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September 19, 2018

Wayback: HP's prop-up in a meltdown week

TradersTen years ago this week the HP shareholder community got a slender boost amid a storm of financial crisis around the world. While the US economy was in a meltdown, Hewlett-Packard -- still a single company -- made a fresh promise to buy back its stock for $8 billion. Companies of HP's size were being labelled Too Big to Fail. The snarl of the banking collapse would be a turning point for a Presidential election. A Wall Street Journal article on the buybacks called HP's move a display of strength. HP wanted to ensure its market capitalization wouldn't take a pounding.

HP was electing to pump a smaller buyback into its shares compared to a competitor's effort. Microsoft was announcing a $40 billion buyback in the same week. At the time, the two companies were trading at about the same share price. Hewlett-Packard was working through its final season with a 3000 lab, tying a bow on the final PowerPatch of the MPE era. One customer recently called that last 2008 release "MPE/iX 7.5.5."

The company was looking to get into a new operating system business in September of 2008, though. HP would be developing a server of its own built upon a core OS of Linux. HP closed down its Nashua, New Hampshire facility just a few months earlier. The offices where VMS was being revived were going dark. At least HP was still selling hardware and growing. We took note of the contrast between selling goods and shuffling financial paper.

Not all of the US economy is in tatters, despite what trouble is being trumpeted today. HP and Microsoft and Nike still run operations which supply product that the world still demands, product which can't be easily swapped in some shadowy back-door schemes like debt paper or mortgage hedges.

A decade later, much has changed and yet not enough to help HP's enterprise OS customers. VMS development has been sold off to a third party firm, OpenVMS Inc. That move into Linux has created a low-cost business server line for HP which doesn't even mention an OS. Meanwhile, Microsoft's stock is trading above $120 a share and HP's split-up parts sell for between $15 and $27 a share, covering the HP Enterprise and PC siblings.

Last week Microsoft announced an impressive AI acquisition, Lobe. For its part, HP Enterprise announced it was refinancing its debt "to fund the repayment of the $1.05 billion outstanding principal amount of its 2.85% notes due 2018, the repayment of the $250 million outstanding principal amount of its floating rate notes due 2018, and for general corporate purposes." A decade ago financial headwinds were in every corporate face. By this year the markets have sorted out the followers from the leaders. HP stepped away from OS software and has created a firm where sales of its remaining parts have gone flat.

10:39 PM in History, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 17, 2018

Planning to migrate has been the easy mile

Postman3000 owners have made plans for many years to leave the platform. The strategies do take a considerable while to evolve into tactics, though. The planning stage is easy to get stopped at, like an elevator jammed up at a floor. 

For example, take a company like the one in the deep South, using HP 3000s and manufacturing copper wire and cable. The manager would rather not name his employer and so we won't, but we can say the 3000 is dug in and has been difficult to mothball.

In fact, the only immediate replacement at this corporation might be its storage devices. The datacenter employs a VA7410 array.

We do have to replace a drive now and then, but there hasn't been any problem getting used replacements, and we haven't suffered any data loss. I think if we were planning to stay with MPE for the long term, we might look for something newer, but we are planning to migrate. In fact we planned to be on a new platform by now, but you know how that goes.

More companies than you'd imagine know how that goes in 2018. We're nearing the end of the second decade of what we once called the Transition Era. The final mile of that journey can be the slowest, like the path of the postman who must carry the mail on foot through urban neighborthoods.

01:25 PM in Homesteading, Migration, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 14, 2018

Use Command Interpreter to program fast

NewsWire Classic

By Ken Robertson

An overworked, understaffed data processing department is all too common in today’s ever belt-tightening, down-sizing and de-staffing companies.

Running-shoesAn ad-hoc request may come to the harried data processing manager. She may throw her hands up in despair and say, “It can’t be done. Not within the time frame that you need it in.” Of course, every computer-literate person knows deep down in his heart that every programming request can be fulfilled, if the programmer has enough hours to code, debug, test, document and implement the new program. The informed DP manager knows that programming the Command Interpreter (CI) can sometimes reduce that time, changing the “impossible deadline” into something more achievable.

