April 23, 2014

Emulator's edition earns closer look in call

First of two parts

The recent CAMUS user group meeting, conducted as a conference call, promised some testing and analysis of the Stromasys CHARON HP 3000 emulator -- as done by an outsider. MB Foster is an insider to the HP 3000 community, but the vendor doesn't have an affiliation with Stromasys as a partner. Not at this point, although there are always opportunities for longstanding vendors to join their customers with such a new solution.

CEO Birket Foster said the company's been asked by its customers if MB Foster products would run safely in the CHARON environment. The question not only has been of high interest to 3000 managers. One similar answer lies in the Digital environment, where CHARON has more than 4,000 installations including some CAMUS members who run MANMAN in a VAX system. All's well over there, they report.

CHARON is so much newer in 3000-land. Principal Consultant Arnie Kwong of MB Foster outlined some of the research results from testing on an Intel i7 server with 64GB of memory and SSD storage, as well as a more everyday 8GB capacity box, albeit an AMD-based system. (Both systems can run CHARON for the 3000 emulation.) Wong said using a private VMware cloud, or private backup machines, are common computing-share practices that deserve extra attention with new possibilities of CHARON. "What will it let me do that's different?" he asked.

One of the assumptions of using cloud infrastructure and these new capabilities is whether the fundamental operating characteristics, business processes and business rules embedded in applications like MANMAN are sufficient for what you're doing now. Having talked to lots of MANMAN customers, all of the industry-standard and regulatory practices can be impacted if we do something major like shifting the platform.

Kwong went on to forecast the use of CHARON in a cloud-based implementation and ponder if that use affects regulatory compliance, as well as "the ability to operate on a global basis, and what new opportunities we can do in that mold." He said he'd confine his comments to instances where a cloud-based infrastructure was already in use at MB Foster customer sites. "But our leading candidate to do this kind of thing isn't a VMware kind of architecture." CHARON, Kwong noted, relies heavily on VMware to do its emulation for HP 3000 operations.

Most members of the user group on the call have pieces of their IT infrastructure running in a cloud aspect, such as Google Mail. "They have Internet-based functionalities, global applications that function well. We looked at the HP 3000 applications such as MANMAN that are enabled and helped by having all of that architecture in place." The 3000 is a platform service inside a cloud environment, Kwong said.

Migrating a 3000 to CHARON means "you have to have some systems engineering and systems administration done to bring it up. A key is to look at sizing of the environments and properly sizing data and program sizes and shapes, as far as the size of the application portfolio. You should look at what you are going to be able to effectively maintain."

Testing for such an emulated environment may require more time from technical staff that the time you have available, considering the depth of MPE/3000 knowledge in many sites. "Concurrently, you need to have folks with knowledge of your cloud infrastructure. A key takeaway for this call is you need to pay attention to staff availability of people with a deep technical knowledge, both on the HP side and in your cloud infrastructure."

Kwong said that managers can snapshot production states, to on to things such as a physical inventory cycle. "In a case of global operations, that might not have been easily possible before. Using the virtualization infrastructure offered via CHARON, and storage infrastructure in particular, you can do functions you just weren't able to do in the HP 3000 environment that's tied to physical hardware." 

In an evaluation from MB Foster that could lead to implementing CHARON, the company looks at the business cycle activities that need those kind of functions, "and study how we'd map it; for example, could I give one to three days more production time."

One Stromasys representative on the call checked to see if the MB Foster results were off the limited-use Freeware edition, or a full-production installation. Kwong said it was full-production, and the Stromasys rep said the company didn't have a relationship yet with MB Foster. The two said they'd take that issue offline. Regarding the license movement needed to enable CHARON use, Kwong said it wasn't an automatic assumption that everything could move without a major cost, but "it's fair to say that in a lot of cases you'll be able to move without a tremendous cost in relicensing.

Foster said that slides which summarize its results and planned migration processes for the CHARON testing will be available in a forthcoming MB Foster Webinar Wednesday.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 01:55 PM in Homesteading, Newsmakers, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

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April 18, 2014

Denying Interruptions of Service

DDoSFor the last 18 hours, the 3000 Newswire’s regular blog host TypePad has had its outages. (Now that you're reading this, TypePad is back on its feet.) More than once, the web resource for the Newswire has reported it’s been under a Denial of Service attack. I’ve been weathering the interruption of our business services up there, mostly by posting a story on my sister-site, Story for Business.

We also notified the community via Twitter about the outage and alternative site. It was sort of a DR plan in action. The story reminds me of the interruption saga that an MPE customer faces this year. Especially those using the system for manufacturing.

MANMAN users as well as 3000 owners gathered over the phone on Wednesday for what the CAMUS user group calls a RUG meeting. It's really more of an AUG: Applications User Group. During the call, it was mentioned there’s probably more than 100 different manufacturing packages available for business computers which are like the HP 3000. Few of them, however, have a design as ironclad against interruption as the venerable MANMAN software. Not much service could be denied to MANMAN users because of a Web attack, the kind that’s bumped off our TypePad host over the last day. MANMAN only employs the power of the Web if a developer adds that interface.

This is security through obscurity, a backhanded compliment that a legacy computer gets. Why be so condescending? It might be because MPE is overshadowed by computer systems that are so much newer, more nimble, open to a much larger world.

They have their disadvantages, though. Widely-known designs of Linux, or Windows, attract these attempts to deny their services. Taking something like a website host offline has a cost to its residents, like we reside on TypePad. Our sponsors had their messages denied an audience. In the case of a 3000, when it gets denied it’s much more likely to be a failure of hardware, or a fire or flood. Those crises, they’ve got more rapid repairs. But that’s only true if a 3000 owner plans for the crisis. Disaster Recovery is not a skill to learn in-situ, as it were. But practicing the deployment it’s about as popular as filing taxes. And just as necessary.

Another kind of disruption can be one that a customer invites. There are those 100 alternatives to MANMAN out there in the market, software an MPE site might choose to use. Manufacturing software is bedeviled with complexity and nuance, a customized story a company tells itself and its partners about making an object.

There’s a very good chance that the company using MPE now, in the obscurity of 2014, has put a lot of nuance into its storytelling about inventory, receivables, bill of materials and more. Translating that storytelling into new software, one of those 100, is serious work. Like any other ardent challenge, this translation — okay, you might call it a migration — has a chance to fail. That’s a planned failure, though, one which usually won’t cost a company its audience like a website service denial.

The term for making a sweeping translation happen lightning-quick is The Magic Weekend. 48 hours of planned offline transformation, and then you’re back in front of the audience. No journey to the next chapter of the MPE user’s story — whether it’s a jump to an emulator that mimics Hewlett-Packard computers, or the leap to a whole new environment — can be accomplished in a Magic Weekend. Business computers don’t respond to magic incantations.

The latest conference call among MANMAN users invoked that warning about magic. Turning the page on the story where Hewlett-Packard’s hardware was the stage for the software of MANMAN and MPE — that’s an episode with a lot longer running time than any weekend. Even if all you’re doing is changing the stage, you will want to test everything. You don’t want to be in middle of serving hundreds and hundreds of audience members at a time, only to have the lights grow too dim to see the action on the stage.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 04:45 PM in Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 16, 2014

How to tell which failed drive is which LDEV

I have someone at a remote site that may need a drive replaced.  How can I tell which drive is a certain LDEV?

Keven Miller, who at 3kRanger.com describes himself as "a software guy with a screwdriver," answers the question -- for those that don't have the benefit of seeing an amber light on a failed drive.

Well, for me, I run SYSINFO.PRVXL.TELESUP first. Then you have a map of LDEV# to SCSI path. Next, you have to follow your SCSI path via SYSINFO.PRVXL.TELESUP.

3kRangerLDEV

From the example above, on my 928, 56/52 is the built-in SCSI path. Each disk has a hardware selection via jumpers to set the address of 0 to 6. (7 is the controller). You would have to inspect each drive, which could be one of the two internal ones, or any external ones.

On an A-Class, you have the two internal drives

0/0/1/1.15 (intscsia.15) (I think top drive)
0/0/2/1.15 (intscsib.15) (I think bottom drive)

Plus an external, Ultra2 wide on 0/0/1/0
Narrow single ended on 0/0/2/0
slot-1 on 0/2/0
slot-2 on 0/4/0
slot-3 on 0/6/2
slot-4 on 0/6/0

Then, depending how the externals are housed, it could be just an address switch on the back of the housing case. Not sure about an N-Class, or a 9x7, or a 9x9. But the processes are the same. If you're running anything more complex, like RAID, a hardware guy will help.

Hardware guy Jack Connor of Abtech adds

There's the 12H, NIKE, VA family, and XP disc frames that are the common arrays.

Or, if it's not an array, but something like a Jamaica disc enclosure, you can look at SYSGEN>IO>LD to determine what all discs should be present, then do a :DSTAT ALL to see who's missing and record that  path including the SCSI address.

You then would go the card that has the major path, such as 0/2/0/0, and then follow that cable to the Jamaica enclosure. Look at the back to determine from the dip switch setting what each slot's SCSI address is.  That would be the failed drive.

Also, often times with a Jamaica enclosure the drive will have either a solid green light on or, alternatively, be totally dark while all the other drives see activity (with flashing green lights).

Posted by Ron Seybold at 06:03 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 15, 2014

Not too late to register for RUG meet

The CAMUS manufacturing app user group has a meeting tomorrow (April 16), starting at 10:30 Central time. An email to organizer and CAMUS RUG officer Terri Lanza will get you a dial-in number for the event. Birket Foster of MB Foster, one of the community's longest-tenured migration and sustainability vendors, will brief attendees on his perspective of the CHARON HPA, the HP 3000 hardware emulator.

CAMUS also has a Talk Soup as part of its dial-in agenda that runs through noontime. They only host their call twice a year, and it's a worthwhile endeavor to check in with others who are running HP 3000s in production mode.

Contact Lanza for your dial-in at [email protected]

Posted by Ron Seybold at 06:25 PM in Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 14, 2014

HP did keep MPE's CALENDAR up to date

CalendarpagesLast week I lumped a error of omission by users into the basket of Hewlett-Packard's 3000 miscalculations. I made my own mistake by doing that. In part of an article about the 3000 user's longer view, I figured the miscue that sparked programming for the Y2K crisis fell into HP's lap. After all, the date handling in MPE was built to break down in 2028. Surely the valiant reworking of two-digit year representation came from a shortcoming out of HP's labs as well, I reckoned.

Vladimir Volokh called me to correct that concept. There was much work to do in our community to salvage good computing in the years leading up to 2000. But that work was the result of developers repairing their own mis-estimations of the durability of 3000 applications. Four-digit representations of years were possible from the very first month the 3000 went into serious duty. (That month happens to be just about 40 years ago, as of this month.) The users of the system, and commercial developers, just didn't see the need for using precious storage to represent four complete digits during 1974.

Four decades have brought the 3000's dating capability within sight of the end-date of accuracy. In the same way as 2000 was a community-wide roadblock, Volokh said that, just like age 70 is the new 60, "2028 has become the new Y2K."

The year 2028 is notable for customers who don't plan to leave the HP 3000. It's the year when timestamps stop being accurate, because the CALENDAR intrinsic in MPE/iX only uses 7 bits to store year information.

For those HP 3000 applications using CALENDAR, HP has advised you use the newer HPCALENDAR in your apps. The newer intrinsic, polished up in 1998 with version 6.0, extends the 3000 application's date accuracy to more than five decades beyond the 3000's inception. 2027 will be the last year to accurately generate timestamps in the 3000's filesystem. HPCALENDAR goes further, for whatever that's worth.

An HP advisory explained the differences, at least in part:

The original MPE timestamp format was that used by the CALENDAR intrinsic, a 16 bit quantity allowing 9 bits for the day of the year and 7 bits for the year, added to 1900. Since the largest number represented by 7 bits is 127, this format is limited to accurately storing years up to 2027.

The newer HPCALENDAR intrinsic uses a 32 bit quantity, allowing 23 bits for the year, since 1900 and the same 9 bits for the day of the year. This format provides a significantly longer period of timestamp accuracy.

When HP first began to talk about a Posix timestamp function that works on the 3000, the advice needed a bit of explanation from HP's lab engineer Bill Cadier.

If, for example someone needs to store the maturity date for a 30 year mortgage started this month, neither the traditional CALENDAR format nor the time() format will work as they are only accurate to 31 December 2027 and 19 January 2038 respectively. The HPCALENDAR date format provides 23 bits to store the year added to 1900 — and since one can store 8,388,607 in those 23 bits, this format provides the best accuracy for storing future dates on the e3000.

The advisory says in part

Certain Posix applications may use the time() function as the basis for timestamps; and may therefore, store timestamps in the format used by time(), which is a 32 bit quantity representing the number of seconds from the epoch 1 January 1970. This format is limited to accurately storing timestamps up to 19 January 2038.

If your applications have a need to create and store future transaction timestamps, HP recommends using HPCALENDAR, HPDATECONVERT, HPDATEDIFF, HPDATEFORMAT or HPDATEOFFSET to ensure they are created correctly.

HP built MPE to an extraordinary level of durability. Employing MPE/iX on the application level, you can use the invented-in-HP HPCALENDAR intrinsic for apps. Alas, as of this month, the intrinsic for the filesystem, CALENDAR, does have a shorter working lifespan. But I overstepped in thinking that HP wasn't thinking far enough into the future about the 3000. It's just that a reasonable choice about the time-span for filesystem date intrinsics seemed ample, at space enough for 54 years. However, the 3000 is clocking in to begin year Number 41 this month. It may take a village of MPE's experts to reach into 2028 and beyond. 

HP first released 5.5 PowerPatch 4 as a Year 2000-ready release during December of 1997. But a more comprehensive, company-wide definition of Year 2000 compliance resulted in new versions of the date intrinsics, which HP first made available in that 1998 PowerPatch.

At the time, users felt like they were overwhelmed enough with their own repairs, and didn't want to think they'd be waiting on HP to repair application date handling. One healthcare IT manager said, "It seems that what I suspected is correct — Y2K fixes will be forthcoming up to and even after Year 2000 arrives. At some point we must evaluate how bad the problems are, and settle on a base release.”

HP's MPE product manager at the time acknowledged that some customers would need to install a PowerPatch "if they use HP’s date intrinsics in their applications." The statement makes me wonder what else a modern-day programmer would be using in an app. There are other ways that an MPE app could cast the date of a transaction or a file. Perhaps anybody who'd develop this sort of intrinsic magic on their own could help in the village-wide challenge to accurately date in 2028.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 09:18 PM in Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 11, 2014

Again, the 3000's owners own a longer view

GeorgeBurnsHeartbleed needs a repair immediately. Windows XP will need some attention over the next three years, as the client environment most favored by migrating 3000 sites starts to age and get more expensive. XP is already "off support," for whatever that means. But there's a window of perhaps three years where change is not as critical as a repair to Heartbleed's OpenSSL hacker window.

Then there's MPE. The OS already has gone through more than a decade of no new sales. And this environment that's still propping up some business functions has now had more than five years of no meaningful HP lab support. In spite of those conditions, the 3000's OS is still in use, and by one manager's accounting, even picking up a user in his organization.

"Ending?" Tim O'Neill asks with a rhetorical tone. "Well, maybe MPE/iX will not be around 20 years from now, but today one of our people  contacted me and said they need to use the application that runs on our HP 3000. Isn't that great? Usage is increasing!"

VladimirNov2010GrayPondering if MPE/iX will be around in 20 years, or even 13 when the end of '27 date bug surfaces, just shows the longer view the 3000 owner still owns. Longer than anything the industry's vendors have left for newer, or more promising, products. My favorite avuncular expert Vladimir Volokh called in to leave a message about his long view of how to keep MPE working. Hint: This septuagenarian plans to be part of the solution.

Vladimir is bemused at the short-term plans that he runs across among his clientele. No worries from them about MPE's useful lifespan. "I'll be retired by then," say these managers who've done the good work of IT support since the 1980s. This retirement-as-futures plan is more common than people would like to admit.

Volokh took note of our Fixing 2028 update awhile back. "It's interesting that you say, "We've still got more than 13 years left. Almost every user who I've told you about has said, 'Oh, by then, I'll retire.' My answer is, 'Not me.' I will be just 90 years old. You call me, and we'll work out something.' "

I invite you to listen to his voice, delivering his intention to keep helping and pushing MPE into the future -- a longer one than people might imagine for something like XP.

Why do some 3000 experts say a longer view seems like a good chance? Yes, one obvious reason is that they don't want to say goodbye to the meaningful nature of their expertise, or the community they know. I feel that same way, even though I only tell the stories of this community.

But there's another reason for the long view. MPE has already served in the world for 40 years. HP thought this so unlikely that they didn't even program for a Y2K event. Then the vendor assumed more than 80 percent of sites will be off in four years' time after HP's "we're quitting" notice. Then it figured an extra two years would do the job.

Wrong on all three accounts. Change must prove its value, and right soon, if you intend to begin changing soon. There's another story to tell about that reality, one from the emulator's market, which I'll tell very soon. In the meantime, change your passwords

1. If a website you use is vulnerable to Heartbleed; check here with a free tool, or it has been (list below).

and

2. It has now been repaired.

Here's a list of websites which were vulnerable, from Github. Yahoo is among them, which means that ATT broadband customers have some password-changing to do. That's very-short-view change.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 01:46 PM in Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 09, 2014

How SSL's bug is causing security to bleed

HeartbleedComputing's Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) forms part of the bedrock of information security. Companies have built products around SSL, vendors have wired its protocols into operating systems, vendors have applied its encryption to data transport services. Banks, credit card providers, even governments rely on its security. In the oldest days of browser use, SSL displayed that little lock in the bottom corner that assured you a site was secure -- so type away on those passwords, IDs, and sensitive data.

In a matter of days, all of the security legacy from the past two years has virtually evaporated. OpenSSL, the most current generation of SSL, has developed a large wound, big enough to let anyone read secured data who can incorporate a hack of the Heartbeat portion of the standard. A Finnish security firm has dubbed the exposed hack Heartbleed.

OpenSSL has made a slow and as-yet incomplete journey to the HP 3000's MPE/iX. Only an ardent handful of users have made efforts to bring the full package to the 3000's environment. In most cases, when OpenSSL has been needed for a solution involving a 3000, Linux servers supply the required security. Oops. Now Linux implementations of OpenSSL have been exposed. Linux is driving about half of the world's websites, by some tallies, since the Linux version of Apache is often in control.

One of the 3000 community's better-known voices about mixing Linux with MPE posted a note in the 3000 newsgroup over the past 48 hours to alert Linux-using managers. James Byrne of Harte & Lyne Ltd. explained the scope of a security breach that will require a massive tourniquet. To preface his report, the Transport Layer Security (TLS) and SSL in the TCP/IP stack encrypt data of network connections. They have even done this for MPE/iX, but in older, safe versions. Byrne summed up the current threat.

There is an exploit in the wild that permits anyone with TLS network access to any system running the affected version of OpenSSL to systematically read every byte in memory. Among other nastiness, this means that the private keys used for Public Key Infrastructure on those systems are exposed and compromised, as they must be loaded into memory in order to perform their function.

It's something of a groundbreaker, this hack. These exploits are not logged, so there will be no evidence of compromises. It’s possible to trick almost any system running any version of OpenSSL released over the past two years into revealing chunks of data sitting in its system memory.

The official security report on the bug, from OpenSSL.org, does its best to make it seem like there's a ready solution to the problem. No need to panic, right?

A missing bounds check in the handling of the TLS heartbeat extension can be used to reveal up to 64k of memory to a connected client or server.

Only 1.0.1 and 1.0.2-beta releases of OpenSSL are affected, including 1.0.1f and 1.0.2-beta1.

Thanks for Neel Mehta of Google Security for discovering this bug and to Adam Langley and Bodo Moeller for preparing the fix.

