May 27, 2016
A Weekend Memorial to the Future's Past
Here in the US we start our Memorial Day holiday weekend today. Plenty of IT experts are taking a few days off. I reported the start of the HP 3000 emulation era over a Memorial Day weekend, five years ago. We'll take our long weekend to celebrate grandkids and a cookout, and see you back here next week.
In the meantime, here's that first report, a three-parter, showing that Stromasys set and met its development schedule, one that gave the 3000 homesteaders a future beyond the lifespan of HP's MPE/iX hardware. One year later, the software, called Zelus at the time, had a formal debut at a Training Day. Now as Charon it's preserving MPE/iX applications.
During that 2011 springtime, Stromasys offered screen shots of the PA-RISC emulator as evidence the software could serve as a virtual platform for the 3000’s OS. The screen above shows the beginning of the boot sequence (click for detailed view). HP provided internals boot-up documentation to assist in the software's design.
A product journey toward a 3000 hardware emulator took another significant step this spring, as the Zelus cross-platform software booted MPE/iX on an Intel server.
CTO Dr. Robert Boers of Stromasys reported that the OS has come up on a version of the emulator that will managed, eventually, by Linux. Although the test screens that Boers sent were hosted by Windows, the "fairly preliminary version" will be released on an open source OS. "Windows is a little passé," Boers said. "But we now have a first prototype."
Stromasys said it has now been able to use Zelus to tap PA-RISC hardware diagnostics to get the bugs out. "The way we had to debug this was just looking at the code instruction by instruction," Boers said, "to figure out what it does. That took us a long time." Compared to the emulators for the DEC market, "this is by far the most complex emulator."
The accomplishment means that Zelus can do enough to create an MPE/iX image in memory and log to the files. For MPE that was complex, Boers said, while examining and transferring bits and pieces of 32-bit and 64-bit code. Linking to the Processor Dependent Code (PDC) calls that check for 3000 hardware held the project up. One decimal in a table — which turned out to be 666 — "kept us from booting for three months," Boers said. "It's an infamous number that turned out to be a coincidence when we found it."
The pilot milestone comes about one quarter later than the company estimated last year. Pilot versions of the emulator were scheduled to be in beta test by now, with a full release available by mid-year. Boers said the complexity and construction of HP's MPE boot code taxed the tech skills of a company which has built thriving DEC Alpha and VAX and hardware emulators.
"It was a tough one to write," he said of the 3000 effort that began in earnest last year but reaches through HP's licensing delays back to 2004. "It's a pretty deviously complex system. The big problem is that large parts of the operating system are still running in 32-bit mode. MPE's basically an emulated operating environment. We were debugging an emulator running on an emulator."
Hewlett-Packard said in the 1990s that MPE/iX was going to get its full 64-bit version when HP revised it for the Itanium processors. When the vendor cancelled its product futures, the OS remained in emulation mode.
Zelus product delivery to a limited number of sites will take some time, "because it's been such a long project and it's a matter of pride. This has been just a proof of concept. We started trying to build a 918, but then we decided to build something really good, so it now is [software that emulates] an A400."
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