Getting Data Into and Out of Files

So you want to keep some data around for a while? Use a file! Well, you knew that already, I’ll bet. What you probably didn’t know is that you can get data into and out of files fairly easily, using IO re-direction and the print command. IO re-direction allows input or output to be directed to a file instead of to your terminal. IO re-direction uses the symbols ">", ">>" and "<". Use ">" to re-direct output to a temporary file. (You can make the file permanent if you use a file command.) Use ">>" to append output to the file. Finally, use "<" to re-direct input from a file:

echo Value 96 > myfile
echo This is the second line >> myfile
input my_var < myfile
setvar mynum_var str("!my_var",7,2)
setvar mynum_var_2 !mynum_var - (6 * 9 )
echo The answer to the meaning of life, the universe
echo and everything is !mynum_var_2.

After executing the above command file, the file Myfile will contain two lines, “Value 42” and “This is the second line.” (Without quotes, of course.) The Input command uses IO re-direction to read the first record of the file, and assigns the value to the variable my_var. The first Setvar extracts the number from the middle of the string, and proceeds to use the value in an important calculation in the next line.

How can you assign the data in the second and consequent lines of a file to variables? You use the Print command to select the record that you want from the file, sending the output to a new file:

print myfile;start=2;end=2 > myfile2

You can then use the Input command to extract the string from the second file.

Rolling Your Own System Variables

It’s easy enough to create a static file of Setvar commands that gets invoked at logon time, and it’s not difficult to modify the file programmatically. For example, let’s say that you would like to remember a particular variable from session to session, such as the name of your favorite printer. You can name the file that contains the Setvars, Mygvars. It will contain the line: setvar my_printer “biglaser”

The value of this variable may change during your session, but you may want to keep it for the next time that you log on. To do this, you must replace your normal logoff procedure (the Bye or Exit command) with a command file that saves the variable in a file, and then logs you off.

byebye
purge mygvars > $null
file mygvars;save
echo setvar my_printer "!my_printer" > *mygvars
bye

Whenever you type byebye, the setvar command is written to Mygvars and you are then logged off. The default close disposition of an IO re-direction file is TEMP, which is why you have to specify a file equation. Because you are never certain that this file exists beforehand, doing a Purge ensures that it does not.

07:14 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 12, 2018

Wayback: DX cuts new 3000 price to $7,077

Field-of-dreams
The Series 918DX was going to deliver the 3000's Field of Dreams

If only the HP 3000 were less costly. The price of the system and software was a sticking point for most of its life in the open systems era, that period when Unix and Windows NT battled MPE/iX. HP's own Unix servers were less costly to buy than the 3000s using the same chipset. Twenty-one years ago this season, the cost of a 3000 became a problem HP wanted to solve.

Cheaper 3000s would be a field of dreams. If a developer could build an app, the customers would come.

Now, Hewlett-Packard was not going to cut the cost of buying every HP 3000 in 1997. When developers of applications and utilities made their case about costs, the HP 3000 division at last created a program where creators would get a hardware break. The Series 918DX was going to help sell more 3000s. It would be the only model of 3000 HP ever sold new for under $10,000. A less costly workbench would attract more application vendors.

The list price of the DX was $7,077. Still more than a Unix workstation or a Windows PC of 1997. The thinking of the time came from a new team at the 3000 division, where marketing manager Roy Breslawski worked for new GM Harry Sterling. Removing a cost barrier for small, startup developers was going to open the doors for new applications.

HP simply adjusted its pricing for hardware and software on a current 3000 model to create the DX. The product was a Series 918/LX with 64 MB of memory, a 4GB disk, a DDS tape drive, a UPS, and a system console.