Affected users should upgrade to OpenSSL 1.0.1g. Users unable to immediately upgrade can alternatively recompile OpenSSL with -DOPENSSL_NO_HEARTBEATS.

1.0.2 will be fixed in 1.0.2-beta2

For the technically inclined, there's a great video online that explains all aspects of the hack. Webserver owners and hosts have their work to do in order to make their sites secure. That leaves out virtually every HP 3000, the server that was renamed e3000 in its final HP generation to emphasize its integration with the Internet. Hewlett-Packard never got around to implementing OpenSSL security in its web services for MPE/iX. 3000 systems are blameless, but that doesn't matter as much as insisting your secure website providers apply that 1.0.1g upgrade.

The spookiest part of this story is that without the log evidence, nobody knows if Heartbleed has been used over the past two years. Byrne's message is directed at IT managers who have Linux-driven websites in their datacenters. Linux has gathered a lot of co-existence with MPE/iX over the last five years and more. This isn't like a report of a gang shooting that's happened in another part of town. Consider it more of a warning about the water supply.

In a bit of gallows humor, it looks as if the incomplete implementation of OpenSSL, frozen in an earlier edition of the software, puts it back in the same category as un-patched OpenSSL web servers: not quite ready for prime time.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 09:50 PM in Homesteading, Migration, Newsmakers, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 07, 2014

MPE patches still available, just customized

Last week a 3000 manager was probing for the cause of a Command Interface CI error on a jobstream. In the course of the quest, an MPE expert made an important point: Patches to repair such MPE/iX bugs are still available. Especially from the seven companies which licensed HP's source code for the HP 3000s.

PatchworkThis mention of MPE bug repair was a reminder, actually, that Hewlett-Packard set the internals knowledge of MPE free back in 2010. Read-only rights to the operating system source code went out to seven companies worldwide, including some support providers such as Pivital Solutions and Allegro Consultants.

The latter's Stan Sieler was watching a 3000 newsgroup thread about the error winding up. Tracy Johnson, the curator of the 3000 that hosts the EMPIRE game and a former secretary to OpenMPE, had pointed out that his 3000 sometimes waits longer than expected after a PAUSE in a jobstream.

I nearly always put a CONTINUE statement before a PAUSE in any job.  Over the years I have discovered that sometimes the CPU waits "longer" than the specified pause and fails with an error.

A lively newsgroup discussion of 28 messages ensued. It was by far the biggest exchange of tech advice on the newsgroup in 2014, so far. Sieler took note of what's likely to be broken in MPE/iX 7.5, after an HP engineer had made his analysis of might need a workaround. Patches and workarounds are a continuing part of the 3000 manager's life, even here in the second decade of the 3000's Afterlife. You can get 'em if you want 'em.

A workaround is the more likely of repairs for something that's not operating correctly in MPE, by this year. Patches were a free HP 3000 element, and those that HP created still are free today -- unlike the situation for HP's still-supported servers. The dilemma is that the final round of patches HP built weren't tested to HP's satisfaction. Plus, there's no more vendor work on new repairs.

Enter the third party supporters, the companies I call independent support providers. They know the 3000 as well as anybody left at HP, so long as they're a party to the source code for the operating system. In many cases, a binary patch isn't what a customer wants. Such a thing has to be tested, and a lot of production 3000s are under lockdown today. Changes are not invited.

But in the case of an MPE/iX jobstream PAUSE error, there's always a chance for a fix. HP's Jim Hawkins looked at Johnson's problem and ranked the causes Nos. 1-4. Number 4 was "possible MPE/iX bug."

Sieler said that it looked like this was a genuine MPE/iX flaw. What to do, now that the MPE/iX lab at HP -- which once included Hawkins -- has gone dark? Sieler pointed to patching.

After analyzing hxpause, the executor responsible for implementing the CI PAUSE command, I suspect there is a bug in the MPE/iX internal routine "pausey", which hxpause uses. The bug appears to be triggerable by :BREAKJOB/:RESUMEJOB, but I have not characterized  precisely what triggers it.  It is, however, apparently the result of the equivalent of an uninitialized variable.

I believe Allegro could develop a patch, should a customer be interested in it.

Patches beyond the lifespan of an HP lab are a touchy topic. A binary patch, as Allegro's Steve Cooper describes this kind of assignment, is likely to live its life in just one HP 3000 installation. It's a creation to be tested, like any patch.

And now it seems that patches are not only a for-pay item, but something to be guarded. HP even pressed a lawsuit against an independent company when the vendor observed that its patches were being distributed by the indie. No money changed hands in the suit settlement, but the support company said it would stop redistributing HP's patches.

This kind of protective culture from systems vendors is endemic by now, according to Source Direct's Bill Hassell. "This is a hot topic, both for customers as well as third party support organizations," he reported. "There have been very strong reactions from customers to recent statements about firmware restrictions." Hassell, well-known as an HP-UX expert among former Interex user group members, pointed to a handful of articles from HP's own blog and the industry press such as ZDNet, or one from PC World.

But the first one Hassell pointed at was the message from HP's own Mary McCoy, VP of Support for HP Servers, Technology Services. It's titled Customers for Life. In essence, the February posting says HP's firmware only gets an upgrade for "customers with a valid warranty, Care Pack Service, or support agreement."

We know this is a change from how we’ve done business in the past; however, this aligns with industry best practices and is the right decision for our customers and partners. This decision reinforces our goal to provide access to the latest HP firmware, which is valuable intellectual property, for our customers who have chosen to maximize and protect their IT investments.

In the face of this, and other HP announcements such as ProLiant patch availability, the customers who are commenting at HP's website are not happy. One noted that "the customer segment who will suffer the most from this revision in HP firmware availability will be the small and medium businesses performing their own in-house IT support." Some say the pay-for-patch mandate is only going to drive them to other vendors for small business servers. HP asserts that every vendor is doing this by now.

Enter the indie patching potential for MPE/iX. Binary patches are much more of a possibility when source code is in the hands of a support company. As far as I know, the source for HP-UX, or any other proprietary Unix, isn't in the wild, and the same can be said for Windows. Linux source is always available, of course. Nobody is going to be tagged as a Customer for Life when they choose Linux.

But that's also true of MPE/iX. Enter an indie support relationship and you get the benefits of that vendor's expertise, based upon the level of their understanding of MPE. Leave that relationship and you're not penalized. You're just on the hunt now for another support vendor of equal caliber.

A support company's caliber is measured by the way it conducts its business practices, not just what it knows how to create or fix. This vendor lock-in is something familiar to a 3000 owner. But it was technology, not business decisions, which enforced such lock-in during the 20th Century. The indie companies have a patch for the current era's lock-in error.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:04 PM in Homesteading, News Outta HP, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 04, 2014

Save the date: Apr 16 for webinar, RUG meet

April 16 is going to be a busy day for MB Foster's CEO Birket Foster.

BirketLong known for his company's Wednesday Webinars, Foster will be adding a 90-minute prelude on the same day as his own webinar about Data Migration, Risk Mitigation and Planning. That Wednesday of April 16 kicks off with the semi-annual CAMUS conference-call user group meeting. Foster is the guest speaker, presenting the latest information he's gathered about Stromasys and its CHARON HP 3000 emulator.

The user group meet begins at 10:30 AM Central Time, and Foster is scheduled for a talk -- as well as Q&A from listeners about the topic -- until noon that day. Anyone can attend the CAMUS meeting, even if they're not members of the user group. Send an email to CAMUS leader Terri Lanza at [email protected] to register, but be sure to do it by April 15. The conference call's phone number will be emailed to registrants. You can phone Lanza with questions about the meeting at 630-212-4314.

Starting at noon, there's an open discussion for attendees about any subject for any MANMAN platform (that would be VMS, as well as MPE). The talk in this soup tends to run to very specific questions about the management and use of MANMAN. Foster is more likely to field questions more general to MPE. The CHARON emulator made its reputation among the MANMAN users in the VMS community, among other spots in the Digital world. You don't have to scratch very deep to find satisfied CHARON users there.

Then beginning at 1 PM Central, Foster leads the Data Migration, Risk Mitigation and Planning webinar, complete with slides and ample Q&A opportunity.

Registration for the webinar is through the MB Foster website. Like all of the Wednesday Webinars, it runs between 1-2 PM. The outline for the briefing, as summed up by the company:

Data migration is the process of moving an organization’s data from one application to another application—preferably without disrupting the business, users or active applications.

Data migration can be a routine part of IT operations in today’s business environment providing service to the whole company – giving users the data they need when they need it, especially for Report, BI (Business Intelligence) or analytics (including Excel spreadsheets) and occasionally for a migration to a new application. How can organizations minimize impacts of data migration downtime, data loss and minimize cost?

In this webinar we outline the best way to develop a data conversion plan that incorporates risk mitigation, and outlines business, operational and technical challenges, methodology and best practices.

The company has been in the data migration business since the 1980s. Data Express was its initial product to extracting and controlling data. It revamped the products after Y2K to create the Universal Data Access (UDA) product line. MBF-UDACentral supports the leading open source databases in PostgreSQL and MySQL, plus Eloquence, Oracle, SQLServer, DB2, and TurboIMAGE, as well as less-common databases such as Progress, Ingres, Sybase and Cache. The software can migrate any of these databases' data between one another.

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

April 03, 2014

Learning to Love Your Legacy

As the next end of days bears down on us -- Windows XP will become a former Microsoft product next Tuesday -- it's worthwhile to remember that the life beyond a vendor's designs can still fulfill. XP will operate in millions of places from next week and onward, but it's going to be a legacy system to many IT planners. That puts it in a similar spot with MPE, as well as IBM's legacy, the Series i systems.

JenFisherYes, they all have differences in their legacy standings. MPE's hardware -- well, the stuff badged with HP on it -- is beyond a decade old. There's nothing new there. Microsoft's hardware is everywhere, but the security essentials are taking a mortal wound starting next week. As for the IBM legacy options, we turned to Fresche Legacy's Jennifer Fisher. The company helped build up the 3000 and MPE worlds as Speedware, before it rebranded itself and expanded its focus to IBM.

Fisher, the VP of Global Sales and Marketing, said that love and IT can and do go together, something the company has experienced while serving both the 3000 and Series i worlds. "When we say 'IT can make you smile' and 'love your legacy,' this is want it's all about," she said. "You need to nurture and care for the legacy. Leverage it, and make it work for you."

Systems_power_i_graphic_60x45The IBM Series i customer has had a ride through rebranding, too, coming out of decades of being known as AS/400 users, to become i Series, then finally IBM i. The computer's using a proprietary chipset IBM's built called POWER, something that IBM put into its Linux, Unix and PC-based servers. Those were once called Series P (for Unix) and Series X (for Linux, and Windows -- even XP). Changes in names come along the line to the legacy user. MPE/iX was MPE/XL, and before that MPE V.

Legacy server systems built in a certain era, like the IBM i and the 3000, or the omnipresent XP -- these still do their duty long after their vendor's interest wanes. IBM i is still a product for sale by the vendor, unlike XP or MPE. IBM's hardware "continues to evolve and is a focus for IBM i," Fisher said. Fresche took a wider look for customers in the enterprise market space when it rebranded.

Our focus has expanded to the larger midrange space, but we are still taking care of our HP 3000 friends. We continue to grow in the space, especially around application support. More and more, we are seeing customers needing legacy expertise in COBOL, Powerhouse and Speedware on the 3000 -- but also RPG, COBOL and Synon in the IBM i space. These two are so similar. Both midrange systems have been the backbone to the organizations they have served, and continue to be in many ways.

Fisher notes, like the other suppliers who continue to reach out to the needs of legacy users, that system developers have built the bones of the legacies.

In both cases, the business analysts and developers who put their blood, sweat and tears into driving the business have created a legacy of their own, and Fresche Legacy is all about helping them to continue that. There is so much value in these systems. We are here to help drive the business value that IT was recognized for in the past. We want to restore that reputation, by bridging the gap between IT and the business.

As an example of what Fresche is doing for its IBM customers, the company rolled out a new release of its X-Analysis, V10. The software performs documentation and design recovery for IBM i environments, and is the flagship product of Fresche Legacy’s Databorough division.

The company says its modernization projects have driven demand for better control and reuse of the business rules embedded in legacy apps. In the IBM environment, those are RPG, COBOL and Synon applications. (That last one is a popular development environment from CA.) This new release provides fresh capabilities for automated analysis, documentation, data modernization, plus consolidation and export of business rules from legacy code. X-Analysis now has annotation and visualization features. This sort of tool gives a legacy IT manager the means to synchronize business, regulatory, and modernization requirements within their software.

"Complexity metrics and maintainability indices are the foundation of any efficient development practice,” says Garry Ciambella, Vice President of R&D. "This release of X-Analysis provides IT organizations and IBM i development managers with a much clearer set of measurable inputs to quantify resource requirements and run development projects. There’s a lot less guesswork and much better results."

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:14 PM in Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 28, 2014

MPE's dates stay at home on their range

2028 is considered the afterlife for MPE/iX, and MPE in general, based on misunderstanding of the CALENDAR intrinsic. The operating system was created in 1971 and its builders at the time used 16 bits, very state of the art design. Vladimir Volokh of VESOFT called to remind us that the choice of the number of bits for date representation probably seemed more than generous to a '71 programmer.

"What could anyone want with a computer from today, more than 50 years from now?" he imagined the designers saying in a meeting. "Everything will only last five years anyway." The same kind of choices led everybody in the computer industry to represent the year in applications with only two digits. And so the entire industry worked to overcome that limitation before Y2K appeared on calendars.

YogiberraThis is the same kind of thinking that added eight games to the Major League Baseball schedule more than 50 years ago. Now these games can be played on snowy baseball fields, because March 29th weather can be nothing like the weather of, say, April 8 in northern ballparks.

Testing the MPE/iX system (whether on HP's iron, or an emulator like CHARON) will be a quick failure if you simply SETCLOCK to January 1, 2028. MPE replies, "OUT OF RANGE" and won't set your 3000 into that afterlife. However, you can still experience and experiment with the afterlife by coming just to the brink of 2028. Vladimir says you can SETCLOCK to 11:59 PM on December 31, 2027, then just watch the system roll into that afterlife.

It goes on living, and MPE doesn't say that it's out of range, out of dates, or anything else. It rolls itself back to 1900, the base-year those '71 designers chose for the system's calendar. And while 1900 isn't an accurate date to use in 2028, 1900 has something in common with Y2K -- the last year that computers and their users pushed through a date barrier.

The days of the week are exactly the same for dates in 1900 as for the year 2000, Vladimir says. "It's ironic that we'll be back to Y2K, no?" he asked. VESOFT's MPEX has a calendar function to check such similarities, he added.

The MPE/iX system will continue to run in 2028, but reports which rely on dates will print incorrectly. That's probably a euphemism, that printing, 14 years from now. But it's hard to say what will survive, and for how long. Or as Vladimir reminded us, using a quote from Yankee baseball great Yogi Berra, "It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future."

The year 2028 was 67 years into the future when the initial MPE designers chose the number of bits to represent CALENDAR dates. Who'd believe it might matter to anyone? "Will Stromasys continue to run after 2028?" asked one ERP expert a few years back during a demo. "Just as well as MPE will run," came the reply, because CHARON is just a hardware virtualization. The operating system remains the same, regardless of its hosting.

And as we pointed out yesterday, one key element of futuristic computing will be having its own date crisis 10 years after MPE's. Linux has a 2038 deadline (about mid-January) for its dates to stop being accurate. Linux-based systems, such as the Intel servers that cradle CHARON, will continue to run past that afterlife deadline. And like the Y2K days of the week that'll seem familiar in MPE's 2028, an extension for Linux date-handling is likely to appear in time to push the afterlife forward.

Perhaps in time we can say about that push-it-forward moment, "You could look it up." Another quote often misunderstood, like the 2028 MPE date, because people think Berra said that one, too. It's not him, or the other famous king of malapropisms Casey Stengel. You Could Look It Up was a James Thurber short story, about a midget who batted in a major league game. Fiction that became fact years later, when a team owner used the stunt in a St. Louis Browns ballgame by batting Eddie Gaedel. You never know what part of a fantasy could come true, given enough time. Thurber's story only preceded the real major-league stunt by 10 years. We've still got more than 13 years left before MPE's CALENDAR tries to go Out of Range.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 02:47 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 27, 2014

Beyond 3000's summit, will it keep running?

ClimbersGuy Paul (left) and Craig Lalley atop Mt. Adams, with their next peak to ascend (Mt. Hood) on the horizon.

If you consider the last 40 years and counting to be a steady rise in reputation elevation for the HP 3000 and MPE -- what computer's been serving business longer, after all? -- then 2027 might be the 3000's summit. A couple of 3000 experts have climbed a summit together, as the photo of Guy Paul and Craig Lalley above proves. What a 3000 might do up there in 20 years prompted some talk about 2027 and what it means.

MountAdamsThe two 3000 veterans were climbing Washington state's second highest mountain, Mt. Adams, whose summit is at 12,280 feet. On their way up, Paul and his 14 year old grandson had just made the summit and ran into Lalley, and his 14 year old son, on their way to the top.  

The trek was announced on the 3000 newsgroup last year. At the time, some of the group's members joked that a 3000 could climb to that elevation if somebody could haul one up there. "Guy is a hiking stud," said his fellow hiker Lalley. "Rumor has it that Guy had a small Series 989 in his back pack. I wasn't impressed until I heard about the UPS."

After some discussion about solar-powered computing, someone else said that if it was started up there on Mt. Adams with solar power, the 3000 would still be running 20 years later.

Then a 3000 veteran asked, "But won't it stop running in 2027?" That's an important year for the MPE/iX operating system, but not really a date of demise. Such a 3000 -- any MPE/iX system -- can be running in 20 years, but it will use the wrong dates. Unless someone rethinks date handling before then.

Jeff Kell, whose HP 3000s stopped running at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in December, because of a shutdown post-migration, added some wisdom to this future of date-handling.

"Well, by 2027, we may be used to employing mm/dd/yy with a 27 on the end, and you could always go back to 1927. And the programs that only did "two-digit" years would be all set. Did you convert all of 'em for Y2K? Did you keep the old source?"

Kell added that "Our major Y2K issue was dealing with a "semester" which was YY01 for fall, YY02 for spring, and so forth. We converted that over to go from 9901 (Fall 1999) to A001 (Fall 2000), so we were good for another 259 years on that part. Real calendar dates used 4-digit years (32-bit integers, yyyymmdd)."

At that summit, Paul said that two climbers "talked for a few minutes we made tentative plans to climb Oregon's tallest mountain, Mt. Hood, pictured in the background. We have since set a date of May 16th."

We've written before on the effects of 2027's final month on the suitability of the 3000 for business practice. Kell's ideas have merit. I believe there's still enough wizardry in the community to take the operating system even further upward. The HP iron, perhaps not so much. By the year 2028, even the newest servers will still be 25 years old. Try to imagine a 3000 that was built in 1989, running today.

Better yet, please report to us if you have such a machine, hooked up in your shop.

Why do people climb mountains? The legend is that the climber George Mallory replied, "because it is there." 2028 is still there, waiting for MPE to arrive. Probably on the back of some Intel-based server, bearing Linux -- unless neither of those survives another 14 years. For Intel, this year marks 15 years of service for the Xeon processor, currently on the Haswell generation. Another 25 years, and Xeon will have done as much service as MPE has today.

There is no betting line on the odds of survival for Xeon into the year 2039. By that date, even Unix will have a had its own date-handling issue. The feeling in the Linux community is that a date solution will arrive in time.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 04:44 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 25, 2014

How to Delete All But the Last 5 Files

On our Series 937 I need a routine that will delete all but the last five files in a group that begins with certain values and have a certain pattern to the file names.

