February 29, 2012
A Rare Birthday for Eugene Today
He was once the youngest official member of the 3000 community. And he still has the rare distinction of not being in his 50s or 60s while knowing MPE. Eugene Volokh celebrates his 44th birthday today, and the co-creator of MPEX must wait every four years to celebrate on his real day of birth: He was born on Feb. 29 in the Ukraine.
Although he's not the youngest community member (that rank goes to The Support Group's president David Floyd, a decade younger) Eugene probably ranks as the best-known outside our humble neighborhood. After he built and then improved MPEX, VEAudit/3000 and Security/3000 with his father Vladimir at VEsoft, Eugene earned a law degree as he went on to clerk for US Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor -- en route to his current place in the public eye as go-to man for all questions concerning intellectual property on the Web and Internet, as well as First and Second Amendment issues across all media. He's appeared on TV, been quoted in the likes of the Wall Street Journal, plus penned columns for that publication, the New York Times, as well as Harvard, Yale and Georgetown law reviews. You can also hear him on National Public Radio. When I last heard Eugene's voice, he was commenting in the middle of a This American Life broadcast in 2010. He's a professor of Constitutional law at UCLA, and the father of two sons of his own by now. Online, he makes appearances on The Volokh Conspiracy blog he founded with brother Sasha (also a law professor, at Emory University).
In the 3000 world, Eugene's star burned with distinction when he was only a teenager. I first met him in Orlando at the annual Interex conference in 1988, when he held court at a dinner at the tender age of 20. I was a lad of 31 and listened to him wax on subjects surrounding security -- a natural topic for someone who presented the paper Burn Before Reading, which remains a vital text even more 25 years after it was written. The paper's inception matches with mine in the community -- we both entered in 1984. But Eugene, one of those first-name-only 3000 personalities like Alfredo or Birket (Rego and Foster, if you're just coming to this world), was always way ahead of me in 3000 lore and learning.Burn Before Reading is part of a collection of Eugene's Thoughts and Discourses on HP 3000 Software, published by VEsoft long before indie publishing was so much in vogue. (We've got copies of the 4th Edition of book here at the NewsWire we can share, if you don't have one in your library. Email me.) The book even had the foresight to include advertisements from other members of the 3000 indie software vendor ranks. His father reminded me this month that the Russian tradition of Samizdat was a self-publishing adventure born out of the need to escape USSR censorship. These Russians created an enterprise out of the opportunities America and HP provided in the 1970s, when they emigrated.
Eugene got that early start as a voice for the HP 3000 building software, but his career included a temporary job in Hewlett-Packard's MPE labs at age 14. According to his Wikipedia page
At age 12, he began working as a computer programmer. Three years later, he received a Bachelor of Science degree in Math and Computer Science from UCLA. As a junior at UCLA, he earned $480 a week as a programmer for 20th Century Fox. During this period, his achievements were featured in an episode of OMNI: The New Frontier.
His father Vladimir remains an icon of the 3000 community who's still on the go in the US, traveling to visit some of the 1,700 VEsoft customers to consult on securing and exploiting the powers of MPE. The Volokh gift is for languages -- Vladimir speaks five, and Sasha once gave a paper in two languages at a conference, before and then after lunch. I expect that this entry will be eagerly proofed and then corrected by Vladimir, just as he's provided insight and corrections for the next edition of my new novel Viral Times. It's a sure bet that Thoughts and Discourses will remain a useful tool at least as long as Viral Times stays in print. (I've got copies of Viral Times I can ship, too -- but that's an offer unrelated to the 3000's history.)
At 37,000 words, a single Q&A article from Eugene -- not included in the book -- called Winning at MPE is about half as big as your average novel. The papers in Thoughts and Discourses, as well as Winning, are included on each product tape that VEsoft ships. But if you're not a customer, you can read them on the Adager website. They're great training on the nuances of this computer you're probably relying upon, nearly three decades after they were written. Happy Birthday, young man. Long may your exacting and entertaining words wave.
February 17, 2012
Virtual futures await for early 3000 readers
A dream delayed is better than a dream denied. It's a natural element of being human to look into the future, a skill your community has polished over the last decade. Across the same period I've done polishing of my own on a dream that looked denied, but has escaped its delays.
It's Viral Times, the novel I began to write in earnest once HP stopped writing its futures for the 3000. This month the book is a reality in printed and ebook versions, available at Amazon.com and signed from my Writer's Workshop website, workshopwriter.com. I think of Viral Times as my 3000 emulator. It's a project devised from a sense of necessity, given up for lost at least once, but revived and delivered after a surprising amount of challenges in its creation.
I'd also like to believe my novel has fans waiting in their seats to experience its magic. Not a bestseller's number of readers, partly because a wide-scale release is no more likely than the prospects for the Stromasys Charon HPA/3000 to reverse the trends of 3000 ownership. But you don't need to be a bestseller to tell a good story with meaning for the future. On the other hand, if you don't tell a good story, there's only a slim chance to become a bestseller. Of small books and modest software projects come enduring classics, if we're patient and lucky.
There's been plenty of time to practice patience with the emulator. It was first discussed in the fall of 2002, the same time I started my training as a writer of fiction with classes at the Austin Writer's League. The concepts of both these ventures have changed a great deal, just like the fields where they're appearing. The '02 emulator was heading for a specialized hardware design that could mimic PA-RISC processors. Software would be essential, but at one point the leading vendor was looking for PA-RISC chips to be placed in a PC-slot card.
Viral Times started off in a very different place, too. This story of a star reporter who's disgraced and must redeem himself and recover love in a pandemic opened in 2044. I thought I needed that much elbow room in the future to show a society locked down into virtualized life, even virtualized love to avoid disease. It now starts in 2020. By the time it went into release this month, my shorthand for the tale was "It's a story in a future closer than you think."In the emulator's tale, the marketplace believed it needed a 3000 replacement right away to stem the departure of customers from the platform. Anything that would arrive later than HP's exit would be meaningless. The reality of the 3000's future was a more interesting story. It turned out to be a tale of preserving MPE, not the hardware and software we've come to call the HP 3000.
Nothing was ever going to reverse the outflow of 3000 customers from this community. Too much change took place as a result of the dot-com Web boom to give vendor-locked computing much of a growth path. For business computing, an open model fed by many allied independent players is the only way to grow. Within the last four years, this kind of virtualized community, working with open specifications, is spinning the story of the future of computing. And storytelling, too. The changes don't signal the end of other kinds of computing, though — not any more than the rise of ebooks means the demise of paperbacks.
Even through Viral Times will enjoy a long life as an ebook — it will never go out of print — it's also getting a loving debut as a story printed with ink on paper. I've published it using everything the 3000 community has given me the chance to polish: deadlines and printer double-checks, research and feedback (we call that last one "workshopping" in the fiction business). We used to call such books "self-published," a lot like the 3000 market used to call most of its products "third-party."
But independence from strategies of the past is driving both books and computers. Looking to the future provides the great spark of "what if." HP once enjoyed the same phrase when it first introduced a touchscreen computer, a 9-inch marvel of the MS-DOS heyday, too far ahead of its time.
Viral Times needed eight years of planning and work (and another half-dozen of dreaming) to become a book I can sign and send to readers. There's the ebook version to download to an e-reader like an Amazon or Apple tablet, yes — but just try signing that one. The act of a human hand pushing ink across paper is one of those pleasures we continue to enjoy. I enjoyed signing at a little release party here in Austin. People enjoyed seeing a writer at work, jotting down personal messages above a signature.
Your community's emulator needed futuristic changes in its strategy to become a reality, too. Virtualization grew stronger, like a chapter revised and edited, until it became a keystone to extending computing into any budget or set of human resources. The IT datacenter with a troop of white coats has become virtualized, so ethereal it's called the cloud. We used to work with service bureaus because the computers were so expensive. Now we use the cloud because people are so expensive.
And yet we can't dream of a time when we don't need people to manage computing, not any more than I could dream of a story where love wasn't the most important part of staying healthy in a future filled with danger. What I didn't see coming, but wished for, was virtualizing the publishing field. People tell stories that can be read without a wall of paper to prove their worth. Self-publishing, the old vanity press, has become indie publishing thanks to e-reader technology people slagged — just like emulation — for many years.
What both the Stromasys emulator and my Viral Times need now are reviews. People need to try out the future to see how it fits them and report back. Take a ride on the indie express, and see if there's joy for you in its future.
February 01, 2012
Links last longer in latest survey for 3000
We continue to move through the state of links on the hp3000links.com site, a way of checking up on the web pointers presented at that longtime 3000 community resource. The P-S group of pulldown links on the busy main page has a higher share of valid links than any we've surveyed so far. It may just be the luck of the alphabet, but this group seems to spell stability better than the rest.
First the dead ends, 11 of them. Premiersoft has nobody home at the URL of the same name; the company sold OSCAR, the Online Services Catalog and Application Repository to let HP 3000s host enterprise-wide server objects. (Object tech may have been too many steps ahead of an MPE market sweating out Y2K in 1999.) Retriever Interactive is gone along with its DataAid/3000 for data lookup and manipulation, which was even integrated with Suprtool. Also dead are Riva Systems (referencing exegesys.com, which now points to a French casino machine website); SeraSoft's link, though the company was migrating 3000 sites as of 2010; Software Licensing Corp.; Software Research Northwest, gently retired by founder Wayne Holt, who published the first PA-RISC hardback; Software and Management Consultants; Spentech; Starvision; Symple Systems, and SolutionStore 3000.
We know a lot about that last one. SolutionStore was a 3000 NewsWire project during the late 1990s, our effort to sell and report vendor listings for the 3000 community. In a way it was a precursor to the vendor list of hp3000links.com. A web administrator melted down while he took down the site with no warning. Such madness happens, but it was a serious gaffe to us at the time.
But then there are a dozen survivors, most thriving, some surviving. Pro 3K still leads you to consultant Mark Ranft, tending to servers and also managing the world's biggest fleet of N-Class servers at Navitaire. Productive Software Systems, Quest, Quintessential School Systems, Rich Corn's RAC Consulting, Robelle, Speedware, Solution-Soft, and STR Software, the last still supporting FAX/3000. Syllogize offers support for HP 3000s. Synowledge supports MANMAN, according to the IT Services page on its website, through six offices. There's even a valid link to Shawn Gordon's S.M. Gordon and Associates webpage, listing 3000 software of advancing age.Gordon, one of our hardest-working reviewers, has gone into the Linux business long ago, founding theKompany.com. (Products include Kobol, to take the place of COBOL for customers entering the Linux world.) Quadax is on the hp3000links list because it sold billing apps for healthcare, but the company migrated all clients off the 3000 more than two years ago. Summit Systems still sells credit union solutions, but not for the 3000 any longer. It's all Unix over in the Oregon company, the former turnkey app provider to 3000 owners.
Toting up for this list, we get 12 valid web links to 3000 vendors, 11 fully deceased, and two which lead to places where 3000 is spoken no longer. There's much more that can be done to sort through some of those survivors; we know a website falls short of vetting a company for active 3000 work. But considering that the hp3000links.com resources were built more than a decade ago, and last updated in the spring of 2010, a little under 50 percent is a respectable survival rate.
We'll look at the final 15 entries in this snapshot of 3000 Vendors and Consultants next week. Time moves at a more casual pace in your community, so we don't expect any more deaths in the family over the next seven days.
January 16, 2012
Picturing your community's future history
January is the month of last year that ScreenJet's Alan Yeo began to envision the first HP3000 Reunion, enjoyed by the community last September. It takes many months to bring together this kind of event as a grassroots organized effort. But that kind of patience is not a problem when it's hosted by IT pros seasoned enough to endure old-as-dirt mainframe and minicomputer management.
After the historic reunion was in the air, Yeo shared a picture of one such beast, a Sperry Univac 90/30, "their version of the IBM 360. (Click the picture at left to enlarge.) The two dials on the right were also used to dial in the register address to which code should start to be loaded on boot, however I think it was a long binary number indicated by the two rows of lights along the front."
2012 marks the 40th anniversary of the System 3000 as an HP product. The official rollout date is this fall. Bob Green, who attended the Reunion, helped to sponsor it and brought memories of working on the first 3000 documentation team, said the motto for the 3000's intro was "November is a Happening." How '70s it all was during that era.
We've put our set of pictures online from the Reunion, a set you can browse as a Flickr photostream. I hope our community has got another Reunion in its tank for this 40th year. After all, there's seed money for the next event already banked, plus organization in place to process tickets. The venue couldn't have been more appropriate, too. On this US holiday commemorating Martin Luther King Jr., let's all celebrate another kind of freedom -- from the likes of the 360, that Sperry beast, or even HP's predecessors to the 3000 (as shared with that photo above from Terri Glendon Lanza, an ASK/MANMAN pro who won the signed poster of the night.)Yeo reported on the trials and challenges of getting his Sperry to serve computing needs before the 3000.
Yes we ran MRP -- well when we had finished writing it.
I was lucky; I joined the company the week the Sperry was delivered, and everybody else was too busy keeping the old computer system running. It was just handed over to me and I was told go figure out to use it. About three months later when attention switched to doing something with it, I found I was the expert rather than the junior programmer.
My first task was to make the Relational Database useable. Yes it was called a Relational Database. However there was no mechanism to read data in a logical sequence. You could for example go in on a key of customer or part number but there was no mechanism to get the next logical record in ascending/descending sequence. So I implemented indexing in external ISAM files and trapped every database write/delete/update with a routine that updated the indexes. Programs were then modified to call a subroutine I wrote that used the indexes and retrieved the data from the database.
Ah, the days when you always had to roll your own. If I had realized what I was doing was writing a precursor to SQL, I could have written ORACLE at least a decade earlier than it appeared. Ah, the opportunities we missed.
I always remember Roy Brown bemoaning that back in the 70's, to get production and accounting people off his back requesting ad-hoc data analysis, he had written on a mainframe this dynamic grid based program. It had a set of simple arithmetic statements that could be associated with cells on the grid, into which the accountants could type or load numbers and then calculate the results. Yes he had written a spreadsheet (without knowing it) and was most surprised when the PCs came along and spreadsheets were one of the first killer apps.
January 11, 2012
HP's 3000 software practice once wide open
Over the past month, HP has released the source code for WebOS into the open source community (or at least announced its plan to do so). It's been called a watershed event for open source -- the first commercial mobile OS ever nudged onto the homebrew free software shelves. But software was once a passion at HP that invited much more design from users than software gets today. Instead of rising on the energy of volunteers after its lifespan, software once grew up on the power of the user experience. The HP 3000 used a different model than the built-inside, respond to the outside modification requests. One of its best examples was the creation of Transact, a reporting and language solution still working at some sites today.
David Dummer created Transact, software that became a part of HP's Rapid family of products. In that era of advanced productivity for programming, Rapid was Hewlett-Packard's entry. But HP bought Transact and Rapid from Dummer, a deal which gave him the rights to re-create it based on direct input from users. When this project rippled through HP 30 years ago, those users in a classroom were programmers who worked with many languages. "It was like having 35 design engineers in the room," said one ex-HP developer who shaped the product.
Over 16 days of meetings, these programmers discussed each feature in Transact. Dummer wouldn't take lunch, but go off and code up "some of the more simple changes" and bring them back to the users in the class. After-lunch and then overnight coding and tests produced a period "when the product was completely re-invented, and now feature rich enough to support most best practices that we all used to code by hand."
We're not talking about an era of worldwide networks or change management repositories. (HP once operated a repository for the 3000 version of GNU C++ source, hosted on the Invent3k public development server. That was 27 years after Transact grew its robust features in a 16-day open development cycle.) Thanks to the open input on design, the dynamic data handling in Transact was built well enough that it served on 3000s for decades. Dummer went on to create DataExpress, the founding product for MB Foster's UDA Central. He wrapped up his 3000 career consulting on the 34-server Washington state community college migration to HP-UX. Besides using open input to create Transact, Dummer developed technology to move Transact apps to Unix or Linux.
And you can make a case for the length of the lifespan of Transact -- software that's going onward into Unix and Linux -- resulting from the open design that happened in that classroom.In 2003 ScreenJet's Alan Yeo brought Dummer out of semi-retirement to work on migration solutions for Transact. As Dummer told us in 2010, he developed a library of Transact functions written in a system development language and callable from a COBOL host program.
These functions manage the Transact stack handling and data access and map the results back into the static COBOL working storage. "As development proceeded it became apparent that to migrate Transact this library was going to have to do most of heavy work and that COBOL would provide the shell and procedural logic," Dummer said.
Now ScreenJet has a complete replacement for Transact, TransAction, that provides a dictionary and compiler to produce the host code to drive the function library. Transact users like those Washington colleges can move applications to Unix or Linux and continue to develop and maintain in the Transact language.
Dummer was fortunate enough to have been given free reign to enhance the original Transact as he was shown by users, employing his own development methods until a production release. That's old-school open source. What a pleasure to know that an HP 3000 product has benefitted from HP keeping an open mind about software -- three decades before WebOS gained its open source wings.
November 29, 2011
3000 team awaits one last strike, next year
By Ron Seybold
Scary and sad things can happen deep in the night. I learned that in Switzerland and again in Texas, both sets of news that arrived deep in the fall of seasons 10 years apart. But for each bad report, there’s the prospect of better news for a season to come.
The first scary news arrived on a pay phone in a rail station. It was in a November night beyond 9 Central European Time, back in the days when Daylight Savings ended by October. I’d already thrilled to getting the news that the Yankees lost a World Series in a Game 7. That’s the kind of news that can cut both ways, but it would take me another decade to learn that lesson.
The news on that Swiss night was that HP wasn’t going to build any more HP 3000s in 24 months, that they believed everybody ought to get off the platform. That Unix was the best solution, or Windows, anything but what you knew, built your business around, slathered all over your future, your training and career. It was damp and cold on that railway platform hearing that news. My boy Nick and I were on our way uptown to Lausanne and dinner. The report from my partner Abby Lentz sapped my appetite. I did my best to explain to my son things were changing for my business, but it would be okay. Sometimes there are things you just have to say and wait for them to become true.
At no time that night did I ever believe there would be another decade of work on the HP 3000 for my family. Ten more years seemed impossible on that night, in that month, anytime over the next few years. It seemed as impossible as being unable to get one last called strike in a World Series, twice, 10 years later. That happened far into a dark and cold night, too. Past midnight in a cold, damp ballpark in St. Louis.
But for every leading home run that my Texas Rangers could hit in an epic Game 6, their opponents the home team Cardinals could avoid that last strike my guys needed to win their first Series, ever. Not even the extra innings “Roy Hobbs homer” from straight-edge hero Josh Hamilton, swung out over a sports hernia that required surgery, could power the Rangers into the champagne and champions’ ball caps. So in 11 innings, they — or sometimes we 40-year-fans of baseball, we say “we” — lost that chance to win.
But just like the HP 3000 community, those Rangers have not lost all chance ever to stay in the game.In sports, after we lose we like to say, “There’s always next year.” Here in Texas we believe it about the Rangers, turned into champion-caliber players by the legend Nolan Ryan, now an owner. And in my house we believe it about the HP 3000, too. There will be a very interesting next year, a 2012 with an emulator that puts 3000 hardware onto speedy PCs makes its debut. It’s the kind of news that’s sparking sort of a “hot stove league” among people still using HP 3000s. Hot Stove is the time before the season starts, the in-between after a Series and before Opening Day. A million different questions and scenarios and combinations get kicked around, and it’s called Hot Stove because it’s cold almost everyplace people care about baseball.
Except in Texas in mid-November while I wrote, as the clock and calendar ticked over into November 14, it’s 70 degrees and the windows are wide open, even at 2 AM. Things are not what they used to be in our world. Summer brought 5 inches of rain here. Up north the blizzards were followed by floods. Sometimes doing this job means working until it’s already mid-morning in Europe. Like all of the 3000 veterans and experts who told me moving, fabulous November 14 stories, I’m just putting one verb in front of one noun, like they’ve put one consulting gig in front of one temporary contract. We’re all trying to stay active while we’re in the batter’s box, waiting on whatever pitch we will see next.
People still care about the HP 3000, even if they’ve left it behind for something mandated by management or dictated by datacenter needs. Phrases like “the machine I hold so dear” and “it’s still right at my side” are what flow from tales of how you’ve grown over the years. They’ve been hard years, in some places for some people, and they’ve also gotten people involved with new passions and lessons. Experts of 30 years of MPE say they’ve learned new tech like Ruby on Rails or open source security, and found it fun. My partner Abby, still dreaming up NewsWire concepts as publisher, gave birth to a yoga practice that’s produced two DVDs. Me, I learned to write and teach fiction, the drama of journalism grown richer, written to move the soul without excuses and no rebuttals. I always wanted to do that, and HP spurred me dig in and learn. The world I knew was changing, like yours. I had to add another dimension to my writing game.
It’s a lot like what those Rangers of mine face during these darker and cold off-season months. Josh’s hernia will heal, the young team will rest up after 178 games and come back with a new dimension: being just one last strike away from winning the last game of the season. And when spring arrives and weather warms to the desert we’ve come to expect in Texas, there will be a fresh chance to win. Like the new season for the 3000, building upon its community and its deep IT experience, and now with a new dimension of virtualized hardware and source code licensed to top support shops and developers.
When you’re only one strike away, you’re close, as close as I am to finishing that first novel of mine. Whether it’s playing with words, or balls and strikes, or the magic of computers built out of just bits on a disk, the next season, story or release brings more hope. After 16 years of playing on this newsletter’s field of dreams our sponsors and readers helped us build, Abby and I can be glad this stove remains hot, while we get another swing at our joyful pastimes. We’ll see you here in print again in February, when it will be time to start to play ball, buy an ebook of mine, and boot up a fresher future.
November 21, 2011
Oracle Harm to 3000s & HP, Past and Present
Oracle has become a loud competitor to HP in the migration alternative game. HP took an hour's webcast this month to assert that the Oracle-Sun-Solaris action is mostly heat without much light to lead the way. But the database has certainly gained HP's attention now that ousted HP CEO Mark Hurd is leading the Sun attack. If some stories are to be believed, however, the current fracas is a long way removed from Oracle's blows against the HP 3000's futures.
At one point HP was eager to keep its 3000 customers buying Hewlett-Packard enterprise solutions. And by 2001, the story goes, Oracle wanted a clear path to selling Oracle hosted on HP's Unix servers. HP was going to cut something out of its merged product line with Compaq. The 9000s were never on the block, but there was the HP 3000, sporting tens of thousands of systems, nearly all of them running an IMAGE SQL database.
So here goes: HP didn't kill the HP 3000, Oracle did. Oracle made HP a deal they couldn't refuse. Stop selling competing database software, and Oracle would partner to sell HP-UX systems as Oracle servers. Since MPE/iX is tightly coupled to IMAGE/SQL, this translated to the end of the HP 3000. The smoking gun was supposedly this: As part of HP's announcement on discontinuing the HP 3000, it included the end-of-life for Allbase/SQL on both MPE and HP-UX.
The theory has some credibility. In 2001 there was a lot of growth potential for Oracle-plus-HP-UX. Oracle had grown up plenty in the decade before that fateful date (when its CEO Larry Ellison, left, was a tender 47 years old.) In 1991 his juggernaut was pretty much out of the game, even with 20,000 customers, because it was scraping the bottom of its cash barrel. Some reports said Oracle creditors were ready to call in their 1991 notes. Those 20,000 sites arrived in the fold because Oracle got ruthless about sales and promises and vaporware delivery. $80 million in cash from Nippon Steel in exchange for a piece of the Oracle Japan arm helped Oracle back from the brink, too. Then there was a forced restatement of sales all the way back to the company's first quarter as a public company. Booking nonexistent products and stretching future contracts as current revenues, it was all the kind of behavior old-school sales reps would chuckle about today -- a day when Oracle wants to rock the 2011 boat, charging that HP is paying Intel to prop up the Itanium product line.The old-school files here in our office include InformationWeek and Computerworld stories about how Oracle came back from the brink in 1992-93. Oracle users frustrated by wait for DBMS, tools said a story by Jean Bozman. She was a reporter in those days before becoming an IDG analyst, one who figured the world still had more than 25,000 active 3000 systems running, two full years after HP dropped its axe on its 3000 unit.
