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October 18, 2017

Hardware icon added tools through 3000

WrenchThe HP 3000 had many notable brands on its roster over the last two decades—Hertz, M&Ms, State Farm. Plenty of well-known businesses leveraged their growth and dominance on MPE/iX apps and Hewlett-Packard hardware. In some places, the legacy kingpin of the 3000 has led datacenters to move data better on other platforms. Tools, as it turns out, can find places to work where owners were heading as well as where they're installed. That's what happened at True Value.

True-valueThere's more than 700 retail True Value stores, but the units operate as a cooperative. Together these stores own their distributor True Value, while they operate independently. Local ownership is bolstered by the bargains behind corporate purchasing. Long's Drug in the western US once boasted the greatest number of retail locations connected by 3000s. When it came to the number of locations supported by 3000 technology, True Value had Long's beat by a factor of two.

Hillary Software installed its byRequest solution at True Value in 2004, when the 3000 had fallen from HP's graces. It was an investment to prolong and improve the value of the 3000. More importantly, it was an investment in data. The software transforms MPE/iX data into the formats of the larger world: Word, PDF and Excel. True Value said byRequest revolutionized data and document management for them. Reports traveled via email to be used in the programs that are available everywhere. For some companies, Excel is a platform because it's essential to every decision.

The Hillary software moved data better than classic MPE/iX reports ever had. The software also helped move the company, when it was ready, onward to its next datacenter platform.

When True Value moved its business apps to Microsoft Dynamics under Windows, those Hillary tools like byRequest and onHand were moved as well. Hillary's solutions like onHand, a report portal with extensive search and scan capabilities, were a good fit for True Value. The onHand software includes an audit trail, essential to a document portal. Every store has its own logon to view bills of lading, inventory reports, invoices—the kind of security and access the 3000 has always provided for business operations.

OnHand is storing about one million documents for True Value stores, a capability that was well established when True Value made its migration away from the 3000. The IT pros at the datacenter which supports those hundreds of stores had a choice when they moved into Microsoft Dynamics. They could code up reports as a part of their move, or just continue with the Hillary products to keep user interfaces stable and retain productivity benefits. The powers of byRequest include automated delivery of reports, as well as scheduling, features that would've required a lot of coding to duplicate with the Microsoft app platform. The Hillary products just had better transport options, according to the IT director at True Value.

A migration to a new environment often requires a new set of tools to move data on the new platform. True Value invested in tools that were ready to work in a new world. It's a little like buying a set of wrenches that work with both Imperial and Metric measurements. A well-chosen toolset like this is a crossover solution. It's almost as if Hillary measured for a broad range of software standards when it designed its toolset.

When software that shares critical data can move along with the platform, it can make a migration more sensible. It's fair to say that the HP 3000 got True Value's data ready to move onward. By the time the migration happened, the Hillary software that started working on the 3000 had already been moving data for years.

09:45 PM in Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 16, 2017

Getting the Message Across for MPE/iX

MessagesNot long ago, the HP 3000 community was wondering about the limits of message files in the operating system. HP introduced the feature well back in the 20th Century, but only took Message Files into Native Mode with MPE/iX 5.0. That's certainly within the realm of all operating HP 3000s by today. The message file, according to HP's documentation, is the heart of the 3000's file system InterProcess Communication.

Message files reside partly in memory and partly on disk. MPE XL uses the memory buffer part as much as possible, to achieve the best performance. The disc portion of the message file is used only as secondary storage in case the memory buffer part overflows. For many users of IPC, MPE XL never accesses the disc portion of the message file.

Yes, that says MPE XL up there. The facility has been around a long time.

What do you do with message files? A program could open a message file and write a data record every 2 seconds. The data record could be the dateline plus the 2-word return from the CLOCK intrinsic. In another example, a message file could be used to enable soft interrupts. It might then open a log file to write progress messages from the interrupt handler.

HP's examples of using message files are illustrated using Pascal/XL, so you know this is 3000-specific technology. You'd think they'd be little-used by now, but this month the developers on the 3000 mailing list were asking about limits for the number of message files. An early answer was 63, but Stan Seiler used a classic 3000-era method to discover it: testing.

The answer is 4083. Or, why testing counts.

I just successfully opened 4,083 new message files from one process. Since the max-files-per-process is 4095, I suspect I could probably have squeezed in a couple more, but my test program already had some files open.

That this programming facility is still in use seems to suggest it's got utility left. Multiple programs and processes use message files to communicate. HP explains in an extensive document, "Suppose that a large programming task is to be divided into two processes. One process will interface with the user. This process is referred to as the "supervisor" process. It does some processing tasks itself and offloads others to a "server" process. This process only handles requests from the supervisor and returns the results."

