December 12, 2014

Essential Skills: Using Password Vaults

Editor's note: HP 3000 managers do many jobs, work that often extends outside the MPE realm. In Essential Skills, we cover the non-3000 skillset for these multi-talented MPE experts.

By Steve Hardwick, CISSP

Passwords are always a challenge for security professionals. Why is creating a secure password so difficult? More importantly, how can a user tell if their password has been stolen? Typically, when all the damage has been done and the password has been used by someone else. At this point in time it is too late. One way to resolve this is to have a password vault such as KeepPass or 1Password.

VaultA vault is a good investment of your time. A security breach that might result from having no vault might be difficult to even detect. It might be that the time the breach is discovered may not be the first time the hacked credentials were used. This might be how many times a stolen credit card is used before the owner gets the bill. Second, the hacker could have hacked the password and is just keeping it for later use or sale. One of the preventative measures for this is to require users to periodically change passwords. 

This changing strategy can stem the use of stolen passwords and also prevent the future use of any that have not yet been exploited. From a user's perspective, though, generating multiple passwords every 60-90 days just compounds the passwords nightmare.

As a security professional I have seen several solutions that users concoct to try and get around this issue. One common one is to write them all down and hide the resulting list. It turns out there are not that many good hiding places. Under keyboards, behind pictures, inside speakers, taped to the underside of a drawer or chair, back of a bookcase do not qualify as good locations. Also, many users forget to update the sheet with new passwords. Another approach is to create a text file, e.g. shopping_list.txt, and put everything in there. A quick search of the most frequently used files normally finds those. Plus if the hard drive crashes, and the file is not backed up, new ones have to be set up all over again. 

A variation of the last theme is to use a password vault. This is a method where the password information is stored on a file, but the file is encrypted. In this case only one password is needed, to decrypt the vault, and access is granted to all of the other passwords. The most ubiquitous form of encryption is AES - Advance Encryption Standard. AES256 encryption is adequate for most users.

However, one word of caution. If the password used to encrypt the vault is easy to guess, then the contents are at risk. 

Another challenge is storing the password vault file on the computer hard drive -- it does not mitigate the risk of when the drive crashes. (They all crash eventually.) This can easily be overcome by storing the password vault on a cloud storage location. Since the vault file is encrypted, this significantly reduces the impact if it is stolen from the cloud drive. As long as the master password is strong.

Vaults can also help protect you from key-loggers, a program that runs in background and simply copies all of the keystrokes onto a hidden file. A new variation of the Citadel Trojan virus is specifically targeting password vault applications with a key-logger. A password vault solution has some protection against password loggers. The vault can be built on a different machine and placed in the cloud. Once opened from the cloud on the user's system, the password is cut and pasted into the login screen.

Finally, there is a problem that a key-logger will be targeted at the master vault password. This can be mitigated by using two-factor authentication. In addition to the password, the user is required to provide a digital certificate. This specialized encrypted file can be stored on a removable storage device, USB, and accessed at vault login time. Without the password and the digital certificate file, the person trying to access the vault is thwarted.

A quick search on the Internet for Password Vault or Password Manager will result in a lot of options.  Here are some criteria to be considered when choosing a password vault applications.

1) Strong encryption - e.g. AES 256.

2) Can store the vault file in the cloud

3) Runs on multiple platforms. Allows users to get access on desktop or mobile devices

4) Protection elements against keyloggers

5) Allows 2 factor authentication

6) Password generator (Optional -- caution, these normally provides secure but hard to remember passwords)

7) Browser import capability (Optional -- provides a way to import store browser passwords)

8) Password strength indicator (Optional --give a measure of the ease to which the password can be guessed)

Using a password vault will solve a lot of security problems associated with today's Internet world. Taking the storage of passwords to a secure level results in a solution that is easy to use, secure, and readily available. Plus it gets around that common problem, “Honey, what is the password for the banking site again?”

Posted by Ron Seybold at 02:34 PM in Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

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December 11, 2014

Big, unreported computing in MPE's realm

When members gather from the 3000 community, they don't often surprise each other these days with news. The charm and challenge of the computer's status is its steady, static nature. We've written before about how no news is the usual news for a 40-year-old system.

Pegged gaugesBut at a recent outing with 3000 friends I heard two pieces of information that qualify as news. The source of this story would rather not have his name used, but he told me, "This year we actually sold new software to 3000 sites." Any sort of sale would be notable. This one was in excess of $10,000. "They just told us they needed it," my source reported, "and we didn't need to know anything else." A support contract came along with the sale, of course.

The other news item seemed to prove we don't know everything about the potential of MPE and the attraction of the 3000 system. A company was reaching out for an estimate on making a transition to the Charon emulator. They decided not to go forward when they figured it would require $1 million in Intel-based hardware to match the performance of their HP 3000.

"How's that even possible?" I asked. This is Intel-caliber gear being speficied, and even a pricey 3000 configuration shouldn't cost more than a quarter-million dollars to replace. It didn't add up.

"Well, you know they need multiple cores to replace a 3000 CPU," my source explained. Sure, we know that. "And they had a 16-way HP 3000 they were trying to move out."

Somewhere out there in the world there's an HP 3000, installed by Hewlett-Packard, that supports 16 CPUs. Still running an application suite. The value is attractive enough that it's performing at a level twice as powerful as anything HP would admit to, even privately. 

A 4-way N-Class was as big as HP would ever quote. Four 500-MHz or 750-MHz PA-8700 CPUs, with 2.25 MB on-chip cache per CPU, topped the official lineup.

Unix got higher horsepower out of the same HP servers. An 8-way version of the same N-Class box was supported on HP-UX; HP would admit such a thing was possible in the labs, and not supported in the field. But a 16-way? HP won't admit it exists today, and the customer wouldn't want to talk about it either. Sometimes things go unreported because they're too big to admit. It made me wonder how much business HP might've sustained if they'd allowed MPE to run as fast and as far as HP-UX ran, when both of those environments were hosted on the same iron.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 09:14 PM in Homesteading, Newsmakers, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 10, 2014

Getting Macro Help With COBOL II

GnuCOBOL An experienced 3000 developer and manager asked his cohorts about the COBOL II macro preprocessor. There's an alternative to this very-MPE feature: "COPY...REPLACING and REPLACE statements. Which would you choose and why?"

Scott Gates: COPY...REPLACING because I understand it better.  But the Macro preprocessor has its supporters. Personally, I prefer the older "cut and paste" method using a decent programmer's editor to replace the text I need. Makes things more readable.

Donna Hofmeister: I'm not sure I'm qualified to comment on this any longer, but it seems to me that macros were very efficient (and as I recall) very flexible (depending on how they were written, of course). It also seems to me that the "power of macros" made porting challenging. So if your hidden agenda involves porting, then I think you'd want to do the copy thing.

There was even porting advice from a developer who no longer works with a 3000, post-migration.

Tony Summers: When we migrated in 2008 we chose Acucobol partly because of its HP 3000 compatibility, including macro support. However had we gone down a different route, I had already proved that I could pre-process the raw code myself and expand the macros before calling the compiler.

Robert Mills, who started the discussion on the 3000-L, said in reply to Donna, “I admit that I do have a hidden agenda, but the main reason does not involve porting.”

For many years I have used macros to make my life easier. When I left the e3000, back in 2008, and did some work on other platforms I found I missed them. I'm now in semi-retirement and have been using the free version of Micro Focus COBOL (a couple of years) and GnuCOBOL (this last year) to write software for friends, family and my own use.

A couple of times since 2008 I had thought of writing by own macro preprocessor to emulate the one on the e3000. A few months ago I decided to do it and release it as open source under the GNU GPL. The development of preprocessor, using GnuCOBOL, is now completed and in final Beta Testing and I'm writing the manual. Was hoping that I could some additional reasons, from others, as to why you would use macros instead of the copy...replacing and replace statements.

Because a port of GnuCOBOL is a available on several platforms, and my preprocessor is written in GnuCOBOL, I see no problem in taking my macros with me nearly every wherever I go. If I end up doing work on a platform that does not support a feature that it is using it shouldn't be to difficult to develop a workaround.

As it turns out, GnuCOBOL is a newer version of OpenCOBOL — a compiler that Donna says bears a close resemblence to COBOL II. (OpenCOBOL has been ported into a commercial product, too, called IT-COBOL.) Adding that she obviously thinks macros are cool, she explained.

Do my mis-firing neurons recall that GnuCOBOL was formerly OpenCobol... which was actually very close to MPE’s COBOL?  (or something like that?)

I inherited a outstanding collection of macros at one job. Many of them were 'toolbox' functions.  Want to center a string and the overall length of the string doesn't matter?  Got a macro for that.  Want to use a 'db' call? Got a macro for that.  These went far beyond modifying code at compile time -- and that's what made them so valuable (at least to me).

Posted by Ron Seybold at 06:10 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 08, 2014

IMAGE data schemas get visualized

Is there any program that will show the network of a TurboIMAGE database? I want to output the relationships among sets and items.

CFAWireframeIn 2011, Connie Sellitto researched the above question, while aiding new programmers who were charged with moving a pet organization's operations to a non-MPE system. Understanding the design of the database was important to this team. Sellitto mentioned a popular tool for PCs, but one not as essential as an IT pro's explanations.

You might try Microsoft's Visio, and you may need to have an ODBC connection to your IMAGE database as well. This produces a graphical view with search paths shown, and so on. However, there is still nothing like a detailed verbal description provided by someone who actually knows the interaction between datasets.

To sum up, we can refer to ScreenJet founder's Alan Yeo's testing of that Visio-IMAGE interplay

Taking a reasonably well-formed database into Visio and reverse engineering, you do get the tables and items. It will show you what the indexes in the tables are, but as far as I can see it doesn't show that a detail is linked to a particular master. Automasters are missing anyway, as they are really only for IMAGE.

My conclusion: if you have done all the work to load the databases in the SQL/DBE and done all the data type mappings, then importing in Visio might be a reasonable start to documenting the databases, as all you would have to do is add the linkages between the sets.

If you don't have everything in the SQL/DBE, then I would say we are back where we started.

ScreenJet knows quite a bit about moving 3000 engineering into new formats. It built the EZ View modernization kit for 3000 user screens that are still in VPlus. Yeo said the ubiquitous Visio might be overkill for explaining relationships.

If you have Adager, Flexibase, or DBGeneral -- or already have a good schema file for the databases -- just generate the schema files and import them into Word or Excel and give them to [your migrators]. If they can't put together the data structure from that, no amount of time you can spend with Visio is going to impart any more information.

Visio has free and open source competition, software which HP support veteran Lars Appel pointed out. "Perhaps Visio has similar 'database graph' features, such as the free or open source tools like dbVisualizer or SquirrelSQL."

Barry Lake of Allegro pointed out that users "may want to take a look at Allegro's DBHTML product, which creates a browser viewable HTML file documenting the structure of an IMAGE database." Allegro's site has an example DBHTML output on its website, although it doesn't draw pretty pictures.

At a more fundamental OS level, Michael Anderson points out to understand the structure of a TurboIMAGE database, "you could use QUERY.PUB.SYS, then issue the command FO ALL, or FO SETS."

Posted by Ron Seybold at 10:31 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 05, 2014

A Forced Migration, One That's Unfortunate

ImagesThis month in the US includes more than the usual ration of Christmas carols and holiday office parties. This is the first month when we US citizens are renewing our healthcare, all of us at once. It's Open Enrollment! According to my insurance agent, everybody's got to be insured by the end of the month. I'm one of the people who's having an experience like 3000 users got in 2001. Blue Cross is migrating me away from a product that it no longer wants to sell.

The parallels, so far, are pretty close. There was nothing that stopped working with my health plan. Like HP, Blue Cross simply stopped selling it because it wasn't making the vendor enough profit. The plan was not removed because of the Affordable Care Act (commonly known as Obamacare). But then, the HP 3000 was not removed because of the HP merger with Compaq. These were simply business decisions, by HP and by Blue Cross of Texas.

Business decisions are taken as a result of events that create situations. Insurers must protect profits, in the same way that HP had to protect its ability to grow after it absorbed $25 billion of Compaq. Customers don't get consulted about discontinuing products.

Much like the experience of the 3000 community with the 2001 migration march, my journey to a new plan will trigger more expense, and let Blue Cross earn more by doing less. I'll see about a 20 percent increase in recurring costs -- which might look cheap compared to how much the 3000 migration has cost the companies being forced to move.

There's a difference that's important, though. The active event that's changed the sale of insurance in America comes with federal rules. It now costs at least $395 a year to homestead, as it were, with no insurance at all. That's a fine that can rise as high as 2 percent of your gross income. A similar bill for a company making $5 million yearly in profit would be $100,000. That would be money spent just to stay on a system which the vendor stopped making or supporting.

Thankfully, there's no such fine for homesteading. There's a bill if a site simply stops support of all kind, however. Every computer system breaks down sooner or later, because nothing is built to never break. A company's insurance on its computer operations is support. The 3000 community got an advantage over those of us who've seen their products discontinued. System support got less costly.

Is a computer system as essential as healthcare? It depends who you ask. Companies can get ill enough to die, too. The continued health of information services is essential to good business practices. There's no guarantee that vendor-based computer support, or even R&D, will keep a company fiscally healthy. It goes a long way when a vendor can deliver new hardware, when older systems can get replacement parts (like artificial hips or shoulders), or when the medicine of improved software and cleansed data remain available.

I'm not happy about seeing my product canceled, and just like HP 3000 customers, I know I need a replacement product. Like 3000 sites, I'll be paying for more than one system, during this month's changeover. I wish I could say that I saw other companies get a chance at affordable computing during the prior decade because HP canceled the 3000 product. I didn't see that. It might have looked like seeing a struggling startup get a computer system built upon Windows and driven by HP's ProLiant hardware. That's a Compaq product that has done very well in the 12 years since the merger.

In contrast, I know there are families who are now getting insurance premium help of some kind. They make less than $62,000 for a family of two, and that number gets higher as the family gets bigger. At some level, their insurance product might be free. There's nothing like that in the computer marketplace.

The phrase "taking a bullet" comes to mind while I look at my insurance costs for the coming year. It's a small bullet. Your community took a bigger one, and some companies didn't survive. That's the cost of some discontinued products. Mine won't kill me.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 04:56 PM in Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 03, 2014

Cyber-shop for networked storage this week

AmazonAs Cyber-Week -- the extension of Cyber Monday shopping -- continues to unfold this week, the holiday sale might provide new resources for your old 3000. Network Attached Storage (NAS) is a powerful enterprise resource, full of value now that disk prices have plummeted. Everything is even lower this week. Alan Yeo of ScreenJet has shared his secrets for making NAS an HP 3000 tool.

"Like most HP 3000 shops we were looking for a cheap way to [store many gigabytes of data] — and there was no way we could afford a DLT," he said. Digital Linear Tape boasts massive capacities, but most storage these days is going straight to another disk.

LinkstationYeo said that fundamentally, the method to include NAS as an option involves creating STORE to Disk files, "and then you FTP those STORE files up to your NAS device. A simple half-terabyte (500 GB) RAID-1 NAS device is the equivalent of 40 12-GB DDS tape drives." 

It's a little unsettling to hear how many HP 3000 backups still go onto DDS tapes. Even the DLT tapes are a pain to handle, Yeo added.

A system manager needs to free up enough free disk space on a HP 3000 to do the STORE to Disk files, Yeo explained. "If you haven't got 50 percent free disk space and you're doing a complete backup in one hit, you're going to have a problem," he said.

STORE to Disk speeds are not significantly slower than STORE to tapes. One way to speed up the process is to have a few separate volume sets for these STOREs, sets that are two or more high-speed spindles. HP's got disks today which spin up to 15,000 RPM. Third party disks work with HP 3000s, too, in case HP hasn't got a certified product for your MPE/iX server.

FTP bandwidth can be a bottleneck for some older HP 3000s, sometimes as slow as 10 megabits per second. "You may have a protracted FTP process to your NAS device," Yeo said.

Using NAS is not a substitute for having a good SLT tape for your system in case of disaster. Yeo added that doing an @.@.SYS backup onto the same SLT tape, "so you'll have everything you need when you bring the box back up to get the networking started."

Devices available for HP 3000 NAS use? The Buffalo TeraStation Pro worked in one of Yeo's client projects, and the device starts at $450 for 4 TB. Shop online.

It may seem crazy to be ordering HP 3000 storage devices from Amazon this week. But so much has changed for the HP 3000 customer. Some of the change opens up new opportunities to save money and make this server even more efficient.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:32 PM in Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 02, 2014

Data leads way to migrations, via support

Migration patternThe heart of a 3000 homestead operation is its collection of IMAGE/SQL databases. Almost 20 years ago, IBM was mounting an effort to turn 3000 customers into AS/400 sites. I commented on the effort for Computerworld, "They'll have to do something about converting IMAGE/SQL data, if they expect to have any success." IBM had little luck in that effort, and not a great deal more nine years later, after HP announced an exit date for its 3000 operations.

From a reader and system manager on the US East Coast, we've heard more about data leading the way to the future. At this long-time 3000 site, the systems are getting a new support provider to keep them online and reliable. Not many sites are changing this sort of arrangement these days. It's been almost four years since HP closed its 3000 and MPE support operations in 2010.

A new company will be supporting that A-Class server on the East Coast before long. The new support is going to open the door to a revamped future, however. 

Our purchasers are still in the process of signing up our new vendor for HP 3000 support. What is sad is that part of the deal includes migration of some TurboIMAGE databases to MS Access or something like that, which will lead to the eventual demise of the HP3000.

There is still the chance the new support might extend the 3000's utility, though. Self-maintainers who don't use support run risks that the 3000 doesn't really have to bear. A stable server is just one short-term reward for signing up with a support provider specializing in 3000s, like Pivital Solutions or The Support Group.

"Yes, I hate doing this support upgrade," the manager reported. "But there is the slim chance that the migration will not be done soon enough to meet the needs of customers -- meaning the usage of the 3000 could actually increase in the short term."

Short-term 3000 usage increases are common in any environment where the data is leading the way to a migration. System managers know the writing is on their shop whiteboards when the data starts to move. While using advanced tools like UDA Central from MB Foster, or back in the day, solutions like DB Migrate when it was offered in service contracts from Speedware, data migrations of IMAGE into other database formats take away the greatest asset of the 3000.

Migration solution companies don't often support servers in the same contract. That arrangement can be an artifact of having a more dedicated resource supporting the HP 3000. While they migrate data, some providers can be keeping the 3000 up to date, too. A customer making a migration might look for a 3000-devoted vendor for moving data.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 05:20 PM in Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 25, 2014

Open source SED manages 3000 streams

Open source resources make it possible to use SED, a stream editor built in the open source community. Since 2001 SED has worked on the HP 3000, thanks to Lars Appel, a former HP support engineer who ported Samba to the platform in the 1990s.

SED's main MPE page is on a page of Appel's. SED is an at your own risk download, but support is available through the 3000 community.

Dan Barnes, working on a problem he had to solve in his 3000 environment, asked:

The issue is incoming data from another platform that is being fed into MM 3000. This data occasionally has some unprintable characters, which of  course wrecks havoc on the MM application when it is encountered. To address this, the user, using a cygwin (Unix-like) environment on their Windows PC, developed a SED script. When they test the script in the cgywin environment it works just fine. But when done on the target HP 3000 it gets an undesirable result.

Barnes added that "The user thought that because MPE/iX is Posix-compliant, that this should work." He explained his user created the expression

sed -e 's/[\x7F-\xFE]/*/g' < COMSHD > COMSHD1

But Appel noted that hex 7F thru hex FE portion of the expression isn't supported on the MPE/iX version of SED. It's a limitation of MPE/iX, but there's a workaround.

Not sure if the regular expression usage here matches Posix or GNU specs, but my guess is the "\xNN" format, that seems to indicate a char by hex code, doesn't work.

How about something like using the command sed -e 's/[^ -~]/*/g' instead, i.e. map the characters outside the range space through tilde?

