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)

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August 27, 2014

A Virtual Legacy from the Past to the Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 26, 2014

See how perl's strings still swing for MPE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 22, 2014

30 years ago, 1984 seemed like news

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 21, 2014

TBT 1984: The Days of Beauty and Wonder

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

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

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

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

Powerhouse Universal 1984

 

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

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

Interact wafer cover 1984

 

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

August 20, 2014

Small office — but a modest, social market

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 19, 2014

What Changed Over 30 Years: Bespoke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 18, 2014

This Is Where I Came In

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. Once the MPE/iX software will be 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)

May 12, 2014

3000 world loses dauntless Dunlop carrier

Hp3000linksDunlop Tires are a brand from England known for their breakthrough as tires which bore their weight on air. The pneumatic tire was crafted by John Dunlop to prevent headaches for bicycle riders. All tires to that point -- the British call them tyres -- used solid rubber instead of inflated designs. The 3000 and MPE community had its own Dunlop for decades: John Dunlop, founder of the headache-busting HP3000links.com website. Dunlop is an HP 3000 pro of more than 30 years standing, and more than 20 of it he spent posting to and reading the wisdom on the 3000-L mailing list. Last week, Dunlop reported he's moving out of the world of the 3000, since his server at work has been decommissioned.

Yesterday I turned off the HP3000 918 for the final time. It became surplus to requirements, finally.

It had been humming away quite happily for the last several years without much in the way of maintenance, and it did what it does best, being one of the best and most reliable online transaction processors ever built. For durability and reliability, it was without peer.

A rather sad event seeing as I have been working on HP3000's for the last 30-plus years, although very little in the last year or so.

Dunlop has only retired his HP 3000 career, and retains his life as an IT pro. But for more than a good decade of his 30-plus years in the community, he carried vital links to 3000 information and technique from his labor-of-love website. HP3000links.com pumped up the skill level of MPE owners and managers. Dunlop dedicated his career to the 3000 in other ways as well.

In the middle of the prior decade, Dunlop served as the webmaster for the OpenMPE advocacy group. This was a time when that group was proposing paid membership. That website would have been essential to providing service to paid members. In the middle of the last decade, openmpe.com still had one of the most extensive lists of 3000 owners. Even without the paid membership, Dunlop was posting meeting minutes on the site during a period when there was close scrutiny of OpenMPE developments.

His own site was a lively circus-page of links to technical papers as well as a gateway to many 3000 websites of the past decade. "In spite of all the discussion about dwindling HP 3000 resources, the links I have pulled together and maintained are still available," Dunlop said in 2006, "and demonstrate that there is still a lot out there for the HP 3000 user." Dunlop acted as an editor while he maintained the site for more than a decade. 

Four years ago he wondered why HP wanted to hang on to control of the 3000's configuration software after the vendor left the MPE market.

"There is software out there which will change HPSUSAN numbers," he said. "Surely HP would not be interested in chasing up anyone who used this software now, seeing as they have lost all interest in the HP3000?" Told that HP had just restated its forever-more control of SS_UPDATE -- the only 3000 support it will do on the record -- Dunlop replied, "I can't see why HP wants to retain control of this still, unless it's to try and milk a few more dollars out of the HP 3000 community."

The loss of a community member who knew the 3000 from the 1970s can feel like a death in the family, even though that person remains very much alive. The demise of HP3000links.com is very real, of course. Original material that it referenced is still alive on the web, in many cases. We did a survey of its vendor list during 2012, simply amazed at that time that it could have been so comprehensive.

Dunlop was signing off of 3000-L with his report. For years he's shared his wisdom while managing systems at Polimeri Europa UK Ltd. The company manufactures, among other things, synthetic rubber.

For many years, I have been mostly a lurker on this list but have benefitted greatly from the massed HP3000 knowledge so amptly demonstrated by the other members of this list.  To all the contributors, much thanks for all your help over the years.

So, sadly, this will be my final post to the list as I will no longer be seeking help in HP3000-land. To all, best of luck. Cheerio! 