07:29 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 13, 2017

Take the Training, A Young 3000 Jedi Can

Jedi-younglingsEarlier this month I enjoyed a cookout at the HQ of The Support Group. The company that migrates MANMAN sites to the cloud of Kenandy and supports homesteading sites had a new face at the office. The young intern was on his way to working for a startup, but was getting some experience in an established software and services company in the legacy market.

He was also learning the HP 3000 for the job. Not yet 35, the intern had a deep array of 3000 expertise to call on while he helped support homesteading sites. Such customers can lose their own deep 3000 workers and then might rely on support for how-to answers.

The intern and some homesteaders are examples of people who'd benefit from 3000 MPE/iX training. When I recounted my experience with trying to learn the mysteries of the Apple Watch, I figured it was safe to say formal MPE training would be out of reach for anybody who didn't have their own support resource. I could be certain HP was unable to teach anyone how to use MPE/iX, at least in person one to one. The HP manuals do remain out in the community on websites outside of HP.

As it turns out, when I state something in the negative, a positive exception emerges. I'm always glad to get news like this. Resources can get overlooked or lose visibility. That's why Paul Edwards reached out this morning to raise his hand in class, as it were. Paul is still offering MPE/iX training.

He hasn't had a student for quite awhile, he said, but his training services are still available. Paul's webpage for education includes MPE/iX Fundamentals and System Manager courses, plus a class on TurboIMAGE. Edwards has also trained people in the use of third party tools.

"This curriculum covers MPE core training and is appropriate for everyone in the MPE community," his webpage reports, "especially those who are homesteading or in the process of moving to another platform. We also offer courses from third party companies.

"In keeping with our conviction that instructor-led, hands-on training is the most effective delivery method, these courses are taught by certified HP and vendor instructors."

And so, the hands-on method of learning the Apple Watch is now officially well-behind the HP 3000. The Watch has been in the world for about three years, and the 3000—well, young Jedi, it's technology that's older than the first Star Wars. Younglings should learn the ways of its force, so they can become a 3000 knight like their fathers.

As for that Watch training, 3000 veteran Bruce Hobbs steered me to a website that covered using the earlier version of the Apple Watch from the ground up. Apple's also got a manual for the Watch, much more modern than the 3000's training online. The 3000 community has always been good about giving a reference for any good learning resource. They are trained to share.

06:26 PM in Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (2)

October 11, 2017

Keeping Watch On Answers From Support

Hp-01_calculator_gf_set_01Getting answers about how to use interfaces can be troublesome. Graphical interfaces never made it to the native MPE/iX applications unless a third party tool helped out. VPlus wasn't graphical, but ScreenJet made it more like a GUI. Powerhouse and Speedware developed graphical skins for MPE/iX apps written in those fourth generation languages.

Underneath all of that is the common language of the 3000, the commands and their prompts. The computer's user base by now has this command interface drilled into memory. Once in awhile the managers and users on the 3000 mailing list ask for a refresher on how to configure a network or a storage device.

A mailing list like that is one way to approach 3000 support. In this, the 44th year of MPE and 3000 life, you could expect users supporting each other to be a popular choice. There is no guarantee about the accuracy of any support you scrape off an email or a website, unless the information comes at a price. "Information wants to be free" drove the concept of user-swapped support. Support ought to flow freely, but paying for it keeps the resources fresh and responsive.

Apple_watch_series_3The 3000's interface seems like an anachronism here in 2017. You might expect that, but it's something companies must accommodate if a 3000 becomes a foreigner in a datacenter without expertise. The OS can seem as obtuse as anything not well known. New owners of smart watches have a learning curve that can seem as steep as knowing which network services to disable in MPE/iX for the stoutest security. I rode that watch curve today and came away sore. The support saddle provided an experience with Apple that reminded me of Hewlett-Packard's customer situation.

A new Apple Watch comes with an interface no user has experienced before. It has little to do with a smartphone's design and nothing at all related to a laptop. You are either pre-Watch or you're Watch-ready; there's no prerequisite warmup ownership to give you a lift. The Watch Series 3 comes with no on-board help, either. This makes it inferior to the 40-years-older MPE, and also makes the Watch something like a high-concept product from HP's past, the HP-01. That was the personal device which, like many products from the HP Way, was way ahead of its time.

The HP-01 has a legendary slot in HP's history because it was the most consumer-driven product the stodgy HP had ever created by 1977. It came out of the company's calculator group, a unit that had a stellar reputation by 1997. HP's calculators were the ultimate tool of engineers, rivaled only by the TI products. Nobody had the benefit of a touch-sensitive screen 40 years ago. A watch with a stylus as its only pointing device didn't have much chance in the 70s.