Posted by Ron Seybold at 10:05 AM in Hidden Value, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 17, 2014

HP's 3000 power supply persists in failure

Amid a migration project, Michael Anderson was facing a failure. Not of his project, but a failure of his HP 3000 to start up on a bad morning. HP's original hardware is in line for replacement at customers using the 3000 for a server. Some of these computers are more than 15 years old. But the HP grade of components and engineering is still exemplary.

"I was working with a HP 3000 Series 969, and one morning it was down," he reported. "All power was on, but the system was not running; I got no response from the console. So I power-cycled it, and the display panel (above the key switch) reported the following."

Proceeding to turn DC on

On the console it displayed garbage when the power was turned on, but the message on the display remained. I wasn’t sure what to replace. I was thinking the power supply — but all of the power was on. As it turned out, even in the middle of a power supply failure the 3000 was working to get out a message. The back side, the core I/O, FW SCSI, and so on, all appeared to have power. That is why I found it hard to believe that the power supply was the problem.

Anderson explained that Charles Johnson of Surety Systems replaced the power supply for the system.
He explained that (back in the day) HP engineered some of the best power supplies in world, lots of checks and verifications. Even though the power supply had actually supplied DC power to the various components, it was not able to verify it.

So the message "Proceeding to turn on DC power" remained on the front panel display, meanwhile the boot process on the console would hang, and if you do a <cntrl-B>, RS it would time-out with a msg:

"FATAL ERROR: System held in reset. POW_ON never came back (APERR 21)"

"Waiting until it's reasserted......"

Bill & Dave's Excellent Machine — even with a power supply failure, it still manages to get a message out (in plain English) attempting to explain the failure.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:41 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 14, 2014

Our World's Greatest Cartoon, Ever

101 MigrationsBecause it's so crucial, and because Alan Yeo was brilliant in commissioning it. Mark your calendars. (Click it for detail)

Posted by Ron Seybold at 02:39 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 13, 2014

Thursday Throwback: IMAGE vs. Relational

As a precocious 18-year-old, Eugene Volokh wrote deep technical papers for HP 3000 users who were two or three times his age. While we pointed to the distinctions between IMAGE master and automatic datasets recently, Eugene's dad Vladimir reminded us about a Eugene paper. It was published in the fall of 1986, a time when debate was raging over the genuine value of relational databases.

While the relational database is as certain in our current firmament as the position of any planet, the concept was pushing aside proven technology 28 years ago. IMAGE, created by Fred White and Jon Bale at HP, was not relational. Or was it? Eugene offered the paper below to explore what all the relative fuss was about. Vladimir pointed us to the page on the fine Adager website where the paper lives in its original formatting.

COBO HallThe relationships between master and automatic and detail datasets pointed the way to how IMAGE would remain viable even during the onslaught of relational databases. Soon enough, even Structured Query Language would enter the toolbox of IMAGE. But even in the year this paper emerged, while the 3000 still didn't have a PA-RISC model or MPE/XL to drive it, there was a correlation between relational DBs and IMAGE. Relational databases rely on indexes, "which is what most relational systems use in the same way that IMAGE uses automatic masters," Eugene wrote in his paper presented at COBO Hall in Detroit (above). QUERY/3000 was a relational query language, he added, albeit one less easy to use.

Vladimir admits that very few IT professionals are building IMAGE/SQL databases anymore. "But they do look at them, and they should know what they're looking at," he explained.

Relational Databases Vs. IMAGE:
What The Fuss Is All About

By Eugene Volokh, VESOFT

What are "relational databases" anyway? Are they more powerful than IMAGE? Less powerful? Faster? Slower? Slogans abound, but facts are hard to come by. It seems like HP will finally have its own relational system out for Spectrum (or whatever they call it these days). I hope that this paper will clear up some of the confusion that surrounds relational databases, and will point out the substantive advantages and disadvantages that relational databases have over network systems like IMAGE.

What is a relational database? Let's think for a while about a database design problem.

We want to build a parts requisition system. We have many possible suppliers, and many different parts. Each supplier can sell us several kinds of parts, and each part can be bought from one of several suppliers.

Easy, right? We just have a supplier master, a parts master, and a supplier/parts cross-reference detail:

Relational-IMAGE Fig 1Every supplier has a record in the SUPPLIERS master, every part has a record in the PARTS master, and each (supplier, part-supplied) pair has a record in the SUPPLIER-XREF dataset.

Now, why did we set things up this way? We could have, for instance, made the SUPPLIER-XREF dataset a master, with a key of SUPPLIERS#+PART#.  Or,  we  could have made all three datasets stand-alone details, with no masters at all. The point is that the proof of a database is in the using. The design we showed -- two masters and a detail -- allows us to very efficiently do the following things:

  • Look up supplier information by the unique supplier #.
  • Look up parts information by the unique part #.
  • For each part, look up all its suppliers (by using the cross-reference detail dataset).
  • For each supplier, look up all the parts it sells (by using the cross-reference detail dataset).

This is what IMAGE is good at -- allowing quick retrieval from a master using the master's unique key and allowing quick retrieval from a detail chain using one of the detail's search items. 

However, let’s take a closer look at the parts dataset. It actually looks kind of like this:

PART# <-- unique key item
DESCRIPTION
SHAPE
COLOR
...

What if we want to find all the suppliers that can sell us a "framastat"? A "framastat", you see, is not a part number -- it's a part description. We want to be able to look up parts not only by their part number, but also by their descriptions. The functions supported by our design are:

  • Look up PART by PART#.
  • Look up SUPPLIERS by SUPPLIERS#.
  • Look up PARTs by SUPPLIERS#.
  • Look up SUPPLIERs by PART#.

What we want is the ability to

  • Look up PART by DESCRIPTION.

The sad thing is that the PARTS dataset is a master, and a master dataset supports lookup by ONLY ONE FIELD (the key). We can't make DESCRIPTION the key item, since we want PART# to be the key item; we can't make DESCRIPTION a search item, since PARTS isn't a detail. By making PARTS a master, we got fast lookup by PART# (on the order of 1 or 2 I/Os to do the DBGET), but we forfeited any power to look things up quickly by any other item.

And so, dispirited and dejected, we get drunk and go to bed. And, deep in the night, a dream comes. "Make it a detail!" the voice shouts. "Make it a detail, and then you can have as many paths as you want to."

We awaken elated! This is it! Make PARTS a detail dataset, and then have two search items, PART# and DESCRIPTION. Each search item can have an automatic master dataset hanging off of it, to wit:

Relational-IMAGE Fig 2

What's more, if we ever, say, want to find all the parts of a certain color or shape, we can easily add a new search item to the PARTS dataset. Sure, it may be a bit slower (to get a part we need to first find it in PART#S and then follow the chain to PARTS, two IOs instead of one), and also the uniqueness of part numbers isn't enforced; still, the flexibility advantages are pretty nice.

So, now we can put any number of search items in PARTS. What about SUPPLIERS? What if we want to find a supplier by his name, or city, or any other field? Again, if we use master datasets, we're locked into having only one key item per dataset. Just like we restructured PARTS, we can restructure SUPPLIES, and come up with:

Relational-IMAGE Fig 3Note what we have done in our quest for flexibility. All the real data has been put into detail datasets; every data item which we're likely to retrieve on has an automatic master attached to it.

Believe it or not, this is a relational database.

If this is a relational database, I'm a Hottentot

Surely, you say, there is more to a relational database than just an IMAGE database without any master datasets. Isn't there? Of course, there is. But all the wonderful things you've been hearing about relational databases may have more to do with the features of a specific system that happens to be relational than with the virtues of relational as a whole.

Consider for a moment network databases. IMAGE is one example, in fact an example of a rather restricted kind of network database (having only two levels, master and detail). Let's look at some of the major features of IMAGE:

  • IMAGE supports unique-key MASTERS and non-unique-key DETAILS.
  • IMAGE does HASHING on master dataset records.
  • IMAGE has QUERY, an interactive query language.

Which of these features are actually network database features? In other words, which features would be present in any network database, and which are specific to the IMAGE implementation? Of the three listed above, only the first -- masters and details -- must actually be present in all databases that want to call themselves "network." On the other hand, a network database might very well use B-trees or ISAM as its access method instead of hashing; or, it might not provide an interactive query language. It would still be a network database -- it just wouldn't be IMAGE.

Why is all this relevant? Well, let's say that somebody said "Network databases are bad because they use hashing instead of B-trees." This statement is wrong because the network database model is silent on the question of B-trees vs. hashing. It is incorrect to generalize from the fact that IMAGE happens to use hashing to the theory that all network databases use hashing. If we get into the habit of making such generalizations, we are liable to get very inaccurate ideas about network databases in general or other network implementations in particular.

The same goes for relational databases. The reason that so many people are so keen on relational databases isn't because they have any particularly novel form of data representation (actually, it's much like  a  bunch  of old-fashioned KSAM/ISAM-like files with the possibility of multiple keys); nor is it because of some fancy new access methods (hashing, B-trees, and ISAM are all that relational databases support). Rather, it's because the designers of many of the modern relational databases did a good job in providing people with lots of useful features (ones that might have been just as handy in network databases).

What are relational databases: functionality

The major reason for many of the differences between relational databases and network databases is simple: age. Remember the good old days when people hacked FORTRAN code, spending days or weeks on optimizing out an instruction or two, or saving 1000 bytes of memory (they had only 8K back then) ? Well, those are the days in which many of today's network databases were first designed; maximum effort was placed on making slow hardware run as fast as possible and getting the most out of every byte of disk.

Relational databases, children of the late '70s and early '80s had the benefit of perspective. Their designers saw that much desirable functionality and flexibility was missing in the older systems, and they were willing to include it in relational databases even if it meant some wasted storage and performance slow-down. The bad part of this is that, to some extent, modern relational databases are still hurting from slightly decreased performance; however, this seems to be at most a temporary problem, and the functionality and flexibility advantages are quite great.

For even more IMAGE education, like the advantages of IMAGE over relational databases, and a tour of the flexibility that automatic masters provide, see the remainder of the paper on the Adager website.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 01:48 PM in Hidden Value, History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 12, 2014

Public server with a mission: CHARON cloud

About a month ago, Stromasys announced that the CHARON HP 3000 emulator was going to be finding a home in the cloud. The company says it's talking to prospective partners to put such a 3000 capability onto a standard cloud provider, such as Amazon Web Services. That would establish a working environment where the 3000 has already performed a mission. More than a decade ago, Hewlett-Packard believed that a 3000 for public use would help the 3000 community.

The server was dubbed Invent3K, because its mission was to further the 3000's lifespan through the invention of software. HP stocked it with subsystems, offered accounts for free, and let development commence. Some useful products came out of Invent3K. The first that comes to mind is a version of perl ready for MPE/iX. That's a version that continues to work.

Now CHARON might do similar work to help extend the MPE/iX lifespan. Plenty of people want to experience the emulator's powers. Tapping a free server, including free accounts where homesteaders' applications and test databases could reside, would offer the world a useful test bed for transition onto Intel hardware and away from HP-branded boxes.

Last fall the MPE expertise inside Stromasys suggested if there would be interest, from a volunteer, in putting a public-access CHARON-fueled machine on the Internet." It's the sort of mission OpenMPE might have done in its heyday. A lot has changed since HP's labs shut down and OpenMPE was left without much mission. A public access server for the world's only HP 3000 emulator would get ample traffic. It could also be a vital proof of concept for using a 3000 based in the cloud.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 06:27 PM in Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 11, 2014

Veterans get volunteered for transition's day

1stCavHere on Veteran's Day — I'm a vet of the '70's-era military — I'm remembering there are IT pros with another kind of veteran status. They are people who count more than a couple of decades of experience with the HP 3000, managing their servers since before the time that Windows was the default computing strategy. They've been through a different kind of conflict.

I've learned that the most embattled managers employ a surprising tool. It's a sense of humor, reflected in the tone of their descriptions of mothballing the likes of 25-year-old independent apps during migrations. They have to laugh and get to do so, because their attempts to advance their positions might seem like folly at first look, or even in a second attempt.

Really, an assignment like putting Transact code into an HP-UX environment? Or take the case of working around a financial app software from Bi-Tech -- an indie vendor that "really stopped developing it for the 3000 years ago," according to City of Sparks, Nevada Operations & Systems Administrator Steve Davidek. There's been some really old stuff doing everyday duty in HP 3000 shops. The age of the applications was often in line with the tenure of the project's management.

These pros typify the definition of veterans, a term we'll use liberally in the US today to celebrate their sacrifices and courage. Facing battle and bullets is not on par with understanding aged code and logic. But two groups of people do have something similar at heart. Both kinds of veterans have been tested and know how to improve the odds of success in a conflict. Youthful passion is important to bring fresh energy to any engagement, military or technological. What earns the peace is experience, however grey-haired it looks next to Windows warriors.

With each mission accomplished -- from what looks like the Y2K effort of 14 years ago to embracing a roll-your-own Unix that replaced MPE's integrated toolset -- these veterans moved forward in their careers. "Our knowledge base is renewed with this work," one said after migrating apps that served 34 Washington state colleges. "We're on the latest products."

Recruiting IT talent into small towns — and the 3000 runs in many small cities where manufacturing labor is less costly — meant hiring for Windows experience. Adopting Windows into an organization means leaving proprietary environments even more popular than MPE/iX. Like HP-UX.

HireVetLeaving a familiar environment means enduring risks. But a tone of "yeah, that'll happen, but we'll manage through it" is what I hear from the 3000 pros marching into the dark of 2015 and beyond. And if a migration is happening next year or the years beyond, you may want to thank a colleague -- anyone whose IT battles have promoted the knowledge that creates veterans, marching in the ranks of both managers and vendors alike.

Les Vejada worked with HP 3000s for more than 20 years at HP, then moved on to HP's other enterprise platforms until the vendor cut his job. It was as if he'd mustered out of a unit. "I don't work with the 3000 anymore," he told us when he joined the Linked In HP 3000 Community. "I know the 3000 is dying, but it brings back a lot of great memories. I probably would still take something on a MPE machine if offered." Whether it's in-house, or in-community, one motto remains as valid today as it did after any conflict: Hire a Vet.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 04:23 PM in Homesteading, Migration, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 10, 2014

Sharing the Source of SLEEPER for MPE

Sleepy penguin,jpgSLEEPER is one of the best-known Contributed Software Library (CSL) programs in the history of the HP user group Interex. For years after the user group shut down, the CSL tapes -- created once a year and refreshed with new programs after every annual user meeting -- were the most significant Interex asset left to the community. But making the CSL a public asset, after the Interex shutdown, encountered a snag. How could those useful programs like SLEEPER get shared, if they didn't have clearance from the contributing companies?

SLEEPER and BOUNCER were the programs most often cited in the snags, since they were shared by way of the 3000 shop at Boeing. It was heard a lot, this caution, while people were searching for CSL collections after the Interex meltdown. "Oh, we can't go and release that swap tape," people like the Interex curators would say. "There's BOUNCER on there, and we'd have to get permission from Boeing." Well, that's not exactly true.

Maybe one email would've gotten the process of permission started. It's different times by now. The SPL source for SLEEP, a progeny of SLEEPER, was shared up on the 3000-L mailing list last week. (That's a link to the 3000-L archive message, containing the code in the message body.) Ray Legault offered the code when John Korb, a 3000 consultant, was asking around for it.

Korb thinks so highly of SLEEPER that wants to port the program to PHP, for use on a Linux system. "My goal is to create a PHP version of SLEEPER," he said, "something that can run on Linux desktops and servers and Windows 8.1 desktops -- so I can avoid cron on the Linux box, and avoid the Windows task scheduler."

SLEEPER's powers are jobstream-related -- scheduling, after-execution error examination, and so forth. SLEEPER can handle some such scheduling, but the software is not as flexible as the MBF Scheduler written for Windows by MB Foster. That would also be something that can be run on Windows. On MPE/iX systems, the old Nobix Transpooler product is an improvement at sending spoolfiles to printers over the standard MPE/iX jobstream utilties.

However, compared to the built-in job management and scheduling powers of Linux or Windows, the 3000's tools are powerful and nuanced. So much so that MB Foster built Scheduler just for 3000 users who had thousands of jobs to be migrated to Windows application replacements. It's also for sale to non-3000 prospects, too.

Legault created that SLEEP program at a shop outside of Boeing. "The SLEEP I shared was written in Santa Fe drilling by a few of us, including Jay Zimmett and David Mendoza," he said. "I put in Y2K enhancements later on. I still use it today."

As for sharing the code for BOUNCER, Legault said he might be able to help there. BOUNCER logs users off after a specified amount of time, to free up seats on 3000s with limited license counts. VEsoft's LOGOFF also bounces users off a system after a specified amount of time. That is a good security practice, so users who abandon sessions by walking away from a keyboard don't put a system at risk.

The community's never gotten a replacement source for the hundreds of CSL programs that were shared for decades through swap tapes. There was so much value in shared programs that Interex made a business out of it, selling collections as a user group membership benefit. That software exists only inside former members' shops around the world, where DAT tapes live in cabinents or are programs stashed away in 3000 accounts -- ones that might be outside the awareness of IT managers who take on 3000 operations.

There was a time when HP was just as protective of its MPE-related creations, and the vendor still manages license transfers for the ultra-particular 3000 owners who need it. But SLEEPER and BOUNCER were meant to be shared. The CSL was an open source initiative before we ever used the term open source. It's good to see the sharing continue, more than 35 years after the first CSL tapes emerged.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:39 PM in Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 07, 2014

Manual and Automatic Masters, Detailed

A few days ago we included a Hidden Value question about how manual and automatic masters work in TurboIMAGE. Our ally and friend Vladimir Volokh called to note that in part of the question, the system manager had found "one detail data set that has thousands of entries which do not appear to be connected to any master.

It wasn't exactly a question, but in a reply on the 3000-L mailing list and newsgroup, Roy Brown gave a fine tutorial on how these features do their jobs for MPE and the 3000 -- as well as how a detail dataset might have zero key fields.

Manual masters can contain data which you define, like Detail sets can, along with a single Key field. Automatic masters contain only the Key field.

In both cases, there can be only one record for a given key value in a Master dataset.

A Detail dataset contains data fields plus zero, one, or many key fields. There can be as many records as you like for a given key value, and these form a chain accessible from the Master record key value. This chain may be sorted, or it may just be in chronological order of adding the records.

Zero key fields in a Detail dataset would be unusual, but is permissible.

Brown explained that "Where there are keys, referential integrity demands that there are no Detail record entries with a key field that is not found in either a Manual or Automatic master, both Key name and Key value. So a Detail data set with Key fields that are not present in a Master record would be a sign of a seriously corrupted database."

However, I doubt this is the case, and when you do a QUERY FORM command, you will see which fields in Detail datasets are Keys, which fields are used to establish Sort orders, and which fields are data pure and simple.

From the Key name, you can determine which Master set links the keys.

As I said above, it is possible to have a Detail dataset with no keys, but these usually contain only a very few records, since direct access to them without keys is cumbersome, and you would otherwise have to trawl right through one to find any given entry.

So a Detail dataset with thousands of unconnected entries would be very unlikely.

The FORM output will allow you to check how the Detail dataset that you think might have unconnected entries is actually linked in.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 09:55 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 06, 2014

Throwback: Today's Empire of Invent3K

Five years ago today we watched for notice about a fresh 3000 resource on the Web. Invent3K, a public access development server created by HP in 2001, was searching out a new home in November 2009. The vendor shut off Invent3K in November 2008, along with the Jazz website that hosted shareware utilities created by HP and the user community.

Invent3K was an OpenMPE adoption project five years ago. The community probably didn't need a public access development web server by the end of 2009. But replacing HP's withdrawn assets seemed important. Invent3K harkened back to a more hopeful time. 3000 developers were first offered access to MPE accounts on that HP server only about six months before the vendor announced it would end its 3000 programs.

Invent3K was unique in the 3000's history. The server was the first and only place that hosted free, development-use-only subsystem software from HP. Working from an Invent3K account, a developers employed COBOL II, TurboStore, and other HP-branded products while building apps or utilities.