Example: We keep old copies of our PowerHouse dictionaries, but only need the last five. I can not do it by date like other groups of files, since it does not get changed everyday. Sometimes we'll go weeks, even months before we make a change. 

I have a routine for other groups of files (interface files) that get created every day and keep only the last 31 days. This is done very easily with VESOFT’s MPEX by simply checking the create date. I was wondering if anyone has a routine either in JCL or MPEX that will keep the last 5 instances of these files. The two file-naming conventions are PT###### and PL######. The ###### represent MMDDHH (month, day, hour).

A wide range of solutions emerged from HP 3000 experts, veterans and consultants.

Francois Desrochers replies

How about doing a LISTF and use PRINT to select all but the last 5 into another file (PTPURGE):

LISTF PT#####,6;PTFILES
PRINT PTFILES;END=-6;OUT=PTPURGE

You could massage PTPURGE and turn each line into a PURGE. It has been a while since I used MPEX, but maybe it has an indirect file function e.g. %PURGE ^PTPURGE.

Of course MPEX has such a function. Vladimir Volokh of VESOFT supplied an elegant solution involving a circular file, a feature added to MPE/iX more than 15 years back. 

First, build an MPE circular file (to do this, look at HELP BUILD ALL). The nearly 1,000 lines that will follow include an explanation of the CIR parameter. We use logfiles below in our example.

PURGE V
BUILD V; CIR; DISC=5
FILE V, OLD
LISTF LOG####, 6;*V

(MPE's asterisk, by the way, can be used in about 19 different ways, Vladimir adds.)

Your result in V can be your last five names. Now you purge, using MPEX -- because purging something minus something is an MPEX-only function. (Using the caret sign is a way to signal all the files mentioned in the file V.)

%PURGE LOG####-^V

There are other solutions available that don't require a third-party gem like MPEX. 

Olav Kappert replied

This is easy enough to do. Here are the steps:

Do a listf into a file 'foo'

Set 'count' = end-of-file count
Set 'index' to 1
Set 'maxindex' to 'count' - 5
Read 'foo'
Increment 'index' by 1
If 'index' < 'maxindex' then
Purge file
Loop to read 'foo'

The exact syntax is up to you and MPE.

Barry Lake adds

Very simple if you're willing to use the Posix shell. If this needs to be done with CI scripting, it's certainly possible, but way more complicated. Someone else may chime in with an "entry point" command file to do this in "pure" MPE. But here's the shell method:

Posix Shell Delete Last 5

So... move the last 5 out of the way, delete whatever's left, then move the 5 back into place.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 05:39 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 24, 2014

40 years from a kitchen-size 3000 to 3.4GHz

HP3000 CX 1974Forty years ago this spring, the HP 3000 was just gaining some traction among one of its core markets: manufacturing. This was a period where the computer was big enough to take over kitchen space in a software founder's home, according to an HP software VP of the time. That server didn't run reliably, and so got plenty of attention from the software labs of that day's Hewlett-Packard. And if you were fortunate, a system the size of a two tall-boy file cabinets could be yours for $99,500 in a starter configuration, with 96KB of core memory.

MPE was so new that Hewlett-Packard would sell the software unbundled for $10,000. The whole collection of server and software would burn off 12,000 BTU per hour. HP included "cooling dissipation" specs for the CX models -- they topped off at a $250,000 unit -- so you could ramp up your air conditioning as needed in your datacenter. (Thanks to the HP Computer Museum for the details).

DL380Those specs and that system surfaced while I wrote the Manufacturing ERP Options from Windows article last week. Just this week I rolled the clock forward to find the smallest HP 3000 while checking on specifications. This 2014 era 3000 system runs off an HP DL380 server fired by on a 3.44 GHz chip. It's plenty fast enough to handle the combo of Linux, VMWare and the Stromasys CHARON 3000 emulator. And it's 19 inches x 24 by 3.5.

We've heard, over the past year from Stromasys tech experts, that CPUs of more than 3 GHz are the best fit for VMWare and CHARON. It's difficult to imagine the same operating system that would only fit on a 12,000 BTU server surviving to run on that 2U-sized DL380. The newest Generation 8 box retails for about one-tenth of the cost of that '74 HP3000 System CX server unit. But the CX was all that ASK Computer Systems had to work with, 40 years ago. And HP needed to work with ASK just to bring MPE into reliable service. "It didn’t work worth shit, it’s true," said Marty Browne of ASK. "But we got free HP computer time."

The leap in technology evokes the distinction between a Windows ERP that will replace ASK's MANMAN, and other choices that will postpone migration. Especially if a company has a small server budget, enough time to transfer data via FTP or tape drive -- and no desire to revise their manufacturing system. What started in a kitchen has made its transition to something small enough to look like a large briefcase, a thousand times more powerful. Users made that happen, according to Browne and retired HP Executive VP Chuck House.

The last time I saw these two in a room together, the No. 2 employee at ASK and HP's chief of MPE software management had a touching exchange over the roots of MANMAN -- an application that's survived over four decades. (No. 1 at ASK would be the Kurtzigs, Andrew and Sandy. It's always been a family affair; their son Andy leads Pearl.com, a for-pay Q&A expert site.) 

At the HP3000 Software Symposium at the Computer History Museum, Browne said that if the 3000 had failed to take root, ASK would have been hung out to dry.

Marty Browne: It used to be so expensive to buy computer time to do development work. And it was so much better a deal for me to do this 3000 development. I was able to put several years of engineering work into my product before I ever sold it. I could not have afforded that since I was bootstrapping my business.

Chuck House: Let me add that was true for Sandy too. She got a free HP 3000 for her kitchen. 

Browne: It was not in the kitchen. We had the first HP 3000 on the computer floor at HP. Did you say kitchen?

House: Correct.

Browne: Yes, we got an HP 3000. We had to work at night, by the way.

House: But it was free time.

Browne: It was free time. It didn’t work worth shit. It’s true. But we got free HP time.

House: No, we used you to debug.

Browne: Pardon me?

House: You were our debuggers.

Browne: Yes, right. HP provided an open house in a lot of ways, I mean that’s part of the HP culture. They were good partners. HP is an excellent partner.

Moderator Burt Grad: So if the 3000s had not been able to sell, you would have been hung out? 

Browne: Yes.

Why is this history lesson important today? You might say that whatever MANMAN's bones were built from is sturdy stuff. Customization, as we noted in that ERP article, makes MANMAN sticky. Robert Mills commented to clarify that after I posted the article.

MANMAN could be customized and added to by the customer because they were given full documentation on the system. ASK would, for a reasonable cost, make modifications to standard programs and supply you with the source code of the modified programs. Even MM/3000 had a Customizer that allowed you to make database and screen changes. Can you do this with MS Dynamics and IFS? Will Microsoft and IFS allow this, and give you the information required?

The answer to the question might be just a flat-out no, of course not. Just as HP stopped selling MPE unbundled, Microsoft and IFS don't customize their application. But partners -- some perhaps the equivalent of Marty Browne, abeit of different skill -- would like to do that customization. It's just that this customization in the modern era, which would run on the same DL380, would come after host environment transfer, plus work configuring and testing the apps and installation of a new OS. Then there's the same transfer of data, no small task, which is about the only one that these options have in common.

If a migration away from the HP 3000 for ERP is essential, that change could cost as much as that 1974 CX server did. This is one reason why still-homesteading companies will work hard to prove they need that budget. A $2,000 DL380 and disks plus CHARON might be more cost-effective and less disruptive. How much future that provides is something your community is still evaluating. 

Posted by Ron Seybold at 03:56 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 18, 2014

Customizing apps keeps A500 serving sites

A-Class in rackHP's A-Class 3000s aren't that powerful, and they're not as readily linked to extra storage. That's what the N-Class systems are designed to do. But at one service provider's shop, the A500 is plenty powerful enough to keep a client's company running on schedule, and within budget. The staying power comes from customization, that sticky factor which is helping some 3000s remain in service.

The A500 replaced a Series 987 about a year ago. That report is one point of proof that 9x7 systems are still being replaced. It's been almost two decades since the 9x7s were first sold, and more than 15 years since the last one was built. The service company, which wants to remain unnamed, had good experience with system durability from the 3000 line.

We host a group of companies that have been using our system for over 20 years. So, we’re planning on being around for a while. One of these customers may migrate to a Windows-based system over the next few years, but I anticipate that this will be a slow process, since we have customized their system for them over the years.

The client company's top brass wants to migrate, in order to get all of its IT onto a single computing environment. That'd be Windows. But without that corporate mandate to make the IT identical in every datacenter, the company would be happy staying with the 3000, rather than looking at eventual migration "in several years' time." It will not be the speed of the server that shuts down that company's use of an A500. It will be the distinction that MPE/iX represents.

A-Class singleThere are many servers at a similar price tag, or even cheaper, which can outperform an A500. HP never compared the A-Class or N-Class systems to anything but other HP 3000s. By the numbers, HP's data sheet on the A-Class lineup lists the top-end of the A500s -- a two-CPU model with 200 MHz chips -- at five times the performance of those entry-level $2,000 A400s being offered on eBay (with no takers, yet.) The A500-200-200 tops out at 8GB of memory. But the chip inside that server is just a PA-8700, a version of PA-RISC that's two generations older than the ultimate PA chipset. HP stopped making PA-RISC chips altogether in 2009.

HP sold that 2-way A500 at a list price of just under $42,000 at the server's 2002 rollout. In contrast, those bottom-end A400s had a list price of about $16,000 each. Both price points didn't include drives, or tape devices. Our columnist at the time, John Burke, reported on performance upgrades in the newer A-Class systems by saying

There is considerable controversy in the field about the A-Class servers in particular, with many people claiming these low-end boxes have been so severely crippled (when compared to their non-crippled HP-UX brothers) as to make them useless for any but the smallest shops. Even if you accept HP’s performance rating (and many people question its accuracy), the A400-100-110 is barely faster then the 10-year-old 928 that had become the de-facto low-end system.

I see these new A-Class systems as a tacit agreement by HP that it goofed with the initial systems.

The power of the iron is just a portion of the performance calculation, of course. The software's integration with the application, and access to the database and movement of files into and out of memory -- that's all been contributing to the 3000's reputation. "I’ve been working on the HP since 1984 and it’s such a workhorse!" said the service provider's senior analyst. "I've seen other companies that have gone from the 3000 to Windows-based systems, and I hear about performance issues."

Not all migrations to Windows-based ERP, for example, give up performance ground when leaving the 3000 field. We've heard good reports on Microsoft Dynamics GP, a mature set of applications that's been in the market for more than a decade. Another is IFS, which pioneered component-based ERP software with IFS Applications, now in its seventh generation.

One area where the newer products -- which are still making advances in capability, with new releases -- have to give ground to 3000 ERP is in customization. Whatever the ERP foundation might be at that service provider's client, the applications have grown to become a better fit to the business practices at that client company. ERP is a set of computing that thrives on customization. This might be the sector of the economy which will be among the last to turn away from the 3000 and MPE.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 10:52 AM in Homesteading, Migration, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 14, 2014

Listen, COBOL is not dead yet, or even Latin

MicrophoneIt's been a good long while since we did a podcast, but I heard one from an economy reporting team that inspired today's return of our Newswire Podcasts. The often-excellent NPR Planet Money looked into why it takes so long to get money transferred from one bank to another. It's on the order of 3 days or more, which makes little sense in a world where you can get diapers overnighted to your doorstep by Amazon.

Some investigation from Planet Money's reporters yielded a bottleneck in transactions like these transfers through the Automated Clearinghouse systems in the US. And nearly all automated payments. As you might guess, the Clearinghouse is made of secret servers whose systems were first developed in the 1970s. Yeah, the 3000's birth era, and the reporting devolved into typical, mistaken simplication of the facts of tech. Once COBOL got compared to a languge nobody speaks anymore, and then called one that nobody knows, I knew I was on to a teachable moment. Kind of like keeping the discussion about finance and computing on course, really. Then there's a podcast comment from a vendor familiar to the credit union computer owner, a market where the 3000 once held sway.

Micro Focus is the company raising the "still alive" flag highest for COBOL. 

But while every business has its language preferences, there is no denying that COBOL continues to play a vital role for enterprise business applications. COBOL still runs over 70 percent of the world’s business -- and more transactions are still processed daily by COBOL than there are Google searches made.

You might be surprised to hear how essential COBOL is to a vast swath of the US economy. As surprised as the broad-brush summary you'll hear from Planet Money of how suitable this language is for such work. To be sure, Planet Money does a great job nearly every time out, explaining how economics affects our lives, and it does that with a lively and entertaining style. They just don't know IT, and didn't ask deep enough this time.

Have a listen to our eight minutes of podcast. You can even dial up the original Planet Money show for complete context -- there are some other great ones on their site, like their "We created a t-shirt" series.  Then let me know what your COBOL experience seems to be worth, whether you'd like an assignment to improve a crucial part of the US economy, and the last time you had a talk with anybody about COBOL in a mission-critical service.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 03:41 PM in Homesteading, Newsmakers, Podcasts | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 12, 2014

Wiring Up the Details for Emulation

CopperWireFor two-plus years, Herb Statham has been inquiring about the Stromasys CHARON HP 3000 emulator. He first stuck his hand up with curiosity before the software was even released. He's in an IT career stop as Project Manager for Cerro Wire LLC, a building wire industry supplier whose roots go back to 1920. Manufacturing headquartered in Hartselle, Alabama, with facilities in Utah, Indiana and Georgia.

Statham is checking out the licensing clearances he'll need to move the company's applications across to this Intel-powered solution. The privatization of Dell turns out to be a factor in his timetable. Dell purchased Quest Software before Dell took itself private. By the start of 2014, Dell was still reorganizing its operations, including license permissions needed for its Bridgeware and Netbase software. Cerro Wire uses both.

I’m after some answers about moving over to a virtual box" Statham says. "I know CHARON's emulating an A500, but that [Intel] box [that would host it] has four processors on it. I’ve heard what I’m going to have to pay, instead of hearing, 'Okay, you’re emulating an A500, with two processors.' They’re looking more at the physical side.”

This spring is a time of change and new growth for legacy software like Netbase, or widespread solutions such as PowerHouse. While the former's got some room to embrace license changes, the latter's also got new ownership. The PowerHouse owners Unicom Systems have been in touch with their customers over the last few months. The end of March will mark the projected wrap-up on Unicom's field research. At Cerro, the Quest software is really the only license that needs to be managed onto CHARON, according to Statham.

Cerro Wire's got an A500 now as a result of several decades of 3000 ownership. The company is fortunate enough to have control over its main applications, software based on the DeCarlo, Paternite, & Associates IBS/3000 suite. At the company HQ in Hartselle, Alabama, Statham said turning to the 3000 early meant source code was Cerro's to revamp and extend.

"We have highly customized it, and we’ve written applications around it," Statham says. "When we bought it, source code was part of it. Some of the programs that were written for it now do a lot more than they used to do. Some have been replaced altogether."

The company replicates its data from the Hartselle center to an identical A Series server, including a dedicated VA 7410 RAID array, in Indiana. Netbase was a replication groundbreaker for the 3000 from the late 1980s onward, so it's essential to keeping the MPE/iX applications serving Cerro.

Statham has no pressure from Cerro management to replace the applications that are successful at running the company. With ample spare parts, independent support and storage consulting, and his own source in hand, he needs only the green light from Dell to move forward. Specifics on pricing and performance are still in play from Stromasys, at least from his vantage point. A 1.5 version of CHARON HPA/3000 was announced late last year, promising increased performance. But meeting the speed needs of an A-Class would be no challenge for the CHARON lineup.

This veteran of 3000 deployment and management has little desire to send his company toward an application replacement that might end up with Cerro "spending millions of dollars." There are many years left for MPE/iX, and his company is an all-HP shop, with the exception of a couple of Dell monitors on Statham's desk. He can see a long future for the app the company has fine-tuned to its business.

The CALENDAR intrinsic roadblock is the only thing he can forecast by now. He's not sure how HP might react to an independent fix for that issue, a date challenge that's still 13 years away.

"If we could ever get this 2027 thing out of the way, you could run your applications indefinitely, so long as you’ve got someone to support them," he says. "My only concern is HP themselves, in the event that someone said they had a patch to the operating system — and so you didn’t have to worry about the year, because there was some type of workaround."

But Stromasys became an HP Worldwide Reseller Partner last year, so perhaps even that question could be resolved. What nobody can be sure of, at the moment, is if Dell might want CHARON to be hosted on its server hardware, now that it owns Netbase.

 

Posted by Ron Seybold at 06:24 PM in Homesteading, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 10, 2014

Getting 3000 clocks up to speed, always

ClockgoingforwardThe US rolled its clocks forward by one hour this past weekend. There are usually  questions in this season about keeping 3000 clocks in sync, for anyone who hasn't figured this out over the last several years. US law has altered our clock-changing weekends during that time, but the process to do so is proven.

Donna Hofmeister, whose firm Allegro Consultants hosts the free nettime utility, explains how time checks on a regular basis keep your clocks, well, regular.

This past Sunday, when using SETCLOCK to set the time ahead one hour, should the timezone be advanced one hour as well?

The cure is to run a clock setting job every Sunday and not go running about twice a year. You'll gain the benefit of regular scheduling and a mostly time-sync'd system.

In step a-1 of the job supplied below you'll find the following line:

    !/NTP/CURRENT/bin/ntpdate "-B timesrv.someplace.com"

Clearly, this needs to be changed.

If for some dreadful reason you're not running NTP, you might want to check out 'nettime'. And while you're there, pick up a copy of 'bigdirs' and run it -- please!

Also, this job depends on the variable TZ being set -- which is easily done in your system logon udc:

    SETVAR TZ "PST8PDT"

Adapt as needed. And don't forget -- if your tztab file is out of date, just grab a copy from another system. It's just a file.

This job below was adapted from logic developed by Paul Christidis:

 !JOB SETTIME,MANAGER.SYS;OUTCLASS=,5
!TELLOP       SETTIME  
!TELLOP       ALL MPE SYSTEMS
!TELLOP ==SETTIME -- SYNCs SYSTEM CLOCK W/ TIME SERVER !
!# from the help text for setclock....
!# Results of the Time Zone Form
!#
!#   If the change in time zone is to a later time (a change to Daylight
!#   Savings Time or an "Eastern" geographic movement), both local time
!#   and the time zone offset are changed immediately.
!#
!#   The effect is that users of local system time will see an immediate
!#   jump forward to the new time zone, while users of Universal Time
!#   will see no change.
!#
!#   If the change in time zone is to an earlier time (a change from
!#   Daylight Savings to Standard Time or a "Western" geographic
!#   movement), the time zone offset is changed immediately.  Then the
!#   local time slows down until the system time corresponds to the
!#   time in the new time zone.
!#
!#   The effect is that users of local system time will see a gradual
!#   slowdown to match the new time zone, while users of Universal Time
!#   will see an immediate forward jump, then a slowdown until the
!#   system time again matches "real" Universal Time.
!#
!#   This method of changing time zones ensures that no out-of-sequence
!#   time stamps will occur either in local time or in Universal Time.
!#
!showclock
!showjob job=@j
!TELLOP =====================================  SETTIME   A-1
!
!errclear
!continue
!/NTP/CURRENT/bin/ntpdate "-B timesrv.someplace.com"
!if hpcierr <> 0
!  echo hpcierr !hpcierr (!hpcierrmsg)
!  showvar
!  tellop NTPDATE problem
!endif
!
!tellop SETTIME -- Pausing for time adjustment to complete....
!pause 60
!
!TELLOP =====================================  SETTIME   B-1
!showclock
!
!setvar FallPoint &
!   (hpyyyy<=2006 AND (hpmonth = 10 AND hpdate > 24)) OR &
!   (hpyyyy>=2007 AND (hpmonth = 11 AND hpdate < 8))
!
!setvar SpringPoint &
!   (hpyyyy<=2006 AND (hpmonth =  4 AND hpdate< 8)) OR &
!   (hpyyyy>=2007 AND (hpmonth =  3 AND (hpdate > 7 AND hpdate < 15)))
!
!# TZ should always be found
! if hpday = 1
!    if SpringPoint
!# switch to daylight savings time
!      setvar _tz_offset   ![rht(lft(TZ,4),1)]-1
!      setclock timezone=w![_tz_offset]:00
!    elseif FallPoint
!# switch to standard time
!      setvar _tz_offset   ![rht(lft(TZ,4),1)]
!      setclock timezone=w![_tz_offset]:00
!    endif
!  endif
!endif
!
!TELLOP =====================================  SETTIME   C-1
!
!showclock
!EOJ

Mark Ranft of 3k Pro added some experience with international clocks on the 3000.