Over at InformationWeek, the "hungry to profits" company was struggling to deliver Oracle 7 (the latest version is 11, with 12 in the wings). A list of that year's Oracle Business Alliance Program members didn't include HP, even though by then Hewlett-Packard's strategy was in total thrall with Unix. Oracle still was the leader in Unix databases in that era, selling just a bit more than half of Unix RDBMS installations. Sybase was jousting at Oracle with a preannoucement of Version 10 of its database, which one newsletter said was "an announcement, if it's possible, with even more hot air than Oracle's Version 7."
Meanwhile, there was no hot air in the IMAGE of that period. HP was being led by the nose by its customers to keep IMAGE an integrated part of the 3000 solution. Hewlett-Packard wanted to separate IMAGE from the 3000 and make the database an add-on. A revolt at the Interex user group conference of 1990 ensued. Even though the users carried the day -- and Jim Sartain became a business-savvy IMAGE R&D manager afterward -- the IMAGE standard bearers look see this as the start of the decline of HP's attention to IMAGE, business-wise.
Oracle couldn't be bothered with current 3000 R&D from that point onward. Jennie Hou was yoked to the HP's thankless task of getting Oracle resources devoted to MPE/iX -- because HP hoped Oracle would attract customers in the 3000 arena. Oracle just didn't eager to attract any off of the 3000 platform, maybe because developing for MPE wasn't the Unix business Oracle had used to get off the mat. Or maybe Oracle saw the folly -- which it first told me in 1985 -- of competing with a bundled solution like IMAGE. While the rest of the industry was deploying Oracle 8, that release was out of reach for the 3000 user. We wrote in 1997:
It only took one Oracle sales rep in California to get the 3000 customer base worried about the future of the database on MPE/iX. One rep's comment to a 3000 customer circulated through the Internet, asserting that Oracle was only going to support its database through version 7.2.3 for the HP 3000. This led to a fair bit of piling on, as people wondered what the purported pullout meant for the HP 3000 and why anybody would want to get serious about using Oracle instead of IMAGE anyway.
HP and Oracle went to work on damage control almost immediately. The two allies whipped up a quick update on their plans for the HP 3000. The sale's rep's comments were based on a partial truth: Oracle is still not willing to commit to a list of supported platforms for Release 8. Despite what some might see in the tea leaves of whether the 3000 is mentioned on Oracle's Web page roll call, no one using any platform knows for certain when they're getting an Oracle 8 -- not just yet.
Oracle 8 on the HP 3000? One year later, HP had committed its own engineers to just getting a fresher Oracle 7 onto the platform.
CSY has engineers working on the port of Oracle 7.3.4 according to Jennie Hou, the manager of the HP 3000-Oracle relationship. “The porting resources are still engaged in 7.3.4,” she said, which HP expects to be available to 3000 customers within calendar 1998. Version 22.214.171.124 is currently shipping for both MPE/iX 5.0 and 5.5 HP 3000s. There has been no announcement of an Oracle 8 port from CSY yet, “because customer needs are being met by Oracle 7,” Hou said. Oracle-based applications are ready for the HP 3000 in manufacturing, financials and human resources, and Oracle plays a part in data warehousing solutions for MPE/iX.
An Allbase pullout as a smoking gun would be hard to point at HP's 3000 history. The database had its fans among some 3000 sites, but it seemed to be more of a "other option" item on the HP pricelist. More than 95 percent of the 3000's sites were running IMAGE/SQL and still do. That's one reason that Eloquence has done so well as a database migration replacement for 3000 sites: it behaves just as IMAGE does with 3000 programs that are moved to HP-UX or Windows platforms.
3000 users watched a lot of one-sided pursuit of Oracle affections during that decade leading to the pullout. By the fall of '98 it was obvious HP 3000 customers didn't want to fork over tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars for a database instead of IMAGE. Winston Prather announced the end of Oracle futures on MPE/iX at the HP World conference -- one year before taking over as 3000 GM which led to, well, the end of HP's futures altogether for the 3000.
“The current plan is that there is no plan to port Oracle8,” Prather said at the 1998 forums. “The real fundamental issue: Oracle’s position is that, ‘We’ve worked really hard with you to bring it to the platform and done joint marketing programs, and it’s not working.’ Oracle is looking at it and going, ‘Why am I doing this?’ They haven’t come close to recouping their investment. Their current feeling right now is that there’s not enough business on the 3000.”
Customers using Oracle say the database runs faster on HP 3000s than on HP 9000s, something that HP might want to use in making a case for additional development resources. Prather noted that customer adoption has been slight in the face of a more cost-effective 3000 database: IMAGE/SQL.
“It’s very expensive to implement an Oracle solution relative to a TurboIMAGE solution or even an Allbase solution,” Prather said. “The bottom line is that 3000 customers like TurboIMAGE. They don’t want to leave TurboIMAGE. Our application providers don’t want to move to Oracle, because they like TurboIMAGE."
It's not like HP wasn't trying to sell the database. In 1996 it offered Oracle's 7.2.3 version to 3000 sites at prices starting under $1,200 per seat with an eight-seat minimum. For the first time, you could get a small 3000 into Oracle for just under 10,000. The price per-seat increased based on HP's CPU tiers of the day -- that under-$1,200 price was only available for the lowest 3000 tier. Price was a barrier vs. an included database, and then there was migration.
The HP pricing doesn't alleviate the roadblocks of data migration and increased management demands. Taurus Software's Forklift migration tool, which uses a graphical interface to map IMAGE datasets to Oracle tables by way of the Taurus Warehouse utility, was the start of moving data as easily as any tool on other platforms. Forklift gave managers a visual aid to get IMAGE data into Oracle databases.
Within five years Oracle wouldn't have IMAGE to dodge around anymore while it sold HP's systems. Wht good did that do in the long run? By this month, Oracle doesn't even want those HP Unix systems to exist. Its charge of paying Intel to keep Itanium alive is pretty blustery with hot-air, even by Oracle's standards. HP doesn't make Itanium anymore, even though its engineers retain a role in processor design. Itanium is an Intel product by now, and if HP is chipping in extra dollars to keep development going, that's in HP's best interest to keep selling its Unix servers.
We find it interesting to see how Oracle has crept back from the "Itanium is dead, and Intel isn't saying" hot air of this spring. Intel came back with an opposing gust that might have knocked long-time yachtsman Larry Ellison off the "attack Intel" tack that's part of his warpath on HP. Oracle can't hurt the 3000 anymore, can it? That depends on how you think of the Integrity servers as 3000 migration replacements. This Oracle war is creating distractions for HP's Integrity sales.
November 18, 2011
Last Words from First Users on HP's Pullout
All this week we've been marking a tenth anniversary of HP's ill-fated decision to pull out of the 3000 community. There have been other things happening besides the remembrances. But there's little happening in the community today that has not been altered -- for better or worse -- by the Hewlett-Packard choice. We also have a package of pullout stories coming in our November print issue, along with photos from the community's first HP3000 Reunion. But we'll wrap up our Pullout Week with stories from two key community members. Jeff Kell started and maintains the HP3000-L mailing list at utc.edu, where 3000 discussions and tech tips started in the early 90s -- and remain online today. Kell was also a SIG leader while volunteering for the Interex user group.
Then there's John Wolff, an initial board member of OpenMPE who first joined HP in 1968, and then became an HP customer in 1974, and started using the 3000 in the system's Classic days -- and so has felt some of the deepest disappointment. But he still watches the company for signs of hope.
Jeff Kell: As of the mid-1990s, essentially all of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's business applications were all legacy applications on the HP 3000, having evolved from the initial roots of the student/admissions/grades/records system developed in the mid-to-late 1970s. One was a third-party Library application added in the 1980s, but still HP 3000-based. At our peak, we hosted five production HP 3000s in our server room covering administrative, academic, and library services.
Academic usage migrated first to IBM, and later Sun-Solaris/Unix, but business applications remained intact. Traditional "internet" applications (e-mail, file transfers, Gopher and later WWW, etc) grew on Solaris and later Linux.
An initial investigation into a third-party student system led to an attempted "migration" in 1997, based on a large-ish HP-9000 quad-processor system with a sizeable disk array. Dissatisfaction with the software (relative to the 3000 legacy applications) led to a delay in implementation of all but the student financial aid and accounts receivable systems. At that time we began to "fortify the foundation" of the long-term viability of the 3000 platform. We were well into MPE/iX and the Posix environment, and there appeared to be some real solidarity given these capabilities (the lack of "Internet readiness" was often used to criticize the platform).
The 2001 announcement was a knife in the back of our long-term planning and objectives, from which we never fully recovered. The original Library application (3000-based) was moved to Linux/Oracle (where it remains to date). The partial third-party student implementation on the HP 9000 was moved to Linux/Oracle -- where it too remains to date.
Parts of our identity management system, as well as some percentage of student records which did not survive the automated migration, remain on our HP3000; but the system is essentially running "read-only" as of this year.
We do still have a number of HP's printers. But we have never since seriously considered them as a business, instructional, or even personal computing platform anymore. Caveat emptor.
John Wolff: My HP Systems Engineer at Laaco, Ltd. was visiting us a couple of weeks before the official announcement and gave some strong hints about what was coming. So the actual announcement was not so much a shock, but rather a validation of a great disappointment.
In my opinion, 2001 was a watershed year for HP, as it began a lost decade of bad management and poor decisions. The company is still struggling with a bad Board of Directors and the seemingly endless consequences that flow from that. The agonizing studies and public review of strategic questions over a period of months, like the Personal Systems Group spin-off and the TouchPad/webOS debacle, illustrate this far better than anything I could ever say. There is nothing more destructive to a business model for employees, customers and suppliers than failures of decisiveness, of commitment and exectuion.
I began my career with HP straight out of college in 1968, when HP was widely recognized as one of the best managed companies in America. Imagine how it was to transition from a proud six-year employee into a satisfied customer for 30 years. I felt like I knew a secret: That HP was a terrific vendor with great products and strong support that was making my efforts on behalf of our company a success.
My company was primarily in the business of owning and operating private clubs when I started with Laaco in 1974. We developed a custom club system on HP 9830s, which we used until 1986. Beginning in 1982 we started developing a new system on a Classic HP 3000/44 and started using it for production some 25 years ago. Our custom application continued to grow with continuous enhancements over the years, while the hardware was upgraded seamlessly to a Series 48, Series 58, Series 70 and finally to a PA-RISC Series 928.
Meanwhile, we reduced our exposure in the club industry from four clubs down to two as the company began moving into a different industry, self storage. Although we still have the two remaining clubs, there is little growth in that business, so we did not have to expand to faster hardware. But we did continue with our custom development, which is primarily written in Transact. I believe we hold the record (by far) for the longest use of the same platform in the private club industry, where it is typical to switch to a new system every five years, if not sooner.
Now, as I mark 37 years with our company and assess our club system strategically in relation to our corporate direction and a dominant role in the self storage sector, I find that it is time to make plans for the future. My programmer is almost 72 years old and has been with us for 29 years (another record). It does not seem realistic to go looking for another Transact programmer within the shrinking HP 3000 ecosystem. Consequently and with reluctance, we have begun evaluating a replacement system from the traditional club software offerings that run on Windows. This conversion will probably take place next summer and demote the HP 3000 to archival duty.
Finally, with the benefit of hindsight, I must say that selecting the HP 3000 30 years ago was a great decision that paid off as both a development and production platform, in spite of recent HP mistakes. I have no regrets regarding the decisions that I had control over; I can only wish that those decisions beyond my control could have been otherwise.
In 2001, I began to watch this once-great company start a decline over a period of 10 years into one of the worst-managed companies in America. I am left to wonder when HP will hit bottom and recover its sense of identity and direction. We all continue to watch hopefully.
November 17, 2011
Some couldn't believe the pullout at first
Some of the members of the 3000 community had no reason to believe HP would pull out of the 3000 business. In this week that marks the 10th anniversary of that exit, community members are sharing their stories of where they were when they heard -- how much they felt they could believe -- and what's become of their careers since then.
Brian Edminster: I was subcontracting at a company that specializes in supporting medical information systems (primarily Amisys, but others as well). This was a new contract at the time, and came after a multi-year gig doing a Y2K conversion on a large legacy Retail Management system.
I almost didn’t believe the news — there were too many other big changes happening in the world — and HP management had recently redoubled their support of the platform, so I just couldn’t believe it at first. I guess I was still expecting the New HP to act like the Old HP.
My consulting practice has been stable, with slow but steady growth. I’d say that my career has taken directions that I’d not have been able to anticipate, just a few years before. I’d not have gotten into open source software on the platform if the ecosystem of commercial software hadn’t started drying up. I wouldn’t have been able to justify going to the last Greater Houston RUG meeting to present a paper, and I wouldn’t have started building a website to act as a central repository for free and open source software for the 3000 (www.MPE-OpenSource.org).
Robert Holtz: I was working away on the COBOL and FORTRAN programs that were the heart of the Computer-Aided Dispatch and Mobile Data Terminal programming that ran on the three HP N-Class 3000's our Phoenix Police Department had upgraded to -- just earlier that year.
Christian Lheureux: I was sitting at my desk at Appic, sorting through HP3000-L newsgroup postings. I learned that the HP 3000 was going to be terminated from an HP internal source that I could absolutely not quote due to an ongoing NDA. In fact, I had been informally tipped much, much earlier that this was going to happen, but I simply could not believe it !
If you were there 10 years ago, you probably remember that some emotions ran quite wild, and that certainly includes mine. After a while (weeks, months), I remember having a big sigh and realizing that, in the aftermath of the Compaq takeover, HP would not keep 2 proprietary platforms and that, between a 71,000-unit installed base (HP 3000) and a 700,000-plus-unit installed base (VMS), the choice was quite obvious. To this day, VMS still exists. They even recently introduced a new release.
The company I worked for that the time still exists as a software publisher. We went bankrupt in late 2005 and the company was finally liquidated 1 year later. I probably sold the last four new HP 3000s in France, on Oct. 31st, 2003. I did my last significant MPE assignments in 2004. After that, my HP3000/MPE activity rapidly became marginal. When our company went bankrupt, I was immediately made redundant. Therefore I have absolutely no idea of what happened to the systems I had in the datacenter -- well computer room. They probably ended up in a garbage dump, much like an unneeded refrigerator that burns too much energy.
I later did some HP-UX work, then became a sales exec, then went back to pre-sales, which I still do today. I've been part and parcel of the HP ecosystem for all my adult life, HP user as a student, then HP employee, then HP consultant, then HP partner. My HP-UX skill level never rivaled my MPE knowledge, not even close, not even by a long shot. And, perhaps more important, the fun I had doing HP-UX stuff never came close to the fun I had doing MPE things like debug/dumpreading, executable code troubleshooting, performance measurement, developing tools that I needed for other assignments, writing stuff, "educating" customers, etc.
There used to be two documents that I wrote on the OpenMPE website while I served on the board. One was the DAT compatibility matrix, and the second one was the HP(e)3000 line-up, sorted by software tier, complete with performance indicators. I have absolutely no idea whether those documents still exist and if they are available anywhere. My best guess would be that,10 years after, no one cares.
That's history being made. Things come and go.
John K., AOL: I was sitting at my desk in AOL's Reston Technical Center in Reston, VA, when I heard the news. I was the manager of the Access Wardialer Lab, which filled a little over 1,100 sq. ft. of raised floor with racks containing hundreds of test and measurement PCs connected to three DS-3 lines providing telephone lines.
We had one HP 3000, and it collected, stored, and analyzed access wardialer data from hundreds of PCs which called every AOL dialup number multiple times every night to test the dialup network and hammer the AOL Windows client. The HP 3000 produced a number of reports, charts and emails every day, with virtually all of AOL's senior executives and management on the distribution lists of those emails. It also hosted a web site for retrieval of reports, processed wardialer data, Windows "debugview" logs, and other analytics. I'm told that the HP 3000 was turned off and stored for somewhere between 12 and 18 months, and then converted to an HP 9000 (AOL had many, many, many HP 9000s).
AOL's dialup usage took a nose dive in 2004, and in late 2004, my group was disbanded (layoff). Since then, AOL has split off from Time Warner. The AOL Reston Technical Center where I worked no longer exists. I was invited to, and attended AOL's 25th Anniversary Celebration in Dulles, Virginia, on May 24th, 2010, and it was great seeing so many of my former co-workers, most of whom have moved on to other jobs in the various tech industries. While a manager at AOL, I also coded in SPLASH, SPL, BASIC, and BUSINESS BASIC, and I created both terminal-based and web-based applications.
Today I'm the Software Engineering Manager for an Internet Services Provider which also provides hosting, co-lo, and VoIP telephone services. I still code, but now I code primarily in PHP and SQL, and the company's Enterprise Information System (EIS) is of my design. I also wrote all of EIS's core code.
November 16, 2011
Things change, some 3000s remain the same
When we polled more than 30 customers of the HP 3000, we were surprised how many still employed their systems a decade after HP left the field. Some are using the same servers which ran on the day HP predicted the demise of the ecosystem, 10 years ago this week. Others have relegated their systems to archival duty. We heard from a few that've turned off 3000s completely since 2001.
At the Catawba Valley Medical Center in Hickory, NC, Jim Dellinger said the center's 3000 has been decommissioned quite awhile. "The HP 3000 was discontinued here in 2004," he said, "and hardware services moved from LAB (my niche) to IT. I'm sure there are no HP 3000 servers there."
Dave Powell, whose report on his 2001-2011 3000 experience appears in our November print issue, told the world more than six weeks ago that his company in the fabrics industry is moving off the 3000. "MMfab has decided to migrate," he said. "Buy a (gasp) package. Toss the system I've been working on for 30 years." But still run a 3000 in archive more for the next 1-3 years, once the real implementation work starts at MMfab -- and gets completed.
But for every report of a departed 3000, we heard two that were remaining on duty. At least for the next several years. Connie Sellitto, who had about two weeks to solve the problem of "wireframing" her 3000's app architecture for a migration in March, checked back in to say it will be several more months until anything based on .NET is running the US Cat Fanciers Association.
"I was working as Programmer/Analyst at the US Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA) on our third HP 3000, a Series 937 RX, when HP announced its end-of-life," she said. "This really scared a lot of people, but I kept telling them we had third party hardware and software support, and not to worry. The company directors at the time decided to leverage the 350-plus programs with a migration to an HP 9000 -- and we in fact secured a used system, only to have them reverse their decision and opt instead for a newer A400 3000.
"The new HP 3000 remained in use in the New Jersey office until July of this year, at which time it was transported intact to CFA's new location in Alliance, Ohio. Plans were to (really, this time) migrate off the MPE platform entirely, with a complete rewrite on a .NET SQL-based system. This project, originally underestimated to take 3 months, is still in the development stages, and although I've moved to a new job, the 3000 is still going strong. It continues to run the business-critical operations for CFA."
"And the estimated time to finally shut down this venerable 'legacy' system? My personal guesstimate is another 3-4 months. My only desire is that the data be secure and that all business practices be enabled. Long live the HP 3000!"
Peter Eggars: I was off with friends celebrating my 49th birthday. By that day I had too much time, too much money, had lost much of my obsession with computer technology, and lost my faith in HP. I had been told over a year before that it was coming, and didn't hear about the official announcement until much later. It wasn't until I had a long afternoon discussion with Wirt Atmar that I comprehended the importance of the day, and the missed opportunity to have done anything about it.
In hindsight, the spirit that allowed the HP 3000 to grow and thrive in an IT environment that was dominated by IBM (it has 80 percent of both hardware and software market shares) was lost with the embrace of the new IBM, as well as Microsoft, who were able to take shady business practices that monopolize a market to new lows.
The HP 3000/MPE could have evolved into the premiere Rapid Application Development platform for small- to enterprise-class business applications using a Linux kernel and drivers, one of the GUIs, and an open source database. Integration with Open Office (now Libre), would have been icing on the cake. I think there was a good chance HP could have beaten Oracle, had HP started down that track in the late 1990s. But I have to admit now that Wirt Atmar was right -- 2001 was the last possible year that could have been successful.
Gilles Schipper: Unfortunately, I can’t recall where I was. I do remember first hearing an inkling of it from Wirt — and, coming from him, even though it was not confirmed, I knew it would turn out to be true, as of course it was.
Despite all these 10 years that have passed, my company GSA still has enough customers that I perform HP 3000 System Administration and support duties, staying reasonably occupied and earning a living -— although, of course, not to the same degree as 10 years ago.
What I miss a lot is the annual Interex conventions that afforded the means to revisit with old friends such a you. Even a few years back, a couple of GHRUG meetings in Houston were terrific. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the recent Mountain View get-together at the Computer Museum. Hopefully another opportunity or excuse for another conference/meeting/get-together will arise in the future.
November 15, 2011
Now in an 11th year of post-HP: user reports
We're continuing with the community's first-person testifying about HP's November 14 pullout from the 3000 market 10 years ago. Today is the first day of the 11th year of the rest of your life, because HP's never going to go back on its decision to cease making, enhancing or, in most cases, supporting the HP 3000.
But we've heard from users who hoped otherwise. Many did in the first few years after 2001, because it was hard to believe from the beginning. At least difficult for users and suppliers who knew so many satisfied 3000 owners, or were making a good living off an ecosystem HP proclaimed as mortally wounded.
Why look backward at an event nobody will ever change or recant? You can get hope from the new ground which some of the users have attained. And you'll see how to manage such a sudden change of strategic direction from a supplier, though some of these stories. Plus you can believe that it can happen to any product controlled by a single-vendor. We asked: 1. Where were you when you heard the news, and what became of the 3000 you were using, and 2. What's become of your career and company over the last 10 years.
Bill Towe: I remember attending the HP World shows for 1999 and 2000 when HP announced it was opening its arms to the HP 3000 and would continue the line, and the future seemed safe. Then barely a year later, I was attending an HP Channel Partner conference in Las Vegas when I heard a rumor that the HP 3000 was back on the chopping block. I couldn’t believe it, because only months before, CEO Carly Fiorina had informed the HP 3000 collective that we would see the MPE systems line for years to come.
During that Conference, I learned the HP 3000 was finished and would start a phase-out of equipment process followed by the End-of-support death march. I was simply shocked. My company, BlueLine Services, was only two years old at the time and 95 percent of our business was MPE system sales and support. We spent the next few years holding out hope that HP would continue to postpone or completely reverse their decision to end the HP3000 line.
"Over the years, it has become more and more difficult to be an HP-Only reseller. Since that fateful day, we have become an HP, IBM, Dell, Compellent, Cisco, VMWare and HDS reseller, as well as provider of managed services and cloud Computing Services, coupled with hardware and software support for MPE, HP-UX, and Windows OS. Since the dissolution of the HP 3000, my company has diversified to the point that HP no longer has the lion’s share of what we provide our customers. I still find it difficult to believe that the same manufacturer that created the greatest hardware and software system ever produced, also ended it and so unceremoniously. Sad."
Chris Bartram, 3k.com: When I heard, I was working a long-term consulting contract managing HP 3000s and several datacenters for the US government. My company 3k Associates still exists and its HP 3000s are still humming, although only one of threee stays powered on these days.
My job that pays the bills these days has nothing to do with HP 3000s -- and thankfully, very little to do with HP at all.
Craig Lalley: I was working from home for Lund Performance Solutions at the time. The demise of the HP3000 was greatly overshadowed by the events of Sept 11th, for me. Sept 11th had a huge impact on the economy, as well as my personal economics.
I guess was expecting HP’s decision. HP’s actions were much louder than HP words. I believe HP had decided to end the HP 3000 several years before. The sad part is they could not admit it. I still have a love for MPE. I believed there still was a place for a proprietary OS in the business marketplace. Sadly HP did not feel the same way.
My biggest disappointment is the loss of the HP 3000 user groups and the community they inspired. Sadder still is the loss of some major community members. I must add that I enjoy the HP 3000 “e-community” of friends I have met and worked with over the years. The community still consists of some very special and highly talented people.