InventFor a time, OpenMPE wanted to sell $99 yearly development accounts on its replacement Invent3K. The community was not accustomed to paying for public access, so sales were slow. OpenMPE was trying to generate revenues for operating things like a Jazz replacement host where contributed tools could be accessed. By that time, much of Jazz had been re-hosted at servers owned by Client Systems and Speedware. Things were not hosted quite the same as on Jazz, though. HP insisted that those two vendors make users click through an End User License Agreement before using the contributed tools re-hosted from Jazz.

Last month, two of the replacement servers for delivering Jazz and Invent3K had online glitches. Speedware's server went offline for a weekend, so its hpmigrations.com website that hosts Jazz delivered only an error. The HP 3000 where Invent3K was headed in 2009 had a small hiccup, too: the 3000-based Empire 3.9 game server lost use of its domain name for awhile in October. Tracy Johnson is the caretaker for the Empire server and its parent -- Invent3K, whose domain name is invent3k.openmpe.com.

But Invent3K is operating today, at least for anyone who had an account established before OpenMPE curtailed its operations. Access is through any terminal emulator with Telnet or VT/Mgr protocol. Once you've configured your terminal emulator, connect to the address invent3k.empire.openmpe.com.

After years of reduced 3000 development -- the result of many systems frozen to maintain stability -- Invent3K is more than a testament to shared effort of the community. It's a solution in search of a problem. Free access to the 3000's subsystem products for development wasn't much of a problem by 2010. Invent3K was devised as a means to deliver new software for MPE. The community was encouraged to help, back in 2001.

Advocates for MPE/iX waited longer than expected for invent3k.openmpe.com to come online. The wait was so lengthy that a dispute over who would control the server arose in the OpenMPE group. Ultimately the original openmpe.org domain was locked up, kept out of the hands of the OpenMPE board members. Allegro Consultants stepped up to donate the openmpe.com domain, which it had purchased long before Invent3K was up for adoption.

As a result of moving a consolidated version of Jazz out of HP's labs, the community now faces good news and bad for the Jazz web resources. The good news is there's plenty of redundancy, with Fresche Legacy (nee Speedware), Client Systems, and OpenMPE's volunteers like Johnson all hosting the programs.

The bad news is there are three sets of programs and command files and UDCs, some overlapping, and some not, among those redundant resources. Every host gets to use their own organizational map, so finding something specific probably requires a visit to all three sites. And some tools aren't on any of the servers, like the bash shell program for MPE/iX. Bash was the focus of the recent Shellshock hack, one that had administrators examining their servers for security vulnerability.

For the time being, the Jazz portals are located at:

OpenMPE Jazz: invent3k.openmpe.com/jazz/

Client Systems Jazz: www.clientsystems.com/jazzmain.html

Fresh Legacy/Speedware Jazz: hpmigrations.com/HPe3000_resources/HP_jazz

There is only one Invent3K, however. One might be enough, considering it's an HP 3000.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:42 PM in History, Homesteading, Web Resources | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 04, 2014

Tips for Listing SCHEMAs, and FTP Listings

From my existing TurboIMAGE database, I want to generate a listing of data sets, data item names, and their relationships (master, detail). One detail data set has thousands of entries which do not appear to be connected to any master. 

Oh, and I cannot remember the difference between manual and automatic masters.

Francois Desrochers first replies, "Use Query's FORM command."

RUN QUERY.PUB.SYS
B=dbname
PASSWORD = >> password
MODE = >> 5
FORM

Manual masters: programs have to explicitly add entries before you can add related entries in detail sets. Programs have to explicitly delete entries when there are no related detail entries left. In other words, you have to do master dataset maintenance.

Automatic masters: entries are automatically created when a related detail set entry is created. Entries in the master are automatically removed when the last related detail entry is deleted. IMAGE takes care of the maintenance.

Consultant Ron Horner adds, "If you have a tool like Adager or DBGeneral, it can create a file of the database schema. The other way is by using QUERY to get a listing."

Horner also said, "The difference between a manual master and auto master is the following:

1. You have to add records to the manual master that contain the key data for any detail datasets that are linked to the master.

2. When working with automatic masters, you don't have to write data to them at all. IMAGE takes care of populating the master.

Ray Legault suggested using Allegro's free XSCHEMA, "A stripped down version of our commercial product DBHTML, this utility simply reads an Image root file and produces a DBSCHEMA-compatible text file as output."

Krikor Gullekian also noted that "With QUERY you can check the databases as long as you know the password. [Ed. note: Password advice is true, except when you're the database owner. No password is required then, just a semicolon.] FO SETS will give you a lot of details."

How can I tell the HP 3000's FTP server to use a standard 'ls -l', and not 'LISTFILE ,2' ?

Allegro's Donna Hofmeister said, The trick is to turn 'Posix' on. 

Turning Posix On

Keven Miller of 3K Ranger added "check out FTPDOC.ARPA.SYS, mainly the POSIX section. It mentions how to set the default to ON."

Posted by Ron Seybold at 04:19 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 03, 2014

10 years ago, was the 3000 halfway gone?

I revisited a set of user conference slides from 2004 recently, and I found a scheduling milestone. A presentation at that final Interex show in Chicago included a schedule warning. In that year, it was about halfway through the period HP gave the community to get away from their HP 3000s. The deadline for the end of HP support was December 31, 2006, as of the week the presentation rolled out in Chicago.

Go 95%"Put your plan into the budget during this summer of 2004," one slide suggested. Using that timeline, an IT manager could commence migrating by the summer of '05 and complete a migration by the end of 2006. To be sure, 18 months is a swift migration schedule, but it's possible -- if a company can budget for some outside expertise for project management and coding. The tests will usually be handled in-house. That's up to one third of a migration project's timeline, according to migration services experts like MB Foster.

By the next fall, HP was pulling the carpet out from under such companies. That deadline for HP support got extended by 24 months. With that change, that halfway-gone point was still at the moment of HP's rescheduling. But now there were more than 36 months left. People had not migrated in enough numbers. A greater factor: HP made a business decision to keep support business alive and earning revenues for another two years. It was high-profit revenue. High enough that the deadline got moved again, out by another 24 months.

Since those days, we've seen many customers use the same sort of rolling-forward deadline for their migrations. They plan for the end of 2013, for example, then push out to the end of 2015. Just like HP, customers in places like California school districts and manufacturers in the Southwest are taking more time because they like the return on investment. They can afford to reset the halfway mark.

But what if 2004 was the start of 95 percent of migrations, and the decade since then represents halfway-gone? What's left by now in the user community still includes companies of serious size.

Last week we heard of the farthest-out 3000 shutdown date ever scheduled: 2024. Sure, if that replacement project at the MANMAN site gets done sooner, the 3000 will go dark faster. But right now, 2014 is their halfway point, even if you only counted back a full decade ago.

Another customer, the San Bernadino, California school district, will not switch off until the end of 2017. So far away that its resident 3000 guru will already be retired. In that shop, even the exit of expertise won't move things along faster. Operations calendars play a role in scheduling.

The end of the calendar year is a typical time to switch things over for the schools that use the 3000. Classes end in December for a long break. E-commerce and retail companies like Musician's Friend, a former Ecometry site, consider the middle of summer to be their safe cutover time.

A one-month operations break, or even the 90 days before holiday retail time, is a short window compared to a full year. If a site doesn't get to its deadline window in time, there's an extra 6-12 months of 3000 operations to schedule. This mandates a Sustain plan.

Even back in 2004 the presentation advice included Sustain strategy. It included the same counsel given to migrators: Innovate before you migrate. Innovation is the one advantage of extending a halfway point. The IT staff can do some immediate-payback work. Innovation to existing systems helps as soon as it's tested.

Innovations in existing 3000 systems is not as crazy as it sounds. If you're aiming at innovation targets, these three were part of the 2004 slide set.

  • Projects that affect operational efficiency and ROI
  • Projects that build sills and experience on your staff
  • Projects that will help with year-over-year comparisons in the future

If that final target isn't clear, it's a good practice to get another set of eyes on migration planning. IT stakeholders are one set of eyes. Another potential is the migration planners in your community. Knowing what to innovate before you go away: this is also preparing for a migration.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 10:25 AM in Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 30, 2014

ITMGR3K + YOLO = CHARON COSTINFO?

The formula above translates into an appeal for budget reporting. IT managers of HP 3000s can complete this formula. YOLO is the ubiquitous You Only Live Once, sometimes broadcast in a tattoo. When added to 3000 IT managers' experiences, the formula may yield some of the most crucial costs of the CHARON virtualization engine for emulation.

Elder-tattoosThe daring of YOLO is required because there's plenty at stake, even at MPE's advanced age. 3000 owners are often working with reduced budgets. Cost-effective computing is one good reason why the MPE/iX apps survive in a company. But some managers could acknowlege you'll only live once through homesteading your MPE/iX applications. It's not the hardware you're saving with Charon. The operating environment, your TurboIMAGE/SQL data, and the apps with their software helpers -- those are the orphans being rescued from any failing HP-branded computer.

So it figures that managers with nothing to lose can help other homesteaders get better information on the costs to virtualize. Costs can be fatal to a project. Many managers know they have something significant at stake: their relations with the software vendors who supply the help for HP 3000 operations. Surround code, it's been called. Some vendors are everywhere, like Robelle, Adager, Vesoft, PowerHouse, and so on. Add in the suppliers of key data transfer tools such as MB Foster. Everybody's got virtualization licensing practices in mind, if not executed yet.

The above list of vendors can include a show-stopper, by some customer reports. PowerHouse products, even something as fundamental as Quiz reports, have still been quoted at rates that can shelve a virtualization project. We recently heard about one at a 3000 manufacturer. The COSTINFO specifics were not forwarded. But in a budget-conscious community like the 3000's, even such prices in the low five figures can cause a HALT.

Then there's the manager whose operational best practices include lowering a profile with vendors. "I'm not old enough to retire," we often hear -- meaning that high visibility on vendors' radars could invite higher costs. Not good for any career built on economic prowess. No, not every vendor operates by watching for such an extra-fee opportunity. But enough do; some can be hungry for back-support revenues when they bring a customer back onto vendor support. Then there are the applications. Update fees for virtualizing an Ecometry installation, or something from the Infor stable of manufacturing apps, are not common-enough knowledge. Not for HP users.

We have battled to learn the figures for a forward-motion project that puts MPE/iX onto fresh, Intel hardware. The costs for the Stromasys software are always going to be obvious to a prospective customer. This exercise starts with an emulator price. Where the community can be helped is with all other software costs.

For example, there's no official pricing from Infor for moving MANMAN to the Charon-virtualized 3000. Each such migration -- it's really a transfer -- is being managed on a case by case basis, according to Infor's Jeff Straw. He's the manager who sometimes appeared before customers at events such as CAMUS meetings, explaining how MANMAN would go forward. More than three decades after it rolled out, MANMAN is still running some companies. Good things die hard.

Things have changed a great deal in the 30-plus years I've covered the HP 3000. Not just the technology. The changes have come from strategy and operations management. People used to be glad to go on the record and share what they knew. Pricing was always sensitive, of course. I remember frustration about getting prices for minicomputer software, during an era when PC programs were priced in public. Going public with what you know is now a business decision not often taken. Legal departments get involved. And in today's markets, vendors can negotiate a no-talking rule to keep the dealing on the down-low.

That's easy to understand and a valid way to cut the price on any product. You fly in a jet and sit among a hundred passengers with probably 50 different seat prices. But it's early days for the flight plan of selling emulation and virtualization for 3000 servers. OpenVMS managers have had Charon powering their applications for more than a decade. The practices and even some costs of doing what one customer called an "update" -- those are better known by now.

One successful IT manager says that flying a pattern under the update radar is good business. "I'm doing my best to keep my profile low with the software vendors," he said. He didn't want to be on the record about that. "That's been my policy for the past 15 years. And I'm not ready to retire yet." Such an impending retirement might be what's needed to trigger a YOLO attitude and complete the formula.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 06:18 PM in Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 28, 2014

Strategies for Redirecting App Spoolfiles

An HP 3000 manager wrote that a 24x7 application at his shop is stable and never goes offline unless it's required. But the everyday management had to include aborting the app once a week.

We take that application offline to close out the spoolfile that the application generates. Is there a way to keep the application running, and just redirect the output to a new spoolfile? We're using an N-Class server.

Robert Schlosser of Global Business Systems replied: Short of closing and reopening the application after n number of pages, you could have the application read (without wait and checking status codes) a message file. It could then close and open the output file on demand, and possibly even close down the application gracefully (no abort).

Our Homesteading Editor Gilles Schipper replied: I think the only way you could do that would be to actually modify the application program to periodically (say, for example, every 10 pages or every 100 pages) close then re-open the print file.

Olav Kappert of IOMIT International added:

If the program can be slightly modified, then I would suggest creating a message file as a conduit to the application. The program would do a read of the message file with the nowait option every once and awhile.  If the application encounters a keyword indicating a new spoolfile, then the program would close the spoolfile and reopen it.

An alternate method would involve the application being modified to close and open the file at a particular day and time during the week.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 05:34 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 27, 2014

Early 3000 Flights: A New Embattled History

Bill FosterThe world is still full of computer aces who flew in the earliest skies of minicomputers. The HP 3000 has history to share about the dogfights to bring interactive computing to businesses and organizations. The new voice of a pilot of that early age, Bill Foster, tells a fresh story about historic 3000 events. (A tip of the hat here to former OpenMPE director and Allegro support engineer Donna Hofmeister, who spotted Foster's blog.)

Bill Foster was in charge of engineering for the first HP 3000 that became a production-grade computer, the Series II. Foster went on to co-found Stratus Computer. In a blog he's called TeamFoster he tells his compelling story I Remember HP, complete with characters memorable and regrettable, about the earliest times in the Data Systems Division labs in California. Up to now, most of the stories about the 3000's birth have had a more abbreviated telling, or they're summarized in less vivid accounts.

Foster's written 15,000 words on his blog to tell his Hewlett-Packard story, which begins in 1971. In that year the HP 3000 is still more than a year away from its ill-fated debut, so he can chronicle the inner workings of a lab where "The engineers were mostly out of control, particularly the programmers."

HP Journal 1973Foster's story about the earliest days of the 3000 includes accounts of important players such as Barney Oliver, Paul Ely and Ed McCracken. There's even a note about Jim Hewlett, son of HP co-founder Bill Hewlett. A golfer and a nature lover, Hewlett's son got Foster in trouble. As part of the system's revival there was even a face-saving video interview, designed to revive the ruinous reputation of the 3000.

Even while Foster puts himself at the center of the story about the rescue of MPE -- an OS that was too memory-hungry for the first System 3000 computer -- he's generous with praise and details from others in the company. Paul Ely was general manager of the DSD at the time the 3000 project was floundering.

While Paul could be a royal pain in the ass, I do give him credit for saving HP’s computer business. The Alpha project eventually morphed into a computer called the HP 3000. It initially flopped in the marketplace and became a total embarrassment to the company.

While my group was focused on programming languages my cubicle-mate, Ron Matsumoto was in charge of MPE, the monster operating system.  While you might be able to ship the computer without a language like COBOL, it was totally useless without MPE. And MPE was in trouble, big time.

Hewlett was ready to can the entire program. HP had a reputation to maintain, and part of that reputation was that their products were a cut above everyone else’s.  But Paul held his ground with Hewlett -- he told him that the 3000 was basically a very good product, it just needed more time to work out the kinks. Paul saved the 3000 and kept HP in the computer business.

It had been an unqualified failure, that first HP 3000. "We shipped Serial #1 to the Lawrence Hall of Science in nearby Berkeley. A couple of weeks later they shipped it back," Foster writes. "The 3000 could support at most two or three users on a good day -- nowhere near 16 or 32 or whatever they were promised. And MPE was crashing 3 or 4 times a day."

MPE was beefed up all through the period when the hardware part of the project was sidetracked. The software had acquired a taste for a lot more memory than the 128K in the first 3000. That's right, K as in kilobytes. HP launched a business computer with less memory than one meaty Microsoft Word file of today.

The source of MPE's salvation, by Foster's account, was engineer Mike Green, who led the team to re-engineer the OS.

Mike was one of the coolest people in Cupertino, and probably the smartest.  A real laid-back hippie-freak:  long hair, sandals, slow walking, supremely confident.  After a couple of years Mike and I flipped jobs and I became his boss. He decided it was more fun to invent than to manage. 

When the 3000 got into trouble I asked Mike to drop what he was doing and take charge of MPE, the operating system. MPE was the most complex part of the computer and it was a disaster. Because of MPE, customers began shipping their 3000’s back to HP -- that was definitely the wrong direction.

Mike agreed to save MPE, and after a week or two we were ready to present his plan to Ely. Mike stood up in a room full of important people and gave the pitch. It was a great plan, and Mike said we would be out of the woods in about five months.

When he finished his presentation Ely said “are you telling me five months because that’s what I want to hear, or is this really what you think will happen?” 

Mike looked at Paul in a dismissive manner. “I’m saying this because it’s going to happen. Why would I say anything just to please you?” 

For once Ely was speechless. He had no retort.  He had met his match. There was dead silence as we left the room.  And five months later MPE was working.

Once the computer appeared to be a product promising enough to garner orders from customers, Foster needed to sell it to the HP sales force -- which had been burned by the flame-out of the first 3000. He enlisted David Packard to do it.

Dave Packard was the most revered person at HP -- even more respected and certainly more feared than Bill Hewlett. The idea was that Dave Packard and myself, as the Engineering Manager in charge of the 3000, would sit down and have a “fireside chat.” HP had invested in videotape technology as an employee training tool and had a great studio in Palo Alto for filming such a program. It would be partially scripted with Packard asking me the appropriate questions and eventually giving his blessing of the 3000. The tape would be sent to HP offices around the world.

The big man came into the studio, crisply dressed and intimidating as always. I was very nervous -- this guy was not to be messed with. We sat very close together for the TV cameras, his foot almost touching mine.  

The interview went off as scripted. He asked me a bunch of questions about what was wrong with the original 3000 and what we had done to fix it. He ended by telling the audience that he was certain the 3000 Series II was a fine product and would be a big hit in the marketplace.

  When the cameras shut off and the lights dimmed, he grabbed my knee with his big hand, squeezed real hard, leaned over and looked me in the eyes. “Foster, you got me on tape endorsing your computer. The goddammed thing better work!”

Foster's stories fill in some key moments about the 3000's success that have never been written about. He also tips his hat to Bob Green's fine, streamlined History of the HP 3000. Foster's expansive version is full of names and players. There's also Chris Edler's 1995 story of the system's origins, The Strongest Castle: The Rise, Fall and Rise of the HP 3000.

By Foster's reckoning -- and he's honest enough to note changes in HP that sent Hewlett and Packard's ideals by the wayside -- the 3000 made the company relevant in the computer world. "The 3000 went on to be an extremely successful product for HP," he writes. "In many respects it launched them as a legitimate player in the computer industry."

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:10 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 22, 2014

What Needs Replacing, at Its Heart?

Porsche-getaway-carHewlett-Packard's 3000 hardware has started to show its age this year. Even the newest of servers was built at least 11 years ago. Although that's an impossible age for PCs or tablets, more than a decade isn't outrageous for systems created by HP. These things were built to the specs of spacecraft, on the good days of the manufacturing line in Roseville, Calif. and elsewhere.

However, even a server of rigorous construction has moving parts and electrical components with a finite lifespan. Lately we're been hearing from customers whose managers have awoken from a peaceful slumber, dreaming of limitless hardware lifetimes. Hey, say they, how did we ever get to be relying on computers built before Y2K?

At this point there are no questions about MPE/iX, or TurboIMAGE, or the pedigree of bash shell software, or the built-in the ODBC data connection capabilities, or jobstream management. These are all stand-up, solid citizens, even through their range of motion can be limited. (So is mine, but like the software above, I work to stay limber.)

No, this is all about the age of the iron. HP stopped building servers that ran MPE apps more than a decade ago. So, is it out those apps go, the baby tossed with the hardware bathwater? It's a simplistic way to approach system reliability. However, until recent years there was no newer hardware to lift those apps onto. Fresh steeds, in the shape of faster and newer computers, hadn't been in the stable in many years.