HP included all of its software in the bundle, such as compilers for C, COBOL, FORTRAN, BASIC, Pascal and even RPG. It was all pre-loaded on that 4GB drive: a Posix Developers Kit, ARPA Services, Workload Manager, Glance Plus, TurboStore, Allbase/SQL. No 3000 would be complete without IMAGE/SQL. The harvest was rich for the small development ventures.

The size of the bundled HP software created one of the drags on the DX. HP automatically billed for the support on every program. When developers started to evaluate the offer, the $7,000 hardware came with $14,000 worth of support commitments.

HP leasing wasn't an HP option for such an inexpensive server, however. Rental costs would amount to buying it more than once. The vendors who were sensitive to hardware pricing didn't have strong sales and marketing resources. They could build it, but who would come?

So the DX reduced the cost to purchase a 3000, and buying support was always optional for any acquisition of a 3000. But self-maintainers were not as common 21 years ago. Developers learned the way to get the low-cost development tool was to order it stripped of support and then add HP support only for the software they needed.

The 3000 vendor community of 1997 was excited about the prospects, both for new customers who might buy a 3000 as a result of a new app — as well keen on prospects for their own products. Within a few months, 14 third-party companies offered 30 products either free or at rock-bottom discounts to developers buying the 918DX. The idea was noble and needed because the 3000 had fallen far behind in the contest to offer apps to companies. One developer quipped that HP would need to equip the system with a bigger disk drive to handle all the available software.

The number of available third party programs might well have been greater than the number of DX systems ever sold. All HP required of a company was to sign up for the SPP developer program, a free membership. The roadblock didn't turn out to be a cheaper 3000 for smaller vendors. Although the DX was thin on storage, RAM, and horsepower, the one thing that would've moved the computer to the front of development plans was customers. The 918DX was not going to make orders appear, just the software for them.

In 1997 the ideal of a startup was still new, surrounded by some mystery. The Internet still had a capital letter on the front of the word and keeping costs low was important to savvy developers. Low hardware costs were a benefit. Sterling said the package was designed to draw out development efforts from sources with high interest in the HP 3000 market. "You guys have been telling us this for two years," he said. "I say it's time we try it, and see what happens."

"It was like Christmas in August," said Frank Kelly, co-chair of the COBOL Special Interest Group in the earliest days of the DX offer. Birket Foster, SIGSOFTVEND chairman, said "HP has come forward and done the right thing. We expect this will be a very good developer platform and the right tools will show up for it."

Developers delivered the tools and some showed up to purchase the DX. The dead weight of not being Unix or Windows, with their vast customers pools, is what pulled down 3000 app availability. By today, those 21 years have delivered a market for a 3000 where an N-Class server, 60 times more powerful than the Series 918, sells for about as much as the DX.

The Field of Dreams doesn't get its future told in the classic 1989 film of the same name. The field does exist, however, a stretch of Iowa farmland near Dyersville where the baseball faithful pay $10 to relive that movie magic. It's a beautiful field, and people do come.

07:17 PM in History, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 10, 2018

Durable 3000s seek, sometimes find, homes

Computer Museum 918Earlier this month a notice on the 3000-L mailing list tried to match an old HP 3000 with a new home. Joshua Johnson said he's got a Series 918 LX (the absolute bottom on the 9x8 lineup) that's got to go. It's a good bet this server hasn't been running any part of a business since HP left the support arena.

I have a 918LX that's been sitting around for a while that I'd like to get rid of. It worked when it was last shutdown. I think I still have a bunch of ram for it in a box somewhere. Anyone interested?

Then there was a question about where his HP hardware was sitting. "I’m in Providence RI. It sat in a shed for 10 years. When it was shut down it worked fine. I think I have several memory sticks for it as well."

This was a give-away 3000, the kind that goes for sale on the used market at about $700 in the best case. The Series 918 LX weighs enough that the shipping is going to be the biggest part of that free transaction. The 918 was at the bottom of HP's relative performance ratings, 10.0 on a scale where a Series 37 was a 1.0.