My greatest hope for future of MPE is not OpenMPE anymore, but Stromasys and the HP 3000 emulator, Charon HPA/3000. To date, I know of only two major bugs/issues, and performance is the next objective. I hope the hidden HP 3000 homesteaders will find a way to see a demo of Charon HPA-3000, I am sure they won’t be disappointed.
November 14, 2011
One Decade Later, You Survived HP's Pullout
So here we are, 10 years to the day since HP announced it would not be participating in the future of the HP 3000 anymore. It's still Nov. 14 in most places where the NewsWire's blog is being read, so here's a history that nobody's been dying to tell. It's about customers of a company that thought it was killing off a computer line. Instead, it killed off a lot of its customers, in the sense that thousands of them though HP was dead on arrival in the IT futures department after Nov. 14. There were careers and companies killed, too. But we've never called it the End of Life for the HP 3000. It's always been the end of HP's life with the 3000. By this year I think of it as a pullout, an act that signals a loss of will and faith, forgetting why you got into a relationship in the first place. HP had given up on a group that I was glad to dub "homesteaders." Everybody was one, until they could manage a migration, after all.
The shock and outrage on that Black Wednesday was astounding at the time, because HP didn't whisper a word about the customers who could never leave a efficient, vital platform. The first HP message was filled with warm concern about getting everyone onto the right computer as soon as possible. As if the bolts and boards of the 25,000 systems working worldwide were about to go toxic or something. HP couldn't even pin down when the closing date would for the 3000 division, CSY, then headed by Winston Prather.
From a CSY perspective and a support perspective, it’s business as usual for the next two years. It’s time for customers start their planning to move to a platform that will serve their businesses better in the future. HP recommends that customers begin transitioning off the HP 3000 to alternate HP platforms.
Customers were not surprised at the news, Prather said, "and they really appreciated HP being able to tell them what we see as the future role of the platform." Prather said these top-tier customers of late 2001 "already have a multi-OS strategy, so they’ve been evolving their applications over time. It is a stake in the ground, but the CIOs I talked to were appreciative of hearing what the future holds."
As proven by the reactions of the next two years, Prather had only talked to companies who could afford to migrate -- and were grateful for an infusion of truth from HP after years of everything else.
For the last week I've been asking the community members to tell about where they were on that star-crossed day that they heard the news — plus what's become of their careers, companies and the computers running on Nov. 14. We've got a massive feature coming in our November print edition, which went to press at 5:30 this morning.
The outpouring of memories and updates and resolve for the future has been profound and prolific. But this has always been a group that knew how to say what they meant, and how they felt. "I'd say we've all been a pretty good human chain holding the 3000 Community together," said Jack Connor, who just departed the OpenMPE board. He was kind enough to note that the stories and articles here "do a lot to make us aware that there's indeed life after HP, and a pretty full one so far." Considering the promise of an emulator and the state of virtualization today, the last decade could have unspooled a better future than what HP delivered.Some of us had a little advance notice, and some said they saw the move coming before HP announced its exit. My preview involved a phone booth, a cassette recorder with a suction-cup phone pickup, and an Internet Cafe. That's how long ago this all happened. Somehow to a lot of you, it feels like it was only a moment ago.
We leave the first word in the storytelling here on our blog to Alan Yeo, who commissioned a pair of iconic editorial cartoons to express the feelings of customers who didn't get a heads-up, but felt blindsided. Some were even resellers, who learned about the pullout at the same time as their customers.
Yeo wrote us this morning about his "second Black Wednesday," noting a British event that seems as much a cock-up as dropping a profitable platform and its customers at great loss to the little guy. He advised we read up on Wikipedia about that other Wednesday in the UK when £27 billion was spent while a speculator made $1 billion.
On the "Second Black Wednesday" of Nov. 14, I was waiting for America to come on-line and find out if what I had been told a week earlier was coming was true or not. Unfortunately it was.
What became of the HP 3000 we were using at the time? It's still running and still used for development. When you're developing migration software to replicate HP 3000 software, there is no better place to test than under MPE.
My strange observation is how different the last 10 years could have been, if HP had acted differently. Sitting on my desk this week, 10 years after HP announced the end, is a little blue box with a silver-blocked Stomasys logo on it. Inside is a USB stick that will hopefully this week allow a brand-new Intel i7 server that is just being installed here to boot up as an HP 3000 running MPE.
Ten years on, and there is still a potential market for an emulator? We have had a decade where it appears at every turn HP took the wrong path.
Whilst a few people may have been disappointed, most people would have slowly moved and been more than happy if: Instead of announcing the EOL for the HP 3000 — because upgrading MPE to IA64 was too expensive — HP had decided that they would support MPE running in 32-bit on Itanium, or even in a VM under HP-UX on Itanium. Remember even today, most "modern" server applications are still running in 32-bit mode on 64-bit architecture. HP might have sold quite a few more Itanium Servers and certainly would have kept a lot more customers. And there are a lot of vendors around the world that would have had a completely different decade.
Even though they decided to EOL the HP 3000, it then appeared they did their best to frustrate the third-party ecosystem which they indicated was expected to carry the load. The couple of extensions to their end of support dates, well, those damaged both the third party support vendors and the migration vendors — as the need for users to make any decisions was pushed out. Which is probably why there may be enough users still around to make an emulator viable. The Chinese curse goes, "May you live in Interesting Times." And the last decade has certainly been interesting.
November 01, 2011
Listen for the sounds of a post-HP season
In less than 10 minutes of our latest podcast, we're connecting the dots on Steve Jobs, his reverence for HP, the company's PC reverse-march, and how much Hewlett-Packard lost while it exited the 3000 market. It all points to a chilly off-season while HP works to get back onto the field of enterprise computing, carrying its PCs, and take another run -- like the Texas Rangers -- at the Number 1 spot.
Post-HP? For awhile, anyway. On this first day of its 2012 Fiscal Year, HP is working away from a year when it couldn't seem to get a strike when it needed it, either off the bat of CEO Leo or from the arms of its TouchPad. Maybe it's time that we stop looking back at what HP didn't do a decade ago -- like stick to a profitable, small HP 3000 business. Or stay out of a slim-margin dogpile like the PC business. Or remain focused on enterprise computing. As they say in baseball -- especially here in Texas -- there's always next year.
October 31, 2011
After one strike away, to return another day
Here in Texas we're learning that there's no crying in baseball, except for in the World Series. Our Texas Rangers were only one strike away from winning the world championship -- not once but twice -- but we saw our heroes of 50 years' efforts fall out of the trophy column. A final effort at that strike (above) let the St. Louis Cardinals bang out a hit to erase a "Roy Hobbs homer" from Josh Hamilton that might have won that Series. It was a Series so epic that it sparked TV ratings unmatched since the Red Sox won their first title in 86 years. The penultimate loss in that Game 6 took 11 innings to complete. A 7 PM game ended nearly at midnight.
It builds character to continue to love something that falls short of ultimate success often. In the computer markets this kind of product gets shuttled to the museum instead of trotted out for another sales cycle. Success gets determined by business managers who can always go about building a new team of products. In baseball, the losing players lace up cleats and swing the bats again after a requeim for the death of this year's dream. Heartrates at my house got worn out Thursday night, the game nearly won when those two almost-champion moments came, and then went. This is the second straight year Texas has lost the Series. It's been nearly 20 years since a baseball team lost consequetive World Series. We will see what becomes of the Rangers in about 22 weeks, when a fresh season dawns. They're already calling this Series historic.
In your community of 3000 users, today is an important day in your history. Eight years ago this afternoon, the last official sale of a new HP 3000 was accepted by Hewlett-Packard. In memory of that milestone, thousands of community members, industry icons and gurus, and HP engineers and managers threw local parties to mourn and remember the glory of a great HP product. The computer continued to be a product for years afterward, but not a product which HP built new any longer.
ScreenJet's Alan Yeo organized, through inspiration and outreach, what was called the World Wide Wake. As a celebration of a passing, the day was a success that might rouse the dead. As a predictor of the obituary of the HP 3000, the images of glasses hoisted and gallows pictures, the event was something else. It served as another marker of the slower timeframe that a computer known as a mainframe can employ for a lifespan.
We've created a Flickr photostream from the Wake pictures that were sent to Yeo's website back in 2003. He was kind enough to leave these memories in our keeping. They represent that one last strike that the computer failed to get on HP. But like those Rangers, there's always next year to buy new HP 3000 hardware. An emulator has given the HP 3000 a set of new seasons for many years to come.Virtualized hardware took more than eight years to arrive in this marketplace, but it will deliver for many more years to replace the 3000s HP no longer builds or sells. There's not an obvious baseball comparison to what a virtualizer does, but maybe a rejuvenation of a late-game pitching staff, or a robust farm team system to grow new talents, will suffice. As a Rangers fan I expect to see both next year, just as I expect to see HP 3000s grown from fast and cheap PC hardware from Stromasys.
It's past closing time in Europe and the East of the US, even very dark in the 3000's heartland of California Across the International Date Line in Bangalore, India, where a few HP lab engineers toiled until the end of 2008, it's already Nov. 1. All Saints Day, we used to call the date back when I was a boy in Catholic school. Some community members probably think the 3000's survival in any number through 2011 is a miracle.
There are many saints who could claim some credit for the survival of 10,000 to 20,000 HP 3000s. There are also many systems that have been switched off, scrapped or dropped into deep storage over those eight years. The HP 3000 system populace could only decline from its census numbers of 2003. However, it's easy to assert that more 3000s will be running after today — and into the Tenth Anniversary of The Afterlife — than Hewlett-Packard or its partners ever could predict.
A good share of the populace is running because migration was no two-year matter, or even four-year project at some sites. In these companies the HP 3000 is earmarked for a decommission, sometime in the future, near or far. The Afterlife is a land which is rich in the unknown. We cannot know for certain who's still running, who's making migration progress, and who has put their IT futures in limbo. For some customers, they live in the Afterlife because there's no place else to go.
Until now, when an emulator will give a new option to the companies who need to put the same proven players of MPE and IMAGE on the field. It's good to congratulate Unix and Windows on a victory over HP's executive strike zone, so very small in 2001. While the neighborhood kids' voices echo through my open windows tonight in Texas, however, I hear an echo of heritage and tradition of trick-or-treating for sweets. A new future is not right for everybody. This October, the 3000 homesteader can say of new systems the same thing us Rangers fans say in hope: "We'll get 'em next year."
October 15, 2011
Ritchie's rich legacy: Unix both vital, hated
One week exactly after the death of Steve Jobs, Unix co-creator Dennis Ritchie died Oct. 12 of prostate cancer at age 70. In addition to creating Unix at Bell Labs along with Ken Thompson (above), Ritchie is credited with creating the first C programming language. The most technical of community members think Ritchie deserved the same outpouring of grief and praise Jobs received. Some writers compared Ritchie to Tesla, who invented AC current versus Edison's Direct Current. Edison died rich. Ritchie died alone.
Ritchie's inventions deserve praise, and he got much of it during his lifetime from his technical peers. But the invention of C and Unix had as checkered a past as anything Jobs and Apple sold, and a more caustic effect on better-designed inventions. The HP 3000 community in particular suffered from the snake oil of Unix. A better friend to the 3000 has been Ritchie's C -- and not coincidentally, it's that language that's still making magic that 3000s can use.
You can smell that snake oil burning when you read this week's post from Google's Rob Pike, a colleague of Ritchie's and the first man to report Ritchie's death.
Unix was the great equalizer, the driving force of the Nerd Spring that liberated programming from the grip of hardware manufacturers. The hardware didn't matter any more, since it all ran Unix. And since it didn't matter, hardware fought with other hardware for dominance; the software was a given.
Bell Labs was the industry tower that Pike patrolled in the late 1980s, and that certainly wasn't any province close to an HP lab or a 3000 development cubicle or a company's IT director office. Unix was no more of a given than "spoken language" means "something everyone can understand." Unix remains full of byzantine differences that made the hardware more important than ever, because every vendor sold theirs as the One True Unix. Especially HP, which fed 3000 customers into the Unix ovens while it cooked up a larger installed base for HP-UX. The only thing that was a given was that HP was giving away its customers to Unix, while the world was climbing the shaky rope ladder into Windows. Ritchie was writing an "anti-forward" to a notable book exposing fatal flaws in his creation.The point here is that technology has always been essential to a product's success and the health of its inventing company. But without insight, passion and a drive to create customer appetites and loyalty, technology like Unix can become the DC of electric service. You won't see much kowtowing to Unix this fall, since it's been eclipsed and outclassed by Linux. The Ubuntu version of Linux will actually save some 3000 customers from the fate of those 1990s ovens. But it took more than 20 years of refinements to make something a given: hardware, now replaced by virtualized servers like the CHARON product for the 3000.
Unix meant HP-UX, Solaris, AIX, Tru64, Ultrix, Xenix, IRIX, A/UX (sold by the non-Jobs Apple) and countless more. Unix was such a rabbit warren by the middle 90s that one of its chief makers, Sun, created Java to bind all software together in "write once, run everywhere." That didn't turn out to be any truer than Unix being a force Ritchie created to spark all digital inventions, including Apple's.
Unix might be the only operating system ever to sprout a Hater's Handbook, one widely cherished by those who worked with the OS and now such a legend you can read it for free, after multiple printings by IDG Press. "The Best of the UNIX-HATERS Online Mailing List Reveals why UNIX Must Die!" To be fair, people might have derided Apple's Newton just as much. But the Newton never killed off worthy achievements in technology. And that is what's being stated here: An invention in technology is more praiseworthy than a successful product and company.
Just try telling that to an HP 3000 expert or owner, now looking for work or hoping for a replacement. Ritchie is deserving of the Turing Award, the US National Medal of Technology, the IEEE Richard W. Hamming Medal, and the Japan Prize. He was also honest enough to know what he'd invented was far from a magic catalyst. "UNIX is very simple, it just needs a genius to understand its simplicity," he said. He started to inch closer to Jobs' hubris while saying that "C is quirky, flawed, and an enormous success." Quirky would be generous for the language both Tymlabs and CCC tried to sell to the HP 3000 market in the 80s and 90s. C needed "lint," another of those four-or-less lettered Unix tools, to find all the bugs in a typical program.
Ritchie deserves a memorial, but working in technology's high towers won't summon the sorrows of flowers laid at doorsteps of Apple Stores. There are fine ones written to assay his genius at the New York Times, the Guardian and many more outlets. On that Hater's Handbook cover, Clifford Stoll said "The next time a UNIX addict tries to intimidate you, reach for this book." Intimidation was rife among the Unix acolytes. The next time an acolyte tries to tell you that Jobs was a mere pitchman while Ritchie was an underpraised genius, consider what each has left behind that is working as their companies built it, and what they were doing in the year that they died. We stand on lots of people's shoulders to make tech magic serve us. Nobody is perfect, but the carping about Ritchie oversight versus Jobs belittles both men. Ask HP 3000 customers. Great tech needs a great advocate to survive.
September 28, 2011
HP board picks the wrong woman once more
And what makes overlooking Ann Livermore for a fourth time worse? Livermore is now a member of the board which chose Meg Whitman. So let the wisecracks about Whitman's eBay legacy begin -- like her being a natural to run a legendary firm now selling off its assets, considering her eBay CEO experience.
Livermore is a lifer at HP. She's never held a job anywhere else in almost 30 years of working. She wanted to lead HP after Lew Platt was invited to step down as CEO. Carly Fiorina was ushered in by Dick Hackborn's board with stock analysts in tow, then proceeded to marry HP to a computer business it now wants to divest. People are saying that Carly's impact on HP will be undone when the HP PC spinoff is renamed "Compaq."
Later, after Carly irked the board with no desire to share power, these HP leaders chose a man over Livermore, who was then running the largest part of HP's business at the time, services and enterprise technology. Mark Hurd went on a mission to burn the furniture at HP to keep the accountant's offices warm, slashing tens of thousands of jobs and R&D down to a level best suited for a company the size of eBay.
Which brings us to the latest HP managment error, the ascent of yet another wrong woman into the HP driver's seat. Not Ann Livermore, because now-dumped CEO Leo Apotheker had kicked Ann into the boardroom earlier this year -- during his brief honeymoon while the board was letting the software exec have his way with WebOS and other buy-ups. Hey, you couldn't promote anyone from the board to CEO, because that's never been done in the history of HP, right?
Wrong, by this week. Right alongside Livermore's seat on the board was perched Meg Whitman, the former eBay founder who paid $45 per voter (of her own money) to lose the California governor's race last fall. After 12 years of failing to do so, Hewlett-Packard has finally promoted from within once again. Just not very far within. It only matters to the declining share of companies who still believe HP's got a future in enterprise computing. If you're not yet migrated, it's not too late to change your target to a vendor with fresh gusto for enterprise computing. That might be Sun, by the looks of this week's processor news -- being made by Hurd.People have calculated that CEO Leo, whose term is the shortest of any non-interim CEO in HP history, made about $12,000 an hour in his 10-plus months as Dear Leader. He also led the company in swiftest fall from the respect of employees. That's pretty incredible considering how battered the HP workforce was after Hurd's ouster. Glassdoor's chart on CEO Leo's approval during 2011 looks like a map of the company's stock price over the year. His contract gave him a $25 million payout, another record for a departing HP executive. (Compaq's Michael Capella had the old record set up by Carly's board, at $22 million. Carly emerged at about $21 million.) There's stock options on top of that for all of them, but as many a 3000 retiree from HP noted last weekend at the Reunion, there's a whole new level of value in those assets.
Some people have counted up the exit packages given to these departed execs, and between Carly, Mark and Leo, the bill is about $83 million. Maybe a rounding error for a vendor who's booking $120 billion a year in sales, for the moment. But think about what $83 million might have bought HP, instead of a full-circle where Compaq is being spun off and new CEO Meg says the current management course is just right.
Back in 1999, when HP was deciding the future of the HP 3000's MPE/iX OS, someone had to prepare an estimate on what it would cost in engineering and testing to bring the fastest HP chips to the environment with the greatest legacy in company history. HP had tried to make HP-UX and MPE/iX boot up on the same system -- after all, just a processor dependent code string stood between turning the 3000 into the MOST project (Multiple Operating System Technologies). HP couldn't get that 1994 effort out of the labs, because it would have taken wind out of the HP Unix sails, billowing with cannibalized sales off 3000 sites. In '94 Unix couldn't compete with an established 3000 business, unless HP tilted the playing field.
Flash forward by five years, a period where HP spent no time engineering any advance off of PA-RISC and onto its clear future of Itanium. Customers were assured in 1997, and again in 1999, that nobody running a 3000 needed those new processors.
Through it all Livermore was there at HP, working at an executive VP level, during all of those miscues. She identified the 3000 in 2000 as a niche product with a bona fide place in the company's strategy. By then that strategy included operating environments Windows NT, Unix, Netware, and MPE for enterprise work. Within a few years the list would balloon to include VMS and Tandem/NonStop, plus the ill-fated Tru-64 from Digital.
There might have been tens of millions of spending in the way of getting MPE/iX to run with Itanium chips on a PCI bus. But let us pause and estimate how much $83 million might have done to get MPE engineered onto Itanium. The same sort of work HP did for its acquired OS VMS, after Carly's Compaq merger. The US defense department insisted on long-term VMS support, so HP had to comply or drop even more enterprise sites.
Oh wait. That Itanium adoption wouldn't have made that much difference in the Very Long Run. But the port surely would have made some members of this community more prosperous, though. Instead of the 10 years which VMS and NonStop has gotten to slide down the roller coaster of Itanium declines in the face of Windows and Linux, some of that decade might have benefitted from part of the $83 million of CEO bailout money.
It seems that stepping away from the HP 3000 was only the first of a decade's worth of HP mistakes, scattered across software, OS and hardware. Not to mention hiring decisions. There's little evidence -- much like Apotheker's annointment -- to confirm Meg Whitman as HP's savior. The company needs some kind of miracle to pull out the tailspin. With the company's stock under $24 a share, while posting billions in profits, its 5.5x stock price-to-earnings ratio makes it ultra ripe for a hostile takeover.
HP endured a takeover once before, after it began choosing the wrong woman for CEO. Fiorina executed a Hewlett-ectomy of the shareholders in a very close proxy vote of 2002. Now the company is owned by 70 percent institutional investors, who are just as unimpressed by Whitman as they were by Apotheker. He's a man who could mourn the loss of the HP Way, but wanted to do little to revive it into what he called HP Way 2.0. A plan as ephemereal as a PowerPoint software slide.
Enter Hurd, wingman for the ever-sharky Larry Ellison of Oracle. This week Hurd announced fresh funding and research to push Sun's SPARC to the fore of non-Intel business processors. Yes, SPARC is back from the dead, thanks to Oracle's spurning of Itanium. Sun will deliver a multi-generational road map next week. SPARC has the blessing of Oracle's database and app management, of course. With an announcement that might have some spending reality behind it, Oracle/Sun has committed to what only IBM desires to do: sell alternative enterprise environments which are not Linux or Windows. IBM has done this as regular as an HP CEO mistake, ever since it turned the System 36 into the AS/400 almost 25 years ago.
Whitman's got neither the experience to turn a battleship taking on water like HP, or the technical visions of a leader like Steve Jobs, to apply to her new work running Hewlett-Packard. There are still more than 300,000 people working at HP, but few of them bring so little insider experience to this daunting task. Livermore may not want this job like she did in 1999 and 2005, or even in the vacuum the board created during the ouster of Hurd just last summer. Nobody could blame her, and she's never cost HP a penny in a golden parachute after steering HP into low-margin icebergs or bleeding out top talent in personnel pogroms.
Not very long ago, HP invited the Stromasys technial management to restart an HP 3000 emulator project that was frozen by an HP legal team. Stromasys CTO Robert Boers, head of the company in 2008, said HP told him that 300,000 HP 3000s had been sold since introduction, and 90 percent of that base was gone to competitors by 2005. It didn't want to lose more of the remaining 10 percent. Perhaps $83 million might have kept 30,000 HP business servers running beyond 2005. It might have been proof HP wanted to be in the enterprise server business, rather than masquerading as the No. 1 computer company since 2001.
September 27, 2011
Networking legacy-style lifts toasts, smiles
Eight-score friends and relations of the HP3000 gathered at the Computer History Museum last weekend. Some of them have known the system and the community since 1970, even earlier. Others only arrived in the 1980s (like me) or even later. But we felt like we'd arrived just in time at the Great Room of the fine building in Mountain View.
Supper was on service through much of the night, catered for both meat eaters with massive burgers and hot dogs and vegetarians with tasty beans, salads and veggie patties as large as I've even seen them. Outside in the courtyard patio, the bar served up refreshments hard and soft. Those who came for these several hours of a Saturday arrived early and stayed late. They had stories to serve up and news on which to catch up.
Many of these people were delighted to see the guest list while they picked up custom badges. Then they signed the commemorative "Dancing with the HP 3000" poster (go ahead, click on it for high details) marking down the year they first became aware of and worked with the HP 3000. A wide swath of the poster listed years in the 1970s. Even Vladimir Volokh came in behind these vets, because he'd arrived in the US later in the decade. Like so many at the party, he was celebrating the time of his life.
History was on tour during the event, led by museum docent and community icon Stan Sieler. The Engima machine and a computer whose results were calculated using mercury were in the early stages. The crowd of veterans which Sieler led had their own memories of history. They carried their tales into the Great Room, eager to revisit with old friends, or meet people in person for the first time. Some were at the Reunion because they wanted to gather before it might be too late -- not for the server, but for those who served. Absent friends of several kinds were toasted.When Alan Yeo, who sparked the event with ideas at the start of this year, raised his glass of J Wine sparkling rose he mentioned Bruce Toback, Wirt Atmar and others who are no longer alive to celebrate the many years of learning and sharing and battles with technology and executives. One common phrase we heard all night was "Thank you for putting this together," but there was no reason to take much credit. The community has always stayed within reach. Many who wanted to be in the Museum on the special night were drawn away only by unbreakable duties or the delights of things like a cruise to celebrate a 55th wedding anniversary (Chuck Piercey, executive director of Interex for more than a decade.)
For a group that had been scattered by a business decision from Hewlett-Packard, the night was time spent without recriminations. Jeff Vance, who as an HP engineer built and contributed countless hours of work on the MPE interface, came away from the night with a massive poster of the Migration cartoon commissioned by Alan Yeo during the dark year of 2002.
