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April 29, 2016

Post-migration, there's often more changes

SBCTC timeline

The 2010 timeline update for moving away from the three dozen HP 3000s at SBCTC

Five years ago this spring, work was wrapping up on migrating 36 HP 3000s at a college consortium. This was the largest higher education migration project in the 3000's history, the mission of the Washington State Board of Community and Technical Colleges. When it finished, 34 colleges in the state started to rely on HP-UX instead of MPE/iX. The work took more than two years to complete. The chief of the IT work at the state board will be speaking this June at the annual Discover conference, which is now called HPE Discover.

Migration change usually signals a new way to look at information's value. Taking legacy systems into the next generation of software and hardware is really everybody's mission in the 3000 world. The elegant Hewlett-Packard 3000 hardware is also elderly for any homesteader. Virtualizing the MPE/iX hardware is a migration of sorts, but one that can be completed in about five days, before testing. As for the migration-bound CIO, leaving behind the bedrock of MPE/iX opens up a redesign opportunity. Perhaps more than one.

LIftNShift overviewLeaving MPE/iX was only the start for the SBCTC. It's got a new ctcLink project in play, one that will reach as many colleges as the effort which the organization called Lift & Shift back in 2010. Once ctcLink is finished, it will implement Oracle/PeopleSoft ERP software applications, including Campus Solutions, Finance, and Human Capital Management pillars, at all of its 34 colleges.

Anything that's one step behind what's freshest can be called a legacy solution. Making a migration can be an opening step in a longer campaign. That's why it's a good practice to think further ahead than four years while eliminating MPE/iX applications. Legacy can apply to software that's still being sold and supported, too. The timeline above plotted only the MPE/iX migration at SBCTC. Making a tactical timeline like that one is a crucial step. Ensuring the choices will be seamlessly integrated with the next step, and they will last, is a bigger task. Because no application platform is ever the last one — not if an organization wants to outlive its IT plans.

04:54 PM in Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 27, 2016

The Remains of Any Need for CPUNAMEing

Dress FormsEarlier this week a reseller in the 3000 market offered an N-Class 3000 with an upgraded CPU. The server's HPCPUNAME, however, reflects a slower model of the system. These names of systems are actually a part of the 3000 process that Hewlett-Packard regards as ongoing business. There are oh-so-many names of 3000 systems. In some cases, what your software sees in the name is not what you get. 

HP's support for the 3000 terminated at the end of 2010, but there are a few HP services that continue today. Name changing is among them. Steve Suraci of Pivital, which sold 3000s as an official reseller until HP stopped that sort of business, says it's a lock that HP didn't do an N-Class upgrade that doesn't have a corresponding HPCPUNAME change. "For sure HP didn’t do the upgrade," he said. Outside the lines upgrades can be a way to skip software upgrade fees.

The only thing pertinent to the current 3000 community is HP's CPU rename service. When HP did this with support engineers at a time plus materials engagement, a software-to-hardware blessing changed the HPCPUNAME and HPSUSUAN numbers for replacement 3000s. When a CPU board dies, or a system needs to be updated at a fundamental level, Hewlett-Packard still owns the only software that can transform replacement hardware into your hardware — complete with reinstated numbers that allow third-party programs to run unfettered.

This service is still available, if you insist, from HP. A server that reports it's a 550 MHz N-Class, while it's actually a 750 MHz system, could use this kind of correction. What's important, though, is whether an N-Class will be fast enough. Reporting a different HPCPUNAME can keep third party software from running. That issue can be corrected by calling the software vendor, who'd probably be glad to hear from an MPE customer.

Of course, there's always the possibility the caller is a former customer, running software which is legal but not on support. Getting an HPCPUNAME change to make the software match the hardware then becomes a courtesy—or a service extended in exchange for renewing support. "You will know me by my commitments," says one sage, and keeping a support commitment seems like a good idea if you're using third party software products for MPE/iX in 2016.

Modern budgets for homesteaders, however, sometimes don't have room to pay for application and toolset support. HP can't hold a hostage anymore by waiting for MPE/iX support ransom. It ended all support business in 2011, business the independents picked up nicely. They don't have the use of SS_CONFIG (for the system up to 900 Series vintage) or SS_UPDATE (for the ultimate models of 3000s) can cost a customer on a time and materials basis, and HP's last stated plan said it would offer these reconfigurations of stable storage for an undetermined period.