Users would like to move to implementation straight away, once they get that "What's up?" inquiry from the boardroom. The fastest path to Get Me Outta Here -- indeed, the most ready getaway car -- seems to be the Stromasys virtualization solution. There are more complete, wider-ranging moves. They take a great deal longer, because their details demand they move slower.

The last time we were asked about this, and the community's practices, we had to answer there's a growing number of Charon virtualization users out there. There are still many more sites who no longer use the 3000 because they're left MPE and TurboIMAGE.

The best set of practices for each customer is only going to be checked rigorously using an assessment. Which programs are used, what data types are still viable, what networking and sharing services are on demand -- the answers to all of these give the perspective that sees farthest forward into the future of corporate IT strategy.

But if you want to move away from hardware only supported by third parties, computers not built or backed by their creators, the Stromasys Charon package using new iron -- even HP's -- is the fastest path that we have seen. The level of complexity to put MPE onto Linux hosts isn't trivial, but it's well tested. It looks like the kind of getaway vehicle that lets you take the big money of apps away from the bank, instead of just the bank book of application designs and data.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 09:14 PM in Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 20, 2014

3000's class time extended for schools

SB County schoolsThe San Bernadino County school district in California has been working on moving its HP 3000s to deep archival mode, but the computers still have years of production work ahead. COBOL and its business prowess is proving more complicated to move to Windows than expected. Dave Evans, Systems Security and Research officer, checked in from the IT department at the district.

We are still running two HP 3000s for our Financial and Payroll services. The latest deadline was to have all the COBOL HP 3000 applications rewritten by December 2015, and then I would shut the HP 3000s down as I walked out the door for the last time. That has now been extended to 2017, and I will be gone before then. 

We are rewriting the COBOL HP 3000 apps into .NET and Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) technologies. Ideal says they can support our HP 3000s until 2017.

And with the departure date of those two HP 3000s now more than two years away, the school district steps into another decade beyond HP's original plans for the server line. It is the second decade of beyond-end-of-life service for their 3000.

Evans was checking up on the timeline.

In the original timeline HP published, did HP announce in November 2002 that the HP 3000 was at end of life? That HP 3000 production lines would shut down in 2004, and all HP 3000 support would end 2007?

Very close, but not quite accurate. The 3000's future got its exit notice from Hewlett-Packard in 2001 (almost 13 years ago), and system manufacturing ended in 2003. The first of HP's end of life deadlines was December 2006. Virtually nobody would have figured in 2001 they'd have MPE applications still in service more than a decade after 2006. 

But San Bernadino County is giving lessons on how to extend an investment, even while it finishes a migration. By the time those school district servers go offline -- and they won't be the last in the world by any means -- the 3000 product platform will have been in continuous production service somewhere in the world for 43 years.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 10:26 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 17, 2014

Tracking MPE/iX Vulnerability to Shellshock

Security experts have said that the Shellshock bug in the bash shell program is serious. So much so that they're comparing it to the Heartbleed breach of earlier this year. Many are saying Shellshock is even more of a threat.

Screen Shot 2014-10-17 at 8.22.33 PMOnce again, this has some impact on HP 3000s, just like Heartbleed did. But you'll need to be managing a 3000 that's exposed to the Internet to see some risks to address as part of system administration. Web servers, domain name servers, and other net-ready services provide the opportunity for this malware. There's not a lot of that running in the customer base today, but the software is still sitting on the 3000 systems, programs that could enable it.

Authorities fear a deluge of attacks could emerge. The US government has rated the security flaw 10 out of 10 for severity.

Bash is open source software, and our expert on that subject Brian Edminster is working on a specific report about the vulnerabilities. Hewlett-Packard posted a security bulletin that points to a safer version of the bash shell utility. But that version won't help HP 3000s.

It's not that HP doesn't know about the 3000 any longer. The patching menu above shows that MPE is still in the security lexicon at Hewlett-Packard. But Edminster thinks the only way to make bash safe again on MPE might be to port it a-fresh. "The 3000's bash is version 2.04, but the version that's considered 'current' is 4.x (depending on what target system you're on)," he said. "So if v2.04 is broken, the code-diffs being generated to fix the issues [by HP] in late-model bash software won't be of much (if any) use."

One report in a UK newspaper suggested that "if online retailers use older, mainframe-style computing systems, they are likely to be vulnerable." That sounds like one way to describe the Ecometry sites still selling online with MPE versions of that software. Many of those customers do not have the 3000 directly exposed to the Internet, though.

The bug allows hackers to send commands to a computer without having admin status, letting them plant malicious software within systems.

HP has released a software update to resolve the vulnerability in HP Next Generation Firewall (NGFW) running Bash Shell. Version NGFW v1.1.0.4153 will fix the breach in that that product. But NGFW doesn't run on MPE/iX.

Edminster forwards this advice while he's working on his report.

It's most likely to be an issue for web services that use bash scripts to process web-page input for example, such as machines exposed to the Internet, and those that have services that can accept input from the 'net. I'll work to round up as many examples of potential places this can be felt on a 3000, so that folks know where to look.

Yep — this one is messy, because it's not quite so cut-and-dried as HeartBleed was.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:33 PM in Homesteading, Migration, News Outta HP, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 13, 2014

A Little Uptick For Hope

There is new business a-brewing for HP 3000 owners. Not migration business, that wouldn't be news. We just got a small report in the in-box from a long-time 3000 expert about an uptick in Paul Edwards' world. Some of it seems to be wrapped around homesteading, too.

It's titled MPE: Consulting Interest

I have had a lot of interest in MPE consulting lately. It is a two-week training class overseas, a local migration, a file migration in Texas, and a Time & Materials consulting opportunity in Texas. This is after no billing for all of last year. Things are looking up, especially in Texas. I just thought you would like to know that MPE opportunities are still available.

Paul Edwards and Associates consults on Speedware, on Suprtool, on COBOL -- on many of the things that make the HP 3000 unique. He's shared practices for system management of 3000s. He's also got the rights to teach with HP's educational materials for MPE classes. Plus got some links to the Stromasys virtualization world of prospects.

The latest news is not entirely about who closed down their 3000 shop recently.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 09:06 PM in Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 10, 2014

When Smaller Can Be Better

SmallgoldfishHewlett-Packard has chosen to cleave itself into two much smaller companies. It will take most of the next year to make that a reality. But it might be an advantage to return to working with a more nimble company. Well, an advantage to the 3000 site that's migrating to HP's other computer enterprise solutions, or has done so recently.

Over at the New York Times, the tech writers found something to praise even while they questioned the wisdom of the move. 

In one day, Meg Whitman has created two of America’s biggest companies. All she had to do was break apart Hewlett-Packard, the company credited with creating Silicon Valley. HP Enterprise is targeting a market that appears full of potential innovations, while HP Inc. seems stuck in the low-margin consumer hardware business that has proved a slog for companies not named Apple or Samsung.

It appears Whitman has found a vision: one that looks a bit like the IBM of the West — with an emphasis on products rather than IBM’s consulting services — and another that looks a bit like Compaq Computer, a Texas computer company that HP controversially merged with 12 years ago.

A long time ago, in a marketplace now far away, 3000 owners wished for some breaking off. The HP 3000 wasn't a part of Hewlett-Packard's vision? Fine. Sell the unit off and let's get on with a focused future. At the time, the business was said to turn over $1 billion yearly. Even at half that size, it would've been big enough to survive with customer loyalty. If the 3000 had nothing else going for it, you could count on loyalty.

All opportunities now gone, you say. You just cannot break up an enterprise tech player like that. Then Whitman chops a massive company into two much smaller parts. Smaller has been better for the typical 3000 customer for a long time. Yes, there are times when there are advantages of being big: When a 3000 user got more from a company which sprawls to supersize, in sales and scope of solutions. You get predictability, alliances and headroom from companies sized HP. The vendor so lusted after being No. 1, which did not become a path to long-term success.

3000 community members understand that smaller can be better -- not bigger -- especially when they use what the independent vendor lives upon. Small companies respond faster, polish relationships, and commit for life.

Faster response can mean software that is enhanced sooner, or answers that resolve problems more quickly -- because a smaller company has fewer layers for a customer to dive through. Relationship polishing is the personal attention to a company of any size: the kind of experience that HP 3000 managers, who may now be CIOs and CTOs, recall getting from a smaller HP.

As an example, the Support Group knows its customers on a first-name basis. The operations at this 3000 provider include a hotsite datacenter located about 100 yards from the call stations. This integration of support and cloud services is natural, seamless, and don't require a special manager to coordinate.

You can get that kind of integration in an encounter from HP for a migration platform. Whether it slips smoothly into the budgets of small to midsize companies is less certain. So much of the HP offerings don't come from Hewlett-Packard while the vendor engages smaller customers. Independent partners deliver services in what HP considers a smaller marketplace.

Then there's that "outside the product" call that a 3000 user makes to a long-time supplier. This call is really about the 3000, not the product in the support contract. But that doesn't make a difference to a smaller company than HP. Large IT vendors don't even have a coding category to let that call begin, let alone be resolved.

Finally there's the final chapter of a relationship between smaller customer and smaller provider. I call this "commit for life" because it represents the intention to maintain a relationship to the very end, not when a business strategy changes in a boardroom. Years ago, Robelle told the community it would support the 3000 until at least 2016. As long as there's still a customer around, STR Software says they'll support them on the Fax/3000 solution. Commit for life means a smaller vendor's lifespan, most of the time, -- not the lifetime of its business plans.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 09:48 PM in Homesteading, Migration, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 06, 2014

HP to break itself, dividing into 2 companies

Two public HP companiesCompanies of equal sizes will sell products branded HP. But the blue logo goes to the new HP Inc.

Hewlett-Packard announced this morning that it will divide itself into two publicly-traded corporations, a move that shareholders and stock analysts have been demanding and predicting for years. The division of the company will be along product lines. The business server operations will be contained in the new Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, while PC and printer businesses will comprise the new HP, Inc.

The vendor said in a press release that the restructuring will "define the next generation of technology infrastructure." The reorganization will also spin out the least profitable, but largest, segment of HP's business into its own unit. HP still ranks in the top five among PC makers and is one of the largest makers of printers in the world.

HP double logoMeg Whitman will be CEO and president of the Hewlett-Packard Enterprise company. Pat Russo will chair a new Hewlett-Packard Enterprise board of directors. Last month Hewlett-Packard -- the full corporation founded by Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard in 1939 -- had named Whitman as chairman of the board and CEO. By breaking up the company, Whitman will cede some control of its most competitive and popular product segments.

Dion Weisler will be the head of the new HP, Inc. as CEO and president. Whitman will chair the HP Inc. board of directors. HP said it will still meet its profit forecasts for the fiscal year that ends on Oct. 31. It also said that it "issues a fiscal 2015 non-GAAP diluted Earnings Per Share outlook of $3.83-$4.03." That is the sweetest way of forecasting a profit, using non-Generally Accepted Accounting Practices. But it's not clear if that's HP Inc. profits, or profits for Hewlett-Packard Enterprise. And the vendor said it would take all of fiscal 2015 to complete the transaction.

“The decision to separate into two market-leading companies underscores our commitment to the turnaround plan," said Whitman, who's led HP through three years of a five-year turnaround plan. "It will provide each new company with the independence, focus, financial resources, and flexibility they need to adapt quickly to market and customer dynamics, while generating long-term value for shareholders.

"In short, by transitioning now from one HP to two new companies, created out of our successful turnaround efforts, we will be in an even better position to compete in the market, support our customers and partners, and deliver maximum value to our shareholders."

Much of the rest of HP's release deals with the visions and mechanics of dividing a $128 billion company into a classic and post-modern product manufacturer. Except that nothing is classic about the Hewlett-Packard Enterprise company, with the exception of its three proprietary operating systems: HP-UX, OpenVMS, and NonStop. The company has announced that HP-UX will be extending some of its enterprise-grade features to a version of RedHat. OpenVMS will be curtailed to only the newest generation of servers for the latest version of the OS. And NonStop, the most specialized of the three operating systems, is getting a full port to the x86/Xeon architecture -- an escape hatch from the Itanium chips that power Integrity servers.

But HP is retaining the Financial Services unit inside the Hewlett-Packard Enterprise corporation. It's a move the company noted will give financial advantages to customers and partners.

Hewlett-Packard Enterprise will have a unique portfolio and strong multi-year innovation  roadmap across technology infrastructure, software and services to allow customers to  take full advantage of the opportunities presented by cloud, big data, security and  mobility in the New Style of IT. By leveraging its HP Financial Services capability, the company will be well positioned to create unique technology deployment models for  customers and partners based on their specific business needs.

Additionally, the  company intends for HP Financial Services to continue to provide financing and business  model innovation for customers and partners of HP Inc. Customers will have the same unmatched choice of how to deploy and consume  technology, and with a simpler, more nimble partner. The separation will provide  additional resources, and a reduction of debt at the operating company level, to support  investments across key areas of the portfolio. The separation will also allow for greater  flexibility in completing the turnaround of Enterprise Services and strengthening the  company's go-to-market capabilities. 

"Over the past three years, we have reignited our innovation engine with breakthrough  offerings for the enterprise like Apollo, Gen 9 and Moonshot servers, our 3PAR storage  platform, our HP OneView management platform, our HP Helion Cloud and a host of software and services offerings in security, analytics and application transformation,"  continued Whitman. "Hewlett-Packard Enterprise will accelerate innovation across key next-generation areas of the portfolio."

R&D innovation has been a troubled business operation for Hewlett-Packard since the early years of this century, until Whitman announced a shift in the vendor's priorities in 2012. She named Martin Fink, the former leader of the embattled Business Critical Systems unit where those operating systems are built, to lead HP Labs. Within a year, the Labs were creating The Machine, a way forward into a new architecture for computing -- but one that could demand up to 75 percent of the Labs' resources.

It's not yet clear where HP Labs will go in the reorganization, but the Enterprise unit seems to make the most sense. Labs also contributes to product releases in the printer and PC lineups. HP mentioned the forthcoming 3D printer lineup in the breakup announcement.

HP was to have a meeting with financial analysts in just two days, but "as a result of this separation, its Oct. 8 2014 Securities Analysts Meeting has been postponed." A conference call took place at 5AM today, and is available for replay at the HP Investor Relations website.

Whitman said only a year ago that a single HP was the right approach. She said the same strategy is still the right approach, but added that breaking up the company will accelerate growth. "We now operate from a position of strength," she said, citing a strong balance sheet and returns to shareholders. The stock was nearing $40 a share in recent months, a profound rebound from prices in the teens at the lowest point of the turnaround.

After the split up, shareholders of the HPQ security will hold shares in both companies, CFO Cathie Lesjak said in the confence call. It's a move that will prompt instant investment in the new HP Inc.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 11:40 AM in Homesteading, Migration, News Outta HP, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 03, 2014

Wearable computing, cloud IT: not news

By Ron Seybold

Ever since the start of summer, there's been plenty of ThrowBack Thursday pieces available to run. Always with a photo, they seem to get highest readership among our customers.

Print-ExclusiveOne throwback piece that’s headed to my recycle bin today is a 1991 press release from Park Engineering. In that springtime, the Spokane company made its news by announcing in a press release, “First ‘Wearable’ Computer Brings Desktop Computing Power to Mobile Workers.” The CompCap weighed a full pound, and you were instructed to wear it on your head. A hardhat version was self-contained, while another to wear around your head or as a hatband needed electronics built into a belt or vest. 

What a marvel. What news, this device that had a virtual miniature display called the Private Eye, floating a few feet in front of the user. (Hope they weren’t driving a forklift at the time.) Starting at $1,500 and running up to $3,000 each, the CompCaps had their own OS, perhaps as unique as MPE/XL. Just without the thousands of apps that drove HP’s 3000 sales during year.

Editorial-IconIt would be news if a CompCap has ever been built, let alone sold. But it’s possible that an HP 3000 manufactured the same year could be running a company’s manufacturing today. It would be a 9x7 and well into antiquity. That would be news too, but of the amazing and astounding variety. That 9x7 is out there somewhere, proving there’s a need for a virtual 3000, the MPE/iX machine that’s not built by HP. Because the age of the iron is not the age of MPE.

In these times, the news I can ferret out follows that kind of theme: this is no longer sold, that app hasn’t been updated since the Bush administration, (either one of them) or some other company is taking the plunge into Linux or Windows. It’s rare news when a customer who formerly used a 3000 takes their computing to HP-UX, because there's no news of Hewlett-Packard selling new sites on that enterprise system, either. I don’t miss many chances to point this out, and every Hewlett-Packard financial report gives me fresh news about that ill fortune.

But what is no longer true, or running, or fresh, is also news. It’s just harder for it to be of genuine use. I avoid the Mopac highway here in Austin at every chance because it’s no longer running faster than a crawl during its makeover. But I’d rather hear about a great alternative. From the little news that the Stromasys experts have time to share — they’re out there installing the virtual system with explicit care — CHARON might be that alternate highway for MPE apps.

We’ve promised to chronicle the tricks and practices of the migrating 3000 user here, too. It’s been tricky to do this when that exodus is so far along. Much of the migration activity remains in assessments that people running those 9x7s should be doing. Once again, it’s a story with negative activity, until it’s not and common wisdom prevails. Because the common wisdom says you ought to buy some different boxes to replace the ones HP doesn’t make anymore, running an OS that’s stable but frozen in time.

Except that the investment in different boxes starts to look like a strategy matched to big customers who will serve smaller companies. We’ve run a blog story with news of a new HP Cloud kingpin on staff, a fellow who brought along software which controls a customer’s use of Amazon Web Services. Only a few hundred companies ever bought the kingpin's open source marvel. At least that marvel is certain to run better than the CompCap.

Now HP’s got something new, but it’s not really that fresh, because it hasn’t done the R&D on this offering either. There’s a new range of HP permitting NIH in this latest news, because those servers controlled up in AWS might not be HP’s brand. Nobody seems to care anymore, so long as apps run and the data is secure.

In a time when the news chronicles the alternatives to everything HP’s built its computer strategy around — those specialized servers, hand-crafted environments — news comes from the customer community. Some of them with good stories talk, but a lot more sit in archival mode about their 3000 experiences and knowledge. We balance that by reaching into our archives, more than 2,500 blog articles and another 10 years’ more of printed and Online Extra stories. Nothing new, but its utility is so much more proven.

The best news is that the value of the server remains there. Large companies have bought up major software providers like Cognos and ground-breakers like Stromasys. We chose to skip calling this the HP 3000 Newswire, because we didn’t want any one vendor to have a say in our mission or strategies. But we’re not calling ourselves the Archival NewsWire, either. A good share of what’s out there is running MPE in archival mode. In the fullness of a time, they’ll be off HP’s iron. I’ll be on Social Security benefits before those companies switch off whatever propels those archived apps and they migrate their data. Not retired from writing stories, though. Whenever I stop writing, that will be news.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:30 AM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 01, 2014

Steady pace means un-news isn't no news

By Ron Seybold

Editorial-IconWhat does it say about the HP 3000 when the steadiest story about the 3000 doesn’t involve an HP 3000? You can’t wear one, like an Apple Watch, or buy a brand-new HP 3000. Your server’s operating system is unchanged after more than four years, unless you’re buying a custom-crafted patch.  The mission for this general purpose machine hasn’t changed, either.

It might be that the most constant news about the HP 3000 of 2014 is there’s no fresh news. So what’s an editor to do when his blog and publication includes the word Newswire? To conjure content, I reach back, and I look ahead. What is ahead of us doesn’t involve much HP iron, and certainly nothing new wearing a Hewlett-Packard 3000 badge on its chest. I only have to reach back to see a story where wearing something to compute wasn’t a novel concept. Not according to my files here in the office. 

I work a lot out of the files these days.

Print-ExclusiveThis rambling is a way of describing my frustration and then a calm acceptance about the limited rate of change. I came into the journalism business with the knowledge that new was best. My first newspapering job came in a small Texas town with a competing paper just down the block. You’d wonder why a county seat of 3,500 would ever need two newspapers. It was 1982, a year when plenty of towns had two papers. Journalism has changed. Now there’s an infographic out there with the Then and Now of information. A reporter is now considered a blogger, and press conferences are now Twitter chats.

