November 23, 2016
Mailing news from the HP 3000: an old skill
Internal mail hosts remain a crucial tool in datacenters, even some running MPE/iX. "You still host your own email?" is not a question you'd only pose to a crazy manager. An organization's security standards can be so high that no outside mail server will be trusted. In the earliest days of email, 3k Associates built and sold a beautiful native MPE mailing system, Netmail/3000. It's a smart mailserver, meaning it doesn't require that an organization's e-mail be piped through an Internet provider's mail server for final delivery. Then in the late 1990s, HP's lab started the long process of porting sendmail to MPE/iX.
Now some 3000 sites are looking at how to replace their 3000-based mailing software as they migrate. One of them contacted us this week to ask about an alternative to sendmail. Linux is their migration target, after a history using the 3000 that goes back to the days of HP Deskmanager. Tim O'Neill shared a story while asking about an alternative to sendmail.
I saw that FreeBSD Unix has its version of sendmail. Seeing reference to FreeBSD made me recall a story about FreeBSD running on an old HP 3000, maybe a Series 70 or an early Spectrum system. I think I have read that FreeBSD is at some sites still running in production mode, as MPE and MPE/iX are. It also made me wonder what the installed base of FreeBSD might be — and how that compares to the installed base of MPE and MPE/iX on old hardware and on Charon hardware.
FreeBSD, like MPE/iX, has some surprisingly large companies using it. You might have heard about one of them called Netflix. Of course the Charon HPA emulator from Stromasys makes every remaining product and archival 3000 a candidate for the kind of longevity we see in FreeBSD.
Sendmail has a colorful history. The Unix Hater's Handbook devoted a full chapter to the software's vulnerabilities; sendmail comes from the Unix heritage, after all. By 2003, HP was still patching sendmail to shut down security breaches, although the breaching wasn't nearly as serious on MPE/iX as on Unix variants including Linux. Sendmail's open source capabilities are now under the banner of ProofPoint, the company that purchased the sendmail resources in 2013.
Sendmail's worldwide release was last updated in 2014. HP announced it was testing sendmail to place in the Fundamental Operating System in November, 2001—a month that's famous in the 3000's history for other reasons. But the software moved along to an 8.13.1 release in FOS. It's only one major release behind the worldwide open source version, now advanced to an 8.14 release. Sendmail also includes encryption.Sendmail has included encryption facilities since 8.11. That's where security capabilities descend onto the requirements. Encrypting mail is a common feature in commercial hosting solutions. Sendmail/iX sends mail created by and triggered from HP 3000 applications, given enough technical know-how.
There's a robust webpage about the 3000 mail solution that was started by Mark Bixby. He's the engineer responsible for lighting the fire of open source flames at HP. Keven Miller of 3K Ranger has updated and maintained the page and its knowledge about Sendmail/iX. The software itself is in your 3000's SENDMAIL account in a version-specific group named vuuff.
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