Dave Wilde, the business manager of the HP that worked in the aftermath of that decision, was also on hand and smiling while he found friends, collegues and partners (l-r, Wilde, David Greer and Birket Foster) who traced back beyond his own start with the system. Former GM Harry Sterling, whose group dreamed up the first "Dancing with the HP 3000," was absent because of an overseas trip, while 1990's era GM Glenn Osaka had an LA family trip already scheduled. "Great idea to have a reunion of the wonderful HP 3000 community," he said.
While there were many on hand who still work with the HP 3000 every day (Valdimir and Donna Hofmeister -- who brought both son Tyler and husband James) the absent friends did not just include only those whose voices have been stilled by death, like Toback, Atmar and ROC Software's Danny Compton. Regrets to the RSVP came from Alfredo Rego, Fred White, MANMAN/3000 bulldog Terry Simpkins, from Brian Edminster (working hard on the open source MPE/iX repository), Jon Backus (the OpenMPE founder), Jack Connor (the current OpenMPE chair) support wizard Gilles Schipper, Lee Courtney (ex-HP 3000 division), and Paul Edwards of both Interex and OpenMPE boards.
But the list of attendees was long, including many whose presence was a delightful surprise. Bob Green of Robelle (left) came in from travels in South America; Orly Larson from a far closer locale. Steve Suraci of Pivital Solutions, a 3000-only support resource, and Chuck Nickerson of Hillary Software (still selling byRequest for MPE/iX) were both on hand through their last-minute commitments. Right alongside Nickerson (below right) was Dick Toepfer, who'd helped create the very first HP 3000 hardware.
A lengthy list of attendees follows, but there's some chance to add your name to a Reunion list. Whether next year, or the one beyond that, there was a feeling in this room that these swallows would return to Cupertino once more.
The evening was made possible by both long hours of volunteering, as well as financial support from Speedware, Robelle, CAMUS plus ScreenJet, Marxmeier Software, and a lot of words from the 3000 NewsWire. Three of us (at left) took a moment to pause and enjoy the smiles and laughter we'd gathered -- with hard work from CAMUS' Terri Glendon Lanza and QSS' Duane Percox -- around us. Lanza bid to win the original Dancing signed poster, but there will be reproductions available based on that original community art.
If you couldn't count yourself among the group below, it might be a good idea to keep track of the hp3000reunion.com website. September feels like a good month for Reunions, so linked to the school days. This weekend's reunion smiles and laughter taught everyone a lesson: the memories of the HP 3000's legacy are still there for the community to enjoy and use. More are on the way.
Attendees for this year's Reunion:
Maria Di Gregorio
Terri Glendon Lanza
September 22, 2011
Reunion's events roll out to Saturday's toast
The HP3000 Reunion has now arranged nearly all of its scheduled activities for the Thursday through Saturday evening gathering. It will be largest HP 3000 meeting in more than five years, including some original HP 3000 engineers and some of the best-known advocates and entrepreneurs for the platform.
Among those leading the way will be Allegro Consultants VP Stan Sieler, who's leading a tour of the exhibits on Saturday evening. Stan, who's a docent at the museum, starts his tour at the cafe in the museum at 6:30. He says there's a special prize for the first person who can spot the only direct reference to an HP 3000 on the exhibit floor. The prize is a signed copy of Beyond RISC, the seminal book -- now out of print -- on the HP 3000 of the modern era. This is a tour not to be missed. Supper is available between 6-8:30, so there's plenty of time to tour and grab some grub. Details on the menu are at the Reunion's website, hp3000reunion.com. Check there for updates through Saturday.
Most of the Reunion's meetings take place in the Boole Room of the Computer History Museum, 1401 N. Shoreline Blvd in Mountain View. The CHM is located just off the 101 freeway (directions here). While the 3000 members celebrate and extend learning about a computer first built in 1972, most of the events are just a quarter-mile down the road from the Google-plex empire.
Thursday's meeting is the Eloquence User Group conference, hosted by the database's creators Marxmeier Software. Starting at 10 AM (reception open at 9 with coffee and refreshments), the meeting will update recent Eloquence enhancements. It will show how to make best use of the Eloquence database over a range of tasks, including backup and recovery, replication, database security. The meeting, open to all, will also review the upcoming Eloquence 8.20 release.
"Most important to us is getting in touch with our customers," said Marxmeier's Ruth Schürrle, "and we are happy to include additional topics of interest."
Thursday is also the first evening of discounted hotel room rates at the Reunion's official hotel, the Cupertino Inn. Thursday's nights are $149, while Friday, Saturday and Sunday are $99 nightly. One lucky attendee will receive either a free room night, or a free ticket to the Saturday night party. Tickets remain on sale online at $60 through PayPal. Friday's events span both the CHM and the Cupertino Inn, as do those on Saturday.Speedware is leading a 10-4 Friday gathering in the Boole Room, briefing users and managers on migration strategies. This is also open to all Reunion attendees. Starting at 4 PM that day, the Stromasys Chief Technical Officer Robert Boers will present an overview briefing on the Zelus HP 3000 emulator product. That briefing will also be held in the CHM. Both Speedware's talks and the Zelus overview are free.
Later that evening around 6:30, the CAMUS user group will have a meeting followed by a poolside reception at the Cupertino Inn. Members of the group will meet at the pool, then proceed to the DeAnza Room at the Inn for their meeting. Then it's back poolside, for socializing.
Saturday marks the busiest day of the Reunion. The DeAnza Room at the Cupertino Inn will have a technical in-depth presentation on Zelus from 10-12. Lead developer Igor Abramov will answer questions via a WebEx link to the room. Lengthy US State Department delays led to Abramov missing a visa opportunity to attend the Reunion in person.
The CHM is open to the public for regular admissions on Saturday, Sept. 24. By 5 PM Saturday the museum closes to the public, and its exhibits re-open at 5:30 for the private use of Reunion partiers. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 8:30 or so, a round of sparkling wine will pass across the glasses held high on the floor of the museum's Great Room. Those gathered, ranging from as far back as 1960s HP'ers to those still planning for the future of the computer in the coming years, will toast nearly four decades of service and stories, and success, foolishness and memories.
If you're not registered, you can still sign on at the Registration website. We hope to see you walk up with your $60 in hand at the door, to savor the experience of meeting and reconnecting with kindred spirits.
September 19, 2011
Winning the Race for the Longer Haul
Back in the 1980s, computers were all feeds and speeds and technology advantages. The kinds of things that only a DP expert could understand, because they were in charge of purchasing. Or in the case of the HP 3000, not always, because an office manager might be in charge of that task.
We spotted this gem above as a result of a Google Alert trot-line which looks for HP 3000 materials on the Web. This is probably more advertising than HP splashed around on the Series 68, which was a 3000 running out of gas for larger customers when this ad emerged.
BTI? Now a former systems provider, the UK company is in the observation business. Monitoring, cameras, mostly in use at computer rooms. Watching over the kind of systems they used to sell. The HP 3000? Still running some publishing company operations, projects at Boeing, and e-commerce retailers.
Today it's about a lot more than 3:1. You need user interface prowess and apps. Web security. The kinds of things not easily conferred by cartoons. Well, maybe one below, about the latest Windows football. (Click for a closer look.)
September 12, 2011
2001's 3000 sales didn't bother HP's Prather
It was somber day yesterday, looking 10 years back. But 10 years ago, less than one week off 9/11, HP also announced its plans to acquire Compaq. The merger would mix product lines from twin competitors in enterprise (Compaq's Digital unit, and HP) and in personal computing (Compaq and HP). The blending meant elimination for some enterprise products from Digital (its Alpha processors) and pruning some from HP. Two months later, the slow-growing branch of the HP 3000 got its pruning orders off of HP's futures.
Early that same year, the general manager of HP's 3000 business expressed no worries about 3000 sales running well behind HP's Unix. Winston Prather had other things to think about in January of 2001. He'd been running the group for about 14 months.
The fact that the 3000 business is a much smaller business than the 9000 portion is a fact of life. It doesn’t bug me. I understand that there are people who wish that wasn’t the case. But it just doesn’t bother me the way it bothers some people.
Customers are much less concerned about this than when I read 3000-L. That’s a whole different world. They are not representative of the majority of our customers. They’ve very vocal and adopt new technologies much faster than the rest of our customers. They are leading edge, and lead customers to new technologies. I can get highlights of issues that might come up from reading 3000-L, but those issues never seem to come up when I talk to the CIOs.
That was a January interview. By November, just beyond that merger announcement, Prather was announcing the demise of the 3000's ecosystem. His November reports included worries about that ecosystem heard from HP customers. These must have been customers Prather didn't know 10 months earlier.Before the cries rise up about turning over the past, let's admit that a study of history is important, sometimes. There's nothing that can be done about losses from the past but to learn and mourn. As for whether Winston Prather deserves this scrutiny, he took credit for cutting the 3000 away from HP. "It was my decision," he told us and anyone who'd listen.
Prather, who now runs one of HP's remaining in-house environment enterprises in NonStop, did admit that the first full year of his management was a sales disappointment. The problem during 2000, he figured, was that HP had better hardware models it'd been talking about all year with the customers.
I would say that the last year has not met my expectations for what the business should have done. And when I think about why, I think about the fact that there’s new products coming.
Any reader who's wondering if these quotes are out of context should have a look at the original interview. Those answers may have told resellers and software vendors that the towers of 3000 legacy were in jeopardy just months before the N-Class and A-Class servers went on sale. HP told everyone by fall of 2001 that MPE application ecosystems were in trouble. The app trouble must have dawned on Prather and his team suddenly, considering what he stated in January.
What really does matter is much more the customers, than the applications. If customers continue to invest, then the platform will be around forever. And if they don’t, it won’t. I know this isn’t palatable for a number of the extreme supporters. I work for a company that, to be honest, wants to meet the customers’ needs and it doesn’t have to be a 3000. As much as I love the 3000 platform, I’m here to meet a customer’s needs using all the products that HP has. If we meet their needs in the future with Unix or Linux, that’s success for me.
So today Prather is meeting HP customer needs with NonStop products, which are neither Unix or Linux. What he can count upon is that this September's HP no longer is distracted by striving to be Number 1 in computers, a bald-faced desire while it acquired Compaq. The merger provided a small moment of crowing when HP swallowed an old rival. But even in that September moment, we wrote that customers -- the ones Prather said held the deciding vote on 3000 futures -- were wondering how HP would sort out everything it owned.
HP now owns what remains of Digital’s technology, since Compaq acquired Digital in 1998. Digital’s war cry during that RISC delay of 1986 was “Digital has it now.” Seasoned HP 3000 observers noted that Digital win, but wondered about the work to integrate so much technology.
“I suppose the operative phrase is ‘HP has it now,’ ” quipped Michael Berkowitz, systems manager with Guess, Inc. “But let’s see: seven current operating systems, (MPE/iX, HP-UX, Linux, NT, OpenVMS, Tru64unix, Non-stop Himalaya). Yeah, it should only take about a hundred years to put this together.”
The story that started unfolding that season featured players like Berkowitz exiting from employers. "Guess went from in-house with the 3000 to a software package on January 1, 2004," he reported this summer. "On 3/19/04, my services were no longer necessary. However, they needed me back a couple of times since then to do work on the 3000 (move to new disc) and no one knew how to do an install. Needless to say, my rate for that was somewhat higher than my salary."
That's just about all Berkowitz has done with a 3000 since '04. He says he misses it, as well as COBOL programming. Today he's a software project manager on a Windows/Foxpro software package.
And those customers Prather counted upon? They have now watched HP take about 10 years to tease that merger apart. HP wants to refocus on enterprise computing and enterprise software. The sort of businesses represented by the HP 3000 of the 20th Century, and the unique design of MPE and IMAGE. They provide the lesson about the loss of vigilance -- and how leaders remain aware of which business is the foundation of succcess for both a vendor and its shareholders (now sellling $24 stock). And oh yeah, successes for its customers.
August 26, 2011
Reunite the eggs of the 3000, pre-chickens
You are a social group. When I have tried to describe what’s unique about the HP 3000 world, the eyes roll as I begin with “computer people.” I stop. I explain that you’re a very social bunch, unlike most of the wizards and experts who tend to computers. “They’ve known each other for years, some even decades,” I explain. The stories I’ve heard and told are at least as much about people as their beloved machines.
So a reunion is a classic event for your social group. Many of us have attended reunions, usually from high school because as they say, “high school is never really over.” My only reunion before this fall was a 30th anniversary of the Class of 1974 at Central Catholic High. I hadn’t seen my former schoolmates in three decades, and hoped I’d reconnect to remember. I was disappointed at the small turnout that didn’t include my cohorts, or a lack of goofy awards and name tags with yearbook pictures like in the movies.
Then I walked into the gym alongside the class president and homecoming queen. We stood together in the quiet with the lights shining off the high gloss of the wooden basketball floor. Those years, the failures and triumphs and the curious notoriety of life as a nerd rushed at me. In that room my classmates heard a favorite teacher report at graduation assembly, “He’s an alternate to West Point, and he’ll keep trying until he gets in.”
Only a small bit of that impossible challenge came true, my Army enlistment. But the experience of a setting with more than 100 people, all who shared those rows of blue lockers where the freshman got stuffed and the chat-ups with our steadys went down, that was special. I took pictures of the setting and the characters on hand. In less than an hour that reunion touched me. “I’ve come this far, learned that much, become someone better through my mistakes,” I thought on the flight back from Toledo. Talked as an equal with the class president and the queen, woo-hoo.
Your Reunion, four weeks from today, celebrates that same kind of journey. The characters in the rooms of the Computer History museum will remind and refresh you about what you have learned in 15, 20 or 30-plus years of 3000 experiences. Some of that knowledge and experience serves you today, maybe like the ability to fix poached eggs remains with my partner and wife Abby.Abby was a cheerleader at Great Mills High in Maryland. After an all-night football practice, the cheerleaders made the players poached eggs for a breakfast, a skill she retains to this day. Some of those boys had their heads shaved as a coach’s punishment, she remembers, proof of days learning how to win.
Standing among your social group filled with that kind of common experience, you might call up stories of late night reloads or datacomm disasters or a world fueled by business cards with private numbers scribbled on the back. It’s possible, in just a few hours, you’ll meet someone you’ve never seen but relied upon to improve your skills. You might even talk to that person who first showed you how to poach some egg of DP promise and magic.
The durable lessons, like those from high school, didn’t always come off the blackboards, mimeographed handouts or vendor training. They also came from the people we knew, who knew us well and still do, or the ones who’ve slipped away during too-busy days.
August 24, 2011
HP3000 Reunion sparks visa for emulator
Veterans of the 3000 community have become some of the hardest-working men and women in the show business. With the HP3000 Reunion starting less than a month from today, the three-day event that includes the CAMUS user group show has snagged a speaker from so far away that he needs a visa -- and will cross 11 time zones
We're not talking the Visa credit card company here, but travel documents to transport the 3000 lead developer Igor Abramov from the Moscow officlink service providers with application providers, so customers can have application deployment alternativese of Stromasys, where the Zelus HP 3000 emulator is being built. Abramov, who's fluent in English while he's been learning the deep language of MPE, will be speaking and taking questions during the Friday CAMUS meeting at the Computer History Museum at 4 PM on Sept 23.
An emulator is a vital part of keeping some HP 3000 ERP operations in production. The Support Group's president David Floyd has said that MANMAN -- which is at the heart of CAMUS member sites such as Ametek Power Instruments, Crane Electronics and century-old Fasco Motors -- can be supported through 2020. Ametek has a shutoff date of 2024 for its 3000.
An emulator like Zelus appears to have a secure place in the future of MANMAN. CAMUS director Terry Floyd says, "I think CAMUS will be happy to dedicate the entire Technical Presentation part of our meeting to Stromasys. [Abramov] can have over an hour, including the Q&A with [Stromasys CTO] Dr. Robert Boers."This Technical Presentation will follow the Migration Day sessions being organized by Speedware at the History Museum. There's probably been other visas arranged for HP 3000 user group shows, but none have taken the foreground like the one being arranged by Stromasys product manager Bill Driest.
Our Moscow office is central to our advanced product development and is one of our larger and most established development labs. Igor has led the HP 3000 development effort over the past two years and no one is more knowledgeable than Igor on this subject. He is fluent in English and has presented at other technology conferences.
There's active interest in the homesteading community about the emulator. In addition to inquiries and reports from Cerro Wire & Cable's IT Project Manager Herb Statham, non-manufacturers are tracking Zelus. Just this week, software development manager Mark Beach of CompuPay was looking for an update. In 2005 CompuPay acquired PayMaxx, a payroll service supplier based in Tennessee. PayMaxx was one of the earliest adopters of the Channels on Tap initiative HP floated in 2000. The object was to link service providers with application providers, so customers could have application deployment alternatives. That sounds like SaaS of today, but so does time-sharing or Application Service Providers.
The emulator update at the Reunion will also include a WebEx discussion with Boers. Abramov will also be speaking on Saturday, Sept. 24 in a morning slot, before that evening's party gets underway. 3000 veterans will remember years ago when HP had to rent satellite time to do this kind of thing, and then broadcast it to their sales offices. Now it's just WiFi and WebEx and a projector, with Skype available as a backup (I've done a Q&A interview with Boers at his Geneva HQ, via Skype). We've still got VHS tapes archived to prove that HP TV did serve the 3000 community veterans who'll be attending the reunion. Even in this era of trans-global communications, however, there's still a special sizzle from a visa to enable what will probably be 16 hours of flight time for Igor.
Nobody's invoking the legendary name "Volokh" yet during these emulation plans. But even as Abramov is proving his mettle from Moscow, this won't be the first time that MPE was studied and probed by someone from the former USSR. The Ukrainian-style cooking of MPEX from Vladimir and Eugene certainly has supported and enhanced the 3000 well over the last 30 years. And as it turns out, Vladimir will be on hand at the Reunion, too.
August 19, 2011
HP Q3 numbers no joke, TouchPad ads aside
HP made computing history yesterday. And only part of the legend concerns the brilliant-comet flameout of the company's killer -- and now dead -- HP TouchPad. The rest of the company report on its third quarter was tragic as well.
One possible headline out of the numbers HP reported yesterday: Hewlett-Packard Reports Higher Q3 Earnings. The Associated Press actually used that one, along with "Details on HP's businesses: drop, keep, sell?" There's a question mark on that second one because, unlike the swift sword dropped on the TouchPad and Palm line, HP hasn't decided on whether it will cut loose its PC business, PSG.
"Why not just spin off PSG right now?" asked analyst Shannon Cross at the quarterly briefing yesterday. "Why leave it with the overhang of some other potential strategic move? Since you're getting rid of WebOS, how do we consider that you were going to push WebOS further into your PCs?" HP's answers from its CEO Leo Apotheker started with the fact that WebOS is not dead yet. Moving into a Ralph Kramden "hummina, hummina" tone, the CEO said
We've decided to look at all of the strategic options around PSG. All of them. The announcement of today will allow us to look at it more closely, including all the synergies and aspects of that operation. Over time a decision will arise about the appropriate way for PSG to go forward.
The gallows humor of translation jokes -- "We need to find the talent inside PSG and offer it a chance to stay before we announce a sale" -- isn't the worst of a black Friday for the darkened HP futures. The company fell back to calling itself an enterprise computing firm yesterday, at the same time SFO Cathie Lesjak delivered "the most difficult outlook I've had to give" during a tenure that's lasted more than four years. The markets reacted by selling HP down by almost 20 percent over one day.(below). That won't help the Dow.
HP's other businesses are showing scant growth now, and the most enterprise-like of its efforts, the Enterprise Server, Storage & Networking unit, must carry the dead weight of Business Criticial Systems around its neck. PSG, the largest chunk of HP revenues and the only group to show any increase in operating profits, is now being examined like a weak movie from TouchPad spokesman Russell Brand. Does HP now take PSG straight to DVD? It outsold HP Services as well as servers, but posted the smallest operating profit share of any HP group. Meanwhile, sales of Business Critical Systems running 3000 migration target HP-UX have dropped 9 percent. The stock lost 10 percent of its price overnight on the report's numbers, and another 6 percent on news of the historic short lifespan of the TouchPad. WebOS looks like it's on life support.Although those Enterprise sales dollars are scarce -- only software and financing came in lower -- at least the ESSN business was posting 14 percent profit per dollar sold. HP's PC margins have been deathly thin for many of Lesjak's reports. Hewlett-Packard was happy to point at total PC sales instead. Now the TouchPad's flameout leads the CEO to report what Apple already knows: "Consumers are changing their use of the PC."
Apotheker splashed a bit of sunshine on the enterprise business quickly, saying that the ESSN unit had "good performance overall." The Intel-based blade servers and the storage products pulled their weight to counter the negative drag of Oracle. What? Yes, HP called out a specific competitor. Lesjak used the company where former CEO Mark Hurd scuttled off to, by way of explaining why there are no new-customer Integrity-Itanium sales these days.
This decline is sharper than expected. Our ability to close deals has been impacted by Oracle's Itanium decisions, and orders are being delayed or canceled. We are working diligently to enforce the commitments that Oracle has made to our customers and to HP.
"Them's fighting woids," as the Three Stooges would say, but it's no surprise while HP flogs a lawsuit to force Oracle to support Integrity, Itanium and yes, HP-UX. It's just that we've never heard HP explain any of it's business is sharply down because a competitor is killing off HP orders.
Any bright spots on the report? Collectively the company earned more money than Q3 of 2010. Making a profit arrives in a number of ways. The PC business increased its profits serendipitously, because parts were cheaper to purchase, for example. HP gave no details on recovering the cost of its TouchPad parts now they're not needed.
The seven-week meltdown of TouchPads -- cold sellers "which are not meeting our expectations" -- prompts some crowing from the Android OS crowd and hard cheese about WebOS, the operating system that held promise for HP's dreams about in-house software. Alan Yeo of ScreenJet said
Now I wonder if it possible to remove webOS and install Android? might make it worthwhile for someone buying HP's 250,000 surplus TouchPad stock, and start shipping a sub-$200 Android tablet.
Sure they can do it. Such a mashup would give the world a tablet that looks just like an iPad and priced below $200 -- with all the lifespan of a comic-attempt TouchPad commercial. Nobody's laughing at HP's PC group this morning.
Thanks to the glory of Google, whose Android is becoming the last hope of an iPad alternative, those HP commercials live on, stashed away on YouTube until HP yanks the ads, too. All Things Digital -- the Wall Street Journal's tech site spinoff -- has a complete roundup of the TouchPad's ads. (We hear they all play real smooth on a TouchPad. Watch 'em while they're hot, and the tablet is not so hot.)
WebOS was supposed to be a triumph of software -- HP execs said yesterday that "the software was met by strong reviews." However, "the sell-through was not what we expected." In the end for WebOS, for all of the braying about multi-tasking being its strongest suit, it turns out that Palm Pre and TouchPad prospects didn't even want to do one thing at a time: buy the devices.
You might remember a time when an HP Touchscreen PC TV ad (complete with butterfly) was as rare as a TouchPad bulk order from IT. Sad, indeed when your computer gets lifespan can't match the paper-thin artistry of Glee. Its star Lea Michele might be delighted her face was hidden behind the tablet in 85 percent of her TouchPad commercial.
Like convincing us that 24-year-old actors are still high-schoolers, or comedy with a blistering English delivery, making a splash with software is hard. HP did it once, without TV in an era when its admitted "velocity of change" in the computer space didn't accelerate. There was time for the 3000 to recover and improve, so its golden saddle of MPE could carry business, and IMAGE could get employed as a database selling point. Oracle was once so uncertain about beating IMAGE it wouldn't release an MPE Oracle.
Now HP is pointing at a $10 billion acquisition of Autonomy, a UK software company it admires because it's "one of the few license-based software companies delivering Software as a Service" through the cloud. Autonomy made $850 million in sales last year, so HP is buying it at close to 11x trailing revenue. That admiration sparked a "we're back at the enterprise business" answer when one analyst called $10 billion a price built from fantasy. "That's at a time when your stock is at an all-time low in every single valuation metric, currently trading at about six times earnings," said Tony Sacconaghi of Sanford Bernstein.