Last week we talked with a 3000 developer who witnessed the shutdown of seven N-Class systems. "They were going to throw them away," he said, because the health care provider had followed its app and moved to Unix. He got the rights to an N-Class and talked the broker who took the rest of the orphaned N-Class systems to trade one for an A-Class server. "The power situation was just too great for me to use the N-Class," he said— referring to the hardware's electrical needs, not the horsepower.

Old 3000s seeking new homes is still news in your community. Sometimes the adoptions feel like they're foster homes, though.

HP's 3000 iron was built to extraordinary standards, or there wouldn't be a Series 918 available to give away in Rhode Island. That's a server built while Clinton was President. In an odd piece of comparison, the N-Class system is 60 times more powerful than the Series 918, but at the end of the line, it had just as much value.

The N-Class and A-Class boxes are newer, of course, and that decision to send them to the scrap-heap might have been wasteful. The durable value of these computers isn't in the hardware whose components age every day. It's in MPE and the applications. 

Holding on to old hardware could be one way to prove that MPE/iX has an evaporating value. Being able to move the apps and the OS onto a newer box puts the brakes on that decline. To be fair, lots of elderly 3000s are able to reboot after a long winter's nap. Our developer who got that A-Class also has a Series 967 in his garage. It was powered down for more than two years before it switched on. 

 

08:04 PM in Homesteading, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 07, 2018

Queue up those 3000 jobs with MPE tools

NewsWire Classic

By Shawn Gordon

A powerful feature of MPE is the concept of user-defined job queues. You can use these JOBQ commands to exert granular job control that is tightly coupled with MPE/iX. HP first introduced the commands in the 6.0 release.

For example, you only want one datacomm job to log on at a time, but there are 100 that need to run. At the same time you need to let users run their reports, and you want to allow only two compile jobs to run at a time. Normally you would set your job limit down to 1, then manually shuffle job priorities around and let jobs go. In the new multiple job queue controlled environment, you can define a DATACOMM job queue whose limit was 1, an ENDUSER job queue whose limit was 6 (for example), and a COMPILE job queue whose limit was 2. You could also set a total job limit of 20 to accommodate your other jobs that may need to run.

Three commands accommodate the job queue feature:

NEWJOBQ qname [;limit=n]
PURGEJOBQ qname
LISTJOBQ

The commands LIMIT, ALTJOB, JOB and STREAM all include the parameter ;JOBQ=.

As an example, I am going to create a new job queue called SHOWTIME that has a job limit of 1. You will notice the job card of the sample job has a JOBQ parameter at the end to specify what queue it is to execute in.

Alternatively I could have said STREAM SHOWTIME.JCL;JOBQ=SHOWTIME to put it into my job queue. Here’s the coding to do this:

NEWJOBQ SHOWTIME;LIMIT=1

!JOB SHOWTIME,MANAGER.SYS,PUB;
!JOBQ=SHOWTIME !
!SETVAR HPAUTOCONT TRUE
!
!SHOWTIME
!
!SHOWCLOCK
!
!SHOWME
!
!SHOWVAR [email protected]
!SHOWVAR [email protected]
!
!ECHO !HPDATEF
!ECHO !HPTIMEF
!
!PAUSE 300
!
!EOJ

I just streamed five copies of the job, and using the LISTJOBQ command I am able to see the default system defined job queue HPSYSJQ. I haven’t been able to find out why it indicates a limit of 3500, since my current job limit was 30. [Editor’s Note: Gavin Scott reports that “All job queues have a LIMIT that is separate from the one true system LIMIT. This includes the default HPSYSJQ. The 3500 default is a number large enough that you should never run into the case where the existence of this second, un-obvious, limit on normal jobs affects you.”]