If international time conversion is important to you, there are two additional things to do.

1) Set a system-wide UDC to set the TZ variable. (And perhaps account UDCs if accounts are for different locations)

:showvar tz
TZ = CST6CDT

2) There is also a tztab.lib.sys that needs to be updated when countries change when or if they do DST.

:l tztab.lib.sys
ACCOUNT=  SYS         GROUP=  LIB     

FILENAME  CODE  ------------LOGICAL RECORD-----------  ----SPACE----
                 SIZE  TYP        EOF      LIMIT R/B  SECTORS #X MX

TZTAB            1276B  VA         681        681   1       96  1  8


:print tztab.lib
# @(#) HP C/iX Library A.75.03  2008-02-26

# Mitteleuropaeische Zeit, Mitteleuropaeische Sommerzeit
MEZ-1MESZ
0 3 25-31 3  1983-2038 0   MESZ-2
0 2 24-30 9  1983-1995 0   MEZ-1
0 2 25-31 10 1996-2038 0   MEZ-1

# Middle European Time, Middle European Time Daylight Savings Time 
<< snipped >>

Posted by Ron Seybold at 10:17 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 07, 2014

Clouds, Google and the HP 3000 in print

Google Cloud PrintThe above items really shouldn't go together, if you follow conventional wisdom. Yes, the HP 3000 has been in the clouds, so long as you consider timesharing as the cloud. I first began to cover the 3000 at a publishing company that was using cloud computing. Once a month in 1984, we logged on for timesharing at Futura Press, where an HP 3000 connected to a PC with a 3000 terminal emulator. Our operator Janine set type using an MPE program on that 3000.

But today the cloud usually means something like a server farm from Google, Apple, HP or elsewhere. These vendors make it attractive to give up hardware and let an outside provider supply what's needed. However, we all still seem to like working with paper in our offices. Cue the 3000 manager who wants cloud printing from his MPE application.

Has anyone ever tried to use Google Cloud Printing using HP 3000, via NPConfig?

Even though the answer might be no as of today, it's possible to make Google's Cloud Print serve a 3000. The magic must leap over lots of 3000 traditional wisdom. Allegro's Stan Sieler explained, to the manager, that "depending on what you mean, I don't think it's even remotely possible."

If you meant, "print from HP 3000 to a printer via Google Cloud," then no.  

Oh, it's possible someone could investigate the Google Cloud Print API and write some software for the HP 3000 that would intercept output sent to a "local" printer and redirect it to the Google Cloud API. But, it's not likely to happen.

Sieler outlined some other possibilities, always examining the full range of prospects.

If you meant, "print from an iOS or Android app (or a Safari/Chrome web browser) to a network printer a 3000 also prints on," then yes -- but the 3000 will be unaware it's sharing the printer with Google Cloud (or with other users, for that matter).

If you meant, “print from an iOS or Android app (or a Safari/Chrome web browser) to a printer locally attached (e.g., HP-IB) to printer on a 3000," then no. This would be hard, and (most likely) undesirable.

There's a pair of software solutions from RAC Consulting, Rich Corn's company that has connected the 3000 and other servers to the widest possible range of printers. Corn wasn't certain he could provide a connection as described, but he noted that the basic tools are on hand to try to create such a Google Cloud Printing solution.

I have quite a bit of experience with the Google Cloud Print API and 3000-based printing. In general, Stan is correct  -- that the effort to connect GCP and the 3000 is too large to make sense to undertake. But there might be some scenarios that would work if you used our two products: ESPUL and Cloud Print for Windows together -- and your content is suitable. If you'd care to be more specific on what you want to do, then there might be a solution.

To create Cloud Print for Windows, Corn's used his expertise and decades of attaching print devices to HP business servers, to help create software that helps Windows systems employ the Google Cloud Print virtual printer service. So long as your printer's host can connect to the Web, Cloud Printing can be accessed from other desktops online.

Cloud Print for Windows then monitors these virtual printers and prints jobs submitted to a virtual printer on the corresponding local PC printer. In addition, Cloud Print for Windows supports printing from your PC to Google Cloud Print virtual printers. All without any need for the Chrome browser.

People expect Windows to be a more affordable platform per desktop, but the costs can add up. Employing cloud services can keep things more manageable in a budget. Cloud Print for Windows costs just $19 a seat. 

Posted by Ron Seybold at 06:13 PM in Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 06, 2014

Reducing the Costs in a Major MS Migration

XPLook all around your world, anywhere, and you'll see XP. Windows XP, of course, an operating system that Microsoft is serious about obsoleting in a month. That doesn't seem to deter the world from continuing to use it, though. XP is like MPE. Where it's installed, it's working. And getting it out of service, replacing it with the next generation, has serious costs. It will remind a system manager of replacing a 3000, in the aggregate. Not as much per PC. But together, a significant migration cost.

The real challenge lies in needed upgrades to all the other software installed on the Windows PCs.

There's a way to keep down the costs related to this switch. MB Foster reminded us that they've got a means to improve the connection to the 3000 updated via Windows PCs.

Microsoft will end support for Windows XP on April 8, 2014. MB Foster has noticed companies moving to Windows 7/8 with an eye toward leveraging 64-bit architectures, reducing risks and standardizing on a currently supported operating system.

As an authorized reseller of Attachmate's Reflection terminal emulation software, we advise you that now is the time to seize the opportunity and minimize risks -- and get the most out of your IT investments.

The key to keeping down these costs is something called a Volume Purchase Agreement. It's an ownership license that HP 3000 shops may not have employed up to now, but its terms have improved. MB Foster's been selling and supporting Reflection ever since the product was called PC2622, and ran from the DOS prompt. Over those three decades, the company estimates it's been responsible for a million or more desktops during the PC boom, when 3000 owners were heavy into another kind of migration: replacement of HP2392 hardwired terminals. "Today, we are responsible for the management and maintenance of approximately 50,000 desktops," Foster's Accounts Manager Chris Whitehead said.

Upgrading Reflection is a natural step in the migration away from Windows XP. "We recommend upgrading terminal emulation software to Windows 7/8 compatible versions," said Whitehead. "As your partner we can make it easy and convenient to administrate licenses, reduce year over year costs, secure a lower price per unit and for your company to gain some amazing efficiencies."

For a site that has individual licenses of Reflection or a competing product, there's an opportunity to move into a Volume Purchase Agreement (VPA). The minimum entry is now only 10 units, Whitehead explains.

Years ago, when the product was sold by WRQ, the minimum for a Reflection limited site license was 25. Then it went to a point system. But as a follow-on, a minimum 10 units is just required for a Volume Purchase Agreement. The VPA provides a mechanism for maintaining licenses on an annual basis -- meaning free upgrades and support. It also provides price protection, typically giving a client a lower price per unit when compared to a single-unit purchase. The VPA also allows you to transition from one flavor of Reflection to another, i.e. going from Reflection for HP to Reflection for Unix, and at a lower cost.

If a site is already a Volume Purchase Agreement (VPA) customer and it’s not maintained, Whitehead suggest a customer consider reactivating it. During the reactivation process you can

• Consolidate and upgrade licenses into one or more standardized solutions

• Surrender / retire licenses no longer needed or required

• Trade in competing products

• Only maintain the licenses needed

Details are available from Whitehead at [email protected].

Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:35 PM in Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 05, 2014

What does a performance index represent?

I know this may be a tough question to answer, but thought I'd at least give it a try.

SpeedometerI'm doing an analysis to possibly upgrade our production 959KS/100 system to a 979KS/200, and I see the Hewlett-Packard performance metric chart that tells me we go from a 4.6 to 14.6. What does that increase represent? For instance, does each whole number (like 4.0 to 5.0) represent a general percentage increase in performance? I know it varies from one shop to another, so I'm just looking for a general guideline or personal experience -- like a job that used to take 10 hours to run now only takes 7 hours. The "personal experience" part of this may not even be appropriate, in that the upgrades may not be close to the metrics I am looking at.

Peter Eggers offers this reply, still worthy after several years

Those performance numbers are multiples of a popular system way back when, based on an average application mix as determined by HP after monitoring some systems and probably some system logs of loads on customer systems. No information here as to where you are on the many performance bell curves. The idea is to balance your system resources to match your application load, with enough of a margin to get you through to the next hardware upgrade.

Confchartpic (1)People mention system and application tuning. You have to weigh time spent tuning and expected resource savings against the cost of an upgrade with the system and applications as is.  Sometimes you can gain amazing savings with minor changes and little time spent.  Don't forget to add in time to test, QA, and admin time for change management.

There are a many things to consider: CPU speed and any on chip caching; memory cache(s) size and speed; main memory size and speed; number of I/O channels and bandwidth; online communication topography, bandwidth, and strategy; online vs. batch priorities, and respective time slices; database and file design, access, locking, and cache hit strategies; application efficiency, tightening loops to fit memory caches, and compiler optimizations; and system load leveling.

Since you didn't understand the performance numbers, you might hire a good performance consultant that knows the HP 3000. Of course, look for the "low hanging fruit" fruit first for the biggest bang for the buck, and continue "up the tree" until you lose a net positive return on time invested.

You'll also hear it mentioned that adding memory won't help if the system is IO-bound. That is typically not the case, as more memory means more caching which can help eliminate IOs by retrieving data from cache, sometimes with dramatic improvements. This highlights the need for a good performance guru -- as it is easy to get lost in the details, or not be able to see "the big picture" and how it all fits together.

Aside from Eggers' advice, we take note of the last time HP rated its 3000 line.

At HP World in 2002, it announced the final new 3000 systems, all based upon the PA-8700 processors. At the high end, HP announced a new N-Class system based upon the 750 MHz PA-8700 processor. The new N4000-400-750 was the first HP e3000 to achieve an MPE/iX Relative Performance Units (MRPU) rating of 100; the Series 918 has an MRPU of 1.

HP contends that the MRPU is the only valid way to measure the relative performance of MPE systems. In particular, they maintain that the MHz rating is not a valid measure of relative performance, though they continue to use virtual MHz numbers for systems with software-crippled processors. For example, there are no 380 MHz or 500 MHz PA-RISC processors. Unfortunately, the MRPU does not allow for the comparison of the HP e3000 with other systems, even the HP 9000.

HP has changed the way it rates systems three times over the life of the HP 3000. During the middle years, the Series 918 was the standard with a rating of 1. In 1998, HP devised a new measurement standard for the systems it was introducing that no longer had the Series 918 at 1. It is under this new system that the N4000-400-750 is rated at 100. Applying a correction factor, AICS Research has rated the N4000-400-750 at 76.8 relative to the Series 918’s rating of 1.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:36 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 04, 2014

Experts show how to use shell from MPE

I am attempting to convert a string into a number for use in timing computations inside an MPEiX job stream. In the Posix shell I can do this:

/SYS/PUB $ echo "21 + 21" | bc
42
/SYS/PUB $

But from the MPE command line this returns blank:

run sh.hpbin.sys;info='-c echo "21 + 21" | bc'

But why? I would like to calculate a formula with containing factors of arbitrary decimal precision and assign the integer result to a variable.  Inside the shell I can do this:

shell/iX> x=$(echo "31.1 * 4.7" | bc)
shell/iX> echo $x
146.1
shell/iX> x=$(echo "31.1 * 4.7 + 2" | bc)
shell/iX> echo $x
148.1
shell/iX> x=$(echo "31.1 * 4.70 + 2" | bc)
shell/iX> echo $x
148.17

What I would like to do is the same thing albeit at the MPE : prompt instead, and assign the result to an MPE variable.

Donna Hofmeister of Allegro replies

CI numeric variables only handle integers (whole numbers).  If your answer needs to be expressed with a decimal value (like 148.17 as shown above) you might be able to do something to express it as a string to the CI (setvar string_x "!x").

This is really sounding like something that's best handled by another solution -- like a compiled program or maybe a perl script.

For what it’s worth, the perl bundle that's available from Allegro has the MPE extensions included.  This means you could do take advantage of perl's 'getoptions' as well as 'hpcicmds' (if you really need to get your result available at the CI level.

Barry Lake of Allegro adds

The answer to your question of why, for the record, is that the first token is what's passed to the shell as the command to execute. In this case, the first token is simply "echo", and the rest of the command is either eaten or ignored.

To fix it, the entire command needs to be a single string passed to the shell, as in:

:run sh.hpbin.sys; info='-c "echo 21 + 21 | bc"'
 42
 END OF PROGRAM
 :

And if you want to clean that up a bit you can use XEQ instead of RUN:

 :xeq sh.hpbin.sys '-c "echo 21 + 21 | bc"'
 42

Or, you can do it with, for example, Vesoft's MPEX:

 : mpex

 MPEX/3000  34N60120  (c) VESOFT Inc, 1980  7.5  04:07407  For help type 'HELP'

 % setvar pi 3.14159
 % setvar r  4.5
 % calc !pi * !r * !r
            63.617191
 % setvar Area !pi * !r * !r
 % showvar Area
 AREA =            63.617191
 % exit

 END OF PROGRAM
 :

But the only thing I want is to be able to use a complied program which handles arbitrary precision variables from inside a job stream — such that I can return the integer part of the result to an MPE/iX variable.

Barry Lake replies

If you're happy with truncating your arithmetic result — that is, lopping off everything to the right of the decimal point, including the decimal point — then here's one way to do it:

/SYS/PUB $ echo "31.1 * 4.7" | bc
 146.1
 /SYS/PUB $ echo "31.1 * 4.7" | bc | cut -f1 -d.
 146
 /SYS/PUB $ callci setvar result $(echo "31.1 * 4.7" | bc | cut -f1 -d.)
 /SYS/PUB $ callci showvar result
 RESULT = 146
 /SYS/PUB $ exit

 END OF PROGRAM
 : showvar result
 RESULT = 146
 :

Perfect! Thank you. And this construct accepts CI VAR values as I require.

:SETVAR V1 "31.1"
:SETVAR v2 "4.7"
:XEQ SH.HPBIN.SYS;INFO='-c "callci setvar result $(echo ""!V1 * !V2"" | bc |
cut -f1 -d.)"'
:SHOWVAR RESULT
RESULT = 146

Posted by Ron Seybold at 05:55 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 03, 2014

Cloudy night shows that it's Magic Time

WideWorldStandHeadServer drives churn, routers flash, and time machines transport us through the power of stories. In our own community we are connected by wires and circuits and pulses of power. We always were, from days of black arts datacomm pushing data on cards of punched paper. We’ve lived through a glorious explosion of ideas and inspiration and instruction. It’s the movie that always has another story in waiting, this Internet. So ubiquitous we’ve stopped calling it by that name. In 2014, 40 years after MPE became viable and alive, the World Wide Web is named after an element common throughout the physical world: The Cloud.

NClass movieAnd through the magic of these clouds come stories that lead us forward and allow us to look back at solved challenges. My partner Abby and I sit on the sofa these days and play with paper together, crossword puzzles, especially on weekends with the New York Times and LA Times puzzles. We look up answers from that cloud, and it delivers us stories. The Kingston Trio’s hit BMT leads us to The Smothers Brothers, starting out as a comic folksinger act. After video came alive for the HP 3000 in HP strategy TV broadcasts via satellite, there were webinars. Today, YouTube holds stories of the 3000’s shiniest moment, the debut of the ultimate model of that server.

Gravity - George ClooneyLast night we sat on another couch in the house and watched the splashiest celebration of stories in our connected world, the Academy Awards. Despite racking up a fistful and more of them, Gravity didn’t take the Best Picture prize. You can have many elements of success, parts of being the best, and not end up named the winner of the final balloting. The 3000 saw a similar tally, a raft of successes, but the light began to fade. In the movies they call the last light of the day magic time, because it casts the sweetest shades on the players and settings.

It’s magic time for many of the 3000’s stalwart members of its special academy. The 3000’s remaining a time machine in your reaches of space. Data is like gravity, a force to unify and propel. MPE systems contain ample gravity: importance to users, plus the grounding of data. It becomes information, then stories, and finally wisdom.

And in our magic time, we are blessed with the time machine of the Web, the cloud. You can look up earlier wisdom of this community online, written in stories, illustrated in video, told via audio. Find it in the cloud at the following resources:

The HP Computer Museum

3K Associates

The hosts of the HP Jazz papers, Client Systems and Fresche Legacy

The MM II Support Group

MPE Open Source.org

Plus, the companies that have kept websites stocked with stories about how to keep the magic lantern light of your system flashing onto screens. I’m grateful to have been part of that set of producers, directors and writers for the screen. It’s an exciting time to be able to move paper, as well as move beyond it with the speed of electrons. We’ve all grasped the tool of the Web with our whole hearts — even while we remember how to gather in a room like all those moviemakers did, to remember. There are many ways to honor the art of our story. 

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:41 PM in Homesteading, Web Resources | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 26, 2014

Comparing Historic 3000 Horsepower Costs

Testosterone-horsepowerOver the last few weeks we've checked in with Jeff Kell, the system manager at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. The university powered off its last two HP 3000s not long ago, and along the way has mounted dozens of Unix and Linux CPUs and virtual servers to replace that pair of MPE machines. We asked him what he believed the school's IT group had spent on MPE over 37 years -- and limited the question to the capital costs of systems. (Ownership cost is much harder to calculate across four decades.)

Kell, who founded the HP 3000 listserve and newsgroup, as well as chaired the SIGSYSMAN group for Interex over the years, said "We have had comparable expenses with each iteration of the 3000's life-cycle." Across those decades, the university owned Classic HP 3000s based on CISC technology, then early PA-RISC servers -- new enough in that generation to be considered "Spectrum" 3000s -- then later-model PA-RISC units, and finally the ultimate generation of HP 3000 hardware.

"In short, it was an expenditure in the low six figures, once every decade," Kell said. 

We ran Series II, then Series IIIs, and the tags were low six-figures in the 1970s. We then got some 950s in the late 1980s (we had some early Series 950 deliveries) at about the same price point. Then the 969 in the 1990s, again about the same. And finally, the A/N-Class during this century.

Comparisons to two points seem worthy. The pricing for the value of high-end 3000 computing remained constant; at the time of the late 1980s, for example, a Series 950 was the most powerful 3000 available. Then there's the comparison to the expenditure of acquiring the hardware to support dozens of servers, virtual and otherwise. The low six figures won't buy much toward the high end of business critical computing gear over a decade, using today's commodity pricing. The newest servers might seem cheaper, but they don't give durable service for 10 years per installation, like the ones at Kell's shop did.

It was not all smooth sailing on value for expenditures, Kell added. The A-Class server line was performance-challenged, even though it was rated a bit faster than the previous, K-Class 3000 hardware known as the Series 900 line.

"We had some performance issues with the A500 after we started offering our "online" applications: self-service, and we tried web-based apps, too -- but that was early on and challenged," Kell reported in his 3000 debriefing. Even at that moment in time, there was belief expressed for the ability of HP 3000 hardware to rise to the need, so long as it was more powerful 3000 hardware. Given the performance issues with the A-Class, he explained, "there was some political incentive to address the problem when we got the N-Class, which was a dominating force until the end of our 3000 days. It never blinked."