Automony earns less than one percent of your revenues and it's going to cost you 15 percent of your market cap. Comment on the price paid and the rationale.
"Autonomy represents an opportunity for us to accelerate our vision," Apotheker answered, "to decisively and profitably lead a large and great space -- the enterprise information management space. It also brings us higher-value solutions that help customers meet the explosion of information." Lots of HP storage sales might come from the Autonomy purchase. That would be another flotation device for the enterprise group which includes Integrity.
There's little evidence that WebOS is going to make it to the third party or licensing markets that HP dreams about after a nightmare six weeks of tablet sales. So much for the power of true Flash videos, or a better way to push mobile notifications. The best news from yesterday's report is that HP seems to want to sink or swim on enterprise business computing now -- an outlook that might extend the lifespan of another HP OS, HP-UX.
August 18, 2011
HP WebOS, PCs: All to become history?
Hewlett-Packard will spin off its PC business, and the future of WebOS is now looking dark indeed, according to reports in the PC press. The sauciest headline so far has been "HP to PCs: Drop dead." As part of an HP press release about an acquisition of a UK software firm, the company leaked out early results from its Q3 (scant revenue growth, but beating analyst estimates on profits.) It showed that PCs are the biggest slice of the HP revenue pie (above, click for detail). Never mind that May-July action, though.
HP also reported that it plans to announce that its board of directors has authorized the exploration of strategic alternatives for its Personal Systems Group (PSG). HP will consider a broad range of options that may include, among others, a full or partial separation of PSG from HP through a spin-off or other transaction.
In this karma-coming-home moment, the half of HP's shareholders who said in 2001 buying Compaq was bad business -- well, now HP believes they're probably right. What HP got out of that decade was Compaq's ProLiants, which probably will remain in HP's Enterprise Servers, Storage & Networks division. Even though they're Intel Xeon-based Windows systems, most of them.
What's dead looks to be WebOS, and for sure its hardware. "HP reported that it plans to announce that it will discontinue operations for webOS devices, specifically the TouchPad and webOS phones. HP will continue to explore options to optimize the value of webOS software going forward." By the end of October that's the end of the HP TouchPad as we know it, and the Palm heritage of smartphones, too. HP hasn't had a flameout of a computer this quick since, well, never -- not even the crude launch of the 3000 in 1972, the one that made Dave Packard swear he was right about not needing to be in the computer business. At least the 3000 got 90 days or so before HP backed it out of the market.
(A swing through Costco today showed plenty of TouchPads on the shelves at $479 for the big-storage 32GB model. HP wanted to sell a TouchPad tablet with half as much storage at the same price just six weeks ago. You're glad there's an easy return policy at Costco, if you've shopped there today. Imagine the markdowns to come.) At least HP got to attempt comedy with its Russell Brand commercials. Nobody in financials was laughing at the silence of sales, however.
Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal were both guessing this morning that PCs will be a prior HP product very soon. As I pointed out yesterday, products like a laptop, a tablet or a printer can help an enterprise vendor get a foot in the door. That's what HP's been saying all year while beating the WebOS drum. The laptop world is working well for HP right now, and you can read about the TouchPad troubles in yesterday's story. WebOS still belongs to HP now. It looks likely to be licensed to anybody who'd want it. HP may sell off its PC operations, just like IBM did. Many years ago.
HP's printer and camera business was once the subject of spinoff rumors. In spite of the good logic that propelled those analysts' ideas, HP never pulled the trigger. Now the slowing growth of the printer line and its ultra-profitable inks has erased any good chance of a printer spinoff.
New printers cannot be presented as groundbreaking technology as easily as a tablet or a clever laptop. The HP spinoff would not include smartphones. So much for the superior advantage of Flash and "true" multitasking. Consumers didn't even want to do one thing at a time with the Pre/TouchPad products: buy them. So while HP's had a fabulous success in its last spinoff -- the release of instrument making into an Agilent that's a better performer than its ancestor -- it must now consider how a world where "consumers use of PCs is changing" will change the chances of duplicating that success.
HP's not the kind of company that would use a quarterly report briefing to announce such a big move. They'll be peppered with analyst questions, though. (And we've learned now that the company is exploring all options for its PC futures, including a nothing-changes decision. WebOS hardware is a nothing-doing future, and the software is under consideration for how HP might make back just some of the $1.2 billion it spent on Palm last year.)
There's profitability to improve if HP cuts loose its tightest-margin business. IBM, after all, doesn't need PCs anymore to compete and win in the enterprise. HP's stock is in obvious need of the rebound that never happened after the company outsted Mark Hurd last summer.
HP said its moving to close a deal to buy the UK software technology firm Autonomy for $10 billion, but there's no word on when that deal is closing. A spinoff of the HP PC business might be related to that acquisition, or not. $10 billion is a lot of HP M&A money. The last time HP uncorked a PC deal of the caliber of a spinoff was its 2001 buyout of Compaq. That deal that led to the departure of the 3000 from HP's product lineup. Maybe the opposite move -- cutting a business loose -- will have a positive impact on the hardware that remains under the PC badge, such as its Integrity line.
That would be good news for HP-UX sites, those migrated from the 3000 or those considering the future of the hardware. It would be a great counter to the Oracle argument that HP's got its eye on Intel Xeons, not Itanium. But cutting loose PCs might be a reason to drive WebOS into the worldwide market it needs to survive. An HP dedicated to software could license WebOS, beefing up a focus on software that would please CEO Leo Apotheker. Like every HP executive who talked at the recent HP Discover conference, the CEO has enjoyed saying that PCs helped HP offer a full IT suite to large business customers.
August 17, 2011
HP's quarterlies await after negative Touch
Under the heading of This Might Not Help, the HP TouchPad tablet has a take-them-back return order from retailer Best Buy. According to a story at businessinsider.com, 200,000 units of the newest HP computer are sitting on Best Buy shelves. The head of HP's PC business Todd Bradley is in flight to Best Buy HQ to talk the retailer off the ledge. HP's stock has dropped 5 percent today, perhaps in reaction to the news. The vendor has said that it will make the TouchPad's WebOS a serious part of its enterprise strategy over the next year-plus.
Hewlett-Packard at least needs to hope that's the reason for today's stock decline. Tomorrow the vendor will release and discuss its quarterly numbers at 5 PM EDT. A drop in a company's stock usually happens after negative financial news -- although there's no telling for sure if the Thursday afternoon news will be good or bad.
The vast majority of HP stock is traded by institutions, but these companies have a vote with dollars about what Hewlett-Packard does in the future. The HP 3000 never generated this kind of dip, or bounce, because that HP of the '70s and beyond didn't know how to draw widespread attention to that enterprise server.
Although HP has no link to the TouchPad on its main products page, a lot of shareholders will be paying attention tomorrow to see if the new CEO -- and his affection for software -- has the magic touch. HP needs it to lift its stock beyond $31 a share, while its enterprise rival IBM trades at $170 without a tablet.The HP 3000 had similar problems in its infancy, a computer that wasn't fully cooked when it was served to the market late in 1972. It took another four years for the computer to make a powerful impact on HP's business. The secret sauce that made the 3000 a savory byte? Software, specifically IMAGE. In this 1973 brochure for the 3000 (click for a better view) Hewlett-Packard didn't even mention IMAGE.
Some might say that comparing computer rollouts 39 years apart is a fool's errand. And while some things haven't changed -- software never goes away, while hardware gets discounted ($399 and falling for the TouchPad) -- other things are different, like the market's attention span.
What makes the shareholders hold their breath this August, one year after Mark Hurd was given the boot during the last Q3 results season? PC performance in a declining laptop-desktop market. During the era of the Hurd HP board, Hewlett-Packard wrapped its revenue growth around PC sales, squashing Dell like a bug. In 2011 an IT vendor needs a strong mobile offering to be taken seriously elsewhere in the enterprise. A colleague at a mobile security vendor says the customers look at OS infrastructure when choosing smartphones and tablets. HP would love to sell more of its infrastructure, from CloudSystems to more business for a Services group whose growth has stalled this year.
Tablets and smartphones and wireless printers -- these are the kinds of things that get a vendor noticed and brought into an environment. The HP LaserJet lifted Hewlett-Packard into more businesses than any HP 3000 did in the middle 1980s. The last PC pratfall of this caliber could be traced to the HP Touchscreen PC -- a bit or irony, considering that product featured a touch interface, in a crude introduction of the TouchPad's novelty.
August 16, 2011
Where to Go for the Manuals You Know
Hewlett-Packard was proud of putting out information digitally in 1988. By 2011, it takes some hunting and revising of browser bookmarks to keep track of HP 3000 documentation. The docs.hp.com website, well-known by the community, became www.hp.com/go/e3000-docs at HP two summers ago. (And that address redirects to an even longer URL today.)
Two years ago, HP licensed the 3000's documentation to Client Systems and Speedware for re-hosting. But Speedware's director Chris Koppe said during the 2009 Community Meet that HP won't permit these partners to host the manuals for public access until HP clears the materials from embargo. HP said at that meeting it will host the documentation through 2015. That is, if you can find it; HP's support website has been in a "pardon our dust" state since June.
While it negotiated for an "open" future of MPE, the community was adamant about the HP 3000 documentation flowing into third-party hands. The two companies above have a full set of manuals ready to host, and it's a good thing -- because the 3000 server manuals appear to have vanished from HP's web archives. Search for "HP 3000" at the above address and you'll get a long list of 3000 server links. Every link reports "There are no technical support documents for this product relating to manuals, guides, supplements, addendums, etc." (Tip of the hat to Donna Hoffmeister, former OpenMPE director, for the heads-up about disappearing 3000 documents.)
While those browser interfaces (above) still link up fine for MPE/iX 6.x and 7.x software, the elusive hardware manuals almost make you wish for the days of CDs -- when Hewlett-Packard boasted of "Delivering Information at the Speed of Light" with HP LaserROM. Those faster-than-ever deliveries couldn't disappear so easily. Today it takes ManualShark.com and the parisc-linux.org to shed light on the hardware docs.In 1999, HP was making its next step toward the manuals you couldn't touch in paper format or some kind of CD plastic. Over the past few years these paper manuals have been offered for free by managers who're leaving 3000 administration. The stacks of HP-blue binders used space inefficiently, but their physical format made them hard to lose. In '99, customers who received documentation updates on HP LaserROM for MPE/iX began to receive HP’s then-new Instant Information automatically.
Andreas Schmidt, the system manager for a CSC 3000 shop in Europe, reported in 1999 that the MPE/iX 5.5 and 6.0 set of docs were the first available under Instant Information. He added that sharing these documents using Samba/iX made them even more valuable.
Using HP Instant Information, you can look at a book’s table of contents or index and, with a mouse click, jump to a specific topic. You can search multiple manuals and documents quickly for matching keywords. Users no longer have to rely on paper manuals, although some still prefer paper in their hands!
With the new browser, you can view both document text and the table of contents in the same window. You will find an improved collection structure, now based on specific products (such as NS3000/iX) rather than on hardware platforms, the base used by HP LaserROM bookshelves.
Managers and support experts who complain today about documentation may seem like manual wonks, fixated on knowledge that's more arcane with each day. However, the business world still includes companies where a 15-year-old server is working in production, while others are being prepared to take its place. (Or not, for the most ardent of homesteaders.)
LaserROM seemed like magic in the late 1980s when I first saw it demonstrated. It didn't come cheaply; HP was charging $1,800 per year for the same information anyone can receive for free via PDF and browser today. Of course, 1988 was a year without an Internet, when HP DeskManager, Compuserve, or elm Unix mail were the prominent business server mail methods. HP LaserROM made you install a CD-ROM reader (more magic!) into a PC, load Windows software and then slip the nouveau discs into the reader, one subject at a time. The full set of HP-UX discs numbered more than 70.
HP called the information "available online" at the time. 11 years later, Instant Information took LaserROM away from the proprietary HP Tag format to an industry standard at that time, SMGL. This move gave the information a way to live beyond HP's stewardship. By 1999 it was obvious that the easiest place for customers to find manuals was on what we were calling the World Wide Web.
The release of HP Instant Information represents the critical first step of converting all necessary documents. With 6.0 many documents will also be available on the world wide web: http:/www.docs.hp.com. These new delivery media will dramatically change the way our learning community accesses technical information.
What's changed today is the ability to locate hardware references for HP's MPE/iX hardware systems. Manualshark.com is doing a fair job of finding hardware manuals, and the parisc-linux.org site has an FTP service that still knows how to deliver the Series 9x9 manuals. Docs for the N-Class systems that first shipped in 2001 have been more elusive than A400 and A500 servers, also known as HP9000 rp2400s at HP. Those ultimate-generation A-Class HP3000 servers have a listing at manualshark.com.
August 08, 2011
HP once had a system it would sing about
In the wake of the news that HP's newest computer has been marked down already (now $399 for a TouchPad), it's worth a moment's thought to remember that other nouveau HP systems had rocky starts against established competition. Like the HP 3000.
Paul Edwards, former board member of Interex and OpenMPE and an independent consultant since the 1980s, sent along a few songs that HP warbled about its business computer while that machine was still in its teens, less than half its current age. The songsheet at left, (detail if you click) and after the break, includes notes about New Wave, new technology that HP was pressing as hard as the WebOS operating system which drives that discounted TouchPad.
The HP 3000 weathered as rough a start in its launch during its first quarter 38 years ago. Not only was there severe discounting going on during fiscal 1973, HP was replacing the servers with 2116 units where they could, and pulling the computer back into the labs for better development. On that occasion HP's problem was not with the operating system -- MPE was called the "golden saddle on the back of a jackass." Big problems came from trying to fit the OS into a too-compact memory stack. There was entrenched competition a-plenty in those days, just like in today's tablet market where an established iPad is calling the tune to which the TouchPad must dance.Nobody's going to try to replace a business server with a TouchPad, but that newest HP computer might have a chance of stepping in for a laptop in some high-mobile environments. It's going to be given a chance at least as long as your HP 3000. But unlike the HP3000, the TouchPad is not suffering from doubts from the boardroom, like the HP 3000 did upon its release. David Packard didn't want the company bearing his name to be in the general computer business.
Wiser management prevailed in his company, eventually adding the IMAGE database to the 3000 bundle to give the server a leg up on competition like the DEC PDP-11 and IBM System/3. The initial name of the HP 3000 was the HP System/3000, something of a thousand-fold kick in the pants against a well-established Big Blue competitor. (This sort of stuff is the kind of lore you'll find easily in the halls of the Computer History Museum, where September's HP3000 Reunion is being hosted.)
By the late 1980s, when this songsheet was being crooned by volunteer customers at user group meetings, the greatest champion of that edgy IMAGE database was Orly Larson, who wrote and led the unaccompanied. An SQL interface had been added to IMAGE, so Edwards reports that "the HP song book that we, The Sequals, used all over the world to sing with Orly." Singing about the HP 3000 became something of a tradition, one that HP marketeer George Stachnik extended with a guitar and eventually a band at user group events. Larson led his choruses a capella, complete with ensemble kicks at the close of New Wave.
IBM had its company songbooks in the 1960s and 70s, the start of an era when computer managers identified personally with their systems. HP can hope for the same with its TouchPads, and need not be chagrined at a slow start or an immediate discount. It's possible that the greatest element of the TouchPad, like the earliest HP 3000s, is its OS -- even if the tablet's hardware makes far sweeter sounds than the braying of a jackass.
August 05, 2011
An HP 3000 on Amazon: How low to go?
The world's leading retailer has added a posting for a higher-horsepower HP 3000. Amazon.com has a page this week where a Series 979 is on sale by IT Equipment Express for a shade under $2,000. There's four processors in the system, so it has a performance rating higher than the more recent A-Class servers, or even a lowball N-Class.
HP 3000s have shown up on eBay up to now, some at far lower prices than this near-top-end Series 900. Four years ago, even an HP reseller was giving away Series 918s with a purchase of an N-Class. But when a computer shows up on an Amazon page, it's a sign that it may have passed into commodity status.
Years ago, while the HP 3000 community was lobbying Hewlett-Packard to push 3000s into new customer sites, a system of this price was proposed. In 1997 the software vendors of longest standing, such as Adager, QSS and AICS Research, were slashing license costs to the bone for a Series 908. This 3000 model was never released by HP, but it failed to scrub the concept from some marketing documents that got leaked. In those days, a 3000's price was tied to a user limit. The 908 would have been a just a 4-user system, but 14 years ago it still could have sold in the range of $5,000 and raised interest.
In contrast, the Series 979 listed on Amazon can accomodate hundreds of users. (OpenMPE's Invent3K server is hosted on such a system.) One of these servers was priced in 2007 on the used market at $14,000, including MPE licenses. This week that same piece of hardware is available from the world's online retailer, at a price below what the mythical 908 would have cost.HP never took the 908 seriously, thinking that it had priced the 918 low enough to attract serious business buyers. But in 1997 we reported that the 3000 community, encouraged by additions like an MPE-based Web server, started thinking that much smaller companies might employ a 3000 instead of a Windows NT PC.
Customer needs for a smaller HP 3000 system were in some evidence. Richard Gambrell, Associate Director of Xavier University's Information Technology Center, said his four-terminal cashier's application would be a good fit for a small system.
"A 908 with a one-board DTC would be just right," Gambrell said. "Without a small enough HP 3000, we'd have to do this with PC systems feeding our 967, but they must be able to operate stand alone to take care of planned downtime and loss of data communications to the site housing the cashiers."
Mark Klein, the VP of Technology for ORBiT Group International who ported the G++ compiler to the HP 3000, summed up the attraction of the 908 to the non-developer. "What if this machine could compete with and replace larger PC configurations?" he asked. "The higher availability that automatically comes with the 3000 -- and what would amount to lower operating costs than a comparable PC based solution -- could make this a real winner."
July 27, 2011
3000 events often meet for one last time
The HP3000 Reunion will be meeting eight weeks from tomorrow, a Thursday-Saturday gathering that looks like it's bringing in some classic members of your community. This week Vesoft's Vladimir Volokh, now working in his 70s and still visiting customers, chipped in his pre-registration. Vladimir's conference visits have not been a common occurrence lately, although he was ubiquitous in meetings early in the 3000's history.
But the 3000's "one last meeting" has frequently been scheduled. The community has a way of getting back together to trade information and history. We used to call it networking even before the mysteries of the TCP/IP stack became part of the 3000's OS.
Here's a report from a July seven years ago, at the advent of another meeting of the 3000 community.
In the meantime, this month’s conference will marshal the remains of the 3000 community one more time. Benefits of attendance have tilted toward networking for 3000 manager and vendor — even with tech sessions like a four-hour hands-on tutorial about migration to IMAGE-workalike database Eloquence on the schedule.
Eloquence training is also part of the Sept. 22 meeting day of the HP3000 reunion, coming up in eight weeks. That training session from seven years ago was at the final Interex conference, held in August of 2004. The next summer a luncheon hosted tech luminaries and everyday managers when HP World 2005 went bust. HP took over the meeting business that year, but couldn't sustain 3000 gathering at the Technology Forum. So the 3000 community has been preparing to gather for a closing ceremony ever since the World Wide Wake of 2003 that marked the end of HP's 3000 sales. That event was organized, in large part, by the sparkplug of this year's Reunion, Alan Yeo.Yeo noted that IMAGE's co-creator Fred White is also on the potential attendee list, since White announced his intent before this event even had a name or a news blog. Why not reach for the other half of the IMAGE creation team, he wondered.
I wonder if we could get Jon Bale along as well, and get someone like [Adager's co-founder] Alfredo Rego to make a presentation to them for creating IMAGE. Have they ever received a thank you from the community?
Bale and White have never been formally thanked for creating, and championing, the database that put the HP 3000 into critical mass status in DP. The Reunion is open for moments like this one, as well as others that the community can concoct. Maybe the best thanks up to now is the growing list of attendees for this One Last Time event. You wouldn't want to miss it. But the 3000's history shows that the September Reunion isn't likely to be the one last time when people network in this most social of computer communities.
People knew this even as they gathered eight years ago for that World Wide Wake. Despite the potential for gallows humor, those who celebrated were unwilling to bury their connection with the system. In Chesterville, Ontario, employees at MB Foster had a cookout, while the company’s founder noted that "wake" might not be the best term to describe the community’s affections.
"I think the wake was premature," said company CEO Birket Foster. "The patient’s not dead yet, but we did pass a milestone."
Why not be a part of the next milestone? Pre-registration is underway for this year's event, which is just about as free as all those Wakes around the world.
July 20, 2011
Pre-registrations pile in for Reunion
Members of the HP 3000 community are getting more serious about meeting at this fall's HP3000 Reunion. The event's blog logged had more than 60 subscribers last week. Now the pre-registration tally has started to mount for the Sept. 22-24 gathering at the Computer History Museum in the Bay Area.
If you're reading this on the Reunion's blog and haven't pre-registered yet, it will help the organizers to know which parts of the event you'd like to attend. The three days are just about free, with the exception of a nominal charge for the Saturday evening party. If you haven't signed on at either the blog or the pre-reg webpage, follow this link to learn more about the Reunion and to pre-register (look for a pre-reg link on the Reunion blog's right column).
A good chunk of the 50 members who've pre-registered call Silicon Valley home, so travel's not an issue for them. But there are overseas trips being scheduled for the party, migration training, the CAMUS meeting and more. Some pre-registrants are coming from Hewlett-Packard, too. The HP company ID makes up the largest single group of pre-registrants.
Considering how close the 3000 rests to the Hewlett-Packard's business computer roots, the intentions of HP staff are not surprising. The decision to stop creating and selling HP 3000s happened far above the divisional level. Long after the HP exit plan was announced, staff inside the vendor's labs continued to work for the customers who were remaining, either for the long term or until a migration could be completed. In the photo above taken during 2003's World Wide Wake, HP's engineers gather at the "Epicenter of HP3000 Grief" at Loree's Little Shack in Roseville -- a town that was home to the 3000's manufacturing and a haven for its labbies.Many of the best stories of the 3000's creation reside in the memory of these engineers and its early executives. At the Computer History Museum three years ago, former HP executive Harper Thorpe (at left) told about the earliest days of turning a general purpose HP 3000 into a business success.
At the museum's Minicomputer Software workshop, moderator Burt Grad asked two dozen HP 3000 veterans whether it was a conscious decision on HP's part to go into the commercial business. "We were brought into it by some of our partners who actually saw the opportunity based on what we were bringing to market," Thorpe explained."
Although there was an opportunity relative to what the 3000's competition was offering -- DEC and DG were moving into the applications world -- Thorpe said HP's partners provided the spark for the apps to evolve the 3000 from iron-plus-OS into a business system.
I think to a great degree our partners helped us go there, because they had their [customer] experiences. They knew those opportunities existed and we went hand-in-hand. You couldn't have called HP, at that point in time, a solutions provider. You'd show up in front of a customer and say, "Would you like to buy a computer?" And they'd say, "What?"
That same community -- customers, partners and HP -- are heading to the HP3000 Reunion in about two months.
July 19, 2011
Ask: Should I Stay, or Should I Go?
The question above has been on the minds of 3000 owners and managers ever since 2002. While many have resolved it with a migration, it's not been an easy question to answer. Tomorrow you can ask it during an 11 AM PDT Wednesday webinar with yes, MB Foster, who's been offering these advisories at mid-week all during 2011.
Sometimes the question can be answered more than once. At Arriva London, the question was first answered in 2004 when the London Transport system decided to go to Windows, .NET and IBM's Intel-based servers. Transoft did the work at the time. "The HP 3000 will cease to be supported by HP from 2006," said Alan Ricot, IT manager at the time. "Migration has reduced not only the cost of ongoing maintenance of the legacy system, but also the business risk of being reliant on a platform nearing end-of-life."
However, now comes word that Transport for London (TfL) has signed on to use Software as a Service from Asite to manage contracts. "TfL staff as well as their entire construction supply chain will use Asite's Contract Administration applications to manage contract change and to provide real-time visibility of their actual schedule and cost position against budget," said the SaaS provider this week. Some of those migrated servers have been kicked off the job.
