September 18, 2014

Beefy servers link VMware and MPE futures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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September 15, 2014

WRQ's Reflection goes deeper into coffers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Ron Seybold at 03:44 PM in Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (2)

September 11, 2014

TBT: The things that we miss this season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 10, 2014

One Course to Sail a 3000 Into the Cloud

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 08, 2014

Who else is still out there 3000 computing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 05, 2014

How to make an HPSUSAN do virtual work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear False,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 04, 2014

TBT: Practical transition help via HP's files

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 02, 2014

Archival presents prospects for CHARON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 29, 2014

Finding the Labor Your 3000 Site Needs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 28, 2014

TBT: Days of HP's elite software outlook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 27, 2014

A Virtual Legacy from the Past to the Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 26, 2014

See how perl's strings still swing for MPE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 22, 2014

30 years ago, 1984 seemed like news

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

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

AnaheimProcCover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 21, 2014

TBT 1984: The Days of Beauty and Wonder

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

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

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

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

Powerhouse Universal 1984

 

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

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

Interact wafer cover 1984

 

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

August 20, 2014

Small office — but a modest, social market

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 19, 2014

What Changed Over 30 Years: Bespoke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 18, 2014

This Is Where I Came In

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 15, 2014

The 3000's got network printing, so use it

Ten years ago this summer, HP's 3000 lab engineers were told that 3000 users wanted networked printing. By 2005 it was ready for beta testing. This was one of the last enhancements demanded as Number 1 by a wide swath of the 3000 community, and then delivered by HP. The venerable Systems Improvement Ballot of 2004 ranked networked printing No. 1 among users' needs.

MPEMXU1A is the patch that enables networked printing, pushed into General Release in Fall, 2005. In releasing this patch's functionality, HP gave the community a rather generic, OS-level substitute for much better third party software from RAC Consulting (ESPUL). It might have been the last time that an independent software tool got nudged by HP development.

HP M1522N printerThe HP 3000 has the ability to send jobs to non-HP printers over a standard network as a result of the enhancement. The RAC third party package ties printers to 3000 with fewer blind spots than the MPEMXU1A patch. HP's offering won't let Windows-hosted printers participate in the 3000 network printing enhancement. There's a Windows-only, server-based net printing driver by now, of course, downloadable from the Web. The HP Universal Print Driver Series for Windows embraces Windows Server 2012, 2008, and 2003.

Networked printing for MPE/iX had the last classic lifespan that we can recall for a 3000 enhancement. The engineering was ready to test less than a year after the request. This software moved out of beta test by November, a relatively brief five-month jaunt to general release. If you're homesteading on 3000s, and you don't need PCL sequences at the beginning and end of a spool file, you should use it. Commemorate the era when the system's creator was at least building best-effort improvements.

MPE/iX 6.5 was still being patched when networked printing rolled out. That's a release still in some use at  homesteading shops. In contrast, plenty of later patches were only created and tested for the 7.0 and 7.5 PowerPatch kits.

Deep inside the Web is a white paper that former HP staffer Jeff Vance wrote, a guide he called "Communicator-like" after the classic HP technical documents. HP's taken down its Jazz repository of tech papers where NWPrinting.html once was available. But our open source software expert Brian Edminster tracked down that gem at the Client Systems website -- the company which was one of two to license HP's tech papers. You could check in with your independent support provider, to see if they've got the paper.

Networked printing was never as comprehensive as the indie solutions for the 3000, but at least it was delivered on the OS level via patches. The vendor still warned that adding new printers was going to be an uneven process.

HP will support this enhancement on a "best-effort" basis, meaning we will attempt to duplicate and resolve specific spooler problems -- but we cannot guarantee that all ASCII based printers are supported by this enhancement.

Of course, HP's support is long gone. But while best-effort might sound like a show-stopper so many years later, you'd be surprised how many printers of that 6.5 era are still attached at homesteading 3000 sites.

Where do you get the patch? That's where HP's still doing its work. These MPE/iX patches were given special dispensation from the pay-for-patches edict of 2010. They're still free by calling HP. That non-Windows printer and MPE might seem like old technology. But HP's still using telephones to enable the delivery of patches, so there's that Throwback -- and one you can find on days which are not Thursdays, too.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 03:12 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading, Web Resources | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 14, 2014

TBT: Affordable IT in Acquisition Aftermath

Blanket-AdThere it is, in all of its comfy, trustworthy glory: The only two-page spread advertisement HP ever bought to promote the HP 3000. From a 1998 issue of Computerworld, it's a ThrowBack Thursday entry, from an era when the 3000 was battling for prime position in datacenters. (Click it to have a closer look.) Harry Sterling was the general manager of the 3000 group by that year. Serious business.

Simpkins AdAs part of another ad series, Terry Simpkins, now the Business Systems Director of Measurement Specialties Inc., testified to the value of running HP 3000 ERP systems. At the time MANMAN was owned by Computer Associates, who'd dubbed the software's owner the MK Group. (Click to have a closer look at his testimony.)

Now comes word that Simpkins' current company -- probably one of the single largest users of MANMAN -- has been purchased. An acquisition can be a trigger for change. Some HP 3000s have been decommissioned as a result of running a company which now must march in a new corporate file. 

It may not be so at MSI. We've heard through the MANMAN support network that TE Connectivity Ltd., which will own MSI perhaps as early as next month, was impressed by the low costs of operating more than 10 separate ERP installations around the world. MSI was purchased for $1.4 billion, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

There have been some instances in the system's past where the HP 3000 edged out other mid-size enterprise platforms during a merger. AS/400s got replaced in one case. At MSI, the system is running manufacturing for a company that is moving into stronger business.

TE was once called Tyco Electronics, a spinoff of Tyco International. It manufactures electronic connection products for cars, consumer products and the energy industry. Measurement Specialties had strong bookings in the last quarter before the deal was announced. In a statement at the time, it said it was "well positioned to deliver solid growth and strong earnings performance in fiscal 2015, with acceleration in fiscal 2016."

TEplusMSITE is looking at the potential for dominating the sensor industry, worldwide, by acquiring MSI.

For MSI's latest fiscal year, net income was $37.8 million on sales of $412.7 million. The company expected fiscal 2015 sales of about $540 million, including $100 million from the recent purchase of Wema System AS.

With profits in hand, and the ability to meet growing business needs, it's possible that the HP 3000 could feel as secure as the blanket in that 1998 ad, once TE wraps its arms around its newest acquisition. MSI was looking to add a 3000 expert this summer, too. Comfort sometimes comes from the certainty of managing growth at an attractive price.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 11:54 PM in Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 13, 2014

When a taxing situation might shuffle plans

Out in the 3000 community some select customers are seeing subpoenas. According to a source familiar with the matter, a vendor's been having some issues with the Internal Revenue Service, and the US Government is intent on gathering what it believes it's owed.

1120pictureTax matters go to subpoena when information is being demanded in a case against a corporation or an individual. We're still seeking confirmation of the information about which vendor's name is now out among its customers, attached to a subpoena. [Update: And we have gotten it, plus a copy of the vendor's response. It's a long-term battle with the IRS, the vendor says. We've found documents going back more than 15 years. They claim that the fight is personal, not related to their company. Nonetheless, the vendor's customers got subpoenas.]

It illustrates the unpredictable nature of doing long-term business in the IT industry. HP 3000 users often do long-term business. They have a reputation for sticking to suppliers, especially in these days when companies are shifting focus away from MPE. When you get a tool that works, and a company that pledges to support it, you stick with it while you stay with the 3000.

"What do I do if they go out of business?" one of the customers has asked. The answer is simple enough: the products will go onto the open market to be purchased as assets. Software with customers who pay support fees, well, that's likely to be bought up sooner than later. An IT manager will have to manage new product ownership -- and perhaps new strategy and roadmaps for the product.

But just because there's change at the top of a product's ownership doesn't mean all else changes. It's pretty easy for a company to acquire a product and change little. Especially if the customer base is providing a profit to the vendor at the same time that the software continues to earn support contract renewals.

A sale of assets is the situation that Interex fell into when it declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2005. There was not much of value for another company to purchase. Nobody was taking over the services Interex provided, so there was no customer base to buy as an asset. The only thing that wound up being transferred was the Interex customer list, transferred in a blind auction.

But software that's running in enterprises, across a scope of platforms even broader than MPE -- that's an asset that the government could sell. It's a typical outcome; for example, the trustee of the Interex bankruptcy managed the sale of the user group's assets.

Sometimes taxing issues can be resolved with negotiation. The government wants to be paid, and if there's fraud involved, the "accuracy-related penalties" can be steep. Lawyers with tax experience handle these things to everybody's satisfaction. Watch out for any company representing itself in tax court. Not recommended.

One flag about an imminent forced asset transfer could be an email sent out by the vendor, claiming the government has no right to tax anybody like they're being taxed. That's politics, not business. Nobody ever advised withholding support payments in this kind of matter. But you have to consider where that payment might be used, and whether it will end up someplace besides a support lab. Better to be current, and considered a customer, in case anything changes in ownership of an asset.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 09:36 PM in Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 11, 2014

Classic lines push homestead tech designs

Sometime this week I expect to be updated on the latest restructure at Stromasys. That's the company that has created a 3000 hardware-virtualization product installed in more sites than we first thought. They hold their cards close to the vest at Stromasys, especially about new installs. But we keep running into MPE support vendors who mention they have emulator-using clients. These companies are reticent about reporting on emulation.

Lakshorelimitedposter3000 people have dreamed about emulators ever since 2002. And for the next eight years, people figured emulation wouldn’t matter by the time HP approved MPE emulator licensing. Better not tell that to the customers who have plans to go deep into the second decade of the 21st century with their 3000. Emulation was rolling by 2012 for the 3000. Within a couple of years between now and 2023, that technology could be well polished for MPE. Enough to stop using HP's 3000 hardware, boxes that will be at least 20 years old by that time. Most of them are at least 15 years old right now.

A great deal of time has passed since the 9x9 3000s had their coming-out, but much has changed that we couldn't predict back then. Come with me to the magical year of 1997. We had little idea what we'd see in just 10 years' time.

It’s 1997. (Humor me a minute, and turn back the year.) You're here? Okay, think about what we don’t have yet. Google. BluRay. DVDs, for that matter. Hybrid cars. Portable MP3 players of any kind. PayPal. Amazon turning a profit. YouTube. eBay was so new it was called AuctionWeb. Thumb drives. Digital TV. Viagra. Caller ID. Smartphones, warmed baby wipes, online banking, Facebook and Twitter. Blade servers, cloud computing, Linux, virtualization — the list of technologies and designs we didn’t have 17 years ago is vast.

We don’t even have to talk about clouds, tablet computers or 3D TVs. Now, roll ahead to 2023. In that year, there will still an HP 3000 running a factory in Oklahoma. That’s the plan for Ametek’s Chandler Engineering unit. By that year MPE will be 50 years old, COBOL more than 75. And what will keep those two technologies viable? Well, probably technology that we don’t even have out of design now, nine years ahead of that shutdown date. People have been throwing rocks at old stuff for years, but it hangs on if it’s built well.

Northbynorthwest2Four years ago I took a train ride from New York toward Chicago on the Lakeshore Limited. Just like Cary Grant rode that same line with Eva Marie Saint in the year I was born, in North by Northwest. The train remains the best value to get a night’s worth of sleep and end up 800 miles west of where you started. C'mon, railroads? Passenger service with berths went on lines, as it were, in the 19th century. How could it remain viable 150 years later? Like the HP 3000, the values that propel such elder technologies are efficiency and entropy. Railroads still call their carriages rolling stock, because you can roll freight three times farther on a train than a truck for the same expense.

The HP 3000 hardware, virtualized or not, still preserves business rules because Hewlett-Packard built the boxes like armored cars. The investment was so great back in those '90s that people expected it to last more than a decade between upgrades. The downside to switching to newer technology? The stuff we haven’t invented yet might not stick around. Perhaps the Oracle database will still be in widespread use in 2023. That’s the software where Ametek is taking its migration, using a plan developed by people who probably won’t be at the company is 2023.

That Ametek date was so far out that I wondered if it was a typo in an email. (Oh, we had email in 1997. But it wasn’t considered grandpa’s technology back then, the way the young turks think of email today. but now even grandpa's tech reputation has changed. So much noise on Twitter and Facebook. A personal email, from a known colleague -- you open that one first.) So when you plan your transition to tomorrow — whether it’s your personal retirement, or parking that armored car of a computer — don’t sell the future short. Go ahead and be independent to get the work finished on your timetable. But if you're going, now would be a good time to start. It will take until 2016, at best, if you began assessments today.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 11:14 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 08, 2014

Classic Advice: Adding a DLT to an HP 3000

I'm trying to add a DLT to a my HP 3000 939KS and it keeps reporting media as bad. I can FCOPY but not run an Orbit or MPE store. It does mount the tape normally. The MPE store gives the following error:

STORE ENCOUNTERED MEDIA WRITE ERROR ON LDEV 9  (S/R 1454)    
SPECIFICALLY, STORE RECEIVED ERROR -48 FROM THE IO SYSTEM (S/R 1557).

