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.
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April 21, 2014
A week-plus of bleeds, but MPE's hearty
There are not many aspects of MPE that seem to best the offerings from open source environments. For anyone who's been tracking the OpenSSL hacker-door Heartbleed, though, the news is good on 3000 vulnerability. It's better than more modern platforms, in part because it's more mature. If you're moving away from mature and into migrating to open source computing, then listen up.
Open source savant Brian Edminster of Applied Technologies told us why MPE is in better shape.
I know that it's been covered other places, but don't know if it's been explicitly stated anywhere in MPE-Land: The Heartbleed issue is due to the 'heartbeat' feature, which was added to OpenSSL after any known builds for MPE/iX.
That's a short way of saying: So far, all the versions of OpenSSL for MPE/iX are too old to be affected by the Heartbleed vulnerability. Seems that sometimes, it can be good to not be on the bleeding edge.
However, the 3000 IT manager -- a person who usually has a couple of decades of computing experience -- may be in charge of the more-vulnerable web servers. Linux is used a lot for this kind of thing. Jeff Kell, whose on-the-Web servers deliver news of 3000s via the 3000-L mailing list, outlined repairs needed and advice from his 30-plus years of networking -- in MPE and all other environments.About 10 days after the news rocked the Web, Kell -- one of the sharpest tools in the drawer of networking -- posted this April 17 summary on the challenges and which ports to watch.
Unless you've had your head in the sand, you've heard about Heartbleed. Every freaking security vendor is milking it for all it's worth. It is pretty nasty, but it's essentially "read-only" without some careful follow-up.
Most have focused on SSL/HTTPS over 443, but other services are exposed (SMTP services on 25, 465, 867; LDAP on 636; others). You can scan and it might show up the obvious ones, but local services may have been compiled against "static" SSL libraries, and be vulnerable as well.
We've cleaned up most of ours (we think, still scanning); but that just covers the server side.
There are also client-side compromises possible.
And this stuff isn't theoretical, it's been proven third-party...
Lots of folks say replace your certificates, change your passwords, etc. I'd wait until the services you're changing are verified secure.
Most of the IDS/IPS/detections of the exploits are broken in various ways. STARTTLS works by negotiating a connection, establishing keys, and bouncing to an encrypted transport. IDS/IPS can't pick up heartbleed encrypted. They're after the easy pre-authenticated handshake.
It's a mess for sure. But it’s not yet safe to necessarily declare anything safe just yet.
Stay tuned, and avoid the advertising noise.
April 18, 2014
Denying Interruptions of Service
For the last 18 hours, the 3000 Newswire’s regular blog host TypePad has had its outages. (Now that you're reading this, TypePad is back on its feet.) More than once, the web resource for the Newswire has reported it’s been under a Denial of Service attack. I’ve been weathering the interruption of our business services up there, mostly by posting a story on my sister-site, Story for Business.
We also notified the community via Twitter about the outage and alternative site. It was sort of a DR plan in action. The story reminds me of the interruption saga that an MPE customer faces this year. Especially those using the system for manufacturing.
MANMAN users as well as 3000 owners gathered over the phone on Wednesday for what the CAMUS user group calls a RUG meeting. It's really more of an AUG: Applications User Group. During the call, it was mentioned there’s probably more than 100 different manufacturing packages available for business computers which are like the HP 3000. Few of them, however, have a design as ironclad against interruption as the venerable MANMAN software. Not much service could be denied to MANMAN users because of a Web attack, the kind that’s bumped off our TypePad host over the last day. MANMAN only employs the power of the Web if a developer adds that interface.
This is security through obscurity, a backhanded compliment that a legacy computer gets. Why be so condescending? It might be because MPE is overshadowed by computer systems that are so much newer, more nimble, open to a much larger world.
They have their disadvantages, though. Widely-known designs of Linux, or Windows, attract these attempts to deny their services. Taking something like a website host offline has a cost to its residents, like we reside on TypePad. Our sponsors had their messages denied an audience. In the case of a 3000, when it gets denied it’s much more likely to be a failure of hardware, or a fire or flood. Those crises, they’ve got more rapid repairs. But that’s only true if a 3000 owner plans for the crisis. Disaster Recovery is not a skill to learn in-situ, as it were. But practicing the deployment it’s about as popular as filing taxes. And just as necessary.
Another kind of disruption can be one that a customer invites. There are those 100 alternatives to MANMAN out there in the market, software an MPE site might choose to use. Manufacturing software is bedeviled with complexity and nuance, a customized story a company tells itself and its partners about making an object.
There’s a very good chance that the company using MPE now, in the obscurity of 2014, has put a lot of nuance into its storytelling about inventory, receivables, bill of materials and more. Translating that storytelling into new software, one of those 100, is serious work. Like any other ardent challenge, this translation — okay, you might call it a migration — has a chance to fail. That’s a planned failure, though, one which usually won’t cost a company its audience like a website service denial.
The term for making a sweeping translation happen lightning-quick is The Magic Weekend. 48 hours of planned offline transformation, and then you’re back in front of the audience. No journey to the next chapter of the MPE user’s story — whether it’s a jump to an emulator that mimics Hewlett-Packard computers, or the leap to a whole new environment — can be accomplished in a Magic Weekend. Business computers don’t respond to magic incantations.
The latest conference call among MANMAN users invoked that warning about magic. Turning the page on the story where Hewlett-Packard’s hardware was the stage for the software of MANMAN and MPE — that’s an episode with a lot longer running time than any weekend. Even if all you’re doing is changing the stage, you will want to test everything. You don’t want to be in middle of serving hundreds and hundreds of audience members at a time, only to have the lights grow too dim to see the action on the stage.
April 11, 2014
Again, the 3000's owners own a longer view
Heartbleed needs a repair immediately. Windows XP will need some attention over the next three years, as the client environment most favored by migrating 3000 sites starts to age and get more expensive. XP is already "off support," for whatever that means. But there's a window of perhaps three years where change is not as critical as a repair to Heartbleed's OpenSSL hacker window.
Then there's MPE. The OS already has gone through more than a decade of no new sales. And this environment that's still propping up some business functions has now had more than five years of no meaningful HP lab support. In spite of those conditions, the 3000's OS is still in use, and by one manager's accounting, even picking up a user in his organization.
"Ending?" Tim O'Neill asks with a rhetorical tone. "Well, maybe MPE/iX will not be around 20 years from now, but today one of our people contacted me and said they need to use the application that runs on our HP 3000. Isn't that great? Usage is increasing!"
Pondering if MPE/iX will be around in 20 years, or even 13 when the end of '27 date bug surfaces, just shows the longer view the 3000 owner still owns. Longer than anything the industry's vendors have left for newer, or more promising, products. My favorite avuncular expert Vladimir Volokh called in to leave a message about his long view of how to keep MPE working. Hint: This septuagenarian plans to be part of the solution.Vladimir is bemused at the short-term plans that he runs across among his clientele. No worries from them about MPE's useful lifespan. "I'll be retired by then," say these managers who've done the good work of IT support since the 1980s. This retirement-as-futures plan is more common than people would like to admit.
Volokh took note of our Fixing 2028 update awhile back. "It's interesting that you say, "We've still got more than 13 years left. Almost every user who I've told you about has said, 'Oh, by then, I'll retire.' My answer is, 'Not me.' I will be just 90 years old. You call me, and we'll work out something.' "
I invite you to listen to his voice, delivering his intention to keep helping and pushing MPE into the future -- a longer one than people might imagine for something like XP.
Why do some 3000 experts say a longer view seems like a good chance? Yes, one obvious reason is that they don't want to say goodbye to the meaningful nature of their expertise, or the community they know. I feel that same way, even though I only tell the stories of this community.
But there's another reason for the long view. MPE has already served in the world for 40 years. HP thought this so unlikely that they didn't even program for a Y2K event. Then the vendor assumed more than 80 percent of sites will be off in four years' time after HP's "we're quitting" notice. Then it figured an extra two years would do the job.
Wrong on all three accounts. Change must prove its value, and right soon, if you intend to begin changing soon. There's another story to tell about that reality, one from the emulator's market, which I'll tell very soon. In the meantime, change your passwords
1. If a website you use is vulnerable to Heartbleed; check here with a free tool, or it has been (list below).
2. It has now been repaired.
Here's a list of websites which were vulnerable, from Github. Yahoo is among them, which means that ATT broadband customers have some password-changing to do. That's very-short-view change.
April 10, 2014
Heartbleed reminds us all of MPE/iX's age
The most wide-open hole in website security, Heartbleed, might have bypassed the web security tools of the HP 3000. Hewlett-Packard released WebWise/iX in the early 2000's. The software included SSL security that was up to date, back in that year. But Gavin Scott of the MPE and Linux K-12 app vendor QSS reminds us that the "security through antiquity" protection of MPE/iX is a blessing that's not in a disguise.
WebWise was just too late to the web game already being dominated by Windows at the time -- and even more so, by Linux. However, the software that's in near total obscurity doesn't use the breached OpenSSL 1.0.1 or 1.0.2 beta versions. Nevertheless, older software running a 3000 -- or even an emulated 3000 using CHARON -- presents its own challenges, once you start following the emergency repairs of Heartbleed, Scott says.
It does point out the risks of using a system like MPE/iX, whose software is mostly frozen in time and not receiving security fixes, as a front-line Internet (or even internal) server. Much better to front-end your 3000 information with a more current tier of web servers and the like. And that's actually what most people do anyway, I think.
Indeed, hardly any 3000s are used for external web services. And with the ready availability of low-cost Linux hosts, any intranets at 3000 sites are likely to be handled by that open-sourced OS. The list of compromised Linux distros is long, according to James Byrne of Harte & Lynne, who announced the news of Heartbleed first to the 3000 newsgroup.The versions of Linux now in use which are at risk, until each web administrator can supply the security patch, include
Ubuntu 12.04.4 LTS1
The PA-RISC architecture of the HP 3000, emulated on CHARON HPA/3000, could also provide a 3000 manager with protection even if somehow an MPE/iX web server had been customized to use OpenSSL 1.0.1, Scott says.
I'm pretty certain that the vulnerable versions of OpenSSL have never been available on MPE/iX. However, it is possible that the much older OpenSSL versions which were ported for MPE/iX may have other SSL vulnerabilities. I haven't looked into it. Secure Apache or another web server dependent on OpenSSL would be the only likely place such a vulnerability could be exposed.
There's also a chance that MPE/iX, even with a vulnerable web server, might have different behavior -- as its PA-RISC architecture has the stack growing in the opposite direction from x86. As such, PA-RISC may do more effective hardware bounds checking in some cases. This checking could mitigate the issues or require MPE/iX-specific knowledge and effort on the part of an attacker in order to exploit vulnerabilities. All the out-of-the-box exploit tools may actually be very dependent on the architecture of the underlying target system.
Security through such obscurity has been a classic defense for the 3000 against the outside world of the web. But as Scott notes, it's a reminder of how old the 3000's web and network tools are -- simply because there's been little to nothing in the way of an update for things like WebWise Apache Server.
But there's still plenty to worry about, even if a migrated site has moved all of its operations away from the 3000. At the website The Register, a report from a white-hat hacker throws the scope of Heartbleed much wider than just web servers. It's hair-raising, because just about any client-side software -- yeah, that browser on any phone, or on any PC or Mac -- can have sensitive data swiped, too.
In a presentation given yesterday, Jake Williams – aka MalwareJake – noted that vulnerable OpenSSL implementations on the client side can be attacked using malicious servers to extract passwords and cryptographic keys.
Williams said the data-leaking bug “is much scarier” than the gotofail in Apple's crypto software, and his opinion is that it will have been known to black hats before its public discovery and disclosure.
April 09, 2014
How SSL's bug is causing security to bleed
Computing's Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) forms part of the bedrock of information security. Companies have built products around SSL, vendors have wired its protocols into operating systems, vendors have applied its encryption to data transport services. Banks, credit card providers, even governments rely on its security. In the oldest days of browser use, SSL displayed that little lock in the bottom corner that assured you a site was secure -- so type away on those passwords, IDs, and sensitive data.
In a matter of days, all of the security legacy from the past two years has virtually evaporated. OpenSSL, the most current generation of SSL, has developed a large wound, big enough to let anyone read secured data who can incorporate a hack of the Heartbeat portion of the standard. A Finnish security firm has dubbed the exposed hack Heartbleed.
OpenSSL has made a slow and as-yet incomplete journey to the HP 3000's MPE/iX. Only an ardent handful of users have made efforts to bring the full package to the 3000's environment. In most cases, when OpenSSL has been needed for a solution involving a 3000, Linux servers supply the required security. Oops. Now Linux implementations of OpenSSL have been exposed. Linux is driving about half of the world's websites, by some tallies, since the Linux version of Apache is often in control.