MB Foster's CEO Birket Foster said these kinds of choices -- to skip a migration and just let service providers offer the IT -- were on the horizon, years ago. "We're in the middle of convergence, but it's not going to take 30 years," he said at a conference about the time Arriva was going to .NET. "Small to medium-sized businesses can't afford traditional IT infrastructure."
Of course, Arriva isn't an SMB. The webinar tomorrow will include "stay" or "go" answers. But for some of those going, the question will be how far away do you go today, and how far later on?The shiny red HP 3000 account was called London Buses by Hewlett-Packard for years while the vendor quoted wins for the platform. But by the time the vendor told its 3000 customers that support would cease in 2006, some of its larger companies were ready to go. The organization which became Arriva London might have been able save some money with the extra four years which HP needed to finally end support.
Going sooner can cost more than going later. So when you go is at least as important as if you're going. It might be a good question to ask tomorrow after the webinar's briefing. MB Foster says it will outline an application migration framework.
Attendees will hear about proven, risk mitigation strategies that will help you get started and deliver a thought provoking synopsis to internal decision makers with an eye towards a flexible long term enterprise infrastructure that will match the application to the business’ vision, goals and growth expectations. Bring your CFO, CEO, or General Manager to help educate the whole team in this free webinar.
July 18, 2011
Spicy Remembrances of a Curious OS
We got a bite on one of our hooks in the Web's stream today when Google alerted us to a question on Spiceworks.com. Up on this developer and IT pro forum, a member asked if anyone remembered the HP3000. The question indicated that this member knew the history and current status of the server.
It ran a curious operating system called MPE and had an in-built database called IMAGE. It is the only server I have seen boot after a 20+ foot fall onto concrete (the video is on YouTube) and featured legendary reliability: 10+ years without a reboot, provided you kept the power on.
I inherited one of the oldest and smallest HP3000 servers when I took on this role. It still runs MPE/iX 6.5.
It's not very unusual to see MPE/iX 6.5 running a production HP 3000. Any Series 9x7 server would be frozen on that release. HP prevented 7.0 and later from booting on the 9x7s. That hardware can be had for the price of shipping these days. The support of those systems is a budget item, or should be. The OS might be locked down, but any issues with administration which arise need an escalation chain for that "legendary reliability."The Spiceworks member "mrTibbs2010" went on to summarize a homesteader's position. He even placed credit for the HP source code licenses in the correct place -- OpenMPE's advocates jawboning for years with HP.
HP stopped supporting these boxes at the end of 2010. Some resellers still support them. There is even an organisation, called OpenMPE, who persuaded HP to release most of the source code for MPE, IMAGE et al to a few respected vendors in order that they could help anyone who is "homesteading' i.e. planning to stay on the 3000 forever.
Homesteading is a valid decision when migration is a multi-million dollar project. These servers have been in-place so long, embedded in the business processes.
It's always good to see the label we concocted for the remaining 3000 users, "homesteader," carried forward. Just like it's great to find a new Web resource hooked on one of our Google Alert lines. That video of the fall onto concrete is at our YouTube channel, among other spots on the Web.
Answering questions on the Spiceworks forum lifts a member's rating based on a score of spiciness. We're only at Pimento level because we just joined today. Check out the Spiceworks HP group at community.spiceworks.com/group/show/29-hp. And if you're looking for that YouTube video, check out our NewsWire channel video on the event from the 1990s.
July 15, 2011
Retiring software no easier for Microsoft
The world's most widely installed computer environment, Windows XP, is getting its death notice this week. But Microsoft has been learning how slowly software expires in enterprises. Especially software that's not broken and is working in mission-critical operations.
We'd like to be forgiven while we include mission-critical and Windows in the same sentence. The truth of the matter is that Windows XP is running in about 60 percent of the world's enterprises, by some accounting. About half of all of the world's Windows computers run XP. This is an operating system that was released about the same time HP began trying to retire MPE/iX. Hewlett-Packard was doing it the same way as Microsoft -- announcing an end of support date for MPE/iX security software patches. Like Microsoft, HP extended its end date a few times.
But now Microsoft has announced in its blog that the end of XP is less than 1,000 days away. "Windows XP had an amazing run and millions of PC users are grateful for it," said Stephen Rose, IT community manager for the Windows commerical team. "But it's time to move on."
This week Microsoft stopped shipping security fixes for the oldest service pack of XP. HP stopped shipping these kinds of fixes for MPE/iX at the end of 2008. And yet here we are more than two years later, watching publishers and manufacturers and healthcare allies continue to use their 3000s. Security patches do prod some retirements, and Microsoft's customers have it easier than 3000 users. At least there's a relatively-similar transition platform for XP applications that is available from the vendor. There's a price attached to that migration, too. To leave XP, PC hardware needs to be replaced along with software.
But Microsoft's transition platform has been for sale since Windows Vista, and then Windows 7, hit the price lists more than four years ago. Offering the next generation of OS hasn't changed the cost proposition for migrating those hundreds of millions of XP computers. In the spring of 2015, the last of the XP security patches will ship out. But if 3000 enterprise managers -- many of whom oversee XP systems -- are any indicator, XP is going to have a lifespan that will run through the end of its second decade. Software dies more slowly than anything except perhaps our drought-stressed trees here in Texas.Can you count on using XP in your enterprise alongside HP 3000 servers? Each of these operating systems got their last serious technology refresh at about the same time. Plenty of today's long-term 3000 operations rely on Windows XP as client systems. Windows 7, the replacement OS that finally started to displace XP, has only been adopted by about one-fourth of the world's Windows computer users.
Estimates by the Forrester Group show that Windows 7 won't even surpass XP installations until sometime next year. Forrester is confident that enterprise sites will be away from XP by Microsoft's 2014 deadline.
HP was confident its business customers would be off the HP 3000 before the 2006 deadline, too. The call to retirement HP used in 2002 was the inevitability of entropy -- the universal march to failure, chaos and decline in any system. But Adager's Alfredo Rego long ago wrote that entropy, in particular in an IMAGE database, could be delayed. From Database Therapy: A Practioner's Experiences (via the OpenMPE servers and the 1981 Interex technical papers)
You can delay your database’s inevitable failure and decline. You can keep your database in a good state of repair, efficiency, validity and effectiveness. But you must be willing to invest in Preventative Maintenance. Otherwise, you and your database are doomed.
Your problem, as a manager (of the whole universe, of a country, of a company, of a department, of a computer system, of a program, of even one bit), is always this: You must first choose, out of an unlimited collection of possible objectives, the one goal that you want to reach; and then you must also choose, out of a very limited collection of resources, those few resources that will help you reach your goal in a finite time.
All around the world, in places as small as a lone financial services company and as large as Fortune 100 corporations -- yes, even at HP -- computer managers have chosen a goal of preventative maintenance in the face of the resource demands of migrations. This doesn't mean that XP or the 3000 has a limitless career. But just like a gold watch no longer signals the end of employment and the start of a pension, a vendor's date retire an OS is an option, not an event rock-certain to occur in a finite amount of time.
July 13, 2011
The Charms of Pretty Computer History
This fall's HP3000 Reunion is meeting at the Computer History Museum, a building where the roots of your industry are on display. The HP 3000 doesn't stand in any major sector of the Museum, but one of the system's best historians also volunteers a a docent at the Museum. Stan Sieler's tour for a group of 3000 veterans in 2008 illustrates what treasures await anyone who attends the Sept. 24 Reunion.
It's surprising to learn how many 3000 vets have never visited the Museum. About 35 who participated in a day-long 3000 software symposium got Sieler's tour that evening in June. (At left, one of the first ads for the system that in 1974 sold for $170,000, "about one third less than the cost of comparable systems." Click to read that nascent marketing pitch.) That tour 34 years later was a remarkable hour-plus in which the tour group not only appreciated nearly all of Sieler's references -- think of high-grade magic patter and you get the tone -- but the tourists could contribute stories of their own.
That's what's awaiting the Reunion's attendees. Organizer Alan Yeo reported yesterday that the meeting has not only has attracted close to 60 subscribers to the event's blog, but a surprising number have pre-registered, more than two months away from the Reunion's weekend. The meeting, which now has Friday and Saturday socials for CAMUS and 3000 users, is nearly free. Sieler will become part of the festivities, since he lives and works in the Bay Area, a region that includes the Mountain View site of the museum.
To give you a taste of what a computer devotee delivers who's got humor and history on his side, listen to this 2-minute segment of that 2008 tour. Sieler explains why the Cray-2 supercomputers, which included seats around the main processor, was the "prettiest computer ever built." It's all about the bubbles, he explained.The system used a non-conductive liquid, fluorinert, to cool the computer. The fluorinert generated bubbles in the visible tubes during the process, which had the byproduct of impressing donors and directors of organizations like the Lawrence Livermore Labs (which bought one of the first HP 3000s).
By now that Cray can be outperformed by any commonplace PC server. It's possible that HP's rock-bottom Windows-Linux server, the $329 ProLiant MicroServer, will outpace a multi-million dollar system which in its day sparked a bidding war between two government agencies to purchase the first unit Cray shipped.
Reunion attendees will bring their own stories and history to the two-day event -- which is preceded by Thursday training in Eloquence database skills and a migration seminar presented by Speedware. But while these computer pros of your generation will supply the memories, the event is also a way to reconnect with kindred spirits from the start of the modern IT era.
July 07, 2011
Oracle alternatives gain a newer HP-UX entry
Any HP 3000 IT manager headed for Unix might see Oracle's no-Integrity ultimatum as a problem while considering HP-UX. These technology pros often want to host their database on the same environment as apps. HP 3000s, built with reliable enterprise attributes, always hosted TurboIMAGE, often on the very same server.
Oracle's got competition on the HP-UX platform, however. The first such database offered to migrating customers was Eloquence, from Marxmeier Software. Creator Michael Marxmeier once said some sites might move from IMAGE to Eloquence as an intermediate step away from the 3000. Oracle -- which knows very little about IMAGE database structures, unlike Eloquence -- could be their likely final destination on some migrations.
Nearly 10 years later after Marxmeier's talk, it's not Eloquence looking like an interim Unix choice, it's Oracle -- which now vows that Integrity and HP-UX will be dropped from future development, HP lawsuits be damned. So this week there's another Oracle alternative being billed as tooled for HP-UX. EnterpriseDB announced a Version 9.0 that's dubbed Postgres Plus Advanced Server. The graphic above from the EnterpriseDB HP-UX webpage (click the graphic for detail) shows HP-UX as blue and Oracle as red and advises against the red route. Postgres is the open source database now being supported by some 3000-savvy tool vendors such as MB Foster. But MB Foster is also a distributor of the Eloquence database, the Oracle alternative that also works well with Foster's UDA suite of tools.
Migrating companies have more than one way to look at database replacements hosted on HP's Unix. They can select the database which will interoperate closely with existing 3000 database application logic, Eloquence. Or the migrators can choose a "commercial open source" database whose leading feature is behaving like Oracle. The latter choice supports the customer who wants to replace their off-the-shelf apps with Oracle-ready programs -- at the same time they change environments.If that sounds like a lot of change at once, it is for many 3000 customers. Speedware's migration center advises many sites that moving from the HP 3000 is most successful on a lift-and-shift plan. That design first takes a proven application and re-hosts it on a new platform such as HP-UX. There's little training needed for users. In a later phase, application replacement or rewriting takes place to deliver new functionality.
EnterpriseDB says that its open source solution "is in its seventh generation of Oracle compatibility, Postgres Plus Advanced Server 9.0, further decreases the amount of manual effort needed to move from Oracle with additional Oracle enhancements, including support for Oracle Pro*C applications." There's still manual effort in there because Oracle wasn't built for open source software. Oracle has an open source database, MySQL, but there's now costly support tied to that choice. Postgres is gaining ground.
Brian Edminster, whose Applied Technologies firm assists companies in choosing open source if their 3000 designs can use it, says EnterpriseDB's latest release has potential for sites fleeing Oracle.
"They're careful to note that it's not guaranteed 100 percent compatible, but claim that it's a close fit, and that many of their customers have migrated from Oracle," Edminster said. "I'm curious if any packages that use Oracle underneath them have successfully used this database yet." What Edminster is noting: the applications built explicitly for Oracle don't have any Postgres Plus Advanced Server 9.0 references today.
There was a time when Oracle seemed as secure a destination as HP-UX for migrators. Some sites considered Oracle their platform, while others still viewed the server's OS as the bedrock of IT architecture. EnterpriseDB isn't new to this database alternative campaign, but its HP-UX entry is too new to show any success stories yet.
That's a very different profile than the Eloquence track record in 3000 migrations. Early in the 3000 diaspora, HP's IMAGE engineers testified that Eloquence was the best choice to preserve the database logic of a 3000 installation. Companies forced to leave 3000 operations have had the quickest and most complete success lifting and shifting to Eloquence. Now the era of a lift and shift from Oracle to Postgres on HP-UX is underway. It will be interesting to see if some applications that have migrated from the 3000 like Ecometry -- built around Oracle on HP-UX versions -- take a look at replacing Oracle.
We've heard reports this year of HP 3000 companies migrating to Oracle environments, firms which want to keep some of their 3000 data for archive purposes and occasional lookup. In this scheme, IMAGE data gets transferred to an Oracle database on a new system and a 3000 is retired. But moving to Oracle is a process that has left behind lessons like "they got their pockets picked" -- not surprising for an IMAGE/SQL alternative that's neither scaled and affordable like Eloquence (unlimited IMAGE-friendly licenses for under $16,000, and far less for 2-64-user configurations) or open source priced like that from EnterpriseDB.
Advanced Server, like many commercial open source products, is sold by yearly subscription. It can add up; The Advanced Server isn't even quoted at the company's site, but we've seen a report that it starts at $4,000 per year. You're encouraged to call or email to learn how much the cost will be per socket; a less-capable version (Plus Standard Server, sans the Oracle savvy) is about $3,000 a year per CPU before adding support costs.
Whether the EnterpriseDB or Marxmeier's Eloquence is the database migration target, it seems clear that Oracle's got competition for the 3000 site moving away from TurboIMAGE. EnterpriseDB is very new to HP-UX. Eloquence development is thick with improvements and revisions which go back well into the last decade.
July 06, 2011
3000 Reunion gains pre-reg site, momentum
The Sept. 22-24 HP3000 Reunion is gaining momentum this week, as organizers are counting on a new pre-registration site and counting up the subscribers to the event's official blog.
HP3000reunion.com now has 50 subscribers to its updates on the event, still more than two months away from kicking off at the Computer History Museum in the Bay Area. Easy subscription for these notices, delivered via email, is available at the site. Today the Reunion opened up its pre-registration website. 3000 veterans, alumni of HP's 3000 division, advocates and developers and longtime users from the US and Europe are showing interest.
Organizer and volunteer Alan Yeo's company has put up what it calls an "I Think I'm Coming" website. The site takes a user's name, company and email address, plus it records which of the Reunion's events the visitor hopes to attend. As a result, "Who's coming" can be viewed from the pre-reg site. Another poll of how many are interested or coming is available at the Reunion's blog.
The HP3000 Reunion is mostly free at the moment. The event is built around a Sept. 24 party at the Museum, one which Yeo and other organizers and sponsors have said will carry only a nominal charge to cover the bar and food. Notables in the community have signed on for the Reunion blog updates, including some Hewlett-Packard friends and champions of the computer from the past. Former GM Harry Sterling reports he was hoping to be there, but alas, a prior travel engagement will keep him away.Sterling, of course, stands out as the last HP 3000 General Manager who accomplished serious growth in the 3000's installed base and technical abilities -- and didn't swing the axe on the system's future at HP before retiring in 1999, a few months after HP chose Carly Fiorina as the first outside CEO. At one State of the 3000 speech during an HP World conference, Sterling appeared onstage in tuxedo and tails, sporting a yo-yo and ardor about HP's most mature business environment. Only a European trip will keep away Sterling, the last GM fully dedicated to improving the 3000's place in the market and inside HP.
When I first saw an email about the reunion, I immediately said I am going. But then I saw the Sept. 24 date and was quickly disappointed. I will will be gone for a month in Europe. But please do tell everyone that they and all of the HP3000 family still hold a special spot in my heart with fond memories. Hope you all have a wonderful celebration for a truly remarkable product, and the people who made it possible throughout the years.
The UK will be represented by more than ScreenJet's Alan Yeo and Marxmeier Software Michael Marxmeier (both sponsors of the event). Vanessa Williamson signed on to subscribe to those blog updates with a note.
I was a HP3000 systems op from 1983 to 1991, with a bit of Cobol and would love to come to the reunion. I haven't had a holiday for several years and this could be the best reason ever to take one! Oh, and I'll be coming over from the UK.
Pre-registration, to help encourage other community members who are on the fence and assist planners of reunion events, is online today. The process involves choosing a password for your registration. A complete registration page will be available in the future.
June 16, 2011
Six Years of 3000 News by Blog
Six years ago this week the 3000 NewsWire's blog opened up on the Web. We've posted almost 1,600 stories since that day in June, when we started to report on the upcoming 2006 end of HP support for the server. Just like our ongoing 3000 NewsWire print edition, we worked to report what homesteaders and migrators were doing to accept or prepare for the changes.
It's hard to describe how much the world of the Internet has also changed since 2005, except to note that we don't even see the word Internet used much these days. There's also the accepted fact that everyone has a blog these days, if they're interested in sharing their news, or their lives, via computer. Some call Facebook their blog, and others use Twitter. But regular updates on what's changed are part of the fabric of our social network.
What were we talking about in that summer of 2005? Some in the community were hopeful that the new CEO Mark Hurd might revitalize the HP 3000 business. The same kind of enthusiasm had mounted when Carly Fiorina took that job in 1999, a year when the vitality of HP's 3000 operations was slowing but not curtailed. Hurd did no revitalization, of course. And by today, six years later, the community has stopped hoping for any change in HP's heart. Its new CEO Leo Apotheker has his heart in software (a good thing for a platform like MPE). But the only HP-driven software platform turning heads on Leo's team is WebOS -- facing the same kind of stiff competition that MPE/iX faced in 1999 against Windows and Linux.
A lot has changed for the HP 3000 -- HP has stopped selling everything but support, a hardware emulator has been booted, migration's pace slowed and homesteaders stabilized. But much has not changed, too. During this week in 2005, Quest Software was using Taurus Software's Bridgeware for migrations. More than 100 of them, Quest boasted. The same link we used to Bridgeware-cum-Quest in '05 is operating today. (Taurus is planning some fresh 3000 products, we've heard.)
Just as in 2005, HP still isn't out of the 3000 support business altogether. Its appetite continues for collecting support money when a 3000 site is willing, a sort of on-paper insurance that gets tested once in awhile. That 2006 end of support that we anticipated became 2008, then 2010. HP's 3000 activities aren't part of our coverage today, but we always reached beyond the vendor for the 3000's stories.
Another thing that hasn't changed: Sun is still poking HP about software. Today Sun's owner Oracle is cutting support for its databases that use HP's Unix. In '05 Sun started to offer Solaris source code through OpenSolaris. HP didn't green-light any limited sharing of MPE/iX source for three more years, but we were eager to hear if OpenMPE might get HP's approval at the just-announced HP Technology Forum.
The Tech Forum would become most notable for helping put Interex in its grave, but source code discussion was not on the agenda of that HP-sparked conference. More pertinent news came in June: The Sarbanes-Oxley compliance rules were stalling migrations. But Measurement Specialites -- still a big 3000 site today -- had just learned that "staff would not expect testing of general IT controls that do not pertain to financial reporting."
In 2005, our survey of migrating HP 3000 sites didn't turn up a single one making the jump from Ecometry on the 3000 to the HP-UX version of the e-commerce software. HP-UX Ecometry is pretty much expired as a product choice for migrators today; Windows reigned over HP's enterprise software platform.
We reported that Jumbo datasets in IMAGE were finally going to get eclipsed by LargeFile datasets. HP's engineers said alpha testing to fix a critical bug in LFDS was going well. The critical bug was discovered and reported by Adager -- six years later, still the community's best resource on IMAGE/SQL. Adager's CEO Rene Woc recently noted that the LFDS bug was one of the last that was identified while there was an IMAGE lab still working. Those engineers have long since moved on to other companies or other HP work.
In 2005's June we were tracking patches to MPE/iX, hoping that dozens of them could escape HP's testing jail that locked them away from users. By now, some of those patches are available through the HP ITRC for free -- but that's a resource that's also in migration phase this week. We reported just last week that you'd better do your downloading from the ITRC by this weekend -- because the new HP support forum is likely to have some migration bumps after Saturday. Changes have often sparked our news over the last six years. Starting this blog has been the biggest expansion of 3000 news in our business life. We've been delighted to make every workday reports a part of the community's life.
June 09, 2011
HP demands developer justice from Oracle
HP has sent Oracle a "formal legal demand" that Oracle reverse its decision about abandoning Itanium development. It's the kind of protest that some HP 3000 customers dreamed about during the prior decade.
The Hewlett-Packard letter said that the Oracle decision, announced in March, "violates legally binding commitments Oracle has made to HP and the more than 140,000 shared HP-Oracle customers. Further, we believe that this is an unlawful attempt to force customers from HP Itanium platforms to Oracle's own platforms."
Support for Oracle didn't materialize for the HP 3000 while Hewlett-Packard was selling the servers. A strong IMAGE database platform, included with every 3000, made selling Oracle a proposition which had to compete with a bundled, well-tuned alternative. Oracle focused on the dozens of Unix platforms instead, including the one it's about to drop, Hewlett-Packard's HP-UX.
When the 3000 announcement came down from HP, customers talked about mounting a legal challenge to the business decision. The court of last resort never saw such a suit, even though 3000 advocate and developer Wirt Atmar hired a Chicago legal firm to research grounds for a class-action suit to reverse HP's plans. Angry customers who'd been told the 3000 was healthy, only months before the pullout, believed such a suit would be justified.In a 2002 article for the 3000 NewsWire, Atmar wrote that a free license for MPE/iX -- along with the ability to run the OS on low-cost hardware -- was the vendor's best recourse to being called out in court. "This model is also in HP’s interest," he wrote. "The level of user anger that exists over this decision is deeper than [the 3000 division] believes it to be. I do not consider class-action lawsuits to be out of the question."
Keeping costs significantly above the norm, as MPE has been over the last decade, has caused an ever-increasing downward spiral in use and users. Keeping costs below the norm and maintaining a quality much better than expected should very pronouncedly promote quite the opposite response.
Will HP cooperate? This is the final question, and the most important. In this model, the source is not being given out to everyone, willy-nilly. It isn’t being able to see the source code that is important in this model. It’s simply critical that the user community knows soon that someone competent is diligently working on their behalf.
Will HP cooperate? I believe so. I spoke with one of the senior management people at CSY at some length. In regard to OpenMPE, he said, “Why do people automatically assume that we won’t cooperate? Why would we want to do any harm to MPE?” Based on that statement, I think everything else is eminently feasible.
It took another six years to agree to license the source code to the community, which turned out to be companies like Pivital Solutions, Adager, and others. Atmar was indentifying the essential issues of supporting a marginalized environment, long before the community could do so. Running MPE on Intel hardware would be key to a New CSY, an independent company spun off from HP with a focus on the 3000's critical mission.
Nine years later, Stromasys has tested a creation which Atmar wrote about just three months after HP's pullout notice. "If the virtualization of the MPE emulation is done well enough," he wrote, "the rules could become nothing more than, 'If Linux runs on it, so will MPE.' " Linux will host the Zelus emulator for MPE-PA-RISC. The technical solution will arrive 10 years after Atmar dreamed of it. HP doesn't want to wait around on tech workarounds to maintain its customers' choices of Oracle environments, so the legal ploys will now begin.
Atmar, who passed away in 2009, simply wanted an honest effort from Hewlett-Packard to repair the rift it created between itself and HP 3000 customers. Those customers didn't want to end a decades-long relationship with HP. Nearly a decade later, Hewlett-Packard doesn't want to end its decades-long relationship with Oracle. But the 3000 customers who were left behind in 2001 now get to see how well a legal dispute can pull a partner closer who wants to leave.