One of his most notable contributions we could find in the 18-plus years of Newswire archives appeared in a 1999 article describing Posix startups under MPE/iX. The namespace for MPE which behaves most like Unix didn't always work properly on older systems:

Some sites are completely missing all of the HFS files (this is usually caused by an “incorrect” reload). From the MPE CI, try :LISTFILE /bin/. If no files are found, you will need to restore them from the FOS tape.

1. Restore the following from the tape:

restore *t;@.hp36431.support,i0036431.usl.sys;create;show

2. :STREAM I0036431.USL.SYS

3. After I0036431 finishes,

:STREAM SUPACCT.PUB.SYS

All of the HP-supplied HFS files will be restored, and the directory structure and permissions set to the defaults.

Note: if you just want to restore all HFS files on a backup tape, try “:RESTORE /-@.@.@;SHOW;KEEP;OLDDATE;CREATE”.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:58 PM in Homesteading, Web Resources | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 08, 2014

A pretty fine book for MPE's after (HP) life

How could a vendor suggest that a widely-installed and mission-critical product be turned off? Have a look at what Microsoft is doing this year. The advice has been to turn Windows XP off, replace what's working. HP 3000 users got the same advisory in 2001.

FourelephantsandturtleThat was a momentous year for MPE users, but the year that followed contained the same confusion from the vendor that Microsoft is facing now. I noticed this as I dug into Jon Diercks' MPE/iX System Administration Handbook. It carries fine information, an opinion I expressed in our recent mini-lesson about BULDACCT and some automatic security that it provides. As I did my digging I found a stale message inside the book, but it wasn't one that Diercks created.

You might believe that nobody could apparently see what was about to happen to HP's 3000 business, considering what appears on pages xxi through xxiii. It's a foreword from the General Manager of HP's Commercial Systems Division, Winston Prather. A book that was released in 2002 -- yeah, months beyond that 2001 exit notice -- includes this advice about ownership.

Today, with technologies like Samba, Java, GUIs, our WebWise products and our partners, the HP e3000 still provides a great environment for the creation and support of new object-oriented, web-based applications, as well as e-service and e-commerce environments.

The book's readers absorbed that message for years after HP insisted that Prather was wrong. Or to be accurate, when Prather took pains to tell his customers the 3000 was not a great environment for any of the above tasks. It was probably as confusing as what Microsoft's done this month by releasing an XP security patch after it insisted it would not. Some writers believe that patch should not have been released. That's the kind of sentiment I continue to hear about HP twice-delaying its 3000 exit.

Follow the link from the top of yesterday's story and you'll find a writer who thinks "its a huge mistake" that Internet Explorer will not suffer from this month's zero-day exploit, even if the browser runs in XP.

IT admins, faced with the harsh reality of finally having to upgrade to a modern operating system, will sleep well knowing that Microsoft is a pushover and will continue to support XP while it has a significant number of users. The status quo is preserved.

Except it's not preserved, not any more than MPE/iX status was preserved during a pair of HP's two-year extensions. It's just that many companies -- perhaps the same percentage as the 3000 owners of 2002 -- find it beyond their budgets and resources to dump XP. And so even today, Diercks' book has value a-plenty to any company that still finds MPE to be the best tool for their circumstance. The book's not perfect, and Diercks always knew that was so, citing the rule all authors live by: omissions and errors will be in every creation. You must let your work go, however, learning from the creation and promising yourself to Do Better Next Time.

Put another way, perfect is the enemy of good. MPE was never perfect. If it were, than a mighty fine product like MPEX, an eXtension of MPE, would never have gained its candidacy as one of the elephants for the 3000 owner, developer, or administrator. Elephants, supported by a turtle.

Turtle? Elephants? And this has what exactly to do with MPE?

In a Hindu legend, the world is supported by four elephants, and those elephants ride on the back of a turtle. (It's a legend, so you'll have to take my word for this. Look at the picture above and you'll see four, with the fourth one tucked just behind the first.) But in this model of the world, MPE is that turtle. A few key independent software vendors are those elephants. You can decide for yourself who they might be, those elephants holding up the world -- which is the 3000 community.

