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March 30, 2018

Fine-tune transceivers and their heartbeats

Heartbeat-chartIs MPE/iX sensitive to heartbeat signals generated by network transceivers in LANs? We think it's having a performance impact on our 9x7. What can we do?

These extra heartbeats can be a drain of up to 15 percent on CPU.

If DTCs are involved, flipping a switch on the transceivers can resolve the CPU drain. After flipping the SQE switch to on, excessive IO activity stops — and with it, the excess CPU activity it causes.

If the SQE heartbeat on the 10BaseT transceiver is not on, you can get a high level of disk IO, because the system wants to log each of these events. The IO can be significant, up to a continuous 70-80 IOs per second. Doing a LINKCONTROL @; STATUS = ALL can turn up heartbeat losses recorded since last reset. Turning on the transceiver's SQE heartbeat corrects the problem.

Somewhat randomly, we get a handful of heartbeat losses, carrier losses and transmit errors (same number of each). We can go for days without seeing any. We replaced the MIO card but it had no effect on these occasional glitches. I’d like to replace the transceiver because we see no other problems anywhere on our network. What are my chances of successfully doing this hot?

You can swap transceivers hot. In fact, Replacing the transceiver solves the problem.

What diagnostics and network reports should I trace to discover a transceiver's heartbeat problems?

SQE heartbeat loss can lead to all sorts of network and system performance problems. It's usually caused by a defective transceiver or a transceiver that has not been configured correctly  The first thing to do is check for heartbeat losses on the LAN card. Heartbeat losses on the system card cause slow network throughput, most notable in large file transfers. The LINKCONTROL command can show you if the transceiver is not providing SQE heartbeat.

As shown below, you should see heartbeat losses of 0 or very close to 0.

:linkcontrol @;status=all
Linkname: DTSLINK Linktype: IEEE8023 Linkstate: CONNECTED
Physical Path: 56/56
Current Station Address: 08-00-09-98-18-D3
...

Trans late collision 0 Size range errors 0
802 chip restarts 0 Receives dropped 0
Heartbeat losses 0 Receives broadcast 6605
Receives multicast 0

Lack of SQE heartbeat on DTCs can cause system performance problems and is not reported by the LINKCONTROL command. A DTC ‘complains’ to the host system that it is missing SQE. The HP 3000 will log the heartbeat loss events to special log files stored on LDEV 1. These log events occur continuously, resulting in an IO bottleneck on the system disk. On some systems you can actually hear the system disk getting constant usage.

How do you diagnose if you are subject to this problem? Frequently the process that is logging the errors appears as the top DISC consumer in SOS or Glance/iX. Or a system process will continually appear in a list of active processes as seen in the :SHOWQ command:

:showq;active

DORMANT RUNNING

Q PIN JOBNUM Q PIN JOBNUM

A 39
C M163 #S9136
C M183 #S9140
D U189 #J6036

A stack trace of PIN 39 would point to a performance problem. Not only is this process logging the heartbeat loss events, it is forcing a post of the records to disk immediately via FCONTROL. This is where the performance problem lies.

08:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 28, 2018

From Small Boxes Came Great Longevity

HP 3000s have survived more than 40 years by now. The live-server count probably numbers in the thousands, a populace that includes many members of the Series 9x8 line. This month, 24 years ago, HP started to deliver that low-end set of servers that's still running today.

A Series 918 or 928 is commonplace among the sites still running 3000s in production or archival mode. In the spring of 1994 HP uncapped a low-end unlike any before it. An 8-user server, running at the lowest tier of MPE/iX license, was under $12,000 in a two-slot system before sales tax. The 928 could support up to 64 users for under $40,000.

918-997 HP 3000 performance 1999The low-end of the 3000 line has outlasted many 9x9s

Servers at the 968 and 978 slots of the debut product lineup supported up to 100 users and still sold for under $85,000. The prices were high compared to the Unix and Windows NT alternatives that Hewlett-Packard was pushing hard in 1994. This was the era when Windows NT hadn't yet become the Windows Server software, however. Unix was on the way to proving its mettle in stability compared to 3000s.

The introduction of the 9x8 Series came in a shadow year for my 3000 reporting. I'd left the HP Chronicle and hadn't yet started the NewsWire, which would debut in 1995. During 1994 I was a freelance writer and editor for HP, looking over my shoulder at this low-end rollout that might preserve the 3000 in the small business markets. The 918 was a key to the 3000's renaissance and a good reason to start a newsletter and website. It's also helped keep the server alive in production to this day.

Later on HP would roll out a Series 988 to fill out the 9x8 line, a server five times more powerful than the initial 918 model. But just four years after the initial push into a low-end line, HP stopped actively selling all 9x8s except the bottom two models.

HP eventually got its servers down to $7,000 per unit, but only for software and hardware developers. In 1997 the Series 918DX system shipped to existing developers of commercial MPE/iX software, as well as some converts to the MPE/iX fold. Developers had to join HP’s Solution Provider Program to get the lowest-cost list-priced box that would ever be called a 3000. One consultant called the 918DX a personal mainframe.

