early PC peak forecasted," where SRI International predicted PC growth tapering off after 1986. "Average annual growth will be only 5.4 percent in the 1986-1990 period."
Customization -- the bespoke nature of database designs -- was supposed to be holding back more PC growth. "Some companies find that the file structures within their corporate databse do not lend themselves to easy access by PCs." Personal computers were supposed to work unconnected to the databases like IMAGE, the experts figured. Then software like Data Express arrived to change all of that connectivity between PC spreadsheets and minicomputer databases. IMAGE could use what Lotus 1-2-3 wrought/
IMAGE adjustments, management and optimization were so popular that we had a pristine copy of the IMAGE/3000 Handbook in our office -- though it was more for my education than any operational use. The book was 330 generous sized pages, plus index, written by Bob Green, David Greer, Alfredo Rego, Fred White, and Dennis and Amy Heidner. "The book sold itself," said Green, "and since the price was $50 each and we paid for the printing, our editor Marguirete Russell had a nice extra income for the next few years."
August 18, 2014
This Is Where I Came In
It's the third week of August, but it's 30 years ago. I wear my wide tie and my oxfords to an office in Austin's northwest tech territory and start to write and learn about the HP 3000. I'm 27, father of a boy not yet two, a community news reporter with a new community to creep into -- because that's how it's done when you don't know anyone or much of anything. You ask a lot of questions and try to understand the answers.
The office is ribbed with wood paneling and mini-blinds and sports an IBM-PC knockoff, a Columbia. It's got an amber display and no hard drive. A box with the manual for Walker, Richer & Quinn's PC2622 software is on top of that monitor. It's connected for something called time-sharing, and it also connects to something called Compuserve. I watch my boss dial up on a phone with a modem -- I knew about those from using an Apple II at home -- and read the news. None of it's about HP, though. That's our story to tell.
Inside my editor's office there's a telephone transcription machine for recorded interviews, plus a Kaypro II portable. It weighs 28 pounds and has a screen that's nine inches across. Imagine two Samsung Galaxy phones side by side, and that's about it. There are two books on the shelf, both printed by Hewlett-Packard. One is a catalog of third-party software and specialized hardware, all written in something called MPE V for a computer people are wild about, the HP 3000. The other book is a listing of the phone number of everyone in HP's Bay Area campuses. HP is not yet selling $7 billion of gear, support or software in 1984 -- and that includes medical and measurement systems that are so much better known than its computer products.
In my first week of a career writing about HP, one of the first things that I learn is that we've been scooped. The latest HP 3000, a real ground-breaker, is already in the pages of Interact magazine. The user group Interex has won again, because being physically near those HP Bay Area offices makes a difference. There's nobody on our staff or theirs who wrote news for newspapers, though, not until this week. It's the only chance we've got to learn something first: Get on that phone, son.Thirty years ago the market that became the community I called home had a minicomputer product being sold in a mainframe mindset. HP sold office computers for interactive computing, just like DEC, Wang, Control Data, Honeywell, Burroughs, Univac, Datapoint, and yeah, some company called IBM. I'd heard of IBM. I knew nothing about the rest of the BUNCH, and I thought they were kidding about a company called Wang. (In the years to come, our publishing company created an unfortunately-named tabloid called Wang in the News.)
We got scooped on the release of the Series 37, which HP called the Office Computer because it was the first minicomputer it sold that didn't need special cooling or a raised floor. It operated on carpet, and that was a big deal for something people called the Mighty Mouse. It had the the first 3000 on a chip; a CMOS gate array; could have as much as 8 MB of memory and the same performance as a Series III, according to Stan Sieler's genealogy of that era. The Series III cost four times as much. That 8 MB is smaller than some of the individual podcast files I created 25 years later.
But I'm getting ahead of myself, like I usually do. I came into that office with 24 credit hours of computer science and a passion for the field. I was an enthusiast, as they used to call people who like computers for the concept of what they'd do, not just what they could help you learn. I only had a journalism degree to hang up on my paneled office wall. Plus that telephone and a notepad and a recorder. I needed the recorder, because I was drinking out of a fire hose of information for the first six months of these 30 years.
People were at the heart of the work, though. Not just the machines, but creative people with personality and a penchant for gathering and being social. These were business computing analysts, and the best way for them to share what they knew and learn was to read and meet in person. They held meetings at least once a month around the world. They were generous with what they knew. It seemed lots of them wanted to teach.
These days there are Throwback Thursdays online in social media like Facebook. Us baby boomers share pictures of our younger days. But I'm going to take more than just this coming Thursday to throw you back into 1984 and the place where I came in, looking for a way to tell stories that 3000 people would hear for the first time. Being first was important. But I'd soon learn that being accurate was even more important, more essential to my readers and my new community than being accurate when someone was on trial, or critically injured, or breaking a record or hearts on a sporting field. It certainly felt that way to the people who shared their stories with me. It also felt that way to me, the first time I messed up in public as I came in, then got schooled in person about how inaccurate my editing was in 1984.