I came to tech journalism and got scooped within three weeks. Scoop, for any who’ve forgotten, is when a competitor learns and prints something before you can. One year at an Interex conference, we scooped all day at our booth. Ice cream, supplied by the hotel’s catering department. The word was synonymous with elite information.

There are press releases today, but they’re called content. Some still fill my inbox, but they come from non-3000 markets. The investment of an envelope and stamp is gone, just like an investment in HP-branded iron has been replaced by an offsite, up in the cloud server. Not free, but oh so less costly.

I get frustrated when there’s nothing new on each and every blog posting day. Then I take a breath and settle into some calm acceptance -- because like you, I work in a world where a computer’s legacy, and its archival opportunity, is always online. The news here sometimes has to be, well, as NBC TV once said, “New to You.” HP used to tell us, while it provided updates for 3000 customers, “this is new news.”

Even the vendor knew there was more than one kind of news. And HP was where the new models were being crafted.

So here, crossing into the 20th year of the 3000 Newswire, we now print once a quarter. We issue a story or message about 22 times per month, but the news that is new appears on the same ratio as our new print edition to old print issue: one story out of four. There’s the one, of course, but these days it’s as likely to be about a virtual 3000 or a cloud opportunity as anything directly related to MPE software or applications.

What’s a reporter to do? I made my transition to blogger more than nine years ago, wearing a reporter’s fedora at the same time. (Fedora: a short-brimmed hat with a Press card tucked into its brim. For further reference see the 1931 movie, The Front Page.)

But as this 20th fall season arrived in the NewsWire’s office, that fedora is as much a legacy as MPE’s endearing and enduring achievements. I have a short-brim hat I haven’t worn since the '90s. When fall teased us in Austin this month, I opened the windows here and started to clean out the office, tossing things into the Big Recycle Box. Coming from Depression Era hoarders, as I said in a ThrowBack Thursday article, I have way too much stuff in this office that oughta be in the recycle bin.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:24 PM in Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 30, 2014

Reflection touchstone: a screen benchmark

Reflection boxThe most recent transfer of Attachmate's products and people into the Micro Focus organization sparked some study of what matters to 3000 migrators and homesteaders. Both kinds of customers need to pay mind to what their application's screens look like. Whatever's correct tends to be first measured by an Attachmate product.

That would be Reflection, still the terminal emulator in widest use among the homesteading community as well as a benchmark for any others making a 3000 change. ScreenJet's Alan Yeo kept his eye on the Micro Focus reverse-takeover, as the parent company is headquartered in the UK. (That's still a United Kingdom, after the Scotland vote, much to the UK citizen's relief.)

Reflection's fate remains as unchanged at Scotland's. There will be some modification over time. And the software's screen views are often evoked while change is afoot.

Attachmate "had a big push on re-launching its Rhumba terminal emulator about three years ago," he said. A few migration clients using Micro Focus COBOL were being pushed hard to drop Reflection, he explained. A battery of internal tests at ScreenJet determined that Rhumba would work, intrinsically, with ScreenJet's product. But the standard for terminal emulation, in the mind of somebody who knows VPlus screen handling better than most on the planet, remains Reflection.

"If anything doesn't work, and it works with Reflection, the go fix Rhumba," Yeo said he advised the customers being pressed into the Rhumba re-launch. "If you report a problem, re-test with Reflection." The tests at ScreenJet produced some suggested repairs to Rhumba, he added.

ScreenJet never heard from a migrating customer who made a choice to drop Reflection. He's got no prejudices. "I don't care what any customer uses, so long as what they use works, and doesn't break what they're using from us," Yeo said. "Reflection is pretty much a touchstone. It's not to say that I haven't gone back at times and done testing on a terminal to find out what really happens. Sometimes I have to go back to a customer and say 'I'm sorry, but it's an artifact of even Reflection not doing it right.' "

And so your community still may have some need for 3000 terminals, the real sort. The 3000 newsgroup recently carried an ad for some of this extra-focused HP iron -- offered by an independent broker.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 02:46 PM in Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 26, 2014

Making History By Staying Together

ScotlandMontageWhat price and what value can we put on borders? While we put the latest 3000 Newswire print issue to bed last week, the United Kingdom’s region of Scotland was voting for its independence from Great Britain. One of our favorite 3000 resources and supporters, Alan Yeo, didn't know if he’d wake up at the end of last week using UK or GB as the acronym to define his country. If Scotland were to go, the Kingdom would no longer be United.

Cooler heads prevailed, and the No vote to block the push to secede squashed the Yes by a large margin. The country made history with the largest voter turnout every recorded. There's some good come of the competition, anyway.

The independence balloting called to mind what the Web has done with borders: erased them all, virtually. Some of the more draconian countries have fences up to keep their citizens’ thoughts and beliefs in, but even China with its Alibaba marketplace — where you can but a 747 or drone motors over the Web equivalent of eBay or Amazon — is erasing its borders. Scotland, inexplicably, wants to erect new ones.

Here in Austin, and through most of Texas, bumper stickers ride on trucks with the state’s outline the command, “Secede!” We are the United States of America, though. Pockets of rebellion boil up in places like the Texas border with Mexico, or up in Idaho. But there’s too much in common among government sentiment to break us up into pieces.

I know about the desire for borders. Our nitwit governor here was on TV last fall, here in Austin, describing our progressive town as “the blueberry in a sea of red.” Yes, we’re juicy, sweet, and different. But we’re Texans, too, much to the governor’s dismay. That TV show didn’t hit Jimmy Kimmel’s show from Dallas or Houston.

So it has gone for the Web and 3000 users. On pages over the years, both paper on on the Web, we cater to constituencies as diverse as possible. One set of readers is done with MPE, making plans to archive systems or scrap them. Another is devoted to their status quo, the devils they know rather than the devils they don’t know how much upset and cost they’ll trigger.

Long ago, there were borders on our Internet information. In the Usenet domain, discussion groups raced along with names like comp.sys.hp.mpe, and its Unix counterpart comp.sys.hp.ux. You’d rarely hear exchange in those countries about their neighbors. Mostly because people had to specialize in order to remain successful in their IT careers. Now the borders between environments have been forced to open up while our readership grapples with a homogenous list of servers. Some apps have moved to HP’s Unix servers, at one site, while key apps run on virtualized 3000s.

When I type “3000 to 9000 migration” into Google I find only seven HP-related links. We’re No. 5 on the page, behind two HP whitepapers, a YouTube video from a hardware reseller, and the HP 9000 Wikipedia article. Of course Google searches on an exact phrase — so our article is entitled “IBM takes a swing at 9000 migration.” It picked up on the phrase “9000 migration.” A lot like a secceding citizen might note the differences between countries, or states.

The element that’s changing fastest about these borders over the computing community is how fast they’re falling. HP is celebrating the cloud business it’s still trying to win, now that the specialized servers it retained — in favor of 3000s — have stopped winning customers. The cloud is the ultimate borderless territory, where you can’t tell which vendor is running your app. All that matters is that the data is secure, and it’s a reliable resource.

The Scots missed out on the chance to discover modern expectations about security and reliability. It was the common belief on election night that the balloting would be whisker-close over there. Here in our office where nearly all of what we produce goes onto the Web first, we’re not seceding from any 3000 domain.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 10:13 AM in Homesteading, Migration, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 22, 2014

Ways to Create PDFs from 3000 Output

Years ago -- okay, seven -- we reported the abilities of the Sanface Software solution to create PDF files out of HP 3000 output. But there are other ways and tools to do this, a task that's essential to sharing data reports between HP 3000s and the rest of the world's computers.

On the HP 3000 newsgroup, a veteran 3000 developer has asked,

Has anyone got any experience involving taking a file in an output queue and creating a PDF version of it?

"We use text2pdf v1.1 and have not had any problems since we installed it in October 2001," said Robert Mills of Pinnacle Entertainment. "I have e-mailed a copy of this utility and our command file to 27 people. Never knew that so many sites wanted to generate PDFs from their 3000s."

The program is a good example of 3000 source code solutions. This one was created as far back as the days of MPE/iX 6.0, a system release which HP has not supported since 2005.

Lars Appel, the former HP support engineer who built such things on his own time while working at HP Support in Germany -- and now works with Marxmeier on its Eloquence product -- has source code and a compiled copy of the utility.

Such solutions, and many more, are hosted on the Web server at 3K Associates, www.3k.com. Check the Applications Ported to MPE/iX section of the Public Domain Software area at 3K's Web site.

You'll also find a link to GhostPCL up at the site, another Appel creation, one which he describes as

A program that reads PCL input files and converts them to a variety of output formats, including PDF or JPEG, for example. Combined with my little FakeLP Java program, you might even use it to capture MPE/iX network spooler output and generate PDF or JPEG from an MPE/iX spoolfile.

Open source solutions like these have been an HP 3000 community tradition. Way back in 2000, we reported in the print 3000 NewsWire about that FakeLP Java program, helpful in getting text2pdf to do its PDF magic.

A roadblock to using the text2pdf program: the spoolfiles had to be in text file format to work with it. But Lars Appel offered a free solution to make 3000 spoolfiles that don't rely on CCTLs ready for their PDF closeups:

"I have a small Java program that listens to a given port, for example 9100, and 'pretends to be a network printer' i.e. gets all the data sent and writes it to a flat file. This might be a start, as OUTSPTJ.PUB.SYS should have converted CCTL to plain PCL when sending to a JetDirect printer. However, this little Java program is just a quick and dirty experiment. Use at your own risk; it worked on my 3000, but your mileage may vary."

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ cut here _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

// FakeLP pretends network printer to capture spooler PCL output

import java.net.*;
import java.io.*;

class FakeLP {

public static void main( String args[] ) throws Exception {

int port = 9100;
int next = 1;

if (args.length > 0) port = Integer.parseInt(args[0]);
if (args.length > 1) next = Integer.parseInt(args[1]);

ServerSocket serv = new ServerSocket( port );

while (true) {

System.out.println("FakeLP listener ready");

Socket sock = serv.accept();
byte[] buf = new byte[4096];
String name = "F" + (next++);

System.out.println("Capturing spoolfile to " + name);

InputStream si = sock.getInputStream();
OutputStream fo = new FileOutputStream(name);

for (;;)
{
int got = si.read(buf);

if (got != -1)
fo.write(buf, 0, got);
else
break;
}

fo.close();
si.close();
}
}
}

Posted by Ron Seybold at 06:43 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 19, 2014

Passing FTP Capabilities to MPE

Ws-FTP ProHP 3000s do lots of duty with data from outside the server. The 3000's FTP services sit ready to handle transfers from the world of Windows, as well as other systems, and PCs far outnumber the non-Windows computers networked to 3000s. Several good, low-cost FTP clients on Windows communicate with the 3000, even though MPE/iX still has some unique "features" in its FTP server.

Our former columnist John Burke once reported that his HP 3000 emitted a second line of text during an FTP session that could confuse the open source FTP client FileZilla:

FileZilla issues the PWD command to get the working directory information. On every other system I've tried, the result is something like 257 "home/openmpe" is the current working directory However, MPE responds with something like 257-"/SYSADMIN/PUB" is the current directory. 257 "MGR.SYSADMIN,PUB" is the current session. The second line appears to be confusing FileZilla because it reports the current directory as /MGR.SYSADMIN,PUB/, which of course does not work.

Back when it was a freeware, Craig Lalley took note of a worthy solution, WS-FTP from IP Switch. The product is now for sale but its client is not costly. And an MPE setting can remove the problems that can choke up FileZilla.

Lalley, who runs the 3000 consultancy Echo Tech, once offered this advice about WS-FTP. "I have used it for several years, without any problems. I also have used Bullet FTP and CuteFTP." About the built-in FTP in browsers, as far back as Internet Explorer, he added, "Don't go there."

Chris Thompson of The Internet Agency, another 3000-friendly vendor, echoed the praise of WS-FTP. Thompson also sells MPE software, the MPE/iX Enterprise Client. Alas, he noted that the much-praised Whisper Technology, now defunct, also had a laudable FTP product

WS-FTP is a really good product. Also, try FTP Surfer, which is freeware from Whisper Technology Limited. Usually we use this product to FTP to our 937. It's always worked well.

But as might be expected, there's a way to make HP's FTP behave in less unique and more compliant way. Lars Appel, who ported Samba to the HP 3000 before he left HP's support team, delivered the answer that makes FileZilla work with the 3000

Try the "SITE POSIX ON" command in your FTP session already (or the respective POSIX=ON setting in the SETPARMS.ARPA.SYS config file to change the default, in case the FileZilla session cannot issue "site"

Burke once reported that "POSIX = ON in the SETPARMS file did the trick, eliminating the message that confused FileZilla. I've been using FileZilla for all my ad hoc FTP needs for some time now — works great to all manner of Unix, Windows and Linux systems."

HP's James Hofmeister, who's led the effort to keep FTP up to date on the 3000, took issue with claims that the 3000 doesn't play well with Web-based FTP clients.

Lots of work went into an implementation of the FTPSRVR to support web access to the 3000... The "SITE POSIX ON" command can be sent by a FTP client and the 3000 FTPSRVR will emit Posix "standard" FTP output and will react like a Posix host (including file naming conventions).

It also is possible as documented to specify "POSIX=ON" mode in the SETPARMS.arpa.sys file and achieve this functionality system-wide for all non-3000 client to 3000 FTPSRVR connections; again the FTPSRVR will emit Posix "standard" FTP output and will react like a Posix host (including file naming conventions).

Warning:  Before you specify "POSIX=ON" mode in the SETPARMS.arpa.sys file, make sure you read the FTPDOC file closely; as you are warned that MPE file syntax will "no longer" work; The 3000 FTPSRVR is acting in Posix mode.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 04:05 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 18, 2014

Beefy servers link VMware and MPE futures

DL580VMware is installed at the majority of HP 3000 sites. The virtualization software delivers flexibility in using a wider array of operating environments to virtualize Intel-based hardware, and so it's a useful tool for putting Windows, Linux and Apple's OS X on a variety of hosting hardware. Everything looks like Intel x86 -- to be exact, Xeon -- once VMware is on board.

This is one of the reasons VMware is a common companion with the Stromasys CHARON virtualized HP 3000. A partition of a server can be designated as an x86 box. And then on top of this emulation, according to Doug Smith of Stromasys

Some people already have VMware installed for the rest of their applications, and if they choose to use it with CHARON it's fine. There are others that see more of a perfomance issue -- there's more performance if they actually run it on a standalone server.

On VMware you have the host hardware, and a lot of the customers haven't specified the host hardware beefy enough to run the application. You run into a problem with that every once in awhile, so they end up going to a standalone server. That's because they don't want to go through the expense of updating all of their VMware hosts.

Initial testing performed under VMware in these under-spec'ed hosts "won't give you the performance you're looking for," Smith explained. "Under the right hardware, the numbers jump up big-time." A forthcoming case study will lay out the differences for CHARON HPA/3000, he added.

"Initially they saw a performance decrease, then went to a standalone server and saw a performance increase compared to their production box. Then they emulated that onto VMware and saw another 5-10 percent increase," Smith said.

As far back as the spring of 2013, the company was saying that a DL480 ProLiant Server was a good choice for max horsepower to create a virtualized HP 3000 N-Class. Now there's a DL580 ProLiant that has four Xeon e7-4870 processors (each a 2.4GHz/10-core CPU). That's a $32,000 system from HP's store. A two-processor 2.13GHz model is about $12,000, and HP's got a two-processor ProLiant running 1.86GHz CPUs priced at $8,566 (without disk) from Zones.com.

These clearly are not in the same price range as the HP Envy laptop that Smith said he was carrying on the floor of the VMware show last month. That i7-powered 15t-j100 Quad box is only $800 out the door with tax today. An Envy will do enough work for a portable demonstration platform, though.

Plenty of customers for CHARON say they just can't believe they'll see an MPE colon prompt on a laptop until it boots up. Showing such a thing in a boardroom using an Envy will only be the start of acquiring a real enterprise grade MPE box, though. When you consider how much a used 3000 costs these days, the $8,566 DL580 server might seem costly. Until you experience the flexibility of new disk, faster network access, and more.

And then there's the matter of the host hardware's age, and vendor support. You'll still be engaging HP for the latter -- and the DL580 was assembled, oh, about 10 years more recently than HP's very newest 3000 iron.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:55 PM in Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 15, 2014

WRQ's Reflection goes deeper into coffers

Micro Focus logoNews came to me today about the Sept. 15 deal between Attachmate and Micro Focus. Two of the larger enterprise software makers which matter to 3000 vendors, the connectivity company and world's biggest COBOL vendor, will be doing a merger. With this, the consolidation of enterprise vendors takes another step into its future, and Reflection goes deeper into another software corporation's coffers.

Below is some of the story as told by Micro Focus, in a message to its clients and customers, about a $1.2 billion all-stock deal that leaves Micro Focus owning 60 percent of Attachmate.

Our intention is to preserve the full portfolios of strong, leading products in both Micro Focus and Attachmate going forward. We will draw on our recent acquisitions’ track record of successfully integrating any overlapping product sets.

Business logic and data that lies at the heart of operational effectiveness is increasingly exposed to very complex IT environments, as well as recent technology developments such as the cloud, mobility and virtualization. The combination of Micro Focus and Attachmate creates a leading technology company that will be well positioned to give organizations the ability to exploit the opportunities these trends produce whilst also leveraging prior investments and established IT assets to effectively bridge the old and the new.

For those who are counting up what kinds of products will be preserved -- in addition to the Reflection line -- the merger also brings Novell, NetIQ, and SUSE Linux under the control of Micro Focus. It would take some detailed calculating to figure the total number of products being preserved. But more than 200 in the portfolio would not be an errant guess.

This sort of reverse takeover is popular for merger deals today. JDA pulled the same sort of strings when it acquired Red Prairie early in 2013. It's billed as a merger, but the terms are not equal ownership once the deal has been approved. Shareholders of both of these companies still must approve this reverse deal, but Micro Focus is already announcing the transaction is expected to close on November 3.

Regulatory approval is required for this merger, but that won't include much regulation from the customers of the Attachmate product set. Micro Focus has absorbed a 3000-related vendor before. The company bought Acucorp, makers of AcuCOBOL, outright in 2007. The complier, for a short time, had MPE COBOL II awareness and was positioned as an upgrade to the HP-built COBOL II. Then HP announced its 3000 exit strategy, and the ranks of COBOL vendors for MPE got shorter.

It can take years to discover what might become of a product vital to an HP systems manager, software that's been acquired this way. AcuCOBOL, which had a cross-platform prospect before HP's exit activity, is still in the Micro Focus price list. (Well, maybe not as AcuCOBOL anymore. Following Acucorp's lead, it's now called extend. But it's been in, and then out, and then back in favor for COBOL futures. The last in-person report we heard was in 2009, when an AcuCOBOL rep told the HP 3000 faithful at the Meeting by the Bay that his compiler was on the rise again -- or at least no longer falling.

The definition of coffer includes strongbox, money chest, and casket. In the first, the Reflection products would be tucked away safely and receive whatever development they could earn. In a world where much of IT connection takes place over the Web, a standalone terminal emulator is going to have restricted earning prospects.

The ideal for customers would be Reflection to become a money chest through the increased sales opportunity that Micro Focus might supply to it. We can pause for a moment to consider how often this has happened for acquired products. In the JDA instance, some Red Prairie product managers were no longer on the scene, post-reverse takeover. Rightsizing operations drives the shareholder approval of these things. There's an Attachmate sales force, and there's the products. Only the latter is certain to survive beyond this first year.

The casket is the kind of option where a software vendor's assets -- developers, locations, and cash -- are the prize in the deal. This seems unlikely given the size of Attachmate. This deal was big enough that Micro Focus chose a reverse-takeover approach. But Reflection didn't have the same profile at Attachmate as when WRQ sold itself to Micro Focus. Within a couple of years, the company called AttachmateWRQ became simply Attachmate.