Even the lowest-end 9x8s were on the outside looking in while small businesses bought servers late in the decade. "The trouble is that the smallest 3000 is so expensive it prices itself out of that market," said a customer at the Interex Programmers Forum in 1999. "Is HP looking at getting the prices down so they can get the 3000 into small businesses?"

HP's Dave Wilde explained that the 3000 division's engineers still had to move to a set of next-generation boxes with PCI technology for IO. "That means a major rewrite to our IO subsystem," he said. Wilde was running the division's R&D labs at the time.

Over time there will be a lot of benefit [to the installed base] in that area. But the real benefit will be that it gets us in line with where the mainstream of HP is. That will allow us to scale much higher on the high end and reach much lower on the low end in terms of cost-competitive boxes.

Wilde also believed the new generation of PCI-based 3000s would be "an evolution toward what we’ll be able to do on the IA-64 boxes." Within a couple of years the 3000's future in IA-64 would be curtailed, and finally the servers themselves. The 918s and 928s were steady, if small, workhorses. Customers could get along with them, even though the systems were on the bottom-end of HP's horsepower charts.

Product marketing manager Vicky Symonds added that HP could "look at the pricing of our low end and see what we can do. Obviously we have some constraints there in terms of how low we could go."

Today the 918 and 928s have become servers that can be swapped in as a hardware replacement for under $1,000 per system. The customer base eventually got its wish for a cost-competitive, low-end system—about 15 years after HP was being told it was needed.

 

 

06:16 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (1)

March 26, 2018

Upgrade your hardware to homestead longer

Hardware toolsKeeping storage devices fresh is a key step in maintaining a datacenter that uses HP's 3000 hardware. Newer 3000s give you more options. Our net.digest columnist John Burke shared advice that's still good today while planning the future for a 3000s that will remain online for some time to come. Maybe not until 2028, but for awhile.

If you can, replace your older machines with the A-Class or N-Class models. Yes, the A-Class and some N-Class systems suffer from CPU throttling. (That's HP’s term. Some outside HP prefer CPU crippling.) However, even with the CPU throttling, most users will see significant improvement simply by moving to the A-Class or N-Class.

Both the A-Class and N-Class systems use the PCI bus. PCI cards are available for the A- and N-Class for SE-SCSI, FW-SCSI and Ultra-3 SCSI (LVD). You can slap in many a drive manufactured today, made by any vendor. SCSI is SCSI. Furthermore, with MPE/iX 7.5, PCI fiber channel adaptors are also supported, further expanding your choices.

If you are going to homestead on the older systems, or expect to use the older systems for a number of years to come, you have several options for storage solutions. For your SE-SCSI adaptors, you can use the new technology-old interface 18Gb and 36Gb Seagate drives. For your FW-SCSI (HVD) adaptors, since no one makes HVD drives anymore, you have to use a conversion solution. [You could of course replace your FW-SCSI adaptors with SE-SCSI adaptors, but this would reduce capacity and throughput.]

One possibility is to use an LVD-HVD converter and hang a string of new LVD drives off each of your FW-SCSI adaptors. HP and other vendors have sold routers that allow you to connect from FW-SCSI adaptors to Fibre Channel resources such as SANs. It's one way to accomplish something essential: get rid of those dusty old HP 6000 enclosures, disasters just waiting to happen.

As for tape drives, move away from DDS and use DLT (4000/7000/8000) with DLT IV tapes. Whatever connectivity problems there are can be dealt with just like the disk drives. If you have an A-Class or N-Class machine, LTO or SuperDLT both use LVD connections. If you have a non-PCI machine, anything faster that a DLT 8000 is wasted anyway because of the architecture lineups with 3000 IO.

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

March 23, 2018

Moving, Yes — Volumes to Another 3000

Newswire Classic

By John Burke

Here is a shortened version of the revised checklist for moving user volumes physically from one system to another without a RESTORE

  • Get the new system up and running, even if it only has one disk drive

(if you've purchased additional new drives, do not configure them with VOLUTIL yet)

  • Analyze and document the configuration on the old system, making any necessary configuration changes on the new system and creating an SLT for the new system;
  • Backup and verify the system volume set and the user volumes separately (be sure to use the DIRECTORY option on all your STOREs);
  • VSCLOSE all the user volume sets on the old machine;
  • Move all the peripherals over to the new machine. On a START NORECOVERY, the user volumes should mount. The drives that were on the system volume set on the old system and any new drives added should now be configured in using VOLUTIL;
  • RESTORE the system volume set:

RESTORE *T;@[email protected]@;KEEP;OLDDATE;
SHOW=OFFLINE;FILES=n;DIRECTORY

  • RENAME the following three files if they exist to something else:

SYSSTART.PUB.SYS
NMCONFIG.PUB.SYS
COMMAND.PUB.SYS (udc configuration)

  • RESTORE the above three files from your tape with the DEV=1 option.

The OS requires that some files, for example SYSSTART, be on LDEV 1;

  • RUN NMMGR against NMCONFIG.PUB.SYS, then using NMMGR, change the path for the LANIC, if necessary, and make any other necessary NMMGR configuration changes.
  • Validate NETXPORT and DTS/LINK, which should automatically cross validate with SYSGEN.
  • START NORECOVERY

03:10 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 21, 2018

Tracking the Prints of 3000 Print Software

Tymlabs logoA reader of ours with a long memory has a 3000 connected to a printer. The printer is capable of printing a 8.5 x 12 sheet, so it's enterprise-grade. The 3000 is running software built by OPT, '90s-era middleware for formatting print jobs from MPE/iX.