August 15, 2014
The 3000's got network printing, so use it
Ten years ago this summer, HP's 3000 lab engineers were told that 3000 users wanted networked printing. By 2005 it was ready for beta testing. This was one of the last enhancements demanded as Number 1 by a wide swath of the 3000 community, and then delivered by HP. The venerable Systems Improvement Ballot of 2004 ranked networked printing No. 1 among users' needs.
MPEMXU1A is the patch that enables networked printing, pushed into General Release in Fall, 2005. In releasing this patch's functionality, HP gave the community a rather generic, OS-level substitute for much better third party software from RAC Consulting (ESPUL). It might have been the last time that an independent software tool got nudged by HP development.
The HP 3000 has the ability to send jobs to non-HP printers over a standard network as a result of the enhancement. The RAC third party package ties printers to 3000 with fewer blind spots than the MPEMXU1A patch. HP's offering won't let Windows-hosted printers participate in the 3000 network printing enhancement. There's a Windows-only, server-based net printing driver by now, of course, downloadable from the Web. The HP Universal Print Driver Series for Windows embraces Windows Server 2012, 2008, and 2003.
Networked printing for MPE/iX had the last classic lifespan that we can recall for a 3000 enhancement. The engineering was ready to test less than a year after the request. This software moved out of beta test by November, a relatively brief five-month jaunt to general release. If you're homesteading on 3000s, and you don't need PCL sequences at the beginning and end of a spool file, you should use it. Commemorate the era when the system's creator was at least building best-effort improvements.MPE/iX 6.5 was still being patched when networked printing rolled out. That's a release still in some use at homesteading shops. In contrast, plenty of later patches were only created and tested for the 7.0 and 7.5 PowerPatch kits.
Deep inside the Web is a white paper that former HP staffer Jeff Vance wrote, a guide he called "Communicator-like" after the classic HP technical documents. HP's taken down its Jazz repository of tech papers where NWPrinting.html once was available. But our open source software expert Brian Edminster tracked down that gem at the Client Systems website -- the company which was one of two to license HP's tech papers. You could check in with your independent support provider, to see if they've got the paper.
Networked printing was never as comprehensive as the indie solutions for the 3000, but at least it was delivered on the OS level via patches. The vendor still warned that adding new printers was going to be an uneven process.
HP will support this enhancement on a "best-effort" basis, meaning we will attempt to duplicate and resolve specific spooler problems -- but we cannot guarantee that all ASCII based printers are supported by this enhancement.
Of course, HP's support is long gone. But while best-effort might sound like a show-stopper so many years later, you'd be surprised how many printers of that 6.5 era are still attached at homesteading 3000 sites.
Where do you get the patch? That's where HP's still doing its work. These MPE/iX patches were given special dispensation from the pay-for-patches edict of 2010. They're still free by calling HP. That non-Windows printer and MPE might seem like old technology. But HP's still using telephones to enable the delivery of patches, so there's that Throwback -- and one you can find on days which are not Thursdays, too.
August 14, 2014
TBT: Affordable IT in Acquisition Aftermath
There it is, in all of its comfy, trustworthy glory: The only two-page spread advertisement HP ever bought to promote the HP 3000. From a 1998 issue of Computerworld, it's a ThrowBack Thursday entry, from an era when the 3000 was battling for prime position in datacenters. (Click it to have a closer look.) Harry Sterling was the general manager of the 3000 group by that year. Serious business.
As part of another ad series, Terry Simpkins, now the Business Systems Director of Measurement Specialties Inc., testified to the value of running HP 3000 ERP systems. At the time MANMAN was owned by Computer Associates, who'd dubbed the software's owner the MK Group. (Click to have a closer look at his testimony.)
Now comes word that Simpkins' current company -- probably one of the single largest users of MANMAN -- has been purchased. An acquisition can be a trigger for change. Some HP 3000s have been decommissioned as a result of running a company which now must march in a new corporate file.
It may not be so at MSI. We've heard through the MANMAN support network that TE Connectivity Ltd., which will own MSI perhaps as early as next month, was impressed by the low costs of operating more than 10 separate ERP installations around the world. MSI was purchased for $1.4 billion, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.
There have been some instances in the system's past where the HP 3000 edged out other mid-size enterprise platforms during a merger. AS/400s got replaced in one case. At MSI, the system is running manufacturing for a company that is moving into stronger business.TE was once called Tyco Electronics, a spinoff of Tyco International. It manufactures electronic connection products for cars, consumer products and the energy industry. Measurement Specialties had strong bookings in the last quarter before the deal was announced. In a statement at the time, it said it was "well positioned to deliver solid growth and strong earnings performance in fiscal 2015, with acceleration in fiscal 2016."