But none of the elephants are mentioned in that fine MPE book. Diercks took care to note that he'd mention nobody's software except HP's in that book, no matter how fine the vendor's software performed. We've been in this situation, where including anyone just ensures that someone who's overlooked would be upset. You handle this situation a lot like Diercks did in his prologue: We know there are good products out there, but he wanted "to avoid being accused of unfairly representing (or failing to represent) any vendor or product."

One way of looking at the 3000's legend is to consider that MPE (and its database IMAGE), comprise the turtle in the Hindu story. Without MPE, there would be no Suprtool, no Adager, no MPEX. These might be considered elephants, and I'll leave you to fill in that fourth pachyderm. (If you're still with me, nominate a fourth elephant; that's going to be fun to share.)

ForewordWhile you're pondering all this, don't forget that Diercks' book is also something of a time machine. I mean that it contains a snapshot of the full faith of Hewlett-Packard in the 3000's MPE, right down to the hp.com/hpbooks webpage (now defunct) and HP logo on the title page Then there's Prather's best guess about the 3000's future, although it really was not written as a guess. See the language in the excerpt above; click for details.

Like Prather said in that foreword, things in the IT industry can change fast. Much faster than a printed book can be manufactured and released, with essential edits and reviews and distribution. If the publisher Prentice Hall had finished that book any later (because a publisher controls the birthdate of a book, not the writer) the MPE/iX System Administration Handbook might not even exist. That would be a great loss. At the least, this fine book wouldn't take us all back in time to HP's confusion about the 3000, confusion that mirrors Microsoft's of today.

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

May 07, 2014

MPE automates (some) password security

IE-hackIt only took a matter of weeks to create an unpatched security threat to the world's single-most installed vendor operating system, Windows XP. At about a 30 percent penetration of all PCs, XP is still running on hundreds of millions of systems. A zero-day Internet Explorer bug got patched this month, however, reluctantly by Microsoft. Once it cut its software loose -- just like HP stopped all MPE patches at the end of 2008 -- Microsoft's XP became vulnerable in just 20 days.

MPE, on the other hand, makes a backup file of its account structure that will defy an attempt to steal its critical contents. HP 3000 users can count on the work of an anonymous developer of MPE, even more than five years after patch creation ceased.

The automated protection of MPE's passwords comes through jobstreams from a key backup program. These files, created by using the BULDACCT program, are jobstreams that can only be read by 3000 users with CR (the jobstream's CReator, who might be an operator) or SM (System Manager) privileges, according to Jon Diercks' MPE/iX System Administration Handbook. Diercks advises his readers, "Even if your backup software stores the system directory, you may want to use BULDACCT as an extra precaution, in case any problems interfere with your ability to restore the directory data normally." However, he adds, the BULDJOB files are powerful enough to warrant extra care. After all, they contain "every password for every user, group and account, and lockwords for UDC files where necessary."

Note: the jobstream files you build on your own -- not these BULDJOBs -- can be secured on your own. But you must do that explicitly. These user-created streams' protection is not automatic.

In any case, you should use BULDACCT every day, according to Vesoft's Vladimir Volokh, not just as an optional extra precaution. "Do it before -- well, before it happens," he says. What can happen is a messy manure of a failure of an LDEV, one that scrambles the system directory. 

Put the BULDACCT option into your backup's stream file, so its jobstreams are created before your backups. Daily backups, of course. You're doing daily backups, right? And then storing that tape someplace other than the top of the HP 3000. You'd be surprised, said Volokh, how many 3000 sites use that storage location for a backup tape.

The BULDACCT option includes the jobstreams in the backup tape. After your backup is complete, you should PURGE these two streams from your 3000's disk.

Those BULDACCT jobstreams (BULDJOB1 and BULDJOB2) are automatically secured at the file level. This protects BULDACCT streams  from hackers' pry-bars, a very good thing -- because this stream contains all system information including passwords.

You can then RESTORE these streams if you still have a disk error that leaves files intact, but ruins the directory structure. BULDJOB1 contains the instructions to rebuild directory structure, a job that runs before you RESTORE files. BULDJOB2 contains the SETCATALOG commands needed for to reassign all user, account and system UDCs, according to Diercks' fine book. Still available, by the way, online via O'Reilly's Safari e-book service.