The server which this drive is being added to has DDS-3s on it, but we are adding another disk array, so we are going to outgrow what we have very quickly.

DLT4000DLT8000s have not been manufactured in perhaps 10 years. Even five-year-old drives are SDLTII or DLT VS160, or some form of LTO. Also, using HVD-SCSI is so last century. At any rate, the heads on the DLT drives do get used up depending on the media used. Try another DLT drive, if possible.

Unfortunately, this is the exact issue facing homesteaders and others who are delaying their migration off the HP 3000, especially if they have pre-PCI machines like the 939. The hardware to run with it can be difficult to find, but it's out there, although it can be of varying level of readiness. You have many options open to you, but as time goes by they will more difficult to implement.

1. Look for another DLT8000 or a DLT7000. Either of these tape drives will work, and you will not get any performance benefit from either one over the DDS-3, but you will get more storage on one tape. You might make sure it has HP-branded firmware; there have been a painful set of System Aborts, due to semi-random walks through driver state machines — initiated by non-certified firmware.

2. Instead of a DLT, consider getting more DDS-3 drives. One medium size N-Class can have 12 DAT24 drives -- they do either a 4x3 or 3x4 parallel storeset. No messing with "reel" switches.

3. Consider getting an HVD to SE/LVD SCSI converter and then trying a DDS-4 device. DAT40 with DAT24 media has worked well for some sites, but DAT40 with DAT40 media is only supported on A/N-Class. To get technical on you here, you may only configure the DLT (scsi_tape2_dm) driver "under" the NIO F/W SCSI HBA (fwscsi_dam).

4. Move to a PCI HP 3000 (the A-Class or a small N-Class,) then use the newer LVD devices. PCI systems will at least enable the usage of much newer used equipment — and even some new stuff, if you want to buy a XP10000/12000.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 03:31 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 07, 2014

Who's got our history, and our future?

Migration takes on many problems and tries to solve them. A vendor stops supporting the server. Investing in a vendor's current product by migrating makes that go away. Applications slide into disrepair, and nobody knows how to re-develop them. Ah, that's a different sort of problem, one that demands a change in people, rather than products.

Yesterday we heard a story of a company in Ohio, running a 3000, whose IT manager planned to retire rather than migrate. Telling top management about your retirement plans is not mandatory. Frankly, having an option to retire is a special situation in our modern era. Figuring that you could be replaced, along with all of your in-company experience and know-how about things like COBOL, is far from certain. Legacy systems still run much of the world, but the people who built and tend to them are growing older, out of the workforce.

NutsfordsPair2004It's a glorious thing, knowing that your server's environment was first crafted four decades ago. Some of the brightest players from that era are still around, though not much active. Fred White built IMAGE, alongside Jon Bale at HP. Neither are at work today. Fred's now 90, as of April. 
NutfordsIn another example of a seasoned 3000 expert, Ken Nutsford's LinkedIn account reports that he celebrates 45 years at Computometric Systems, the development company he founded with his wife Jeanette. In a Throwback Thursday entry, here they are, 10 years ago and now, still together. Not all of us wear so well, but they've retired enough to have travelled the world over, several times, on cruise ships. That's what more than 40 years will earn you.

HPWorld2004SIGCOBOLIt's been a decade since there's been a HP World conference like the one pictured at left, hosted by the Nutsfords, complete with a hospitality buffet as well as a board of trivia (below, click for detail) technical details that just a tiny set of experts might know. The number of people who know the operating system and the hardware at hand at that level has been on the decline. Not just in the MPE world, but throughout the computer industry. SIGCOBOLTrivia

BusinessWeek recently ran an article titled, "Who'll keep your 50 year old software running?" Even though the Nutsfords retired from leading SIGCOBOL in 2004, there's plenty of COBOL around. But not anywhere near enough people to maintain it, although companies continue to try.

The baby boomers that brought us the computer revolution, developing the products and programs we now rely on, are retiring. But many companies are still using programs written in such software languages as COBOL and Fortran that were considered “cutting edge” 50 years ago. Indeed, the trade publication Computerworld has reported that more than half of the companies they surveyed are still developing new COBOL programs

"Staffing is the first thing to go these days," said Birket Foster in a Webinar briefing this week. His MB Foster company is still doing migrations, including moving a Unix customer off the Progress database and onto SQL Server. Progress is a youngster compared to COBOL and IMAGE. Some people decide to migrate because of the migration of their most expert people.

50-yo-sw.frontThe BusinessWeek article didn't supply easy answers to the brain-drain dilemma that every company seems to face. The firms that put computers into their business processes during the last 35 years -- that's just about every company -- are working with new staff by now, or watching their tech foundation head out to the pleasure cruise life.

The article notes that up to one-half of all COBOL and Fortran programmers are at least 50 years old. Younger developers arrive with experience in newer languages. There's a gap to cross between what's operational and what's state-of-the-art. "Smart companies have recruitment and succession plans, of course," the business magazine said. "What they don’t have is access to an adequate supply of workers with the technical expertise they need."

The staffing issues complicate the timing of migrations. How long can you depend on legacy software while you get a replacement up and tested, something the younger set of developers can understand? A migration takes at least 18 months, Foster says. He adds that getting started on the assessment is pretty much a do-it-now item. August is a month that hosted HP World conferences for a good business reason: this is the time of the year when companies are planning their IT budgets for the year to come.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:47 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 30, 2014

Find :HELP for what you don't know exists

Last week we presented a reprise of advice about using the VSTORE command while making backups. It's good practice; you can read about the details of why and a little bit of how-to in articles here, and also here.

But since VSTORE is an MPE command, our article elicited a friendly call from Vesoft's Vladimir Volokh. He was able to make me see that a great deal of what drives MPE/iX and MPE's powers can remain hidden -- the attribute we ascribed to VSTORE. "Hidden, to some managers running HP 3000s, is the VSTORE command of MPE/iX to employ in system backup verification." We even have a category here on the blog called Hidden Value. It's been one of our features since our first issue, almost 19 years ago.

MPE commands exampleFinding help for commands is a straightforward search, if those commands are related to the commands you know. But how deep are the relationships that are charted by the MPE help system? To put it another way, it's not easy to go looking for something that you don't know is there. Take VSTORE, for example. HP's HELP files include a VSTORE command entry. But you'll only find that command if you know it's there in the operating environment. The "related commands" part of the entry of STORE, identifying the existence of VSTORE, is at the very bottom of the file.

Vladimir said, "Yes, at the bottom. And nobody reads to the bottom." He's also of the belief that fewer people than ever are reading anything today. I agree, but I'd add we're failing in our habits to read in the long form, all the way beyond a few paragraphs. The Millennial Generation even has an acronymn for this poor habit: TLDR, for Too Long, Didn't Read. It's a byproduct of life in the Web era.

But finding help on VSTORE is also a matter of a search across the Web, where you'll find archived manuals on the 5.0 MPE/iX where it was last documented. There's where the Web connects us better than ever. What's more, the power of the Internet now gives us the means to ask Vladimir about MPE's commands and the MPEX improvements. Vladimir reads and uses email from his personal email address. It's not a new outlet, but it's a place to ask for help that you don't know exists. That's because like his product MPEX, Vladimir's help can be conceptual.

Hold down the right-most or left-most mouse button and you'll see contextual help in plenty of applications. MPE commands don't have this feature, and while they don't seem to need it, conceptual help is missing, too. There's :HELP for many subjects, but conceptual help involves skipping over those TLDR habits.

Our original article about VSTORE used the command in context with a primer on when to create a System Load Tape. Do a VSTORE when you make an SLT, said Vladimir as well as our ally Brian Edminster. Creating context is high-order programming, something we can do more easily with our wetware than with software. It's about seeing relationships, connecting the dots.

"You can't ask for help for something you don't know exists," is how Vladimir posed the problem of contextual help in the MPE interface. Go to the %HELP of MPEX and you'll get related commands right away. For example, typing %HELP STORE will allows you to choose from the following topics:

1. %MPEXSTORE, MPEX command
2. MPE's :RESTORE help text
3. MPE's :STORE help text
4. MPE's :VSTORE help text
5. STORED, a file attribute variable

In comparison, you might not be aware of VSTORE's relationship to backups by using HP's :HELP files.

How did we learn about those %HELP options? The Internet led us to a 19-year-old technical paper written by Paul Taffel while he was in the Vesoft stables. The paper, hosted at Gainsborough Software, details the improvements to MPEX as a result of integrating the (then-new) Posix interface of MPE. Two-thirds of the way through an article of 2,800 lines, there's that %HELP information. (There's even a little joke about typing %HELP SENTENCE, and another about %HELP DELI in MPEX.)

It's all out there, somewhere, these opportunities to learn what you even don't know exists, but need to know. And you'd want to learn about efficient and effective use of MPE because? Well, because an HP 3000 might be a key part of your datacenter longer than expected -- and your best expert has already typed his final :BYE. In that 19-year-old article, Taffel expressed Vesoft's ideal about questions from the community.

We at VESOFT really encourage you to contact us with your favorite "I'd like to do this but I can't" problem.  MPEX has evolved largely as a result of the continued suggestions of our many thousands of users, and we hope to continue this process as long as you continue to come up with new problems.

After that message, there's a contact phone number for Vesoft, the one that still reaches the company's offices, unchanged after decades. But there's also current email to follow by this year for contextual help, by dropping a note into Vladimir's inbox. Your reply might include a call, a sample of MPE help that's so well hidden you don't know you need it.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 06:58 PM in Hidden Value, History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (1)

July 29, 2014

Stromasys spreads word of spreading wings

Hardware We ReplaceThe makers of the only HP 3000 hardware emulator are not a new company, but Stromasys is starting to outline the new structure of its firm in a communication to its clients and partners. Last week the corporation emailed notice of a set of managers to "strengthen its management team" and a announce the creation of a new R&D center.

In May the company's main HQ was moved to a larger facility in Geneva, and an Asia-Pacific unit will be located in Hong Kong. Some of the changes to the company were reported in brief at the end of 2013. But Chairman George Koukis, who started the banking software Temenous Group and leads that sector of software systems, speaks out in the update about the intrinsic value of CHARON. 

"Charon prolongs the life of software by protecting it from constant change in hardware technology," he said. "Temenos' worldwide success meant that I replaced many systems; I am painfully aware of the immense cost of replacing or migrating application software."

Worldwide expansion through a partner network looks to be a key mission objective of the latest communique. When the company was briefing North American customers for the first time in May 2013 on a Training Day, the managers said that a channel structure for partners was being designed. Frédéric Kokocinski is the new Global Head of Channel Management. The new channel strategy focuses on marketing and communication -- including a comprehensive product roadmap -- certification for resellers, plus support through knowledge sharing, as well as a fresh push on sales.

The company has offices in place in Raleigh, NC, Switzerland, and Hong Kong. Gregory Reut is Head of Support. The company is meeting with partners to outline and detail the changes in its organization. Isabelle Jourdain is Head of Marketing. The company's co-founder, Robert Boers, remains connected to the company as a technology advisor to the board of directors. 

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

July 24, 2014

Using VSTORE to Verify 3000 Backups

Card VerificationHidden, to some managers running HP 3000s, is the VSTORE command of MPE/iX to employ in system backup verification. It's good standard practice to include VSTORE in every backup job's command process. If your MPE references come from Google searches instead of reading your NewsWire, you might find it a bit harder to locate HP's documentation for VSTORE. You won't find what you'd expect inside a MPE/iX 7.5 manual. HP introduced VSTORE in MPE/iX 5.0, so that edition of the manual is where its details reside.

For your illumination, here's some tips from Brian Edminster, HP 3000 and MPE consultant at Applied Technologies and the curator of the MPE Open Source repository, MPE-OpenSource.org.

If possible, do your VSTOREs on a different (but compatible model) of tape drive than the one the tape was created on. Why? DDS tape drives (especially DDS-2 and DDS-3 models) slowly go out of alignment as they wear.

In other words, it's possible to write a backup tape, and have it successfully VSTORE on the same drive. But if you have to take that same tape to a different server with a new and in-alignment drive, you could have it not be readable! Trust me on this -- I've had it happen.

If you'll only ever need to read tapes on the same drive as you wrote them, you're still not safe. What happens if you write a tape on a worn drive, have the drive fail at some later date -- and that replacement drive cannot read old backup tapes? Yikes!