You can see my SHOWTIME job queue with a limit of 1, with one executing and five total jobs, so four are currently in a wait state. This is obvious in the SHOWJOB command below.

listjobq

JOBQ      LIMIT     EXEC  TOTAL

HPSYSJQ   3500      12    12
SHOWTIME  1         1     5

SHOWJOB [email protected]

JOBNUM  STATE IPRI JIN  JLIST    INTRODUCED  JOB NAME

#J2     EXEC        10S LP       TUE  7:09A  NP92JOB,MGR.MINISOFT
#J3     EXEC        10R LP       TUE  7:09A  BACKG,MANAGER.VESOFT
#J4     EXEC        10S LP       TUE  7:09A  WTRSH,MGR.WTRSH
#J5     EXEC        10S LP       TUE  7:09A  MSJOB,MGR.MINISOFT
#J6     EXEC        10S LP       TUE  7:09A  MASTEROP,MANAGER.SYS
#J7     EXEC        10S LP       TUE  7:09A  VCSSERV,MGR.DIAMOND
#J8     EXEC        10S LP       TUE  7:09A  VCSCHED,MGR.DIAMOND
#J9     EXEC        10S LP       TUE  7:09A  JINETD,MANAGER.SYS
#J10    EXEC        10S LP       TUE  7:09A  JWHSERVR,MANAGER.SYS
#J12    EXEC        10S LP       TUE  7:25A  GUI3000J,MANAGER.SYS
#J19    EXEC        10S LP       TUE  8:08A  BROLMSGJ,JOBS.REVIEW
#J130   EXEC        10S LP       TUE  1:06P  SHOWTIME,MANAGER.SYS
#J131   WAIT:1   8  10S LP       TUE  1:06P  SHOWTIME,MANAGER.SYS
#J132   WAIT:2   8  10S LP       TUE  1:06P  SHOWTIME,MANAGER.SYS
#J133   WAIT:3   8  10S LP       TUE  1:06P  SHOWTIME,MANAGER.SYS
#J134   WAIT:4   8  10S LP       TUE  1:06P  SHOWTIME,MANAGER.SYS

16 JOBS (DISPLAYED):
   0 INTRO
                4 WAIT; INCL 0 DEFERRED
                12 EXEC; INCL 0 SESSIONS
                0 SUSP
JOBFENCE= 6; JLIMIT= 30; SLIMIT= 60

Now if I want to increase the job limit for my SHOWTIME job queue, I can use the following command

limit +1;jobq=showtime
altjob #j131;jobq=hpsysjq

You will probably notice that there are a number of nice enhancements to ALTJOB and LIMIT in support of the job queues, having uses outside of the job queues. For example, LIMIT now allows you to use a plus or minus value to increase or decrease the number, so you don’t have to use an absolute value. It is common to up the limit by one to allow another job to execute, but previously you had to check the current job limit, change it, then change it back. At least now you can just do +1 to let the job launch.

On the ALTJOB command, you can now specify HIPRI to cause a job to start up immediately and not have to play with limits to let it go. You can also alter the output device of the job. I did find during my tests that altering a job to a queue that had open slots didn’t seem to allow the job to release if you sent it to the system default HPSYSJQ. However, if you sent it to a user-defined job queue that had room left in it for another job to execute, then it would launch immediately.

There is another side benefit of job queues, and that is ensuring that never more than one version of a job logs on. For example, if you have some background job running and you cannot have a second copy running, but there is nothing that prevents it, you could create a job queue for it with a limit of 1 that would keep any extra copies from launching.

This is just one example of an extended use of the feature. If you try to purge a job queue that is currently in use, you will receive this message:

Cannot purge job queue as there are jobs
running/waiting in that queue. (CIERR 12251)

If you try to stream a job into a queue that does not exist you will receive the message

JOBQ parameter expected. (CIERR 12255)
Spooler internal error occurred. (CIERR 4522)

The job will be streamed regardless — however, it won’t start executing, because there is no queue for it to execute in. The major problem is that the job will stream into a WAIT state because there is no queue available for it. At this point you can’t abort it, you can’t create the queue it was intended for and have it work, you can’t alter it into the system job queue because of whatever the problem is that we described earlier. Finally you can try to create a new queue and alter it into it. The LISTJOBQ will show it as a job for that queue, but it will never start executing. The only way to get rid of the job is to shut down the system and do a START NORECOVERY.