To nobody's surprise, the PSP Plus product had problems operating in 2018. "I actually tried to use it in recent times to print to a strange brand of printers, Microplex," our reader said. "The software still ran, but formatting did not work right."

Bruce-Toback

"I was able to print to it with some success, but I could never get the software to do what I wanted it to do, which was to fill up a 12 x 8.5" page and make logical and physical page breaks coincide." The software was a stellar choice for its day, having been developed by the funny, wry and brilliant Bruce Toback (above). Bruce passed away during the month we started this blog, though, more than 12 years ago. His tribute was the subject of our very first blog entry.

Great software that once could manage many printers, but can't do everything, might be revived with a little support. It's a good bet that OPT support contract hasn't been renewed, but asking for help can't hurt if your expectations are reasonably low. The challenge is finding the wizard who still knows the OPT bits.

"We bought and it went from OPT to Tymlabs to Unison to Tivoli to...” These kinds of bit-hunts are the management task that is sometimes crucial to homesteading in 2018. Printing can be a keystone of an IT operation, so if the software that drives the paper won't talk to a printer, even a strange one, that failure can trigger a migration. It's like the stray thread at the bottom of the sweater that unravels the whole garment.

Maybe this product that started at OPT never made its way to Tivoli. My notes say ROC Software took on all of the Unison products. Right here in Austin—where we're breathing with relief after that bomber's been taken down—ROC still supports and sells software for companies using lots of servers. Even HP 3000s.

Tracking these footprints of this print middleware led through some history. Searches turned up a NewsWire article about Toback—many, in fact, where in Hidden Value he was teaching 3000 users on the 3000-L about one kind of software or another. Back in 1997 the discussion was about something rather new called Linux. Linux could be useful, he said, to hook up a PC to the relatively-new World Wide Web.

Searching for OPT—which was the name of Toback's company—turned up plenty of hits about another OPT/3000, the one HP sold to track 3000 performance under MPE. Before we knew it, there was an HP Configuration Guide for the Series III and Series 30 on our monitor. Circa 1979, the HP3000 Family had promise.
 
HP 3000 Series III"The expandable hardware configurations and upward software compatibility of all the models," said the guide, "allow you to choose the system that best fits your current needs, while protecting your investment for the future." HP and everyone else didn't imagine that almost 40 years later that 3000 family would still have living members.
 
HP's OPT was a dead end, since HP stopped supporting that product by 1997. As for the Series III, with its beefy 120MB disk drive (the size of a single daily newspaper edition's PDF file), it was a museum piece before Y2K arrived. One support company featured a Series III at an HP World trade show, setting it up in a booth for people to photograph themselves with. No selfies in that year—you needed somebody else to capture your moment with history.
 
ROC was in the NewsWire archives, though. A 1999 article showed us that the OPT software had become Formation after the product was sold to Tymlabs, another Austin company. ROC bought Formation along with the rest of the stable of products which Tymlabs had sold to Unison—and Unison sold that lineup including Maestro to Tivoli. There's some begat's of vendors we might have left out there. Nevertheless, things like PSP Plus were well-built and useful for more than two decades.
 
That's the lure of homesteading—its low-cost ownership—as well as the curse of staying on too long. Product expertise disappears. We've reached out to ROC to see if the offices on Northland Boulevard still contain some tribal knowledge of the artist formerly known as PSP Plus.
 
Our reader, devoted to the 3000 in more than just spirit, is hopeful about its future even while he relies on software and hardware from the past. "I was so encouraged a couple of days ago that I actually searched the Internet for HP3000 MPE system manager jobs," said Tim O'Neill.

"If I did not have to move too far, I would sure like to go back to MPE. To me, it is still an exciting world—and with Stromasys Charon hardware and massively parallel disk arrays and high-speed networking, it is an exciting NEW world!"

07:12 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 19, 2018

Why Support Would Suggest Exits from 3000

Way-OutThe work of a support provider for 3000 customers has had many roles over the last 40 years. These indies have been a source for better response time, more customer-focused services, a one-call resource, affordable alternatives and expertise HP no longer can offer. They've even been advisors to guide a 3000 owner to future investments.

That last category needs expertise to be useful, and sometimes it requires a dose of pragmatism, too. Steve Suraci of Pivital Solutions gave us a thoughtful answer to the question of, "How do I get my 3000 ready for post-2028 use?" His advice shows how broad-minded a 3000-focused support company can be.

By Steve Suraci

While the solution to the 2028 problem is going to be fairly trivial, it really is the entry point to a much bigger question: What logical argument could any company make at this time to continue to run an HP 3000 MPE system beyond 2028?

I understand that some companies have regulatory requirements that require data to be available on the 3000 for years beyond its original creation date. Beyond this, what logical justification could an IT manager make to their management for perpetuating the platform in production beyond 2028? 