Volokh says that if any of the above still seems unclear, 3000 managers can call him at Vesoft and he'll walk managers through the process. "For details, just call us. Don't chase the horse after the barn door has been opened."

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

May 02, 2014

Timing makes a difference to MPE futures

Coming to market with virtualized 3000s has been a lengthy road for Stromasys. How long is a matter of perspective. The view of an emulated 3000's lifespan can run from using it for just a few years to the foreseeable future. I heard about both ends of the emulator's continuum over the last few weeks.

StopwatchIn the Kern County Schools in Bakersfield, Calif., a 3000 manager said the timetable for his vendor's app migration is going to sideline any steps into using CHARON. Robert Canales, Business Information Systems Analyst in the Division of Administration and Finance, was an eager prospect for the software last May, when the company's Training Day unfolded out in the Bay Area. But the pace of migration demonstrated by his MPE software vendor, who's moving customers to Linux, showed his team that 3000 computing was not going to outlast the vendor's expected migration timetable.

Our main software vendor has since migrated several of their California K-12 education customers off of the 3000. We believe that our organization will be able to successfully migrate over to their Linux-based platform within the next 18-24 months. So from that perspective, we simply couldn't justify the financial investment, or the time for our very limited number of personnel, to focus on utilizing the CHARON solution for backup, testing or historical purposes.

The analysis at the district draws the conclusion that two more school years using available HP 3000 iron -- at most, while awaiting and then undertaking a migration -- will be a better use of manpower and budget than preserving MPE software. This is understandable when a commercial application drives IT. You follow your vendor's plan, or plan to replace something. Replacement could be either the physical hardware with an emulator, because the vendor's leaving your MPE app behind. Or everything: your OS environment as well as applications. Getting two years of emulator use, or maybe a bit more, isn't enough to fit the Kern County Schools resources and budget.

On the other side of that timetable, we can point out a comment from the recent CAMUS user group conference call. It suggests people will want to do more than mimic their 3000 power. They'll want to trade up for a longer-term installation.

An MB Foster analyst noted that as hardware moves upward, from one level of emulation to a more powerful option, the changes might trigger application upgrading. That's a long schedule of use, if you consider that horsepower increases usually happened on 3- or 5-year timetables back when MPE ran only on 3000s. That mirrors a schedule that emulator vendors have reported as commonplace: several decades of lifespan.

Arnie Kwong clarified what he said on that call: that moving upward in the CHARON license lineup might be reason for a vendor -- like some in the 3000 world -- to ask for upgrading fees.

My understanding on CHARON is 1) If you change processor class (for example, from an 'A' license to an 'N' license) then you are likely to get 'upticks' from your third party vendors.  

2) If you change to 'more processors' (for example, from one 'A' license to more than one 'A' license so that you can run separate reporting machines or year-end processing or the like) then you have more licenses as you are running more processors.

This isn't a change for anything that has been in place -- it's just a clarification of ours, that we haven't heard of anyone who isn't doing this the same way as its always been done. Stromasys is vending the 'hardware' and the software suppliers are providing the 'code' as things have always been.

We don't know how likely such upticks will be in the community. 3000 shops use an array of third party vendors. Some vendors do charge for processor uplifts. Others do not, and the number of vendors who will do this has not been confirmed by the installed CHARON base. We heard a report that a PowerHouse user was facing a six-figure fee to emulate their 3000. We heard that report before PowerHouse ownership changed at the end of 2013.

But if you think about that kind of scenario for a bit, you come up with a company that's extending its MPE power while it emulates. That's an investment to cover more than a few years. Emulating customers, just like the vendors who are offering this virtualization, are often into their applications for a very long ride. Before Stromasys emerged as the survivor in the emulation derby, there was Strobe Data. Willard West at that vendor talked about a multiple decades of a timetable for its HP 1000 and Digital emulation customer base.

