October 15, 2018
Making Plans for a 3000's Futures
We've turned the corner here at the Newswire to begin our 24th year. Thanks for all of your continued interest. We've always been interested about the future as well as the past which can teach us all. By this year, the 3000's experts are looking at working in their 60's and tending to servers and an OS which are more than a decade old. You have to make plans for the future to keep a legacy system working. Here's a few we've heard about.
At one HP 3000 site, the chief developer for its app turned 69 this year. There's an HP-branded server (a box with "3000" on the label) working at that manufacturing company. The plan for the future is to keep using HP's iron while the application gets migrated.
That 3000 iron? If if goes south, there's always Stromasys Charon. The company's IT manager already evaluated it.
At RAC Consulting, Rich Corn says he's "still kicking here for a while longer with a handful of ESPUL customers still active. I spend most of my time supporting robotics programs in the local school district." Like a lot of the most seasoned HP 3000 gurus — Corn's software is at the heart of Minisoft's NetPrint products, as well as ESPUL — this charter advertiser of the Newswire is still working with the companies which are tied to MPE/iX for production boxes.
ESPUL is software that wouldn't have much use in an archival 3000, since the utility is a spoolfile and printing wizard. Those are production systems.Roy Brown has been on the pages of the Newswire from the start of this century and onward. He's still running four production HP 3000s for a major U.K. company. Lately he's been trying to see if those servers might let him loose. The last few IT managers who tried to have the 3000s snuffed out found the systems still running on the day the managers left the company.
There are always good reasons to move along to something newer, different, or improved. Emulating a 3000 in software seems to deliver a lot of those, as well as options for backup that are novel. Ray Legault at Boeing passed along a tip to use PIGZ, a backup solution that makes sure the 3000s in the Charon emulation files have everything replicated.
Every time we need to shut down the Linux server, we shut down the HP 3000 first. Then we backup up all our disc drive files with PIGZ. We copy the compressed file to the other Linux server for safe keeping.
He shared this code that illustrates how he used PIGZ in Linux, the environment that cradles the Charon emulator.
October 12, 2018
Friday Fine-Tune: Speeding up backups
We have a DLT tape drive. Lately it wants to take 6-7 hours to do a backup instead of its usual two or less. But not every night, and not on the same night every week. I have been putting in new tapes now, but it still occurs randomly. I have cleaned it. I can restore from the tapes no problem. It doesn’t appear to be fighting some nightly process for CPU cycles. Any ideas on what gives?
Giles Schipper replies
Something that may be causing extended backup time is excessive IO retries, as the result of deteriorating tapes or tape drive.
One way to know is to add the ;STATISTICS option to your STORE command. This will show you the number of IO retries as well as the actual IO rate and actual volume of data output.
Another possibilty is that your machine is experiencing other physical problems resulting in excessive logging activity and abnormal CPU interrupt activity — which is depleting your system resources resulting in extended backup times.
Check out the following files in the following Posix directories:
If they are very large, you indeed may have a hardware problem — one that is not "breaking" your machine, but simply "bending" it.
October 10, 2018
Wayback: Charon kicks off with freeware
Six years ago this week the HP 3000 emulator Charon had its debut among the masses who wanted to kick the software's tires. 2012 was the first year when a downloadable version of the PA-RISC emulator, the first of its kind, could be pulled off an FTP server in Switzerland. Stromasys called the freeware a Demo Package.
This was an offering that illustrated the famous gratis versus libre comparison. Something that can be free, like demoware, was also restricted in its use. You paid nothing but had to abide by the rules of use.
One of the more magic portions of that demoware was HP's own software. Since Stromasys had a long HP relationship, tracking back to the days when HP bought Digital, the vendor was able to include mpe75a.dsk.gz, an MPE/iX 7.5 Ldev 1 disk image that contained the FOS and most HP subsystems.