2028 is a long way out from HP’s end of support date [2010] and even further from the original 2001 announcement by HP of their intentions to no longer support it.  It would seem to me that there was a reasonable risk/reward proposition for extending the platform initially for some period of time.  I have to believe that the justification for that decision will expire as time goes on, if not already.

The homesteading base has not in general been willing to spend to keep the platform viable.  They take bigger and bigger risks and alienate themselves from the few support providers who remain capable of providing support in the event of an actual issue. The stability of the platform has lulled them into believing that this has been a good decision.  But what happens when it’s not?

Who at Beechglen or Allegro—or here for that matter—with any in-depth MPE knowledge will still be working in 2028? MPE guys were getting long in the tooth back in 2004!

The 2028 pitch should be to finally put these systems to pasture. We are pressing our customers to move off the platform, as should any MPE support provider. I challenge any MPE system administrator to come up with a viable argument for using the platform beyond 2028.

Is the risk really still worth the reward? The HP 3000 has been a workhorse that has served us well.  Alas, all good things must come to an end!

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

March 16, 2018

Fine-tune Friday: SCSI Unleashed

Seagate 73GB driveAlthough disk technology has made sweeping improvements since HP's 3000 hardware was last built, SCSI devices are still being sold. The disk drives on the 15-year-old servers are the most likely point of hardware failure. Putting in new components such as the Seagate 73-GB U320 SCSI 10K hard drive starts with understanding the nature of the 3000's SCSI.

As our technical editor John Burke wrote, using a standard tech protocol means third parties like Seagate have products ready for use in HP's 3000 iron.

SCSI is SCSI

Extend the life of your HP 3000 with non-HP peripherals

By John Burke

This article will address two issues and examine some options that should help you run your HP 3000 for years to come. The first issue: you need to use only HP-branded storage peripherals. The second issue: because you have an old (say 9x7, 9x8 or even 9x9) system, then you are stuck using both old technology and just plain old peripherals. Both are urban legends and both are demonstrably false.

There is nothing magical about HP-branded peripherals

Back in the dark ages when many of us got our first exposure to MPE and the HP 3000, when HP actually made disk drives, there was a reason for purchasing an HP disk drive: “sector atomicity.” 9x7s and earlier HP 3000s had a battery that maintained the state of memory for a limited time after loss of power. In my experience, this was usually between 30 minutes and an hour.

These systems, however, also depended on special firmware in HP-made HP-IB and SCSI drives (sector atomicity) to ensure data integrity during a power loss. If power was restored within the life of the internal battery, the system started right back up where it left off, issuing a “Recover from Powerfail” message with no loss of data. It made for a great demo.

Ah, but you say all your disk drives have an HP label on them? Don’t be fooled by labels. Someone else, usually Seagate, made them. HP may in some cases add firmware to the drives so they work with certain HP diagnostics, but other than that, they are plain old industry standard drives. Which means that if you are willing to forego HP diagnostics, you can purchase and use plain old industry standard disk drives and other peripherals with your HP 3000 system.

Connect just about anything to anything

SCSI stands for Small Computer System Interface. It comes in a variety of flavors with a bewildering set of names attached such as SCSI-2, SCSI-3, SE-SCSI, FW-SCSI, HVD, LVD SCSI, Ultra SCSI, Ultra2 SCSI, Ultra3 SCSI, Ultra4 SCSI, Ultra-160, Ultra-320, etc. Pretty intimidating stuff.

Don’t despair though. Pretty much any kind of SCSI device can be connected to any other with the appropriate intermediary hardware. Various high quality adaptors and cables can be obtained from Paralan (www.paralan.com) or Granite Digital (www.granitedigital.com).

So, SCSI really is SCSI. It is a well-known, well-understood, evolving standard that makes it very easy to integrate and use all sorts of similar devices. MPE and the HP 3000 are rather behind the times, however, in supporting specific SCSI standards. Support for LVD SCSI was added with the A- and N-Class systems—and with MPE/iX 7.5, these same systems would support Fibre Channel (FC). 

Let’s concentrate on the SE-SCSI and FW-SCSI interfaces, both seemingly older than dirt, and disk and tape storage devices. But first, suppose you replace an old drive in your system, where should you put it? The 9x7s, 9x8s and 9x9s all have internal drive cages of varying sizes. It is tempting to fill up these bays with newer drives and, if space is at a critical premium, go ahead.

However, if you can, heed the words of Gavin Scott.

I’d recommend putting the new drives in an external case rather than inside the system, since that gives you much more flexibility and eliminates any hassles associated with installing the drive inside the cabinet. It’s the same SCSI interface that you’d be plugging into, so apart from saving the money for the case and cable, there’s no functional difference. With the external case you can control the power of the drive separately, watch the blinking lights, move the drive from system to system (especially useful if you set it up as its own volume set), etc.

At sites such as Granite Digital you can buy any number of rack mount, desktop and tower enclosures for disk systems. Here is another urban legend; LDEV 1 must be an internal drive. False. Or, the boot tape device has to be internal. False. You cannot tell by the path whether a drive is internal or external, and the path is the only thing MPE knows (or cares) about the physical location of the drive.