"Our major competition has been the used hardware market," West said a decade ago. "We’ve out-survived that." At the time that we talked, Strobe was emulating Data General servers that were obsoleted 15 years earlier.

Emulation vendors know that time can be on their side if an application is customized and critical to a company. When time is on your side, the costs to revitalize an in-house application can be applied over enough years. Emulation mimics more than hardware platforms. It preserves IT business rules for returns on investment which have often been on MPE's side. MPE applications have outlasted their hardware and triggered upgrades. The clock on the ROI determines IT investments, just like it always has.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:14 PM in Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 01, 2014

3000 mailing list notes becoming fainter

Have you ever been down to your mailbox with anticipation, pulled open the door and find nothing new? The HP3000-L listserve, which we variously call the 3000 newsgroup and the 3000 mailing list, is having that kind of dry spell. Like the rainfall that we yearn for in Texas this spring, it's been close to two weeks since a single new note has been in that mailbox.

Silent RunningsThere's little point in comparisons but being the thieves of joy. However, the days of 1,500 messages a month were more joyful for the prospect of MPE and 3000 wisdom in those times, a torrent shared and shaped by a larger community. A goodly share of those messages, even in the heyday, covered the flotsam of politics, as well as more scandalous off-topic notes on climate science and treason. You could shop for a car or camera off of the advice, in those days.

The message count has drawn down despite a stable subscriber tally reported by the hosting system, servers at the University of Tennessee at Chatanooga. A little less than 600 readers are now receiving 3000-L mail. That is, however, the number of subscribers who were tallied nine years ago. And at least all of today's mail -- well, nearly all -- is related directly to HP 3000s. Off-topic noise has been all but eliminated.

We have a slavish devotion to the 3000-L, as the community veterans call it. Thousands subscribed to its messages for free, and I read that rich frontier of information in the early 1990s and could believe in a monthly newsletter for 3000s and MPE. We even devoted a column to summarizing and commentary about its traffic, for many years. John Burke was columnist for many years of those reports; the columns ran for more than 9 years in the printed edition of the Newswire. (Find them at the classic archives of the Newswire Tech Features, or type net.digest in our search page off the link at left.) Our caveat in passing along that expertise was "Advice offered from the messages here comes without warranty; test before you implement." If not for 3000-L, our last 18 years of work here might not have emerged.

A similar dry spell for the "L" took place in February, but the current one is the longest we've measured so far. It's simple enough to break the drought, simpler than what we face in Texas, anyway. Ask a question online -- you can do it via a web browser -- if you're subscribed (or sign up, from the website.) Then watch the wisdom echo back. In some ways, the L is like a canyon wall that won't speak until you shout out to it. Or futuristic drone robots, waiting for a command.

In years past, the mailing list was also a newsgroup. By using newsgroup reading software, and then later using a browser, readers of comp.sys.hp.mpe could enjoy all the wisdom, and wince or chuckle at the chaff. Alas, the synchronizing of listserv and newsgroup has broken down by now. You could not get a specific number in those days about readers. You knew how many subscribed via emails. But comp.sys.hp.mpe could be read and used by countless others.

After the previous dry spell, readers could learn how to lock a KSAM file in PowerHouse Quick, or get advice on how to rebuild a 3000's filesystem. The former is an arcane bit of technical knowledge, yes, but the latter is everyday wisdom. And the L offers a dialogue process, to follow up with additional questions.

Like the drone robots Huey and Dewey from the sci-fi classic Silent Running -- a movie so old that Bruce Dern was young while he starred in it -- the L is likely to run long after most people will find an everyday use for it. In an apt coincidence, Silent Running made its premeire the same year that HP did its first Series 3000 launch, in 1972. The 3000-L looks back for its wisdom, while the direction in which that film looked gave a view of one kind of future. Nobody can be certain when either of these stories will see their final showing. The Web, after all, remembers all.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:09 PM in History, Homesteading, Web Resources | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 29, 2014

Foolproof Purges on the HP 3000

Cheshire_catThe software vendors most likely to sell products for a flat rate -- with no license upgrade fees -- have been the system utility and administration providers. Products such as VEsoft's MPEX, Robelle's Suprtool, Adager's product of the same name -- came in one, or perhaps two versions, at most. The software was sold as the start of a relationship, and so it focused on the understanding the product provided for people responsible for HP 3000s.