Apple's got the benefit of those 40 years of experience in sales to consumers. That does not mean the support for the Watch is much better. Learning from Apple how to use it has devolved to a 30-minute session over a laptop video call. An hour of persistent, patient calling and chats with Apple today yielded only an invitation to a class that "tours" the Watch. If it's a group of 20 customers in that room, there's probably not going to be ample time to learn during the Q&A. This is why customers of the 3000 purchased training, resources that are on a par with paid support contracts.

The Apple Watch experience is new at my house. I feel much like I did when I sat at my first 3000 terminal and tapped out the fundamental commands to configure the system. My experience was limited to experimental work, because I never was paid to manage this system I've written about since 1984. My role was to carry forward and curate training and techniques from 3000 experts.

Those experts are still out there making a living, sometimes by doing a Q&A (that's a support call) with their customers who've forgotten or never learned some aspects of MPE/iX. Just like you can paw through the YouTube videos to learn the Apple WatchOS, the Web delivers 3000 training in antique documents. A 1998 Using HP 3000 MPE/iX Fundamental Skills Tutorial is pretty much the top hit in a Web search of "MPE/iX Training." The tutorial is a useful HP document to prepare a new operator, although it includes 29 pages of EDIT/3000 lessons, which is about 28 pages more than that text editor deserves.

We're only three weeks into our Watch era here at my house. Apple made it easy to desire and to buy, the kind of skills that lifted the company beyond the realm of Hewlett-Packard. I read a recent analyst note that asserted Apple's outrun HP because the former is enjoying a healthy middle age. The Watch was a noted example of the continued pace of advancement. I'd pay for Apple Watch training. Since a 3000 owner doesn't have that training option from the vendor anymore, the support vendors can perform those duties.

When the HP-01 made its swan dive in the market, interface training was part of its failure. Your MPE, which grew robust in the same timeframe, thrived on training. It's a lesson that goes along with any new interface -- or it would if Apple could look over at the legacy of something like the HP 3000, made mighty with on-board help and training from the vendor.

09:01 PM in Homesteading, Web Resources | Permalink | Comments (1)

October 06, 2017

Staying Secure with MPE/iX Now and Then

Account-relationships-securityThe IT news is full of reports about security breeches. If an Equifax system with 143 million records can be breeched, then Yahoo's 3 billion email accounts were not far behind, were they? Security by obscurity for outward-facing MPE/iX systems isn't much protection. That being said, the high-test security that is protecting the world's most public systems seems to failing, too. A few years ago, the US Office of Personnel Management had its systems hacked. Millions of fingerprints were stolen from there.

Hewlett-Packard built good intra-3000 security into MPE/iX, and third parties made it even more robust. Back in the 1980s I wrote a manual for such a product called EnGarde that made MPE/iX permissions easier to manage. Vesoft created Security/3000 as the last word in protecting 3000s and MPE/iX data. Eugene Volokh's Burn Before Reading was an early touchstone. The magic of SM was a topic explored by 3000 legend Bob Green in a Newswire column.

Homesteading managers will do well to make a place in their datacenter budgets for support of the 3000. Security is built-in for MPE/iX, but understanding how it works might be a lost art at some sites.

The fundamentals of securing an MPE/iX system go way back. A wayback server of sorts at the 3k Ranger website provides HP's security advice from 1994. It's still valid for anyone, especially a new operator or datacenter employee who's got a 3000 to manage. They just don't teach this stuff anymore. 3000s get orphaned in datacenters when the MPE/iX pros move on into retirement or new careers.

The printed advice helps. A direct link to the Ranger webpage can be a refresher course for any new generation of 3000 minders.

Managers of MPE/iX systems need to look out for themselves in securing HP 3000s. Hewlett-Packard gave up on the task long ago. In the era that led to the end of 3000 operations at HP, the vendor warned that its software updates for MPE/iX were going to be limited to security repairs after 2008. They weren't kidding. The very last archived HP 3000 security bulletin on the HP Enterprise website had stern advice for a DNS poisoning risk.

BIND/iX and DNS were marvels for MPE/iX platforms in the 1990s. HP told all its customers early in 2009 that for that year's DNS poisoning, "The resolution is to discontinue the use of BIND/iX and migrate DNS services to another platform." Ouch.