HP long ago considered its customer communication to the post-2010 community complete. "We at HP believe we have responded to and addressed all of the HP e3000 end-of-life requests our customers and partners have made in recent years," one document stated while there was a e3000 webpage at HP. Such pages are long gone now, farmed away to the archives of 404-land and the Internet Wayback Machine.

The portion of HP which continues to touch the 3000 community in perpetuity is licensing operations. Software License Transfers between HP's 3000 systems sold on the used market are still being offered through HP’s SLT organization. This SLT operation serves all of HP’s licensed products, not just the HP 3000. Transferring a license officially is still an essential step to some customers, even when they're buying a used 3000 like an N-Class. That makes full disclosure of the HPCPUNAME important.

In 2008 while those webpages were still alive, HP was candid enough to admit that only a portion of its customers would make the effort to have 3000 MPE/iX software licenses transferred. There was no support eligibility that HP could offer after 2011 in exchange for this compliance with license requirements. Customers now need to supply their own reasons to do things by the book.

06:09 PM in Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 25, 2016

Proving concepts leads to hardware exits

Exit-graphicThey've been called straw men, and more lately proof of concept projects. These assessment steps have often represented significant change at HP 3000 sites. Few migrations got the green light to proceed with the raw change and full-on expense without demos of replacement apps. Even when the change was limited to applications only, with no platform replacement, testing with production data was the most secure choice.

That's why the strategy sounded familiar when Stromasys hosted its first webinar in years. The company calls its assessment engagement to test Charon a proof of concept. Led by Global Accounts Manager Ray LeBrun and system engineer Darrell Wright, the talk included a note on how essential the PoC step has been to success with the Charon virtualized system.

"We're pretty confidant that if we engage in a PoC with you, then we're 99-plus percent sure Charon will work for you," LeBrun said. "We will not engage if we're not confident this is the right solution for you."

Stromasys works with a site's production data to prove the concept of giving HP's 3000 hardware an exit date. MPE/iX and the applications, and of course the data, stay in place. However, LeBrun said Charon has also been "a bridge to allow you to get to a migration. We have folks who say, "I'm only going to use that [3000] application for another two years. Well, two more years oftentimes becomes three, four, and five years."

The technology concept behind virtualization is well known by now. People are so familiar with it that LeBrun said the vendor gets asked regularly when HP-UX Integrity server virtualization via Charon is coming. The question came up in the webinar, too.

"It's not in our roadmap anywhere," LeBrun said of a Charon built to give HP's Unix hardware an exit date. "Even if it was, I probably couldn't say anything about it, but it'd certainly be viable if there was a business case for it."

A business case for migrations — either off HP's hardware, or away from an operating environment — usually gets built at a customer site only after the technology has been given an all-clear. Stromays Proof of Concepts are paid engagements, because they include vendor staff hours spent onsite, services to transfer data to the Intel-based Charon system, and training a customer's IT staff to use the software.

A five-day onsite engagement, followed by a 30-day test period, makes up a PoC. "We basically do a live install of your application [on Charon] in your environment," LeBrun said. "You're not testing for look and feel. You're testing your application with your data."

06:35 PM in Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 22, 2016

How to Transform MPE Spoolfiles to PDFs

HP 3000 data becomes more useful if it can be e-mailed as industry standard report documents. After more than two decades of pushing at it, Adobe has made its PDF the de-facto way to exchange documents, even complex ones.

Which might have prompted this question from HP consultant and Suprtool trainer Jeff Kubler:

Does anyone have a lead on a tool that converts spoolfiles to PDF files? Are there any Contributed Library tools?

It won't be in the Interex Contributed Library (because the programs have gone underground; ask your colleagues if they have a swap tape) but the txt2pdf product works nicely to make this conversion. Even in its most advanced version it's about $1,000, at last glance. Bob McGregor reports as much.

Jeff, txt2pdf does this. We have a job that runs that:

1. Checks a pseudo device we have setup for any spoolfiles that are on the device with an PRI >0

2. If it finds a spoolfile, we convert it to PDF and move it to a server

3  Sends an e-mail to the streamedby variable telling them the PDF doc is ready on the server.

4. Alters the priority to 0 to mark it processed

We've been using it for a couple years, and it works great — of course, once we got the bugs worked out. What's cool is if someone delete the file, we just adjust the priority to something greater than 0 and it gets reprocessed.

08:52 PM in Hidden Value, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 20, 2016

Like a Classic Mercedes, Those Old 3000s

Built to last.