In short, the longest lifespan for any server still available with a Hewlett-Packard 3000 badge belongs to the N-Class. This is illustrated by the drive to match the horsepower of the top three models in that lineup, an effort which kept Stromasys CHARON engineers well-engaged during 2013.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:17 PM in History, Homesteading, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 25, 2014

Electronic forms: saving the planet?

Duplex Pack SlipSeveral vendors who are well-known to the 3000 community are in the electronic forms business. Hillary Software's suite of products, headed with byRequest (click for details below in the graphic), runs across multiple platforms. Working a different angle in the same sector, Minisoft has been selling its eFORMz designer since 2000. That was a year when the HP 3000's Java was current enough to host the 1.2 version of the program that designed forms and delivered data to them.

ByrequestMore than 13 years later, eFORMz is up to Version 9 and requires a 1.4.2 version of Java, which absolutely puts hosting the product out of the HP 3000's league. But it can and often does run on PCs, as well as Linux servers. With enough imagination and networking, those hosts can tap into the data on HP 3000s for distribution.

Minisoft just announced a new wrinkle to its eFORMz solution, the ability to employ DuplexPackSlip labels. This Ward/Kraft product combines a Shipping/Return Label with a Packing Slip/Invoice on the front and back sides of the same label. Minisoft sent out a message to say they may be "saving the planet one label at a time," when a customer is using these labels. The label, which was obviously not invented by Minisoft, can replace a shipping label, packing slip, plastic pouch and the extra toner required.

The Minisoft label generation tool brings data streams together and formats them for printing onto the new DuplexPackSlip label. eFORMz package generates forms on Windows 8 and earlier, as well as Mac Mountain Lion clients, using data from servers including an HP 3000. 

A Director module in 9.0 consolidates all eFORMz toolkits and print monitors into a centralized service, one which uses a new Web App for management and configuration. Minisoft says the the Director "can execute and manage multiple print monitor configurations. Processes can be selectively paused, reconfigured and resumed without affecting other output processes." 

Posted by Ron Seybold at 05:43 PM in Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 24, 2014

Expanding that Posix Shell on the 3000

ShellWay back in the middle 1990s, HP added the Posix shell to the HP 3000, so customers who had Unix and MPE running in the same shop could train operators and managers with a single set of commands. Posix was a plus, making the 3000 appear more Unix-like (which seemed important at the time).

It's been said that Posix was a promise only partly fulfilled for the 3000. There was a move to make the system more inclusive, to make it possible to port Unix software onto MPE/iX. Alas, a tech roadblock called the Fork of Death stood in the way of more widespread porting.

Over the years, however, Posix has been a feature to be discovered for most 3000 managers and operators. HP intended it to be essential; the computer's operating system was renamed from MPE/XL to MPE/iX just to call attention to these added Posix, Unix-like capabilities.

MPE failed in the Posix world primarily because of the unix "fork()" concept, so critical to the very nature of all that is Unix. It is a totally alien concept to MPE. MPE was designed to easily add additional new users to an executing process, and maintain the security/integrity of each individual user.  It was not designed to duplicate a current process's environment, including the local data and state, because there was no point.

As one sage developer said of the deathly fork, "Yes, MPE would fork(), but very reluctantly, and very slowly. So nothing that depended on it worked very well."

But enough history; Posix is still on the 3000 and remains a powerful interface tool, an alternative to the CI interface that HP created for the system. You can even call Posix commands from the CI, a nifty piece of engineering when it can be done. That's not always possible, though. A customer wanted to know how to "expand wildcard shells" using Posix. He tried from the CI and had this story to relate.

:LL /BACKUPS/HARTLYNE/S*
ls: File or directory “/BACKUPS/HARTLYNE/S*” is not found

So how do I do this? I need to be able to tell tar to archive all of the reels of a STD STORE set via a regexp.  It does not work in tar, and it apparently does not in ls, so I speculate that there is something special about the innovation of Posix utilities from the CI that I am not aware of. What is it?

Jeff Vance, the 3000 CI guru while at HP, who's gone on to work in open system and open source development, said this in reply:

Wildcards on most (all) Unix systems, including Posix implementations, are done by the shell, not the individual programs or in-lined shell commands, like ls in your example. A solution is to run the shell and execute ll from within.

Greg Stigers then supplied the magic Posix shell command to do the expansion:

SH.HPBIN.SYS '-c "/bin/ls -l /BACKUPS/HARTLYNE/S*"'

In a note of thanks, the customer said that getting the answer by working with the HP 3000 community's newsgroup "is like having an entire IT department right outside my door."

An interesting footnote if you've read this far: The Posix shell for the 3000 is one part of the operating system not built by HP. The shell was licensed by HP from MKS, and Hewlett-Packard pays royalties to MKS so Posix can work inside of MPE/iX.

For now, enjoy using Posix as a way to get familiar with the commands in Unix systems. In the great majority of instances, these commands are the same.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:29 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 21, 2014

Just how fast is that A-Class, anyway?

By Brian Edminster
Applied Technologies

Earlier this week, there was a report of an A-Class HP 3000 going wanting on eBay. It was being offered for $2,000 with no takers. The system at hand was an A400-100-110, the genuine bottom of the A-Class line.

While I'd argue that a $2,000 A400 with a transferable MPE/iX licence is a steal, there seems to be a lack of appreciation for the wide variance in speeds in what is considered a A-Class' system.

BlazingI believe the system that was being offered as a bare bones A400, as indicated by its system number "A400-100-110." The first character (A) is the class; the next three numbers (400) are the family; the next three are the number of CPUs (100, meaning one); and the last three are the HP rated speed in MHz of the PA-RISC CPU chip. (In this case, it's a PA-8500) This system on eBay also happened to be missing a tape for creating/booting from a CSLT, so if your boot drive failed -- or you needed to make configuration changes that required booting from tape -- you would be out of luck without buying a little more hardware.

This particular A400 system, according to the AICS Relative Performance chart mentioned in the article, runs at a 17. That's about 1.7 times faster (CPU-wise) than the original 917/918 systems. In IO-intensive applications, I have found it felt closer to 2 times faster. I have also worked on an A400-100-150, which CPU speed-wise is a 37. (That system also happens to allow installation of 2GB RAM vs. the 1GB limit on an A400-100-110).

So in short, we can have a greater than 2:1 performance potential between two servers that are both ostensibly A400 A-Class systems. And that's not even taking into account the advantages of multiple CPUs for performance in complex multi-user environments.

A400s and A500s have been available in both 1-way and 2-way models, while the N4000s are available in 1-way, 2-way, 3-way, and 4-way configurations. Prior generations of PA-RISC systems could be configured with as many as 4, 6, or even 12 processors. [Ed. note: I recall that several of those higher numbers were available only to HP-UX users.]

Performance benefits aside, multiple CPU systems have been, in my experience, more resilient to CPU failures. This is by virtue of having multiple CPUs. I've had multi-CPU systems where a single CPU failed, and if I had not noticed a minor difference in batch throughput, my online users wouldn't even have noticed. I simply scheduled a service call for the next day -- after warning my users of a previously unplanned service outage, and making sure the backups ran for the night. 

It took longer for the hardware to self-test and MPE/iX to reboot than it took the service engineer to replace the bad CPU.  Total un-planned down-time was about an hour. Not bad.

It was not quite hot-swap easy, like many modern RAID disk arrays. But that HP 3000 was plenty resilient enough to "Take a licking, and keep on ticking" -- as they once said of Timex watches.

Brian Edminster is the curator of the MPE Open Source repository and website www.MPE-opensource.org, as well as founder of an independent consultantancy.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 12:42 PM in Homesteading, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 19, 2014

Finding Value in An Exiting MPE Box

ExitSignA few weeks ago, Jeff Kell of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga asked around to see if anybody wanted his decommissioned N-Class server. It's way above the power range of the A-Class servers, and even includes some storage options not usually found in a decommissioned 3000.

But the interest hasn't been strong, according to our last update from Kell. He put out his offer -- basically trying to keep the system from becoming more than spare parts, he said -- on the mailing list that he founded two decades ago. We refer that resource as the HP 3000 newsgroup, but it's a LISTSERVE mailing list of about 500 members.

We've heard several reports like this for HP 3000s being turned off, but none of them involved an N-Class system. There's a Series 969 on offer for free -- yes, take it away is all that Roger Perkins of the City of Long Beach asks. While that 969 is more powerful than an A-Class, it's still leagues behind an ultimate-generation N-Class 3000.

This begs the question of what value your community would assign to any used system, regardless of size. Horsetrading on hardware is an IT manager's pastime, when searching for newer for more powerful systems. But it's becoming clear there's a reset going on in the market.

Kell's offer on the newsgroup was straight to the point.

We have tentative arrangements to have our last two 3000s decommissioned, but was curious if there was any interest in the hardware/systems. Hate to sound like a sales pitch, but we're basically happy with shipping, plus a certification the drives are wiped. 

We have an HP 3000-N4000 4-way, DATs, 2 DLTs, a few internal drives, and a VA fiber channel array (dual connect). It's perfectly fine.

Kell also mentioned his own A-Class onsite, an A500, DATs, two DLTs, a few internal drives, and a dual connect VA fiber channel array. "It has an external SCSI rack that had some issues we never quite resolved; it won't boot today since the mirrored disks have issues). But the VA array was healthy. Assuming the software transfers these days, both these systems have MPE/iX 7.5, Mirror/iX, ToolSet, and TurboStore/7x24."

That's a very suitable datacenter keystone to build a homesteading practice around. In fact, that's what the university had in mind when it bought those servers.

We tried our first "migration" in 1997 off the 3000 to Banner software, which was a gigantic Oracle monster, one that the UT system had essentially licensed for all campuses.  But compared to our legacy application's customizations -- we did just about anything we were asked -- Banner was too restrictive. There was a revolt, and we ended up only implementing Financial Aid and student Account Receivables.  So knowing that we had to stick on the 3000, we got that N-Class as our "homestead" machine. The A-Class was just a warm standby. We ran periodic snapshot backups and popped them over to the A-Class for restore, and did a full sync on weekends. 

We ran that way for another decade, when we had Round 2 of the Banner conversion. We had roughly four generations worth of HP 3000s, maybe even actually five. After our delays for the Series 950 we purchased, HP provided us with a temporary Series 52/58 (development/production) systems to tide us over until the delivery -- our Series IIIs were beyond maxed out. 

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:11 PM in Homesteading, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 18, 2014

No takers for a $2,000 HP 3000 on eBay

It might have been the most valuable part that was missing from a $2,000 eBay listing for an A-Class 3000. There's no mention of a transferrable MPE/iX license for this rock-bottom system. But perhaps it was the horsepower, too. It's hard to understate how many HP 3000s run faster than a 1-CPU, 110Mhz A-Class. 

Jesse Dougherty at Cypress Technology, a reliable HP 3000 reseller, reminded readers on the 3000 newsgroup about the offer.

I really thought that these would sell like hotcakes. I threw one up on eBay for 2k with a basic config. If any one is interested in a cheap back-up running MPE/iX 7.5, check out our link.

Confchartpic (1)Other resellers have reported, several years ago, that you couldn't sell any N-Class system, the next level up in HP's ultimate generation of 3000s, for even $4,000. But an N-Class is 10 times more powerful than such an A-Class at the bottom of the HP lineup. Using the Relative Performance chart devised by AICS Research, there's a spread of 121 HP 3000 Performance Units between a single-CPU A-Class and the 440Mhz N-Class running one processor. The official HP relative performance chart (click for detail) doesn't use as many decimals to compare server speeds, but the spread is the same nevertheless.

That's an 8:1 speed advantage, and if anybody was comparing the A-Class servers being offered to the older 3000s out there, almost all of the prior generation runs faster. Any 9x9 will outpace that A-Class, even the seldom-seen Series 929/020. You have to go back to a Series 928 to find a 9x8 that can be beaten by the entry-level A-Class. 

There's more, of course. Dougherty said the machine was outfitted with a "basic config," meaning that it came with 1GB or RAM (out of a total of a possible 2 GB), a 9 GB LDEV1 boot disk, and and 18GB disk for storage. There's also a 100Base-TX LAN adapter.

Lots of 3000 gear is in the position of not being able to be given away. Roger Perkins of the City of Long Beach is still looking for someone who'd pick up his decommissioned Series 969, which is twice as fast as that A-Class server. The 9x9s draw a lot more power and have more IO device restrictions, of course.

If a 3000 built at least 15 years ago can't be given away easily, and one that was first released 13 years ago is going unsold at $2,000, there's a possibility we're seeing a marker in the value of a 3000 configured at the rock bottom of the ultimate generation. The cost of hotcakes appears to be falling this year.

 

 

 

Posted by Ron Seybold at 05:19 PM in Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 17, 2014

Durable advice speeds up HP 3000s

Our editor Gilles Schipper posted a fine article on improving CPU performance on 3000s "in a heartbeat." One of our readers asked a question which prompted Gilles to clarify part of the process to speed up a 3000, for free.

Gilles, who offers HP 3000 and HP 9000 support through his firm GSA, Inc., has also replied to a recent question about how to make a DLT backup device return to its speedy performance, after slowing to about a third of its performance.

The Heartbeat article focused on needless CPU overhead that could be caused by a networking heartbeat on 3000s. Gilles points out:

Fortunately, there is a very simple way to recognize whether the problem exists, and also a simple cure. If your DTCs are connected without transceivers, you will not be subject to this problem. Otherwise, to determine if you have the problem, simply type the command

:listf h@.pub.sys,2

In the report that is produced, you will notice OPEN files (ones with an associated asterisk ending the file name); these are 1W in size.

There are two such files associated with each configured DTC, file name starting with the letter H, followed by six characters that represent the last six characters of the DTC MAC address, followed by the letter A or B. The EOF for these files should be 0 and 5 for the respective "A" and "B" files.

Otherwise, your CPU is being subjected to high-volume, unnecessary IO, requiring CPU attention. The solution is to simply enable SQL heartbeat for each transceiver attached to each DTC. This is done via a small white jumper switch that you should see at the side of each transceiver. Voila, you've just achieved a significant no-cost CPU upgrade.

Compete details are in Gilles' original article. On speeding up backup time, he pointed out that adding an option to the STORE command will help you track IO retries.

We have a DLT tape drive. Lately it wants to take 6-7 hours to do backup instead of its usual two or less.  But not every night,  and not on the same night every week.  I have been putting in new tapes now, but it still occurs randomly. I have cleaned it. I can restore from the tapes no problem. It doesn’t appear to be fighting some nightly process for CPU cycles. Any ideas on what gives?

Something that may be causing extended backup time is excessive IO retries, as the result of deteriorating tapes or tape drive.

One way to know is to add the ;STATISTICS option to your STORE command. This will show you the number of IO retries as well as the actual IO rate and actual volume of data output.

Another possibilty is that your machine is experiencing other physical problems resulting in excessive logging activity and abnormal CPU interrupt activity — which is depleting your system resources resulting in extended backup times.

Check out the following files in the following Posix directories:

/var/stm/logs/os/*
/var/stm/logs/sys/*

If they are very large, you indeed may have a hardware problem — one that is not "breaking" your machine, but simply "bending" it.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 10:34 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 14, 2014

Even a classic 3000 game can get LinkedIn

Screen Shot 2014-02-14 at 9.15.11 PMLinkedIn, the Facebook for business relationships, is now the home a new group related to the HP 3000. Veterans of the system know Empire as a stragegy game that was first hosted under MPE in the 1980s. Now these game players have their own LinkedIn Group.

Johnson, who's helped to administer 3000s for Measurement Specialties (a cross-global manufacturer) as well as OpenMPE, moved the group of users off Yahoo, he reported.

Since February of 2000 I've kept a Yahoo Group dedicated to the text game of Empire on the HP 3000, mainly to announce regenerations of new games and enhancements.  Empire is piggy-backed as an account on the INVENT3K server, which is still running in DR mode. Games are free -- and unlike most Internet games today, it doesn't track your whereabouts, place cookies, install hidden apps, or seek your mother's maiden name.

The game still goes on, but since Yahoo went to NEO format last year, I've been looking for something easier to manage (and more socially viable).  Without plunging into the supra-popular mediums like Twitter and Facebook, I have decided to close the Yahoo Group and put a new one for Empire on LinkedIn.

Johnson noted that LinkedIn "has some features for discussions that seem interesting. While LinkedIn seems focused to connecting with associates and ostensibly job hunting, features designed for purposes can be purloined for other purposes, such as:

- Regular Discussions and comments.

- Permanent announcements can be posted using the "Promotions" type of discussion.  Will probably use that to announce new games.

- Temporary announcements (two weeks) can be posed using the "Jobs" type of discussion.  

He added that  LinkedIn hasn't got much bad press. Of late, Yahoo and its groups have had "near half a million passwords hacked, and total shutdown in some areas of the world," Johnson said.

Empire has a domain name, and you can put empire.openmpe.com into your Reflection, Minisoft, or QCTerm configuration. Porting the game and website was rather easy. The original site used Orbit+/iX disk to disk backups (courtesy of Orbit), and it was simply FTP'd to the new machine and then restored.  Additional assistance was provided by Keven Miller at 3kRanger to make the website fit in with the regular INVENT3K website. INVENT3K's website now has a button that links to Empire. Both sites are hosted on the same machine where the games are running.

Empire, one of the original role-playing games for computers, gained a home on the HP 3000 during the era of text-based interactive gaming. Reed College in Portland hosted the first board-game version of Empire (at left), giving the game a Pacific Northwest home that would lead it to the HP 3000.

In 1971 Empire first emerged from Unix systems, created by Peter Langsdon at Harvard. It resurfaced under the name Civilization on an HP 2000 minicomputer at Evergreen State College, where an HP 3000 would soon arrive. When that HP 2000 was retired, the source code to Civilization was lost -- but Ben Norton wrote a new version of the game for MPE, Empire Classic, in 1984. Built in BASIC/3000, Empire became the 3000's best-known game, in part because it was included in the 3000's Contributed Software Library.

EmpireWhile Civilization began to have a graphical life on personal computers like the Amiga, Empire on the 3000 is text-only, using prompts and replies designed to build eco­nomic and polit­i­cal entities, with mil­i­tary actions included. That's right, we mean present-day: the game remains in use today, 30 years after it was first launched for MPE. 

Posted by Ron Seybold at 09:36 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (2)

February 11, 2014

Making a few more comparisons of code

CompareIt's always a good thing for the community to read about a tool they need and use, because it usually brings up some notes about allied solutions. When we wrote about replacing code comparison tools for developers who work on the 3000, we got several notes about other solutions. One can't be purchased any longer. Come to think of it, the other one cannot either -- but both of these tools can be obtained and be used in a development environment for HP 3000s.

The first is the much-beloved Whisper Programmer Studio. Bruce Hobbs left us a comment to say that this PC-based dev environment, one built to talk to the HP 3000 and files on the server, "offers a Compare Files item from their Tools menu. It does a fine job in a GUI environment."

Whisper came up in a note that our contributing editor Brian Edminster sent after the story emerged. "I still use it daily at my primary client," Edminster said, while giving us a heads-up he's still looking into how to make Notepad ++ a better player in the MPE development world. 3000 access is a problem to be solved, but Edminster specializes in open source solutions, so we'll stay in touch to see what he discovers.

In the meantime, you can enjoy his rundown on Programmer Studio versus Qedit for Windows.

The other solution for comparing files lies inside MPE/iX itself. That OS is also a product that, like the beloved Whisper, is no longer being sold. (It's being re-sold, however, each time a used 3000 changes hands.) Vesoft's Vladimir Volokh called to remind us of the hidden value inside MPE.