May 02, 2011
HP, Oracle OS promos take hard, soft paths
Over the weekend HP ended an Itanium promotion program designed to win customers for HP-UX. For six months the vendor was giving away $12,000 Integrity servers to any company willing to try out HP's Unix. Analysts said the deal was HP's play to lure Sun's Unix users away from Solaris. Sun's answer came after HP's former CEO took over Sun hardware and OS operations. Oracle, the owners of Sun, simply won't support HP-UX beyond version 11.
Actually, Oracle said it wouldn't support Itanium servers on Oracle 12. But since HP-UX runs only on Itanium, the Oracle Itanium ultimatum amounts to cutting off HP's Unix from its most installed database. Oracle is betting HP-UX won't migrate to x86 hardware. It's probably a safe bet.
HP took the hard-ware path to pushing its Unix, while Sun-Oracle shot a soft cannonball across the bow of Good Ship HP-UX. One was a carrot, the other a stick. Since some users began to ask if HP's creating a port of HP-UX, Kristie Popp, a social media rep in HP's Enterprise Server, Storage and Networking group has replied, "Please note, HP has no plans to port HP-UX to x86."
The HP 3000 faced a similar crossroads 10 years ago this spring. At that time Itanium chips were the early-decade darlings of HP's enterprise futures. HP-UX was already ported to run on Itanium, whenever HP could get its act together and ship servers driven by the chips. HP "had no plans to port" MPE/iX to Itanium hardware. Users heard at the 2001 Interex conference that PA-RISC had plenty of headroom for years to come. One HP 3000 leader in the community believes HP should be preparing its Unix users for a transition to Linux. Free hardware promos won't keep the HP-UX business alive."HP should be trying to buy SUSE Linux," says Donna Hoffmeister of Allegro Consultants, where they support both MPE as well as HP-UX. "If they want to offer a soup-to-nuts Linux-oriented solution, that is the way to go. I'd be utterly delighted to see HP do something to keep and attract folks to HP-UX. One might think that they'd figure out that it takes capital investment to keep an OS alive. They certainly have recent experience with the results of the inverse of that policy."
HP's 2001 assurance that no investment was needed in MPE/iX-on-Itanium should give any migrating system managers pause if choosing HP-UX. The x86 port for HP-UX looks like an even longer shot than porting MPE/iX to Itanium in 2001. Just like HP's message of a decade ago, the new Unix message is that fresh chips don't matter to an enterprise.
It will take years for the ripple of Oracle's decision to swamp the HP-UX boat, especially since some shops have put Oracle on the x86-based server while the applications run on Integrity systems. But customers already feel like T-Rex during that era when it just kept getting colder.
"Are we headed the way of the dinosaur? Will we one day be Solaris?" asked Unix admin Court Campbell, administering HP-UX and Oracle 12 at a Houston employer. Campbell noted that Red Hat and Microsoft have also pulled away from Itanium. But those moves make more sense since they come from operating environment vendors.
When Campbell asked in LinkedIn's HP-UX forum if there's any truth to rumors about moving HP's Unix to x86 to create "HP-NG," Olivier Masse of Hydro-Quebec expressed serious doubts.
"I don't see why they would do this," Masse said in a posting. "I think they'll milk the cow for as long as they can, catering to current enterprise customers, and call it a day when it will become not profitable enough to keep all the R&D and support infrastructure for HP-UX.
Hydro-Quebec has already seen its exit from MPE/iX once HP cut off hardware futures for the OS. They're now running on two Itanium-based environments, HP-UX and OpenVMS.
"The x86 platform is already saturated and it would cost a lot of dough to port HP-UX outright to x86," Masse said. "The Linux kernel is more modern, and has benefited from R&D from both academia and the private sector for years. I don't see new customers flocking to an 'NG-UX' anytime soon."
Customers see the adaptive infrastructure HP promotes as including more than one processor for HP-UX. It looks like a gaping hole to Charles Ruedi, the senior Unix system engineer at Almac Clinical Services. "The reason HP should have done this long ago was so customers who wanted to do a proof of concept or something similar didn't need to purchase an expensive itanium box to test with," he said. "Also, it would be great for the development space."
HP's got history in supporting software such as HP-UX, but the veterans from the HP Way days don't recall the legend as a positive note. Tom Lang, who worked at HP's Office Products Division in Pinewood when the company was breaking ground with HP NewWave. "They purchased Compaq," he told us, ,"then they abandoned MPE. Then they purchased a hand-held [company in Palm]. Now they claim to be in the software industry?"
I was working in the internal EDP department at HP Pinewood when they were developing HP Office about 1987. What a mess that was! Every OPD developer had their own 3000 to develop and test their piece of the action. Never did it cross their minds to test the full product on one machine. I foolishly tried to point this out, suggesting that the verbose product required a lot of disc and memory, notwithstanding that it was a CPU hog. Management didn't listen, and anyone who remembers this clunker uses it as an example of why HP is not a software company -- hard as they may try.
Then they tried NewWave. Then they purchased the Apollo group, acquired a version of Unix and label-engineered it as HP-UX with HP Workstations. Then they offered the HP 9000 as a product. Unix was developed by Bell Labs as a means to speed-up testing on an IBM mainframe. By removing all the security in the IBM OS, they were able to develop faster, then do full testing on the full OS. Everyone wanted a copy of Unix, Bell Labs provided, and the cat was out of the bag -- operating systems with no security. Textbooks were written about Unix, they taught it in colleges and universities, but nobody thought to warn business users that they were taking on a business system with no security. But it sold, and it continues to sell.
Everyone now scrambles to develop versions that have some form of security. But a reasonable person knows that if it's not there at design-time, it'll take a bigger effort to try and put it in later. Unix textbooks today still do not have sections/chapters dedicated to security. It is understandable that 'security' is not fully explained, but no mention of it, not even in the index, is self-explanatory.
April 29, 2011
On HP's Operating Systems, Future and Past
A week ago we spouted off in a podcast about the future of HP-UX, and haven't heard a word over the seven days since about any Itanium and HP-UX recant from Oracle. HP is adhering to its Itanium server roadmap, mostly because the company still sells three OS environments of its own design. Each runs only on Itanium/Integrity servers.
To be accurate, only HP-UX was built by Hewlett-Packard. NonStop and OpenVMS arrived at HP via acquisitions, so HP-UX remains the only OS on today's price list with classic HP genetics. It's also the only Hewlett-Packard OS that HP 3000 customers have used as a migration target. A look back at the fate of HP's operating systems shows a quite of charnel house of OS bones. Only IBM has put down a comparable number of good dogs in bad business circumstances, and Big Blue still supports its business OS's created in the 1980s and even earlier, the AS/400's OS/400 and the System Z for its mainframes.
Alan Tibbetts, a user group director at both Interex and OpenMPE and a 38-year veteran of HP 1000s, reminded us about several of these environments that HP gave up for dead besides MPE. "I must admit that I was amused by the articles saying that HP is pushing a 'private OS' with the webOS product that they acquired from Palm," he said. "Considering that they have killed Rocky Mountain Basic, RTE, MPE, HP-RT, and (any day now) HP-UX, I will have to see how much allegiance they really give to the concept of a proprietary OS."
The difference between things like Rocky Mountain Basic or RTE and MPE is that your OS is poised to move into its second decade running enterprises after HP has quit. But the HP OS history will remind even long-standing HP-UX users that their vendor-supported days are numbered.Tibbetts even called up a story about HP's proposed replacement for the RTE which drove the HP 1000 servers. HP 1000s were often embedded in other systems, so they didn't have much chance to develop a profile that many independent vendors could embrace. HP followed up RTE with HP-RT, hoping to sell it differently in a marketplace very different from the 1960s when RTE was born. To begin, HP-RT was like today's HP environments outside HP-UX: it was purchased instead of built from scratch.
HP-RT was intended to be a successor to RTE. It used the HP-PA hardware and a real-time operating system that was purchased from Lynx OS and modified at HP. It was marketed differently than RTE, looking for uses as an OEM platform where the sales would be in the thousands or at least hundreds of units. They tried for the set-top box market before that technology became mature enough to be a market. They did convince the Navy to use it, but I don't know how that wound down as they finally pulled the plug on the product.
The problem across the industry is that as microprocessors became ubiquitous, the trend was to push the real-time response much closer to the hardware that was being controlled, down into the first level chips, rather than trying to have a multi-processing system respond to microsecond events. If you have responsive enough chips and sufficient buffering (FIFOs and such) available, then even a system with abysmal response to interrupts (such as Windows) can provide acceptable performance for most tasks. It's only if you have the simultaneous requirements of microsecond interrupt latencies, repeatable deterministic scheduling, and multiple actions which must be tightly synchronized, that you are forced to use hard real-time systems.
So HP was trying to lift this OS into place where independent vendors tied into hardware from OEMs (Original Equipment Makers) to complete a solution. The HP 3000 became HP's first OEM success story, followed by HP-UX about 10 years after the introduction of MPE.
Now HP is saying that it's got a hunger for its own operating environments once more. The message might sound like good news for a 3000 site that plotted its future along the HP-UX course. But the numbers for critical mass might not deliver another 6-10 years of robust development of HP's Unix.
The numbers for webOS, the environment that HP's loving out loud, are not much better in market share. The webOS passion flows from Todd Bradley, HP's leader of its Personal Systems group -- and it's echoed by the new HP CEO Leo Apothker. This is not the sort of forced validation that Carly Fiorina stamped on MPE/iX right before HP announced its exit plans. Apotheker sees webOS as a great business opportunity for HP and its customers.
"We happen to have the greatest operating system currently available in webOS. It's an absolutely outstanding operating system," Apotheker said this spring at OnDemand 2011. "Our TouchPad [tablet] will be coming out in June, and then everybody will see first-hand how good it is. We want to use the webOS to bring everything together."
"We will be putting our webOS on every PC we ship in the next year, as well as on our printers. We see it as a legitimate alternative because it runs devices across the spectrum -- PCs, tablets, smartphones, printers, everything -- and runs them well."
This idea of bringing all of HP computing together started in the 1980s when the company designed the engine for today's 3000s, PA-RISC. HP wanted to drop the redundant development of IO drivers; at the time, HP 9000s ran on Motorola chips, the HP 1000s on another CPU, and the 3000s on a CISC design. Like webOS, PA-RISC was supposed to be a unifying technology. It was built inside HP, however, during an era when HP was fabricating its own chips.
Unlike chips such as PA-RISC, software does not need a manufacturing budget after design; managing yields from wafer platters aren't part of the lifecycle of webOS or HP-UX. HP needs partners for both of these environments, a troubling truth in the light of Oracle's forthcoming pullout from HP-UX. The fastest growing OS's today come from an open source model (Linux) and one built and controlled by a single vendor, Apple's iOS. Apothker believes webOS might give HP a status Apple has long enjoyed: cool.
"If you go back in history, Apple was the cool company with the first PC, the Apple II," Apotheker says. "Client-server was the new wave of computing in the 1980s, and it changed all that we knew about computing at that time. Things are changing again in IT."
HP has long promoted change as a good thing for your industry. It even pumped up an "Adaptive Infrastructure" as way to employ multiple OS's in a single system like the Superdomes. IBM has taken up this kind of design to protect the OS400 environment, letting one box serve that OS as well as Linux, Windows and IBM's Unix, AIX. HP-UX users won't be able to get much more guarantee of the future of HP-UX than they ever got about MPE/iX. However, promoting an OS to a brand and product level may be a promising seedbed for growth in HP's Unix development.
April 27, 2011
Tool Time for Information Veterans
Some tools don't lose their edge, if sharp users sustain them. An old colleague noted the certain demise of the manual typewriter, a tool I used to break into journalism when the HP 3000 was entering its first heyday. The death watch for veteran tools often gets taken up by those who don't need them. They might not see how something can be both revered and useful, even at an advanced age.
Another kind of manual, at the left, arrived in our offices over the past weekend. The Series II/III HP 3000 System Reference Manual came off the bookshelf of Francois Desrochers, one of the NewsWire's charter subscribers. "I'm sure you'll take good care of it," he said in a handwritten note. The cursive script he used may not be taught any longer in a school near you. But that cursive is another information tool still revered and used by those who grew up with it.
HP's 3000 software products may not be a current choice to start any project in IT, unless it's a re-creation of the working data processing shop of the 1980s at the Computer History Museum. But if you need it and don't own it, the software is still available. Like a manual typewriter, these programs considered antiques still do unique tasks. For example, a few can talk to the 3000's registers for clues about solving errors. DEBUG is probably not the average 3000 owner's strong suit. It can be a comfort to know that like the manual above, somebody cares about and continues to care for it.You may know where this is all headed, but you may not know why. The old tools are still useful, just like those who wield them. Which is more impressive -- knowing how to program in Objective C, or being fluent in the nuance of Transact/XL? It's easy to guess that Objective C will earn a day's pay in the market of 2011. But on the rare occasion, Transact knowledge is the only kind that will let a business system move forward.
The typewriter's function is still easily matched, in most cases, by $49 printers bearing $19 ink cartridges. On the other hand, filling out a paper form with anything besides handwriting is still easiest when a roller and platen and ribbon are involved. You may not want anything to do with paper forms, a wise strategy when you can control it. But like dealing with the Social Security Administration, you might be forced back into older technology. (A recent request to our offices for a form yielded this exchange -- SSA: You'll need to send us the form right away. Me: Can I scan it and email you a PDF? SSA: No, we don't do email for our forms. You can fax it to us.)
What can you do but comply, in cases like that? Since we're into legacy tech here, the fax machine is still a step away from the iMac. Likewise, Transact is just an order away, because it might be the vehicle for business logic. Ah, got your attention there. Everybody needs business logic.
My colleague noted that he wouldn't shed a tear for the manual typewriter maker who's shutting down business this year. Only 500 units or so remain on hand at Godrej & Boyce, which The Register identifies as "the world's final old-school typewriter manufacturer. Godrej and Boyce's prime customers work in the defence agencies, courts and government offices, perhaps to prevent their employees wasting time on Facebook by forcing them to use a machine with one simple function -- to typewrite." Just two years ago, the company was building 10,000 a year.
Why anybody would bother to build a manual typewriter in 2011 might look like a mystery, especially to the IT pros who snort when they hear that DEBUG and COBOL II are still for sale. (The latter can be had for as little as $1,750, if OpenMPE survives the spring. If not, Client Systems will sell it, although not quite at that discounted price; HP's prices started at $3,500 as recently as last September.)
The manual typewriter's actual demise is a little sketchy, despite the authority of The Register's report. It took only a bit of one day for the world to learn that 43 states in the US still have regular orders for typewriters, because their Departments of Corrections want something that inmates can use, but can't hide contraband in. Swintek continues to make typewriters, while the Indian Godrej & Boyce is quitting. Manuals from Royal are still being sold for $99 at typewriters.com. Like the System III manual above, the manual typewriter seems a silly tool until you need it, like a fax machine. Maybe the stack layout at left is of some use in maintaining a legacy system. Maybe not. It is good to know it's an option, and like software, this information doesn't need inventory tracking.
Also, there's many an entry for "electronic" IBM Selectric typewriters, ribbons, and font balls on Amazon. Somebody's out there using them -- which reminds me of the contrary view about the HP 3000 being dead. The system may be dead to some, but there are others who use it daily, as they have for many years. Perhaps they were as young as the reporter to the left when they took up these tools. By the time that photo was taken I was only 16 years older than the HP 3000. (And DEBUG was already a tool with 7 years of field experience.)
I earned my pay, just before joining the 3000 community in 1984, plugging stories off onto a Selectric. On deadline at The Williamson County Sun our newsroom right behind the plate glass windows, in an office on the town square, buzzed with the racket of those noble beasts.
One of my first editors, Jim Lindsey, hammered out his stories on a manual Royal portable he'd first used to cover the Nuremburg trials. He used teletype paper that he'd roll up from the box, then set his margins to match the line length of our columns. Chewed a cigar while he wrote, too. Like we were both taught in the newsroom, he ended his typed copy with "-30-" Think of it as an ENQ/ACK and you'll get the idea.
So for me, once the typewriter's end is finally here, there will be a tear. Up to now, there's no -30- for either HP's 3000 software, or the manual typewriters. If you need these tools, they're still as sharp as they ever were, especially in the hands of veterans.
April 15, 2011
Moving ERP data uncovers coding lessons
When the 3000 community started looking at means to move data from MANMAN systems to other servers, one advisor used a history lesson to remind managers about development fundamentals. Brian Edminster of Applied Technologies was replying to consultant Chuck Trites' message about data mover services. (Trites started with a note about how he'll move MANMAN databases can to SQL Server.)
This sort of data migration is an everyday task for some 3000 sites, especially those who operate more than one environment for ERP processing. Software is on hand from MB Foster, Speedware, Transoft and others to make these transfers. Edminster said that the software which drives MANMAN, Fortran, was a choice that ASK Systems made when COBOL was too green to use on a 3000.
"When ASK wanted to start development on MANMAN, the COBOL compiler wasn't ready yet -- but the FORTRAN 66 compiler was," Edminster says. "It was a 'time to market' thing -- where the belief was that they couldn't afford the potentially many months of wait-time until a stable enough COBOL compiler was ready. So MANMAN development began in FORTRAN 66, and then many years later, was upgraded to use of FORTRAN 77."
Edminster said the MANMAN design choices became notable to him when he was called in to "splice on a small legacy HR subsystem written in COBOL to a recently installed MANMAN implementation -- to share MANMAN's report routing and database access methods." This kind of data integration evokes lessons from Adager's Alfredo Rego and even deeper fundamentals about 3000-caliber management and development.Edminster said the earliest MANMAN's Fortran "did make extensive use of 'named common' in order to have structured sharable data, much like a COBOL does."
One little known fact about HP's implementation of FORTRAN77 named common and COBOL option external directive for '01' levels: They used the same mechanism for storage of data! That is, you could build a record structure in COBOL that 'matched' the named common's structure, and with the same name. This would make the data in the FORTRAN program's named common accessible in a COBOL subroutine, without passing it as a parameter. This is kinda like how named common works between FORTRAN routines.
Not a task for the faint of heart though, as it required being fluent in both languages -- plus their internal representations for various datatypes. Yes, converting 'reals' back and forth to fixed-point was a pain, but it worked. I know, I've done it: I once had to 'splice on' a small legacy HR subsystem written in COBOL to a recently installed MANMAN implementation, in order to share MANMAN's report routing and database access methods. In essence, I made the COBOL code into called subroutines of a new MANMAN function. Worked like a champ for many years.
I don't remember exactly where I learned about this -- but it was at least partially from taking Alfredo's guidance to heart (and I paraphrase here): "Read the documentation like a love letter, including reading between the lines, noting what it says, and what it does not say."
Better technical advice I've never been given -- except perhaps this: Debug the code, not the comments.
March 18, 2011
Itanium Chips Into Its Second Decade
The best vehicle for HP-UX to grab any new system sales crosses the 10-year mark this month. Itanium made its debut in HP servers one decade ago, arriving just as HP was ready to cross out its futures in the HP 3000 line. HP started its migration mantra with a serious push toward Itanium servers and HP-UX. But that was long before Linux and low-cost Intel Xeon systems fractured HP's world domination plans. If this were golf, the current decade would be a chip shot after an errant drive off the tee of 2001, and iron-work to get HP's customers closer to the cup.
It's hard to remember that when this chip started, both Intel and HP predicted a hole in one: there would be little else to purchase by the early part of last decade. Itanium didn't even have a separate server line until Hewlett-Packard rolled out the Integrity servers, but a few HP 3000 sites adopted those initial Itanium systems anyway. These were the rx7xxx servers, and it didn't help their popularity that they were only marginally faster than PA-RISC systems for several years. Itanium 2 started to change all that, but by the time that next year's Poulsons got promised and today's 9300s had a shipping date, the markets had moved on to the other Intel chipset, x86-compatible Xeons.
It's now old-school thinking to believe that any hardware can spark sales on its own. IT managers need to see an ecosystem to invest, although they're good at sticking with technology that's efficient and not yet obsolete, with some growth options. Itanium still offers all of those, but its Unix software prospects are on the decline, with Linux taking in all the new enterprise installations which aren't Windowed. Linux runs on Itanium, but there's a spotty future there too, with the largest Linux vendor RedHat backing away.
HP's got an Itanium fan club in the Connect Itanium Solutions Alliance, a user group outpost where vendors (mostly) and users trade news and prospects for the chip ecosystem. One year ago the Alliance announced that Oracle's E-Business Suite Release 12 was being certified on the HP-UX Itanium platform. HP shipped off its latest Integrity servers running the 9300 Itanium, and this spring chip supplier Intel showed off a peek (above) at the future for a chip nobody figured would become so niche so quickly. The Alliance has its own newsletter online, plus a Twitter feed if keeping up with your migration target's only HP-UX platform is important to your planning.
Offered as the Valhalla of HP 3000 futures in 1999, what HP first called IA-64 had little chance at the broad popularity promised during the '90s. Six years ago Intel told analysts that Itanium "will be positioned as a high-end box designed to run data-intensive applications such as recognition, synthesis, and data-mining, "as well as high-transaction rate applications." We've said over and over that as Itanium goes, so goes HP-UX, because HP's Unix runs on nothing else by now.
But Intel likes the volume of sales that HP supplies today for the Itanium foundry. The chip vendor has never hinted that Itanium has been considered for end-of-life, as HP likes to say. But to say that Intel doesn't plan to cancel a chip that was unveiled with so much hubris in the 90s shows how far those plans have fallen. HP called the whole architecture Tahoe at first, and then Merced as it crept along at a suprisingly slow development pace.
By the time HP had divested itself of most technical control of Itanium, the chip still looked to be a guarantee of long life for any HP customer's platform. HP aired a dramatic telecast in the late '90s to tell 3000 customers IA-64 was not in the 3000's future. By 2001, the chip looked so important that one 3000 vendor tracked it against the future of the 3000. When IA-64 was delayed for the 3000s, the software vendor figured the writing was on HP's wall for 3000 futures.
That vendor turned out to be right, but Itanium didn't carry much sway outside of HP designs. Even last year the Alliance was pointing to a new Chinese OEM which was building Itanium systems. But while an IT manager might not track chip hardware anymore, the software suppliers certainly so, just like that 3000 vendor. Intel has a Data Center Group of chips now, and the DCG includes Mission Critical entries for both Itanium and what is termed "Expandable Xeon" chips: Boxboro-EX, Westermere-EX. Poulson and Kittson will join that group next year, so HP's probably designing Integrity systems to tap those, too.
March 01, 2011
Legacy line means servers sing low notes
Last week the Cleveland Orchestra offered its mothballed HP 3000 to the community. This non-profit group had been using 3000s since the 1980s, so its Series 987 probably still seemed relatively new, even in the back-end of the '90s when the N-Class 3000s were on the horizon. The system manager David Vivino only wanted a good home for the beast, which is why he posted his note with the subject line "HELLO HP3000.PLEASE/TAKEME."
The Orchestra has gone on to a newer movement for its patrons, making the transformation from the PACT/iX application to Windows-based Tessitura. PACT/iX, at its peak in those late 90s, was used by 38 symphonies, operas, ballets and arts organizations starting with the Dallas Opera in 1983, a user base that included ballets and symphonies in San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, New York, Phoenix and Baltimore, as well as the Cleveland organization.
"Most all of the performing arts people have transitioned to Tessitura, a SQL based product that combines ticketing, fundraising, and marketing into one common database," Vivino said. "We moved there in 2006. PACT was in place since the '80s, I believe. Yes, we made code changes ourselves, but never really needed to adjust the core system."
An Ohio-based services company gave this 987 a new home, perhaps as a parts repository. Sustaining a 3000 until it's the right time to transition can mean buying backup systems. But sticking with a legacy can mean the hardware is nearly free. This is the second 987 that has been sold for a song. But hardware is only note to juggle to sustain a legacy.An earlier blow to the PACT user base helped to kick some servers off their chairs. PACT/iX was created by Gary Biggs' Performing Technologies and eventually sold to Joe Geiser, whose name and writing can be found in our NewsWire editions of the 1990s. PACT never got the enhancements that some arts companies had funded, so eventually software support and enhancement fell to shops like Vivino's. Coupled with HP's exit from the 3000 market -- at first set for 2006 -- these dance, music and performing arts dropped their 3000s like a duet partner who couldn't hit the high notes anymore.