That's what a veteran analyst called the HP 3000s at her company. It's a UK firm, The Wesleyan, and it's been running MPE and MPE/iX since at least 1990. Jill Turner says the oldest system is a Series 947. That would be the early part of the 1990s, to be sure.

MercedesThat 947 and four other HP 3000s including an N-Class, are going offline in 2017. "We are a financial services business, and the HP 3000s hold all the policies sold up to about 2010," she said. "These are serviced daily, weekly, monthly, yearly depending on the type of policy."

Turner called those 900 Series systems, including a 987 and 969, "old proper machines." They're the sort that never quit. They do eventually get out-performed by newer models, or can't run Oracle, or have experts with knowledge about 3000s retiring soon. The hardware does age, though, as it does for all owners. That's not why the 3000s are leaving The Wesleyan.

"The Wesleyan are currently migrating the data from the HP 3000s onto a new system," Turner said, "and we expect everything to be migrated by mid- to end of 2017. As technology moves forward the company is moving to other platforms, and I think the new systems are hosted on IBM Pureflex servers."

Turner admits to being biased in favor of the 3000s. This can happen after a couple of decades of success, when a migration choice is based on the age of the hardware instead of the utility of the software. You can't beat the cost of owning a 3000, she adds.

"The HP 3000s are probably the cheapest platform to run within the business," Turner said. I am very biased as I have only ever worked on the HP 3000s, but one example is we had a disc failure on the 969."

The system carried on as mirrored disc. Our support firm Newcorp couriered one out to me so I received it the next day (and they sent two spares). I changed the disc, no one knew but me. The new replacement system for the 3000s had a failure when the power went off. It took IBM two days to get the part, and it came from Holland.

"I have a 26-year-old Mercedes which I always compare to the old HP 3000s: built to last." The Wesleyan bought into the future of 3000 ownership, even when HP was counseling not to do that. The N-Class server was purchased in 2002, the first full year HP was preaching migration.

05:12 PM in Migration, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 18, 2016

A Parts Supply Non-Problem for HP's 3000

CR2032One part of Hewlett-Packard's end-game fantasy about the 3000 pointed to parts. This was a server the vendor wouldn't build after 2003, HP warned. You could not be sure your server and its essentials could be serviced -- where would the parts come from? For the last decade and more, HP's 3000 parts have come from everywhere. About the only hardware services supplier constricted by the halt in HP manufacturing of parts was -- wait for it -- HP.

While practicing the careful shrink-wrapping of HP-built replacement motherboards, disks, IO buses and power supplies, the market has shared and sold ample hardware to replace 3000 systems. One reseller reported on the 3000-L he has hundreds of HP 3000 terminals on hand and was ready to send them to the scrapper. There might be sites where HP's tubes are essential for production operations, but I hope not. The scrap heap looks like the next stop for those 700/92s.

On the other hand, there are a few consumable items that make HP's hardware hum. One is essential to smooth operation of a service processor. You can get a replacement part for this processor at your grocery store.

Craig Lalley reported this week that a customer needed their Guardian Service Processor looked after inside the HP 3000 hardware. The GSP is mighty useful for an A-Class or N-Class customer. However, it carries a battery inside that dies, like all batteries do.

14B-1989(I still have an HP 14B calculator here, given to me as a 1989 HP 50th anniversary memento, which fires up each time I press the On key. I used to think it was solar-powered. How could any batteries last 27 years? Ah, the HP of old. Perhaps those batteries came by way of a NASA supplier.) 14B Leatherette

And the GSP's battery? Lalley says it's a CR2032, a part HP installed in a commercial server that once sold for tens of thousands of dollars. Or to put it another way, without ever owning an HP 3000, I've got a replacement part for an essential 3000 subassembly sitting right here in my hutch. Right next to that 14B with its 1989 batteries.

There are good reasons why HP's hardware for MPE/iX may not be a wise very-long-term component for production computing. But a lack of parts never was a good reason back in 2002 -- and it's just a tall tale today, even if the parts are aged like fine wine.

08:40 PM in Homesteading, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 15, 2016

Use GSP and More for 3000 ID, control

GSP boardThere's been plenty of change in the 3000 manager's life over the last 15 years. Some of the change is a little easier by exploring the use of the Guardian Service Processor. It can help in changing the location of HP 3000 consoles from one part of a shop to another. There's even a story out there that says the identity of the HP A- and N-Class hardware resides in the GSP.