One of the 3000 community's better-known voices about mixing Linux with MPE posted a note in the 3000 newsgroup over the past 48 hours to alert Linux-using managers. James Byrne of Harte & Lyne Ltd. explained the scope of a security breach that will require a massive tourniquet. To preface his report, the Transport Layer Security (TLS) and SSL in the TCP/IP stack encrypt data of network connections. They have even done this for MPE/iX, but in older, safe versions. Byrne summed up the current threat.
There is an exploit in the wild that permits anyone with TLS network access to any system running the affected version of OpenSSL to systematically read every byte in memory. Among other nastiness, this means that the private keys used for Public Key Infrastructure on those systems are exposed and compromised, as they must be loaded into memory in order to perform their function.
It's something of a groundbreaker, this hack. These exploits are not logged, so there will be no evidence of compromises. It’s possible to trick almost any system running any version of OpenSSL released over the past two years into revealing chunks of data sitting in its system memory.The official security report on the bug, from OpenSSL.org, does its best to make it seem like there's a ready solution to the problem. No need to panic, right?
A missing bounds check in the handling of the TLS heartbeat extension can be used to reveal up to 64k of memory to a connected client or server.
Only 1.0.1 and 1.0.2-beta releases of OpenSSL are affected, including 1.0.1f and 1.0.2-beta1.
Thanks for Neel Mehta of Google Security for discovering this bug and to Adam Langley and Bodo Moeller for preparing the fix.
Affected users should upgrade to OpenSSL 1.0.1g. Users unable to immediately upgrade can alternatively recompile OpenSSL with -DOPENSSL_NO_HEARTBEATS.
1.0.2 will be fixed in 1.0.2-beta2
For the technically inclined, there's a great video online that explains all aspects of the hack. Webserver owners and hosts have their work to do in order to make their sites secure. That leaves out virtually every HP 3000, the server that was renamed e3000 in its final HP generation to emphasize its integration with the Internet. Hewlett-Packard never got around to implementing OpenSSL security in its web services for MPE/iX. 3000 systems are blameless, but that doesn't matter as much as insisting your secure website providers apply that 1.0.1g upgrade.
The spookiest part of this story is that without the log evidence, nobody knows if Heartbleed has been used over the past two years. Byrne's message is directed at IT managers who have Linux-driven websites in their datacenters. Linux has gathered a lot of co-existence with MPE/iX over the last five years and more. This isn't like a report of a gang shooting that's happened in another part of town. Consider it more of a warning about the water supply.
In a bit of gallows humor, it looks as if the incomplete implementation of OpenSSL, frozen in an earlier edition of the software, puts it back in the same category as un-patched OpenSSL web servers: not quite ready for prime time.
April 08, 2014
Here it is: another beginning in an ending
Today's the day that Microsoft gives up its Windows XP business, but just like the HP 3000 exit at Hewlett-Packard, the vendor is conflicted. No more patches for security holes, say the Redmond wizards. But you can still get support, now for a fee, if you're a certain kind of Windows XP user.
It all recalls the situation of January 2009, when the support caliber for MPE/iX was supposed to become marginal. That might have been true for the typical kind of customer who, like the average business XP user, won't be paying anything to Microsoft for Service Packs that used to be free. But in 2009 the other, bigger sort of user was still paying HP to take 3000 support calls, fix problems, and even engineer patches if needed.
A lot of those bigger companies would've done better buying support from smaller sources. Yesterday we took note of a problem with MPE/iX and its PAUSE function in jobstreams, uncovered by Tracy Johnson at Measurement Specialties. In less than a day, a patch that seemed to be as missing as that free XP support of April 8 became available -- from an independent support vendor. What's likely to happen for XP users is the same kind of after-market service the 3000 homesteader has enjoyed.
Johnson even pointed us to a view of the XP situation and how closely it seems to mirror the MPE "end of life," as Hewlett-Packard liked to call the end of 2010. "Just substitute HP for Microsoft," Johnson said about a comparison with makers of copiers and makers of operating systems.Should Microsoft Be Required To Extend Support For Windows XP? The question is being batted around on the Slashdot website today. One commenter said that if the software industry had to stick to the rules for the rest of the office equippers, things would be differerent. Remember, just substiture HP (and MPE) for Microsoft and XP.
If Windows XP were a photocopier, Microsoft would have a duty to deal with competitors who sought to provide aftermarket support. A new article in the Michigan Law Review argues that Microsoft should be held to the same duty, and should be legally obligated to help competitors who wish to continue to provide security updates for the aging operating system, even if that means allowing them to access and use Windows XP's sourcecode.
HP did, given enough time, help in a modest way to preserve the maintainability of MPE/iX. The vendor sold source code licenses for $10,000 each to support companies. In at least one case, the offer of help was proactive. Steve Suraci of Pivital Solutions said he was called by Alvina Nishimoto of HP and asked, "You want to purchase one of these, don't you?" The answer was yes. Nobody knew what good a source code license might do in the after-market. But HP was not likely to make the offer twice, and the companies who got one took on the expense as an investment in support in the future.
But there was a time in the 3000's run-up to that end-of-HP Support when the community wanted to take MPE/iX into open source status. That's why the advocacy group was named OpenMPE. Another XP commenter on Slashdot echoed the situation the 3000 faced during the first years of its afterlife countdown.
(Once again, just substitute HP and MPE for Microsoft and XP. In plenty of places, they'll be used together for years to come.)
XP isn't all that old, as evidenced by the number of users who don't want to get off of it. It makes sense that Microsoft wants to get rid of it -- there's no price for a support contract that would make it mutually beneficial to keep tech support trained on it and developers dedicated to working on it. But at the same time, Microsoft is not the kind of company that is likely to release it to the public domain either. The last thing they would want is an open source community picking it up, keeping it current with security patches and making it work on new hardware. That's the antithesis of the forced upgrade model.
Note: MPE/iX has been made to work with new hardware via the CHARON emulator. Patches are being written, too, even if they are of the binary variety. XP will hope to be so lucky, and it's likely to be. If not, there's the migration to Windows 7 to endure. But to avoid that expense for now, patches are likely to be required. The 3000 community can build many of them. That's what happens when a technology establishes reliability and matures.
April 04, 2014
Save the date: Apr 16 for webinar, RUG meet
April 16 is going to be a busy day for MB Foster's CEO Birket Foster.
Long known for his company's Wednesday Webinars, Foster will be adding a 90-minute prelude on the same day as his own webinar about Data Migration, Risk Mitigation and Planning. That Wednesday of April 16 kicks off with the semi-annual CAMUS conference-call user group meeting. Foster is the guest speaker, presenting the latest information he's gathered about Stromasys and its CHARON HP 3000 emulator.
The user group meet begins at 10:30 AM Central Time, and Foster is scheduled for a talk -- as well as Q&A from listeners about the topic -- until noon that day. Anyone can attend the CAMUS meeting, even if they're not members of the user group. Send an email to CAMUS leader Terri Lanza at [email protected] to register, but be sure to do it by April 15. The conference call's phone number will be emailed to registrants. You can phone Lanza with questions about the meeting at 630-212-4314.
Starting at noon, there's an open discussion for attendees about any subject for any MANMAN platform (that would be VMS, as well as MPE). The talk in this soup tends to run to very specific questions about the management and use of MANMAN. Foster is more likely to field questions more general to MPE. The CHARON emulator made its reputation among the MANMAN users in the VMS community, among other spots in the Digital world. You don't have to scratch very deep to find satisfied CHARON users there.
Then beginning at 1 PM Central, Foster leads the Data Migration, Risk Mitigation and Planning webinar, complete with slides and ample Q&A opportunity.Registration for the webinar is through the MB Foster website. Like all of the Wednesday Webinars, it runs between 1-2 PM. The outline for the briefing, as summed up by the company:
Data migration is the process of moving an organization’s data from one application to another application—preferably without disrupting the business, users or active applications.
Data migration can be a routine part of IT operations in today’s business environment providing service to the whole company – giving users the data they need when they need it, especially for Report, BI (Business Intelligence) or analytics (including Excel spreadsheets) and occasionally for a migration to a new application. How can organizations minimize impacts of data migration downtime, data loss and minimize cost?
In this webinar we outline the best way to develop a data conversion plan that incorporates risk mitigation, and outlines business, operational and technical challenges, methodology and best practices.
The company has been in the data migration business since the 1980s. Data Express was its initial product to extracting and controlling data. It revamped the products after Y2K to create the Universal Data Access (UDA) product line. MBF-UDACentral supports the leading open source databases in PostgreSQL and MySQL, plus Eloquence, Oracle, SQLServer, DB2, and TurboIMAGE, as well as less-common databases such as Progress, Ingres, Sybase and Cache. The software can migrate any of these databases' data between one another.
March 26, 2014
Twice as many anti-virals: not double safety
Editor's note: While 3000 managers look over the need to update XP Windows systems in their company, anti-virus protection is a part of the cost to consider. In fact, extra anti-virus help might post a possible stop-gap solution to the end of Microsoft's XP support in less than two weeks. A lack of new security patches is past of the new XP experience. Migrating away from MPE-based hosting involves a lot more reliance on Windows, after all. Here's our security expert Steve Hardwick's lesson on why more than one A/V utility at a time can be twice as bad as a single good one.
By Steve Hardwick, CISSP
If one is good, then two is better. Except with anti-virus software.
When it comes to A/V software there are some common misconceptions about capabilities. Recently some vendors, such as Adobe, have started bundling anti-virus components as free downloads with their updates. Some managers believe if you have one anti-virus utility, a second can only make things safer. Once we look how anti-virus software operates, you'll see why this is not the case. In fact, loading a second A/V tool can actually do more damage than good.
The function of an anti-virus utility is to detect and isolate files or programs that contain viruses. There are two fundamental ways in which the A/V utility does this. The anti-virus program will have a data file that contains signatures for known viruses. First, any files that are saved on the hard drive are scanned for signatures to see if they contain malicious code. This is very similar to programs that search for fingerprints. Once the A/V utility finds a match, the file is identified as potentially dangerous and quarantined to prevent any infection. Second, the anti-virus utility will intercept requests to access a file and scan it before it is run. This requires that the anti-virus program can inspect the utility prior to it being launched.
Anti-virus designers are aware that their utility is one of the primary targets of a hacker. After all, if the hacker can bypass the A/V system then it is open to attack, commonly referred to as owned or pwned. So a core component of the A/V system is to constantly monitor its own performance to make sure it has not been compromised. If the A/V system detects that it is not functioning correctly, it will react as if there is a hacking attack and try to combat it.
So here's what happens if two anti-virus programs are loaded on the same machine. Initially, there are issues as the second system is installed. When the second utility is loaded it contains its own database of known virus signatures. The first anti-virus will see that signature file as something highly dangerous. After all, it will look like it contains a whole mass of virus files. It will immediately stop it from being used and quarantine it. Now the fun starts -- fun that can drive a system into a ditch.The second anti-virus program will react to the quarantine of its signature file. The second A/V does not know if the issue is another A/V, or a hacker trying the thwart the operation of the system. So it will try to stop the quarantine action of the first A/V. The two systems will battle until one of them gives up and the other wins, or the operating system steps in and stops both programs. Neither outcome is what you're after.
If the two systems do manage to load successfully -- in many cases anti-virus programs are now built to recognize other A/V systems - then a second battle occurs. When a file is opened, both A/V systems will try to inspect it before it is passed to the operating system for processing. As one A/V tries to inspect the file, the second one will try and stop the action. The two A/V systems will battle it out to take control and inspect the file ahead of each other.
Even if multiple systems do acknowledge each other and decide to work together, there are still some issues left. When a file is accessed, both systems will perform an inspection, and this increases the amount of time the virus scan will take. What's more, the anti-virus programs continually update their signature files. Once a new signature file is loaded, the A/V program will kick of a scan to see if the new file can detect any threats the old one did not catch. In most cases, new signature files arrive daily to the A/V system. That means both systems will perform file scans, sometimes simultaneously. This can bring a system to its knees -- because file scanning can be CPU intensive.
So two is worse than one, and you want to remove one of them. Removing A/V programs can be very tricky. This is because one goal of the hacker is to disable or circumvent the anti-virus system. So the A/V system is designed to prevent these attempts. If A/V programs were easy to install, all the hacker would have to do is launch the uninstall program - and in many cases, the A/V manufacturer does provide an uninstall program. Unfortunately in many cases, that uninstall may not get rid of all of the elements of the A/V. Several of the A/V manufacturers provide a utility that will clean out any remnants, after the A/V system has been initially uninstalled.
So are there any advantages to having a second A/V system running? There is always a race between A/V companies to get out the latest signatures. Adding more A/V providers may increase your chances of getting a wider coverage, but only very marginally. The cost of the decreased performance versus this marginal increase in detection is typically not worth it. Over time, A/V vendors tend to even out on their ability to provide up-to-date signature files.