HP's 3000 group did its part to bring the community up to date during that year of 2008. Another resource on the 3k Ranger site is a Powerpoint slide deck from Jeff Bandle, an HP MPE/iX engineer at the time. The presentation of MPE/iX Network Security: An Overview is only nine years old, but by now it appears to represent HP's final word on securing HP 3000 networks. If there's ever any need at a homesteading site to show a network manager which MPE/iX networking services are controlled by configuration files, Bandle's slides have a complehensive list on pages 29-35.

This stuff might be lost if not for the redundant archiving among the community's support resources. A DIY approach is possible for experienced managers. A guide to help navigate the advice is even better. Much of the homesteading community would be best served by a support contract with one of the remaining 3000 resources like Pivital Solutions.


01:07 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading, Web Resources | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 04, 2017

Data on 3000s still needs to be synched

SynchronizeSome HP 3000 apps are making their way to other platforms. Many already have, counting across the 15-plus years that might be considered the MPE/iX Migration Era. Data is always making its way from a host to someplace else. Making a sound master data repository is the work of synchronizing software. There's such a product for MPE/iX, one that's been in production use since 2006.

MB Foster makes UDASynch, which it says "supplies high performance and minimal system load synchronization services from server to server, server to website, and to operational data stores within your enterprise." Next week the vendor will talk about its product and its potential in a webinar on Oct. 11 at 2PM EDT.

Minimal load benchmarks, by MB Foster's accounting, mean a less than 2 percent drain on your main 3000, the one whose apps are supplying the data to be synchronized. UDASynch is a multi-platform product. The MB Foster product uses an intermediate Windows-based server to collect the 3000's data. This information then can be passed on to servers running the Unix, Windows or Linux environments.

UDASynch has been built with 3000 specifics in mind. It does a full database name check, has a memory reuse function, a debug option to convert XML to a binary file, the ability to search a table list using the IMAGE database name, a feature to automatically create backup files when the backup file is full, and a feature to call DBGET with '@' list if DBPUT is called with a partial list.

When data elements are routed between several servers, each has the ability to modify original data versions. Data synchronization ensures that regardless of data modifications, all changes are merged with the original data source.

Synchronization is a key part of a modern data architecture. Globalized supply chains and more collaboration between manufacturers and retailers are driving the need for accurate master data. It's a part of what's called a Master Data Management strategy. MDM uses a data hub and data synchronization, according to Saumya Chaki in Enterprise Information Management in Practice. That's the kind of book an IT architect can use to build out a broader platform for data.

Synching an IMAGE database with an SQL database can ease a move in a customer's Migration Era, whenever it occurs, plus provide a solid test environment for converted code and screens.

06:39 PM in Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 02, 2017

Way Out in MPE's World, Desert Sands

BinzagrThe HP 3000 has had a presence in the Middle East since the computer was a new HP product. EMEA stood for Europe, the Middle East and Asia in Hewlett-Packard's business region lineup. The Binzagr Company in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia was an early subscriber to the NewsWire. The firm deals in "distribution and logistics for a wide range of consumer products, spanning food and drink, personal and beauty care, home care and automotive tires."

It's been quite some time since MPE/iX had a presence in the Middle East, though. That's changing for a little while this year. Stromasys is bringing its products to GITEX, the annual consumer computer and electronics trade show, exhibition, and conference that takes place in Dubai, United Arab Emirates next week.

The vendor selling software that preserves and extends MPE/iX applications will be showing off Charon at the Dubai World Trade Centre Hall 1, Swiss Pavilion Booth B1-40.

Old-DubaiThe GITEX website says that annual attendance at the show is 147,133. I've written about the HP 3000 since 1984, and I've never seen MPE associated with any show boasting an attendance in six figures. Comdex used to claim those kinds of numbers, and GITEX is as far-flung and diverse as Comdex in its heyday. More than 4,400 exhibitors will be on 92,903 square meters of show floor.

"Whether you're already using our Charon legacy server emulation solutions, or are interested in learning more, we hope you'll visit us," said a cheery email from Stromasys. That's right: it's taken an independent software company to put notice of MPE solutions in front of a vast audience.

Stromasys said it will be demoing solutions for VAX, Alpha, HP 3000 and SPARC systems, all of which are now available on the cloud. The Middle East has a rich history as a hotbed of trade. Binzagr grew up from a trading partner in 1881, tracing the company’s history from trading on the ancient spice route between Europe and the East.

It's a 130-year run at Binzagr and counting. Good habits have a way of extending the life of many things. It's not easy to describe the possibility of finding a platform for business that hit the market in 1974 still being promoted in 2017. Perhaps there's a word for such odds in Arabic. It's the culture that gave us mathematics, after all.

10:12 PM in Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)