But wait, said the offer, there's even more. The file mpe-tape.img.gz was also available via FTP, a virtual HP 3000 SLT, generated on Stromasys' A Class 400 test system. "You can configure Charon to boot from this virtual tape file," the demo's read me advised, "and perform an INSTALL from SLT."
Whoa, that was all a leap of Web-based advances. For the price of some disc space, a 3000 owner could have PA-RISC hardware (slapped onto freeware Linux, running on an Intel server) plus the 3000's OS (on a limited license) and a file which could become an SLT. HP had never made MPE/iX a downloadable up to that point. The 3000 was beginning to look like a modern server again, empowered by files from an FTP server.
The freeware propogated through the 3000's universe, with each download promising a purchase of the full Charon. It was supposed to be a demonstration of an emulator. A few bad actors in the market tried to make the A-202 model a production version.That first version of the A-202 freeware emulator was limited to two users. Stromasys has already managed a similar program for the VAX and Alpha hardware emulators in the Digital community. The Personal Alpha demoware was downloaded 10,000 times, Stromasys said, and ran at about 15 percent of the speed of the full AXP Stromasys emulator.
After two years the A-202 started showing up in support calls. These were calls from companies who were not on any Stromasys list, either prospects or customers. The freeware was downloaded and installed and running a production installation in some places. If the A-202 was supposed to be freeware, libre as well as gratis, it might've been alright.
The A-202, just powerful enough to permit two simultaneous users to get A-Class 400 performance, was always tempting to very small sites. Stromasys was generous enough to permit downloading of the software, as well as the bundled release of MPE/iX FOS software, with few restrictions. But the instructions were explicit: no use in production environments.
The appearance of an emulator in 3000 production shops who hadn't purchased it proved two things. The obvious one was that some people will ignore licenses and rules and take whatever they want. The second thing the A-202 proved was that small 3000 shops would do just fine with an emulated 3000. The only thing left to work out was pricing in a market where HP had declared the OS a relic. As it turned out, the word relic meant holy object infused with powers. The power to drive MPE/iX came in a bundle along with Charon. For a few years it was available for the cost of a download.
Enthusiasts had unlimited personal non-commercial use. Commercial use was limited to evaluating the product.
The Freeware Edition only loaded up after a user configured it with a legal HPSUSAN number. "You must agree to respect these license restrictions before you will be able to download the Freeware edition installation files from our website," the terms of the 1.5 version stated. Stromasys freeware continued to be distributed to prospects who contacted the sales force. By now, a 3000 Charon installation arrives by way of Doug Smith, the 3000 product manager at Stromasys.
October 08, 2018
Leaving Something to Retire On
The fate of MPE/iX shops can be a malleable thing. In the middle of the last decade every one of them was considering paths toward the future: migrate, homestead, or some blend of the two where homesteading was the prelude to a migration.
The more current situation takes the age of the professionals into account. People who were in their 50s during that decade are now closer to Social Security age. Only one person in five is going to enjoy a traditional retirement from here on out. They will continue to work and their benefits will reduce their need to tramp through the IT sector looking for a premier home. A nice chair with a great view will do.
If you're still in charge of an HP 3000, and you're not an IT pro, you're likely to be a CFO or a corporate soldier in operations. Those IT folks have retirement tattooed onto them. The MPE/iX applications, not so much.
The HP 3000s are going through a similar transformation. You don't retire an HP 3000 as much as you leave it in place and give it nothing new to do. The strategy might be called Migrating in Place. All of the other operations in the datacenter have a new and uncertain future. The MPE/iX applications now know where they're going: retirement, someday, but they all have to be made comfortable along the way. The most nimble of IT managers know there's must be reliable hardware right up to the retirement date for an application.
This thinking brings newer hardware into an organization to support older applications. The HP 3000 itself could get a replacement with a Charon virtualized server. Or it might be the storage components that are updated. Networking and switches have their makeovers. It's all justified better when the new elements are ready to work with other systems in the datacenter.