06:49 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 05, 2018

Where's the lure to launch into the cloud?

Cloud_computing
We’ve talked about it here before. Is there any genuine interest from 3000 owners and managers for  getting their servers migrated into the cloud? In the most common scenario today, an adequately powered Amazon or Rackspace server, or even something like a Google host, or something from Oracle, becomes the IT datacenter floor. Amazon will even sell a cloud server that only spins up when accessed. It's all billed by the hour, the day, or the amount of time connected.

For MPE/iX systems, this is only possible using a Charon install for MPE. Stromasys, which sells Charon and mentioned the possibilities for using the cloud. A notice this week announced the company is exhibiting Charon at the Gulf Information Technology Exhibition next month in Dubai. The GITEX news noted that Charon has a cloud option, saying the software is available in the cloud or on premise.

Most important for these virtual 3000s are the servers' horsepower. Doug Smith of Stromasys checked in with some upcoming Charon 3000 news and noted that 4 GHz is the CPU low bar for running Charon as fast as HP's native PA-RISC hardware.

By 2018 there's now very little hardware tuning that cannot be done if the host is up in the cloud. 3000 expertise of today works from a laptop far removed from the manufacturing or distribution floor. So what's the lure to launch an MPE server into the cloud? I think cloud’s big edge has got to be low cap-ex and assured hardware evolution.

For example, if you buy a $19,000 Intel server in a rack, attach it to fast storage, and it runs Charon, well, you’re set. Somewhere in the future, of course, you might need more throughput and CPU. That $19K server has to be farmed out to another task if you can't upgrade it. If the host itself were cloud-based, more horsepower is one reconfiguration order away.

It's in this scenario that a company which uses a virtual partition for a Charon Linux host might have a chance at containing long term hardware costs. Virtualized Linux could induce some drag on performance. That's why Stromasys only sells servers that are configured by Smith. Many 3000 software vendors have customers using the emulator.

So far, nobody's raised their hand to say they're putting a 3000 into the cloud like this.

When you think about it, “Cloud-based 3000” sounds a lot like the timesharing of the 1980s, doesn’t it? The uptime service guarantee is “It’s somebody else’s concern to keep my MPE hardware backed up and running without MPE errors.” 

The first place I ever worked while reporting on HP 3000s was Wilson Publications in Austin. We used a subscriber database hosted on a Series 42 hosted down at a printing company. We dialed up using PC 2622 software from Walker, Richter and Quinn. I guess we were working on 3000s in the cloud in 1984. That might be one lure to launching into the cloud for MPE: It's been done before.

05:04 PM in Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 03, 2018

The Labors of 3000 Love

Union-laborHere in the US we celebrate Labor Day today, a tribute to the wages and benefits that workers first guaranteed during the labor movement of the 20th Century. It's a holiday with most offices closed, but much labor in the shops and boutiques across towns like our Austin and elsewhere.

Homesteading 3000 customers face labors, and they often seem to struggle for respect from the departed members of the 3000 computer community. Homesteading work is no less crucial than the heavy lifting of migration, although there's far less of that latter movement going on by now. Homesteading is just as necessary, too.

If you were lucky enough to have a holiday today, thank your precursors in the labor unions. Those organizations are becoming as derided now as 3000 customers who stick with the platform and polish MPE skills. Unions protected the middle class, though. A lot like a 3000 protected a company from the cheap Windows PCs expensive server churn, or the steep outlay for mainframes. For a good look at what labors a homesteader should work on, see Paul Edwards' homesteading primer.

Homesteading tasks are little changed by now, although the hardware from HP and the media needs a closer watch. That's a DIY task a homesteader might not prepare for. Many customers have moved the labor of their 3000 support to third parties.

05:08 PM in Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)