Kent Wallace, while a 3000 manager for Idaho-Oregon healthcare delivery system Primary Health, needed to move his 3000 console.

I must move the 3000 console another 10 feet farther from the rack (it's an N-Class HP 3000/N4000-100-22). What are the 3-pin positions on the wire that I need to extend its RS-232 cable?

Our blog contributing editor Gilles Schipper chipped in with a solution offering even farther movement:

If you want to extend the range of the console to anywhere on the planet (at least where there’s Internet access) you could consider the HP Secure Web Console to replace the physical console. Depending upon the condition of your physical console, this solution may also save a bit of wear and tear on your eyeballs, instead of adjusting those pins.

Schipper wrote us a great article on setting up such a web console. The GSP is quite the tool.

Former HP support engineer Lars Appel offered another take on Schipper's strategy:

While Gilles is right about the possibility of using the web console, it would probably be easier to use the already built-in dedicated LAN port of the N-Class systems that gives access to the GSP by telnet.

I prefer the “telnet console” over the “web console” because it gives more freedom in the choice of terminal emulator — whereas the web console typically lacks features like “easy cut and paste” or special key mappings (e.g. German language ;-) or something similar.

This prompted Schipper to clarify his suggestion:

Lars is absolutely right about the built-in “secure-web-console” that comes with all N-Class and all but the earliest A-Class e3000s.

And, yes, the built-in is definitely more functional, allowing cut-and-paste as well as telnet access, whereas the external variety has only Java access to it via a web browser and no cut-and-paste.

So, if one has a choice, the built-in is definitely superior and available with only proper configuration. However, the external secure web console is available for all HP 3000s, and would still be most useful where is internal secure web console is not an option.

The GSP is a powerful part of an HP 3000 that runs whenever the server is plugged in. It's the maintenance control console commanding the ultimate class of the server to reboot, do memory dumps and even fully power down the 3000. Consultant Craig Lalley has noted the GSP has one fewer feature than its Unix counterpart, though.

"On HP-UX it is possible to reset the GSP from the host OS," he said. "I have not found a way from MPE."

From time to time a reset may be required for diagnostics services on A-Class and N-Class servers. If your 3000 gets loving care from a consultant or service provider outside your computer room, you may need a paper clip to keep up service levels.

The GSP can also reveal the 3000's speedometer, as profiled near the bottom of an Allegro webpage.

The gap between controlling the 3000 and HP's HP-UX Integrity GSPs is a common shortfall of HP designs. Even though the 3000's MPE/iX includes a Posix interface, HP didn't engineer enough Unix into the 3000 to enable some of the administration that HP-UX users enjoy. (That lack of Unix can sometimes be a good thing, however, when a security breach opens up in the Unix world.)

But when a 3000 needs a GSP reset, pressing a recessed button on the 3000's back will do the trick if a telnet command doesn't work. You can telnet to the IP address of the GSP, log in and do the reset. But you can also get someone to press the physical reset button at the back of the machine. It's recessed into the cabinet so you may need a magic paper clip bent just-so.

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

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

It is possible to reboot, memory dumps and even fully power down the HP 3000 from the GSP. Use the command PC OFF.

It is probably the best feature of the N-Class and A-class boxes. The problem is sometimes it needs to be reset, usually with a paper clip. Since the GSP is a different CPU, this reset can be done during business hours.


08:35 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 13, 2016

Stromasys returns to webinar lineup April 19

The NaturalEmulation and virtualization vendor Stromasys returns to the web airwaves next week with an event that examines the return on investment for its Charon family of software products, including its HP 3000 model HPA. The event begins at 11 AM EST for US viewers, 5 PM CEST for Euro IT managers. 

The company last did a webinar for the 3000 market in 2012. At the time, Charon HPA was still a nascent product, without the portfolio of success stories and case studies it's built in the 3000 market. The previous show explained the concepts and demonstrated administration and management of the software. The April 19 event will reach for more strategic perspectives, but will include a technical angle, too.

Worldwide Strategic and Global Accounts manager Ray LeBrun will be joined by Systems Engineer Darrell Wright on the one-hour webinar. Doug Smith is the HP 3000 product manager for the company. Smith is managing a limited-time discount offer on Stromasys services for Proof of Concept and full integration of Charon HPA.