The code itself and the data remains the constant. In the retirement scenario, this might be like the retiree who's looking over active senior apartment complexes, or maybe that downsized house that's newer and needs little maintenance. The COBOL and the IMAGE datasets are the fingerprints and recognizable faces that establish who's moving into senior living.
"I am seven years past retirement age and still supporting four HP 3000s," Roy Brown said on the message board of the HP 3000 Community group on LinkedIn. "I'm trying to get it down to two now, so I can at least go part time."
One of those remaining servers looks to be a durable as a homeowner association board member. "Traditionally one of the two 3000s, called Troy, sees off anyone who tries to shut it down," Brown said. "The last three attemptees, each trying separately and some months apart, all lost their jobs shortly after commencing the exercise. So I now need to engineer the fall of Troy without instead engineering the fall of Roy."
October 05, 2018
Shifting Data Off the 3000, Easily
By Roy Brown
Whether you are migrating data, or just wanting to present it in a more portable format, be aware of how you can manipulate it using those all-pervasive Microsoft tools. When your consulting role takes you across a wide range of HP 3000 sites, you rapidly learn that not everybody has all the add-on tools you might like to see – Qedit, MPEX, Adager, Suprtool, and so on. You can rely on what’s in FOS, but there are a bunch of things you are brought up short by, that are not so easy without the armory above.
So, when I needed to extract and massage data from a bare or nearly bare HP 3000, I pretty soon learned to rely on what I could bring to bear from my laptop, equipped with Reflection and the MS Office suite.
Actually, the product I really missed isn’t one I listed above – it’s MBF-UDALink, from MB Foster. Perhaps because I’ve never quite mastered its rather quirky interface, I find it’s often easier to rewrite a query than to modify one. But they are so quick to write that it really doesn’t matter – especially for multi-set, multi-key extracts.
And as it can make your data extract, put it in the format of your choice, and transfer it to your PC via your termulator, all in one go, it lets you skip a whole bunch of what I describe below; stuff you need to do only if all you have is FOS in this area.
Mostly, when grabbing stuff on an ad-hoc basis, I like to list it out in Query, and watch it scroll by in Reflection, with logging to a PC file turned on. I know that I could file equate the output to QSLIST with DEV=DISC, make a file and copy it that way, if I wanted. But this way, I get to see problems as it runs. And if it runs okay, it’s already on the PC for me.
I use Query because it’s always there. I figure I don’t need to do a Query tutorial here – though you can email me at [email protected] if you’d like a copy of one – but suffice to say that you can usually walk the paths you need, and pick up the data you want. I generally set LINES=0 or NOPAGE, and I pay attention to numeric field formatting with Edit masks where needed, but I only output Detail lines. Dates I leave in CCYYMMDD format, just as they come. And I don’t need to do any math – I can save that until I’m in Office.
But I do hit the 80-character line limit, which is where the first neat WinWord trick kicks in. I use multiple lines, and I mark the end of each line except the last with a string like ### - something that I know won’t ever occur naturally in the data – ending at position 80.Formatting in WinWord, Part 1
Then I use WinWord to open the .txt file that Reflection has built for me on the PC, and Edit/Replace to change ###^p to one space throughout. Bingo! One long line per returned entry.
How does this work? Well, ^p (caret p) is WinWord’s code for a paragraph mark, which is how each line in the data is terminated. So I’m saying “Find each line ending in ###, and chop off not just these characters, but also the line ending itself. And then put a space in, to make sure that doesn’t cause two fields to run together.”
If you open Edit/Replace, choose the More tab and then the Special tab, you will be able to see the list of formatting characters you can search for and replace. Paragraph Mark is at the top, and right below it is Tab Character; click this, and you’ll see caret-t appear in the ‘Find what:’ window. There are 20 options there in all, but ^p and ^t cover pretty much 99% of what I need to do.
I top and tail my output file to remove the original query lines, and the >end at the end. Sometimes, I might then sort it, with Table/Sort and the default options there, to get the detail records in order. But generally, WinWord’s sort runs out of steam with a file that is more than a few megabytes, so I wait until I’m in Excel.