For MSI's latest fiscal year, net income was $37.8 million on sales of $412.7 million. The company expected fiscal 2015 sales of about $540 million, including $100 million from the recent purchase of Wema System AS.
With profits in hand, and the ability to meet growing business needs, it's possible that the HP 3000 could feel as secure as the blanket in that 1998 ad, once TE wraps its arms around its newest acquisition. MSI was looking to add a 3000 expert this summer, too. Comfort sometimes comes from the certainty of managing growth at an attractive price.
August 13, 2014
When a taxing situation might shuffle plans
Out in the 3000 community some select customers are seeing subpoenas. According to a source familiar with the matter, a vendor's been having some issues with the Internal Revenue Service, and the US Government is intent on gathering what it believes it's owed.
Tax matters go to subpoena when information is being demanded in a case against a corporation or an individual. We're still seeking confirmation of the information about which vendor's name is now out among its customers, attached to a subpoena. [Update: And we have gotten it, plus a copy of the vendor's response. It's a long-term battle with the IRS, the vendor says. We've found documents going back more than 15 years. They claim that the fight is personal, not related to their company. Nonetheless, the vendor's customers got subpoenas.]
It illustrates the unpredictable nature of doing long-term business in the IT industry. HP 3000 users often do long-term business. They have a reputation for sticking to suppliers, especially in these days when companies are shifting focus away from MPE. When you get a tool that works, and a company that pledges to support it, you stick with it while you stay with the 3000.
"What do I do if they go out of business?" one of the customers has asked. The answer is simple enough: the products will go onto the open market to be purchased as assets. Software with customers who pay support fees, well, that's likely to be bought up sooner than later. An IT manager will have to manage new product ownership -- and perhaps new strategy and roadmaps for the product.
But just because there's change at the top of a product's ownership doesn't mean all else changes. It's pretty easy for a company to acquire a product and change little. Especially if the customer base is providing a profit to the vendor at the same time that the software continues to earn support contract renewals.A sale of assets is the situation that Interex fell into when it declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2005. There was not much of value for another company to purchase. Nobody was taking over the services Interex provided, so there was no customer base to buy as an asset. The only thing that wound up being transferred was the Interex customer list, transferred in a blind auction.
But software that's running in enterprises, across a scope of platforms even broader than MPE -- that's an asset that the government could sell. It's a typical outcome; for example, the trustee of the Interex bankruptcy managed the sale of the user group's assets.
Sometimes taxing issues can be resolved with negotiation. The government wants to be paid, and if there's fraud involved, the "accuracy-related penalties" can be steep. Lawyers with tax experience handle these things to everybody's satisfaction. Watch out for any company representing itself in tax court. Not recommended.
One flag about an imminent forced asset transfer could be an email sent out by the vendor, claiming the government has no right to tax anybody like they're being taxed. That's politics, not business. Nobody ever advised withholding support payments in this kind of matter. But you have to consider where that payment might be used, and whether it will end up someplace besides a support lab. Better to be current, and considered a customer, in case anything changes in ownership of an asset.
August 12, 2014
Where a Roadmap Can Lead You
In preparation for its upcoming VMS Boot Camp, Hewlett-Packard has removed some elements of its roadmap for the operating environment. What's disappeared are no small thing: dates.
As the system neared its change of life at HP, customers of the HP 3000 saw their roadmap get less certain about its estimated time of arrivals. At the end of the vendor's interest in selling and creating more systems, an elaborate PowerPoint slide showed multiple levels of servers. The roadmap actually got a cloud creeping in from the right hand margin.
Okay, that was 13 years ago this very month in Chicago. But it was not the last HP World conference -- that would be one decade ago, this month -- not any more than next month's Boot Camp for VMS enthusiasts and customers will be the last. But there have been times when VMS had promises from HP's management of another decade of service. Here's the before, and the after.
Very few products last for lifetimes. Knowing when they're going, and how soon to make plans for replacement, is serious business for an IT manager.
During an August in 2001 when the future looked certain and solid for some customers, a PowerPoint slide told more than could be easily read in Chicago for HP 3000 customers. For the record, the slide below delivered everything promised up until 2003. The PA-8800 never made an entry into the N-Class.
That would be known, in the roadmap parlance, as a PA-8xxx. The PA-8yyy (8900) never made it into a 3000, either.
Roadmaps might be an old tradition, but they're moments to establish and renew trust in a partner. Specific, and follow-through, make that possible. Some VMS customers are already underway with their migration assessments.
August 11, 2014
Classic lines push homestead tech designs
Sometime this week I expect to be updated on the latest restructure at Stromasys. That's the company that has created a 3000 hardware-virtualization product installed in more sites than we first thought. They hold their cards close to the vest at Stromasys, especially about new installs. But we keep running into MPE support vendors who mention they have emulator-using clients. These companies are reticent about reporting on emulation.