Using the 'two-drive' method to validate backup (and even SLT) tapes is a very prudent choice, if you have access to that array of hardware. It can also often help identify a drive that's going out of alignment -- before it's too late! 

Unfortunately, SLTs have to be written to tape (at least, for non-emulated HP 3000s). However, your drive will last years longer if you only write to it a few times a year.

You can find HP's VSTORE documentation page from that 5.0 command manual on the Web, (thanks to MM Support for keeping all those those pages online).

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:30 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 21, 2014

Maximum Disc Replacement for Series 9x7s

Software vendors, as well as in-house developers, keep Series 9x7 servers available for startup to test software revisions. There are not very many revisions to MPE software anymore, but we continue to see some of these oldest PA-RISC servers churning along in work environments.

9x7s, you may ask -- they're retired long ago, aren't they? Less than one year ago, one reseller was offering a trio for between $1,800 (a Series 947) and $3,200. Five years ago this week, tech experts were examining how to modernize the drives in these venerable beasts. One developer figured in 2009 they'd need their 9x7s for at least five more years. For the record, 9x7s are going to be from the early 1990s, so figure that some of them are beyond 20 years old now.

"They are great for testing how things actually work," one developer reported, "as opposed to what the documentation says, a detail we very much need to know when writing migration software. Also, to this day, if you write and compile software on 6.0, you can just about guarantee that it will run on 6.0, 6.5, 7.0 and 7.5 MPE/iX."

BarracudaSome of the most vulnerable elements of machines from that epoch include those disk drives. 4GB units are installed inside most of them. Could something else replace these internal drives? It's a valid question for any 3000 that runs with these wee disks, but it becomes even more of an issue with the 9x7s. MPE/iX 7.0 and 7.5 are not operational on that segment of 3000 hardware.

Even though the LDEV1 drive will only support 4GB of space visible to MPE/iX 6.0 and 6.5, there's always LDEV2. You can use virtually any SCSI (SE SCSI or FW SCSI) drive, as long as you have the right interface and connector.

There's a Seagate disk drive that will stand in for something much older that's bearing an HP model number. The ST318416N 18GB Barracuda model -- which was once reported at $75, but now seems to be available for about $200 or so -- is in the 9x7's IOFDATA list of recognized devices, so they should just configure straight in. Even though that Seagate device is only available as refurbished equipment, it's still going to arrive with a one-year warranty. A lot longer than the one on any HP-original 9x7 disks still working in the community.

One developer quipped to the community, five years ago this week, "On the disc front at least that Seagate drive should keep those 3000s running, probably longer than HP remains a Computer Manufacturer."

But much like the 9x7 being offered for sale this year, five years later HP is still manufacturing computers, including its Unix and Linux replacement systems for any 3000 migrating users. 

So to refresh drives on the 9x7s, configure these Barracuda replacement drives in LDEV1 as the ST318416N -- it will automatically use 4GB (its max visible capacity) on reboot.

As for the LDEV2 drives, there are no real logical size limits, so anything under 300GB would work fine -- 300GB was the limit for MPE/iX drives until HP released its "Large Disk" patches for MPE/iX, MPEMXT2/T3. But that's a patch that wasn't written for the 9x7s, as they don't use 7.5.

Larger drives were not tested for these servers because of a power and heat dissipation issue. Some advice from the community indicates you'd do better to not greatly increase the power draw above what those original equipment drives require. The specs for those HP internal drives may be a part of your in-house equipment documentation. Seagate offers a technical manual for the 18GB Barracuda drive at its website, for power comparisons.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:51 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading, Migration, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (2)

July 17, 2014

TBT: When users posterized HP's strategy


PosterLargeThe
Orange County Register captured this picture of the football-field sized poster that users assembled to call notice to the 3000 at the annual Interex show. We offer it in our collection of ThrowBack Thursday photos. Click on it for detail.

Recent news about a decline in the health of community guru Jeff Kell sparked a link to another 3000 icon: Wirt Atmar. The founder of AICS Research shared some medical conditions with Kell, but Wirt was never at a loss for gusto and panache. Twenty-eight years ago he started a print job in July, one that wouldn't be complete until the following month, when HP World convened in Anaheim. The 1996 show was held not too far from a high school football field -- one where ardent users of the 3000 wanted to make publicity for their beloved MPE server.

WirtAtPosterThousands of panels rolled out of Wirt's HP DesignJet plotter, driven by an HP 3000 at his Las Cruces, New Mexico headquarters, each making up a small section of the World's Largest Poster. HP had set the record for largest poster just a few months earlier, with a basketball court's worth of 8x11 sheets, placed carefully to make a giant picture of Mickey Mouse. Wirt and his league of extraordinary advocates took on another element while they aimed at a bigger poster, by far. This World's Largest Poster was to be assembled outdoors, in the Santa Ana winds of Southern California.

All morning on that summer day the winds continued to climb, testing the resolve of a growing number of volunteers. Panels would spring up in the breeze, which seemed to flow from every possible direction. Atmar, whose company had printed the thousands of panels over a six week period and who had driven the poster in a U-Haul truck from New Mexico, stood alongside the poster's edge and gave instruction on holding it in place, using gutter-width roofing nails pressed into the turf.

But by 11 AM, no more nails were on hand, and the question was on everyone's lips -- where are they? The winds climbed with the sun in the sky, and volunteers were forced to use shoes and poster tubes to hold the panels in place. As a section would rise up, dedicated customers would call out,"It's coming up!" and then race to tack it in place, an organic version of a fault-tolerant system.

Wirt on the fieldThe document of about 36,000 square feet was somehow kept in place on the high school football field. The work of printing began in July. When Wirt was finally able to point across the field, at the completed poster, he breathed a sigh of relief and good natured fatigue. He quipped that after printing the four-foot rolls of paper needed for the poster, loading them into a van for the trip to California represented “the summer corporate fitness program for AICS Research.”

Atmar, who died in 2009, was never at a loss for words about the 3000's potential and its fate. He touted the former with the zeal of a preacher and bemoaned the latter like a man saddled with in-laws who came to visit and never left. Like community leaders, he could make a sound case for the fact that Hewlett-Packard didn't understand what a gem it'd built in MPE and the 3000. The Poster Project was meant to remind CEO Lew Platt and the vice president of the computing group Wim Roelandts that the company already had customers who were avid about using a computer that had nothing to do with Unix.

At that point in HP's history of the 3000, computers had to at least integrate with Unix. The company had bet its enterprise future on Windows NT up to that point, but corporations were flocking to what was called an open systems environment instead. In truth, Unix was no more open than any other operating system, once each vendor finished called it something like Solaris, or AIX, or HP-UX, and ever more brands. At least MPE was plainly a specific environment.

Poster and housesBut Atmar and his cohorts remembered that the 3000 was a general purpose computer, as first conceived. Demonstrating that the 3000 could produce artwork, and at a grand scale, was one aim of the Poster. The publicity stunt was covered by the Long Beach Press Telegram and the Orange County Register, among others. I rode in the Bell Ranger helicopter to take an aerial shot, but the Register's remains the throwback picture of record.

In an account of the event, Wirt was eager to point out all of the friends and allies who'd made the day possible.

A fair number of the people who participated in the poster can be recognized (primarily by their clothing). Alfredo Rego is walking across the top of the middle football player's helmet. Ken Paul, Ken Sletten and Jon Diercks are all at the base of the group of people in line with the "u" in the word, "Butt." Rene Woc is seen walking directly above the shoe of the rightmost football player. And Jeanette Nutsford appears just below the knuckles of the middle player.

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

July 16, 2014

Kell carries key account of 3000 revival

We've come to learn that community icon Jeff Kell is battling a serious illness. While I wish this keystone of MPE wisdom a quick recovery, and the best wishes to his wife, I'd like to share some insights he relayed about the transition from Classic 3000s to the ultimate edition of the server he's worked on and cared for most of his career at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

Concept of RISCI'd asked Kell to explain what the HP CEO during that transition era, John Young, might have been talking about while the CEO told Computerworld in 1985 about the strategy of RISC. As the clipping from Computerworld to the left shows, Young was a lot less than clear about what RISC would do for HP's long-term computing plans. A comment in the second paragraph of the clipping -- about networking, one of Kell's most ardent studies -- made me want to reach out to him earlier this summer. Young's conflation of "9000 series terminals emulated the 3000 architecture in some ways, but not really completely" was something Kell could clear up.

I'm not aware of any similarities [Young noted] between 3000/9000 Series except after adoption of RISC, and they used the same processors/hardware. They may have shared some peripheral hardware earlier, but certainly had little in common until RISC. The 3000/9000 had practically nothing in common prior to that other than perhaps HP-IB peripherals.

Network-wise, the 9000-series was following the ARPA/Ethernet track, while the 3000 initially started down the IEEE/OSI architecture. Ethernet was only accepted by the 3000 as an afterthought, it was a checkbox on the NMCONFIG dialogue if you wanted to allow it, and it defaulted to OFF.

So unless Young was talking post-RISC (timeframe is wrong), I'm not sure how he would compare 3000/9000 lines at all. The initial RISC 3000s were in the last half of the 1980s. If I recall correctly, my "migration training" to the "new" 3000s was at the Atlanta response center around 1985 (or a little later) and we were expecting a 930. We ended up with a 950 (since the 930 sucked so badly.) But I do recall many of the details.

"At that time," he said, "we had stretched our Series-IIIs to the limit. HP had "loaned" us a 42 and 48 to "tie us over" until delivery of Spectrum. We had the week at the migration center in Atlanta and spent most of it doing switch stubs for our extensive set of SPL support routines. We finally got a 950 and never looked back, but we had several engineers scratching their heads in the process. We were doing some really peculiar stuff."

Those were "interesting times" indeed. I think at the time we had a Series III with 64 terminals attached (production), a Series III-R (development), a Series 40 or 42 (Library), an academic 44/48, a leftover Series III (academic), and that loaner pair of 42/48 (or 52/58?) to tie us over until Spectrum. We were long overdue for an upgrade, but no hardware was available yet to satisfy the need.

The 3000's direction on networking was most disturbing, taking the OSI standard model in the midst of our evolving Sun/Solaris Internet computers. We had 3000s on our LAN that could only talk to other 3000s on our LAN... while the rest of the server room was on the Internet.  It was laughable.

It would be another decade before Posix came to MPE, and it started to play well with the other kids on the block. But unfortunately, a decade too late.

HP executives were taken up with the "Unix" movement... and the 9000s dominated their focus. The 3000s were just along for the ride. And looking back today, that wasn't such a great bet either.

Kell is a classic example of a chapter of living history -- and the lessons we learn from it -- that should be cherished by the community. After nearly 40 years, the decommissioned 3000s at his UTC shop were picked up for recycling. "We're now officially 3000 history," he said, "with nothing left on site."

Posted by Ron Seybold at 10:28 PM in History, Homesteading, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 15, 2014

3000 jobs still swinging their shingles

Help+wantedThe Help Wanted sign remains out in the 3000 community for a couple of positions this week, genuine jobs that involve no migration of the server out of datacenters. Multiple offers inside the same week might actually give the employers a chance to compete with one another. But given the limited number of openings for MPE work, applicants aren't likely to be using one offer to leverage another.

At Cerro Wire, IT Director Herb Statham is looking for a programmer/analyst. Cerro Wire manufactures and distributes electrical wire for the residential and commercial building industries. Statham has been in the news in the past as an IT pro with a serious interest in the Stromasys emulator. Emulator interest has been known to be an indicator of a stable future for MPE applications.

Statham is looking for a P/A who knows COBOL for the 3000, IMAGE, MPE, and Suprtool. There's also Qedit, Adager, Netbase, Bridgeware, and byRequest running at the site in north central Alabama. The job's tasks run to development, change implementation, documentation and design, as well as planning. Applicants can send a resume to Statham at his email address.

Over at Measurement Specialties, the job we first noted near the end of June remains open. Business Systems Director Terry Simpkins is still open to reviewing resumes for a Business Analyst post.

"I thought I make it 'big jobs day' on the list and re-post our job opening here in Hampton, VA," Simpkins said, putting the job offer up on the same day as Cerro's opening. "I'm back from a three-week vacation and ready to start interviewing, so if you are interested, get me your resume as soon as possible. I'm ready to get some help."

Support for a global MANMAN implementation is the mission for the Measurement Specialties opening. 

Areas of responsibility include:

  • Daily user training and support
  • Participate in projects in all functional areas of the business
  • Serve as backup support for HP3000 operations and nightly processing

Key skills and capabilities include:

  • Strong MANMAN experience and expertise
  • Ability to read Fortran and perform some level of programming
  • Strong understanding of MPEX scripting and Security/3000 menus
  • Ability to handle multiple concurrent projects and tasks

The company has been installing 3000s in manufacturing plants around the world. A raft of facilities went online in China in the previous decade, all part of the MANMAN network for the company. Measurement Specialites is a public firm traded on the NASDAQ (MEAS).

