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July 09, 2015

Throwback: When IMAGE Got Its SQL Skin

SQLDuring the current Wikipedia project to document IMAGE, Terry O'Brien of DISC asked where he might find resources that point to IMAGE facts. Wikipedia is all about facts that can be documented by outside sources, especially articles. O'Brien was searching for InterACT articles, perhaps thinking of the grand series written by George Stachnik for that Interex user group magazine.

While the user group and its website are gone, many of those articles are available. 3K Associates has an archive of more than a dozen of them, including several on IMAGE. (That website has the most comprehensive collection of MPE and 3000 lore, from tech how-to's to an HP 3000 FAQ.) As part of his introductory article in the database subset of The HP 3000 For Novices, Stachnik notes how IMAGE got its SQL interface, as well as why it was needed.

Most new client-server applications that were developed in the 1980s made extensive use of the SQL language. In order to make it possible for these applications to work with the HP 3000, HP literally taught TurboIMAGE a new language--the ANSII standard SQL.

The resulting DBMS was named IMAGE/SQL -- which is the name that is used today. IMAGE/SQL databases can be accessed in two ways: either using the traditional proprietary interfaces (thus protecting customers' investments in proprietary software) or using the new industry standard SQL interface (thus enabling standard client-server database tools to access the data stored on HP 3000s).

The enhanced IMAGE came to be called TurboIMAGE/SQL, to fully identify its roots as well as its new prowess. Stachnik wrote the article in an era when he could cite "new technologies such as the World Wide Web."

HP removed many of the restrictions that had pushed developers away from the HP 3000, making it possible to access the HP 3000's features (including its database management system) through new industry standard interfaces, while continuing to support the older proprietary interfaces. In the final months of the 20th century, interest in the IMAGE database management system and sales of the HP 3000 platform are both on the rise.

Red Sox ProgramThat rise was a result of user campaigning that started in earnest 25 years ago this summer, at an Interex conference. Old hands in this market call that first salvo the Boston Tea Party because it happened in a Boston conference meeting room. More than nine years later, Stachnik wrote that "interest in the IMAGE database management system and sales of the HP 3000 platform are both on the rise."

There are many places to discover the history and deep, elegant engineering of IMAGE. Adager's website contains the greatest concentration of writing about IMAGE. It's possible that references from adager.com articles will make their way in the new Wikipedia entry. They wouldn't be relevant without that rebellion of 25 years ago, because HP wanted to release IMAGE from its pairing with the 3000. The users wouldn't permit it, bad press from the meeting ensued, and an IMAGE-free HP 3000 became much harder to purchase.

SQL arrived about three years later. The story had a happy ending when Stachnik wrote his article.

Any HP 3000 application that used IMAGE/3000 (and virtually all HP 3000 applications did) was locked into the HP 3000 platform. It couldn't be ported to another platform without some fairly major rework. This was almost the kiss of death for the HP 3000 in the open-systems-obsessed 1990s. In fact, many platforms did "go under" in the UNIX shakeout that took place in the early part of the decade.

Many industry observers expected that Hewlett-Packard would choose to jettison its proprietary HP 3000 platform in favor of its faster growing younger brother, the UNIX-based HP 9000. Fortunately, these observers did not understand a very basic fact about the company.

HP was (and is) very focussed on protecting its customers' investments. Instead of jettisoning the HP 3000 platform, the company chose to invest in it.

Whatever HP intended for the fate of the computer, the investment in SQL remains a way to keep the heartbeat of the 3000 pumping data to the world of non-MPE machines.

07:52 PM in History, Homesteading, Web Resources | Permalink

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