In summary, the following practices make up a good approach to dealing with the prospects of multiple A/V systems.
1) Read installation screens before adding a new application or upgrade to your system. Think carefully before adding an A/V feature that your current solution provides. Even if a new feature is being provided, it may be worth checking with your current provider to see if they have that function, and adding it from them instead.
2) If you do get a second A/V system in there and you want to remove it, consult the vendor's technical web site regarding removal steps. Most A/V vendors have a step-by-step removal process. Sometimes they will recommend a clean-up tool after the initial uninstall.
3) If you do want to check your A/V system, choose an on-line version that will provide a separate scan without loading an utility. There are many to choose from - search on “on-line antivirus check” in your favorite engine and pick one that is not your primary A/V vendor. Be careful - something online may try to quarantine your current A/V system. But this will give you a safe way to check if your current A/V is catching everything.
4) Don't rely on A/V alone. Viruses now come in myriad forms. No longer are they simple attacks on operating system weaknesses. Newer ones exploit the fallibility of browser code and are not dependent on the operating system at all. A good place to start looking at how you can improve your security is the CERT tips page https://www.us-cert.gov/ncas/tips By following safe computing practices, one A/V should be sufficient.
5) Beware of impostors. There are several viruses out there that mimic an A/V system. You may get a warning saying that your system is not working and to click on a link to download a better A/V system. Before clicking on the link, check the source of the utility. If you don't know how to do that, don't click on the link. You can always go back to Step 3 and check your A/V yourself.
March 24, 2014
40 years from a kitchen-size 3000 to 3.4GHz
Forty years ago this spring, the HP 3000 was just gaining some traction among one of its core markets: manufacturing. This was a period where the computer was big enough to take over kitchen space in a software founder's home, according to an HP software VP of the time. That server didn't run reliably, and so got plenty of attention from the software labs of that day's Hewlett-Packard. And if you were fortunate, a system the size of a two tall-boy file cabinets could be yours for $99,500 in a starter configuration, with 96KB of core memory.
MPE was so new that Hewlett-Packard would sell the software unbundled for $10,000. The whole collection of server and software would burn off 12,000 BTU per hour. HP included "cooling dissipation" specs for the CX models -- they topped off at a $250,000 unit -- so you could ramp up your air conditioning as needed in your datacenter. (Thanks to the HP Computer Museum for the details).
Those specs and that system surfaced while I wrote the Manufacturing ERP Options from Windows article last week. Just this week I rolled the clock forward to find the smallest HP 3000 while checking on specifications. This 2014 era 3000 system runs off an HP DL380 server fired by on a 3.44 GHz chip. It's plenty fast enough to handle the combo of Linux, VMWare and the Stromasys CHARON 3000 emulator. And it's 19 inches x 24 by 3.5.
We've heard, over the past year from Stromasys tech experts, that CPUs of more than 3 GHz are the best fit for VMWare and CHARON. It's difficult to imagine the same operating system that would only fit on a 12,000 BTU server surviving to run on that 2U-sized DL380. The newest Generation 8 box retails for about one-tenth of the cost of that '74 HP3000 System CX server unit. But the CX was all that ASK Computer Systems had to work with, 40 years ago. And HP needed to work with ASK just to bring MPE into reliable service. "It didn’t work worth shit, it’s true," said Marty Browne of ASK. "But we got free HP computer time."
The leap in technology evokes the distinction between a Windows ERP that will replace ASK's MANMAN, and other choices that will postpone migration. Especially if a company has a small server budget, enough time to transfer data via FTP or tape drive -- and no desire to revise their manufacturing system. What started in a kitchen has made its transition to something small enough to look like a large briefcase, a thousand times more powerful. Users made that happen, according to Browne and retired HP Executive VP Chuck House.The last time I saw these two in a room together, the No. 2 employee at ASK and HP's chief of MPE software management had a touching exchange over the roots of MANMAN -- an application that's survived over four decades. (No. 1 at ASK would be the Kurtzigs, Andrew and Sandy. It's always been a family affair; their son Andy leads Pearl.com, a for-pay Q&A expert site.)
At the HP3000 Software Symposium at the Computer History Museum, Browne said that if the 3000 had failed to take root, ASK would have been hung out to dry.
Marty Browne: It used to be so expensive to buy computer time to do development work. And it was so much better a deal for me to do this 3000 development. I was able to put several years of engineering work into my product before I ever sold it. I could not have afforded that since I was bootstrapping my business.
Chuck House: Let me add that was true for Sandy too. She got a free HP 3000 for her kitchen.
Browne: It was not in the kitchen. We had the first HP 3000 on the computer floor at HP. Did you say kitchen?
Browne: Yes, we got an HP 3000. We had to work at night, by the way.
House: But it was free time.
Browne: It was free time. It didn’t work worth shit. It’s true. But we got free HP time.
House: No, we used you to debug.
Browne: Pardon me?
House: You were our debuggers.
Browne: Yes, right. HP provided an open house in a lot of ways, I mean that’s part of the HP culture. They were good partners. HP is an excellent partner.
Moderator Burt Grad: So if the 3000s had not been able to sell, you would have been hung out?
Why is this history lesson important today? You might say that whatever MANMAN's bones were built from is sturdy stuff. Customization, as we noted in that ERP article, makes MANMAN sticky. Robert Mills commented to clarify that after I posted the article.
MANMAN could be customized and added to by the customer because they were given full documentation on the system. ASK would, for a reasonable cost, make modifications to standard programs and supply you with the source code of the modified programs. Even MM/3000 had a Customizer that allowed you to make database and screen changes. Can you do this with MS Dynamics and IFS? Will Microsoft and IFS allow this, and give you the information required?
The answer to the question might be just a flat-out no, of course not. Just as HP stopped selling MPE unbundled, Microsoft and IFS don't customize their application. But partners -- some perhaps the equivalent of Marty Browne, abeit of different skill -- would like to do that customization. It's just that this customization in the modern era, which would run on the same DL380, would come after host environment transfer, plus work configuring and testing the apps and installation of a new OS. Then there's the same transfer of data, no small task, which is about the only one that these options have in common.
If a migration away from the HP 3000 for ERP is essential, that change could cost as much as that 1974 CX server did. This is one reason why still-homesteading companies will work hard to prove they need that budget. A $2,000 DL380 and disks plus CHARON might be more cost-effective and less disruptive. How much future that provides is something your community is still evaluating.
March 20, 2014
Manufacturing ERP Options from Windows
Even among the companies that host homesteader solutions for manufacturers, there's a sense that the long-term plan will involve Windows rather than MPE. The length of that term varies, of course, depending on the outlook for the current software in place. Customization keeps MPE systems in charge at companies very small and some large ones (albeit in small spots at those giants, like Boeing.)
Moving a 3000 installation away from MANMAN -- first created in the 1970s and after five ownership changes, still serving manufacturers -- is a skill at The Support Group's Entsgo group. In that TSG practice, the IFS suite is available and can be installed to replace the MANMAN, software which began development at a kitchen table in the middle 1970s. (That's if HP's former executive VP of Software Chuck House is to be believed. He said that HP sent a 3000 to ASK CEO Sandy Kurtzig's kitchen when MANMAN was still being debugged, as well as MPE itself.)
IFS -- which you can read up on at the Entsgo webpages of the Support Group site -- is just one of several replacement applications for manufacturers. Like IFS, Microsoft Dynamics GP has a wide range of modules to cover all the needs of a company using a 3000. Like any replace-to-migrate strategy, there's a lot of customized business logic to carry forward. But that's what a service company like TSG does, in part to keep down the costs of migrating.
TSG's CEO Terry Floyd said that Microsoft solution is battle-tested. Dynamics also happens to be a solution that our homesteading service hoster of a couple of days ago offers as a Windows migration target. Floyd says:
Windows used to be an anathema to the 3000 IT director, at least when it was considered as an enterprise-grade solution. Those days are long gone -- just as vanished as the sketchy beginnings of MPE itself, from its earliest days, and then again when it became a 32-bit OS in the late 1980s.
Several companies have converted from MANMAN to MS Dynamics, including one company in SoCal; that was 10 years ago. It's a fairly mature product by now, and had some great features when I checked it out way back when.
So it makes sense that someone who knows the genuine article in ERP, MANMAN, could have a positive review of a Windows replacement -- whether it's Microsoft's Dynamics, or IFS. Floyd said
There are dozens of viable ERP alternatives now (some industry specific, but many general purpose for all types of manufacturers.) There used to be hundreds. MS Dynamics is not as good as IFS, but choosing Microsoft now is considered as safe as choosing IBM was in the early 1980's. And at least you know they won't get bought by [former MANMAN owner] Computer Associates :)
Microsoft bought several ERP packages from Europe (one big one from Denmark, as I recall) and merged them together about 2002. They didn't write [that app suite] but they certainly have a viable product and a sizable user base, after this many years into it.
March 19, 2014
A year-plus later, Ecometry awaits a map
About one year ago, users of the Ecometry multi-channel software were wondering what the future might be for their software. According to analysts, the software (now joined up with the Escalate Retail system, to add extra Point of Sale power) is being used by 60 percent of the $200 million and under retailers. That's a lot of companies, and some will sound very familiar to the 3000 community. Catalog and website providers like M&M Mars, or retailers with strong online store presences like Hot Topic. These were all part of the Ecometry community that's been folded into a much larger entity.
That would be JDA, a company large enough to join forces with Red Prairie in early 2013. But not large enough to deliver a futures map for the Ecometry customer. These customers have been loath to extend their Ecometry/Escalate installations until they get a read on the tomorrow they can expect from JDA.
The JDA Focus conference comes up in about a month, and right now there's only one certain piece of news. JDA will meet for the last time, via conference call, with the Ecometry/Escalate user group before Focus opens up. That's not extending the contact with customers. There's a total of six meetings, including one meet-and-greet and two updates on enhancement requests.
MB Foster's been tracking the Ecometry situation for years by now. As a result of being a partner with Red Prairie, they're now a partner with JDA since the merger of 15 months ago. In all that time, says CEO Birket Foster, no evidence of product planning has emerged from the larger company. JDA is very big, he notes, more than 130 software suites big. Ecometry is just one. JDA is so large they now offer a JDA Eight, which is 30 applications in one bundle.Foster's view, backed up by work over the years in migrating Ecometry's MPE sites to Ecometry Open, is that anyone who's making a migration to the Open version is in a better place to react to whatever plan JDA might introduce. "I think it's possible there's nobody left in JDA who can even spell MPE, let alone know what it means to Ecometry sites," he said.
Foster would like to assemble a consortium of companies, partnering together, to assist in these migrations to Ecometry Open. In part, that's because the estimate for a migration which the customers get from JDA today runs 6-12 weeks. This is accurate only to the point that it describes installing the Open software on Windows or Unix servers (for SQL Server or Oracle databases) and Windows servers (for the app.) That's the part of the project where JDA (nee Red Prairie, nee Escalate) helps with the software transfer. But it's only a part of the 3000 customer's migration.
"In a lot of people's minds, from the day they decide to go to Ecometry Open, it's just a month or three," Foster said. "That [JDA] estimate is right. They come in, start it up, make sure the menu screens work right, and they're done. We do the integration work for everything else outside of the main Ecometry stuff."
In the JDA practice, the customer is responsible for loading its own data. "If you have any issues with your data, you might have to get more services from [JDA]," Foster said. "Or in this case, from MB Foster" perhaps along with its partners.
But without a clear roadmap from JDA, these customers cannot make plans to migrate with confidence. About a dozen of them are looking into this prospect, but have to work with only those half-dozen Ecometry sessions scheduled on the Focus agenda for the April 28 meeting. "They're scrambling for content, again," Foster said. "We've been addressing Ecometry customers since 2002, standing with [former CEO] John Marrah [of Ecometry] to talk about migration."
Foster's organization practices assessment as an essential prelude to change. Once an assessment has been completed -- in an overall look -- the cost of the migration can be estimated for the Ecometry site within a 30 percent plus-minus range. "After a detail assessment, you should be down to plus-minus 10 percent," he said. Other practices include doing a "parking lot" routing for parts of a migration that can be postponed with no ill effects, plus good project management and change control.
A migration away from an essential 3000 application like Ecometry should include a solid estimate of the costs. "You can get though a project like this on time and on budget," Foster said. "We don't believe in the philosophy that you should bid low and change-control people to death. We like to be up front and say 'this is what it's going to take.' Some people may not like the number they see, but that's actually what it's going to take."
Pragmatism about processes is really a significant part of the way an Ecometry customer operates, anyway. Foster shared a story about retailers who still ship out catalogs. Really, here well into the 21st Century? "Of course," Foster said the retailer told him. "With a catalog I've got a half-hour of your time on the couch on a Saturday, without the distraction of the Web. Focused on my products for you." One catalog retailer, a needlepoint supply resource, says the majority of its customers are beyond age 65. "That company actually gets a lot of orders from the paper order form in the catalog," Foster said.