Simpkins says that "If you are interested in a challenging and exciting opportunity with a dynamic and growing company," please contact

Measurement Specialties, Inc. 
1000 Lucas Way, Hampton, VA   23666
Office:  +1 757-766-4278
Mobile:  +1 757 532-5685
terry.simpkins@meas-spec.com

Posted by Ron Seybold at 09:37 PM in Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 09, 2014

How to Employ SFTP on Today's MPE

Is anyone using SFTP on the HP 3000?

Gavin Scott, a developer and a veteran of decades on MPE/iX, says he got it to work reliably at one customer a year or so ago. "We exchanged SSL keys with the partner company," Scott said, "and so I don't think we had to provide a password as part of the SFTP connection initiation."

At least in my environment, the trick to not having it fail randomly around 300KB in transfers (in batch) was to explicitly disable progress reporting -- which was compiled into the 3000 SFTP client as defaulting to "on" for some reason. I forget the exact command that needed to be included in the SFTP command stream (probably "progress <mumble>" or something like that), but without that, it would try to display the SFTP progress bar. This caused it to whomp its stack or something similarly bad when done in a batch job, due to the lack of any terminal to talk to.

As SFTP is a pure Posix program, I ended up making Posix-named byte-stream files for stdin and stdout, and generally did all the SFTP stuff from the Posix shell. The MPE job ended up being a bunch of invocations of SH -c to execute an echo command to make the stdin file, and then another SH -c to run SFTP with a ;callci setvar varname -- $? or something like that -- on the end to capture the Posix process exit code back into the CI.

I also parsed/grepped the stdout file after the SFTP completed/exited, in order to test for seeing the actual file transferring message. I also wanted to make sure that all of the stdin content had been processed, so I could detect unexpected early termination or other problems that might not show up in $?.

That's all from memory, as I don't have access to the scripts any longer. In the end, SFTP was completely reliable, after working through all of its little issues.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:50 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 02, 2014

Co-op works out CHARON IO differences

Editor's note: Starting tomorrow it's a business holiday week's-end here in the US, so we are taking a few days to relax in a family reunion on the waters of a very well known Bay. We'll be back at our reporting on Monday.

At the Dairylea Cooperative in the Northeastern US, moving away from classic HP 3000 hardware to CHARON meant a bit of a learning curve. But the changes were something that even had a few blessings in disguise.

Moving files via FTP from the retired HP 3000 would be quicker and easier, said IT Director Jeff Elmer, "but of course it would require the physical box to be on the network. Getting our DLT 8000s to work with the emulator required some research, and some trial and error, but once you know the quirks and work around them, it’s actually quite reliable,” he said.

A new disaster recovery server had to be acquired. Dairylea purchased a ProLiant server identical to the one running what Elmer calls “our production emulator,”  The DR emulator is installed it in the same city where the physical HP 3000 DR box was, complete with tape drives. Stromasys supplies a USB key for the DR emulator as part of the support fees; the key contains HPSUSAN and HPCPUNAME codes required to boot up MPE and other software. The key is good for 360 hours of DR operation “and it expires at the same time our annual support does.”

Dairylea’s HP-branded 3000 was a 969 KS/100, but its CHARON install emulates an A500-200 model, “so in general our performance experience is about the same.  There are some times in the month when we have enough going on that things seem a bit slower than the physical box was, but overall our experience with the emulator has been very positive.”

The company has had enough computing bandwidth to experiment using that ProLiant DR box, since it’s not in day-to-day use. This work has expanded the virtual capability of that system’s VMware installation.

“We did a physical-to-virtual conversion of the Red Hat environment for the HP 3000 emulator, so our DR emulator is now running under VMware and we shut down the dedicated ProLiant server,” Elmer said. VMware handles making the USB key available to the emulator. “While you do not want to vMotion a running HP 3000 emulator, it seems to be quite happy under VMware. We can access the remote ESX hosts via vSphere, start the Red Hat host, start the HP 3000 emulator, and do a restore of the most recent full backup, all without getting out of a chair.

Elmer noted that all of the 3000 backups go to disk since moving to the emulator. This has eliminated the need to have a tape mounted by IT staff.

“We store to a virtual tape drive that is a file in the Red Hat space,” he said. “Those full backups are automatically copied off to an FTP server that is automatically replicated to our DR site — so we now have two copies of each full backup, one at the production site and one at the DR site.”

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:47 AM in Homesteading, Web Resources | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 01, 2014

Northeastern cooperative plugs in CHARON

A leading milk and dairy product collective, a century-plus old, is drawing on the Stromasys emulator’s opportunity.

A $1.2 billion milk marketing cooperative — established for more than 100 years and offering services to farmers including lending, insurance and risk management — has become an early example of how to replace Hewlett-Packard’s 3000 and retain MPE software while boosting reliability.

The Dairylea Cooperative has been using the Stromasys CHARON emulator since the start of December, 2013, according to IT director Jeff Elmer. The organization that was founded in 1907 serves dairy owners across seven states in the US Northeast, a collective that had been using two Hewlett-Packard brand RISC servers for MPE operations.

Dairylea has taken its disaster recovery 3000 offline since December 1. Although HP’s physical 3000 server is still powered up, it’s been off the network all year while production continues. “Once we made the switch to the emulator, we never went back to the physical box,” Elmer said. ‘We can’t see any reason to at this point.” 

“However much we may love HP’s 3000 hardware, the disk drives are still older than half of our IS department. Some of our users never knew there was a change.”

The Stromasys emulator has been the easiest element to manage in the co-op’s Information Systems group. “For some weeks now I’ve been wanting to get around to making arrangements for the removal of both physical HP 3000s,” Elmer explained, “but the day-to-day distractions of the many other computer systems that don’t run MPE keep filling up the time. Since going to the emulator the only thing we’ve used the HP 3000 physical box for is to store a few files to tape for transfer to the emulator.”

As with any replacement solution, CHARON has required some learning to adjust everyday 3000 operations. We'll have more on that tomorrow.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 12:01 AM in Homesteading, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 27, 2014

Mansion meet takes first comeback steps

A few hours ago, the first PowerHouse user group meeting and formation of a Customer Advisory Board wrapped up in California. Russ Guzzo, the guiding light for PowerHouse's comeback, told us a few weeks ago that today's meeting was just the first of several that new owner UNICOM Global was going to host. "We'll be taking this on the road," he said, just as the vendor was starting to call users to its meeting space at the PickFair mansion in Hollywood.

We've heard that the meeting was webcast, too. It's a good idea to extend the reach of the message as Unicom extends the future of the PowerHouse development toolset.

CoeThis is a product that started its life in the late 1970s. But so did Unix, so just because a technology was born more than 35 years ago doesn't limit its lifespan. One user, IT Director Robert Coe at HPB Management Ltd. in Cambridge, wants to see PowerHouse take a spot at the table alongside serious business languages. Coe understands that going forward might mean leaving some compatibility behind. That's a step Hewlett-Packard couldn't ever take with MPE and the HP 3000. Some say that decision hampered the agility of the 3000's technical and business future at HP. Unix, and later Linux, could become anything, unfettered by compatibility.

Coe, commenting on the LinkedIn Cognos Powerhouse group, said his company has been looking at a migration away from Powerhouse -- until now.

I would like to see Powerhouse developed into a modern mainstream language, suitable for development of any business system or website. If this is at the expense of backwards compatibility, so be it. We are developing new systems all the time, and at the moment are faced with having to use Java, c# or similar. I would much rather be developing new systems in a Powerhouse based new language, with all the benefits that provides, even if it is not directly compatible with our existing systems. 

The world would be a better place if Powerhouse was the main platform used for development! I hope Unicom can provide the backing, wisdom and conviction to enable this to happen.

There were many business decisions made about the lifecycle and sales practices for PowerHouse over the last 25 years that hampered the future of the tool. Coe found technical faults with the alternatives to PowerHouse -- "over-complicated, hard to learn, slow to develop, difficult to maintain, prone to bugs, with far too much unnecessary and fiddly syntax."

But he was also spot-on in tagging the management shortcomings of the toolset's previous owners:

  • Cognos concentrated on BI tools, as there appeared to be more money in them 
  • IBM bought Cognos for its BI tools for the same reason 
  • Powerhouse development more or less stopped many years ago 
  • Licences were very expensive compared to other languages. which were often open source and free 
  • Powerhouse was not open source and therefore didn’t get the support of the developer community 
  • Backwards compatibility was guaranteed, stifling major development
Powerhouse is a far superior platform for development of business systems. I cringe at the thought of having to use the likes of Java to replace or current systems or to develop our future systems!

Bob Deskin, hired by UNICOM to advise the new owners on a growth strategy for the toolset, reminded Coe that things like Java, Ruby, Python and Perl were not purpose-built for business.

Don't be too hard on those other languages. Some of them aren't what I would call complete programming languages. Some are scripting languages. And some are trying to be all things to all people. PowerHouse was always focused on business application development. Hang in for a while longer and watch what UNICOM can do.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:51 PM in Homesteading, Migration, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 26, 2014

3000 sages threwback stories on Thursday

DirtydicksTwo weeks ago in the modest London pub Dirty Dick's, a few dozen veterans and sages of the 3000 system had their personal version of a Throwback Thursday. This is the day of the week when Facebook and Twitter users put out a piece of their personal history, usually in the form of a picture from days long past.

BruceTobackIf pressed for a piece of June Throwback Thursday material, I might reach for our very first blog post. Nine years ago this month we kicked off our coverage of new, every-workday reporting. My first story was a tribute to a just-fallen comrade in the 3000 community. Bruce Toback died in that month the Newswire's blog was born. As I said in that first blog article -- "A Bright Light Winks Out" was already a throwback, before the term gained its current coin -- Toback was extraordinary, the kind of person that makes the 3000 community unique. He lived with a firm grip on life's handrail of humor. He died unexpectedly of a heart attack at age 48. As part of a gentle and generous Toback memorial, David Greer hosts pictures of Bruce like the one above. Many of these were taken as Toback became important to the Robelle Qedit for Windows project.

Bobgreen-beachThe passing of a special life is a good reason to celebrate what remains for all of us. That's probably what motivated those London veterans to gather at Dirty Dick's Pub this month to toss off stories and toss back drinks. Bob Green of Robelle (pictured here in a throwback picture in the spring of 2001, when he was working from his Anguilla island headquarters) shared some pub photos and a brief report about this month's Throwback Thursday for your community.

BrianDuncombe“It was great to catch up with 3000 colleagues from around the world: Steve Cooper, Dave Wiseman, Brian Duncombe, Kim Leeper, Brad Tashenberg, the Nutsfords and many more (about 20 in all). We exchanged notes on the current state of the machine -- especially the new emulator -- and discovered what each of us was doing. [Editor's Note: Duncombe (above) had made this trip in a record 48-hour-complete turnaround, from Canada to the UK and back. The intensity still burns bright for some of your community members.]

Steve Cooper Kim LeeperGreen noted, while posting photos of Cooper and Leeper in conversation, or the sweet couples' photo (below) of Jeanette and Ken Nutsford, "An amazing number of people are still doing the same thing: helping customers with their IT concerns. But in reality, most of the time was spent swapping war stories from the past, which was great fun.

Nutfords"Here are some photos from the party. Everyone is older, but perhaps you will remember some of them." This photo of the Nutsfords, ever the COBOL and HP Rapid standards-bearers, is something of a coup. The couple retired from the world of the 3000 to set off an epic career of cruise line travels, so catching them for a picture requires some foresight. They are circling the globe in a lifestyle that shows there's another, more rewarding kind of migration awaiting the luckiest of us.

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

June 24, 2014

Robelle shows off uniformizing phone data

The latest newsletter from Robelle Solutions Technology shows off how to normalize phone numbers in databases. (To be precise, this is a process that's different from classic database normalization: It's more like "uniformization," to cobble together a term, since normalization has already been taken, years ago while creating database maintenance procedures.)

The object of this uniformization is to remove the non-number characters from a phone number byte container. Normalization is a significant element in data cleansing. As IT pros on the move in a migration, or just diligent about their use of company resources will report, cleansing doesn't happen only when you're moving data between platforms or app to app.

Suprtool expert Neil Armstrong of Robelle said that "Considering the following data, you see that the phone numbers have all sorts of different formats."

>in myphone
>list
>xeq
>IN myphone (0) >OUT $NULL (0)
PHONENUM        = #123.456.7890
 
>IN myphone (1) >OUT $NULL (1)
PHONENUM        = (123)567-1234
 
>IN myphone (2) >OUT $NULL (2)
PHONENUM        = (321).123.5678
 
IN=3, OUT=3. CPU-Sec=1. Wall-Sec=1.