3000 people have dreamed about emulators ever since 2002. And for the next eight years, people figured emulation wouldn’t matter by the time HP approved MPE emulator licensing. Better not tell that to the customers who have plans to go deep into the second decade of the 21st century with their 3000. Emulation was rolling by 2012 for the 3000. Within a couple of years between now and 2023, that technology could be well polished for MPE. Enough to stop using HP's 3000 hardware, boxes that will be at least 20 years old by that time. Most of them are at least 15 years old right now.
A great deal of time has passed since the 9x9 3000s had their coming-out, but much has changed that we couldn't predict back then. Come with me to the magical year of 1997. We had little idea what we'd see in just 10 years' time.
It’s 1997. (Humor me a minute, and turn back the year.) You're here? Okay, think about what we don’t have yet. Google. BluRay. DVDs, for that matter. Hybrid cars. Portable MP3 players of any kind. PayPal. Amazon turning a profit. YouTube. eBay was so new it was called AuctionWeb. Thumb drives. Digital TV. Viagra. Caller ID. Smartphones, warmed baby wipes, online banking, Facebook and Twitter. Blade servers, cloud computing, Linux, virtualization — the list of technologies and designs we didn’t have 17 years ago is vast.
We don’t even have to talk about clouds, tablet computers or 3D TVs. Now, roll ahead to 2023. In that year, there will still an HP 3000 running a factory in Oklahoma. That’s the plan for Ametek’s Chandler Engineering unit. By that year MPE will be 50 years old, COBOL more than 75. And what will keep those two technologies viable? Well, probably technology that we don’t even have out of design now, nine years ahead of that shutdown date. People have been throwing rocks at old stuff for years, but it hangs on if it’s built well.Four years ago I took a train ride from New York toward Chicago on the Lakeshore Limited. Just like Cary Grant rode that same line with Eva Marie Saint in the year I was born, in North by Northwest. The train remains the best value to get a night’s worth of sleep and end up 800 miles west of where you started. C'mon, railroads? Passenger service with berths went on lines, as it were, in the 19th century. How could it remain viable 150 years later? Like the HP 3000, the values that propel such elder technologies are efficiency and entropy. Railroads still call their carriages rolling stock, because you can roll freight three times farther on a train than a truck for the same expense.
The HP 3000 hardware, virtualized or not, still preserves business rules because Hewlett-Packard built the boxes like armored cars. The investment was so great back in those '90s that people expected it to last more than a decade between upgrades. The downside to switching to newer technology? The stuff we haven’t invented yet might not stick around. Perhaps the Oracle database will still be in widespread use in 2023. That’s the software where Ametek is taking its migration, using a plan developed by people who probably won’t be at the company is 2023.
That Ametek date was so far out that I wondered if it was a typo in an email. (Oh, we had email in 1997. But it wasn’t considered grandpa’s technology back then, the way the young turks think of email today. but now even grandpa's tech reputation has changed. So much noise on Twitter and Facebook. A personal email, from a known colleague -- you open that one first.) So when you plan your transition to tomorrow — whether it’s your personal retirement, or parking that armored car of a computer — don’t sell the future short. Go ahead and be independent to get the work finished on your timetable. But if you're going, now would be a good time to start. It will take until 2016, at best, if you began assessments today.
August 08, 2014
Classic Advice: Adding a DLT to an HP 3000
I'm trying to add a DLT to a my HP 3000 939KS and it keeps reporting media as bad. I can FCOPY but not run an Orbit or MPE store. It does mount the tape normally. The MPE store gives the following error:
STORE ENCOUNTERED MEDIA WRITE ERROR ON LDEV 9 (S/R 1454)
SPECIFICALLY, STORE RECEIVED ERROR -48 FROM THE IO SYSTEM (S/R 1557).
The server which this drive is being added to has DDS-3s on it, but we are adding another disk array, so we are going to outgrow what we have very quickly.
DLT8000s have not been manufactured in perhaps 10 years. Even five-year-old drives are SDLTII or DLT VS160, or some form of LTO. Also, using HVD-SCSI is so last century. At any rate, the heads on the DLT drives do get used up depending on the media used. Try another DLT drive, if possible.
Unfortunately, this is the exact issue facing homesteaders and others who are delaying their migration off the HP 3000, especially if they have pre-PCI machines like the 939. The hardware to run with it can be difficult to find, but it's out there, although it can be of varying level of readiness. You have many options open to you, but as time goes by they will more difficult to implement.1. Look for another DLT8000 or a DLT7000. Either of these tape drives will work, and you will not get any performance benefit from either one over the DDS-3, but you will get more storage on one tape. You might make sure it has HP-branded firmware; there have been a painful set of System Aborts, due to semi-random walks through driver state machines — initiated by non-certified firmware.