March 18, 2014
Customizing apps keeps A500 serving sites
HP's A-Class 3000s aren't that powerful, and they're not as readily linked to extra storage. That's what the N-Class systems are designed to do. But at one service provider's shop, the A500 is plenty powerful enough to keep a client's company running on schedule, and within budget. The staying power comes from customization, that sticky factor which is helping some 3000s remain in service.
The A500 replaced a Series 987 about a year ago. That report is one point of proof that 9x7 systems are still being replaced. It's been almost two decades since the 9x7s were first sold, and more than 15 years since the last one was built. The service company, which wants to remain unnamed, had good experience with system durability from the 3000 line.
We host a group of companies that have been using our system for over 20 years. So, we’re planning on being around for a while. One of these customers may migrate to a Windows-based system over the next few years, but I anticipate that this will be a slow process, since we have customized their system for them over the years.
The client company's top brass wants to migrate, in order to get all of its IT onto a single computing environment. That'd be Windows. But without that corporate mandate to make the IT identical in every datacenter, the company would be happy staying with the 3000, rather than looking at eventual migration "in several years' time." It will not be the speed of the server that shuts down that company's use of an A500. It will be the distinction that MPE/iX represents.There are many servers at a similar price tag, or even cheaper, which can outperform an A500. HP never compared the A-Class or N-Class systems to anything but other HP 3000s. By the numbers, HP's data sheet on the A-Class lineup lists the top-end of the A500s -- a two-CPU model with 200 MHz chips -- at five times the performance of those entry-level $2,000 A400s being offered on eBay (with no takers, yet.) The A500-200-200 tops out at 8GB of memory. But the chip inside that server is just a PA-8700, a version of PA-RISC that's two generations older than the ultimate PA chipset. HP stopped making PA-RISC chips altogether in 2009.
HP sold that 2-way A500 at a list price of just under $42,000 at the server's 2002 rollout. In contrast, those bottom-end A400s had a list price of about $16,000 each. Both price points didn't include drives, or tape devices. Our columnist at the time, John Burke, reported on performance upgrades in the newer A-Class systems by saying
There is considerable controversy in the field about the A-Class servers in particular, with many people claiming these low-end boxes have been so severely crippled (when compared to their non-crippled HP-UX brothers) as to make them useless for any but the smallest shops. Even if you accept HP’s performance rating (and many people question its accuracy), the A400-100-110 is barely faster then the 10-year-old 928 that had become the de-facto low-end system.
I see these new A-Class systems as a tacit agreement by HP that it goofed with the initial systems.
The power of the iron is just a portion of the performance calculation, of course. The software's integration with the application, and access to the database and movement of files into and out of memory -- that's all been contributing to the 3000's reputation. "I’ve been working on the HP since 1984 and it’s such a workhorse!" said the service provider's senior analyst. "I've seen other companies that have gone from the 3000 to Windows-based systems, and I hear about performance issues."
Not all migrations to Windows-based ERP, for example, give up performance ground when leaving the 3000 field. We've heard good reports on Microsoft Dynamics GP, a mature set of applications that's been in the market for more than a decade. Another is IFS, which pioneered component-based ERP software with IFS Applications, now in its seventh generation.
One area where the newer products -- which are still making advances in capability, with new releases -- have to give ground to 3000 ERP is in customization. Whatever the ERP foundation might be at that service provider's client, the applications have grown to become a better fit to the business practices at that client company. ERP is a set of computing that thrives on customization. This might be the sector of the economy which will be among the last to turn away from the 3000 and MPE.
March 17, 2014
Breaching the Future by Rolling Back
Corporate IT has some choices to make, and very soon. A piece of software that's essential to the world's business is heading for drastic changes, the kind that alter information resource values everywhere. Anyone with a computer older than three years has a good chance of being affected. What's about to happen will echo in the 3000 owner's memories.
Windows XP is about to ease out of Microsoft's support strategy. You can hardly visit a business that doesn't rely on this software -- about 30 percent of the world's Windows is still XP -- but no amount of warning from its vendor seems to be prying it off of tens of millions of desktops. On this score, it seems that the XP-using companies are as dug-in as many of the 3000 customers were in 2002. Or even 2004.
A friend of mine, long-steeped in IT, said he was advising somebody in his company about the state of these changes. "I'm getting a new PC," he told my pal. "But it's got Windows 8 on it. What should I do?" Of course, the fellow is asking this because Windows 8 behaves so differently from XP that it might as well be a foreign environment. Programs will run, many of them, but finding and starting them will be a snipe hunt for some users forced into Windows 8. The XP installations are so ubiquitous that IT managers are still trying to hunt them down.
The market sees this, knows all, and has found a solution. It won't keep Windows 8 from being shipped on new PCs. But the solutions will return the look and feel of the old software to the new Microsoft operating environment. One free solution is Classic Shell, which will take a user right back to the XP interface for users. Another simply returns the hijacked Start Button to a rightful place on new Windows 8 screens.
You can't make these kinds of changes in a vacuum, or even overnight. Microsoft has been warning and advising and rolling its deadlines backwards for several years now, but April 8 seems to be the real turning point. Except that it isn't, not completely. Like the 2006-2010 years for MPE and the 3000, the vendor is just changing the value of installed IT assets. It will be making them more expensive, and as time rolls on, less easy to maintain.The expectation is that the security patches that Microsoft has been giving away for XP will no longer be free. There's no announcement, officially, about the "now you will pay for the patches" policy. Not like the one notice that HP delivered, rather quietly, back in 2012 for its enterprise servers. Security used to be an included value for HP's servers, but today any patch requires a support contract.
Windows XP won't be any different by the time the summer arrives, but its security processes will have changed. Microsoft is figuring out how to be in two places at once: leading the parade away from XP and keeping customers from going rogue because XP is going to become less secure. The message is mixed, at the moment. A new deadline of 2015 has been announced for changes to the Microsoft Security Engine, MSE.
Cue the echoes of 2005, when HP decided that its five-year walk of the plank for MPE needed another two years worth of plank. Here's Microsoft saying
Microsoft will continue to provide updates to their antimalware signatures and Microsoft Security Engine for Windows XP users through July 14, 2015.
The extension, for enterprise users, applies to System Center Endpoint Protection, Forefront Client Security, Forefront Endpoint Protection and Windows Intune running on Windows XP. For consumers, this applies to Microsoft Security Essentials.
Security is essential, indeed. But the virus that you might get exposed to in the summer of next year can be avoided with a migration. Perhaps over the next 16 months, that many percentage points of user base will have moved off XP. If so, they'll still be hoping they don't have to retrain their workforce. That's been a cost of migration difficult to measure, but very real for HP 3000 owners.
Classic Shell, or the $5 per copy Start 8, work to restore the interface to a familiar look and feel. One reviewer on ZDNet said the Classic Shell restores "the interface patterns that worked and that Microsoft took away for reasons unknown. In other words, Classic Start Menu is just like the Start Menu you know and love, only more customizable."
The last major migration the HP 3000 went through was from MPE V to MPE/XL, when the hardware took a leap into PA-RISC chipsets and 32-bit computing. Around that time, Taurus Software's Dave Elward created Chameleon, aimed at letting managers employ both the Classic and MPE/XL command interfaces. Because HP had done the heavy lifting of creating a Classic Mode for older software to run inside of MPE/XL, the interface became the subject of great interest.
But Chameleon had a very different mission from software like Classic Shell. The MPE software was a means to let customers emulate the then-new PA-RISC HP 3000 operating system MPE/XL on Classic MPE V systems. It was a way to move ahead into the future with a gentle, cautious step. Small steps like the ones which Microsoft is resorting to -- a string of extensions -- introduce some caution with a different style.
Like HP and the 3000, Microsoft keeps talking about what the end of XP will look like to a customer. There's one similarity. Microsoft, like HP, wants to continue to control the ownership and activation of XP even after the support period ends.
"Windows XP can still be installed and activated after end of support on April 8," according to a story on the ZDNet website. The article quotes a Microsoft spokesperson as explaining, "Computers running Windows XP will still work, they just won’t receive any new security updates. Support of Windows XP ends on April 8, 2014, regardless of when you install the OS." And the popular XP Mode will still allow users with old XP apps to run them on Windows 7 Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate.
And just like people started to squirrel away the documentation and patches for the 3000 -- the latter software resulting in a cease-and-desist agreement last year -- XP users are tucking away the perfectly legal "professionals and developers" installer for XP's Service Pack 3, which is a self-contained downloadable executable.
"I've backed that up in the same place I've backed up all my other patch files and installers," said David Gerwitz of CBS Interactive, "and now, if I someday need it, I have it." These kinds of things start to go missing, or just nearly impossible to find, once a vendor decides its users need to move on.
March 13, 2014
Can COBOL flexibility, durability migrate?
In our report yesterday on the readiness for CHARON emulation at Cerro Wire, we learned that the keystone application at that 3000 shop began as the DeCarlo, Paternite, & Associates IBS/3000 suite. That software is built upon COBOL. But at Cerro Wire, the app's had lots of updating and customization and expansion. It's one example of how the 3000 COBOL environment keeps on branching out, in the hands of a veteran developer.
That advantage, as any migrating shop has learned, is offset by finding COBOL expertise ready to work on new platforms. Or a COBOL that does as many things as the 3000's did, or does them in the same way.
OpenCOBOL and Micro Focus remain two of the favorite targets for 3000 COBOL migrations. The more robust a developer got with COBOL II on MPE, however, the more challenge they'll find in replicating all of that customization.
As an example, consider the use of COBOL II macros, or the advantage of COBOL preprocessors. The IBS software "used so many macros and copylibs that the standard COBOL compiler couldn't handle them," Terry Simpkins of Measurement Specialities reported awhile back. So the IBS creators wrote a preprocessor for the COBOL compiler on the 3000. Migrating a solution like that one requires careful steps by IT managers. It helps that there's some advocates for migrating COBOL, and at least one good crossover compiler that understands the 3000's COBOL nuances.Alan Yeo reminds us that one solution to the need for a macro pre processor is AcuCOBOL. "It has it built in," he says. "Just set the HP COBOL II compatibility switch, and hey presto, it will handle the macros."
Yeo goes on to add that "Most of the people with good COBOL migration toolsets have created COBOL preprocessors to do just this when migrating HP COBOL to a variety of different COBOL compilers. You might just have to cross their palms with some silver, but you'll save yourself a fortune in effort." Transformix is among those vendors. AMXW support sthe conversion of HP COBOL to Micro Focus as well as AcuCOBOL.
Those macros were a staple for 3000 applications built in the 1980s and 90s, and then maintained into the current century, some to this very day. One of the top minds in HP's language labs where COBOL II was born thinks of macros as challenges to migrations, though. Walter Murray has said
I tried to discourage the use of macros in HP COBOL II. They are not standard COBOL, and do not work the same, or don't work at all, on other compilers. But nobody ever expects that they will be porting their COBOL. One can do some very powerful things with macros. I have no argument there.
COBOL II/iX processes macros in a separate pass using what was called MLPP, the Multi-Language PreProcessor. As the name implies, it was envisioned as a preprocessor that could be used with any number of HP language products. But I don't think it was used anywhere except COBOL II, and maybe the Assembler for the PA-RISC platform.
Jeff Kell, whose 3000 shutdown at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga we've chronicled recently, said macros were a staple for his shop.
In moving to COBOL II we lived on macros. Using predictable data elements for IMAGE items, sets, keys, status words and so forth, we reduced IMAGE calls to simple macros with a minimum of parameters.
We also had a custom preprocessor. We had several large, modular programs with sequential source files containing various subprograms. The preprocessor would track the filename, section, paragraph, last image call, and generate standard error handling that would output a nice "tombstone" identifying the point in the program where the error occurred. It also handled terminal messages, warnings, and errors (you could put the text you wanted displayed into COBOL comments below the "macro" and it filled in code to generate a message catalog and calls to display the text).
It's accepted as common wisdom that COBOL is yesterday's technology, even while it still runs today's mission critical business. How essential is that level of business? The US clearinghouse for all automated transfers between banks is built upon COBOL. But if your outlook for the future is, as one 3000 vet said, a staff pool of "no new blood for COBOL, IMAGE, or VPlus," then moving COBOL becomes a solid first step in a migration. Just ensure there's enough capability on the target COBOL to embrace what that 3000 application -- like the one at Cerro Wire -- has been doing for years.
March 06, 2014
Reducing the Costs in a Major MS Migration
Look all around your world, anywhere, and you'll see XP. Windows XP, of course, an operating system that Microsoft is serious about obsoleting in a month. That doesn't seem to deter the world from continuing to use it, though. XP is like MPE. Where it's installed, it's working. And getting it out of service, replacing it with the next generation, has serious costs. It will remind a system manager of replacing a 3000, in the aggregate. Not as much per PC. But together, a significant migration cost.