Robelle -- whose Bob Green also posted news of this month's HP3000 Reunion meeting at Dirty Dick's pub in London -- asked Armstrong to show how all of these phone formats could be fit into a consistent container.

"The steps in normalizing the data are to remove the non-numeric numbers," Armstrong said in his article.

>in myphone
>set cleanchar ""
>clean "^0:^47","^58:^255"
>def newphone,1,14
>ext phonenum=$clean(phonenum)
>out newphone,link
>xeq
IN=3, OUT=3. CPU-Sec=1. Wall-Sec=1.

>in newphone
>list
>xeq
>IN newphone (0) >OUT $NULL (0)
PHONENUM        = 1234567890

>IN newphone (1) >OUT $NULL (1)
PHONENUM        = 1235671234

>IN newphone (2) >OUT $NULL (2)
PHONENUM        = 3211235678

IN=3, OUT=3. CPU-Sec=1. Wall-Sec=1.
You can then use an edit mask to format it in the same way. You do need to redefine the field being edited with a define of the number with just the length of the phone number:
>in newphone
>form
    File: newphone (SD Version B.00.00) Has linefeeds
       Entry:                     Offset
          PHONENUM             X14     1
    Entry Length: 14  Blocking: 1
>def my,phonenum,10
>def targ,1,12
>ext targ=$edit(my,"xxx.xxx.xxxx")
>list
>xeq
>IN newphone (0) >OUT $NULL (0)
TARG            = 123.456.7890

>IN newphone (1) >OUT $NULL (1)
TARG            = 123.567.1234

>IN newphone (2) >OUT $NULL (2)
TARG            = 321.123.5678

IN=3, OUT=3. CPU-Sec=1. Wall-Sec=1.
 

Posted by Ron Seybold at 02:35 PM in Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 23, 2014

New search for 3000 expertise surfaces

MEAS-HamptonPictureEditor's Update: This position is still open as of this writing, on June 27. Contact details are near the end of the article.

New openings for HP 3000 production and development jobs are uncommon prizes by now. Contract firms have been known to solicit MPE help while making a migration happen. Application support suppliers need IT professionals who know the details of mission-critical software, too. 

But every once in awhile, a company that's still dedicated to using MPE software sends the word out that it's hiring for HP 3000 and MPE specifics. Such is the case from Measurement Specialties. The location is at the company's Hampton Roads, Virginia headquarters. The job listing from Terry Simpkins, Director of Business Systems for the manufacturer which uses MANMAN, Fortran and VEsoft's MPEX and Security/3000 -- among other platform-specific tools such as TurboIMAGE -- describes both classic and specialized enterprise IT skills.

"The leading manufacturer of sensors and sensing systems" is seeking a Business Analyst.

Areas of responsibility include:

  • Daily user training and support
  • Participate in projects in all functional areas of the business
  • Serve as backup support for HP3000 operations and nightly processing

Key skills and capabilities include:

  • Strong MANMAN experience and expertise
  • Ability to read Fortran and perform some level of programming
  • Strong understanding of MPEX scripting and Security/3000 menus
  • Ability to handle multiple concurrent projects and tasks
Measurement Specialties has been installing HP 3000 systems in manufacturing plants around the world. A raft of facilities went online in China in the previous decade, all part of the MANMAN network for the company. Measurement Specialites is a public firm traded on the NASDAQ (MEAS).

The organization says that "If you are interested in a challenging and exciting opportunity with a dynamic and growing company," please contact

Terry W. Simpkins
Director of Business Systems
Measurement Specialties, Inc. 
1000 Lucas Way, Hampton, VA   23666
Office:  +1 757-766-4278
Mobile:  +1 757 532-5685
terry.simpkins@meas-spec.com

Posted by Ron Seybold at 09:11 PM in Homesteading, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 20, 2014

Time to Sustain, If It's Not Time to Change

LarsHomesteadIn the years after HP announced its 3000 exit, I helped to define the concept of homesteading. Not exactly new, and clearly something expected in an advancing society. Uncle Lars' homestead, at left, showed us how it might look with friendly droids to help on Tattooine. The alternative 3000 future that HP trumpeted in 2002 was migration. But it's clear by now that the movement versus steadfast strategy was a fuzzy picture for MPE users' future.

What remains at stake is transformation. Even to this week, any company that's relying on MPE, as well as those making a transition, are judging how they'll look in a year, or three, or five. We've just heard that software rental is making a comeback at one spot in the 3000 world. By renting a solution to remain on a 3000, instead of buying one, a manager is planning to first sustain its practices -- and then to change.

Up on the LinkedIn 3000 Community page I asked if the managers and owners were ready to purchase application-level support for 3000 operations. "It looks like several vendors want to sell this, to help with the brain-drain as veteran MPE managers retire." I asked that question a couple of years ago, but a few replies have bubbled up. Support has changed with ownership of some apps, such as Ecometry, and with some key tools such as NetBase.

"Those vendors will now get you forwarded to a call center in Bangalore," said Tracy Johnson, a veteran MPE manager at Measurement Specialties. "And by the way, Quest used to be quick on support. Since they got bought by Dell, you have to fill in data on a webpage to be triaged before they'll even accept an email."

Those were not the kind of vendors I was suggesting. Companies will oversee and maintain MPE apps created in-house, once the IT staff changes enough to lose 3000 expertise. But that led to another reply about why anyone might pursue the course to Sustain, when the strategy to Change seems overwhelming.

Managed Business Systems, one of the original HP Platinum Migration partners, was ready to do this sustaining as far back as a decade ago. Companies like the Support Group, Pivital Solutions -- they're still the first-line help desks and maintainers for 3000 sites whose bench has grown thin. Fresche Legacy made a point of offering this level of service, starting from the last days when it was called Speedware. There are others willing to take over MPE app operations and care, and some of these vendors have feet planted firmly in the Change camp, as well as staking out the Sustain territory.

Todd Purdum of Sherlock Systems wondered on LinkedIn if there really was a community that would take on applications running under MPE. We ran an article last year about the idea of a backstop if your expertise got ill or left the company. Five years earlier, we could point to even smaller companies, and firms like 3K Ranger and Pro 3K are available to do that level of work. Purdum, by his figuring, believes such backstops are rare.

Although I agree with the need for sustained resources to keep an HP3000 running, I'm not sure that "several vendors" can provide this. We have been in the business for over 23 years, and as a leader in providing hardware and application support for HP 3000s and MPE, I don't see many other vendors truly being capable of providing this.

Purdum asked, tongue-in-cheek, if there was a 3000 resurgence on the way he didn't see coming. No one has a total view of this market. But anecdotal reports are about all anyone has been able to use for most of a decade. Even well-known tool vendors are using independent support companies for front-line support. Purdum acknowledged that the support would be there, but wondered who'd need it.

Customers who use MPE (the HP 3000) know their predicament, and offering more salvation does not help them move into the right direction. I am only a hardware support company (that had to learn all HP 3000 applications) and it disappoints me a little that the companies you mentioned, most of which are software companies, haven't developed software that will allow these folks to finally move on and get off of this retired platform. 

I can't change it, I just sustain it... applications and all.

Sustaining mission-critical use of MPE is the only choice for some companies have in 2014. Their parent corporations aren't ready for a hand-off, or budget's not right, or yes, their app vendor isn't yet ready with a replacement app. That's what's leading to software rentals. When a company chooses to homestead, it must build a plan to Sustain. HP clearly retired its 3000 business more than three years ago. But that "final" moving on, into the realms of real change, follows other schedules, around the world. On the world of Tattooine, Lars first changed by setting up a moisture farm, then sustained. And then everything changed for him and Luke Skywalker. Change-sustain-change doesn't have a final state.

 

 

 

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

June 16, 2014

Going Virtual, or Getting More Live

Duncan ChampionWe were not there live last night -- but we remember what the Finals felt like, that seed that made the virtual rich enough.

Virtual is the new efficient. Going virtual in computing means doing away with what's not essential. But what it really means is re-thinking how to do something that's been done the same since before anybody can recall. MPE is going virtual this year, and every year for the rest of this decade that it can shed its Hewlett-Packard hardware, much of it built in the previous century.

There are good reasons for going virtual, as well as good reasons for going what -- actual? Live, there, that's the word for it, in-person and physical. Yesterday I got a Father's Day treat at the movie theatre. We don't go there often anymore, but when we do, we want to be in an IMAX Mini theatre, wearing 3D glasses. Otherwise, there's always streaming at home to experience stories.

Why even bother to leave your chair? In a world where information and experience can feel as real as being present, those are good questions to consider while investing. Last night an NBA championship game was being played just 90 minutes from my house. But while it was sorely tempting, I absorbed the experience from my purple leather sofa in front of a modest flat-screen TV. I wasn't in the arena with my San Antonio Spurs. I had a virtual experience. But as its greybearded leader Tim Duncan looked like a youngster in winning once again, late in the game which is his career, I felt like I’d been there -- because I remember when Abby and I were there, cheering for a title 11 years ago.

Scientists tell us that this sort of memory is what makes virtual experiences most powerful. We imprint on the emotion and richness of a live event, remembering the race of the heart and the sweat on our brow. Or maybe the feeling of being known and understood, in a meeting of IT pros or inside a conference hall. This emulated intimacy becomes palatable when you know the real thing. It makes it possible to become a powerful tool in a world we’re experiencing at a broadband pace. We can also control the mix of the event’s information and our own comforts.

At my house we had the network broadcasting its video on the TV, and we didn't time-delay with our DVR like we do during the regular season games. The pictures were live. At the same time, we live close enough to San Antonio to get a clear feed of the Spurs' flagship radio station WOAI -- where our comforting announcer Bill Shoenig called the action. I simply could not recreate this kind of multimedia inside the arena. Because I had dread as well as elation to juggle for three hours, the whole melange was more tasty when I could see what I want -- enhanced with replay ---while I could hear what I craved: that upbeat voice, making an outlook on a story Whose outcome we could not predict.

Virtual was better. An emulation can improve on the original.

We crave this kind of experience in our work, too. There’s a bit of an unexpected miracle going on in Hollywood this month. A legendary mansion will be the site of a PowerHouse user conference and advisory board meeting. It’s not the right time to attend, for some managers who use that development suite. So at least one of those pros has asked if the whole conference couldn’t be webcast. HP did this earlier this month at its Discover conference. 

COMMON VirtualCOMMON, the user group for the IBM enterprise server manager, has been trying to emulate a trade show for awhile. It's all well within the realm of reality, tech-wise. But a conference presentation is one kind of thing to splash over the Web. The interaction between users is far tougher to duplicate. HP tried this show concept, years ago, attempting to mount a virtual conference, complete with expo area. It’s a concept that’s still ahead of its time. Visiting the COMMON virtual conference above even shows a few animated people outside an expo hall, well-rendered. But without anything to share with you. There's no live-world reference with these people to recall.

Virtualization can only go as far as our experience will allow. Here in mid-June, a London pub was hosting a meeting of 3000 veterans for what amounted to a reunion. No presentations, just talk. This kind of exchange was sometimes the most profound part of a meeting, which is why the PickFair mansion in Hollywood and Dirty Dick’s London pub will resound with voices, handshakes, and a communal beverage. In my house, the beer didn't taste any different at halftime of the Spurs game, because I was drinking one alongside my favorite fan.

Earlier this month there were slick productions with TV-grade lighting and sound at the HP Discover conference. Live on your laptop, you could watch three relatively-fresh CEOs from Intel, Microsoft and HP explain why working together is a better idea for their companies than the alternative they’ve been trying: HP selling OS products, Microsoft peddling hardware, Intel integrating both into its own branded knock-offs. We did experience the novelty of watching a trade conference event live. But aside from the comfort and economy, going virtual didn’t make it any better.

I missed the coarse roar off the rafters of the AT&T Center at the timeouts, when the Spurs forced Miami to rethink its defense. But those camera angles, that replay, and the sharp commentary improved my virtual experience. Virtualization can multiply the gifts of its original. But when you don't know the original, it's a good time to experience it.

Wednesday evening we're going to the Riverwalk in San Antonio for the victory parade, a celebration where the team is ferried around the river on barges, with fans thronging the riverbanks. It will be a Spurs crowd ten times the size of any we've experienced inside an arena. We could watch the parade on that flat-screen. But it's better to have those live experiences to leaven a virtual loaf. That's why a mansion and a pub are still important parts of a world that's heading for the efficiency of virtual.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:21 PM in Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 13, 2014

User group's mansion meet sets deadline

JoinUsPowerHouse


June 15 is the first "secure your spot" registration date

PowerHouse customers, many of whom are still using their HP 3000 servers like those at Boeing, have been invited to the PickFair mansion in Hollywood for the first PowerHouse user conference. The all-day Friday meeting is June 27, but a deadline to ensure a reserved space passes at the end of June 15.