2. Instead of a DLT, consider getting more DDS-3 drives. One medium size N-Class can have 12 DAT24 drives -- they do either a 4x3 or 3x4 parallel storeset. No messing with "reel" switches.
3. Consider getting an HVD to SE/LVD SCSI converter and then trying a DDS-4 device. DAT40 with DAT24 media has worked well for some sites, but DAT40 with DAT40 media is only supported on A/N-Class. To get technical on you here, you may only configure the DLT (scsi_tape2_dm) driver "under" the NIO F/W SCSI HBA (fwscsi_dam).
4. Move to a PCI HP 3000 (the A-Class or a small N-Class,) then use the newer LVD devices. PCI systems will at least enable the usage of much newer used equipment — and even some new stuff, if you want to buy a XP10000/12000.
August 07, 2014
Who's got our history, and our future?
Migration takes on many problems and tries to solve them. A vendor stops supporting the server. Investing in a vendor's current product by migrating makes that go away. Applications slide into disrepair, and nobody knows how to re-develop them. Ah, that's a different sort of problem, one that demands a change in people, rather than products.
Yesterday we heard a story of a company in Ohio, running a 3000, whose IT manager planned to retire rather than migrate. Telling top management about your retirement plans is not mandatory. Frankly, having an option to retire is a special situation in our modern era. Figuring that you could be replaced, along with all of your in-company experience and know-how about things like COBOL, is far from certain. Legacy systems still run much of the world, but the people who built and tend to them are growing older, out of the workforce.
It's a glorious thing, knowing that your server's environment was first crafted four decades ago. Some of the brightest players from that era are still around, though not much active. Fred White built IMAGE, alongside Jon Bale at HP. Neither are at work today. Fred's now 90, as of April.
In another example of a seasoned 3000 expert, Ken Nutsford's LinkedIn account reports that he celebrates 45 years at Computometric Systems, the development company he founded with his wife Jeanette. In a Throwback Thursday entry, here they are, 10 years ago and now, still together. Not all of us wear so well, but they've retired enough to have travelled the world over, several times, on cruise ships. That's what more than 40 years will earn you.
It's been a decade since there's been a HP World conference like the one pictured at left, hosted by the Nutsfords, complete with a hospitality buffet as well as a board of trivia (below, click for detail) technical details that just a tiny set of experts might know. The number of people who know the operating system and the hardware at hand at that level has been on the decline. Not just in the MPE world, but throughout the computer industry.
BusinessWeek recently ran an article titled, "Who'll keep your 50 year old software running?" Even though the Nutsfords retired from leading SIGCOBOL in 2004, there's plenty of COBOL around. But not anywhere near enough people to maintain it, although companies continue to try.
The baby boomers that brought us the computer revolution, developing the products and programs we now rely on, are retiring. But many companies are still using programs written in such software languages as COBOL and Fortran that were considered “cutting edge” 50 years ago. Indeed, the trade publication Computerworld has reported that more than half of the companies they surveyed are still developing new COBOL programs
"Staffing is the first thing to go these days," said Birket Foster in a Webinar briefing this week. His MB Foster company is still doing migrations, including moving a Unix customer off the Progress database and onto SQL Server. Progress is a youngster compared to COBOL and IMAGE. Some people decide to migrate because of the migration of their most expert people.The BusinessWeek article didn't supply easy answers to the brain-drain dilemma that every company seems to face. The firms that put computers into their business processes during the last 35 years -- that's just about every company -- are working with new staff by now, or watching their tech foundation head out to the pleasure cruise life.
The article notes that up to one-half of all COBOL and Fortran programmers are at least 50 years old. Younger developers arrive with experience in newer languages. There's a gap to cross between what's operational and what's state-of-the-art. "Smart companies have recruitment and succession plans, of course," the business magazine said. "What they don’t have is access to an adequate supply of workers with the technical expertise they need."
The staffing issues complicate the timing of migrations. How long can you depend on legacy software while you get a replacement up and tested, something the younger set of developers can understand? A migration takes at least 18 months, Foster says. He adds that getting started on the assessment is pretty much a do-it-now item. August is a month that hosted HP World conferences for a good business reason: this is the time of the year when companies are planning their IT budgets for the year to come.
August 06, 2014
Password advice for migrating managers
More than a billion password-ID combos were stolen by a Russian gang, according to a report from a cybersecurity company. Mission-critical, revenue-centric passwords are probably the ripest targets.
Once you're making a migration of mission-critical systems from MPE to more-exposed servers, passwords will become a more intense study for you. Windows-based servers are the most exposed targets, so a migrated manager needs to know how to create high-caliber passwords and protect them. Given the headlines in current news, today's probably the day when you'll get more questions about how safe your systems are -- especially in the coming era of cloud computing. Here's some answers from our security expert Steve Hardwick.