The real challenge lies in needed upgrades to all the other software installed on the Windows PCs.
There's a way to keep down the costs related to this switch. MB Foster reminded us that they've got a means to improve the connection to the 3000 updated via Windows PCs.
Microsoft will end support for Windows XP on April 8, 2014. MB Foster has noticed companies moving to Windows 7/8 with an eye toward leveraging 64-bit architectures, reducing risks and standardizing on a currently supported operating system.
As an authorized reseller of Attachmate's Reflection terminal emulation software, we advise you that now is the time to seize the opportunity and minimize risks -- and get the most out of your IT investments.
The key to keeping down these costs is something called a Volume Purchase Agreement. It's an ownership license that HP 3000 shops may not have employed up to now, but its terms have improved. MB Foster's been selling and supporting Reflection ever since the product was called PC2622, and ran from the DOS prompt. Over those three decades, the company estimates it's been responsible for a million or more desktops during the PC boom, when 3000 owners were heavy into another kind of migration: replacement of HP2392 hardwired terminals. "Today, we are responsible for the management and maintenance of approximately 50,000 desktops," Foster's Accounts Manager Chris Whitehead said.
Upgrading Reflection is a natural step in the migration away from Windows XP. "We recommend upgrading terminal emulation software to Windows 7/8 compatible versions," said Whitehead. "As your partner we can make it easy and convenient to administrate licenses, reduce year over year costs, secure a lower price per unit and for your company to gain some amazing efficiencies."
For a site that has individual licenses of Reflection or a competing product, there's an opportunity to move into a Volume Purchase Agreement (VPA). The minimum entry is now only 10 units, Whitehead explains.
Years ago, when the product was sold by WRQ, the minimum for a Reflection limited site license was 25. Then it went to a point system. But as a follow-on, a minimum 10 units is just required for a Volume Purchase Agreement. The VPA provides a mechanism for maintaining licenses on an annual basis -- meaning free upgrades and support. It also provides price protection, typically giving a client a lower price per unit when compared to a single-unit purchase. The VPA also allows you to transition from one flavor of Reflection to another, i.e. going from Reflection for HP to Reflection for Unix, and at a lower cost.
If a site is already a Volume Purchase Agreement (VPA) customer and it’s not maintained, Whitehead suggest a customer consider reactivating it. During the reactivation process you can
• Consolidate and upgrade licenses into one or more standardized solutions
• Surrender / retire licenses no longer needed or required
• Trade in competing products
• Only maintain the licenses needed
Details are available from Whitehead at [email protected].
February 27, 2014
Unix-Integrity business keeps falling at HP
Numbers reported by Hewlett-Packard for its just-ended quarter show the company's making something of a rebound in some areas. One analyst said to CEO Meg Whitman that she'd been at the helm of the company for three-and-a-half years, and she had to correct him during the financial briefing last week.
"Actually, I've been here two-and-a-half years," Whitman said. "Sometimes it feels like three-and-a-half, but I've been here two-and-a-half years."
It's been a long 30 months with many changes for the vendor which still offers migration solutions to 3000 customers making a transition. But one thing that hasn't changed a bit is the trajectory of the company's Unix server business. Just as it has over each of the previous six quarters, sales and profits from the Business Critical Systems fell. Once again, the BCS combination of Integrity and HP-UX reported a decline in sales upwards of 15 percent from the prior fiscal year's quarter. This time it was 25 percent lower than Q1 of 2013. That makes 2014 the fourth straight year where BCS numbers have been toted up as lower.
"We continued to see revenue declines in business-critical systems," Whitman said. Only the Enterprise Group servers based on industry standards -- HP calls them ISS, running Windows or Linux -- have been able to stay out of the Unix vortex.
"We do think revenue growth is possible through the remainder of the year on the enterprise [systems] group," Whitman said. "We saw good traction in ISS. We still have a BCS drag on the portfolio, and that's going to continue for the foreseeable future."In a small victory among the runaway slide of HP-UX and Integrity sales, Whitman predicted that HP will pick up two points of market share in the business critical system marketplace.
"Listen, we are turning the enterprise group around," Whitman said. "You can see it in the success in ISS revenues, as well as networking and storage. We've still got more work to do on the margins. When you consider the significant headwind of the declining BCS business, the technology services operating profit performance was strong. Business critical systems continues to be impacted by a declining Unix market. BCS revenue declined 25 percent year-over-year, to $228 million."
As a marker of how small a slice that's become at HP, consider that the profits alone from HP's lending operations were more than $100 million. And the ISS revenues are 15 times higher than Integrity, at $3.2 billion.
Total HP revenues for the quarter were $28.2 billion, down 0.7 percent year-over-year and up 0.3 percent in constant currency. Total profits were HP's been stuck on $28 billion quarters since 2013. Whitman said the company has been in pivot mode "to the new style of intellectual property, around investment in innovation."
I think we've been hard at work on doing a lot of things that are going to position us as this industry continues to go through some very challenging changes. The pace of change and the magnitude of change here is as great as I've seen in my career. I think we're reasonably well positioned take advantage of those changes.
Changes in business are dictating new outlooks for older businesses at HP. It's always been that way at the vendor which cut off its 3000 futures during a post-merger closeout of product lines.
"We have businesses that are declining businesses," Whitman told the analysts, who were sometimes complimentary of where she's leading the company over the two-plus years. "We understand where the declining businesses are, we understand what we need to do with them. We've got businesses that are holding in terms of revenue, and then we've got growth businesses."
What's growing at HP will be getting whatever investment and energy the company can manage. "We have pivoted investment," Whitman said. "We've pivoted people. We've pivoted go-to-market to those growth areas in the company."
February 20, 2014
Migration best practices: Budget and plan as if taking a business vacation
Is a migration as much fun as a vacation? That seems like an easy question for the HP 3000 homesteader who's still got a transition in their future. Only a small percentage of the managers of these servers plan to homestead forever. For the rest of the installed base, this transition is a matter of when, rather than if.
With its feet in both camps of homesteading and migration, MB Foster held a webinar yesterday that delivered best practices for the CIO, IT director or even systems and programming manager who faces the someday of moving away. When an organization with the tenure of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga shuts down its servers -- after 37 years of service -- it might be evidence that migration is an eventuality. A possibility for some sites.
For those that still have that mighty project on their futures calendars, the advice from Foster mirrors things like home remodeling and vacation planning.
"This is a business decision, not a technical decision," CEO Birket Foster has always said, in delivering these practices over more than a decade. "A migration’s just like a vacation –- the more you plan, the less it costs, and the better the results." Perhaps the comparison might align with the concept of taking a business vacation. That's the sort where you tack on a few extra days to a business trip, and carry along the same set of bags while you go further.
MB Foster's eight-step process takes HP 3000 customers through migration with in-depth planning and expertise. A key piece is understanding the business and technical baselines, as well as an assessment of the business and technical goals of the migrating company. The results of the assessment form a plan presented in a one-day Executive-Level Workshop which highlights the major issues and recommendations of migration.
The work takes place side-by-side with a customer's IT staff, producing a complete evaluation of a company's data environment. The company's experts put data in flight with Data Blueprints, Software Selection, and Staffing Plans.
"What we've found in best practices is that you should do a skills matrix, for both the baseline and target," Foster advises. "When you go to put in a new application, you'll have to install and configure it, have a changed end-user workflow, and perhaps changes in the skills required to do this. You'll have changes in IT operations, and there may be application program interfaces that need configuration, so they talk to the normal systems."
You assess, plan and implement, Foster says. The assessment breaks across two scopes of responsibility. "From our best practices we know you have to establish two baselines," Foster says. "One's on the technical side, and the other is on the business side. When people establish a technical baseline, they sometimes fail to go through and check with the business side folks. You must ask them if they had a magic wand, what they want the application to do differently than the way it behaves today."
You measure your total cost of ownership over five years to get a true budget for the budget on a migration. Objectives are to mitigate risks, but do not assume you'll migrate your existing applications. 80 percent of the customers following best practices buy a replacement application off the shelf, rather than pour money into re-engineering existing code. Software selection practices use the assessment framework as for the entire migration process. Look at 3-7 packages. Some surround code -- the sorts of programs that aid an MPE app -- might be taken along or re-integrated.
Cleaning data is key to a successful implementation of any migration. That can mean partnering with data experts, especially some who know your current as well as future database environments. Your data migration solution should decide how much data to keep, whether the 3000 data will be a part of your main application, and determine requirements for cleaning enough to go live.
The best practices mirror the weeks and months that you'd spend before taking a trip. With travel, this can be a way of experiencing the journey before ever leaving home. With migrations, it's a way of visualizing and budgeting for the waypoints that will get a shop onto a new application while not interrupting business flow.
"Like when you say you'll go on a trip, at first it's just a concept," Foster said. "You figure out if you're driving, or going by plane. You figure where you're staying, who am I meeting. Those all have more detail, but at the high level it's assess, plan and implement."
February 19, 2014
Don't forget: Migration Best Practices today
MB Foster's kicking off its season of Webinars -- the 13th year of showing off details of best practices for 3000 operations, strategy and transitions -- using slide its summaries, a presentation and interactive Q&A and chat features. The event is this afternoon at 2 PM Eastern.
Today's meeting, which requires a commitment of under an hour, is all about app migrations, modernizations, and the budgeting that's worked for their clients over the last decade. You can sign up for the free experience that provides an online chat room, slides with the salient points, Q&A exchange via standard phone or IP voice, as well as Foster's expertise. The company specializes in application migrations -- the first step in the ultimate transition in a 3000-based datacenter.
February 13, 2014
App modernization gets budget-sleek look
Transitions are still in the future for HP 3000 shops in your community. It might not have made sense to switch platforms in 2003 (to nearly everybody) or in 2008 (when HP's labs closed, but the 3000 remained online) or even in 2011 (when HP ended all of its support, and indie support firms stepped up).
But by 2014, there will be some shops that would be considering how to budget for the biggest transformation project they've ever encountered. Pulling out a CRM, ERP or even a manufacturing system, honed over decades, to shift to commodity hardware is a major undertaking. But it's been going on for so long that there's best practices out there, and one vendor is going to share the best of the best next week.
For some US companies, Monday is a holiday, so it'd be easy to let Wednesday sneak by without remembering it's Webinar Wednesday at MB Foster. The first show of the new year is all about app migrations, modernizations, and the budgeting that's worked for their clients over the last decade. It's a 2PM Eastern start for the interactive presentation February 19. You can sign up for the free experience that provides an online chat room, slides with the salient points, Q&A exchange via standard phone or IP voice, as well as Foster's expertise. The company says that it specializes in application migrations -- the first step in the ultimate transition in a 3000-based datacenter.
The vendor is one of the four original HP Platinum Migration partners, and since 2003 MB Foster's been acquiring experience in transitioning apps written in HP's COBOL and Powerhouse, apps employing Suprtool, apps whose interface is driven by VPlus. "We've been working with entire ecosystems and integrating them with the database of your choice," CEO Birket Foster says, "along with integrating the complete application environment covering external application interfaces, database interfaces, JCL, scheduler and other pieces that complete the environment."
Our clients, who have had us assist in their migrations, appreciate the experience and guidance the MB Foster team brings to the table. In every case there have been advantages to making the transition to Windows, Linux, or Unix in terms of:
1) Reduced risk from aging hardware
2) Reduced cost of supporting the server environment and
3) Easier access to, training and hiring of application programmers and operations personnel with knowledge of the new application environment to support it properly.
Foster promises that the 45-minutes around midday in the middle of next week -- a shorter workweek for some -- will deliver a "thought-provoking synopsis for your senior management team to invest in the right IT solutions for your business."
February 12, 2014
How Shaved Sheep Help Macs Link to 3000s
The HP 3000 never represented a significant share of the number of business servers installed around the world. When the system's highest census was about 50,000, it was less than a tenth of the number of Digital servers, or IBM System 36-38s. Not to mention all of the Unix servers, or the Windows that began to run businesses in the 1990s.
If you'd be honest, you could consider the 3000 to have had the footprint in the IT world that the Macintosh has in the PC community. Actually, far less, considering that about 1 in 20 laptop-desktops run Apple's OS today. Nevertheless, the HP 3000 community never considered Macs a serious business client to communicate with the 3000. The desktops were full of Windows machines, and MS-DOS before that. Walker, Richer & Quinn, Tymlabs, and Minisoft took the customers into client-server waters. All three had Mac versions of their terminal emulators. But only one, from Minisoft, has survived to remain on sale today.