Okay, there are some limits

Once you come to terms with the fact that you can use almost any SCSI disk drive in your HP 3000, dealing with SE SCSI is a piece of cake and a whole world of possibilities opens up. With the right cable or adapter (see Paralan or Granite Digital) you are in business.

But just because you can connect the latest LVD drive to your SE-SCSI adaptor, should you? Probably not, because you are still limited by the speed of the SE adaptor and so are just wasting your money. Now that you know you do not need the specific HP drives you once bought, you can pick up used or surplus drives ridiculously cheap. [Ed. note: the 73 GB drive at the top of the article is $129.]

Seagate created new technology drives with the old technology 50-pin SE-SCSI interface, the 18Gb model ST318418N and the 36Gb model ST336918N.

FW-SCSI is more problematic than SE-SCSI because no one even makes FW-SCSI (HVD) disk drives any more and you need more than just a simple cable or adapter to connect newer drives to an HVD adaptor. In fact, from the Paralan site, “HVD SCSI was rendered obsolete in the SPI-3 document of SCSI-3.”

So, what is one to do? Most systems with FW-SCSI adaptors need them for the increased throughput and capacity they provide over SE-SCSI. Paralan and others make HVD-LVD converters. The Paralan MH17 is a standalone converter that allows you to connect a string of LVD disk drives to an HP FW-SCSI adaptor. Pretty cool.

If you're on a Fibre Channel (FC) SAN environment and you would like to store your HP 3000 data on the SAN, then only the PCI-Bus A- and N-Class systems (under MPE/iX 7.5) support native Fibre Channel.

A quick word about configuring your new storage peripherals: Do not get confused by the seemingly endless list of peripherals in IODFAULT.PUB.SYS. And, do not worry if your particular disk or tape drive is not listed in IODFAULT.PUB.SYS. Part of the SCSI standard allows for the interrogation of the device for such things as ID, size, etc. DSTAT ALL shows the disk ID returned by the drive, not what you entered in SYSGEN.

When configuring in a new drives, just use an ID that is close. In fact, there is really no need for any more than two entries for disk drives in IODFAULT, one for SE drives and one for HVD drives so as to automatically configure in the correct driver. The same is true for tape drives.

Summary

Disk drives and tape drives are the devices most likely to fail in your HP 3000 system. The good news is that you do not need to be stuck using old technology, nor are you limited to HP only peripherals. The bottom line is you have numerous options to satisfy your HP 3000 storage needs, both now and into the future.

Special thanks go to Denys Beauchemin, who contributed significant material to this article.

07:41 PM in Hidden Value, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 14, 2018

Wayback Wed: When MPE/iX wasn't for sale

Ten years ago this week, HP made it clearer to 3000 owners that they didn't really own their systems. Not the life-breath of them, anyway. At the final meeting of the Greater Houston Regional Users Group, e3000 Business Manager Jennie Hou explained that the hundreds of millions of dollars paid for MPE/iX over 30 years did not equate to ownership of HP 3000 systems. HP was only licensing the software that is crucial to running the servers—not selling it.

The hardware was a physical asset owned by the buyers. The software, though—which breathed life into the PA-RISC servers—was always owned by HP. Without MPE/iX, those $300,000 top-end servers were as useless as a tire without air.

Most software is purchased as a license to use, unless it's an open sourced product like Linux. The reinforcement of this Right to Use came as the vendor was trying to control the future of the product it was cutting from its lineup. HP 3000s would soon be moving into the final phase of HP's support, a vintage service that didn't even include security updates.

Hou confirmed the clear intention that HP would cede nothing but "rights" to the community after HP exited its 3000 business."The publisher or copyright owner still owns the software," Hou said when license requirements beyond 2010 were discussed. "You didn't purchase MPE/iX. You purchased a right to use it."

WhoOwns

The announcement made it clear than any source code license was going to be a license to use, not own. Support companies and software vendors would be paying $10,000 for that license in a few years' time. Ownership of HP 3000s is built around MPE/iX, by HP's reckoning, even in an Enterprise era. License transfers for MPE/iX are one of the only items or services HP offers.

HP's announcement during that March came on the heels of a new third party program to transform HP 3000 lockwords to passwords — the character strings that were needed to operate HP’s ss_update configuration program.

The new SSPWD takes an HP lockword — designed to limit use of ss_update to HP’s support personnel — and delivers the corresponding password to enable a support provider start and use ss_update.

Continuing to reserve the license for MPE/iX means that emulated 3000s still have a link to Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, too. The vendor never implemented its plans to offer separate emulator-based MPE/iX licenses, either.

 

06:54 PM in History | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 12, 2018

Momentum moves towards Museum meeting

CHM displayDave Wiseman continues to pursue a 3000 user reunion for late June, and we've chosen to help invite the friends of the 3000. One of the most common sentiments from 3000 veterans sounds like what we heard from Tom Gerken of an Ohio-based healthcare firm.

"It was really sad seeing the HP 3000s go away," he said, talking about the departure of the system from Promedica. "I really liked MPE as an operating system. It was the BEST!"

The last HP 3000 event 2011 was called a Reunion. A 2018 event might be a Retirement, considering how many of the community's members are moving to semi-retirement.

Wiseman says that he's in retirement status as he defines it. "It's working not because you have to,"he said in a call last week, "but because you want to."