From one company's decision to transition, however, flows another's resource to sustain their 3000s. A Series 987 weighs several hundred pounds, so nobody was going to pay to ship a server that was not being built by Y2K. But it was perfect for a pickup truck transfer, so Sherlock Services snagged a server that cost at least $120,000, logging a new record discount. Back in 2006 a Series 987 sold for $255 on auction out of a Texas school district.
We calculated the 987's "legacy discount" back then at 99.8 percent. A customer would've paid $138,320 for a a 987RX in October 1993, a box which included a whopping 64MB of memory, a 100-user MPE/iX license and a full 1GB of disk. Even at the usual 10-20 percent discount of the '90s, this was easily a $120,000 system when sold new.
There are businesses still running such 9x7 servers with HP's support long gone, thanks to independent firms like Sherlock. But every one of them needs a plan and purchasing to sustain 3000s, if they're not ready to transition. Sustain, or transition: neither of these are free. It's comforting to know that the 3000 community is deep enough, and connected enough, that this 17-year-old system still can find a home -- so close by that the new owners can arrange a transition by truck.
February 11, 2011
3000's Digital rival bids its founder farewell
Ken Olsen died this week at age 84. A certain generation of 3000 expert needs no introduction for Olsen, the man who founded Digital Equipment Corp. He was the last of the generation of business computer titan founders, preceded in death by IBM's Thomas Watson Jr., Dr. An Wang, Bill Hewlett and David Packard. Olsen's company took Hewlett-Packard and the 3000 to the mat in the 1980s, but eventually showed that even a brilliant leader of engineers can have blind spots fatal to a company.
HP 3000 vets were sharing some stories this week on the news that Olsen died, returning to the era when a minicomputer was still a known commodity in the IT enterprise -- what we called Data Processing back in those days. In the middle 1980s DEC had stolen the march on HP and its nascent PA-RISC designs, simply by having shipped VAX systems that already had the coveted 32 bits worth of chip bandwidth. Digital had trumped its beloved PDP systems (above) with a revamp that powered the VAXen. "Digital Has It Now," the ads boasted in tabloid newsweeklies, some printed on a silver ink background.
But Olsen's myopia matched his company's visions about clustering (still better than most competitors) and chip architecture (Alpha never deserved to be put down by HP once it acquired DEC). Olsen never said computers didn't belong in the home, but didn't figure them to be dictatorial controllers of the house needs like HAL in 2001 or worse. There are other comments to burden his legacy, like labeling Unix as "snake oil," to defend DEC's crown jewel of an OS, VMS. As it turned out, VMS earned its current day slot in the HP lineup -- Enterprise Business OS That's Not Snake Oil -- at the expense of the 3000. But the DEC lineup also yielded a product that funds the development of new 3000 hardware, even today, in an indirect way.HP looked at several factors when it decided to drop the 3000 from its future back in 2001. But not least among them was purchasing almost a half-million customers using VMS, which was in direct competition to MPE/iX and the 3000. Right as the [DEC-owner] Compaq announced it would be acquired by HP, analysts tool note of the overlap in the two business product lines. Olsen had led a company that built a worthy competitor to the 3000, sparked by customer zeal to match an MPE advocate's. In 1986, Fortune magazine named Olsen "America's most successful entrepreneur." DEC was 20 years younger than HP and established as a computer dynamo. It had climbed into leadership as the IBM alternative by embracing the downsized business computer: A kind of king of the mini, with HP bidding to overtake that throne.
During that year among those silver-papered days, DEC went straight to the carotid artery of the 3000 in a battle. The computer of the 3000's future was late -- MPE/XL was still crashing and slow, and everyone could see HP wasn't going to meet a 1986 ship date for the 900 Series. HP users went to that fall's Interex conference in Detroit with the hope that Hewlett-Packard could put their fears to rest. The Series 70 systems built upon CISC were not meeting top hardware demands.
HP didn't make many delivery specifics available at that show, while DEC invited users one and all to a special suite across from Cobo Hall. Up on the 11th floor, a handful of VAX systems were running what amounted to an IMAGE lookalike. DEC had even gone to the trouble of naming some datasets with strings like "rego," a nod to how important the Adager creator Alfredo had become to 3000 databases.
The Digital panache probably didn't sell many conversions -- that's what we called such a move in the '80s. But the ploy did spark a rapid response from the HP sales force attending the conference. Digital had called its conversion offer the Systems Attract Program. The day after the suite opened up, HP's salespeople were on the floor of Cobol Hall with badges: "Don't be a SAP for DEC."
It took five years or more, but eventually the RISC 3000s started to lop off some of the DEC business for enterprises. Up to the point of that face-off at Detroit, it was easy to say that the default for computing at a company was IBM or DEC, both larger than HP's efforts or any of the BUNCH companies (Burroughs, Univac, NCR, Control Data and Honeywell.). Further off the mainstream were Wang and Data General. All were alive and kicking in that fall when the 3000's future for the '90s was stalled.
DEC never tapped the PC windfall the way IBM did, missing opportunity even more badly than HP did with its TouchScreen PCs. It added a Unix solution late in that derby, so didn't have that nouveau technology ready to tout as "open." When the company had skidded on bloated product cycles it got itself bought up by Compaq, a tiger of an owner which devoured the Olsen's DEC culture as completely as Compaq overwhelmed the HP Way in the subsequent merger.
But the DEC heartland, VAX and PDP and VMS, have survived so thoroughly that one HP 3000 player has made enough money to fund an emulator project off DEC revenues. The European Migration Center for Digital bought itself out when Compaq purchased DEC, becoming Stromasys after a name change. Superior designs don't go out of style in IT shops where value trumps popularity. Even the PDP systems, which are in the background of many HP 3000 leader's resumes, are emulated today. Olsen can take complete credit for leading a company whose product was so popular it could spin a fresh future for a rival system: your HP 3000.
February 02, 2011
HP creeps to brink of enterprise innovations
Deep in the heart of Texas we're chilling this week, (sub-freezing temps until Saturday) but out in California the new CEO of Hewlett-Packard is heating up a push toward innovations. One week from today the company will introduce strategy for webOS, the operating system purchased along with Palm last year. HP's been selling its Slate tablet as an enterprise solution, but that hardware and software looks far behind the promise of the HP's Topaz tablet.
Meanwhile, between webOS strategy and CEO Leo Apotheker's keynote at this June's HP Discover event, HP's chief will host a media event March 14. The subject of HP's presser, called a "March summit meeting," is unknown. But analysts and editors believe that Apotheker's SAP background, and HP's lag in software for business intelligence, will trigger some software announcements.
HP used to host this kind of press meeting in the richer days of 3000 business. We brought the NewsWire into HP's view at such an event, where we finagled an invitation to the Driving the Open Enterprise briefings. Back in 1995, that $25 billion HP used to quote revenue per employee. That's a metric that is much improved by software offerings your vendor creates, versus device sales or acquired products. The company spent almost 8 percent of its revenues on R&D, compared to the 3 percent of today.
HP's software record is uneven, to the point of having nowhere to go but up in some estimates. The company put its NeoView business intelligence appliance out to pasture recently. "Our customers are demanding options for addressing an emerging set of requirements around the explosive growth of data, new types of information, new classes of analytics and new delivery models," an HP statement explained. This was the other shoe dropping once HP and Microsoft announced new SQL Server data warehousing appliances in January.
What's helped HP gain its focus? The march of most competitors toward BI profits and beating HP at this business. HP sold only 100 or so NeoView installs, while newcomers have four times as many wins. Oracle turned up the heat with Exadata offerings, something former HP CEO Mark Hurd is now pushing against his old employer. Yes, the same company that provided icy sales of BI under Hurd's own tenure.HP's partners and allies are hoping that a new look from the new CEO will change the fortunes of soft products paired with HP's hardware -- the elements of an appliance. HP can toss in the HP Enterprise Cloud Services-Compute service to adjust the hardware costs of such BI. The cloud solution will span parts of HP's complementary product lines, including servers and prices based on on MIPS. Yes, Millions of Instructions Per Second. A return to older models has been profitable for HP's rival IBM.
Widespread belief in older solutions is still a core creed among IBM leaders, as well as some of the HP 3000 customer base using an OS that was last updated in any way during 2007. IBM's centennial cinema offering, They Were There, includes one quote about the System 360 OS revolution that reverberates today in airline reservation websites. Shep Nachbar, retired programmer for the SABRE System project, remains proud of how long these software designs have served IBM.
"You can't beat this old dog that was designed 50 years ago, even with the modern tools we have today," says an IBM Alliance Partner in the film. Run by New York's 911 service, the Chicago Board of Trade and Amtrak, the software -- reworked but still running on a mainframe platform -- counts five decades of service. The enterprise solution "was so resilient that we can't do any better today," the partner says. Software designed for 84,000 phone calls per day now handles 30,000 transactions per second, working as the front end for Expedia and Travelocity websites.
An older and familiar face from the 3000 and Unix ops at HP might rise up as a result of this software heat wave. Ann Livermore, who's led HP's Enterprise Business unit as a VP, may join the HP board as a director. She was a serious candidate for CEO back when the board picked Carly Fiorina. It's hard to say what might have happened to HP's software efforts, enterprise success or profits per employee if Livermore had won that board seat by becoming CEO more than a decade ago. Maybe the HP moves will take its enteprise innovations off the ice.
February 01, 2011
Rules of The Garage vs. International Rule
Just last month IBM celebrated its centennial, paying for a 30-minute movie scored by an Oscar-winner that you can watch on YouTube, even in high definition. It's not the first film ever commissioned by a leading IT vendor. HP was so moved upon its 2007 completion of renovating The Garage that it made a movie, too. The differences in the tone of these two titles is striking. One's a throwback to a history that seems too gentle for our times. The other supposes that what made a company great is still working.
The fact that HP wrapped its film around The Garage -- that shed behind Bill Hewlett's Addison Avenue house in Palo Alto -- should show which movie looks backward rather than ahead. The Garage is still much revered by some who make decisions about HP's future in computers. Paul Edwards ran across the t-shirt (above) that celebrated a company "founded by two friends."
What does this matter in 2011? Companies like HP and International Business Machines keep their business (and get migration dollars) on the promise they're always going to stick to their business premises. IBM celebrates innovation in its movie, although it overreaches on its stories about PC innovation (that's Apple's march as much as IBM's) and RISC computing (IBM had to follow HP's innovations there, the technology that still drives HP 3000s of today). You might watch both movies, look at the Rules of the Garage (below, listed), and check to see how the vendors seem to behave compared to their Hollywood selves.
HP's screenplay is based on the old rules. IBM's motivated to put a 1080 HD version of its movie, and four others, onto YouTube to celebrate its rule over international innovations. At last measure, IBM had filed for four times as many patents as HP did in 2010. Maybe not the best measure of tech rule today, but a least as good as documentaries. But the Rules, they could still work today, if HP celebrated them again. Of the 11 rules, the last one is Invent. That's something HP's new CEO might rededicate the company toward.HP brought on a celebrated IBM scientist to create the most significant business computer line in its history. "The thing that I fell in love with," says Joel Birnbaum in Origins, "is there was an immense pressure to make a contribution. You didn't just bring out a product because you thought you could make money on it. You brought it out because there was some dimension in which it was significantly better."
The HP that bought up Birnbaum's contract still had Bill and Dave on the scene, and many others who appear in Origins. Have a look at the rules and see how many of them match up with Birnbaum's love.
- Believe you can change the world.
- Work quickly, keep the tools unlocked, work whenever.
- Know when to work alone and know when to work together.
- Share - tools, ideas. Trust your colleagues.
- No politics. No bureaucracy. (These are ridiculous in a garage.)
- The customer defines a job well done.
- Radical ideas are not bad ideas.
- Invent different ways of working.
- Make a contribution every day. If it doesn't contribute, it doesn't leave the garage.
- Believe that together we can do anything.
Birnbaum pressed HP and its MPE engineers into delivering on that kind of promise, way back in 1986 when MPE XL was very late and very slow to arrive on RISC systems. "This problem will yield to engineering discipline," he vowed to the press at that year's Detroit Interex conference.
IBM's movie They Were There roils with that kind of fire, describing the bet the company made on moving to computers in the 50s, or creating the UPC system, or its work with Mandelbrot fractals. If you have been a part of computing since the 1970s onward, you may feel prouder of your career choice after watching the IBM film. It sends another message by unspooling over YouTube, instead of the modest Flash player that you watch Origins upon. Time will tell which of these companies can repeat its former glories of innovation -- and which one believes that glory is as essential as oxygen.
HP sums up Origins by tying the past to its currency of today:
Origins focuses on Bill and Dave’s philosophy of business — one centered on a deep respect for people and an acknowledgement of their built-in desire to do a good job. This "golden rule" approach evolved into informal, decentralized management and relaxed, collegial communication styles that became known as “management by walking around” (MBWA).
Emmy-award-winning documentary filmmaker Robby Kenner was chosen from a diverse field to direct Origins. Known for his passionate, engaging and accurate work, Kenner ’s previous films include episodes of the PBS highly acclaimed American Experience series.
IBM still makes and sells the Series i, descended from the AS/400s. And in spite of lagging sales and worries from its community, that computer has had yearly improvements to its hardware and OS. It's been very interesting to see that the system that competed with the HP 3000 didn't disappear like HP's CSY managers predicted -- not yet.
I watched the IBM film and was captivated. I came away with a feeling that IBM has not lost its way, even while many in HP had to jettison that company's Way.
And to add to this contrast: the now re-opened finale of the last HP CEO, complete with reality romance actress nee Playboy model. Prior to that, the pretexting scandal from the Patricia Dunn-Hurd board for which HP paid a $14.5 million fine. These are the sorts of things I cannot recall being a part of IBM's history -- although there was the legendary US Justice ruling of the 1970s opening the market to third parties. The IBM film gives a great feeling about why its history of late is a more camera-worthy moment.
One thing's certain, I believe. No matter where you stand on HP v. IBM v. Apple, you will feel prouder of your time working in data processing in the '60s, '70s and '80s after you watch the 30 minutes directed by Errol Morris, who did Thin Blue Line and those white-background Apple ads. And if IBM's centennial tale moves you to hold your vendor of today to a higher standard -- well, the world of IT customers will thank you for the outcome of that.
January 17, 2011
Volunteer server acts as time machine
Volunteers in the 3000 community, some working with OpenMPE, have placed a chunk of its history online. Conference proceedings from the 1984 Interex meeting, the one where HP announced its project to create a modern, PA-RISC 3000, are on the Invent3K disaster recovery system. (1984 was a significant one for me and eventually the NewsWire; it was the first year I reported on HP 3000 activities, writing for The Chronicle, a trade publication focused on HP that I edited through the early 1990s.)
These scanned papers join technical submissions from 1996 through 2004, the final year that Interex hosted an HP user group conference. Tracy Johnson, who manages the Invent3K outpost and still acts as secretary for OpenMPE, reports, "Most of the bugs in the links for the earlier iteration of the Proceedings Libraries have been fixed. This inspired new input from Frank McConnell. As such I have received more scans of the Proceedings from yesteryear."
The proceedings for 1984 are on the third button on the left, now included in the indexes of other years, Johnson said, adding that "More years will be offered in the future." He also commented on a stop-gap fix for the outage of openmpe.org, which has been mis-directed to the hp.com main web page since late December.
Some of you have noticed the OpenMPE domain has been down since Christmas. While the domain is still broken, the internal files are back online, second button from the left. Again, Keven Miller volunteered the coding effort.
November 30, 2010
A Sterling Example of R&D Innovation
This month marks the 15th anniversary of our printed issue of The 3000 NewsWire -- we mailed copies of our November 2010 edition at the start of last week. Just as those copies (with print-first exclusives) landed in mailboxes around the world, I got a LinkedIn connection invite from Harry Sterling, the last general manager of the 3000 division to engineer a bigger market share for the server. When we first spoke with Sterling he ran the group's R&D, an aspect of today's HP that analysts and veterans believe needs a renaissance.
I caught up with Sterling to learn he's still pursuing and loving his new career after HP retirement in 1999: real estate, selling residential property in his adopted hometown of Palm Springs. After he retired, Sterling spent a year off in consulting and renovating a house in New Orleans, but reports he's now pursuing what he loves -- contact with people. The sales have been hard in the recent market, a feeling he probably remembers from selling the 3000 in the '90s.
I have always been interested in Real Estate so I decided to give it a try. My technical skills have given me an edge with web marketing. Most of my new clients come to me via my web sites. I got my license in December of 2002. It is a tough market now with lots of foreclosures and short pay sales. Hard work – harder than I thought it would be. But I do love it, especially sleeping in my own bed every night and meeting new people all the time.
I was surprised to see our very same November, 1995 issue included our first Q&A with Sterling, back when HP still had executives who could speak about the HP 3000 as something other than a dead product. With the HP campus where Sterling led a rejuvenation now sold to Apple, it seems worthwhile to study what a manager can pursue when customer delight is the goal. The interview with him revolves around Customer First and how it was practiced down to the lab level of the division, a group that once worked in a building HP owns no more.
Unlike the HP which devolved after his retirement, Sterling was willing and able to make moves that didn't follow the company's stock messages. In 1998 he engineered the purchase of OpenSkies, a company built around HP 3000 use which had a lively business processing digital airline tickets. The object of the purchase, which some senior execs questioned, was to establish an application service provider -- HP called it Apps On Tap -- who'd use more 3000s to open up the customer base for the computer.
I place Sterling in a special category because he was the final GM to believe and work to make the server attractive to new customers. Ecometry sold a pile of them to power the emerging e-commerce market on his watch. And when he retired he told his story of being the highest ranking gay executive at HP, doing a "reader's theatre" presentation with fellow gay employees to educate Hewlett-Packard about engaging with a workforce still uncovered by company benefits. A few months later, HP changed its policy and extended its family benefits to all of its workers.
With HP's R&D efforts gaining a bit of hope in the report from its new CEO, what Sterling said 15 years ago stands as an example of how R&D needs motivated, compensated engineers to reach out to customers and put them first -- even, at times, in front of bald demands for profits. We asked Sterling back then if he'd found the Customer First changes were most profound at the R&D level. He referred to the low point of HP-customer 3000 relations at the Interex conference in Boston five years earlier, and how listening changed the future.
The management team had to really change the way we think about what we were responsible for. There's a cartoon of a tightrope walker who sees a fire climbing up the pedestal, and he's hesitant to go out. That's what it was like for us. In Boston [in 1990], the customers set fire to our pedestal and we had to move.
For the CSY engineering community in particular, it was very hard. In our culture, that [customer communication] was somebody else's job. We had compartmentalized the whole value chain, and tossed it over the fence to the next person who was responsible. When our customers said “The whole sales model has changed, we're not happy with what's going on, you're not hearing our needs,” our immediate reaction was, “The field has screwed this up. They've got to fix it. Or marketing has the problem.” We had to change philosophically, and realize we're responsible for all of it, whatever it takes. If there's something wrong in the value delivery system, it's our responsibility to fix it.
We're delighted that Sterling is enjoying his next chapter as a Palm Springs realtor, taking what he knew about technology and talking into a new field. Even though the HP of 1995 is long-ago dismissed, that doesn't make Customer First any less effective. For any HP group with customers captive to its technology (clearly, that's the customer base migrating to HP-UX), listening right down to the R&D level is essential to keeping proprietary products afloat in a time with so many chances to drift from HP's ways.
HP's got some of its R&D managers in the Business Critical Systems group selling advantages of new Integrity server solutions. At least it's communication from a BCS lab, if not between customers and engineers. We'll have more to say about that fresh start in a story for tomorrow.
November 29, 2010
Apple buys HP 3000 campus to return home
The home for development and management of the HP 3000 business has been sold to Apple Computer, putting the 98 acres between Pruneridge Ave. and Homestead Road back into the hands of HP's rival in the consumer computing business. That "return to home" view is being promoted by Steve Wozniak in an interview about the $300 million sale of HP's enterprise computing campus.
The Woz started his computer industry career on an HP campus back in the 1970s. The legend is told that he pitched the design and concept of a personal computer to Hewlett-Packard but got turned down, then left the company to found Apple with Steve Jobs. On the Cult of Mac website, The Woz commented on the site's story about the 98-acre sale, a transaction first reported by the San Jose Mercury News.
Woz worked for the most innovative HP group of the time, the Advanced Products Division, until HP wanted to move APD to Oregon. Woziak then logged about a month working at DSD -- home group of the predecessor to the 3000's General Systems Division, which finally was organized as a separate Computer Systems Divison. The General Systems Division contained the HP 1000 and HP 3000 operations during the years Woz worked at HP, the late '70s when the computer gained IMAGE as a bundled database as well as stole market share from IBM's batch mainframes.
Apple purchased the land and buildings where the 3000 gained its PA-RISC design as well as the creation of a 32-bit MPE. In the Mercury News coverage, its John Boudreau contrasts what Apple has done in 2010 against the cutbacks and acquisitions common at places like HP. "What most distinguishes Apple is the way it has climbed these heights," Boudreau writes. "While other tech titans spent 2010 cutting costs and acquiring new technology through mergers, this $65 billion company is innovating like a startup."
With the purchase of the HP campus, Apple's jammed main campus can now expand to the buildings where its co-founder did research that led to Apple's first product. Woz remembered when HP was his benefactor.
Apple really is returning home. Actually, almost all of the Apple ][ development occurred in the HP calculator division (APD) which was located in the section acquired earlier. When this HP division moved to Corvallis, Oregon, my wife did not want to move so I transferred to HP’s Data Systems Division (HP 3000) across Pruneridge and I worked there for about one month, at first choosing not to start Apple due to my love for HP.
Apple paid HP $300 million for land and buildings that it's probably years away from using fully, while HP was glad to tells analysts about making a 4-cent a share profit for its 2011 Q1 off the sale. The transaction shows two companies heading in different fiscal directions. Maybe that's why Apple's stock is trading at seven times the price of HP shares. HP said in its latest quarterly briefing that it's the only company strong in both comsumer and enterprise computing, to give it opportunities no competitor can access.
HP's strength in consumer computing pales to the Apple business, however. Apple will sell more than 13 million iPads thhis year to launch the tablet computer industry. HP's Slate tablet began being sold last month as an enterprise solution, after the company first pitched it in May as a consumer product. Meanwhile, iPads are surging as an enterprise computing solution, injected into IT groups by executives much the same way iPhones were by 2008.
Apple has also bought up parts of HP that it acquired when Hewlett-Packard merged with Compaq. In 2006 Apple purchased the old Tandem campus across Pruneridge from the Cupertino site -- and Apple hasn't fully moved into that, either. The company believes that it will be easier to earn city permits for renovation of the properties with the combined acreage under one owner. Apple is now the largest taxpayer in the city of Cupertino. On Cult of Mac, the HP campus is reported to have a connection to Apple’s earliest computer, the Apple I.
HP rolled out the HP 3000 about four years before Apple began selling its personal computers. Each hawked a concept new to computing -- the desktop computer for Apple, the interactive minicomputer for the 3000. (Ad image below courtesy of the HP Computer Museum website -- a superior Web resource for Hewlett-Packard history, right down to the 30-year-old price lists in the archived copies of HP's Computer News internal publication.)
“This is also the division of HP that had the PROM burners I used to burn the 256-byte 'monitor' program of the Apple I," Woz said on Cult of Mac. 'It took two PROM chips – not much memory in those days. I had previously learned how to burn these PROMs to display 4-letter words when you missed the ball on a Pong game I’d built for myself,” he wrote on the website's comments board.
New HP CEO Leo Apotheker said in last week's FY 2010 financial briefing that the company's operations in enterprise computing -- a new phrase pushed in the presentation -- are moving to a more productive space in Palo Alto, where the original HP campus is being expanded for occupancy by 2012. While Apple expands its presence in high-cost, high-value Silicon Valley, HP is trimming back its footprint in its birthplace. HP expects cost cutting to remain a significant part of its 2011 fiscal strategy. Few of its Silicon Valley properties would fetch anywhere near as much as the 3000's birthplace, however.