That would be Minisoft 92 for the Mac, and Doug Greenup at Minisoft will be glad to tell a 3000 shop that needs Mac-to-3000 connectivity how well it hits the mark, right up to the support of the newest 10.9 version of the OS X. "Minisoft has a Macintosh version that supports the Maverick OS," Greenup said. "Yes, we went to the effort to support the latest and greatest Apple OS."
But there were also fans of the WRQ Reflection for Mac while it was being sold, and for good reason. The developer of the software came to WRQ from Tymlabs, a company that was one of the earliest converts to Apple to run the business with, all while understanding the 3000 was the main server. The first time I met anyone from Tymlabs -- much better known as vendor of the BackPack backup program -- Marion Winik was sitting in front of an Apple Lisa, the precursor to the Mac. Advertising was being designed by that woman who's now a celebrated essayist and memoir writer.
What's all that got to do with a sheep, then? That WRQ 3000 terminal emulator for the Mac ran well, executing the classic Reflection scripting, but then Apple's jump to OS X left that product behind. So if you want to run a copy of Reflection for Mac, you need to emulate a vintage Mac. That doesn't require much Apple hardware. Mostly, you need SheepShaver, software that was named to mimic the word shape-shifter -- because SheepShaver mimics many operating environments. The emulation is of the old Mac OS, though. It's quite the trick to make a current day Intel machine behave like a computer that was built around Apple's old PowerPC chips. About the same caliber of trick as making programs written in the 1980s for MPE V run on Intel-based systems today. The future of carry-forward computing is virtualization, rooted in software. But it's the loyalty and ardor that fuel the value for such classics as the 3000, or 1990-2006 Macs.Barry Lake of Allegro took note of SheepShaver as a solution to how to get Reflection for Mac to talk to an HP 3000. The question came from another 3000 vet, Mark Ranft.
I've been looking for a copy of Reflection for Mac. It is no longer available from WRQ/Attachmate. I've looked for old copies on eBay without any luck. Does anyone know where a copy may be available, and will it still run on OSX Mavericks (10.9)?
It was possible to run the "Classic" versions of Reflection under OS X up through Tiger (10.4). Sadly, Apple dropped Classic support in Leopard (10.5). The only way to run Classic apps now is in some sort of virtual environment. I've been doing this for many years, and quite happily so, using SheepShaver.
But you have to find a copy of the old Mac OS ROM somewhere, and have media (optical or digital) containing a Classic version of Mac OS.
As with so many things that were once sold and supported, the OS ROM can be had on the Web by following that link above. That Mac OS ROM "was sort of a 'mini operating system' that was embedded in all the old Macs, one which acted as an interface between the hardware and the OS," Lake explains. "It allowed a standard OS to be shipped which could run on various different physical machines.
Modern operating systems simply ship with hundreds of drivers -- most of which are never used -- so that the OS (might be Windows or linux or even Mac OS X) is able to run on whatever hardware it happens to find itself on. But this of course, has resulted in enormous bloat, so the operating systems now require gigabytes of storage even for a basic installation.
The beauty of the old Mac OS ROM is that the ROM was customized for each machine model, so that endless drivers didn't have to be included in the OS, and therefore the OS could be kept small and lean.
Lake said that althought using SheepShaver to run the favorite 3000 terminal emulator "took a modest effort to set up, it has been working beautifully for me for years. And yes, it works on the Intel Macs (the Power PC instruction set is emulated, of course)."
So here's an open source PowerPC Apple Macintosh emulator. Using SheepShaver (along with the appropriate ROM image) it is possible to emulate a PowerPC Macintosh computer capable of running Mac OS 7.5.2 through 9.0.4. Builds of SheepShaver are available for Mac OS X, Windows and Linux
February 05, 2014
3000 emulators moving ahead on Windows
Changes to the most dominant computer environment on the planet, Windows, as well as reaching backward to the days of a surging client-system strategy, have sparked some research and solutions for next-generation HP 3000 emulation.
We're not talking about emulating the 3000 hardware. Stromasys CHARON HPA/3000 is the tool for that. The subject here is getting a traditional HP 3000 application screen to display on what we once called desktop PCs. Now they're mostly laptops, but at their essence they are smart clients, linked to servers. WRQ did the biggest trade in this kind of tool, selling hundreds of thousands of copies of Reflection over the years.
MB Foster is reminding 3000 customers there's a migration coming for those desktop environments running Windows. The firm has been a supplier of the Reflection line of emulators and connectivity software since the 1980s. In a few months, Microsoft will be pulling its XP version of the desktop OS out of security patching status. XP won't stop working, not any more than MPE/iX did when HP stopped patching it. But running a company with XP-based PCs, attached to 3000s, is asking for a lot of blind luck when it comes to patching for trouble. Much more luck will be needed for the PCs, a situation which is leading Foster to remind users about upgrading Reflection for the future.
Attachmate acquired WRQ years ago, but the Reflection brand lives in in the combined corporation. On April 8, when the XP patches end, things get more risky for the company that hasn't migrated to Windows 7 or 8. MB Foster wants to help with this aspect of that migration, too.
If you are using Attachmate’s Reflection product line, it will continue to be supported based on the Product’s Support Lifecycle. However, Attachmate’s ability to resolve issues related to Windows XP will be limited after April 8, 2014.
MB Foster has already noticed companies moving to Windows 7/8 with an eye toward leveraging 64-bit architectures, reducing risks, and standardization of a supportable operating system. To minimize risks even more, Attachmate and MB Foster are recommending you upgrade retired or discontinued versions of Attachmate software.
Reflection was offered in many sorts of volume bundles during its lifespan at WRQ. It was the most widely-installed software program, in numbers, that ever served HP 3000 owners. The discounts for volume licensing can be reactivated, as can support for older versions of Reflection.
For customers and clients who need support for older versions, Attachmate is offering an Extended Support Plan. For those who don’t have a maintained Volume Purchase Agreement, MB Foster is taking this opportunity to encourage customers to pre-plan, pre-budget, and to take advantage of product fixes, enhancements and security updates for Reflection.
The Microsoft migration away from XP -- like HP's from MPE/iX -- has "its undertones and challenges." Finding an XP client system in production is easy these days, but one that's also serving an HP 3000 may be more elusive. MB Foster is quoting reactivations of the Volume Purchase Agreement -- the least costly way to get a lot of Windows PCs updated. Customers who have a VPA number should have it at the ready, the vendor says.
February 04, 2014
Making Domain Magic, at an Efficient Cost
Five years ago, HP cancelled work on the DNS domain name services for MPE/iX. Not a lot of people were relying on the 3000 to be handling their Internet hosting, but the HP decision to leave people on their own for domain management sealed the deal. If ever there was something to be migrated, it was DNS.
But configuring DNS software on a host is just one part of the Internet tasks that a 3000-savvy manager has had to pick up. One of the most veteran of MPE software creators, Steve Cooper of Allegro, had to work out a fresh strategy to get domains assigned for his company, he reports.
We have been using Zerigo as our DNS hosting service for a number of years now, quite happily. For the 31 domains that we care for, they have been charging us $39 per year, and our current year has been pre-paid through 2014-08-07.
We received an e-mail explaining exciting news about how their service will soon be better-than-ever. And, how there will be a slight increase in costs, as a result. Instead of $39 per year, they will now charge $63 per month. A mere 1900% increase! And, they won't honor our existing contract either. They will take the pro-rated value of our contract on January 31, and apply that towards their new rates. (I don't even think that's legal.)
In any case, we are clearly in the market for a new DNS Hosting provider. Although I am not a fan of GoDaddy, their website. or their commercials, they appear to offer a premium DNS Hosting service, with DNSSEC, unlimited domains, etc. for just $2.99 per month. Sounds too good to be true.
Cooper was searching for experience with that particular GoDaddy service. GoDaddy has been a default up to now, but acquiring a domain seems to need more tech savvy from support. The 3000 community was glad to help this other kind of migration, one to an infrastructure that MPE never demanded. The solution turned out to be one from the Southern Hemisphere, from a company whose hub is in a country which HP 3000 experts Jeanette and Ken Nutsford call home.Cooper said that some 3000 vets suggested "rolling my own," self-hosting with his external DNS. Here's a few paragraphs addressing those two topics:
We have a dual-zoned DNS server inside our firewall, but we do not have it opened to the the outside world. Instead, only our DNS hosting service has access to it. The DNS hosting service sees itself as a Slave server and our internal server as the Master server. However, our registrars point to that external DNS hosting service, not our internal server, so the world only interrogates our DNS hosting service when they need to resolve an address in one of our 31 domains.
Why don't we open it up to the world? Well, we get between 200,000 and 3,000,000 DNS lookups per month. I don't want that traffic on our internal network. There are also DDoS attacks and other exploits that I want no part of. And, since some of our servers are now in the Cloud, such as our mail, webserver, and iAdmin server, I don't want to appear to disappear, if our internet connection is down. Best to offload all of that, to a company prepared to handle that.
When I need to make a change, I do it on our internal DNS server, and within a few seconds, those changes have propagated to our DNS hosting service, without the need for any special action. The best of both worlds.
Now, on to the issue from earlier in the month. Our DNS hosting service, Zerigo, announced that they were raising rates by 1900%. And, our first attempt at a replacement was GoDaddy. Although the information pages at GoDaddy sounded promising, they made us pay before we could do any testing. After three days of trying to get it to work, and several lengthy calls to GoDaddy support, they finally agreed that their service is broken, and they can't do what they advertised, and refunded our money.
The biggest problem at GoDaddy is that I (as the customer) was only allowed to talk to Customer Service. They in turn, could talk to the lab people who could understand my questions and problems. But the lab folks were not allowed to talk to me, only the Customer Service people. This is not a way to do support, as those of us in the support business know full well.
After more research, I hit upon what appears to be a gem of a company: Zonomi. They are a New Zealand based company with DNS servers in New York, Texas, New Zealand, and the UK. And, they let you set up everything and run with it for a month before you have to pay them anything. We were completely switched over with about an hour of effort.
Now, the best news: they are even cheaper than our old DNS hosting service used to be. If you have a single, simple domain, then they will host you for free, forever. If you have a more complex setup, as we do, the cost is roughly US $1 per year, which beats the $63 per month Zerigo wanted to charge. The first ten domains cost $10 per year, then you add units of five more domains for $5 per year.
The only risk I can see is if they go out of business. In that case, I could just open our firewall and point our domains to our internal server, until I could find a replacement. So, that seems reasonable.
That problem is solved. On to the next fire.
January 29, 2014
University learns to live off of the MPE grid
One of the most forward-looking pioneers of the HP 3000 community shut off its servers last month, ending a 37-year run of service. The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga IT staff, including its networking maven Jeff Kell, has switched over fully to Linux-based computing and an off the shelf application.
UTC, as Kell and his crew calls the school, has beefed up its server count by a factor of more than 10:1 as a byproduct of its transition. This kind of sea change is not unusual for a migration to Unix and Oracle solutions. HP 3000s tend to be single-server installations, or multiples in very large configurations. But to get to a count of 43 servers, IT architecture has to rethink the idea of a server (sometimes just a blade in an enclosure) and often limits the server to exclusive tasks.
After decades of custom-crafted applications, UTC is running fully "on Banner, which has been SunGuard in the past," Kell said. "I believe it's now called now Ellucian. They keep getting bought out." But despite the changes, the new applications are getting the same jobs done that the HP 3000s performed since the 1970s.
The heyday of the HP 3000 lasted until about 2009 or so, when UTC got all of the Banner applications up and running, Kell reports. Banner -- well, Ellucian -- has many modules. Like a lot of migrating sites that have chosen replacement software off the shelf, the transition was a stepwise affair.
It's Linux / Oracle replacing it. The configuration was originally Dell servers (a lot of them), but most of it is virtualized on ESXi/vCenter, fed by a large EMC SAN. They got some server hardware refreshed recently, and got Cisco UCS blade servers. I'm sure they're well into seven figures on the replacement hardware and software alone. I've lost count of how many people they have on staff for the care and feeding of it all. It's way more than our old 3000 crew, which was basically six people.
The 3000 was still pretty heavily used until 3-4 years ago, when they got all of Banner up and running. The 3000 continued to do some batch transfers, and our Identity Management. The 3000 was the "authoritative" source of demographics and user accounts, but they are now using Novell's Identity management -- which bridges Banner/Oracle with Active Directory, faculty/staff in Exchange, and the student accounts in Google Mail.
We had dedicated 3000s in the past for Academics. They later jumped on an IBM system, then Solaris for a time, and now Linux. We also had one for our Library catalog and circulation (running VTLS software), but they later jumped on the Oracle bandwagon. More recently, the whole module for the library has been outsourced to a cloud service.
Even in the days when the 3000 ruled at UTC, there were steps in a transition. "I think we peaked at seven 3000s briefly while we were in transition -- the days we were moving from our old Classic HP 3000 hardware to the then-new Series 950 RISC systems," Kell said. "After the delays in the 3000 RISC system deliveries and the promises HP had made, they loaned us a Series 52 and a 58, so we could keep pace with production while waiting on PA-RISC."