That's a Sunday, and Father's Day at that, so the PowerHouse patriarchy is likely to be understanding about getting a reservation in on June 16. Russ Guzzo, the marketing and PR powerhouse at new owners Unicom Global, said the company's been delighted at the response from customers who've been called and gathered into the community.

"I think it makes a statement that we're in it for the long haul," Guzzo said of gathering the customers, "and that the product's no longer sitting on the shelf and collecting dust. Let's talk." 

We're taking on a responsibility, because we know there are some very large companies out there that have built their existence around this technology. It's an absolute pleasure to be calling on the PowerHouse customers. Even the inactive ones. Why? Because they love the technology, and I've heard, "Geez, I got a phone call?"

Register at unicomglobal.com/PowerHouseCAB -- that's shorthand for Customer Advisory Board. It's a $500 ticket, or multiple registrations at $395 each, with breakfast and lunch included. More details, including a handsome flyer for justifying a one-day trip, at the event's webpage.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 11:34 PM in Homesteading, Migration, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 06, 2014

A Long Time in Passing

TimpassingIt's very late spring here at my house, and that means our basketball ardor is at its zenith. This year my beloved San Antonio Spurs are already playing in the championship round. The NBA calls this The Finals. But for the last seven years, there's been nothing final about the Spurs' work to win a title. Each year the organization, as they like to call the coaches, managers and players that comprise the team, seems to make a serious Drive for Five after four previous championships. Their last championship was in 2007 -- or in the middle of HP's first "wait a minute" two-year extension of its 3000 business.

Over the past three years, though, analysts in the sports community have tried to write off the Spurs as too old to compete at the highest level. Tim Duncan, Spurs superstar and Hall of Famer in waiting, is about as old as a Series II HP 3000. Unlike that CISC model of server, Tim's gotten better with age, more crafty with the minutes he plays in what's clearly the last act of his career. The former monster scorer has become a passer.

By his side on the court, two other stars play, to make up the Spurs' Big Three. Everybody's got a Big Three now in basketball, from the Celtics to the Miami Heat. The Spurs were the first. Their other stars are as old as a Series III (Manu Ginobilli) and Tony Parker, a younger man, but as old as a Series 68.

One of my first assignments in journalism was as sports editor. I covered five prep school districts and wrote a lot of stories about boys and girls who were 13-18 years old. There was plenty of drama and heroics. What I learned back then was that age didn't matter, if you had the right coach and you were focused enough to learn how your skills could shape each game. Del Coryover was a star at 15 in Leander, carrying the football for a couple of touchdowns a night. Nobody told him he was not the right age to fly past bigger defenders.

So it seems, sometimes, for HP 3000 installations begun in the 1980s. Like those Spurs stars, these servers and the pros who manage them just keep coming back for more work. On the ABC network, they've taken to calling the Big Three and their legendary coach Gregg Popovich "The Same 'Ol Spurs," with affection by now. Their continued championship relevance, over a stretch of time that goes back to before there were A-Class and N-Class servers, has earned them respect. They are not flashy. Nobody pounds their chest and screams to the rafters after a monster dunk, or a back-door cut, or dropped-bomb three-pointer, or the blocked shot -- although they perform all of these nightly.

 

Last night they played badly, under brutal conditions. The AC failed in their homecourt at the ATT Center, and in that 90-degree indoor swelter they failed to pass crisply. Miami stole the basketball like bloodhounds after loose pork chops. But the Spurs play their bench men often, and in crunch time, too. It's a full-team approach, instead of superstars like cloud servers and Oracle databases. They survived on reliability last night, counting on the fact that fresh players make better plays. What makes the 3000 great is what makes the Spurs great: consistency, the clockwork-like execution that happens from hundreds of hours of practice, all laid down upon a bedrock of team-first strategy. They practice passing "from good shot to great shot."

As one example of delicious good to great dependability, consider something called the outlet pass in basketball. You probably never heard of it because it's fundamental. Tim has been re-coached by Coach Pop, as he's called, to use stunning talent to make these offense-sparking plays perfect and extraordinary. At their best, they can be the long-bomb touchdowns of basketball. For the basketball geek, the YouTube video embedded here gives you a taste of these Duncan veggies, whizzing the ball down-court to make the sizzle happen at the other end.

How is it possible that the outlet pass -- or a bank shot, one of Tim's mainstay plays -- still works wonders in the modern NBA? He does these things as a trademark that's earned him an un-flashy nickname: The Big Fundamental. When sports analysts are agog at the success of a bank shot -- first performed in the 1950s -- I think of the consultant who observed companies using the equivalent of the bank shot, PowerHouse.

"I am amazed to know that Powerhouse is still running on any platform," Bob Kaminski said, after Unicom bought the product and worked to revive it. As a young employee with the vendor he said, "I started with Quiz, Quick and QTP in 1983-84. Sold it, until I left Cognos in 1989. It was great then, and I assume is still a great tool."

But this passing year means more for the Spurs, and perhaps more for the 3000, than many others before. This season is one of redemption for the team, having seen that Fifth title slip away last year with 28 seconds left to play. It was a gut-punch few other teams could recover from, losing like that. The team responded by leading the league in wins during the next regular season, and now returning to The Finals to gain their revenge -- as well as their respect. Tim Duncan is in the twilight of his career, just like HP's hardware that runs MPE/iX is running out of time.

There's a future for the operating system, the brand of computing that's as extraordinary as the selfless, ball-sharing approach Coach Pop teaches. In the Spurs locker room there's a hungry young star named Kawahi Leonard, gifted with speed and wingspan and intelligence that make him the next generation of The Big Fundamental.

And in your HP 3000 community there is CHARON, the HPA/3000 emulator that will sail higher and faster than any iron HP could ever design. Kawahi needs a coach of the caliber of Pop. CHARON needs coaching that should remind people of Harry Sterling, the last HP general manager who practiced the fundamentals of computer product management. Push the technology to something better like N-Class servers. Be selfless about your own HP future, because the customers matter more than your career. 

When there's a Kawahi around, a Coach Pop tends to emerge. It might take awhile for them to find one another, and in the meantime there are pronouncements about how the star will never amount to championship material. Or a product won't make a mark on the market.

It's a long season for host-based servers, though. While IBM sells off its low-end server business, while Dell crawls into the services space and downplays its iron, the concept of managing an MPE machine yourself is still alive out there. It's pounding the ball up and down the court and looking for its leader, the one who will take a revitalized MPE platform and score. Not so that a lot of people will see and notice. But for a group of companies who are as small as any TV marketplace in San Antonio, it matters because it's history, carried out every day. 

The Big Three and Coach Pop and the Spurs are passing -- both in the sense that they share the ball in their 10-man community of players, and they are working toward that final act of their careers. But it's been a long time in passing, their retirements. Some here in Texas say that even at advanced ages, the Big Three could hang around for another season, challenge for another title. Anything in life that hangs on longer than predicted, and remains productive and relevant and unique while it does, should be applauded and cheered. Those are the sounds coming from my living room this month, while we watch a legend extend days and nights of excellence.

And if it takes any team even longer than expected to make its passing -- while it remains essential -- what a gift, for those of us who love the fundamentals.

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

May 30, 2014

Deleting 3000 System Disks That Go Bad

Hard-disk-headAs Hewlett-Packard's 3000s age, their disks go bad. It's the fate of any component with moving parts, but it's especially notable now that an emulated 3000 is a reality. The newest HP-built 3000 is at least 11 years old by now. Disks that boot these servers might be newer, but most of them are as old as the computer itself.

A CHARON-based 3000 will have newer drives in it, because it's a modern Intel server with current-day storage devices. However, for the nearly-total majority of the 3000 system managers without a CHARON HPA/3000, the drives in their 3000s are spinning -- ever-quicker -- to that day when they fail to answer the bell.

Even after replacing a faulty 3000 drive — which is not expensive at today's prices — there are a few software steps to perform. And thus, our tale of the failed system (bootup) disk.

Our disk was a MEMBER in MPEXL_SYSTEM_VOLUME_SET. I am trying to delete the disk off the system.  Upon startup of the machine is says that LDEV 4 is not available.  When going into SYSGEN, then IO, then DDEV 4 it gives me a warning that it is part of the system volume set — cannot be deleted.  I have done an INSTALL from tape (because some of the system files were on that device), which worked successfully. How do I get rid of this disk?

Gilles Schipper of GSA said that the INSTALL is something to watch while resetting 3000 system disks.

Sounds like the install did not leave you with only a single MPEXL_SYSTEM_VOLUME_SET disk. Could it be that you have more than one system volume after INSTALL because other, non-LDEV 1 volumes were added with the AVOL command of SYSGEN -- instead of the more traditional way of adding system volumes via the VOLUTIL utility?

You can check as follows:

SYSGEN
IO
LVOL

If the resulting output shows more than one volume, that's the answer.

Schipper offered a repair solution, as well. 

Schipper's solution would use these steps:

1. Reboot with:

START NORECOVERY SINGLE-DISC SINGLE-USER

2. With SYSGEN, perform a DVOL for all non-LDEV1 volumes

3. HOLD, then KEEP CONFIG.SYS

4. Create a new System Load Tape (SLT)

5. Perform an INSTALL from the newly-created SLT

6. Add any non-LDEV1 system volumes with VOLUTIL. This will avoid such problems in future.

Those SLTs are also a crucial component to making serious backups of HP 3000s. VeSoft's Vladimir Volokh told us he saw a commonplace habit at one shop: Neglecting to read the advice they'd received.

"I don't know exactly what to do about my SLT," the manager told him. "HP built my first one using a CD. Do I need that CD?"

His answer was no, because HP was only using the most stable media to build that 3000's first SLT. But Vladimir had a question in reply. Do you read the NewsWire? "Yes, I get it in my email, and my mailbox," she said. But just like other tech resources, ours hadn't been consulted to advise on such procedures, even though we'd run an article about 10 days earlier that explained how to make CSLTs. That tape's rules are the same as SLT rules. Create one each time something changes in your configuration for your 3000.

Other managers figure they'd better be creating an SLT with every backup. Not needed, but there's one step that gets skipped in the process.

"I always say, 'Do and Check,' " Vladimir reports. The checking of your SLT for an error-free tape can be done with the 3000's included utilities. The venerable TELESUP account, which HP deployed to help its support engineers, has CHECKSLT for you to run and do the checking.

There's also the VSTORE command of MPE/iX to employ in 3000 checking. If your MPE references come from Google searches instead of reading your Newswire, you might find it a bit harder to locate HP's documentation for VSTORE. You won't find what you'd expect in a 7.5 manual. HP introduced VSTORE in MPE/iX 5.0, so that edition of the manual is where its details reside.  (Thanks to Digital Innovations' HP MM Support website for its enduring MPE/iX manual archives).

It's also standard practice to include VSTORE in every backup job's command process.

There's another kind of manager who won't be doing SLTs. That's the one who knows how, but doesn't do the maintenance. You can't make this kind of administrator do their job, not any more than you can make a subscriber read an article. There's lots to be gained by learning skills that keep that 3000 stable and available, even in the event of a disk crash.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 12:40 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 29, 2014

They knew what they had before it was gone

In the classic Joni Mitchell song, she asks, "Don't it always seem to go, you don't know what you got 'till it's gone?" However, in the HP 3000 world, the advocates, fans and users know the special place the 3000 held in their lives -- and long before it was really gone.

Redwoods PicnicAt the now-defunct Boyle Engineering, the last in a long line of HP 3000s was sold for scrap this month, according to Harlan Lassiter. When Boyle was purchased in 2008, the site that housed the 3000 was closed down. Equipment was left behind, but Lassiter -- who worked at Boyle 27 years -- kept track of an abandoned 3000 Series 928. He reported he was sad to see it go. One last boot-up was all that Lassiter wanted at Boyle, whose services were engaged to plan, design, and construct infrastructure projects.

Last time I was in the building, in the corner of the raised floor computer room, was our HP 3000 928 system, console monitor and LPQ1200 printer. Yesterday it was gone. Apparently it was picked up late last week as scrap. Also picked up and sold for scrap from the room were about 50 Dell LCD monitors (some new, still in bubble wrap) and perhaps 30 Dell desktop computers, APC battery backup systems, server arrays, and other assorted computer equipment. Much of the equipment could have been donated to organizations that could use a computer system, even though it would not be the most current.  

That 928 was the last in a series of HP 3000 systems for the company, having begun with a Series II when I first started with Boyle in 1979 . We came a long way. I started as a programmer and left as the system manager. The system ran all of the company in-house accounting, finance, payroll and project tracking reports and engineering software.  All software was developed in-house and was written in FORTRAN. As FORTRAN evolved through the years, so did the software. Files were converted from serial (flat) files to KSAM and eventually to IMAGE databases. What used to take overnight to process took less than an hour in later days.