The company promises the webinar will offer

An overview of legacy system pain points and the difficulties businesses like yours may encounter as they determine how to move forward with their legacy systems. Learn how your organization can improve the ROI of your legacy systems while also minimizing risks of unplanned downtime.

Stromasys says that space is limited for the webinar. The event includes information for Digital and Sun systems as well as the 3000. Registration is online, which yields a confirming email that provides login instructions for the GoToWebinar event.

06:48 PM in Homesteading, Web Resources | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 11, 2016

Yes, Virginia, there is MPE at the Terminal

VIT logoOne of the first HP 3000 migration success locations might have hung on to an MPE/iX app since its story was introduced by the vendor. A lively discussion popped up last week when Don Seay asked on the 3000-L mailing list about running Speedware on the Stromasys Charon HPA virtualizer software. The chatter included updates on the work to cross the 2027 hurdle for MPE/iX use, as well as reports on the speediest settings for Charon.
VIT photo

Seay was emailing from an address at VIT.org, the legacy location of Virginia International Terminals. It's the port authority for all shipping in Norfolk, Newport News and environs. A shiny website handles just about all of the data requests at portofvirginia.org. But there's still data being fed to VIT.org, and Seay's request seems to hint that an application continues to work there. We're checking in with him.

Taking a full-on approach to a migration is a typical opening strategy, but there are sometimes good technical reasons why apps remain on 3000 hardware. This didn't seem likely when we first heard about the 3000 and VIT in 2002. HP was promoting the practices and concept of retiring 3000s during that time, the first full year after Hewlett-Packard's announcement it would leave the 3000 marketplace.

VIT’s assistant IT director at the time, Clark Farabaugh, said at HP World 2002's migration roundtable the decision to shift to HP’s Unix servers “has changed our shop, for better or worse.” That summer, IT began to migrate at VIT. The organization took delivery of a HP 9000 rp8400 server to replace its HP 3000s, and Farabaugh said “we were the first ones on board.” We took note of the report of 13 years ago.

The applications running at VIT handle shipments through a terminal with 7,000 international longshoremen at work, and a desire to Web-enable the apps led VIT away from the 3000. The IT director said the migration project will take 12 to 18 months to complete using the 45-person IT staff, taking apps from Speedware on the 3000 to Speedware on HP-UX.

Even though Farabaugh described TurboIMAGE as “the fastest database I’ve ever seen,” it was moving toward using Oracle on its migrated system. Three IT staffers — VIT said it was doing all the work in-house — were trained in database admin for Oracle.

Yes Virginia editorialA baker's dozen years later, it's a surprise to see that perhaps something on MPE has continued to lift bits of the cargo of terminal data at VIT. A datacenter manager and IT execs do need to keep everything online, though. If a 3000 survived the HP-UX shift for this long, it's bound to have a better reason than "we don't really want to change things."

Does MPE/iX still exist in the field? Some in your community feel that asking about that is akin to asking about Santa Claus. But yes, at Virginia, it seems there's still MPE at the Terminal. If we're reading the messages right, it's doing more than a fairy, too.

06:38 PM in Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 08, 2016

Hardware's emulation puts software at ease

MirrorIn the earliest days of the 3000's Transition Era, advocates for MPE/iX formed the OpenMPE user group. But the first campaign for these engineers (and a few businesspeople) was for the emulation of MPE itself. The ideal was that if MPE/iX source code could be turned over to the community -- since HP had no real interest in the future of the 3000 -- then the OS and its subsystems would be pushed onto newer hardware.

The ideal was open source for MPE/iX. That campaign assumed plenty of change was in the future of 3000-based software. The reality that formed about compatibility of software is illustrated in the everyday experience of Charon users.

One checked in this month with a summary of how smooth his software slipped into the Charon HPA environment. The emulation that paid off was virtualizing the RISC hardware. The caliber of the solution made things easy for Jeff Elmer.

I can say that since what is emulated is the PA-RISC hardware and not MPE, it seems unlikely that there would be any software incompatibilities.  Everything we use (multiple third-party tools plus in-house COBOL/IMAGE software systems) just worked.  It really was true that no one would have noticed a difference unless we told them.

The single item that we had to modify was in our backup job stream.  We had a tape rewind command in the job that was no longer needed and which the emulator at that point (in 2013) did not understand.  The "fix" took less than 60 seconds when I removed that clause from the job.

The report was sparked by a question about whether the Speedware 4GL suite was in production in a Charon site.