That kind of understanding might reveal a Lewis Carroll Cheshire Cat's smile inside many an HP 3000. The smile is possible if the 3000 uses UDC files, and the manager uses only MPE to do a file PURGE. There is a more complete way to remove things from a 3000's storage devices. And you take care about this because eliminating UDCs with only MPE can leave a user unable to use the server. That grin is the UDC's filename. 

To begin, we assume your users have User Defined Commands. User Defined Commands are a powerful timesaver for 3000 users, but they have administrative overhead that can become foolproof with the right tools. These UDCs need to be maintained, and as users drop off and come on to the 3000, their UDCs come and go. There's even a chance that a UDC file could be deleted, but that file's name could remain in the filesystem's UDC master catalog. When that happens, any other UDCs associated with the user will fail, too. It might include some crucial commands; you can put a wide range of operations into a UDC.

When you add a third party tool to your administrator's box, you can make a purge of such files foolproof. You can erase the Cheshire Cat's grin as well as the cat. It's important because that grin of a filename, noted above, can keep valid users from getting work done on the server with UDCs. This is not the reputation anybody expects from a 3000.

First you have to find all of your UDCs on a system, and MPE doesn't make that as straightforward as you might think. Using SHOWCATALOG is the standard, included tool for this. But it has its limitations. It can display the system-level UDC files of all users in all accounts. But that's not all the UDCs on a 3000.

MPE, after all, cannot select to show a complete set files by attributes such as program capability. Or for that matter, by last accessed time, or file size, or file security. It's a long list of things that MPE makes an administrator do on their own. Missing something might be the path to looking foolish.

Employing a couple of third party tools from VEsoft, VEAudit and MPEX, lets you root out UDCs and do a foolproof purge, including file names. VEAudit will list all of the UDCs on a server, regardless of user -- not just the ones associated with the user who's logged in and looking for UDCs. The list VEAudit creates can be inverted so the filename is the first item on each line. Then MPEX will go to work to do a PURGE. Not MPE's, but a user-defined purge that looks for attributes, then warns you about which ones you want to delete, or would rather not.

By using MPEX -- the X stands for extended functionality -- you can groom your own PURGE command to look out for files that have been recently used, not just recently created. MPE doesn't check if a purged file is a UDC file. 

Such 3000 utilities provided the server and its managers with abilities that went far beyond what HP had built into MPE and its IMAGE database. Now that MPE is moving on, beyond HP's hardware, knowing these third party tools will transfer without extra upgrade fees is like ensuring that a foolproof MPE will be running on any virtualized HP 3000.

They're an extra-cost item, but how much they're worth depends on a manager's desire to maintain a good reputation.

In the earliest days of the sale of these tools, vendors were known for selling them for the price of the support contract alone. That's usually about 20 percent annually of the purchase price. If a $4,000 package got sold that way, the vendor billed for just $800 at first. It made the purchases easier to pass through a budget, since support at the manager-tool level was an easier sell. Think about it. Such third parties passed up $3,200 per sale in revenues in the earliest days. They also established relationships that were ongoing and growing. They were selling understanding of MPE, not just software.

As we wrote yesterday, this kind of practice would be useful for the community's remaining software vendors. This is not the time to be raising prices to sustain MPE computing, simply because there's a way to extend the life of the hardware that runs MPE. As the number of MPE experts declines, the vendors will be expected to fill in the gaps in understanding. Those who can do this via support fees stand the best chance of moving into the virtualized future of 3000 computing.

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

April 28, 2014

Emulator begs, how free should MPE be?

FreebeerAs part of the recent CAMUS conference call meeting, Arnie Kwong of MB Foster mentioned the prospect of additional costs the CHARON emulator might trigger. As an example of one possibility, a user of a Series 900 server could move up to a multiple-processor instance of CHARON that's A-Class or N-Class caliber -- gaining MP ability without needed to plug anything into an HP-built hardware multifunction IO board.