By Steve Hardwick, CISSP
Everything needs a password to access it. One of the side effects of the cloud is the need to be able to separate information from the various users that access a centrally located service. In the case where I have data on my laptop or desktop, I can create one single password that controls access to all of the apps that reside on the drive, plus all of the associated data. There is a one to one physical relationship between the owner and the physical machine that hosts the information. This allows a simpler mechanism to validate the user.
In the cloud world it is not as easy. There is no longer a physical relationship with the user. In fact, a user may be accessing several different physical locations when running applications or accessing information. This has lead to a dramatic increase in the number of passwords and authentication methods that are in use.
I just did a count of my usernames and passwords and I have 37 different accounts (most with unique usernames and password). Plus, there are several sites where I use the same usernames and password combinations. You may ask why are some unique and why are some shared. The answer is based on the risk of a username or password be compromised. If I consider an account to have a high value, high degree of loss/impact if hacked, then it gets a unique username or password. Let's look at email accounts as a good example.I have a unique username and password for my five email accounts. However, I do have one email account that is reserved solely for providing a username for other types of access. When I go to a site that requires an email address to set up an account, that is the one I use. Plus I am not always selecting a unique password. The assumption is that if that username and password is stolen, then the other places it can be used are only website accounts of low value. I also have a second email account that I use to set up more sensitive assess, Google Drive, for example. This allows me to limit the damage if one of the accounts is compromised and not end up with a daisy chain of hacked accounts.
So how do you go about generating a bunch of passwords? One easy way is to go into your favorite search engine and type in password generator. You will get a fairly good list of applications that you can use to generate medium to strong passwords. When I used to teach security this was one trick I would share with my students. Write a list of 4 or 5 short words that are easy to remember. Since my first name is Steve we can use that. Add to this password a short number (4-5 digits in length),1999 for example. Now pick a word and number combination and intersperse the numbers and letters S1t9e9v9e would be the result of Steve and 1999.
Longer words and longer numbers make strong passwords -- phone numbers and last names works well. With 5 words and 5 numbers you get 25 passwords. One nice benefit of this approach comes when you need to change your password. Write the number backwards, and merge the word and data back together.
Next challenge: how to remember them all. Some of the passwords I use I tend to remember due to repetitive use. Logging into my system is one I tend to remember, even through it is 11 characters long. But many of my passwords I use infrequently, my router for example, and many have the “remember me” function when I log on. What happens when I want to recall one of these? Well the first thing is not to write them down unless you absolutely have to. You would be amazed how many times I have seen someone’s password taped on the underside of their laptop. A better option is to store them on your machine. How do you do that securely? Well there are several ways.
One easy way is to use a password vault or password manager. This creates a single encrypted file that you can access with a single username and password. Username and password combinations can then be entered into the password vault application together with their corresponding account. The big advantage is that it is now easy to retrieve the access data with one username and password. The one flaw is: what happens if the drive crashes that contains the vault application and data? If you use an encrypted vault, then you can place the resulting file on a cloud drive. This solved the machine dependency and has the added advatage that the password is generally available to multiple machines. If you want to get started with a password vault application, here is a good article that compares some leading products.
Another option is to roll your own. Create a text file and enter all of your account/username/password combinations. Once you are done, obtain some encryption technology. There are open source products, truecrypt is the leader, or you can use the encryption built into your OS. The advantage of using open source is that it runs on multiple OS. Encrypt the text file using your software. Caution: do not use the default file name the application gives you as it will be based on your text file name.
Once you have created your encrypted file from the text file, open the text file again. Select all the text in the file and delete it. Then copy a large block of text into the file and save it (more then you had with the passwords). Then delete the file. This will make sure that the text file cannot easily be recovered. If you know how to securely delete the file do that instead. Now you can remotely store the encrypted password file in a remote location, cloud storage, another computer, USB drive etc. You will then have a copy of your password file you can recover should you lose access to the one on your main machine.
Now, if you do not want to use encryption, then there is a very geeky option. But why wouldn’t you use encryption? Most programs use specific file extensions for their encrypted file. When auditing, the first thing I would look for is files with encryption extensions. I would then look for any files that were similar in size or name to see if I could find out the source. This included looking through the deleted file history.
The other option is steganography, or stego for short. The simple explanation is the ability to bury information into other data - for example pictures. Rather than give a detailed description of the technology here, take a look at its Wikipedia page There is also a page with some tools on it. For a long time, my work laptop had a screen saver that contained all my passwords. I am thinking of putting a picture up on Facebook next.
So here are a few simple rules on handling multiple passwords:
1) Try and use uniques usernames and password for sensitive account. You can use the same username password combination for low sensitive accounts.
2) Run through an exercise and ask yourself, what happens if this account is hacked. i.e don't use the same username and password for everything.