So I Save As on the WinWord file, taking care to keep it as a .txt file, and ignoring WinWord’s warnings about ‘losing formatting’ if I do. WinWord’s formatting is exactly what I don’t need; .txt is the most versatile format for use here.
This excursion into WinWord has really just been to de-block the detail lines, a task which is straightforward here, but nigh-on impossible in Excel. But we’ll find, in turn, that there are things which Excel can easily do for us, while in WinWord they would be nigh-on impossible.
Formatting in Excel
Next, I open up Excel, and File/Open my .txt file, setting ‘Files of type’ to All Files so I can see it. Excel comes up with its Text Import Wizard, a most powerful tool that lets me break my file up into individual fields.
The option to use here is Fixed Width, and Excel guesses where the field breaks are. It usually does this very well, providing the fields have spaces between them. But if not, I can add, remove or move the suggested breaks.
Moving on with Next, I can set the format for each field. Again it usually guesses these right, except for those CCYYMMDD dates. But for those, I just choose Date format, and the YMD option, and it will convert them to Excel dates. On completing the Wizard, I have my data, field by field, neatly arranged in Excel columns.
By the way, I could have just Copied from my WinWord file, and Pasted into Column A of the Excel sheet, and then split that. The wizard is available under Data/Text to Columns, for just that purpose.
October 01, 2018
Where have all the migrations gone?
Is the bloom finally off the rose for migrations away from MPE/iX? I had lunch today with a support provider for third party maintenance who sees a lot of activity in the 3000 market. He said that as far as he can see — and of course nobody can see everywhere — the HP 3000 migration activity is pretty much done.
Nobody has complete visuals on the full marketplace. It can be difficult to know much about migration projects in progress. So if 3000 migration is done, maybe what that really means is that all of the migrations have been started by now. For example, I wrote about a company last month whose 3000 expert says they’ve been migrating for awhile. The project is supposed to be over by the end of the year. Then this 3000 veteran of many years added, “but you know how that goes.”
Like lots of 3000 experts, that IT pro is retiring from his company. At year's end he'll be leaving behind a 3000 app that’s working. Whoever’s got the job of getting that replacement app online will have to finish it in 2019 without as much MPE expertise on staff. I'm guessing that even retired, the expert will be able to bill for some consulting. "You know how that goes" usually means there's some unresolved issues, like there are in every migration. You never know what you've done well in a migration until you get to the testing phase. Birket Foster used to say that testing was at least 30 percent of the workload in a migration.
Once a migration team's testing gets serious, knowing the MPE app and the 3000 technical infrastructure can show off its benefits. It might even be like the way COBOL skills got valuable in the years leading up to Y2K. Getting that kind of independent expertise into the contract-procurement market can be the big hurdle for 3000 veterans. Lots of great 3000 experience has worked inside a company. Being for-hire is a different gig.
Migrations can be pretty secret. Some datacenter managers don’t want to talk about having a genuine legacy app (what, you use MPE?) still serving in production. Other 3000 managers don’t have control of the migrations their company is doing. Therefore, little knowledge they might share with 3000 friends (or writers). That migration might be done by the supplier of the new app, or the Platform as a Service (PaSS, or what they like to call cloud) such as a Salesforce reseller.
Finally, there's the IT management that's going on at the C-level by now. The guardians of the datacenter are sometimes not connected to the 3000 at all. The CFO just wants an outside company to take that putty-colored HP server box out of the shop, because nobody knows enough about it anymore. That's the circumstance where outside migration services can help. You've got to find those CFOs, though. A list of former 3000 sites might help. Someone just offered us one—but it was from 1988. There are dead people on that list.
Just because it's hard to see 3000 migrations doesn't mean they're not there. You can say the same thing about spirits and faeries and even some religious powers. If you're hoping for migrations to appear, it doesn't hurt to believe. Get your shingle out there and explore. Verradyne is a collective of experts who've done 3000 migrations.