Many vendors in the community wouldn't bother with any fee for increasing MPE horsepower at a customer site. They'd be glad for the extension of life of a support contract. And some companies always sold their MPE utility software on a single-fee basis. Whether you ran an N-Class or a Series 918, the cost was the same, usually in the middle four figures.

Some of the larger vendors, selling applications like Infor's MANMAN or PowerHouse when it was a Cognos product, priced their MPE software much differently. The customer base grew accustomed to those upgrade fees even though they didn't like them. Now that MPE/iX is strictly in the hands of independent companies for support, there's an expectation developing that prices for running the server should be much lower. Approaching free would be a preferred trend, but that strategy won't do the homesteading community as much good as imagined.

"The vendor community wants to keep things alive, and enabling economic success," Kwong said near the end of the conference call. "But part of this sucess is the people thing. Birket [Foster] and I have been participating in parts of this community for onto our fourth decade. There’s just a lot of goodwill on a people-to-people level. That’s one of the things that helps us all see all this through."

The rise of an emulator indicates there's a new possible economic opportunity for MPE and its users. That fact alone ought to show that no-fee upgrades to 3000 licenses aren't likely to appear -- at least not from vendors who've got a heritage of conducting that upgrade-fee business.

Kwong noted that MB Foster has its own set of customers "that have moved to the CHARON environment. We continue to support them, thanks to the Stromasys folks who have been very cooperative about helping us maintain our test environment."

At the moment, there's little evidence out in the community that app vendors are embracing fee-free transfers to CHARON. The emulator has a sterling reputation in the Digital MANMAN marketplace. But in a one-hour CAMUS call with nearly a score of IT pros dialed in, no one spoke up to offer testimony that Infor has allowed an upgrade from 3000-based MANMAN to a CHARON instance. In some cases, a vendor of that size has delivered a price tag for an emulator license upgrade -- and in one example, the installation was then delayed.

Kwong's presentation was meant to shed light on the premise that making a transition to CHARON won't be a magic weekend project, or even one that happens without allied costs which are outside of the Stromasys license fees. This is a familiar arrangement to the 3000 manager. When you'd move from 9x9 to A- or N-Class, you expected software fees to be part of the budget. Testing on the part of the customer wasn't a major part of that sort of move, though. The software vendor had taken care of that.

Foster's company has done that testing for its product and verified it can be used with CHARON. Economic success in this nascent part of the MPE ecosystem will need to be built upon commerce. In specific, testing has got to be funded at vendor labs, either through support contracts or otherwise. It always has been.

OpenMPE wanted to free MPE more than a decade ago, but the prospect of a free MPE was never much more than a beery dream. Linux isn't free, unless it's running in your garage or basement. We're waiting to see how the new owners of PowerHouse handle this fee issue, just as one meaningful barometer mark. At one point in the past, more than 7,000 sites could call on PowerHouse to run on MPE. There's nothing like that left of the PowerHouse customer base, but it's still a good chunk to measure, even today.

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

April 24, 2014

RUG talk notes emulator licensing, recovery

Second of two parts

When CAMUS held its recent user group conference call, MB Foster's Arnie Kwong had advice to offer the MANMAN and HP 3000 users about the CHARON emulator for PA-RISC systems like the 3000. A more complex environment than HP's decade-old 3000 hardware is in place to enable things like powerfail recovery while protecting data. And readying licenses for a move to the Stromasys CHARON 3000 emulator means you've got to talk to somebody, he said.

"Everybody is pretty helpful in trying to keep customers in a licensing move," Kwong said. "If anyone tells you that you don't even have to ask, and that you're just running a workalike, that would be a mistake. You have to have an open and fair conversation. Not doing so, and then having a software problem, could be a fairly awkward support conversation. You can't make the assumption you'll be able to make this move without any cost." 

If you create secondary processing capacity through CHARON, you'll have to execute new licenses for those licenses. But most of the third party vendors are going to be pretty reasonable and rational. We've all known each other for decades. People who do lots of IT procurement understand straightforward rules for handling that. 