The HP 3000's File Copier, FCOPY, includes a COMPARE option. Vladimir called to remind us (after he mentioned celebrating his 75th birthday last week) that FCOPY COMPARE will only work on a single file at a time. "But with MPEX, you can use it on a file set," he said.

If you're able to log onto a 3000 you can find FCOPY and COMPARE with it. MPEX is for sale, so that makes a complete solution set. Alas for Whisper, it dropped out of the market. The company that built the Studio ended an 18-year run in 2009, according to company founder Graham Wooley. The UK's Whisper built and promoted the Programmer Studio PC-based toolset, selling it as a development environment which engineered exchanges with the 3000 but could be used to create programs under Windows. Robelle responded promptly with a Windows version of Qedit, and the 3000 ecosystem had a lively competition for programming tools for more than five years.

Programmer Studio seems to be available as 1. A free download, or 2. A $299 product, also downloadable. Sources include Download A to Z, and another location is googooster.blogspot.com. But with commerical products on hand, we'd urge some caution about downloading free versions of formerly commercial software. Heaven only knows what might come down into a Windows hard drive while looking for something with so much value -- but now being offered for nothing.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 09:33 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 10, 2014

No need to look far to find a PDF 3000 utility

GawkingAtPaperStackPDF is becoming the archival choice for so many companies. Documents that once moved about in formats specific to their environments, like HP 3000 reports, have been earmarked for PDF transformation. For some companies, they'll need storage of these documents outside of the 3000 disks and databases.

Ray Shahan mentioned such a project on the 3000 newsgroup recently. 

We’re looking at storing all of our printable historical transaction docs on the HP 3000 as PDF docs in a SQL Server database. We’ve looked at winpcl2pdf that uses GhostPCL, but had some issues using it due to the CCTL from the 3000.

We also are looking at two products from OpenSeas, SpoolPDF (handles the CCTL) and OpenPDF (does the conversion of PCL to PDF).  These two products seem to work fairly well (we’ve hit a snag or two with fonts, but have resolved those thus far).

It’d be ideal to have a freeware product, but that seems unlikely, so we’re just looking at other offerings to see the cost/benefits of each.

There's a 3000-friendly solution in plain sight, from a long-time provider, that handles both the PDF creation -- plus the movement onto the SQL Server database. Hillary Software supplies these utilities.

The company sells byRequest for any PDF conversions that are needed. Plus, it's got software called onHand for the SQL Server storage requirement, according to Hillary's Chuck Nickerson.

Shahan makes a good point about the true value of freeware, which can be worth what you pay for it. The 3000's got those CCTL nuances, and then there's the font issues. Hillary describes onHand as a "virtual file cabinet."

onHand is a virtual file cabinet -- an integrated content management system.  Classify, index, organize and store thousands of documents, reports, forms and data in their native file formats like PDF, Excel, HTML, Word and more.

Eliminate the clutter and clumsiness of Windows and FTP folder storage methods. E-file directly from byREQUEST into onHand.  Control document security and document retention timeframes as you publish.  Use the power of an SQL relational database with onHand for both short and long term archives.

Archiving is a mission in steep growth for HP 3000s, since the servers carry so much company history in their databases. Buying the most skilled tool can be a worthwhile investment. There are few out there that handle all reporting -- and know the world of MPE/iX and the 3000 -- as well as the Hillary products. PDF is one of the byRequest specialties.

While other products such as Sanface's txt2pdf have been bent to serve the HP 3000, byRequest is built to extract and distribute reporting from any HP 3000 application. Kim Borgman of National Wine & Spirits said, "We [use it to] e-mail all our reports now. Hardly any printing happens on the line printer anymore." byRequest has been tuned up to support secure FTP as well, according to another 3000 manager.

Nickerson said the company's 3000 plans are set for the future. "If your 3000 is plugged in, we'll support it," he said. "If it's unplugged, we'll help you plug it in." Hillary will also help move byRequest to any migration platform after it's finished working on the HP 3000.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 05:47 PM in Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 07, 2014

Code-cutter Comparing Solutions for 3000s

Npp-compareWhen a 3000 utility goes dark — because its creator has dropped MPE/iX operations, or the trail to the support business for the tool has grown faint — the 3000 community can serve up alternatives quickly. A mature operating system and experienced users offer options that are hard to beat.

One such example was Aldon Computing's SCOMPARE development tool, once a staple for 3000-based developers. It compared source files for more than 15 years in the HP 3000 world. Eventually Aldon left the MPE business. But there are a fistful of alternatives. Allegro Consultants offers a free MPE/iX solution in SCOM, located at

www.allegro.com/software/hp3000/allegro.html

At that Web page, scroll down to SCOM. Other candidates included a compare UDC from Robelle, GNU Diff, diff in the HP 3000's Posix environment, and more. If you're willing to go off the MPE reservation -- and a lot of developers work on PCs by now -- there's even a free plug-in for Notepad++, that freeware source code editor which relaces Notepad in Windows. You can download that plug-in as an open source tool at SourceForge.net

When the subject first surfaced, Bruce Collins of Softvoyage offered details on using diff in the HP 3000's Posix.

run diff.hpbin.sys;info="FILE1 FILE2"

The file names use HFS syntax so they should be entered in upper case. If the files aren't in the current account or group, they should be entered as /ACCOUNT/GROUP/FILE

Donna Hofmeister offered a tip on using Robelle's compare UDC:

Regarding Robelle's compare.  Being a scripting advocate, I strongly recommend adapting their UDC into a script.... and take a few seconds to add a wee bit of help text to the script, to make life more enjoyable for all (which is the reason for scripting, yes?)

Other environments that might be operating in the 3000 datacenter provide alternatives. Former HP engineer Lars Appel brought up a Linux option in the KDE development environment:

If using KDE, you might also find Kompare handy...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kompare (see screenshot)

On MPE, as others mentioned, there is still the Posix diff in two flavours: the HP-supplied in /bin and the GNU version that lives in /usr/local/bin. The former allows two output formats (diff and diff -c); the latter also allows “diff -u”.

Oh, regarding /bin/diff on MPE... I sometimes got “strange” errors (like “file too big”) from it when trying to compare MPE record oriented files. A workaround was to use tobyte (with -at options) to created bytestream files for diff’ing.

Appel has noted the problem of comparing numbered files, like COBOL source files, when one or both files have been renumbered.

With Posix tools, one might use cut(1) with -c option to “peel off” the line number columns before using diff(1) for comparing the “meat”. Something in the line of ... /bin/cut -c7-72 SourceFile1 > BodyText1.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 11:25 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading, User Reports, Web Resources | Permalink | Comments (1)

February 06, 2014

PowerHouse's Unicom owner is an original

UnicomSystemsAnybody can make a mistake, and we've made one about the new owners of the Powerhouse and Axiant ADT development tools. The software that was once a part of Cognos, and then became a product of IBM's, is now owned by the original, founding company of Unicom's extensive enterprises. I identified the owning division as Unicom Engineering, Inc. Not true; that group is a manufacturer of appliances.

Chief Integration Officer Eric Vaughn sent us a note to set things straight. Unicom Systems is the proud owner of software that it sees as a good value with fine prospects. Part of the story which we like best is that the oldest, most accomplished part of Unicom is the owner of a tool with genuine legacy. "He's a real original" is something that can be said about both PowerHouse and the group that now owns it.

The ADT tools were acquired by UNICOM Systems, Inc., a separate division of UNICOM Global. UNICOM Systems was the original company founded in 1981 by Corry Hong, who continues to lead all of UNICOM today. UNICOM Systems develops and supports a large portfolio of enterprise level software across multiple platforms. The ADT suite, including PowerHouse 4GL Server, PowerHouse Web and Axiant for PowerHouse, are under the care of the UNICOM Systems development and support infrastructure. See our page at http://unicomsi.com/products/powerhouse.

Vaughn also took a moment to note that over more than three decades of software development, distribution and support, nothing has ever been sent off into the sunset. Considering how much Unicom develops and sells, that's great news for a PowerHouse community with keen interest in the new ownership.

"In UNICOM's 33-year history," Vaughn said, "there never has been a single product that has been discontinued, and UNICOM has continued to support every product through the years. PowerHouse users can expect the same dedication to these products."

A company with the foresight to see a future in such a classic product, as well as a track record of no sunsets, is a rare thing in our community. It will be interesting to hear more of the story to come. Members of the Cognos LinkedIn community are already talking about it.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:06 PM in Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 03, 2014

Yours is a gathering group of users

Almost as soon as the June meeting of SIG-BAR was announced, others in your community wanted to join in. A meeting of ASK Computing manufacturing veterans and friends -- the IT managers running and developing the MANMAN app, still used in scores of companies -- want to gather in a reunion on June 14. It's just a few days after the June 12 SIG-BAR, a bit up the road in the UK.

WisemanGatorSIG-BAR, for any who don't know, is the communal gathering of HP 3000 people lately being organized by Dave Wiseman. It's named SIG-BAR because such an event usually convened at the hotel bar of the main conference hotel of Interex shows. With a beverage at hand and cocktail nuts aplenty, the HP 3000 users and vendors solved the problems of the world informally. When last call rolled around, everybody knew and trusted one another better. If they were lucky, someone had done something silly that had just made everyone who worked with machines all day seem more personal. Like Wiseman (above) posing with the inflatable alligator that he toted through the aisles at an Interex show in Orlando. Wiseman notes that "we filled it with helium at Bradmark's stand -- they were giving away balloons -- so we had high squeaky voices all evening in the bar!"

Those were the days when the bar bets could not be settled with smartphones. When the bets were about commands in MPE or model features of HP 3000s, the community's experts flexed their memory muscles.

The reunion of ASK users is just being mounted in Milton Keynes, a manufacturing town just a couple of stops up from Euston Station in London. And London is the location for the June 12 meeting of SIG-BAR at Dirty Dick's. SIG-BAR on Thursday, ASK on Saturday, all in the gentle climate of and English summer. Why go? To stay in touch with people who know how to help your continued use of HP 3000. It's the one element that always made the HP 3000 users stand out from others that I chronicled from the 1980s onward. A very social species, you've been.

Details on the ASK Reunion can be had from Sarah Tibble, formerly of ASK and one to cross the pond during those days of social travel. The networking is different by now for the Millennial generation, but Gen 3000 doesn't want to cease those days of gathering. "I was with ASK for 11 years and did about 15 US trips," she said.

Blectchley ParkMilton Keynes has some computing lure and lore of its own. The area of the UK was the site of Bletchley Park, where English cypto-wizards cracked German code in WW II using as much brain power as they could muster. The first wave of the Government Code and Cypher School moved to Bletchley Park in August, 1939. Now the buildings at Bletchley house the National Computing Museum of the UK, which includes a working reconstruction of a Colossus computer by a team headed by Tony Sale along with many important examples of British computing machinery.

As for examples of 3000 computing machinery users who have RSVP'd for SIG-BAR June 12 London, the current list, plus your host Mr. Wiseman, is

Rudi Huysmans
Ian Kilpatrick
Graham Woolley
Jason Kent
Ken Nutsford
Jeannette Nutsford
Robert Mills
Roger Lawson
Sally Blackwell
Brian Duncombe
Steve Cooper
Suzanne Cooper
Alan Yeo
Michel Kohon
Tim Cullis
Brad Tashenberg

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:13 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

January 31, 2014

The Final 3000 Quarter at Hewlett-Packard

LifeboatsIt's the final day of HP's Q1 for 2014, so in about three weeks we'll know how the company has fared in its turnaround. Analyst sites are rating the stock as a hold, or giving the company a C+ rating. It's instructive to see how much has changed from the final quarter when 3000 customers sent measurable revenues to Hewlett-Packard.

That would be the Q1 of 2009, including the final two months of HP's regular systems support sales of November-December of 2008. At the end of '08 HP closed its MPE/iX and 3000 lab. And without a lab, there was no way business critical support would offer much of an incentive to keep HP's support in a 3000 shop's IT budget.

The customers' shake-off of HP's support revenue didn't happen immediately, of course. People had signed multi-year contracts for support with the vendor. But during the start of this financial period of five years ago, there was no clear reason to expect HP to be improve for MPE/iX, even in dire circumstances. Vintage support was the only product left to buy for a 3000 through the end of 2010.

In Q1 of 2009, HP reported $28.2 billion in total sales. In its latest quarter, that number was $29.1 billion. Nearly five years have delivered only $900 million in extra sales per quarter, despite swallowing up EDS and its 140,000 consultants and billions in sales, or purchasing tens of billions of dollars worth of outside companies like Autonomy.

In January of 2009, HP 3000 revenues were even more invisible than the Business Critical Systems revenues of today. But BCS totals back then were still skidding by 15-20 percent per quarter, 20 quarters ago. And even in 2009, selling these alternatives to an HP 3000 was generating only 4 percent of the Enterprise Server group's sales. Yes, all of enterprise servers made up 2.5 percent of the 2009 HP Q1. But that hardware and networking is the short tail of the beast that was HP's server business, including the 3000. Support is the long tail, one that stretched to the end of 2008 for MPE, more than seven years HP announced the end of its 3000 business plans.

It's easy to say that the HP 3000 meant a lot to HP's fortunes. In a way it certainly did, because there was no significant business computing product line until MPE started to get stable in 1974. But the profits really didn't flow off the hardware using that 20th Century model. Support was the big earner, as the mob says of anybody who returns profits to the head of the organization. HP 3000 support was always a good earner, right up to the time HP closed down those labs and sent its wizards packing, or into other company divisions.

It had been a small business all along, this HP 3000. A billion dollars was a great quarter's worth, and the 3000 division never came close. But all of HP's business critical servers together only managed $700 million in sales -- five years ago. The profits from such customers were only significant because of support relationships. This is why those contracts were the last thing HP terminated.

This eventually became a good thing for the stalwart support companies that remained by the 3000 manager's side. At least there was no HP to quote against a company like Pivital Solutions that specializes in real MPE/iX support, for example. No vendor claims of "we can engineer a patch or software fix" that a system vendor uses to retain a customer. By January of '09, HP Support took on the remaining 3000 operations and briefed customers but offered no clue on how much contact the community might expect from support. HP's community liaison to the 3000, its business manager and lab experts departed. 

The final months of 2008, which made up that very last HP 3000 quarter, capped a year with many months of no information whatsoever from the vendor. HP didn't appear eager to address much except the migration nuances still available to companies leaving the platform. To nobody's genuine suprise, Hewlett-Packard wasn't winning much migration business from 3000 customers making a transition.

We know that's true because of a report from Stromays during 2010. Sometime during 2008, HP re-established contact with the only company that made a concerted effort to emulate an HP 3000. According to Stromasys CTO Dr. Robert Boers, three out of every four departing 3000 sites chose a non-HP environment. And without MPE/iX to support, the only money a former 3000 owner would be sending -- if they were pragmatic, and not incensed -- would've been for HP's Intel-based Proliants, running Windows.

The quarters of 2009 and 2010 might have eked out a bit of revenue from 3000 owners. Some were determined to purchase the HP support that had no hope of fixing problems via new engineering. But HP was not encouraging this by the final months of Q1, 2009

HP strongly recommends that customers request all available PowerPatches and SW Media that they may need for the remainder of the life of their e3000 systems, before December 31, 2008. Customers under Mature Product Support without Sustaining Engineering (MPS w/o SE) can still request PowerPatches and SW Media during the remainder of the Limited Support Extension, through their local HP Representative or Contract Administrator; however, processing and delivery time may vary.

The one and only source of revenue today from the HP 3000 community to HP -- something that will comprise a scant trickle of cash -- is the $432 license transfers, still in place after five years to enable an emulator to replace a 3000. 

The HP Software License Transfer process will continue to be used in the event an HP customer wishes to transfer an existing MPE/iX Right-To-Use (RTU) license from a valid e3000 system to an emulation platform of the customer’s choice that runs on other licensed HP products. It will be a system-to-system transfer, regardless of the number of CPUs on the destination platform.

Even in the situation of forcing companies off a server that was working, Hewlett-Packard attempted to keep them on hardware "that runs on other licensed HP products." Classy to the end. HP signed off in January of 2009 with a thanks for all the fish message, urging everybody to get to a lifeboat. But few of the boats would be flying an HP flag, despite these lyrical hopes.

Finally, we want to take this opportunity to thank OpenMPE, Interex, Encompass, and Connect for their dedication to customer advocacy over the years, our HP e3000 ISVs, tools, and support partners that have contributed a rich set of products and services on top of MPE/iX for our customers, and our migration service and tools partners for their invaluable services and products in assisting our customers with their migrations to other HP solutions. Most of all, our sincere thanks to our valued customers. HP looks forward to continuing to provide our customers the best-in-class services and the opportunity to serve you with other HP products.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 03:49 PM in History, Homesteading, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

January 30, 2014

Ensuring You Edit with the Right Quad

QuadsHP 3000 editors may be passe in many homesteading sites. Better tools for manipulating and tracking code are available on Linux, Unix, PC and Mac systems. But not many of them have the advantage of grabbing onto an MPE module during development. Robelle's Qedit has moved to PCs, but a 3000-native tool remains the free Quad.

You just have to be sure you're using the right version of this tool.

Walter Murray, who served in HP's Langauge Labs for many years, still likes using the MPE-centric Quad. He explained why, and noted an annoyance, too. One that another MPE veteran helped work around. Said Murray, "For editing, Quad has become my editor of choice.  Among its bothersome limitations are that the search is case-sensitive (which leads us to avoid lower case in COBOL source code, except for comments)."

Alan Yeo of ScreenJet has pointed out that the version of Quad being used makes a significant difference. "All Quads are not equal," he said. (Quad can be downloaded from a link off the 3k Associates archival website, a terrific resource for MPE software.)

Yeo explains about the many flavors of Quad, a tool which started in the labs of Quest Software several decades ago, but clearly has some utility left in it.

Whilst that case-sensitivity may be true of the HP version of Quad, it’s not true of other versions (of which there seem to be many).

For example, the HP version for LIST:

   The List command lists a range of lines.

   The format is

       List Range [Offline] [Header] [Unnumbered] [Truncate]

Meanwhile, a Quest/SRN version has CASE NONLIT and WILDCARD options on LIST, FIND, CHANGE

    The List command lists a range of lines.

   The format is

       List Range [Offline] [Header] [Unnumbered] [Truncate]

         [Case] [Nonlit] [Wild]

So the Quest version given :L A I"mpe" will by default list any line containing the string in any case combination unless CASE is specified -- whereas the HP version can only show lines containing the exact match.

It is therefore wise to check what version of Quad you are using especially when logging on to a different HP 3000 than you do normally.

 

Posted by Ron Seybold at 01:52 PM in Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

January 28, 2014

Cross-pond experts to meet in UK

TransatlanticLast month, Dave Wiseman organized the first SIG-BAR meeting in more than a decade in London. The turnout at what was an HP 3000 social and networking event was encouraging enough to put another meeting on the calendar. This one is going to have some HP 3000 experts on hand from across the pond, as we like to say about Transatlantic travels.

The next SIGBAR event is June 12, to be held at the same Dirty Dick's tavern and meeting room as the December 5 gathering. This time around, Brian Duncombe of Triolet Systems and Steve Cooper of Allegro are making the journey to be on hand. It's a long way from Canada, in Duncombe's case, or California for Cooper to re-connect with 3000 contacts. But yours is a world that was always founded in community.

And frankly, being in London in June is a brighter prospect than a December day. Literally. While traveling to London more than a decade ago in winter, the sun sets about 4 PM. To contrast, it comes up before 5 in the same month when Wimbeldon kicks off.

Duncombe, for the 3000 user who doesn't know him, created some high-caliber database shadowing and performance measurement software for MPE during the 1980s and into the '90s. He's planning a journey round-trip from Toronto that will literally span about 48 hours on the Canadian clock. That's how much he's engaged with the community and old friends. "I sleep well on planes," Duncombe said.