Most of us will be working in some capacity until we're too old to know better. That makes the remaining community members something like the HP 3000 itself—serving until it's worn down to bits. The event this summer will be a social gathering, a chance to see colleagues and friends in person perhaps for the first time in more than a decade.

The weekend of June 23-24 is the target for the 3000 Retirement party. We're inquiring about the Computer History Museum and a spot inside to gather, plus arrangements for refreshments and appetizers. There will be a nominal cover fee, because there's no band. Yet.

If you've got a customer list or a Facebook feed you'd like to spread the word on, get in touch with me. Spread the word. Email your friends.

No matter whether you have a contact list or not, save the date: one afternoon on the fourth weekend of June. Details to come. 

08:13 PM in Homesteading, Migration, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 09, 2018

Fine-Tune Friday: Account Management 101

Newswire Classic

By Scott Hirsh

Ledger-bookAs we board the train on our trip through HP 3000 System Management Hell, our first stop, Worst Practice #1, must be Unplanned Account Structure. By account structure I am referring to the organization of accounts, groups, files and users. I maintain that the worst of the worst practices is the failure to design an account structure, then put it into practice and stick with it. If instead you wing it, as most system managers seem to do, you ensure more work for yourself now and in the future. In other words, you are trapped in System Management Hell.

What’s the big deal about account structure? The account structure is the foundation of your system, from a management perspective. Account structure touches on a multitude of critical issues: security, capacity planning, performance, and disaster recovery, to name a few. On an HP 3000, with all of two levels to work with (account and group), planning is even more important than in a hierarchical structure where the additional levels allow one to get away with being sloppy (although strictly speaking, not planning your Unix account structure will ultimately catch up with you, too). In other words, since we have less to work with on MPE, making the most of what we have is compelling.

As system managers, when not dozing off in staff meetings, the vast majority of our time is spent on account structure-related activities: ensuring that files are safely stored in their proper locations, accessible only to authorized users; ensuring there is enough space to accommodate existing file growth as well as the addition of new files; and occasionally, even today, file placement or disk fragmentation can become a performance issue, so we must take note of that.

In the unlikely event of a problem, we must know where everything is and be able to find backup copies if necessary. Periodically we are asked (perhaps with no advance notice) to accommodate new accounts, groups, users and applications. We must respond quickly, but not recklessly, as this collection of files under our management is now ominously referred to as a “corporate asset.”

You wouldn’t build a house without a design and plans, you wouldn’t build an application without some kind of specifications, so why do we HP 3000 system managers ignore the need for some kind of consistent logic to the way we organize our systems?

A logical, adaptable, documented account structure is a huge time saver in many respects. As most of us now manage multiple systems, we have no time to waste chasing down lost files, working with convoluted file sets, struggling to keep access under control or reacting to full volume sets.

I once had a conversation with a co-worker who was an avid outdoorsman. He was discussing rock climbing and I asked him about exciting rock climbing experiences. His reply: “In rock climbing, anything exciting is bad.” I would say the same thing about system management. By getting your account structure under control, you build a solid system management foundation that translates into much more pleasant work.

If this were a “best practices” column, we would discuss the best ways to clean up your system’s account structure. But this is worst practices, so let’s look at the no-nos.

No naming standards,
bad naming standards

Oscar Wilde once said, “Consistency is the last resort of the unimaginative.” Do you think he was referring to HP 3000 system management? If so, not much has changed since Oscar’s day.

• In one account the jobs are located in group JCL. In another account, group JOBS. The developers keep “special” jobs in a group you never heard of in the critical application account. And just to make things more interesting, all your so-called “production” jobs are kept in an account called JCL, containing all kinds of groups, including “TEMP.”

By having consistency across accounts I control, I can easily find what I need when I need it. If jobs are always in the same group across accounts, I can LISTF @[email protected], etc. Backups/recoveries are easier, updates are easier, training new operators is easier. Sure, consistency is boring, but we must resist the lure of adrenaline.

• I’m going out on a limb here, but my guess is that your UDCs, the few you have left, are in a different place in every account. Why is that? And your system UDC (singular) is located in the SYS account, right? Because it’s the SYStem UDC, of course! Maybe it’s not such a bad thing to have another, non-SYS account for globally accessible files. What’s the catch? The system UDC file needs to be in the system volume set, for obvious reasons (learned that one the hard way).

• An MPE file name consists of a whopping maximum of eight characters. That should make every character count, right? So why do jobs that live in a group called JCL or an account called JCL all start with the letter J? File that under the department of redundancy department.

• We manage the systems, so we make the rules, right? Wrong. If we want the rules followed, if we want the best rules possible, we must get input and buy-in from all the others who will be expected to honor our rules. Ignoring users when it’s time to develop naming standards and other system policies is a classic Worst Practice, and a good way to ensure continued chaos. And don’t forget that upper management will need to be involved when a little “gentle” persuasion is required.

Scott Hirsh is former chairman of the SIG-SYSMAN Special Interest Group.

06:51 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 07, 2018

Wayback: When MPE would need no 3000s

3000 license plateIt's been a decade and a half since HP began to examine the needs of the homesteading base of 3000 owners. Fifteen years ago this month, the first HP proposal for licensing MPE/iX outside of the server's ownership was floated into the community. The document in March of 2003 said that a license could be created "Independent of the HP e3000 platform."