3) Do NOT write down your passwords to store them, unless you have a very secure place to store the document e.g. a safe.
4) Make sure you have a secure back-up copy of your passwords, use encryption or steganography.
August 05, 2014
Boot Camper laying down migration steps
More than a decade after HP began its migration away from MPE and HP 3000, there's another underway among the vendor's enterprise systems. OpenVMS customers are starting to look into what's needed to make a transition off the Digital servers. HP's announced that it will curtail the use of the newest VMS to the very latest generation of hardware. Thousands of servers are going to be stuck on an older OpenVMS.
That will be one element to spark the offers at next month's VMS Boot Camp in Bedford, Mass. We heard from a veteran HP 3000 and MPE developer, Denys Beauchemin, that his company is headed to the Boot Camp for the first time this year. There's engagements and consulting to be made in moving HP enterprise users to less HP-specific environments.
"We migrate them from VMS to Linux or other platforms," said Beauchemin, who was the last working chairman at the Interex user group before the organization went dark in 2005. "Another HP operating system comes to an end."
Boot Camp is a VMS tradition among HP's most-loyal general purpose computing community. (You can't call the 3000 community HP's any longer, now that the vendor is coming up on seven years without a working lab.) Boot Camps in the past were annual meetings to advance the science and solutions around VMS. But in more recent times they haven't been annual. Now there's migration advice on hand for the attendees. Some may view it with disdain, but when a vendor sends up signals of the end of its interest, some kinds of companies make plans right away to migrate.There is a strong presence in the VMS community for the Stromasys virtualized server solutions. Stromasys made its bones helping VAX and Alpha customers get away from DEC-branded servers; the company was established by the leader of the Digital migration center in Europe.
VMS might be just as essential in some companies as MPE has turned out to be. This is what's made Stromasys CHARON HPA a quiet success in your own community. As VMS customers face the end of HP's support for older hardware -- the latest OpenVMS won't run -- some of them may be looking to a virtualized version of the newer VMS systems. This strategy isn't without its efforts, too. Comparing migration to virtualization as a way into the future is likely to become a diligent task for another HP operating system customer base.
August 04, 2014
Webinar advice outlines migrating in-house
The biggest share of HP 3000 applications have been written by the owners of the systems. Custom code either began out of raw materials and the needs of a company's business processes -- or they were customized from third-party applications. In the most dynamic part of the 3000's history, companies bought source code from vendors along with the software products.
That's why this Wednesday's Webinar from MB Foster will strike so close to the hearts of MPE users. Migrating Custom In-House Developed HP 3000 Applications begins at 2 PM Eastern, 11 AM Pacific. Birket Foster leads a 45-minute talk and answers questions about risk, mitigating challenges, and how to get started. Regardless of how much life a 3000 has left in any company, the transition process revolves around the applications. Moving one can teach you so much about what might be next.
"It may seem frightening to migrate, but when properly planned, 'risks' are mitigated," says the introduction to the webinar. You can register right up to the starting time by following the links at the MB Foster website."You can do nothing and not migrate," Foster says, "and risk that your system performs without complications or downtime. Alternatively, you can choose to migrate, rejuvenate your business applications, improve performance, and resolve operational and technical challenges before going live."
With our guidance and as part of this webinar, MB Foster will deliver to you and your management teams, answers to its immediate questions and more
- How do we get started?
- What’s the process?
- Average time it takes to migrate?
Our goals are the same as yours
- Reduce risk
- Mitigate and resolve technical challenges
- Enhance and protect investments in an organization’s custom in-house developed applications
- Reduce the time it takes to transition
- Offer opportunities that current and future technologies provide
- Increase scalability
- Reduce year over year costs
August 01, 2014
HP doubles down on x86 Intel, not HP-UX
IBM's giving up on another market that HP continues to prize, but the latest one is more relevant to the small-sized enterprise where HP 3000 migrators hail from. (Years back, IBM sold its consumer PC business to Lenovo.) Now the modest-horsepower x86 server field's going to Lenovo, since IBM's decided to exit another Intel-based hardware market.
A longtime HP 3000 software vendor took note of this transition. He wondered aloud if the message HP now sends to its x86 prospects has a shadowy echo of another advisory, one delivered a decade ago. From our correspondent Martin Gorfinkel:
Hewlett-Packard has been running full page ads in the New York Times with the lead, “Building a cloud? Your future is uncertain.” (The “un” in “uncertain” is crossed out.) The ad goes on to say that the "IBM decision to exit the x86 server market impacts your cloud strategy." Thus, they say, move to HP and be assured that HP will not leave you stranded.
Would I be the only former user/vendor in the HP 3000 market to find that advertising hypocritical -- and further evidence that the company we once relied on no longer exists?