Reuters reports that the owners of Attachmate are four asset management firms: Francisco Partners Funds, the Golden Gate Funds, the Thoma Bravo Funds and the Elliott Management Fund. Golden Gate bought up Ecometry long ago. By now, after its addition of the products of Novell et al, Attachmate is owned by a parent corporation called Wizard LLC. 

Terminal emulation to HP servers doesn't require much wizardry these days, but the Reflection product does understand the NS/VT protocol for MPE/iX. There's sure to be someone in Seattle who's in charge of that this week, and probably beyond November 3, too.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 03:44 PM in Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (3)

September 11, 2014

TBT: The things that we miss this season

Show badgesAppropriately enough, part of my well-worn collection of identity theft for ThrowBack Thursday rests in a leather briefcase, another bygone icon of trade show seasons.

This is the time of the year when we got to know each other better -- or for the first time. August and even September hosted annual conferences from Interex, yearly meetings that were an oasis of handshakes among the dusty flats of telephone calls or emails. We'd gather up a badge like one of these in my collection. I come from Depression-Era hoarders, so too much of this kind of thing still lingers on the shelves of my office.

Look, there's the trademark ribbon, colored to let an exhibitor know who was coming down an expo aisle. Often red for the press, because we were supposed to be the megaphones to the countless customers who couldn't come to chilly San Francisco (four times, on my tour of duty) glittery hot Las Vegas (where a waterpark hosted the signature party), or even the gritty streets of Detroit (scene of thefts from the expo floor, among other indignities. We pulled up to Cobo Hall there to see banners for Just Say No to Crack Day, with a phalanx of school busses parked outside. You can't make this stuff up.)

On my first annual conference trek, we took an artisanal booth to the basement expo hall of the Washington DC Hilton. This was an Interex with an HP founder as keynoter, but David Packard wasn't CEO at the time. He had worked in Washington as US Deputy Secretary of Defense while the 3000 was being created, a good post for someone who'd launched the most famous test instrument maker in the free world. (Yes, that's what we called it during the Cold War.) The HP Chronicle where first I edited 3000 stories had never taken a booth to a show before that week in September, and so we had one built out of 2x4s, birch panels, hinges and black carpet, so heavy it required a fork lift just to get it onto the concrete floor. That was the year we learned about the pro-grade booths you could check as luggage, instead of ship as trucked freight like a coffin.

Hey, there's a set of classic computer platform ID stickers, along the bottom of that '89 nametag. HP was calling its PC the Vectra at the time, another example of the company learning its way in the marketing lanes. You wore these to identify each other in a crowd, so you could talk about, say, the Series 100 HP Portable line. If somebody didn't have your sticker, you could move on. It was all about the conversations -- um, sort of in-person Facebook post or Twitter feed. Except what you said couldn't be repeated to 100 million people in the next minute.

There were ways to stand out, if you were inventive. Not necessarily like the buttons (Always Online! was the new 3000 News/Wire) or even the handsome pins (see one attached to the red ribbon of the HP World '96 badge.) You might have little wooden shoes pinned to a ribbon, so people would come by your Holland House software booth and pick up a pair for themselves. People gave away things at these events from glow in the dark yo-yos to chair massages to Polaroid snapshots that you posed for wearing headbands, flashing a peace sign in front of a '60s VW Bus.

PosterLargeThe show in '96 was notable for being the first that didn't bear the user group's name (Interex had struck a deal to call its event HP World) and being the only conference with a football-field-sized publicity stunt. We'd just finished our first year of publication and decided to sponsor the lunch that was served to volunteers putting up the World's Largest Poster on an Anaheim high school field. The booster club served the lunch to the 3000 faithful; some took away a souvenir sunburn from walking on the white panels in Southern California's August.

There are still trade shows in HP's marketplace, but all of them are run by HP with user group help and speakers. The trade is in secrets as well as techniques and sales strategies. It's been nearly a decade, though, since a hurricane postponed a show -- and that wasn't the only annual meeting to face the wrath of a storm. That's what you risk when you meet in August and September, and your moveable feasts include stops along the Gulf of Mexico.

That gator-bearing badge from 1992 marks the first time an HP CEO attended an Interex where I shook hands and took notes. Unfortunately, that event was in New Orleans and directly in the path of Hurricane Andrew. Lew Platt was the CEO and among the majority of people who evacuated from the city while the storm approached. While hotel employees were taping up massive glass windows with industrial tape to keep them from shattering in the rising winds, Platt was doing his best to make it into his limo for a date with a waiting jet. He was stopped repeatedly on the way to that car by customers just wanting a moment, much to the dismay of his traveling partner already in the limo. Nobody could tell Lew where to go, though.

It was tough work, hosting these things, and the details were massive. Interex had a pair of conference marvels who sold and organized everything put the track of presentations, tightly sculpted by user group volunteers. But even things like Mellennium (sic) could make their way onto a show badge -- or in the case of the Toronto conference where we launched the NewsWire to everyone's surprise (including our own), ferries to take a very hungry crowd to the included supper on the island airbase just off the city's lakeshore. The boats were so crowded that few could see the fireboats along the way, chartered by Interex, to shoot off water salutes to guide our way. It may have been the only conference supper ever to be catered on an island. Down the street from the expo hall, Microsoft had hired an acrobat to rappel down the side of CN Tower to help launch Windows 95.

Along the way, I was lucky enough to shake hands and write during 20 annual North American user group shows whose setting was among these months. It all ended for us Interex members in a finale of 2004, as the group couldn't make it onto the shoreline of another yearly conference to put it into the black for the rest of the year. The next year Interex canceled its show, while Encompass and HP tried to collaborate to debut the HP Technology Conference in New Orleans. 2005 held even worse luck than 1992, though, because Katrina ripped apart the Big Easy, pushing this replacement event into Orlando one month later.

Now the annual North American conferences for users and the user groups are held in more certain climates, even while the future of enterprise computing is far less assured for HP customers than it was in these be-ribboned times. Those who still operate with HP-UX and VMS have got some thinking to do about their future platforms, but weathering the show forecast is a no-brainer. HP Discover is held in Las Vegas in June, where the only question is how soon will it get to 100 degrees. OpenVMS Boot Camp gets reborn at the end of this month in New England. There might be rain, there might not. But an event to scatter a conference is as unlikely as finding another one devoted solely to the needs of HP-crafted enterprise OS technologies.  

Posted by Ron Seybold at 09:59 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 10, 2014

One Course to Sail a 3000 Into the Cloud

People in IT have come to understand the meanings and potential for the term cloud computing. But plenty of them don't trust it, according to a recent survey. Not with many mission-critical apps, anyway. Since HP 3000 managers have always had a belt-plus-suspenders approach to datacenter management, we'll bet that a great percentage of them are among the doubters about cloud security.

Docker_(container_engine)_logoRemote instances of HP 3000s have been with the community as long as MPE could boot a server. But now, knowing which precise server will deliver an application isn't part of the cloud's design. Even as recently as this year, companies are getting by with 3000 computing by using a server located outside their site, sometimes even outside their state.

It's the state of cloud computing security that gives IT pros some pause. According to a study conducted this year by Unisys (remember their mainframes?) and IDG Research, more than 70 percent of 350 respondents feel security is the chief obstacle in cloud deployment. IT executives want to collect data about the security of data that's in the cloud.

The technology to put Linux instances into cloud computing is already available. And Linux is essential to installing the HPA version of CHARON from Stromasys. There's been no announcement of a cloud edition of the virtualization product. But Docker looks like tech that could help, according to our contributor and 3000 consultant Brian Edminster.

"Docker struck me as an easy mechanism to stand up Linux instances in the cloud -- any number of different clouds, actually," Edminster said. According to a Wiki article Edminster pointed at, Docker is based upon open source software, the sort of solution he's been tracking for MPE users for many years.

Docker is an open-source project that automates the deployment of applications inside software containers, "thus providing an additional layer of abstraction and automation of operating system-level virtualization on Linux. Docker uses resource isolation features of the Linux kernel such as cgroups and kernel namespaces to allow independent "containers" to run within a single Linux instance, avoiding the overhead of starting virtual machines," the Wiki article reports.

Docker is "a standardized software platform for delivering apps at scale," according to a recent article in Infoworld. And it's taking over the world, the article adds. 

Two major operating system projects have already started integrating Docker as a fundamental part of how they work. CoreOS uses Docker to create a pared-down Linux distribution -- one now available on Google Cloud Platform, appropriately enough -- where all software is bundled into Docker containers. Red Hat's already started building major support for Docker into Red Hat Enterprise Linux and has plans for a major reworking of RHEL around Docker, Project Atomic.

Early deployments of cloud applications, however, are mostly non-critical applications where security is less of a concern, according to the Unisys-IDG survey. Cloud servers present new risk considerations that a company like CloudPassage is glad to address.

There's genuine concern for keeping cloud servers more secure, because they present great targets of opportunities for fraud. From a report by CloudPassage:

Fraudsters demand a constant stream of freshly compromised servers to keep botnets running. An entire underground business known as bot herding emerged to capitalize on this illicit need.

Coyote e SamBot-herders make their living by building botnets to then sell or rent to other e-criminals. Compromising an elastic cloud infrastructure environment can return a windfall versus hacking into a traditional hardware server. If a bot-herder is able to place command-and-control software on a VM that later is duplicated through cloning or cloud bursting, the botnet capacity will automatically grow.

For stakeholders in cloud hosting environments, the implication is a higher expectation of being targeted for server takeovers, root-kitting and botnet command-and-control insertions

CloudPassage is the leading cloud server security provider and creator of Halo, the industry’s first security and compliance platform purpose-built for elastic cloud environments. Halo operates across public, private and hybrid clouds.

And, one would assume, Linux hosted on Intel cloud servers that could be cradles for CHARON instances. The last time we checked on this issue, the authentic HPSUSAN number -- now supplied on a USB drive -- was the narrow part of the passage in sailing the emulator onto cloud servers.

Caution has been the practice for much of the 3000 community over the decades I've watched it. Even when the HPSUSAN strategy is resolved -- assuming that's a customer need for Stromasys to address -- keeping those clouds clear of bot-herders will be essential.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 09:41 PM in Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 08, 2014

Who else is still out there 3000 computing?

MaytagEmploying an HP 3000 can seem as lonely as being the Maytag Repairman. He's the iconic advertising character who didn't see many customers because a Maytag washing machine was so reliable. HP 3000s have shown that reliability, and many are now in lock-down mode. Nothing will change on them unless absolutely necessary. There is less reason to reach out now and ask somebody a question.

And over the last month and into this one, there's no user conference to bring people together in person. Augusts and Septembers in the decades past always reminded you about the community and its numbers.

Send me a note if you're using a 3000 and would like the world to know about it. If knowing about it would help to generate some sales, then send it all the sooner.

But still today, there have been some check-ins and hand-raising coming from users out there. A few weeks back, Stan Sieler of Allegro invited the readers of the 3000-L newsgroup to make themselves known if they sell gifts for the upcoming shopping season. "As the holiday shopping season approaches," he said, "it occurred to me that it might be nice to have a list of companies that still use the HP 3000... so we could potentially consider doing business with them."

If September 9 seems too early to consider the December holidays, consider this: Any HP 3000 running a retail application, ecommerce or otherwise, has gone into Retail Lockdown by now. Transitions to other servers will have to wait until January for anybody who's not made the move.

Sieler offered up a few companies which he and his firm know about, where 3000s are still running and selling. See's Candies, Houdini Inc, and Wine Country Gift Baskets are doing commerce with gift consumers. We can add that Thompson Cigar out of Tampa is using HP 3000s, and it's got a smoking-hot gift of humidor packs. (Sorry, couldn't resist.) Then there's American Musical Supply, which last year was looking for a COBOL programmer who has Ecometry/Escalate Retail experience.

Another sales location that could provide gifts for the holiday season is in airports. The duty free shops in some major terminals run applications on MPE systems. HMS Host shops, at least four of them, sell gifts using 3000s. Pretty much anything you'd buy in a duty free shop is a gift, for somebody including yourself.

The discussion of who's still using, and feeling a little Maytag solitude, prompted a few other customers to poke up their heads. We heard again from Deane Bell at the University of Washington, where there could be another 10 years of homesteading for the 3000. The first three finished. All in archival mode.

Beechglen furnishes an HP 3000 locally hosted system meeting the following minimum specifications

· Series A500 Server
· 2GB ECC memory
· 365 GB disk space consisting of 73GB operating system and temporary storage for system backups, and 292GB in a software RAID-1 configuration yielding 146GB of usable disk storage
· DDS3 tape drive
· DLT8000 tape drive

There were other check-ins from Cerro Wire, from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (where one 3000 wag quipped, "the users are not allowed access to files) and one from MacLean Power Systems -- that last, another data point in the migration stats under the column "Can't shut down the HP 3000 as quickly as originally believed." Wesleyan Assurance Society in the UK raised its hand, where Jill Turner reports that "they have been looking to move off for years, but are only now just getting round to looking at this, which will take a while so we will still be using them. Far more reliable than the new kit."

In our very own hometown of Austin, Firstcare is still a user, but nearly all of its medical claims processing has been migrated to a new Linux platform. That's one migration that didn't flow the way HP expected, toward its other enterprise software platforms.

There is Cessna, still flying its maintenance applications under the HP 3000's wingspan. Locating other 3000 customers can be like finding aircraft in your flight pattern. A visual search won't yield much. That's one reason we miss the annual conferences that marked our reunions. This month will be the five-year anniversary of the last "Meeting by the Bay" organized by ScreenJet's Alan Yeo, for example. But the Wide World of the Web brings us all closer.

As a historical Web document that might have some current users on it -- including retail outlets for gift giving -- you can look at the "Companies that Use MPE" page of the OpenMPE website. (That's at openmpe.com these days). That list is more than 10 years old, so it represents the size of the community in the time just after HP's exit announcement. The list is more than 1,200 companies long. And there are plenty of Ecometry sites among the firms listed, including 9 West for shoes and Coldwater Creek for its vast range of clothing. The latter may very well be remaining on a 3000 for now, since retailers' fortunes define the pace of migrations.

And so, in an odd sort of way, patronizing a 3000-based retailer this season might help along a migration -- by increasing revenues that can be applied to an IT budget. It can make for a happier holiday when you can buy what you want, even when that includes a new application and enterprise environment.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:18 PM in Homesteading, Migration, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 05, 2014

How to make an HPSUSAN do virtual work

Interex 95 coverOut on the 3000-L newsgroup and mailing list, a 3000 user who's cloaked their identity as "false" asked about using HPSUSAN numbers while installing the CHARON emulator product from Stromasys. The question, and a few answers, were phrased in a tone of code that suggested there might be trouble from HP if an illicit number was used. HPSUSAN is a predefined variable on a 3000, one that's used to ensure software is not illegally replicated or moved to another system without the software vendor's consent.

People have been talking about HPSUSAN for decades by now, even as far back as the Toronto conference that produced the proceedings cover above. A 19-year-old paper from that meeting -- the last one which was not called HP World -- still has useful instructions on the utility of HPSUSAN. More on that in a moment, after we examine what HPSUSAN does today.

On the fully-featured edition of CHARON for the 3000, a current HP 3000's HPSUSAN number is required. Stromasys installs this number on a thumb drive, which is then plugged into the Intel-based server powering CHARON. There's a 36-hour grace period for using CHARON if that thumb drive malfunctions, or comes up missing, according to CHARON customer Jeff Elmer of Dairylea Cooperative.

But the HPSUSAN process and requirement is different for the freeware, A-202 model of CHARON that can be downloaded from the Stromasys website. As of this spring, users of this non-commercial/production model simply must enter any HPSUSAN number -- and affirm they have the right to use this number. Neither HP or Stromasys checks these freeware HPSUSAN numbers. That model of CHARON software isn't meant to replace any production 3000, or even a developer box.

The freeware situation and installing strategy all makes the newsgroup's answers more interesting. One consultant and 3000 manager suggested that a number from a Dell server would be just as binding as anything from a genuine Hewlett-Packard 3000 server.

HPSUSAN identifies an HP-built 3000 server, not the instance of MPE/iX which reveals that number. The U in HPSUSAN stands for Unique, as in System Unique Serially Assigned Number. HP's Cathlene Mc Rae told us this spring that HPSUSAN is a one of a kind identifier for HP-built 3000 systems. What's more, HP's SUSAN doesn't designate an MPE/iX license, even though MPE is licensed via hardware ownership. 

Mc Rae explained to us, and to a CHARON prospective user, "MPE hardware and software was created before the technology of  virtual systems and emulators, in the 1970s. Licenses were based on hardware ownership."

Nearly 20 years ago, HPSUSAN was not the focal point that it's become since the start of this century. HP 3000s had these numbers swapped and pirated by companies such as Hardware House in 1998 and 1999, and the civil suit and criminal investigations led to low-jack jail time and fines. Some software and service companies even chose to adjust their MPE plans after HP's legal moves. You could be in the right in this kind of circumstance, but not have enough legal budget to prevail in a court against HP. Better to keep a profile low and unquestionably legal.

Of course, that was a different HP than the one which now is scuffling to maintain its sales, as well as watching its Business Critical Servers bleed off double-digit percentage sales dips every quarter. Whatever the legal budget to defend BCS systems like the 3000 was in 1999, these kinds of servers are not HP's focal point. They do remain HP's intellectual property, however. And so, the coded language of today's exchange, starting with the question from "false."

How would one go about getting a HPSUSAN to be able to stand up a HP-3000 VM to play with?  Just playing around--not intending anything, but it would be nice to see if I can do it. BTW, my budget for this project is approximately the price of a plain Einstein Bros Bagel with cream cheese.

If you know what an HPSUSAN is, then you should know how to get one. If you only offer a bagel and cheese, you're up a gum tree without a paddle. Since you need to hide behind a 'false' name, you are onto a hiding and burning your bridges at both ends.

Dear False,

What Tom said is true. I would suggest that an HPSUSAN is about the same as the Service Tag on your Dell. I would try using that.

If a 3000 customer has ever owned a server, they've got an HPSUSAN number on file. (It's in your Gold Book, along with all of the other configuration data and software vendor contacts. Sorry, that's 1990s thinking. HP used to issue these notebook binders upon system purchase.)

And if you still have the right to use this number -- for example, if your HP 3000 was scrapped instead of sold -- then there's a great place to start looking for a number to input while CHARON A202 is installed on that Linux-Intel laptop.

HP has not advised its customers about the utility of HPSUSANs from mothballed 3000s. Using Mc Rae's explanation above, 3000s were based on hardware ownership. If a 3000 has been scrapped -- sold for parts or just materials -- nobody else owns that server. The ownership rights don't revert to Hewlett-Packard, do they? This might be one reason for these coded replies. Nobody knows for sure, and like Mc Rae said, "MPE hardware and software was created before the technology of virtual systems and emulators."

Twenty years after the server was created, though, HPSUSAN was a topic that led David Largent to publish an Interex '95 conference paper entitled 101 (More Or Less) Moral Things To Do With HPSusan. You can read it at the 3K Associates archive website. In part, this is how Largent explained what HPSUSAN was meant to do.

The name is actually an acronym for the words "System Unique Serially Assigned Number." So what purpose does it serve? About the same as any serial number does. Software companies have found they can use HPSUSAN as a way to tie a particular copy of their software to a given machine, thus controlling software piracy. They simply request your HPSUSAN and include that in some validation logic in their program that prohibits the running of their software if the HPSUSAN from the system does not match the value in the software.

And so, CHARON requests an HPSUSAN number for the freeware version of its 3000 model. The only thing it requires would be the basic number format, as well as the integrity of the manager installing it. HPSUSAN matters to vendors other than HP, too.

Some of these freeware CHARON installations start out as pilot projects to ensure applications will run correctly. And some of those apps use software which employ HPSUSAN checks. But MPE/iX is not among that software. That's a decision that HP chose. Perhaps it was one small way to ensure that MPE users can keep their 3000 environments alive. First the pilot install, then a proper production-grade install of CHARON. They all need HPSUSANs. Some requirements, though, are more stringent than others. That's what a non-commercial license for a virtual 3000 will buy you -- installation through integrity.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:16 PM in Homesteading, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 04, 2014

TBT: Practical transition help via HP's files

2004 HPWworld Transition PartnersA 2004 slide of partner logos from an HP presentation.

10 years ago, at the final HP World conference, Hewlett-Packard was working with the Interex user group to educate 3000 users. The lesson in that 2004 conference room carried an HP direction: look away from that MPE/iX system you're managing, the vendor said, and face the transition which is upon you now.