Kwong said that CHARON prospects should make a catalog of their MPE software applications and utilities, and then talk to vendors about tech compatibility, too.

In manufacturing IT in particular, its cost has been declining recently. "Short of somebody paying $10-15 million to re-engineer around SAP, or Infor's other products, most of the incremental spending in the MANMAN and 3000 environments have been to extend life. People do a lot of stuff now on Excel spreadsheets and SQL Server databases around the ERP system. We look to see if the 3000 is the essential piece, and often it is. We look at what other things are affected if we change that 3000 piece."

Kwong said that MB Foster has not done MANMAN-specific testing against its in-lab CHARON installations yet.

Data integrity questions came up from Mike Hornsby, who wanted to know about comparison in using transactional testing to evaluate possible data loss. Of the HP 3000's powerfail environment,  Kwong said, "it's been one of the key strengths of the 3000 environment in particular." The tests at MB Foster haven't revealed any data loss. Kwong didn't dismiss the possibility, however.

"This is theory, but I'll say this: One of the things you have at risk during the crash recovery process is either in the CHARON emulator, or the underlying infrastructure in the cloud environment that you're running it in." In this meaning of the word cloud, Kwong was referring to the VMware hosting that's common to the 3000 CHARON experience.

"In those instances you could have failures that were never in their wildest imaginations considered by the folks who built this software-hardware combination. I have not seen anything personally in our testing where things have been horrendously corrupted, rolled over and died. But inherently in the environments they're running, there are assumptions of database logfiles, and particularly in certain key files and so forth, where your warmstart processing can be at risk." 

When such failures occur — and they can happen in HP's provided hardware — "You have the same predictability in an emulated environment as you do in the 3000 hardware environment. I don't think I'd lose a lot of sleep over it." However, networking and storage architecture issues are different for the emulated MPE hardware than for HP's native hardware, he added, 

But application expenses take the forefront over hardware and platform issues at the sites where MB Foster has discussed transitions of any kind. "When you take the context where the 3000 is running from a business standpoint, yes, you have licensing issues for maintenance and so forth," Kwong said. "But as a total percentage of the cost to the enterprise, the application's value and the application's cost to change anything, usually begins to predominate. 

"It's not the fact that you have no-cost terminals and low-cost hardware anymore, it's what that application's power brings you. We've seen that newer managers who come in from outside at these sites with stable HP applications have vastly different expectations for what the application's going to deliver — also, different demands for the applications portfolio — than people who've been there for decades running the same architecture. The platform discussions usually aren't major economic drivers. 

"Running a 3000 application in another environment, such as Windows or Linux, is never zero, although it's cheaper to do that in a Stromasys environment. We need to carefully consider the hardware scalability performance availability, and certain kinds of communication and networking interfaces that aren't qualified for use in the Stromasys environment yet."

"We look at how to approach the problem of migration and its processes. In talking to our customers and concerns they have at small one-person shops with boxes running for 20 years, a move will take a year or two years to do. People that we talk to say they're gotten by for a long time without having to pay the kind of money needed to migrate to SAP or Oracle, or FMS or JD Edwards. Those alternatives are on the list of things they look at.

"Few people are talking about development stages for the kinds of complex environments the folks on this call represent. The days of large scale development have pretty much gone by the board. Everybody's talking about what kind of capacity they can buy, and what kind of features can they buy, rather than concentrate on what kinds of things they could move to the new environment.

"For them, the Stromasys approach says they'll leave their software base the same and go to new hardware, essentially. There are a lot of business assumptions and a lot of applications assumptions that might change because you're running in that new hardware environment. Things that were always based on the 7x24 capability, running without a lot of staff expense — all of those things are now open to question and rethink. We encourage people to take a step back and look at their business planning assumptions and business models, because that's the foundation for why they bought the 3000 in the first place".

Kwong he believes most of the users on the call could agree HP didn't do badly by them in the initial offering of high-value, investment-protected systems. Now that the system is into its second decade beyond HP's exit announcement, protecting that value deserves some fresh assessment.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 11:38 AM in Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 23, 2014

Emulator's edition earns closer look in call

First of two parts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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