"I leave Toronto about 10pm on Wednesday June 11, arriving late morning on Thursday the 12th," Duncombe said. "It is about an hour train/tube to the gathering. I then leave Friday morning, arriving home Friday afternoon. While the flight times are each a couple of hours longer, I sleep well on planes, and the cost and total time away is about the same as going to California."

Cooper, one of Allegro's founders, didn't want California 3000 masters to be unrepresented -- so he's making the trip with his wife Suzanne. Alan Yeo, ScreenJet's founder and a fellow English 3000 expert, has also committed to being at the meeting.

Wiseman, who was well-known among 3000 customers as a live wire working for database companies before starting up Millware in the late 1990s, has been persistent in keeping the 3000 fellowship lamp lit in the UK. He presented details.

The feedback from the venue we had last time was pretty positive, so I have booked the upstairs of Dirty Dick’s again from 3PM onwards, and we have it for the evening

Dirty Dicks
202 Bishopsgate
London EC2M 4NR
Tel : 020 7283 5888

Since I hear that we may have at least two participants from North America, to the rest of you, please do come over. (Why not have a weekend in London?) Closest hotels are the South Palace Hotel (approx £206/night) or the Liverpool Street Hyatt (approx £320/night advance booking)

It would be helpful if we can get approximate numbers for attendees, so that they set aside a large enough area for us. So please, could you confirm/reconfirm if you plan to attend? As always, please do pass this on to anyone who you think would be interested

Dave Wiseman
[email protected]
+44 777 555 7017
Skype:  davebwiseman

Posted by Ron Seybold at 11:36 PM in Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

January 23, 2014

Unicom sets new roadmap for Powerhouse

Nobody is certain what will happen to the Powerhouse ADT tools in 2014, but it's certain they're not going to remain the same as they've been since before 2009. For the first time in five years, the Powerhouse, Powerhouse Web and Axiant advanced development software will be getting new versions.

RoadmapThe new versions were announced on the LinkedIn Cognos Powerhouse section, a 320-member group that for the moment is closed and requires approval of a moderator to join. (The HP3000 Community section of LinkedIn, now at 618 members, is the same sort of group; but admission there only requires some experience with MPE/iX and the 3000 to become a member. I was approved in the Cognos Powerhouse group in less than 24 hours.)

Up on LinkedIn, Larry Lawler told the members of the group that "Unicom is an Enterprise Software company, and fully committed to the further development of the Cognos ADT suite." Lawler is Chief Technology Officer at Unicom Global. He mapped out the future for the software's 2014, calling the following list "New Version Release Considerations."

• PowerHouse 4GL Server - V420 Early Release (EA) scheduled for 2Q/2014
• Axiant 4GL - V420 Early Release (EA) scheduled for 2Q/2014
• PowerHouse Web - V420 Early Release (EA) scheduled for 2Q/2014
• PowerHouse 4GL Server - V420 General Release (GA) scheduled for 3Q/2014
• Axiant 4GL - V420 General Release (GA) scheduled for 3Q/2014
• PowerHouse Web - V420 General Release (GA) scheduled for 3Q/2014

There's a 90-day period of crossover as Unicom acquires these assets and arranges the integration into its development and support team.

"Due to the transition services agreement with IBM, please continue to follow the existing IBM Technical Support Procedures," Lawler said. "We value our relationships with our customers, and we assure each of you that great care will be taken to ensure this transition is a smooth one. Once the transition has completed, please contact 818-838-0606 for the Unicom technical support team."

Lawler added that after the 90-day period, which ends April 1, customers can contact Unicom about issues at [email protected], in addition to the phone contact. Overseas customers will be able to call +1 973 526 3900. A list of UK and European office locations for Unicom is at www.macro4.com/en/about/contact-us.

"It will be nice to see some forward movement of the product," said Brian Stephens, Powerhouse Lead at transition services and application support firm Fresche Legacy. The company formerly known as Speedware had an arrangement to support Powerhouse customers in 2007, before the sale of Cognos to IBM.  “And maybe some backwards movement... like putting Powerhouse back on the [IBM] iSeries.”

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:59 PM in Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

January 22, 2014

UDALink for MPE adds capability and speed

CubesMB Foster is rolling out news of a refreshed UDALink for MPE, software that handles data access and delivery, reporting writing, client-server and analytic capabilites for HP 3000 customers. Those capabilities got a lift in the latest release, as well as speed improvements. UDALink is part of what the company calls its Universal Data Access (UDA) Series of products.

HP has been working to upgrade its PC-using customers to Windows 7 this year, using repeated attempts to wrench Windows XP servers out of enterprises. A recent webpage pointed to HP's equanimity about moving to 7 or 8. An article on a ZDNet website said that HP's never stopped selling Windows 7, really, even though the version has become hard to get in the consumer market. HP seems to understand that its customers might not be prepared for the "Tile World" of Windows 8. Windows 8.1 regained the venerable Start button that Microsoft lost in its 8.0 release. But choosing between either of these updates to PCs can lead a customer to upgrade its free, ODBCLink/SE bundle-ware in MPE/iX to UDALink, Foster said in a release.

UDALink is the logical upgrade path if the organization is considering:

• Upgrading desktops to Windows 7/8
• Deploying a DataWarehouse or Operational Data Stores
• Deploying generic or strategic DataMarts as part of your enterprise reporting strategy
• Required to extract, off-load or preserve legacy data on Microsoft SQL Server
• Upload data into a cloud application like Salesforce  

New capabilities of the latest release of connectivty software include a 64-bit driver; QuickConnect and support for JDBC3 and JDBC4; support for the ultimate version of Powerhouse, 8.49F; along with the ability to run in the emulated Stromasys HPA Charon environment -- which expands the potential uses of UDALink.

UDALink started its long lifespan in the late 1980s as DataExpress, then one of the seminal client-server access utilities for putting IMAGE/SQL data onto user desktop applications. It's evolved and grown to embrace the latest in software standards as well as new strategies such as cloud computing. Foster says that the software adheres to both Windows ODBC and Oracle/Sun Java standards. "It uniquely combines middleware technology with Microsoft Windows 7/8 desktop applications, and any Business Intelligence product, to help you get up and running fast."

MB Foster reports that it is offering a 30-day downloadable evaluation version of the software. The company's labs created the bedrock ODBC software that's installed on every HP 3000, ODBCLink/SE. It then took over for HP's ODBC labs in 2007. UDALink extends that rudimentary access capability. Not as many companies aim a new release at MPE/iX customers by now. There are hundreds of sites using UDALink today, according to the vendor.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:44 PM in Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

January 21, 2014

Hewlett-Packard decays, not a 3000 killer

HalflifedecayThe Unicom acquisition of Powerhouse assets finally showed up in the news section of the Series i and AS/400 world. The website Four Hundred Stuff ran its report of the transaction which proposes to bring new ideas and leadership to one of the oldest tools in the 3000 community. It will be another 10 weeks or so before Unicom makes any announcements about the transaction's impacts. We're looking forward to talking to Russ Guzzo of the company once more, to get some reaction to the idea of transferring licenses for the Powerhouse ADT suite. Millions of dollars worth of tools are out there on 3000s that will go into the marketplace.

We're not eager to hear one of the more unfocused definitions of what happened to the HP 3000 more than 12 years ago. According to Four Hundred Stuff, Hewlett-Packard killed the HP 3000 more than a decade ago. Not even close to being accurate. HP did kill off the future for itself to particpate in the 3000 community. Eventually it killed off its own labs for MPE and PA-RISC hardware. Eventually it will kill off the support business it still offers for a handful of customers, relying on a handful of MPE experts still at HP. 

The 3000's operating system lives on, in spots like the one the IBM newsletter pointed out. We find it interesting that within a month, the company that created the first virtualized HP 3000, Stromasys, and the company that created the most widely installed 4GL, both had assets purchased by deep-pocketed new owners. Powerhouse itself is entrenched in some places where IT managers would like to get rid of it. At UDA, a Canadian firm, a Powerhouse application is scheduled for removal. But it's complex, a living thing at this company. Fresche Legacy, formerly Speedware, is reported to be maintaining that Powerhouse app for UDA while a transition comes together.

The IT manger realized, however, that it wouldn't be easy or inexpensive to replace the system, and that a thorough assessment and long-term plan was the best approach. The first step, however, was to ensure the viability of the aging system for the foreseeable future. A search for IBM PowerHouse experts quickly lead Mr. Masson to Fresche Legacy.

In these sorts of cases and more, the HP 3000 lives on. Not killed by by its creator vendor. If any definition of what happened can be applied, HP sent the 3000 into the afterlife. Its customer base is decaying with a half-life, but only at a different rate than the IT managers reading Four Hundred Stuff.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 10:22 PM in Homesteading, Migration, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

January 20, 2014

How to convert 3000 packed decimal data?

Independent consultant Dan Miller wrote us to hunt down the details on converting between data types on the HP 3000. He's written a utility to integrate VPlus, IMAGE/SQL and Query for updating and modifying records. We'll let Miller explain. He wants to expand his utility that he's written in SPL -- the root language of MPE -- to include packed decimal data.

Can you tell me how to transfer a packed decimal to ASCII for display, then convert ASCII characters to the corresponding packed decimal data item?

I wrote a utility that integrates VPlus, IMAGE/SQL and Query, one that I used in a Federal services contract for data entry and word processing. Basically, VIQ lets me design a VPlus screen with field names the same as IMAGE data items. From the formatted screen a function key drops you into Query. You select the records to be maintained, specify "LP" as output, and execute the "NUMBERS" command (a file equation for QSLIST is necessary before this). From there, you can scroll thru the records, modify any field, and update. I never marketed it commercially, but I have used it at consulting customer sites.

I recently had occasion to use it at a new customer's site and realized that I never programmed it to handle packed decimal format numbers; the customer has a few defined in their database. Typically, database designers use INTEGER or DOUBLE INTEGER formats for numeric data, which occupy even less space -- the goal of using packed decimal) employing ASCII/DASCII, or BINARY/DBINARY intrinsics.

I need to discover the proper intrinsics to transfer the packed decimal numbers to ASCII characters and back. I'm sure there's a way, as QUERY does it. In COBOL, I think the "MOVE" converts it automatically, but my utility is written in SPL.

HP's documentation on data types conversion includes some help on this challenge. But Miller hopes that the readers of the Newswire can offer some other suggestions, too. Email me with your suggestions and we'll share them with the readers.

In the Data Types Conversion Programmer's Guide (tip of the hat to HP MM Support), we read about techniques to convert to real data types when when working outside of the COBOL library and compiler. From HP's documentation:

To Packed Decimal  

The compiler procedure HPACCVBD converts a signed binary integer to a packed decimal.  The input number is considered to be in twos complement form, from 2 to 12 bytes long. 

Packed-decimal procedures must be declared as intrinsics to be called from within high-level NM languages. In languages other than COBOL and RPG, follow these steps to convert from an input real to a packed decimal:

   1.  Multiply or divide the real number by an appropriate power of 10. 

   2.  Convert the resulting value to an base-ten integer. 

   3.  Convert that integer to a decimal.

The MOVE command is used to change one decimal to another within COBOL or RPG. But outside of COBOL or RPG, use the compiler library functions HPPACSRD and HPPACSLD to perform right and left shifts on packed decimals. You specify the amount of offset (the number of digits to be shifted).

To convert a packed decimal to a BASIC decimal, you should convert first to a twos complement integer or type ASCII, and then convert to decimal within BASIC with an assignment.  For example, assign an integer value to a decimal with decval = intval * n0, where n00 is the appropriate power of 10.  To convert between ASCII and decimal, use the VAL or VAL$ internal functions.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 01:55 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

January 17, 2014

Licensing software means no resales, right?

No-saleAlmost for a long as software's been sold, it has not really been purchased. There were the days when a company would pay for the actual source code to programs, software which was then theirs to modify and use as they pleased. Well, not as they pleased entirely. Even a sale of the vintage MRP software source for MANMAN had conditions. You couldn't resell it on the market as your own product, for example.

Ownership of software has been defined by licenses-to-use in your enterprise market. When a municipality in Southern California switched off its HP 3000 Series 969 -- 12 years after it began to migrate in-house programs to Windows .NET -- the software on the old system immediately lost all of its value. Not the programs written to serve departments like Building and Permits. Those apps belong to the city forever. But the tools used to build them -- specifically a high-dollar copy of Powerhouse -- become worthless once the city stops using them.

You can pass along the value of MPE/iX and its included software subsystems -- TurboStore for backups, IMAGE/SQL, even COBOL -- when you sell and transfer ownership of an HP 3000. But third-party software is controlled by a different sort of license. At least it has been up to now. Here in the HP 3000's afterlife, there's a potential for another sort of license transfer. In the case of Powerhouse, its new owners Unicom Systems get to define license terms. It's never been a matter of ownership, because that always remains with its vendor. A retired product manager of Powerhouse checked in to remind us of that.

Bob Deskin was a constant voice in the Powerhouse community for more than 20 years, even passing out information about the 4GL after Cognos was sold to IBM. A decade after HP stopped building the 3000, Deskin retired from IBM, but he had a personal opinion to share about ongoing Powerhouse value.

"Keep in mind, as is the case with most software, the product was licensed to the buyer, not sold," he said. "And as such, the rights cannot be transferred without the permission of the owner, who is now Unicom."

When a computer becomes a vintage machine and has lost its original value -- like the Series 969 in Southern California -- a company is resigned to knowing it will never be worth the 70 grand originally paid for the product. Transferring rights is a process the vendor defines. Now Unicom has the opportunity to establish its own terms for that arrangement. So far, nobody from the Powerhouse community can recall a transfer of a license.

Alan Yeo of ScreenJet, a company deeply involved in development tools for the HP 3000, walked through the possibilities for considering a software license transfer of anything other than an operating system and subsystems on the 3000.

In general most software is sold as a "license to use" by an individual/organization. The terms of that license will determine if it is transferable and under what circumstances/terms.  It is not unusual in a license agreement for a license to be transferable with the agreement of the licensor and that such approval should not be unreasonably withheld.

The reason for this is that Companies, Organizations and the like quite frequently buy/sell parts of themselves, or complete businesses, and systems normally come/go as part of the deal. Thus it is quite normal for software licenses to be transferred to the new owners.

Most software companies -- if the software remains under support -- are normally only too happy to agree. A nominal administrative fee may be charged (although I have never seen one) and there may be some adjustment in the support fees charged. (For example, if the seller had multiple of copies on a discounted basis, and the new owner has taken one out of the bunch).

I have seen Cognos products change hands in this manner without any fees many times, and even seen support period balances carried over. At times, even when a company has been into liquidation and bought out again ("liquidation/administration/bankruptcy" is quite often a specific clause that terminates a license agreement).

So unless Cognos just chose not to enforce specific terms of their license at these times (which may be possible to retain support revenues) I would suspect that their license does allow transfer. But you would have to ask someone who has one.

If it does allow transfer, then the case of that Series 969 is interesting. Even though I suspect that the license does exclude the resale of the license, if the hardware and software was transferred as part of a business sale (like if someone was selling the legacy applications part of their business) then I suspect that theoretically Cognos would have found it hard not to allow a license transfer. Of course, how easy they made that transfer would depend on if there was an existing support contract, and if the purchaser of the business was intending to take out support.

We're going to have a chat with Unicom about these Powerhouse prospects soon, and we'll report back on what we're told. Unicom's Russ Guzzo is monitoring the Powerhouse newsgroup mailing list, where we've started to ask about the terms and the experiences of licenses and licensees.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 05:35 PM in Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

January 16, 2014

Replacing parts a part of the 3000 lifestyle

We'd like to hear from the community about 3000 parts: the ones that will push them away from MPE, as well as the parts that will keep decade-old servers running. Check in with me at [email protected].

Junkyard salvageCustomers who continue to rely on HP 3000s place great store on parts. Spare parts, the kind that tend to wear out sooner than others like disk drives, or the ones which can force a company into disaster recovery like a CPU board. The veterans in the community know that there's no support without a source of parts. And the demise of 3000 installations, like a well-run junkyard, can be a source.

However, a dearth of spare parts forced one 3000 customer into entering the world of HP 3000 emulation. Warren Dawson had systems that were aging and no clear way to replace what might fail inside them. Dawson's in Australia, a more remote sector of the 3000 empire. But his need became the spark that moved HP's iron out and replaced it with Intel-based hardware. Commodity became the follow-on costume that Dawson's information now plays in.

While there are portions of the HP 3000's high-failure parts list that can be replaced with third party components -- drives come to mind -- a lot of the 3000's body is unique to Hewlett-Packard's manufacture. Another company in Mexico, a manufacturing site, moved its applications off MPE because it figured that replacing 15-year-old servers was a dicey proposition at best.

This leads us to our latest report of HP 3000 parts, coming from a switched-off site in California. Roger Perkins has a Series 969 that he's working to give away. Like everybody who paid more than $50,000 for a 3000, he'd like to believe that it has value remaining. But on the reseller market, he might be fortunate to get a broker to haul it off.

Those who do are likely to take the system for its parts. What's more, the HP 3000s that are going offline are not the only resource for replacement parts. Other HP servers can supply this market, too. Finding these parts is the skill that homesteading managers must master.

One of our bedrock sponsors, Pivital Solutions, makes a point of ensuring that every support customer has a depot-based spare parts source. Whatever you'd need to get back online, they've got on hand. Not something to be hunted down, ordered and then shipped in a few days. Steve Suraci of Pivital asked questions back in 2012 that still need answers, if homesteading's risk is to be fully considered. And sometimes the parts aren't even inside a 3000. They just have a MPE version that's got to be hunted down, if a support provider doesn't depot-stock parts. Hostess Brands had a Series 969 back then, one which needed an fiber router.

How many HP 3000 shops are relying on support providers that are incompetent and/or inept? The provider was willing to take this company's money, without even being able to provide reasonable assurance that they had replacement parts in a depot somewhere in the event of failure. There are still reputable support providers out there. Your provider should not be afraid to answer tough questions about their ability to deliver on an SLA.

The easy questions to answer for a client are "Can you supply me support 24x7?" or "What references will you give me from your customers?" Harder questions are "Where do you get your answers from for MPE questions?" Or even, "Do you have support experts in the 3000 who can be at my site in less than a day?"

But Suraci was posing one of the harder questions. "Here are my hardware devices: do you have spares in stock you're setting aside for my account?" Hardware doesn't break down much in the 3000 world. But a fiber router is not a 3000-specific HP part. Hewlett-Packard got out of the support business for 3000s for lots of reasons, but one constant reason was that 3000-related spare parts got scarce in the HP supply chain.

There are other support companies that guarantee parts availability. But many sources of support services to keep 3000s online wait to acquire customer parts as needed. Some of them pull components like power supplies out of the plentiful HP-UX servers from the early decade of this century. HP called those boxes K-Classes, servers that were both Series 800s as well as Series 900s.

A Series 969 server like the one turned off by Perkins and pushed to the curb serves a need for homesteaders. A reseller first has to take it out of a datacenter, clean up and test what's inside the cabinet, then do triage on what's worth keeping in the 3000 food chain. Not many places have enough storage to run the equivalent of an auto salvage yard. You know, the kind of place where a steering wheel bearing you need is deep inside a junked Dodge Dart.

Depending on the model of HP 3000, many have value in their spare parts. An owner who's getting rid of a 3000 shouldn't expect much compensation for a system they're selling off for parts. But the operators in the 3000 community who are both selling used systems as well as supporting these servers need a supply of components. How much they need depends on the limitations of available warehouse space.

Governments are beginning to insist on responsible recycling. Purchasing a computer in California now includes a recycling fee built into the sale at retail and consumer spots like Best Buy. But Goodwill Industries' Reconnect takes on many computers, regardless of their working status.