And in that conference room in Atlanta, HP presented a snapshot to prove the customers wouldn't have to face that transition alone.

The meeting was nearly three years after HP laid out its plans for ceasing to build and support the 3000. Some migration was under way at last, but many companies were holding out for a better set of tools and options. HP's 3000 division manager Dave Wilde was glad to share the breadth of the partner community with the conference goers. The slide above is a Throwback, on this Thursday, to an era when MPE and 3000 vendors were considered partners in HP's strategy toward a fresh mission-critical future.

The companies along the top line of this screen of suppliers (click for a larger view) have dwindled to just one by the same name and with the same mission. These were HP's Platinum Migration partners. MB Foster remains on duty -- in the same place, even manning the phones at 800-ANSWERS as it has for decades -- to help transitions succeed, starting with assessment and moving toward implementations. Speedware has become Fresche Legacy, and now focuses on IBM customers and their AS/400 futures. MBS and Lund Performance Solutions are no longer in the transition-migration business.

Many of these companies are still in business, and some are still helping 3000 owners remain in business as well. ScreenJet still sells the tools and supplies the savvy needed to maintain and update legacy interfaces, as well as bring marvels of the past like Transact into the new century. Eloquence sells databases that stand in smoothly for IMAGE/SQL on non-3000 platforms. Robelle continues to sell its Suprtool database manager and its Qedit development tool. Suprtool works on Linux systems by now. Sure, this snapshot is a marketing tool, but it's also a kind of active-duty unit picture of when those who served were standing at attention. It was a lively brigade, your community, even years after HP announced its exit.

There are other partners who've done work on transitions -- either away from HP, or away from the 3000 -- who are not on this slide. Some of them had been in the market for more than a decade at the time, but they didn't fit into HP's picture of the future. You can find some represented on this blog, and in the pages of the Newswire's printed issues. Where is Pivital Solutions on this slide, for example, a company that was authorized to sell new 3000s as recently as just one year earlier?

HP probably needed more than one slide, even in 2004.

From large companies swallowed up by even larger players -- Cognos, WRQ -- to shirt-pocket-protector sized consultancies, there's been a lot of transition away from this market, as evidenced by the players on this slide from a decade ago. Smaller and less engaged, pointed at other enterprise businesses, some even gone dark or into the retirement phase of their existence -- these have been the transitions. This kind of snapshot of partners never would have fit on even two PowerPoint slides in 1994, ten years before that final HP World. Today the busy, significant actors in the 3000's play would not crowd one slide, not from the ones among the company pictured above. 

If you do business with any of these companies above, and that business concerns an HP 3000, consider yourself a fortunate and savvy selector of partners here in 2014. We'd like to hear from you about your vendor's devotion to the MPE Way, whether that's a way to continue to help you away from the server, or a way to keep it vital in your enterprise.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:24 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 02, 2014

Archival presents prospects for CHARON

Five years ago this week we chronicled the story of Yosemite Community College, a 3000 site that fell to the Unix alternative hosted on then-Sun servers. The MPE apps at Yosemite were from a vendor who'd left the 3000 market, and so the college was doing its own app maintenance. There's a limit to how much of that which an IT department will perform. Eventually the pain of re-developing someone else's source code drives you into re-training and installling new datacenter mission-critical operations.

Edward Berner of Yosemite couldn't hold out, even though he said as far back as 2006 he could use such an emulator product. He was planning, back in 2009, to rent a 3000 for archival purposes.

Fortunately (for the college, but unfortunately for the emulator companies) we've finally managed to retire our HP 3000. I'll start advocating that we sell the hardware to a vendor or something.  After that we can rent a system, or use a service if we need to refer to something from our backup tapes.

But we're hearing from 3000 sites which are in archival mode with their 3000s, and several such customers have been installing and evaluating the Stomasys emulator CHARON.

An emulator wouldn't have kept MPE/iX and those applications in production use at Yosemite. "Our main use for an emulator would have been for running the HP 3000 software for a couple years after the migration was mostly done, for historical data and while the last few stray things were migrated," Berner said. "The attraction being that a 1- or 2-processor Intel system is a lot smaller than a 979 -- and the HP 3000 A Series always seemed too expensive to me."

At the University of Washington Medical Center, an HP 3000 has been in archival mode for more than three years. Computer Services Coordinator Deane Bell said the archival system might be in place for a total of 10 years. Given enough time, emulator providers usually catch up to and then lap the used hardware markets. Nobody's forecasting that the UW shop is buying CHARON. But around 2017, it might look better than a well-used Series 900 -- or even a by-then 14-year-old A-Class.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 10:12 PM in Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 29, 2014

Finding the Labor Your 3000 Site Needs

LaborersHomesteading on the HP 3000 — whether it's the bridge until migration, archival operation where little changes except backup tapes, or unlimited future-style — takes labor to maintain. Labor is on our minds here at the NewsWire this weekend, when much of the US has taken a few days off from the office or away from the computer keyboard to celebrate the American labor movement. 

We're taking those days off, too. And we'll be back on Sept. 2, like a lot of you with work to do. There's a printed issue for the Fall for me to edit and write for, after all. We're flying in the face of advice that says it's a ticking clock to produce paper based information. We're betting you still count yourself as a pro who knows the movement to digital is not yet complete. When we started the NewsWire, we flew in the face of advice that said, 19 years ago, there was little future for the MPE user.

Your community has been experiencing that much movement, so any tools to track the travels of skilled 3000 pros can be useful. Let me recommend LinkedIn once again. The HP 3000 Community Group at the website -- and LinkedIn has started to specialize in finding people prospects for work -- well, the 3000 group began with a couple of questions that can still kickstart discussions. Again, the LinkedIn advantage is connecting to pros to share with specific work experience details, plus the chance to draw on others' networks through introductions.

Anybody can join for free. Since I launched the HP 3000 group in 2008, we've added 600 members in the group, and there are many others in the LinkedIn network with 3000 experience. Michael Boritz commented on our Group question back at the beginning about who's doing what with the HP 3000 these days.

I’m still working on the 3000. I’ve been working on 3000s since the 1980s, at J.D. Abrams at that time. Since leaving JDA, I worked at Tivoli in Austin (i.e., Unison-Tymlabs) for a couple of years. Since then, I have moved four times — all for new HP 3000 positions.

Of course, this social networking stuff works, if you can just keep at it a few minutes a day. Us journalists are being told it's now essential if we want to keep our jobs in our field. Boritz tells of his stops along the way:

I am currently in the Cleveland area, working at a Law firm, Weltman, Weinberg, and Reis, supporting their two legacy 3000s. I’ve been here since December, starting as a contractor, and becoming permanent in March. My current position is basically a programming position, supporting the legal documents created for the courts. It’s definitely different — I've never worked in the legal industry before.

Like most other shops, they are talking about migrating off the 3000 platform. It’s getting harder and harder to find 3000 jobs out there.

Put a little light labor into connecting with your community on LinkedIn. Staying in touch can make easier work of traveling between career stops.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 10:25 PM in Homesteading, Web Resources | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 28, 2014

TBT: Days of HP's elite software outlook

Business Software Brochure 83At the end of August of 1983, Hewlett-Packard mailed out a 92-page brochure that showed HP 3000 owners where to get the software they didn't want to create themselves. The Hewlett-Packard Business Software Guide covered the options for both the HP 3000 and the just-launching HP 250. The latter was a system that would sit on a large desktop, run software written for its BASIC operating system, and receive just six pages of specific notice out of the 90-plus in the HP sales guide.

What's interesting about this document -- apart from the fact that nearly all those photos have people in them -- is that HP's own programming development software and application tools are listed first in these pages. And in that order, too; owners of a system in 1983 seemed more likely to need software to create the bespoke applications so common in a system of 31 years ago. Applications from HP were always pushed before anything without the Hewlett-Packard brand.

But as I paged a bit deeper into this Throwback Thursday treasure, I found the genuine vitality that sold 10,000 of these minicomputers in less than 10 years' time: Third-party software, both in tools and in applications. HP made a distinction in this giveaway document for these programs, which they called HP PLUS software. A product could be Listed, or Referenced. But to get more information on either one of them, HP expected you to purchase a catalog with a lot more detail.

Not only was it an era without a Web, but these were the days when you'd pay for paper just to have a complete list of things you might purchase. The biggest issue was "will this run on my system?" That, and whether it really existed.

Inside Software Brochure 83The HP software in this Guide surely existed, and everything that HP listed as a PLUS product had a great chance of being available for purchase. Bulwarks like HP DeskManager were installed at thousands of terminals inside HP itself, and the minicomputer offerings were still supposed to be better for an office than something running off -- gad -- a Personal Computer.

The Listed products "Must meet certain Hewlett-Packard qualifying standards to be listed in either the Technical or Business version of the HP Software Directory." Meanwhile, the Referenced software products "have been further qualified by being rated very good to excellent by users in at least six different organizations." If you could assemble six customers who'd rate your software for HP, your MPE product had a chance of making it into this free brochure.

August 1983 software from third parties that was referenced included the many flavors of MCBA financial applications, programs that were often customized as soon as they were added to a Value Added Reseller's price list. MCBA was really a suggested serving. Cognos didn't exist yet, but its applications were represented at Quasar Corporation offerings such as DOLLAR-FLOW ($FLOW$). "Budgeting, pro-forma projections, financial analysis, ad hoc spread sheet (two words!) reports, and performance reporting" were the treasures of $FLOW$.

Specialized apps such as Finished Goods Inventory--83 were simply Listed, cataloged with nothing more than the name of the company (DeCarlo, Paternite & Assoc. Inc.) and a telephone number. You'd find a program, ask your HP Customer Engineer if he knew anything about it, then call the software vendor. That's how DP departments rolled three decades ago, when the computer was making its bones growing up in the business markets. You went to a computer user group meeting to ask about these things among your colleagues, too.

A more detailed catalog, the New HP PLUS Software Directory, was also available that fall. Within a year it was two full volumes of software across all HP system platforms, although the vast majority of it was written for MPE. It was updated twice a year. This HP directory also gained a notoriety for being something of a wish book.

Companies would supply detailed descriptions of their software to HP, which would dutifully report it to the 3000 customers who'd bought the directory. Vendors said -- while telling stories at spots like SIG-BAR in the conferences everyone attended to keep up -- they'd write something up just to see if they'd get a call. If there was real interest, then software would go from Proposed to In-development. There was no community-wide reviewing service like an Amazon while shopping for packages which might sell for $10,000 or more. Some people felt lucky they had a resource with guidance. Precious few minicomputer apps were reviewed in the likes of Computerworld, Datamation, or Byte.

Of course, those last two publications are not being manufactured anymore. Unlike the HP 3000, they don't enjoy a virtualized reincarnation, either. Only the 3000 is doing as much current work as Computerworld.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 09:06 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 27, 2014

A Virtual Legacy from the Past to the Future

VMworld 2014VMworld 2014 wrapped up this week, with more than 25,000 IT pros and suppliers attending the San Francisco conference. Although the show was wrapped entirely around the VMware offerings -- and few other genuinely available products look to the future as much as the virtual machine vendor's -- there's also a legacy story to be told. As it turned out, that story was a message that virtualized 3000 vendor Stromays got to share.

West Coast sales manager Doug Smith, a 3000 veteran from the enterprise resource planning world, checked in on his way out of the Bay Area to report on the proximity between decades-old MPE/iX and just-days-old VMWare innovations like the enterprise cloud vCloud Air. VMware is offering the first month of vCloud Air free.

"VMWorld is a lot of people looking forward," he said, "and we're pulling people back, out of the past. It was great to see those little guys walking by and knowing what MPE, VMS and Alpha means. People were looking up and saying, 'Oh yeah, I've got one of those HP 3000s in my datacenter.' It was a sight to see."

The CHARON virtualization engine that turns an Intel server into a 3000 runs on the bare metal of an Intel i5 processor or faster, operating inside a Linux cradle. But plenty of customers who use CHARON host the software in a virtualized Linux environment -- one where VMware provides the hosting for Linux, which then carries CHARON and its power to transform Intel chips, bus and storage into PA-RISC boxes. VMware is commonplace among HP 3000 sites, so management is no extra work. But ample server horsepower is a recommended spec for using a VMware-CHARON combo.

When a site can eliminate the need for a bare-metal Linux box, "it's kind of double-virtualization," Smith explained. Customers need to manage performance in this configuration which eliminates the need for a dedicated Linux box. "So long as you have enough memory, nice CPUs and disk, the performance is high," Smith said.

With all that noted, Smith said he had a 3000 running on his laptop during the conference on the show floor. "It kind of blows people away," he said. "All the old-school guys are used to seeing a big old box out there running MPE. We had an HP Envy laptop running our 4040 virtual machine." The 4040 is a 4-CPU N-Class server with performance clocked at 38 HP Performance Units -- the equivalent of an HP-branded N4000-400-440.

HP once carried an ultimate-generation 3000 under an arm of a product manager at a conference, but that was 13 years ago and the box was the size of a deep kitchen drawer. It was also an A-Class, which is a pretty good reference point for how compact the supporting hardware has shrunk to host one of the fastest MPE engines. It helps make that happen when the hardware can be Intel-based. Most CHARON installations for MPE don't run on laptops, but the installation turns heads at a conference.

When a laptop with an i5 processor, 8 GB of memory and a 1TB drive can deliver an application screen from an OS first launched in 1974, that's looking forward -- with an viewpoint toward preserving the value of the past, too. There's been interest in the 3000 community in hosting CHARON over a cloud-based server. VMware vCloud stands out as one of the ways to put a solution such as that into practice, at some point in the future.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:52 PM in Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 26, 2014

See how perl's strings still swing for MPE

PerlheartThe HP 3000 has a healthy range of open source tools in its ecosystem. One of the best ways to begin looking at open source software opportunity is to visit the MPE Open Source website operated by Applied Technologies. If you're keeping a 3000 in vital service during the post-HP era, you might find perl a useful tool for interfacing with data via web access.

The 3000 community has chronicled and documented the use of this programming language, with the advice coming from some of the best pedigreed sources. Allegro Consultants has a tar-ball of the compiler, available as a 38MB download from Allegro's website. (You'll find many other useful papers and tools at that Allegro Papers and Books webpage, too.)

Bob Green of Robelle wrote a great primer on the use of perl in the MPE/iX environment. We were fortunate to be the first to publish Bob's paper, run in the 3000 NewsWire when the Robelle Tech long-running column made a hit on our paper pages.

You could grab a little love for your 3000, too. Cast a string of perls starting with the downloads and advice. One of HP's best and brightest -- well, a former HP wizard -- has a detailed slide set on perl, too.

The official perl.org website has great instructions on Perl for MPE/iX installation and an update on the last revision to the language for the 3000. First ported by Ken Hirsch in 2000, the language was brought to the 5.9.3 release in 2006.

An extensive PowerPoint presentation on perl by the legendary porter Mark Bixby will deliver detailed insights on how to introduce perl to your programming mix. Bixby, who left HP to work for the 3000 software vendor QSS, brings the spirit of open source advocacy to his advice on how to use this foundational web tool.

As an example, Bixby notes that "it's now possible to write MPE applications that look like web browsers, to perform simple HTTP GET requests, or even complicated HTTP POST requests to fill out remote web forms." It's no box of Godiva, or even the classic blue box from Tiffany's, but perl might be something you love to use, to show that 3000 isn't a tired old minicomputer -- just a great sweetheart of a partner in your mission-critical work.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 10:35 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 22, 2014

30 years ago, 1984 seemed like news

I've been writing about my own experiences of the year 1984, since this has been the week that marks my 30th anniversary of my technical journalism career. It was the era of personal 1200 baud modems manufactured by US Robotics, now owned by PowerHouse's parent company Unicom Global. It was a time when HP's PC, the Touchscreen 150, operated using a variant of CPM -- the alternative to MS-DOS that lost like Betamax lost to VHS. It was a year when HP's worldwide software engineering manager Marc Hoff announced that 1,783 new products would enter HP's price list on April 1, products ranging from less-expensive software to "application-experienced CEs" called CSRs.

HP's new PICS phone support centers in California and Georgia each operated from 8 AM to 6 PM, giving the customers a whole 13 hours a day of call-in "toll-free" support in the US. It was an era when toll-free mattered, too, and to save money in your DP shop (we didn't call it IT) you could read a column on how to make your own RS-232 cables for the HP 3000, based on instructions from the Black Box Catalog. The HP 3000 could output graphics to magnetic tape, files that could be passed to a service bureau to create 35mm slides for your Kodak Carousel projector for those important boardroom meetings. But there are stories that 3000 community members have shared about that year, too. Here's a sample of some.

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Alan Yeo, ScreenJet founder - In 1984 I had just gone freelance for a contract paying “Great Money” and spent the whole year on a Huge Transact Project. Actually it was the rescue of a Huge Transact Project, one that had taken two elapsed and probably 25 man-years and at that point was about 10 percent working. A couple of us were brought in on contract to turn it around. We did, and we used to joke that we were like a couple of Samurai Coders brought in to Slash and Burn all before us. (I think Richard Chamberlin may have just starred in the hit TV epic Samurai at that time.)

 We were working on a Series 70, configured as the biggest 3000 in our region of the UK (apart from the one at HP itself). We used to have lots of HP SEs in and out to visit -- not because it was broken but just to show it to other customers. That was the year we started hearing rumors of PA-RISC and the new “Spectrum” HP 3000s. It unfortunately took a few more years for them to hit the streets.

I have lots of good memories of HP SEs from that time. HP employed some of the best people, and a lot of them were a great mix between Hardware Engineers, Software Engineers and Application Engineers. Great people to work with who sort of espoused the HP Way, and really made you want to be associated with HP. Where did they go wrong?

Brian Edminster, Applied Technologies founder -- As you've said, bespoke software was the meat and potatoes of the early 3000 market. I still believe that a custom software application package can be warranted -- as long as it gives your business a competitive edge. The trick is to make sure the edge is large enough to justify the expense of having something that's not Commercial Off the Shelf.

Doug Greenup, Minisoft founder -- In 1984 Minisoft was just one year old. We had just begun marketing our first product, a word processor for the HP 3000 known as Miniword. At that time a lot of HP 3000s only did 2400 baud, so typeahead was pretty important. Users were losing characters because they typed too fast. Typeahead helped to solve that problem. Because the HP 3000 did not have typeahead we had to manufacture a little box that sat between the HP3000 and the terminal we called a “SoftBox.” One of our best moments was when we were able to get 9600 baud on a serial connection.

Also at that time we were timesharing on an HP 3000 Series III with another company called Western Data. The spinoff of that company became Walker, Richer and Quinn, the makers of Reflection. Marty Quinn came into my office one day complaining that he couldn't develop from home. He had this piece of hardware called an IBM PC. I remember laughing at the thought of making this IBM PC look like an HP2622 block mode terminal. Marty went on to develop PC2622 which became Reflection.

Denys Beauchemin, MIS manager, backup vendor, developer and Interex chairman -- By 1984 I had been working on the HP 3000 for over seven years. I was at Northern Telecom in Montreal with a pair of Series 70. The Spectrum project was announced by HP at the same time as the cancellation of the Vision project, and the Series 70 got an upgrade to keep it viable for a few more years waiting for Spectrum.

Donna (Garverick) Hofmeister, SIGSYSMAN chair, Longs Drug developer/analyst, OpenMPE board director -- By 1984 I was two years out of college and working for the Army, tracking equipment readiness on a 3000. It was replaced by a Series 70, just about as soon as the 70s came out, too.  We were very proud of that system, because at time of delivery we were told it was the biggest 70 ever made.