HP had renamed the 3000 as the e3000 to tout the server's Internet compatibility. The era around 2003 was full of possibility. Mike Paivinen was a project manager in R&D who spearheaded a lot of planning for 3000 homesteading. Emulators were on the horizon. Somebody would need licensed MPE if they were to use them. Paivinen authored the un-3000 MPE/iX proposal.

The major concern is that without some more details, companies interested in creating a PA-RISC platform emulator would be unable to fully evaluate their business case for moving forward with an emulator project. Below is HP’s current proposal for distributing the MPE/iX operating system independent of the HP e3000 hardware platform.

Onward the plan went, setting out terms that included running any emulator on HP-branded hardware, as well as operating MPE/iX on the emulator with no warranty. At the time the 3000 division was calling itself Virtual CSY, or vCSY.

vCSY intends to establish a new distribution plan for the MPE/iX operating system which will likely be effective by early 2004. The MPE/iX OS would be licensed independent of the HP e3000 hardware platform. The license terms would grant the licensee the right to use a single copy of MPE/iX on a single HP hardware platform subject to certain terms and conditions. Such terms and conditions would require MPE/iX to be run in an emulated environment, hosted on an HP platform, and would include a statement that MPE is provided “AS-IS” with no warranty.

For about $500 a license, HP would offer MPE/iX and some subsystem software like TurboStore "via an HP website. The customer should be able to purchase MPE/iX online, download it, or have it shipped on CD." There was a big catch that would end up kicking in. Item 16 of an HP FAQ was a question that set out a dare.

16. What happens if no one creates a PA-RISC emulator?

A. This new license would not be offered.

In the same time period as this 2003 license plan emerged, HP didn't want to share PA-RISC internal booting procedures with emulation developers. Stromasys, known as SRI at the time, had a better shot than anyone at getting HP's cooperation. The company was founded by ex-HP/Digital executives and already had Digital VMS cooperation in its history.

The license needed an emulator to be available. But if it had been offered before emulator development was complete, it might have had an impact on HP's development cooperation. The chicken and egg dilemma was therefore hatched.

HP was ready to sell an OS for $500 without warranty that used to cost up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. By October of 2003 it would not be selling the hardware anymore which forced that price point. MPE hadn't been sold standalone, separate of a 3000, before then.

The offer of standalone MPE/iX remained on the table for years after the 2004 release target. By the time HP wrapped up all of its 3000 operations including support, new licenses for emulators were still possible. HP set an end of 2010 deadline for those deals. An emulator still wasn't finished, although Stromasys was in active development. Ultimately HP's arrangement created no new MPE/iX licenses. Today booting MPE/iX away from HP's iron demands the transfer of an existing 3000 hardware-based license to today's Charon emulator.

06:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 05, 2018

2028 patching begins to emerge

Beechglen Communicator CoverBeechglen Development has announced a new 2028 patching service. The services are aimed at customers using Beechglen for HP 3000 and MPE/iX support. According a PDF document hosted at the Beechglen website, the software modifications to MPE/iX are authorized through the terms of the HP source code license that was granted to seven firms in 2011.

Several 3000 consulting and support providers have an ability to serve the community with revisions to extend 3000 date-handling beyond January 1, 2028. Several of them were on a CAMUS user group call last November. Beechglen is the first company to employ the date repair services through a set of patches. One question is whether the patches can be applied to any system, or must be customized in a per-system process.

The software alterations seem to include changes to MPE/iX, not just to applications and surround code hosted at a 3000 site. Doug Werth, director of technical services at Beechglen, said in a message to the 3000-L mailing list, "While it isn’t quite “MPE Forever” it does extend the HP 3000 lifespan by another 10 years."

The strategy was outlined as part of a document called the Beechglen Communicator, formatted and written to look like the Communicator tech documents HP sent to MPE/iX support customers through 2007. 

The Year >2027 patches have been developed as enhancements under the Beechglen Development Inc. MPE/iX Source Code Agreement with Hewlett-Packard. As provided in this agreement, these patches can only be provided as enhancements to MPE/iX systems covered under a support agreement from Beechglen Development Inc.

The three pages of technical explanation about the patches is followed by a list of third party software companies who have products "certified on Beechglen-patched MPE systems that their software is Y2028 compatible." Adager and Robelle products are listed as certified in the Beechglen document.

Adager is one of seven companies which hold an HP source code license for MPE/iX. Pivital Solutions is another, along with support companies Terix and Allegro, and three other software firms. The companies have a restriction in their use of MPE/iX. As the Beechglen document states, the alterations have to be in service to existing customers. HP released the code to keep 3000s in service, to the extent that the license holders have the technical ability to employ the source.

In 2008, as MPE/iX source licenses were discussed by HP and parties like OpenMPE, Adager's CEO Rene Woc noted a license to source is just the first step in fixing 3000s.

Having access to source though a license doesn't automatically make a license-holder a better provider of products and services, he said.