In summary, I would expect Speedware to work without incident but I couldn't speak to what combination would provide optimal performance (that is, which class HP 3000 should be emulated or what physical hardware should be under it). We spent a long time testing the emulator without charge before we proceeded with the purchase. I would think the possibility exists that Stromasys would extend a similar courtesy to you so that you could find out first hand with your data in your environment.

In fact, there's a Proof of Concept arrangement that Stromasys uses today to introduce its product for this kind of evaluation.

09:02 PM in Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 06, 2016

Stromasys reports aim at speed, and help

InstrumentsThe fine art and craft of tuning an Intel-based server to mimic HP's 3000 hardware has evolved. The Charon HPA emulator has been in production shops for more than three years. In the beginning, the software's demands on hardware were outlined in a table of preferred servers. Or in calls to a product manager. The latter has always produced more robust performance than the former. A recent string of messages on the 3000-L showed why. They also showed that a 3000 jobset that ran three times faster, after "setting power management to dynamic."

Performance tips on the L about selecting and tuning for the best hardware have included the following advice

Set other settings for performance
System Isochronous Mode enabled
Hyper-thread off or 1
Turbo-boost enabled
c-states enabled
Intel Speed Step enabled

If this set of instructions doesn't make much sense to a prospective user, it illustrates why Charon HPA is a fully-guided product by now. Customers and prospects buy services from Stromasys to deploy this solution. There's no other way. Downloadable freeware copies left the marketplace last year.

Emulating a legacy hardware server to run enterprise-grade applications is not a hobbyist's mission. Stromasys product manager Doug Smith says the customers have been better served with engineering-driven integration insights. He's got success statistics to prove it.

The nuances of installing and integrating Charon for the success include networking deployment advice. Ray Legault, a systems manager at Boeing, shared these insights when another manager asked him about the impact of networks on Charon.

I did not perform any tests over the network. My actual servers are 1,800 miles away. In Linux, I make sure my ETH1 is set correctly.

ethtool -K eth1 rx off tx off sg off gso off gro off txvlan off rxvlan off

To avoid having to redo every time you reboot, just add this line to the bottom of the ethtool file:

post-up ethtool -K eth1 gso off gro off

So it looks clear that knowing Linux's ethtool will be an essential skill of integrating Charon, too. Expert services are now crucial for the product. That's why it's become a solution for the serious user, one trying to eliminate the need for 15-year-old HP hardware.

09:30 PM in Homesteading, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 04, 2016

Working to Set MPE's Future to Forever

AbacusWhen a 3000 manager asked about running Speedware on the Stromasys Charon HPA emulator, the question evolved quickly. In just a few hours, MPE experts were talking about how long the OS could keep running. The detour of the 2027 CALENDAR intrinsic came up. It turns out the community experts are already working on that.

Jeff Elmer of Dairylea Cooperative, whose success story with Charon was part of our 2014 reporting, told the readers of the 3000-L that he's pleased with the way the Stromasys product cut out HP's MPE/iX hardware. The words "run MPE forever" were part of his message.

We used HP's 3000 hardware for 30 years. We've been using the HPA3000 emulator in production since December 2013. Our users would have never known the difference if we had not told them.

We had a 969KS 100 and went to a 2-CPU A-Class on the emulator. Performance is essentially identical but all concerns about "ancient" hardware went away. (Our RAID array hard drives were older than our web developers). Charon is running on a 1U "off the shelf" Proliant server under the Red Hat Linux environment (if we didn't have a DLT8000 and a DDS tape drive attached to it, all that it would take up in the rack would be the 1U). We run our disaster recovery version of the emulator in another location under VMware on OmniCube hardware, although we have never used it for anything other than testing.

Forever"Based on our experiences we would recommend it to anybody," Elmer said. "You could run MPE forever with this setup and over time your performance would only improve as you put newer, faster hardware under it." Whoa, forever? It's the promise of virtualized servers that emulate antique hardware. But MPE/iX has that calendar problem that'll rear up at the end of 2027, right? Not so fast there, said one MPE expert.

When Denys Beauchemein said that forever really meant December 31, 2027, Robelle's Neil Armstrong begged to differ. "That doesn’t stop the system from running, and a lot of issues can be handled at the application level quite easily," he said.

There are people working on such things at the OS level. I’ve been reducing the dependency on CALENDAR in all our software as well. By reducing the number of calls to CALENDAR, this helps mitigate the impact, of course, and adding options to change the result of a call to CALENDAR directly after a call are being considered.