Over the years we pushed that box pretty hard. It was very much a case of “if you build [the application] they will come.” We gave weapon system managers on-line access to their data -- something they had never had.  And when we started graphing the trend data -- oh boy! You'd think we had built a better mouse trap! I was particularly fond of the DSG/3000 decision support graphics application. By the time the Army and I parted ways, I think we had a grand 6GB of disc attached to the system.

Chris Bartram, 3k Associates founder, NewsWire Webmaster - In 1984 I had just taken a fulltime system programming job on the 3000 after deciding to give up on college for a while. My work there inspired me to start 3k a few years later in 1987. That was the year when I bought my first 3000, a 3000/37 Mighty Mouse which cost me about $10,000.

Gilles Schipper, founder of third party support firm GSA, NewsWire columnist -1984 was one year after I left HP and started out on my own. At that time, MPE/VE was starting to be out in full force after HP had just announced the 42 (as well as the 48 and 68). Shortly thereafter, as regular contributor to The Chronicle, I wrote an article entitled “The HP3000 Series 41?” in which I suggested that lots of HP 3000 users were being shortchanged by HP with the Series 40 to 42 “upgrade kit,” because it did not include the necessary CPU board replacement that actually made the upgrade complete.

Guy Smith, Chronicle columnist and founder of Silicon Support Strategies - Wow, where the hell was I in 1984? I was running a couple of boxes at Canaveral Air Force Station at that time. 16-bits and many megabytes of RAM were considered serious hardware (which my laptop that I'm writing with mocks, smugly superior with its two 64-bit CPUs and 8GB of fast RAM).

Important at that point in time was the growing number and sophistication of HP Users Groups. The Florida Users Group was particularly vibrant and was a great feeding ground for young and hungry bitheads like me.  They were small, intimate and high powered, allowing me to meet and discuss HP 3000 innards with the likes of David Greer, Vladimir Volokh and other gurus. Interex later became the locus, but regional groups were the launching pads for most of us in 1984. NASA at Kennedy Space Center and neighboring Cape Canaveral Air Force Station had many HP 3000s. I know the concentration of machines and talent there influenced FLORUG.

Jeff Vance, HP developer for MPE, community liaison -- In 1984 I was working in the MPE XL (really named HPE at the time) lab. It was the year that Spectrum (which became PA-RISC) won the battle over the Vision architecture, and we re-wrote much of the low-level OS to Spectrum, while simply porting the higher level code.

The “HPE Cookbook,” written by the late Chris Mayo, was “published” May 15, 1984. The table of contents shows: Development Environment Map, CookMOM - How to Build “Hi Mom,” CookHPE, Useful Directories, User Information, Spooling, Customizing Makefiles for HPE, and RDB - The Remote Debugger.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 09:58 PM in History, Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 21, 2014

TBT 1984: The Days of Beauty and Wonder

Adager Globe 84When I arrived in the HP 3000 world, three decades ago this week, spreading the word about DP was supposed to be an attractive effort. We brought the workmanlike, newsprint-with-staples Chronicle into a marketplace where the leader was a slick-papered, four-color magazine bound like a book and produced as if it were a high-end design assignment.

In a Throwback Thursday covering the week my career started, the covers of Interact look like concept art. Much of what was inside was black and white with line drawings at best. But the outsides and even the big ads on the inside told the story of presentation in '84 style: focus on the beauty of the concept, and tout the details of the wonders of features. And some advertisers reached for the same level of art in their messages. Adager's ads often ran with little except a picture of the tape that carried the software, set in a mountain landscape or like the above, converted to a globe.

2392A 1984How else but with high concept could you make a full page of copy about a terminal that only worked with HP 3000s? There was a story in the HP ad, well-written, but like almost every other page of the user group's magazine, it was bereft of images of people.

Report Writing BluesThe DP workers in these ads look flummoxed and beaten much of the time, because they don't have the invention of the year that will making using their 3000 the value it was promised to be. Some of the magic of the day included HP's Dictionary/3000, designed to eliminate the tedious writing of COBOL Identification Divisions. A cartoon depicts those who still perform this task as cave dwellers.  Dictionary 3000Meanwhile, the wonders of fourth generation languages were touted as if these would soon become as universal as anything such as COBOL. Technically that would have made things like these 4GLs third generation languages. One of the things that made COBOL universal was that everybody knew it and you could find it running anywhere.

Powerhouse Universal 1984

 

The abiding element in all of the messages from 1984's advertising was this: because you know how tech works, we know the decision lies with you. Years ago, the HP enterprise user group of our modern day began to separate the tech-steeped customer from the ones who knew business and partnerships and budgets. The geek customers were dubbed technologists. It would have been a compliment 30 years ago, because the days of magic were always amid our steps into the future. Magic about things we take for granted, like understanding that germs cause disease or that mother's milk builds smarter humans.

Interact May 84It was a year when knowing would get you promoted, and I grappled with all there was to learn. Some of the mystery would always elude me; the power of IBM's System Network Architecture had to be explained to me years after TCP/IP made SNA an afterthought. I never learned what the readers already knew and practiced. But like the wafer artwork that graced the front cover below, grabbing their technical wisdom and replicating it, one month at a time on tabloid newsprint, was enough to complete the circuits between what one DP manager knew and another desired. Especially when, like the best of the chipmaking, those circuits that we built ran faster than the competition. In the good months, with luck, you could see the advantages of speed.

Interact wafer cover 1984

 

Posted by Ron Seybold at 10:38 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 20, 2014

Small office — but a modest, social market

The building in Austin, Texas wasn't even devoted to the newspaper entirely. Off in the northern side, the single-story offices housed a insurance company and an optician. The beginnings of the HP Chronicle matched the position of the HP 3000 in 1984. It was not the most significant tenant in the Hewlett-Packard building of products. It was never the biggest earner on the HP ledger. It was just the most social office of the HP structure. People built events and associations around it.

HP closed out its fiscal 1984 a couple months after I arrived in the offices of the Chronicle. We were so cautious that we didn't even include "HP" in the publication name at first, because we were not welcomed at that year's Interex user group conference. I heard about the argument on the show floor, where it was plain we'd started a publication to compete with the user group. They'd cashed the check, said the publisher John Wilson. They had to let us in. But seeing that resistance, nobody was going to make us change our name in that kind of environment. Leave the HP off the front page.

Screen Shot 2014-08-20 at 5.36.27 PMIt never occured to us to make a big story out of the annual HP numbers which were reported in mid-November. HP wasn't a sexy stock (trading in the mid $40s, with good profits) and its board of directors was full of technical expertise and HP management experience. John Young, the company's CEO on the August day I began, was not the chairman. That job was in the hands of one of the company founders, David Packard. His partner Bill Hewlett was vice-chairman. HP management moves didn't involve mergers or acquisitions as the splashy plays of today. The photo of the HP Touchscreen connected to a 3000 at left was one of just four in the annual report with a person in it. This was still a company that knew how to connect with customers, but struggled to sell its story about people.

There was a full range of things which the 1984 Hewlett-Packard was not. One of them was an adept player at being in a partnership. The Not Invented Here syndrome was in full throat on the day I arrived and looked at the PC 2622 box atop that PC monitor. Walker, Richer & Quinn was selling an alternative to HP's hardware. Within a few years HP would be launching a product to compete with WRQ, Advancelink. Because HP believed that every dollar, from supplies to support, had its best chance to help the company if it were on the HP ledger.

Computer-related sales made up the biggest share of the $6.1 billion that HP posted 30 years ago, but test and measurement systems were not far behind. $3.2 billion for computers, $2.2 billion for test gear. The latter was the best-known product for the company, as the Silicon Valley's hardware engineers were likely to have HP measurement products in their development labs. Test and Measurement was also more profitable than computers. Used in hospitals, medical labs, research facilities -- this was the business that started the company, and it was still the major driver in profitability, with strong sales.

Test and measurement was also completely outside my beat, thank goodness. But that didn't mean I only had the HP 3000 to learn. The Chronicle covered HP 1000 real-time systems and HP 9000 engineering computers, but mostly because our California competitors at Interex did so. The serious ad revenue came from the most social side of HP's $3.2 billion: business computers, charting the lives of companies and their employees. But even a chart off an HP business computer had a radical distinction from today. It used six pens to make its appearance.

I didn't have to write much about HP plotters, but they were a marvel to watch whenever we'd get one into our offices for a test run. The HP ThinkJet printers were less than a year old at HP at the time, and the LaserJet was announced in the same summer as the 3000's Office Computer. I didn't know it at the time -- maybe nobody outside of HP was aware -- but the year 1984 was the moment of watershed for HP's computing product futures. Printers which had graphics capability of a plotter and were faster than dot-matrix devices were the hottest product in offices other than PCs. In the years that followed, HP would hew ever harder to the course of ink-jet and LaserJet model: using commodity resellers and little in-person contact with customers.

We didn't run a column devoted to printers. We ran one on managing company staff, written by Dr. E.R. Simmons, who'd founded a fourth generation language firm called Protos. E.R. was also a psychologist. HP 3000 customers were often called analysts, meaning they had to understand the way people worked as well as how to code up a program. E.R. column was the easiest for everyone to understand. Including me.

Writing about HP's LaserJets that year would have had nothing to do with its big office computers, or even its engineering line. HP EasyChart ran off a 3000, yes, and it output to no devices but plotters that year. Same thing for the more advanced HP graphics apps, HP EasyDraw and DSG/3000. They all used data from IMAGE, but the LaserJet was too new to work with anything except Personal Computers at first. HP sold 10 million of these printers, which retailed for about $3,000 each, in 10 years time. The company had never created anything that sold so much, so quickly. But it never had a popular consumer product before, either.

The LaserJet, of course, had no conferences. No user group formed around it, and it only gained a Special Interest Group late in the '80s -- and even then, people wondered why. The HP 3000 had dozens of Regional User Group meetings, often with some kind of meal or multi-day agenda. I went to my first at the Florida RUG's December conference, feeling fully unprepared to talk in person about business computing without the aid of taped notes to decipher afterward. This was my first field work with the people who knew and loved MPE. They turned out to be some of the most generous and patient pros I'd interviewed in journalism. They knew they needed to explain a lot to me. They seemed to be eager to tell their stories.

But I came in at an odd moment for the 3000 community. Interex produced the biggest conference of the year, one named after the user group. In August of 1984 we were six months past HP's admission that its Vision architecture was going to be scrapped. Something named Spectrum was taking its place, but the next conference -- the best place to find and interview dozens of people in one place -- would not be held for another full year. I was used to in-person reporting and writing. Everything would need to happen over the phone. Fax wouldn't become popular for another year. Compuserve had nothing on it about HP products.

FLORUG, and then the Southern California SCRUG, would have to serve, to put me in front of experts and learn the personalities starting in December. We all read papers -- published in thick volumes after a conference -- or publications, or HP's technical bulletins, to learn about new tech and case studies and field reports. Computerworld was useful, but the HP 3000 drew scant notice in there.

HP's entire product line fought for space in any general computing interest newspaper. There were still several dozen makers of minicomputers and personal computers to write about. This specialization was the whole reason the Chronicle existed -- all HP news, on every page. Specialization was also the reason I got to enter the technical field. This was a community, and I'd shown success at community journalism in the three years before I went to work in that single-story set of rooms on Research Boulevard.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 05:54 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (2)

August 19, 2014

What Changed Over 30 Years: Bespoke

Warmup suitsI arrived here in the community of my career when gas was $1.15 a gallon in the US, the Dow was at 1,200, a new truck sold for $8,995, the Cold War Olympics featured no Soviet atheletes in LA, and Stevie Wonder had a top hit on the record charts. Because there were still records being sold for pop hits, along with cassettes. Nary a CD could be bought. The Mac was brand new and still didn't sport a hard drive. Those fellows to the right were right in style with warm-up suits that you're likely to see in a senior's happy hour cafeteria line today.

There were thousands of applications in the Hewlett-Packard software catalog of 1984. It wasn't a new idea to collate and curate them, either. MB Foster had one of the first compendiums of HP 3000 software, several years before it occured to HP to offer products the vendor did not make (or buy up, then sell back). But in the month when I entered this market, during that August you were at least as likely to find custom, bespoke software running a corporation as any Commercial Off The Shelf package.

People built what they needed. The bespoken software was often created with the help of fourth generation langauges, so Speedware and Cognos' Powerhouse were big players during 1984. Not the biggest of the 3000 vendors, in terms of customer size. Unless you counted several thousand MANMAN sites, all running the Quiz reporting tools that ASK Computer included with the MRP package. Back in those says, Enterprise Resource Planning hadn't been conceived. 

Because so much of the community's software was customized, being well-versed in IMAGE/3000 -- not yet TurboIMAGE, let alone IMAGE/SQL -- was a key skill. Mastery of the database was more attainable if you had a database management utility. Adager was most widely installed, with Bradmark just getting off the ground in 1984. I nearly crashed my reputation with Adager and co-founder Alfredo Rego, less than a month after I began my career in the community.

MondaletoHartThe problem was a lack of MPE and IMAGE experience. Since I didn't understand the technology first-hand, I felt compelled to contribute to the effort of the HP Chronicle. Not by writing an article, but instead closely red-pen editing the writing of Rego. I didn't know yet that anything he shared with a publication -- his technical treatise was a big win for us at the HP Chronicle -- had already been polished and optimized. A writer well-steeped in mastery of his subject can insist an article be published with no changes. In the publishing business, stet means to ignore a change. I'd have been helped if someone had grabbed my inked-up printout of Rego's paper and marked "stet all changes" on the front. He had a legitimate beef.

Instead, we ran it and then I got to enjoy a rare thrill -- having my corrections corrected by the author, live in front of a local user group audience. Writers forming the troika of big independent vendors -- Bob Green at Robelle, Eugene Volokh at VEsoft, and Rego -- certainly had earned stet-all-changes. Their software became crucial in managing a 3000 that was gasping for new horsepower. Creating and maintaining customized software was a popular way to get the most out of the six-figure HP 3000s, already at the end of the line at the top but still more than two years away from getting a refresh.

One accounting software package was in place that was basically a template for its resellers to customize for customers. Meanwhile there was talk in our offices about the new Account Management Support, a Systems Engineer (SE) and Customer Support Representative (SCR) tandem for supporting HP 3000s. An SE would visit your site once a month; nothing new about that in 1984. But HP would be sending a CSR for each of your applications. The 3000 community always knew that HP wanted to be onsite to talk about optimization and resolve management operations issues. The CSRs were all about making sure that the HP applications were satisfactory -- and edging out the third-party alternatives.

But so much of what was running neither HP or third-party. It was custom-crafted. And that year could get a new level of support, via phone in the US out of Santa Clara, Calif. and from Atlanta. 

In my offices, the 3000 was limited to an amber terminal emulator screen, representing time on a system down at Futura Press, where the newspaper was printed monthly. We never saw any SEs unless we were at a conference -- where they gave talks. We never installed an HP 3000.

It was an era where PCs were on the rise, but not being much trusted in the Data Processing departments. The financial forces started to carry the day with PCs and MS-DOS, but the established MIS sector analysts figured that PCs would saturate the market quickly enough. One $400,000 study reported "Early PC peak forecasted," where SRI International predicted PC growth tapering off after 1986. "Average annual growth will be only 5.4 percent in the 1986-1990 period."

Customization -- the bespoke nature of database designs -- was supposed to be holding back more PC growth. "Some companies find that the file structures within their corporate databse do not lend themselves to easy access by PCs." Personal computers were supposed to work unconnected to the databases like IMAGE, the experts figured. Then software like Data Express arrived to change all of that connectivity between PC spreadsheets and minicomputer databases. IMAGE could use what Lotus 1-2-3 wrought/

IMAGE adjustments, management and optimization were so popular that we had a pristine copy of the IMAGE/3000 Handbook in our office -- though it was more for my education than any operational use. The book was 330 generous sized pages, plus index, written by Bob Green, David Greer, Alfredo Rego, Fred White, and Dennis and Amy Heidner. "The book sold itself," said Green, "and since the price was $50 each and we paid for the printing, our editor Marguirete Russell had a nice extra income for the next few years."

Posted by Ron Seybold at 11:57 PM in History, Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 18, 2014

This Is Where I Came In

It's the third week of August, but it's 30 years ago. I wear my wide tie and my oxfords to an office in Austin's northwest tech territory and start to write and learn about the HP 3000. I'm 27, father of a boy not yet two, a community news reporter with a new community to creep into -- because that's how it's done when you don't know anyone or much of anything. You ask a lot of questions and try to understand the answers.

Ronin1980sThe office is ribbed with wood paneling and mini-blinds and sports an IBM-PC knockoff, a Columbia. It's got an amber display and no hard drive. A box with the manual for Walker, Richer & Quinn's PC2622 software is on top of that monitor. It's connected for something called time-sharing, and it also connects to something called Compuserve. I watch my boss dial up on a phone with a modem -- I knew about those from using an Apple II at home -- and read the news. None of it's about HP, though. That's our story to tell.

Inside my editor's office there's a telephone transcription machine for recorded interviews, plus a Kaypro II portable. It weighs 28 pounds and has a screen that's nine inches across.  Kaypro_II_portable_computer_with_dBase_II_and_CPM_2013-04-04_00-57Imagine two Samsung Galaxy phones side by side, and that's about it. There are two books on the shelf, both printed by Hewlett-Packard. One is a catalog of third-party software and specialized hardware, all written in something called MPE V for a computer people are wild about, the HP 3000. The other book is a listing of the phone number of everyone in HP's Bay Area campuses. HP is not yet selling $7 billion of gear, support or software in 1984 -- and that includes medical and measurement systems that are so much better known than its computer products.

In my first week of a career writing about HP, one of the first things that I learn is that we've been scooped. The latest HP 3000, a real ground-breaker, is already in the pages of Interact magazine. The user group Interex has won again, because being physically near those HP Bay Area offices makes a difference. There's nobody on our staff or theirs who wrote news for newspapers, though, not until this week. It's the only chance we've got to learn something first: Get on that phone, son.

Thirty years ago the market that became the community I called home had a minicomputer product being sold in a mainframe mindset. HP sold office computers for interactive computing, just like DEC, Wang, Control Data, Honeywell, Burroughs, Univac, Datapoint, and yeah, some company called IBM. I'd heard of IBM. I knew nothing about the rest of the BUNCH, and I thought they were kidding about a company called Wang. (In the years to come, our publishing company created an unfortunately-named tabloid called Wang in the News.)

Mighty MouseWe got scooped on the release of the Series 37, which HP called the Office Computer because it was the first minicomputer it sold that didn't need special cooling or a raised floor. It operated on carpet, and that was a big deal for something people called the Mighty Mouse. It had the the first 3000 on a chip; a CMOS gate array; could have as much as 8 MB of memory and the same performance as a Series III, according to Stan Sieler's genealogy of that era. The Series III cost four times as much. That 8 MB is smaller than some of the individual podcast files I created 25 years later.

But I'm getting ahead of myself, like I usually do. I came into that office with 24 credit hours of computer science and a passion for the field. I was an enthusiast, as they used to call people who like computers for the concept of what they'd do, not just what they could help you learn. I only had a journalism degree to hang up on my paneled office wall. Plus that telephone and a notepad and a recorder. I needed the recorder, because I was drinking out of a fire hose of information for the first six months of these 30 years.

People were at the heart of the work, though. Not just the machines, but creative people with personality and a penchant for gathering and being social. These were business computing analysts, and the best way for them to share what they knew and learn was to read and meet in person. They held meetings at least once a month around the world. They were generous with what they knew. It seemed lots of them wanted to teach.

These days there are Throwback Thursdays online in social media like Facebook. Us baby boomers share pictures of our younger days. But I'm going to take more than just this coming Thursday to throw you back into 1984 and the place where I came in, looking for a way to tell stories that 3000 people would hear for the first time. Being first was important. But I'd soon learn that being accurate was even more important, more essential to my readers and my new community than being accurate when someone was on trial, or critically injured, or breaking a record or hearts on a sporting field. It certainly felt that way to the people who shared their stories with me. It also felt that way to me, the first time I messed up in public as I came in, then got schooled in person about how inaccurate my editing was in 1984.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 10:44 PM in History, Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)