It was a great learning experience. I guess I was hoping to fire the system up one more time just for nostalgia's sake, since I am the only one left that would be able to do such a thing. 

Another piece of HP history, a living one that served both the 3000 and HP-UX systems, has been bulldozed, right off the ground of the old Hewlett-Packard Cupertino campus.

Apple HQApple now owns the acres of Cupertino where the HP 3000 grew into a business powerhouse. The HP buildings have been razed, and Jim Hawkins of HP reports that even the grove of redwood trees is no more. Apple's building a spaceship-like headquarters in its place. Employees and retirees held picnics there, along with the historic Glendenning Barn which HP maintained as a reminder of the property’s pioneer-era life as an apricot orchard and farm. Hawkins, one of the last 3000-focused engineers at Hewlett-Packard, celebrated those redwoods as a place of the 3000 community.

The HP Cupertino Site, home for (most of) the HP 3000 R&D teams, and manufacturing source of (most) pre-RISC MPE servers, is now scraped clean in preparation to land Apple's "Steve Jobs memorial spaceship." 

The redwood grove where execs used to serve us hamburgers during beer busts is all cut down, as are apparently all other trees except those on the borders of Pruneridge, Wolfe, Homestead, and Tantau streets.

After reading Lassiter's farewell, Ed Effinger shared a memorial in waiting. His was report of a forthcoming shutdown at Conestoga College in Kitchener, Ontario. "We have a similar story to what mine will be next March," Effinger said, "as we plan to pull the plug on our Series 929. We also started with HP in 1975-76, to replace our old Honeywell system -- and I too have done all things here."

These are customers of more than 35 years of MPE computing, and that redwood grove was servicing the community at HP's campus even before that time. At least these veterans of the ecosystem know what they're losing, and how much that loss stings. At the old HP campus, it looks like Apple's paving paradise to put up a an underground parking lot.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:38 PM in History, Homesteading, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 28, 2014

3000: Cards and punching and tape, oh-29!

The Hewlett-Packard System/3000 -- that's what the computer called the 3000 was first known as during the era when punched cards and tape could drive its data. The 3000-L mailing list popped back up to life last week with stories about the era when hanging chads and IBM 029 punch machines were a working part of MPE's four decades of historic service.

Reader-punchHistory for an active operating environment whose pedigree includes punched tape and punched cards -- that's pretty much exclusive to the HP 3000. Punching pedigree is a mark of utility and durability, even if those card readers are only in museums and garages today. One recently sold on eBay for more than $300 to a collector.

Maybe it was the debut of a System 360 mainframe on Mad Men's penultimate season that put punched cards into the minds of its longstanding users. Mark Ranft of Pro3K told a story last month about his first IT job as a System 360 operator in the US Marine Corps -- and how that led to a Nortel assignment with a card reader and paper tapes. "Thankfully they had a Series III [HP 3000].  As an operator, I was bored to death, so I read all the manuals.  That's how I got hooked on MPE."

PaperTape2About a month later, former OpenMPE secretary Tracy Johnson started the 3000-L readers down nostalgia lane by pointing to TELTAC: a Teletype tape-to-punched card conversion program. "Was there a Contributed Software Library program for that?" he asked. The MPE CSL was born as a swap tape, during this era of punched card holdouts. Gilles Schipper of GSA associates replied there was no need for a CSL program, because FCOPY has always had that capability.

The memories of cards and punching and the 3000 started to tumble out of the readers of the L. "If I recall correctly," said Terry Simpkins of Measurement Specialties, "when I was with HP's Disc Memory Division in Boise back in the early '80s, we actually had a card reader connected to one of our 3000s. I brought several boxes of cards with me from grad school, and we read them into EBCDIC files. Don't ask why I was carrying boxes of punch cards around the country."

The HP 3000, in its infancy, could use punched cards or paper tape. Those were two computing props not seen in Mad Men this spring. But they're remembered as durable data mediums, even by those of us who dropped a deck or two of them in front of a college computing center on the way to running a program.

"Why cards? asked Tracy Pierce. "A darn reliable medium. You never worried a sec about losing the data in those grad school cards. It's easy to mangle a card so it's not machineable, but darn difficult to really destroy its data. You can run cards through a shredder and still recover the data."

In just a matter of about eight hours, Jeff Kell of the University of Tennessee at Chatanooga had chipped in a thorough history of how data was sent to and from the earliest HP 3000s. The story included a speed measurement that used a holiday as comparison. The HP optical mark sense card reader was the tortoise in the data race.

As for the "mark-sense" reader... we had this grand plan to do grades on "mark-sense" cards. The idea was to "print" class cards (one card per student, sorted by instructor by class), and let them pencil-mark the corresponding grade for the student.  It was great in theory, but the mark-sense reader had much less than stellar performance and reliability (it sucked!). And having these "printed" cards burst on their perforations to yield the "card" left some rough edges, which the reader really, really hated. And it was slow as Christmas. Heck, it was slower than Leap Year.

We got an HP2000/Access system in Fall of 1975. It not only supported a card reader and printer, but also supported the remote job entry communications with the IBM at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. So we had a card reader upstairs in the student keypunch lab, as well as a printer, and there was no more waiting for submission.  They could just feed their jobs directly to the reader, their printouts came back to the printer, and it was available constantly. Big step forward.

Later we got an HP 3000, and had a copy of MRJE/3000. Now students could enter their programs online via Editor/QEdit/Quad/whatever they prefer, submit their jobs via MRJE, and view their output in SPOOK before actually printing it out. Even better still.

Kell added that his campus kept the card reader for the 3000 for legacy purposes. This is a 3000 customer that only turned off its MPE systems last December.

Card readers for the 3000 lasted through the lifespan of the Series 70, which means into the early 1990s. 

"HP reluctantly supported a card reader through Series 70," said Bob Jankowski of Ideal Computer. "It was definitely available with HP-IB interface and required a dedicated GIC and an auto tap switcher for power. I remember working on these a few times -- and one of my current customers still has theirs in the computer room. One of the wearing parts was called a 'picker sector.' Try saying that 10 times fast. The HP 7260A was the optical mark sense reader. I remember it being a serial device used through MPE-V and being picky about what it would read.

Kell's colleague Tony Shepherd recalled the budget-conscious approach that a computing pro of the 1970s had to embrace. Carpentry power tools and rubber stamps were sometimes among the best data tools.

The perforated card edges were a problem. We wound up printing and bursting them, then putting them in card trays (3,000 cards per tray) and sanding the long edges. It took a little explaining to get management to understand why we needed to buy a dual-action orbital sander with integrated vacuum pickup in order to get grades to post. Sears had one for about $50 that did a great job. We had a good incentive to get the OpScan process developed quickly, and it was indeed much better.

In those days we were just staying ahead of the bleeding edge -- we had a small (but dedicated and very smart) staff and no money. Solutions had to be quick and cheap. For example, one office wanted a new system to record sales of parking bumper stickers. We spent some hours "studying" their needs, then presented them with a bound ledger book and a Bates numbering stamp. It fulfilled all their stated requirements.

The physical manifestation of data, cards had personality. "The first card stock we used had problems with curling," Walter Murray reported from his early 3000 days, "but the second stock we tried worked pretty well. Something to do with "long grain" versus "short grain," as I recall. You'd think we were buying rice."

As for the card reader on Murray's Series II HP 3000, Kell described it as hardware that reduced the footprint versus IBM's original designs.

In the HP card reader you loaded cards on the right into a diagonally-slanted tray, pushed the start button, and it had some sort of combination air driven / pick roller thing that swiped the card through the reader into the output stacker on the left. It was pretty darn quick about it too... not up to par with an IBM's speed, but not slouchy at all. And it fit easily on a tabletop, while the IBM version was the size of a chest freezer.

The work was obviously tedious. It might have helped develop an attention to detail in the earliest part of a 3000 pro's career. Kell has the last word on what a keypunch looked like from that era.

If I remember models correctly, there was the 029 (punched cards real-time), the 129 (buffered a card, you could "backspace," it only punched the card once you released it) -- and this service bureau I worked for had some key-to-disk things that "punched" (wrote) data to floppy diskettes. When they were done and verified, you loaded the diskettes into another IBM thing that loaded the diskettes to 9-track tapes that were used as data input on the mainframe.

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

May 23, 2014

Unicom calls PowerHouse users to mansion

Editor's note: We're taking Monday off to celebrate the US Memorial Day. We'll be back May 27 with a look at the impact of HP's latest job cuts. The stock rose 6 percent today to a 52-week high on the news.

Many things are on the table for change in the PowerHouse community, now that Unicom Global owns the software suite and contracts with customers. One of the more notable adjustments in the new order is a June 27 users conference, a single day's meeting to be held on the grounds of a Hollywood landmark.

From 8:30 to 3 that day at "the Legendary PickFair Estate in Beverly Hills," customers and developers using PowerHouse can attend a user conference. At the same time, the vendor's CEO is hand-picking from executive community members who want to serve on the first PowerHouse Customer Advisory Board. The vendor is calling customers over the phone, in addition to email notices and postings on LinkedIn and other web locations. For some customers, the Unicom calls will be the first PowerHouse outreach they've heard in many years.

PickFairThe meeting represents the launch of a PowerHouse user group, one of the first, if not a groundbreaker. I scanned through 20 years of HP 3000 reporting, and plumbed back another 10 while on watch at the HP Chronicle and as an independent editor, and couldn't recall a PowerHouse user group before now. The dim memory of a few Special Interest Group spin-offs from Interex comes to mind. We'd be glad to know if there's any PowerHouse history we overlooked.

The way this group differs from those other user group SIGs is that it's being founded by its vendor. In the days of Interex user groups -- from the early '70s through the end of the 20th Century -- that kind of leadership was considered too intrusive. But times have changed for user groups. They often need the support and attention only a vendor can deliver to a product's customers. HP and Encompass share the reins at HP Discover, the Hewlett-Packard enterprise user conference. Discover takes place June 10-12 at the Venetian Resort on the Las Vegas Strip. HP picks up the greatest share of the expenses at that meeting.

The PowerHouse meeting, a little more than two weeks later, calls users to a  mansion -- the former home of Hollywood icons Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. PickFair is part of the Unicom portfolio, another piece of the evidence that PowerHouse is in for a journey across new grounds.

Users are invited to attend, as well as make a statement about why they'd be a good part of the advisory board, at a Unicom webpage. The cost of the meeting is $500 per person, but if you register two or more attendees, the cost drops to $395 per person. The vendor is inviting customers to "attend the User Group and provide direct input into the PowerHouse roadmap."

There's a travel package deal available as well. Contact the corporation's Russ Guzzo -- who also happens to be leading the integration of PowerHouse into a company that has never sunsetted a product -- at 818.838.0606, or by email at russ.guzzo@unicomglobal.com.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 09:56 PM in Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 20, 2014

Who's SUSAN, and what's her CPUNAME?

The MPE operating system, first booted for genuine use some 40 years ago, is a most unique creature of the computer ecosystem. This is software that does not have its own license, specifically. According to HP, the ownership of any MPE/iX version is determined by owning an Hewlett-Packard 3000 server, one built to boot up MPE/iX.

SusanWe reached out for clarity about this when a very large aircraft maker tipped us off -- once again, it will examine replacing HP's 3000 iron with CHARON licenses on Intel systems. After the MPE/iX software is turned off on any replaced 3000 hardware, does its hardware-based license then expire? The operating system license, according to HP's MPE Technical Consultant Cathlene Mc Rae, is related to the HPSUSAN of the original HP hardware.

So wait a minute. Are these HPSUSAN numbers of 3000s considered de-licensed, even if they're going to be used on the CHARON emulator? Mc Rae explained.

The HPSUSAN number is different from the MPE/iX license, although there is a relation between the two. The ability to use MPE/iX on the emulator is a result of completing a Software License Transfer. The original MPE/iX license on the HP e3000 would then no longer exist. 

In the hardware world of HP 3000s, HPSUSAN takes the original serial and model numbers on the system. It remains the same, as long as the customer owns the system. This combination was used to ID the hardware and enable diagnostics for the correct system.

However, that transferred license for the MPE/iX installation on the CHARON emulator -- available via a $432 Software License Transfer Fee -- won't be getting a new HPSUSAN number during the process. HPSUSAN gets re-used, and so it leads us to see what HPSUSAN stands for, and how the HPCPUNAME is a key in emulator installations.

The U in HPSUSAN stands for Unique, as in System Unique Serially Assigned Number. Mc Rae said that HPSUSAN is one of a kind for HP-built 3000 systems. But SUSAN doesn't designate an MPE/iX license, even though MPE is licensed via hardware ownership. 