The hypocrisy is probably on display for any 3000 customer who was told Hewlett-Packard was making an exit from the 3000 hardware market (and by extension, the MPE software world). Every vendor exits some part of their business, once the vendor gets large enough to sell a wide array of products. IBM is dropping away from x86. HP invites enterprises to "join us to plan your forward strategy." This forwarding strategy of moving to Windows and Linux differs from HP advice of 10 years ago. Going to HP-UX was the strategy du jour, beyond a 3000 exit in 2004.
The full-page ads in four colors in a national daily announce a redoubling of effort to win Intel x86 business. That's going to suck up some energy and mindshare, effort that 3000 customers who followed HP forward on HP-UX are probably going to miss.It won't come as much news to the migrated customer who's been listening to HP management comment about the future of its Business Critical Systems Unix products. "A formerly growing business" is the best that HP's chairman and CEO Meg Whitman can manage in quarterly briefings.
IBM's moving in different directions than HP these days. A recent announcement pulls Big Blue into step with Apple to win enterprise business for both companies at once. Microsoft was once the savior of Apple in hard times. Now it looks like Apple, which has a valuation well above IBM's, is going to perform some salvation. HP had a shot at working with Apple in consumer business, but it was back in the days when selling re-badged iPods seemed like a good idea.
HP's attraction of IBM customers has been a give-and-take that goes back decades. In 1995, IBM wanted HP 3000 customers to switch to AS/400s. Database issues stood in the way of that effort, but certainly a very few companies made the transfer once HP announced an exit of the 3000.
In the same way, HP executives are claiming wins for business in the hundreds, according to an article in eWeek
According to Antonio Neri, senior vice president and general manager of HP's servers and networking businesses, the efforts over the past six months are paying off. The company has seen its win rate against IBM increase more than 40 percent, accounting for several hundred new deals won against Big Blue.
Customers in those deals might be the only parties who still have to figure out how they feel about this change. IBM is happy to let loose of server business that was killing its profits, according to a NY Times article. The changes say a lot about how important these big vendors consider enterprise server business. On one hand, IBM says there's no enterprise-caliber profit in selling x86. On the other, HP is happy to take on whatever customers IBM was passing over to Lenovo.
[Vendors'] businesses like PCs are losing ground to mobile devices like smartphones, and the once-formidable computer server is increasingly viewed as one more commodity piece of globe-spanning cloud computing projects from a few elite players.
“We need to get an inventor’s profit, not a distributor’s profit,” said Steve Mills, senior vice president of software and systems at IBM. “Our investment in research and development is what makes IBM go. It’s hard to do that in markets that don’t give you credit for the innovations you bring.”
It’s stark how quickly that margin fell away. A year ago, IBM was talking about a sale of its server business to Lenovo for what was reported at the time to be $6 billion. Today’s deal for $2.3 billion kept for IBM some higher-value servers, like those that perform complex data analytics. But according to Mr. Mills, it also included agreements for IBM to buy from Lenovo some of the commodity, or x86, servers for IBM’s growing cloud business.
And so there's the interesting wrinkle for anybody considering their migration off HP 3000s. IBM isn't giving up on cloud computing, not any more than HP has; both vendors want to host your applications on cloud servers they'll set up and maintain for you. (So does Amazon, of course, and probably at a better price.) Clouds might be the only way to get a 3000 migration that carries a budget similar to sticking with HP 3000s. Everyone wants to know more about security on clouds, but they want to know about security everywhere these days.
One combination you won't see is clouds and HP-UX computing. HP's own Cloud cannot host HP-UX apps, just those running Windows or Linux. It's an Intel party up there in the HP Cloud. (In a big piece of irony, Apple's OS X Unix is one of the supported HP Cloud installs.) Going forward from the 3000 with HP has more options than going forward than with IBM, right? It's true if you don't count Unix. Hewlett-Packard shows its strategy, with full-page splashes, that Unix counts for much less at enterprises.
We invite any correspondents who see the full-page ads about HP-UX enterprise to alert us. Twenty years ago, the HP 3000 customers were measuring the HP love by way of ads and alliances. To reply to the other part of Gorfinkel's question, we believe that old HP still exists. The company that 3000 customers relied upon in the '90s is repeating its behavior. It's just leaving a different OS out of its forward strategy this time.
Gorfinkel added that he managed to put his opinions into the inbox of the HP CEO. "I got a promotional email from HP that included – if you follow enough links – an opportunity to email Meg Whitman herself," he said. "Could not resist sending the following:
I cannot believe that HP is running full page ads pointing out that IBM decided to exit the x86 server market and that HP can be trusted to keep your future certain. Is there no corporate memory of the HP exit from the HP3000 market? None of us who felt our future was certain with the most reliable, most secure hardware/software combination in the industry have forgotten. HP left us stranded with a few independent vendors working to pick up the slack. Those who know of HP's history will just laugh (or cry) over the ad; others may be fooled.
It is certainly ironic!