There's a lot to consider when keeping an HP 3000 running as a mission-critical component. MB Foster summed up the elements well in a Sustainability Plan document you can download from their website. Way back in 2010, Foster asked some good questions that a Sustainability Plan should answer.

Okay, so let’s look at the impact of a crash on Friday afternoon when the HP 3000 was backed up last Saturday (you do verify your backup tapes, right?) You have a full backup from last Saturday and daily backups from Monday through Thursday. The spare parts are not on site, and you have to contact your provider to get the parts and a skilled technician to the site, and then you can start restoring your hardware and application environments. How long will it take to restore all the data, applications and the whole system?

Way, way back in 2005 -- yes, more than eight years ago -- one of the bigger sources of HP hardware said the savvy customers were arranging for their own inventory of spare parts. Genisys' Robert Gordon said that customers who know the 3000 have their own spare parts options to rely upon.

"They're either going to go to third party maintenance, or they're going to self-maintain," Gordon said. "I think a lot of people are technically savvy on the 3000; they know it's not rocket science, and they're going to buy spare board kits. So we're going to see that business pick up. We'll see a lot 3000 sales in the year 2006." There are fewer 3000s to sell in the marketplace today. But that doesn't matter as much as locating the ones which are still around.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:35 PM in Homesteading, Migration, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

January 15, 2014

Foundation for the Emulator, 5 Years Later

Greek columnsThis month five years ago, we reported that HP had revised its licensing to accomodate for a hardware emulator that could run MPE/iX. No such product existed, but the evidence started to surface that Hewlett-Packard wouldn't stand in the way of any software or hardware that'd step in for PA-RISC servers.

It would take another three years, but a working product was released into the customer base despite serious doubts voiced back in 2009. One customer, IT director James Byrne at Canadian shipping brokerage Harte Lyne, said HP was unlikely to allow anything like an emulator to run into the market.

It is more than seven years since the EOL announcement for the HP 3000. If an emulator was going to appear, then one reasonably expects that one would be produced by now. Also, HP has demonstrated an intractable institutional resistance to admitting that the HP 3000 was a viable platform, despite their own 2001 assessment to the contrary. This has had, and cannot but continue to have, a baleful influence on efforts at cooperation with HP by those producing and intending to use said (non-extant) emulators.

During that 2009, Stromasys got the HP cooperation required to eventually release a 1.0 version, and then a 1.3. After more engineering in 2013, a 1.5 version has just been rolled out. So has a new company ownership structure, according to its website. Changes remain the order of the day for the 3000 community, even among those who are homesteading or building DR systems with such virtualized 3000s.

The privately-held Stromasys announced at its latest annual general meeting that it has a new major shareholder, as well as a new CEO. Australian George Koukis has become the chairman and majority shareholder of the company. He's the creator of the Temenos banking software solution, sold by the Temenos Group that is traded on the Swiss Stock Exchange and headquartered in Geneva. Stromasys began its operations in Switzerland, founded by Dr. Robert Boers after his career in the Digital Migration Assistance Center there.

KourkisKoukis founded Temenos in 1993, but his work in IT management goes back to the era of the HP 3000's birth. In 1973 Koukis began his career at the Australian air carrier QANTAS, and after computerizing the airline's accounting and management systems, moved on to Management Science America in Australia. He became Managing Director there. By 1986 he was introducing Ross Systems and the Digital VAX servers to Asian companies. Koukis took Temenos public in 2001 and retired in 2011. One website, Greek Rich List, whose mission is to "celebrate and document entrepreneurial stories, and to inspire young entrepreneurs and to promote Greek heritage and culture" placed Koukis on its list last year with a reported wealth of $320 million. The website noted that Temenos AG is worth $3 billion. Koukis remains on its board as Non-Executive Director.

At the same time, Koukis has brought in a new CEO, while Ling Chang has been retained to "build the new services business in North America first.

"This completes Dr. Robert Boers' retirement plan," she said, "and he serves as the Technology Adviser to the Board. For the HP 3000, we have a new employee, Doug Smith, to provide both sales and pre-sales functions. We are very excited about the strategic change, as this brings new investment and energy to the market we serve."

The new CEO is John Prot, who began his career at The Prudential in 1988 and has 25 years of experience in business development, operations, and finance. Before joining Stromasys, Prot managed the Hertz Greece car leasing business with a fleet portfolio of 15,000 vehicles, the company's release noted.

Prior positions include serving as restructuring CEO of two airport logistics companies with c. 1,000 staff, as an investment director at Global Finance, a leading private equity institutional investor in Southeast Europe, and as an equities analyst at ING Barings. He is a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) and has a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from Oxford University.

The 1.5 release of CHARON HPA/3000 was mentioned in a November press announcement. Details on its enhancements are being made available to VAR partners, but the goal for this release was to match the fastest three models of the HP 3000's N-Class servers, and to exceed them. Stromasys described the release as focusing on "improved performance of the HP 3000 guest machine," meaning the system that's emulated from the Linux "cradle" that steers this emulator.

Five years ago, Byrne had one other set of issues with the concept of a 3000 emulator. MPE/iX, he said, was far behind other environments in features such as file transfers, compatibility with leading-edge networking protocols, as well as price-performance valuations.

An MPE/iX emulator, given the OS’s dated capabilities, would be a hard sell for most company’s IT departments, even if it and the license transfer were free. Having to pay for either, and no doubt facing considerable third party fees to transfer licenses like [Powerhouse] and such, makes this path a non-starter in all but what can only be a very few extreme cases.

The relative value of MPE/iX capabilities is a matter for every user to consider, although it should be balanced against the risks of attempting to change application platforms. (For some companies, there are risks to stay as well, depending on who's doing hardware support. But an emulator running on Intel servers could resolve that risk.)

It ought to be noted, though, that Powerhouse has a new owner in nearly the same timeframe. If somehow the financially-boosted Stromasys of 2014 could work with a Powerhouse ownership that believes it has bought solid technology, it's up to the markets to decide what is a starter, and what is not. The emulator has gained a majority shareholder who founded a $3 billion software company, and it's added a CEO with degrees from Oxford.

The questions five years ago included, "Will any MPE/iX emulator be permitted by HP to run on an open source OS, and commodity hardware?" The answer in 2014 is yes to both, with the open source Linux cradle for CHARON sitting firmly on the foundation of Intel's x86 family. It's interesting to take note of the fresh limbs in this arm of the 3000's family tree, too.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 09:39 PM in Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

January 14, 2014

PowerHouse licenses loom as used value

PowerhouseAt the City of Long Beach, a Series 969 has been decommissioned and powered down. It's waiting for a buyer, a broker, or a recycler to take it to another location. But the most costly single piece of this HP 3000 might be rolling out the door unclaimed. It all depends on how the new owners of PowerHouse, and the other 4GL products from Cognos, treat license transfers.

Hewlett-Packard is glad to transfer its MPE/iX licenses from one customer to another. The software doesn't exist separately from the 3000 hardware, says HP. A simple $432 fee can carry MPE from one site to another, and even onto the Intel hardware where the CHARON emulator awaits. You've got to buy a 3000 to make this happen, but the 969 at Long Beach could be had at a very low price.

For the Powerhouse license, this sort of transfer is more complicated. An existing PowerHouse customer could transfer their license to another 3000 they owned. Cognos charged a fee for this. At the City of Long Beach, there's $100,000 of PowerHouse on the disk drives and the array that goes with that 3000. It's hard to believe that six figures of product will slide into a disk shredder. Some emulator prospects have seen that kind of quote just to move their PowerHouse to the emulator.

But the new owners of PowerHouse have said that everything is going to be considered in these earliest days of their asset acquisition. Right now, Unicom Systems owns the rights to licenses like the one at Long Beach. If the company could turn that $100,000 purchase in the 1980s into a living support contract -- with the chance to earn more revenue if PowerHouse ever got new engineering -- what would the risk be for Unicom?

The obvious risk would be that PowerHouse might never gain another new customer. Used systems could be transferred instead of copies of the 8.49F release being sold. But let's get realistic for a moment. A new MPE/iX customer for PowerHouse, PowerHouse Web, or Axiant, on a computer no longer being sold or supported by HP, is not much of a genuine opportunity cost.

Instead, Unicom could be focusing on maintaining support revenues on such $100,000 licenses. The current Vintage Support fees are, according to a recent report, running in the $6,500 yearly range for a 9x9 server. You could make an argument that $6,500 yearly wouldn't be much to a Cognos running a much larger business objects product lineup. When all you're selling with a PowerHouse badge is the ADT software, however, the support money could well matter more to Unicom.

"That PowerHouse cost us $100,000 just to upgrade," said Roger Perkins at Long Beach. "But the license goes with the 3000's serial number, I think."

Could a used 3000, whose operating system license can be transferred for $432, be used for Powerhouse work by a new owner of the system? It's something for the executives at Unicom to consider, if they're serious about keeping PowerHouse alive and even growing.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 11:26 PM in Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

January 09, 2014

Eloquence: Making a Bunny Run Elsewhere

An email poll over the last week asked 3000 owners and their suppliers what was in store for their systems this month. One reader in Long Beach, Roger Perkins, has a 3000 they've shut down at the City of Long Beach and wants to find "somebody who's interested in taking that out for us. I don't know if it's worth any money, but I was hoping we wouldn't have to pay anyone to take it out." Perkins left his number for a recommendation on recycling a 3000: 562-570-6054.

Energizer bunnyOur experience with this situation is that individuals -- fellow 3000 owners -- will be interested in the machine for parts, provided they don't have to bear too much freight costs. But there's something more unique than a collection of slower CPU boards and decade-plus-old discs on hand. The city has an MPE/iX license attached to its 3000. It's a system element that's not being sold any more, and essential to getting a virtualized 3000 online.

But little will change in that sort of transition transaction, except the location of a boot drive. In contrast, at Genisys Total Solutions, Bill Miller checked in to report that a change in databases has extended the reach of the application software for financials that has been sold by Genisys since the 1970s.

Though we have migrated all of our software to a Windows platform running Eloquence, we still have an HP 3000 that has been in operation for close to 13 years and has not failed at all during that time. We still support a handful of HP 3000 clients, who also seem to think the HP 3000 is the Energizer Bunny and see no reason to move from it.

Our main business is selling and supporting our applications on the PC platform. We have found Eloquence (as is IMAGE) to be a reliable and easy to maintain database.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:25 PM in Homesteading, Migration, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

January 08, 2014

Unicom sees PowerHouse as iconic estate

The new owners of the PowerHouse software products are talking about their Dec. 31 purchase in a way the 4GL's users haven't heard since the golden era of the 3000. While Unicom Systems is still fleshing out its plans and strategy, the company is enhancing the legacy technology using monetary momentum that was first launched from legendary real estate -- an iconic Hollywood film star home and a Frank Lloyd Wright mansion.

WingsweepReal estate in the wine district of Temeulca, the Wright-inspired Wingsweep -- "a remarkable handcrafted residence that is Piranesian in scale" -- along with the iconic PickFair Mansion first built by Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks comprise several early vertebrae in the backbone of a 32-company global conglomerate. VP of Sales and Marketing Russ Guzzo, who told us he was Employee 4 in an organization that now numbers thousands, said Unicom's real estate group was once a seedbed for acquisition capital.

Screen Shot 2014-01-08 at 8.17.14 PMIn the days when Unicom was smaller, "we used to [mortgage] those properties, then buy another company and go from there. We used these real estate assets to fund some of our acquisitions in the early days." Operating with cash to acquire assets such as Powerhouse is a mantra for Unicom's Korean-American founder Corry Hong, said Guzzo. "Our CEO likes to pay cash, so he's in control that way."

Guzzo said he's been put in charge of organizing the plan for the latest acquired assets. The former Cognos 4GL is the first Advanced Development Tools (ADT) acquisition for a company that has more than 300 products, counts a longstanding partner relationship with IBM, and now owns assets for Powerhouse, Axiant, and Powerhouse Web.

The piece that remains to be established is how much of the IBM-Cognos staff and executives will be coming along as part of the acquisition. Longtime product manager Bob Deskin retired during 2013, but Christina Haase and Charlie Maloney were on hand when the cash purchase was finalized.

PickfairThe company is spending the next 90 days talking to PowerHouse customers and partners to determine what the next step is for a software product which is, in some ways, as much of a legacy to the 3000 as PickFair is to Hollywood mansions. "We buy very solid technology, and then make it better," Guzzo said one week after the asset purchase was announced. It will be several months before an extensive FAQ on the new ownership is ready, he added. "Eventually, each and every customer will be visited," he said.

But he pointed out that Unicom "has never sunsetted a product. That's not our mindset. We find successful technology and say, 'We can make this better. This will be a nice fit for our customers.'  There's going to be a lot of new enhancements. We got feedback from people that they've never really gotten a lot of new [PowerHouse] enhancements or releases. That's all going to change."

Real estate mortgaging is no longer needed to fund the M&A at Unicom. PickFair is now the site of corporate social functions, while Wingsweep serves as a corporate training site and retreat. But few technology companies of Unicom's size can boast of a real estate operation with such legendary and evocative properties. Another 70-acre pedestrian gated master planned community, Roripaugh Ranch

is a 70 acre tract of land in Roripaugh Ranch, and Unicom is working with local authorities in the planning of a UNICOM IT Village. The IT Village will host a range of services, products and distribution facilities creating critical jobs in the US IT industry in one of the most attractive locations in the country.

Building out the future of PowerHouse may be a project that requires as much energy as jump-starting an idled front-end loader. Customers in the 3000 community and those in the VMS world have been vocal about seeing little that's new in the software. Cognos froze development on the 8.49F version of PowerHouse and PowerHouse Web, as well as Axiant 3.4F, before selling itself to IBM in 2009. 

That purchase was focused on IBM taking hold of the Business Intelligence and Business Objects products and customers that Cognos developed. BI represented most of the company's revenues; the ADT unit was the equivalent of pocket change in the scope of the total Cognos picture, although the operation was profitable. Some measure of that success came from rigorous pursuit of upgrade licensing and renewal charges for PowerHouse. Moving applications built from the 4GL sometimes stood in the way of upgrading an MPE installation. The 4GL is still working at major manufacturers in both MPE and OpenVMS versions, more than three decades after its introduction.

"That's 30-year-old technology, but it's solid," Guzzo said. "It's been looked at [by us], and there's a lot of opportunity there. It's just that there was really nothing being put into it, not that we saw. Now the development team is doing their best to figure out what they want to do with that. With that comes a lot of interviews with the current customers."

Unicom intends to learn what customers are doing with PowerHouse, how they're implementing it, and what plans they've got to go forward with the 4GL. The last wholesale upgrade to the solution came when Axiant, a Windows development bench meant to interoperate like Visual Basic with the product, was introduced in the 1990s. That led to an 8.1 release of the 4GL. The ultimate version was 8.49, frozen some 10 years later.

The company's attempts to serve both the evolution needs of existing PowerHouse applications as well as Visual Basic-style PC development through Axiant didn't work. "It was in response to what people were asking for," said Robert Collins, director of Cognos 4GL product development in 1997. "In retrospect, that was not the right way to go about it. It's very hard to bring out a new product and accommodate 15 years of history at the same time."

But Cognos always believed that its PowerHouse apps would outlast the hardware where they've been hosted since the early 1980s. A director of customer operations in 2003, Bob Berry, said customers "may be choosing to maintain their environment as it exists today, and migrate in three to five years. Or they will keep those legacy apps on the 3000 box in the corner of the room and it will run forever, and they’ll take on some kind of high-falutin’ application company-wide. These legacy apps will always be there.”

Like other 3000 software providers, PowerHouse generated a good share of its MPE revenues from support contracts. These are among the assets that Unicom has purchased. One example is a $6,500 yearly fee for a a small A-Class server. Berry said in 2003 those support renewal dollars “have declined very gradually, and they have declined because of the change of the cost of the license. There was a rapid decline after Y2K, but it’s going down at a slower pace now."

Leaving the product in Vintage Support status "is all being re-evaluated," Guzzo said. "We're tickled pink with this, because the product fits in very well with Unicom's core technology. Our relationship with IBM is also 30 years old, a value added reseller as well as a development partner." Unicom started operations in the early 1980s by selling an artificial intelligence program for the CICS transaction server on IBM's mainframes. "That was a product that was ahead of its time," Guzzo said about the software developed by the CEO. Guzzo said that Hong still develops from time to time, when he's not directing an M&A of a publically-traded company that Unicom is taking private to place into its Global brand.

The Unicom Systems, Inc. division of the company was founded in 1981, the original part of an extensive Unicom enterprise which now even includes light manufacturing. Guzzo said that hardware systems integration has been part of the Unicom business practices. A set of white papers and road maps for PowerHouse "will be released as they are created," he added.

Some skilled developers at Unicom might even go back further than PowerHouse, Guzzo said. "We're big on holding onto our senior talent. While we have people here with 20 years experience, we also have some with 30 and 40 years." 

Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:23 PM in Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

January 07, 2014

Consumer drives: as robust as enterprise?

Failed-diskOne of the components most likely to fail -- and the one which often fails first -- in an HP 3000 is its disk drive. Consider the average age of disks attached to HP 3000s. Hewlett-Packard built the last HP 3000 and inserted onboard drives in that server one decade ago. Replacement and upgrade drives from HP, built after 2003, were for sale from HP for the 3000 through 2006. And there have always been drives purposed for one HP computer, but used for another. Those would be even newer devices.

All of the above devices are considered enterprise-grade. As the 3000 moves into its second decade of post-manufacture, owners will be looking for disk replacement strategies for the HP-branded servers. A virtualized unit, like the ones from Stromasys, have no such problems -- so long as their drives are of a high caliber.

Drive Failure rateBut what is the caliber of a drive that is suitable for business enterprise use? A vendor of cloud-based computing argues that the failure rate of enterprise disks is actually a little worse than that measured for consumer-class drives. Through three years, one sort of drive might be replaced for another with little concern. It's possible, however, that years 4-10 are where the enterprise advantages emerge.

Jeff Kell, who's managed HP 3000s since the 1970s, as well as Linux and Unix servers more recently, said the promises of enterprise hardware for 3000s have never been guaranteed. That's especially true in an era where HP now won't warranty hardware of any sort attached to an HP 3000. But Kell added that pure math proves that drive failures will head upward as the size of the devices soar.

"I don't know overall if disks have gotten "better" or "worse" by themselves," he said. "But the sheer order of magnitude has certainly changed -- and simple math would show you the probability of error increases as the data density increases. Old disk drives only had to keep up with a few megabytes of data. Current ones may be a terabyte or more."

An article written by Backblaze, an online backup provider, asserts that a study proves enterprise drives have about the same failure rate as consumer-grade disks. For three years, anyway. Brian Beach of the company looked at the 25,000 drives (consumer grade) used by the service. 

It turns out that the consumer drive failure rate does go up after three years, but all three of the first three years are pretty good. We have no data concerning enterprise drives older than two years, so we don’t know if they will also have an increase in failure rate. It could be that the vaunted reliability of enterprise drives kicks in after two years, but because we haven’t seen any of that reliability in the first two years, I’m skeptical.

Data loss is unacceptable for many customers, but for those who maintain their own drive farms, the blame can cost someone their job while it costs the company real money. An online solution costs money for the loser of data. The rest of the fallout is hypothetical.

Kell said that in a world where the HP 3000s often mirrored their data through RAID or Mirror/3000, 3000s still had failures of enterprise-caliber drives.

Our original 3000s had drive failures, sure. Then we had the days of Mirror/iX and having redundant drives. Then you get into the disk arrays; we've had both Nike and the VA arrays. Our "retired" N4000 had a 32-drive VA array, dual fiber channels, the whole nine yards. I think we replaced 4 drives over its lifetime of about 8-10 years. The current philosophies revolve around "expecting" failure, and keep on trucking, at various levels.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 10:00 PM in Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)