It is an interesting problem.

Beauchemein retorted with the viewpoint of the IT manager who needs to be away from MPE/iX, since it's old.

That is fantastic news. Now I need to find my abacus and see if I can get them to refurbish it along with my slide rules.

Has anyone here even booted a 3000 for December 31, 2027 and see what goes on at the virtual stroke of midnight? Unfortunately, I do not have one handy.

All that Armstrong could offer in reply about a Jan. 1, 2028 bootup was "Yes, it’s been done. Nothing catastrophic happens."

He is right, nothing catastrophic happens. But what does happen?

SETCLOCK allows a manager to revise such a future date and time, but only up to December 31, 2027. It won't accept a higher date; it reports "out of range" if you try. MPE/iX continues to run. After midnight SHOWTIME will give the wrong result, year 1900. But if your application doesn't care about a time stamp (which is unlikely in a business computer) this doesn't matter. SHOWTIME will show Jan. 1, 1900. If days of the week matter, by setting the system date to Y2K, the day of the week will align with the correct day for 2028.

One of the sharpest of the MPE minds, Vladimir Volokh -- who co-created MPEX -- has given us a deep dive on that set of CALENDAR problems. He reports he's done that 2027 boot 10 years ago. In our conversations, his opinion has been that someone in the community will find a way to reroute MPE/iX to a future in 2028 and beyond, relying on current dates.

Dates don't vex MPEX, Vladimir added when we talked about this a few years ago. MPEX can do operations with dates—because unlike COBOL, or even the first language of MPE, SPL, MPEX has a DATE datatype. "If you have MPEX," he said, and here we could hear a wink, "and who doesn’t—DATETOCALENDAR is a function in MPEX."

Last week's exchange on 3000-L shows there's already work underway on getting beyond 2028. The thing about an abacus is that it does still work. Ours hasn't needed to be refurbished since we bought it in 1989. Unlike an abacus, MPE/iX has a purpose for being an everyday tool when the software has close ties to specialized business logic. It has a better reason to keep working forever—however you define that timeframe.

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

April 01, 2016

MPE source code ID'ed as key to encryption

In a news item that appeared in our inbox early this morning, the researchers at the website darkstuff.com report they have identified the key algorithm for iPhone cracking software to be code from the 1980 release of Q-MIT, a version of MPE. The iPhone seized as part of an FBI investigation was finally cracked this week. But the US government agency only reported that an outside party provided the needed tool, after Apple refused to build such software.

IPhone crackThe specific identity of the third party firm has been clouded in secrecy. But the DarkStuff experts say they've done a reverse trace of the signature packets from the FBI notice uploaded to CERT and found links that identify Software House, a firm incorporated in the 1980s which purchased open market source code for MPE V. The bankruptcy trustee of Software House, when contacted for confirmation, would not admit or deny the company's involvement in the iPhone hack.

A terse statement shared with the NewsWire simply said, "Millions of lines of SPL make up MPE, and this code was sold legally to Software House. The software does many things, including operations far ahead of their time." HP sold MPE V source for $500 for the early part of the 1980s, but 3000 customers could never get the vendor to do the same for MPE/iX.

Lore in the 3000 community points to D. David Brown, an MPE guru who ran a consulting business for clients off the grid and off the books, as the leading light to developing the key. An MPE expert who recently helped in the simh emulation of Classic HP 3000s confirmed that Brown's work used HP engineering of the time in a way the vendor never intended. Simh only creates a virtualized CISC HP 3000 running under Linux, so MPE V is the only OS that can be used in simh.

"Lots of commented-out code in there," said the MPE expert, who didn't want to be named for this story. "Parts of MPE got written during the era of phone hacking. Those guys were true rebels, and I mean in a 2600-style of ethics. It's possible that Brown just stumbled on this while he was looking for DEL/3000 stubs in MPE."

The FBI reported this week that its third party also plans to utilize the iPhone cracker in two other cases that are still under investigation. Air-gapped protocols were apparently needed to make the MPE source able to scour the iPhone's contents, using a NAND overwrite. The air gapping pointed the DarkStuff experts toward the HP 3000, a server whose initial MPE designs were years ahead of state-of-the art engineering. "Heck, the whole HP 3000 was air-gapped for the first half of its MPE life," said Winston Rather at DarkMatter. "It's a clever choice, hiding the key in plain sight."

04:34 PM in History, News Outta HP, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)