January 27, 2014
Polymorphic computing still tweaks billing
Editor's note: more than five years ago, Hewlett-Packard was promoting an old concept with a new speech. HP's current Labs director Martin Fink spoke about polymorphic computing, and MB Foster's CEO Birket Foster was on hand to note what was nascent about the concept, as well as what still needed to be developed. Cloud computing has gone beyond nascent to become commonplace, but billing for individual apps -- not just CPU and bandwidth -- is still a work in progress. The apps on MPE systems are specialized parts of computing, but not easily available through most common clouds (like Amazon Web Services, or Google).
Until billing for MPE apps via the cloud is worked out, companies will be migrating apps to capture the potential of polymorphic computing. Foster's article still offers a lot to think about while considering the true benefits of a transition for MPE apps.
There's a marvelous stop-action film online that explains polymorphic computing. The film was made in 1959. The earliest design of MPE was still a decade away. Most people believe polymorphic computing didn't emerge until almost 50 years after the film was made. Enjoy it, as well as Foster's report below. The pieces are still in motion, and like transitions, they're not stopping.
By Birket Foster
The CommunityConnect 2008 conference in Europe featured Martin Fink, the Senior VP and GM for the HP Business Critical Server group. Fink gave a talk on Polymorphic Computing. What is that, you say? Well, Fink used an analogy from the car industry, one where you have different cars with steering wheels, engine, chassis and tires that can be changed on demand. Think of the object-oriented programming concept of late binding, he suggested.
Here's how it sounded to me, a software vendor sitting in an audience full of software vendors. Your polymorphic car would assemble itself in your garage for the purpose you need -- so you could have a sports car one evening for what Fink called “a hot date with the wife,” then the next day you could order up a minivan to go shopping, and in the afternoon the polymorphic assembly garage would deliver a pickup truck so you could pick up some lumber for a do it yourself project.
The current world of virtualization will allow computing resources to be configured for different tasks. The workload will be profiled so that the CPU, memory, disc space, and network IO matches the requirement. Once you get to that stage, you could be buying your computing in a metered environment. Utility computing will finally become a reality just in time for a change of name -- the current moniker is “Cloud Computing,” where your computing services get provided by a large company like HP, or Amazon or Google. In the cloud, the applications as well as the whole environment are built around the concept of a flexible billing system.
The issue is the billing system. There is no current standard for allowing a hosting company (ISP or RBOC or a Google) to charge for the individual utilities that complete the application environments. Not everything that will be required as a “completer app” will be done in “free” open source - there is still going to be a need for mashups and a way to pay the creators of the intellectual property.
If HP could figure out how to do the billing system for micro-cents, and offer that back to the software vendor community, they could get the brightest and the best to flock to helping HP take a lead in the innovation of cloud computing. HP will get a piece of the action as they bill customers on behalf of the developers, the developers get a check -- while the customer only has to deal with its cloud computing provider or application services provider who uses cloud computing. The strategy helps avoid licensing agreements and purchasing from lots of little vendors.
By the way, most of the really good innovation in software comes from small, high-performance teams. HP discovered this when the SAP/Oracle port to Itanium was completed. The top customers used about 150 applications to complete the environment -- things like development and test solutions, along with deployment, operations and support software: things like spoolers, schedulers etc. Cloud computing needs a high-performing team at HP to step up and help produce a standard billing mechanism, one that will be the differentiator for the ISVs choosing to partner with HP. Then polymorphic computing will be headed your way.
January 21, 2014
Hewlett-Packard decays, not a 3000 killer
The Unicom acquisition of Powerhouse assets finally showed up in the news section of the Series i and AS/400 world. The website Four Hundred Stuff ran its report of the transaction which proposes to bring new ideas and leadership to one of the oldest tools in the 3000 community. It will be another 10 weeks or so before Unicom makes any announcements about the transaction's impacts. We're looking forward to talking to Russ Guzzo of the company once more, to get some reaction to the idea of transferring licenses for the Powerhouse ADT suite. Millions of dollars worth of tools are out there on 3000s that will go into the marketplace.
We're not eager to hear one of the more unfocused definitions of what happened to the HP 3000 more than 12 years ago. According to Four Hundred Stuff, Hewlett-Packard killed the HP 3000 more than a decade ago. Not even close to being accurate. HP did kill off the future for itself to particpate in the 3000 community. Eventually it killed off its own labs for MPE and PA-RISC hardware. Eventually it will kill off the support business it still offers for a handful of customers, relying on a handful of MPE experts still at HP.
The 3000's operating system lives on, in spots like the one the IBM newsletter pointed out. We find it interesting that within a month, the company that created the first virtualized HP 3000, Stromasys, and the company that created the most widely installed 4GL, both had assets purchased by deep-pocketed new owners. Powerhouse itself is entrenched in some places where IT managers would like to get rid of it. At UDA, a Canadian firm, a Powerhouse application is scheduled for removal. But it's complex, a living thing at this company. Fresche Legacy, formerly Speedware, is reported to be maintaining that Powerhouse app for UDA while a transition comes together.
The IT manger realized, however, that it wouldn't be easy or inexpensive to replace the system, and that a thorough assessment and long-term plan was the best approach. The first step, however, was to ensure the viability of the aging system for the foreseeable future. A search for IBM PowerHouse experts quickly lead Mr. Masson to Fresche Legacy.
In these sorts of cases and more, the HP 3000 lives on. Not killed by by its creator vendor. If any definition of what happened can be applied, HP sent the 3000 into the afterlife. Its customer base is decaying with a half-life, but only at a different rate than the IT managers reading Four Hundred Stuff.
January 17, 2014
Licensing software means no resales, right?
Almost for a long as software's been sold, it has not really been purchased. There were the days when a company would pay for the actual source code to programs, software which was then theirs to modify and use as they pleased. Well, not as they pleased entirely. Even a sale of the vintage MRP software source for MANMAN had conditions. You couldn't resell it on the market as your own product, for example.
Ownership of software has been defined by licenses-to-use in your enterprise market. When a municipality in Southern California switched off its HP 3000 Series 969 -- 12 years after it began to migrate in-house programs to Windows .NET -- the software on the old system immediately lost all of its value. Not the programs written to serve departments like Building and Permits. Those apps belong to the city forever. But the tools used to build them -- specifically a high-dollar copy of Powerhouse -- become worthless once the city stops using them.
You can pass along the value of MPE/iX and its included software subsystems -- TurboStore for backups, IMAGE/SQL, even COBOL -- when you sell and transfer ownership of an HP 3000. But third-party software is controlled by a different sort of license. At least it has been up to now. Here in the HP 3000's afterlife, there's a potential for another sort of license transfer. In the case of Powerhouse, its new owners Unicom Systems get to define license terms. It's never been a matter of ownership, because that always remains with its vendor. A retired product manager of Powerhouse checked in to remind us of that.Bob Deskin was a constant voice in the Powerhouse community for more than 20 years, even passing out information about the 4GL after Cognos was sold to IBM. A decade after HP stopped building the 3000, Deskin retired from IBM, but he had a personal opinion to share about ongoing Powerhouse value.
"Keep in mind, as is the case with most software, the product was licensed to the buyer, not sold," he said. "And as such, the rights cannot be transferred without the permission of the owner, who is now Unicom."
When a computer becomes a vintage machine and has lost its original value -- like the Series 969 in Southern California -- a company is resigned to knowing it will never be worth the 70 grand originally paid for the product. Transferring rights is a process the vendor defines. Now Unicom has the opportunity to establish its own terms for that arrangement. So far, nobody from the Powerhouse community can recall a transfer of a license.
Alan Yeo of ScreenJet, a company deeply involved in development tools for the HP 3000, walked through the possibilities for considering a software license transfer of anything other than an operating system and subsystems on the 3000.
In general most software is sold as a "license to use" by an individual/organization. The terms of that license will determine if it is transferable and under what circumstances/terms. It is not unusual in a license agreement for a license to be transferable with the agreement of the licensor and that such approval should not be unreasonably withheld.
The reason for this is that Companies, Organizations and the like quite frequently buy/sell parts of themselves, or complete businesses, and systems normally come/go as part of the deal. Thus it is quite normal for software licenses to be transferred to the new owners.
Most software companies -- if the software remains under support -- are normally only too happy to agree. A nominal administrative fee may be charged (although I have never seen one) and there may be some adjustment in the support fees charged. (For example, if the seller had multiple of copies on a discounted basis, and the new owner has taken one out of the bunch).
I have seen Cognos products change hands in this manner without any fees many times, and even seen support period balances carried over. At times, even when a company has been into liquidation and bought out again ("liquidation/administration/bankruptcy" is quite often a specific clause that terminates a license agreement).
So unless Cognos just chose not to enforce specific terms of their license at these times (which may be possible to retain support revenues) I would suspect that their license does allow transfer. But you would have to ask someone who has one.
If it does allow transfer, then the case of that Series 969 is interesting. Even though I suspect that the license does exclude the resale of the license, if the hardware and software was transferred as part of a business sale (like if someone was selling the legacy applications part of their business) then I suspect that theoretically Cognos would have found it hard not to allow a license transfer. Of course, how easy they made that transfer would depend on if there was an existing support contract, and if the purchaser of the business was intending to take out support.
We're going to have a chat with Unicom about these Powerhouse prospects soon, and we'll report back on what we're told. Unicom's Russ Guzzo is monitoring the Powerhouse newsgroup mailing list, where we've started to ask about the terms and the experiences of licenses and licensees.
January 16, 2014
Replacing parts a part of the 3000 lifestyle
We'd like to hear from the community about 3000 parts: the ones that will push them away from MPE, as well as the parts that will keep decade-old servers running. Check in with me at [email protected].
Customers who continue to rely on HP 3000s place great store on parts. Spare parts, the kind that tend to wear out sooner than others like disk drives, or the ones which can force a company into disaster recovery like a CPU board. The veterans in the community know that there's no support without a source of parts. And the demise of 3000 installations, like a well-run junkyard, can be a source.
However, a dearth of spare parts forced one 3000 customer into entering the world of HP 3000 emulation. Warren Dawson had systems that were aging and no clear way to replace what might fail inside them. Dawson's in Australia, a more remote sector of the 3000 empire. But his need became the spark that moved HP's iron out and replaced it with Intel-based hardware. Commodity became the follow-on costume that Dawson's information now plays in.
While there are portions of the HP 3000's high-failure parts list that can be replaced with third party components -- drives come to mind -- a lot of the 3000's body is unique to Hewlett-Packard's manufacture. Another company in Mexico, a manufacturing site, moved its applications off MPE because it figured that replacing 15-year-old servers was a dicey proposition at best.
This leads us to our latest report of HP 3000 parts, coming from a switched-off site in California. Roger Perkins has a Series 969 that he's working to give away. Like everybody who paid more than $50,000 for a 3000, he'd like to believe that it has value remaining. But on the reseller market, he might be fortunate to get a broker to haul it off.
Those who do are likely to take the system for its parts. What's more, the HP 3000s that are going offline are not the only resource for replacement parts. Other HP servers can supply this market, too. Finding these parts is the skill that homesteading managers must master.One of our bedrock sponsors, Pivital Solutions, makes a point of ensuring that every support customer has a depot-based spare parts source. Whatever you'd need to get back online, they've got on hand. Not something to be hunted down, ordered and then shipped in a few days. Steve Suraci of Pivital asked questions back in 2012 that still need answers, if homesteading's risk is to be fully considered. And sometimes the parts aren't even inside a 3000. They just have a MPE version that's got to be hunted down, if a support provider doesn't depot-stock parts. Hostess Brands had a Series 969 back then, one which needed an fiber router.
How many HP 3000 shops are relying on support providers that are incompetent and/or inept? The provider was willing to take this company's money, without even being able to provide reasonable assurance that they had replacement parts in a depot somewhere in the event of failure. There are still reputable support providers out there. Your provider should not be afraid to answer tough questions about their ability to deliver on an SLA.
The easy questions to answer for a client are "Can you supply me support 24x7?" or "What references will you give me from your customers?" Harder questions are "Where do you get your answers from for MPE questions?" Or even, "Do you have support experts in the 3000 who can be at my site in less than a day?"
But Suraci was posing one of the harder questions. "Here are my hardware devices: do you have spares in stock you're setting aside for my account?" Hardware doesn't break down much in the 3000 world. But a fiber router is not a 3000-specific HP part. Hewlett-Packard got out of the support business for 3000s for lots of reasons, but one constant reason was that 3000-related spare parts got scarce in the HP supply chain.
There are other support companies that guarantee parts availability. But many sources of support services to keep 3000s online wait to acquire customer parts as needed. Some of them pull components like power supplies out of the plentiful HP-UX servers from the early decade of this century. HP called those boxes K-Classes, servers that were both Series 800s as well as Series 900s.