You cannot assume, even with good readers of source code, that the solutions will pop up. A lot of the problems we see these days are due to interactions between products. So the benefit for the customer would be based more on the troubleshooting skills that an organization can provide.

"Each system applying these patches should be evaluated for customer and third party code that calls the CALENDAR intrinsic directly," the Beechglen document says in an Application Considerations section.

We've reached out to Beechglen to learn what testing these Year >2027 patches have passed through from outside users and sites. HP distributed MPE/iX patches after its software had passed a beta test from more than one testing customer running a 3000. HP testing worked inside the realm of its own support customers, too. No one could beta test an HP patch unless they were already an HP support customer.

OpenMPE hoped to be a test organization for patches in the era after HP closed its labs. The project didn't emerge beyond the discussion phase, in part because there were no dedicated tech resources to do the testing.

07:53 PM in Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 02, 2018

Fine-Tune Friday: One 3000 and Two Factors

RSA SecurID fobPeople are sometimes surprised where HP 3000s continue to serve. Even in 2018, mission-critical systems are performing in some Fortune 500 companies. When the death knell sounds for their applications, the axe gets swung sometimes because of security. Two-Factor security authentication is a standard now, serving things like Google accounts, iCloud data, and corporate server access.

Eighteen years ago, one HP 3000 shop was doing two-factor. The work was being coded before smartphones existed. Two-factor was delivered using a security fob in most places. Andreas Schmidt worked for Computer Sciences Corporation, which served the needs of DuPont in Bad Homburg, Germany. CSC worked with RSA Security Dynamics to create an RSA Agent that connected a 3000 to an RSA Server.

Back in that day, authentication was done with fobs like the one above. Now it's a smart device sharing the key. Schmidt summarized the work done for what he calls "the chemical company" which CSC was serving.

Two-Factor Token Authentication is a state-of-the-art process to avoid static passwords. RSA Security Dynamics provides an MPE Agent for this purpose which worked perfectly for us with Security/3000, but also with basic MPE security. The technical approach is not simple, but manageable. The main problems may arise during the rollout because of human behavior in keeping known procedures and avoiding changes, especially for security. But to stay on HP 3000 into the future, the effort is worth it, especially for better security.

The project worked better when it relied on the Security/3000 software installed on the server hosting Order Fulfillment. Two-factor security was just gaining widespread traction when this 3000 utilized it. Schmidt acknowledged that the tech work was not simple, but was manageable. When a 3000 site is faced with the alternative of developing a replacement application away from MPE/iX, or selecting an app off the shelf like SAP, creating two-factor is within the limits of possibility. Plus, it may not be as expensive as scrapping an MPE application.

Schmidt's article covers an Agent Solution created by CSC. Even 18 years ago, remaining on the 3000 was an issue worth exploring. When many outside firms access a 3000, two factor can be key.

DuPont wanted two-factor tested on its NT systems, plus the 3000.

NT and MPE were selected as pilots: NT because of the large number of servers running that environment; and MPE because of the thinking that this platform might be different from all others and more difficult to implement. However, the company also recognized the importance of running its 3000-based Order Fulfillment Process with a lot of different outside partners.

RSA’s first attempt to develop an agent for MPE was very simple: A token had to become configured for a combination of MPE-USER-ID.MPE ACCOUNT. This combination could not be reused on another token. It was not possible to use wildcards or to add SESSION-IDs or MPE-GROUP to have a complete logon string. Because of the MPE characteristic to share logons (on all levels of capabilities) this version of the agent was not what we were looking for. (More drastically: This agent could not function for the MPE platform).

The second attempt was much better: everything was changed to the chemical company’s already-existing Security/3000 setup. Now Security/3000 invokes the RSA Agent to contact the RSA Server. It transmits either the SESSION-ID or the MPE-USER-ID as the name of the token. If the token is known and allowed to access the HP 3000, the agent asks the user for the current tokencode plus PIN.

This agent also functions without Security/3000 by adding some lines to the System’s Logon UDC. This drops some additional functions in combination with Security/3000, like verifying a user profile in any case (SESSION-ID,MPE-USER-ID.MPE-ACCOUNT is defined as allowed logon in Security/3000, all others will be refused before starting anything), but it will work.

The project report details show this could be installed even before two-factor took a wide foothold in IT. Schmidt doesn't share the code in his article because it was custom work for a dedicated customer. But the process is worth a look, even if only to prove that custom code brings a 3000 into security compliance.

"One thing is essential," Schmidt wrote. "The RSA Agent for MPE does not replace the MPE password process like it does for Unix or NT. It is activated first when the HELLO string has been entered and the MPE password hurdle has been passed (Account, User, and/or Group Password) and (as an option) the basic check within Security/3000 for profile existence is passed. Now any other logon UDC functions are invoked, and this activates the RSA Agent.

Having Security/3000 in place is a good idea to replace the session passwords (if any) by supplying the tokencode.

Not having session names in place, the RSA Agent will add an additional password. I do not recommend eliminating the MPE password — it’s still a fence around your system and is needed for batch security (depending on the streaming security you have in place).

Complete details are in the NewsWire website's archived Technical Articles. Go forth and secure, if preserving an application is a better choice than locating an app replacement.

06:52 PM in Hidden Value, Migration | Permalink | Comments (1)