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

This sounds familiar. HP once compared the licensing of MPE/iX to license plates issued for a car. They could not be separated, these numbers and the car that was the HP 3000 iron. (Let's just put aside the common practice of those metal-plate days, when they'd give you a new number after your plate was older than 8 years in Texas.)

In 1999, HP was busy suing Hardware House and a few other resellers over the resellers' separation of HPSUSANs from HP's 3000 hardware cars. The House was taking other PA-RISC servers and pressing valid HPSUSAN numbers onto the non-3000 iron. People went to jail. Lo-jacks were ordered for ankles.

Thanks to the passage of 15 years' time, an HPSUSAN number can now move to a USB thumb drive plugged into a CHARON Intel- or AMD-based server. Those license plates can travel to a newer model of car. The emulator's HPCPUNAME, however, can only be designated as an A-Class or N-Class system, according to HP's knowledge. That'll likely be a reason to contact all software vendors whose products operate on the replaced HP 3000 iron.

You see, vendors use a combo of HPSUSAN and HPCPUNAME to control licensing. Products such as Infor's MANMAN or PowerHouse not only want to read HPSUSAN -- which you can move to CHARON -- but also HPCPUNAME. If you're moving off a Series 979, for example, "979-100" isn't an emulated system under CHARON. No 979-100 for HPCPUNAME. You've got to get license permission from your software vendors to enable an A-Class or N-Class HPCPUNAME.

The HPCPUNAME on the CHARON system may not be set to 979, Mc Rae said. "Based on the CHARON HPA/3000 family, it is assumed that the HPCPUNAME will be set to an A-Class or N-Class CPUNAME," she said. "For example: HPCPUNAME = SERIES e3000/A500-200-50. As far as I know, CHARON can only emulate A- and N-Class systems." That's true: a Series 9xx model isn't on the HPA/3000 product list.

The silver lining in this cloud is that you're only doing this contacting and CPUNAME-changing once. Moving to an A-Class or faster CPU from a 9x9 system is the last time you'll be changing from an unsupported CPUNAME to something included in the CHARON product line. 

In short, independent software vendors are going to have to be contacted, if they've licensed their products with the HPCPUNAME-HPSUSAN combo on a Series 9xx. Contacting your software vendors about a system upgrade is a fair business practice. But it's more than the right thing to do. Series 9xx users headed to the emulator look like they need that refresh to boot up their indie software.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:06 PM in History, Homesteading, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 19, 2014

PowerHouse users launch enhancement run

Years ago, the Interex users group for HP 3000 managers and owners provided a way to make MPE better. There wasn’t much that HP was willing to do to re-engineer its hardware servers — not working off the requests of customers. But ah, the operating system and its allied software subsystems were always open for system enhancement requests. They called it a System Improvement Ballot, and every year had an SIB.

In their day, these were much awaited missives from lovers of MPE to the heart of the OS, the HP labs. They were ranked and debated. The collection of a Gang of Six such requests made up the mission statement for OpenMPE from the first year of that group’s existence. When the labs went dark and that list was frozen, there was little hope of anything thawing the development stream.

That’s what makes the PowerHouse community so novel. After years of nothing new in the product line, the new owners have opened the doors to enhancement requests. The discussion of who’s going to manage the enhancement requests started bubbling up at the LinkedIn Cognos PowerHouse group. It tells a good deal about how slowly things were flowing at the time by looking at the name of that group. Cognos hasn’t been the owner of PowerHouse since 2009. Now that IBM has sold off the products and customer base, Unicom Global is using an established representative to build a wish list.

Bob Deskin has taken the discussion of enhancements onto the Powerhouse-L mailing list. If you're watchful about how much email fills your inbox, you can simply keep track of the list's archives without subscribing. Customers are giving the new PowerHouse management fresh improvement requests using that list.

There’s a lot of catching up and improvement to do. As one example, Fatal Errors of the software were “never documented in the manuals,” according to Bob Deskin, formerly the Cognos/IBM voice of PowerHouse products to the customer base. 

"More often than not," Deskin said of the Fatal Errors, “they simply represent something that should not have happened. And the most common cause for that was something else that happened but shouldn’t have that ended up causing the Fatal Error. That’s why many of them are so hard to trace.”

Details of what could be brought up to date in PowerHouse, shared to that mailing list this week, are going into deep specifics. But that’s what you expect from the creators of software. Deskin’s encouraging transparency.

As you can imagine, the UNICOM PowerHouse team is still in transition. That said, they are looking to the future and although they and I have some ideas, we’d like to hear yours big or small. You can post them here for everyone to see. That way everyone gets to see them and expand on them.

There’s no guarantee about how many of these requests will ever be acted upon. Or even which versions of PowerHouse products (MPE, or VMS, or AS/400) are eligible for wishes. But Bob Deskin, consulting with Unicom to moderate a dialogue with users, suggests that everybody with a PowerHouse request chip in, right out in public.

A colleague of Deskin’s, one who’d worked with him both at Cognos and then later at IBM, offered this testimonial to Deskin being the right fellow to listen at this moment. Matt Ohmes said nobody’s a better match for this role -- a pivot point for PowerHouse, happening at Unicom.

I’ve worked with Cognos, then IBM for 31 years, many of the early years especially using PowerHouse and gained quite a reputation myself. And I would like to say that there is not another person — literally — on earth who knows more, or is better qualified to answer questions about PowerHouse than Bob Deskin.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 10:11 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (1)

May 15, 2014

Techniques for file copying, compressions

I need to submit a file to from an HP 3000 to my credit card processor, a file that is an 80-byte file. Before I submit it, I need to zip the file. I’m using the Posix shell and its zip program. I SFTP’d the file, but my vendor is not processing the file because it is supposedly 96 bytes long. If I unzip the file that I zipped, it becomes a bytestream file. I then check — by doing an FCOPY FROM=MYFILE;TO=;HEX;CHAR — and I see that no record exceeds 80 bytes. Why do they think it is an 96-byte file?

Barry Lake of Allegro replies

I would convert it to a bytestream file before zipping it 

:tobyte.hpbin.sys "-at /SG2VER/PUB/LCAUTHOT /SOME/NEW/FILE"

Mark Ranft adds

I would try copying the file to an intermediate server. Zip it. And SFTP it. See if that provides better results.

Tony Summers suggests there is good background instruction, to understand how MPE/iX files are different than those in Unix, at Robelle's MPE for Unix Users article.

I thought there was an option to FCOPY part of a record. If the record contains TODAY IS MONDAY and you want only columns 10-12, I thought there was an FCOPY subset option-- one that would result in just the characters in those positions (MON). Am I halucinating?

Francois Desrochiers replies

The SUBSET option is used to select records by record numbers or strings in certain columns, but you cannot select parts of records. It always works on complete records. You have to use other tools such as Suprtool, Qedit, Editor, Quad, or the Posix "cut" to extract columns.

Olav Kappert adds

You can also pipe the record into a variable and the parse whatever you want out.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 12:53 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 14, 2014

Short Report: TTerm Pro's latest tool works

TTermProNSVT

As we reported yesterday, the TTerm Pro app for HP 3000 emulation got an enhancement this month, one that makes the software very unique. NS/VT protocol support isn't exactly rocket science, but its not straightforward, either. The history of the 3000 is strewn with terminal emulator makers who didn't get this aspect all figured out.

Our ally Jon Diercks, who's the author of The MPE/iX System Administrator Handbook, updated his iPad app and gave the new 1.1.0 version a test. The short report: NS/VT seems to work, at first glance. Diercks added a second test to the first one of the app. He connected his iPad to the HPA202 freeware version of CHARON. With his exam, an HP 3000 terminal emulator was talking with an emulated HP 3000. He offered the screen shot above as proof.

Well, the 30-second report is ... it works! I fired up Charon, copied my previous TTerm telnet profile and changed to NS/VT, and the logon prompt came right up. The :SHOWVAR command above proves that NS/VT protocol is in use. I also launched NMMGR just to verify block mode still looks okay. I might play with it more later, but that's enough to satisfy my curiosity for now.

It's a marvel to consider how MPE has been carried into the future with this combination. The iOS operating system on the iPad is certain to have a longer life where it's improved than the alternatives based on desktops. By that, I mean I believe iOS has "got legs," as the saying goes among theatre people when they talk about a long-running show. You don't need a PC and Windows any more to emulate a 3000 terminal.

And with CHARON, you don't need the 3000 hardware anymore, either. All that's left is MPE and IMAGE, the bedrock of what we know as the 3000 experience.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 12:03 PM in Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 13, 2014

iPad 3000 terminal emulator gains NS/VT

The only tablet-ready terminal emulator for HP 3000 users has crossed over even further into the language of MPE. The 1.1.0 version of TTerm Pro adds HP's 3000-specific Network Services/Virtual Terminal protocol. The new feature means that many more MPE applications will run without a flaw over the Apple iPad tablets.

TTerm Pro portrait view TelnetTo be exact, the latest version of TTerm Pro will run under iOS7, so it's possible that some other Apple mobile product could link up this app with a 3000. But a tablet is pretty much the minimum screen real estate for a terminal emulator. Jon Diercks, who tested the previous version of TTerm Pro, said in his review that an external keyboard connected via Bluetooth eased the use of tablet-based terminal emulation. But the screen capture at left -- collected back when TTerm Pro only did Telnet links -- shows you can even get a soft keyboard, plus function keys, onto an iPad's screen.

Turbosoft, which released a 3000-ready version of the iPad app last year, has lowered the price of TTerm Pro by 50 percent. It now sells for $24.95. Any 3000 managers who purchased the app last year can update it -- with its new 3000-savvy -- for free. NS/VT could be worth a lot more for any company that wants to preserve a 3000 application's capability to go mobile.

The earlier version of TTerm Pro supported only Telnet connectivity, which meant that the longest-standing 3000 apps would not run in the iPad-based emulator. Mind you, this is not an emulator of the base 3000 PA-RISC processor, a la CHARON. This iPad app emulates HP's proprietary terminals for the 3000, specifically the HP 700/92 series.

The MPE applications which were tuned the finest for 3000 users relied upon NS/VT protocols. The protocol was developed by HP as an emulation itself: NS/VT gave users on Local Area Networks the same kind of performance and reliability only available through an ATP card inside a 3000. By using NS/VT, an application didn't require that a 3000 have that card.

AICS Research developed a QCTerm emulator during the late 1990s which relied upon Telnet for its network protocols. But AICS founder Wirt Atmar knew very well how much advantage NS/VT held over Telnet. Full-duplex is being emulated via NS/VT, and that ensures the delivery of data.

Full-duplex has traditionally been by far and away the preferred protocol for communication with a host computer, because you have this very strong reassurance that the host did indeed receive the character. The host's retransmission of the character back to you is an explicit verification that it saw and absorbed the character you just typed.

NS/VT is an HP-proprietary client/server protocol — but it is also nothing more than a simple and obvious extension of the design philosophy that had begun with the ATP card, where a remote processor transmits a line of text to the HP3000's CPU only when that line of text is complete.

Two ways are commonly available today to use NS/VT-like services. One requires the use of a DTC (data terminal controller), the other a terminal emulator. In both, the function of the original ATP card is being faithfully recreated. When you serially communicate with a DTC, a processor located on the DTC's serial card is absorbing every character you type and echoing it back to you. Only when a termination character is typed, or the line buffer is full, or a time-out occurs, is your line of text transmitted to the HP3000 as a single packet of information via the LAN that connects the DTC to the HP3000.

An NS/VT-based terminal emulator is maintaining essentially full-duplex communication with the DTC serial card — or your PC's memory. Every character you type under NS/VT is immediately echoed back to your screen. Only when you strike the carriage return (or the enter key) is your line of text transmitted over the LAN to the HP 3000. "Turn-around times" are so quick on a LAN (if it's not too busy) that you don't tend to notice the nature of one-way communication inherent to a LAN.

According to the ubiquitous management manual The MPE/iX System Administrator's Handbook, NS/VT is a better choice for applications on 3000s. "It usually yields the best overall results, because it is optimized for the way most MPE applications work," the book states in its Getting Connected section. NS/VT is enough of an emulation specialty that Attachmate offers the WRQ-developed Reflection as a separate Reflection HP product. The chief difference between the rest of the Reflection line is that NS/VT is included in Reflection HP. There's an uplift in price for this capability.

TTerm Pro includes NS/VT along with Telnet protocol. It's pretty obvious a company isn't going to replace all of its terminal emulator desktops and laptops with iPads. But it's a real help to know the protocol optimized for the HP 3000 now has a way to run on mobile tablets. Consider that previous sentence for a moment. Then decide how often technology continues to flow back to the world of MPE. Instead of $249 a seat, terminal emulation now costs $24.95. And upgrades are free if you're using an Apple tablet.

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