A Series 969 server like the one turned off by Perkins and pushed to the curb serves a need for homesteaders. A reseller first has to take it out of a datacenter, clean up and test what's inside the cabinet, then do triage on what's worth keeping in the 3000 food chain. Not many places have enough storage to run the equivalent of an auto salvage yard. You know, the kind of place where a steering wheel bearing you need is deep inside a junked Dodge Dart.
Depending on the model of HP 3000, many have value in their spare parts. An owner who's getting rid of a 3000 shouldn't expect much compensation for a system they're selling off for parts. But the operators in the 3000 community who are both selling used systems as well as supporting these servers need a supply of components. How much they need depends on the limitations of available warehouse space.
Governments are beginning to insist on responsible recycling. Purchasing a computer in California now includes a recycling fee built into the sale at retail and consumer spots like Best Buy. But Goodwill Industries' Reconnect takes on many computers, regardless of their working status.
There's a lot to consider when keeping an HP 3000 running as a mission-critical component. MB Foster summed up the elements well in a Sustainability Plan document you can download from their website. Way back in 2010, Foster asked some good questions that a Sustainability Plan should answer.
Okay, so let’s look at the impact of a crash on Friday afternoon when the HP 3000 was backed up last Saturday (you do verify your backup tapes, right?) You have a full backup from last Saturday and daily backups from Monday through Thursday. The spare parts are not on site, and you have to contact your provider to get the parts and a skilled technician to the site, and then you can start restoring your hardware and application environments. How long will it take to restore all the data, applications and the whole system?
Way, way back in 2005 -- yes, more than eight years ago -- one of the bigger sources of HP hardware said the savvy customers were arranging for their own inventory of spare parts. Genisys' Robert Gordon said that customers who know the 3000 have their own spare parts options to rely upon.
"They're either going to go to third party maintenance, or they're going to self-maintain," Gordon said. "I think a lot of people are technically savvy on the 3000; they know it's not rocket science, and they're going to buy spare board kits. So we're going to see that business pick up. We'll see a lot 3000 sales in the year 2006." There are fewer 3000s to sell in the marketplace today. But that doesn't matter as much as locating the ones which are still around.
January 13, 2014
HP to surf legacy OS onto new platform
HP's Unix customers aren't so lucky, but the companies that rely on the NonStop OS have been told they're getting an x86-ready version of their fault-tolerant environment.
“No matter what HP NonStop hardware architecture you choose, you will continue to get 100 percent NonStop value that makes what you do truly matter,” CEO Meg Whitman explained to the installed base. It's a message that might make an HP-UX customer wonder if what they're doing, strictly on Itanium hardware, will truly matter.
What matters to HP is the stickiness of the NonStop customer. They demonstrate the same kind of product and company loyalty that the 3000 customer did, at least until HP announced the end of its MPE business. Technically, there are possibilities for c7000 blades to run the environment first released when Jim Treybig left HP to form Tandem.
There are no promises here, and no roadmap for release of this transitional product. It's much further out than the reality of running MPE/iX on Intel servers -- and that Stromasys solution won't require special Intel hardware from HP. But it's more of a future than the OpenVMS and HP-UX enterprise customers are facing.NonStop is in heavy use in the banking industry, and the dollars it brings to Hewlett-Packard are rich with profits. There's never been a transition that HP has managed to sweep a legacy -- sorry, proprietary -- OS like NonStop onto the wave of commodity hardware. MPE/iX got its marching papers, HP-UX was kept on the Itanium leash, OpenVMS was leashed until last year -- when its customers learned the OS was going to freeze on the current generation of Itanium chips.
But it's possible that this vendor is finally seeing a way to model another kind of migration, one that delivers more options to a customer instead of declining levels of support and relevance. A broad-brush HP document that waves the flag toward the future is online. NonStop is about three years younger than MPE/iX, and it's been a part of HP since the Compaq acquisition of 12 years ago.
This is what choice might have looked like for three other HP-owned operating systems. It's also the first significant product announcement that could have an impact on the careening fortunes of the Business Critical Systems group. If there's going to be a migration in the future for this group of business computer customers, HP would rather see the transition from one set of hardware with an HP badge to another.
January 10, 2014
Another Window is flung open to malware
HP continues to flog its customers off of Windows XP, reminding everybody that April 15 is the end of security updates for Microsoft's equivalent of MPE/iX. That's similar as in "designed more than a decade ago, still doing useful work, and not broken in many places." We spoke with Dave Elward of Taurus Software this week -- he's got an interesting project he's been doing on the history of HP 2000, one we'll cover next week. Elward pointed out most of his development these days is in Windows. The latest is Windows Server 2012, "the complement to Windows 8."
"For the most part, I work in Windows XP," Elward said. He's beyond brilliant in his understanding of the relative operations and virtues of environments. His first major product for the market was Chameleon, software that made HP 3000s use the new RISC-based UI, even when the 3000s were running MPE V. Chameleon let customers emulate the then-new PA-RISC HP 3000 operating system on Classic MPE V.
When someone as thorough as Elward is using an OS that HP seems to be exiting, it might be proof that security doesn't rely exclusively on software updates. Plenty of damage can be done through Windows via phished emails. The latest scheme involves sending email that purports to confirm an airline flight, or track a package from an online retailer. Our resident security expert Steve Hardwick explains how it's done, and what might be done to keep a Windows system from the latest malware infection.
By Steve Hardwick
I was recently asked to help out a colleague who had inadvertently opened an email containing malware. The email was a false notification of an order that had not been placed. Inside the email, a link led the unsuspecting user to a site that downloaded the first part of the virus. Fortunately at that point, the user knew something was amiss and called me. We are able to get rid of the virus, mainly due to the fact he had already taken good security precautions. Ironically, two days later, I received a notification email myself regarding airline tickets I did not purchase. This one included a Windows executable attachment. Since I was using my Ubuntu Linux desktop, it was easy to detect and no threat. All the same, it shows that there has been a wave of attacks out there taking advantage of seasonal behavior.
This method of attack is not new. In fact UPS has a list of examples of false emails on their website. The reason that these emails are more of a threat is that they get blended in with an unusual number of real ones. When people at Christmas order more on-line shipments and plane tickets, it allows the hacker to use this tactic more effectively. The other danger is that new viruses can be used as part of the attack. In the case of my colleague, the virus had only been identified a couple of days before he got it. Most of the AntiVirus, or A/V, software packages had not developed a detection update for it yet, This type of attack is commonly called a “Zero Day” virus infection. If the A/V cannot detect a virus, what can you do to mitigate this threat?There are several things you can do to protect your system against Zero Day attacks prior to any infection. Here is a list of actions that you can use.
1. Keep all software up to date. Viruses attack weaknesses in the code. Vendors provide software updates, or patches, to close the holes that are in there. Keeping the operating systems and all applications, including your browser, up to date can help prevent viruses from exploiting the software weaknesses. In many cases, these updates are automatic if the updater is enabled.
2. Save your data. There are a lot of services available now to be able to save information in the cloud. By backing up the information you can always make sure that your data is safe when any repairs are made to remove the virus. Further, some viruses are designed to attack your data directly. Called Data Hostaging or Ransomware, these viruses encrypt all of the data and then you have to pay to get the encryption key to retrieve your data.
3. For Microsoft Windows the concept of a System Restore point was introduced. This allows the user to restore a system back to a previously captured system configuration. It is very useful if you are infected with a Zero Day virus. Not only will it remove any infected program files, it will also clean out any changes made to the registry.
Many viruses operate as a two part system. First the payload is downloaded and then the nasty part of the virus is loaded on re-boot using a registry change. A system restore will prevent the reboot portion of the virus from infecting your machine by providing a clean registry. A word of caution: if the system restore is created when the machine is infected, then the restore will also restore the infected files. You will need to replace the System Restore point with a clean version of the operating system.
The other alternative is to prevent getting the virus in the first place. Here are some tips that will help prevent downloading a virus.
1. Attachments: In many cases the company sending you a notification will not place an attachment to an email. An executable attachment will definitely not be sent out. So think twice before clicking on any email attachment. In fact many email programs will block executable attachments by default.
2. Check the link address in any email (normally you can just mouse over the email and see the URL -- but this will depend on your email application). Many people are easily fooled with malicious email addresses. Things like amazon.somesite.com look like they are a valid Amazon web site. However, the website owner is really somesite.com. Another easy trick is to use www.amaz0n.com (a zero in place of the “o”). Easy to spot if lower case, but how does this look: WWW.AMAZ0N.COM.
3. Use a website to check information instead of the email. When I got my email notification, I went to the airline website and entered the verification code in the email. The site told me it was an invalid verification code. By manually entering the site address, you are going to a site you know to be safe.
4. When you are planning to do a lot of on-line shopping, it is a good time to make sure your programs (including your email application) and your anti-virus are up to date,
The information is really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the topic of safe computing. There are some excellent sites out there that will give you some more information on how to deal with home computer security. Here are two of my favorites.
1. Originally started by Carnegie Mellon, the US Computer Emergency Response Team - US-CERT - site is a good one stop shop for information security information. The “Tips” page gives a compendium of topics on computer security. These are easy to read and cover a wide range of security topic
2. The Anti-Phishing Working Group provides a good page on steps to avoid phishing scams. There is also a lot of additional information on their site about phishing attacks and the work going on to stop them.
Hopefully the tips in this article and those I have referenced will help you avoid any nasty email surprises. By the way, my colleague had all of his data backed up and had a recent system restore point. He also detected that a file had been created which he did not recognize. So he came off unscathed from his brush with a Zero Day threat.
January 09, 2014
Eloquence: Making a Bunny Run Elsewhere
An email poll over the last week asked 3000 owners and their suppliers what was in store for their systems this month. One reader in Long Beach, Roger Perkins, has a 3000 they've shut down at the City of Long Beach and wants to find "somebody who's interested in taking that out for us. I don't know if it's worth any money, but I was hoping we wouldn't have to pay anyone to take it out." Perkins left his number for a recommendation on recycling a 3000: 562-570-6054.
Our experience with this situation is that individuals -- fellow 3000 owners -- will be interested in the machine for parts, provided they don't have to bear too much freight costs. But there's something more unique than a collection of slower CPU boards and decade-plus-old discs on hand. The city has an MPE/iX license attached to its 3000. It's a system element that's not being sold any more, and essential to getting a virtualized 3000 online.
But little will change in that sort of transition transaction, except the location of a boot drive. In contrast, at Genisys Total Solutions, Bill Miller checked in to report that a change in databases has extended the reach of the application software for financials that has been sold by Genisys since the 1970s.
Though we have migrated all of our software to a Windows platform running Eloquence, we still have an HP 3000 that has been in operation for close to 13 years and has not failed at all during that time. We still support a handful of HP 3000 clients, who also seem to think the HP 3000 is the Energizer Bunny and see no reason to move from it.
Our main business is selling and supporting our applications on the PC platform. We have found Eloquence (as is IMAGE) to be a reliable and easy to maintain database.
January 06, 2014
IBM divests Powerhouse development tools
IBM has sold off the Application Development Tool operations from its Cognos acquisition, moving the Powerhouse, Axiant and Powerhouse Web customers and products to Unicom Systems, Inc. Financial details of the transaction were not reported as part of the news, which was broken to customers in the last few days of 2013.
The new owner of Cognos software, support operations and contracts, as well as customer accounts, is a division of Unicom Global, a 32-year-old company that's led by CEO Corry Hong. According to an IBM VP of mergers and acquisitions, Hong's business enterprise holds and manages more than 30 corporate entities in operations throughout the US, Germany France, UK, Ireland, Belgium, Italy, Spain and Switzerland. Unicom says on its websites that it acquires publicly-traded companies as a regular part of its expansion.
The parent company, which is a privately held concern, has strong ties to IBM's mainframe and midrange customer base. The latter is represented in Unicom's SoftLanding division, makers of program change management, automation and performance management on the i Series.
Hong said the scope of the PowerHouse tools' installed base impressed Unicom. "Application development tools play a key role in enterprise technology," he said in a release, "and PowerHouse is the most widely installed 4GL in the industry, with customers continuing to achieve substantial economies in reducing application development efforts.
“This is a strategic acquisition for [this division of] UNICOM Global. We appreciate IBM’s trust in selling us the Cognos Application Development Tools suite, and IBM’s confidence in our ability to effectuate such a complex global transaction. We will collaborate with IBM to ensure smooth transition for customers."
A letter to PowerHouse customers made a clear statement that as of Dec. 31, 2013, Unicom has full responsibility for customer support contracts as well as development plans, sales and license renewals.
That last element has been a classic point of negotiation and some contention for the PowerHouse customer. For example, one site discovered last fall that a license transfer from an A-Class to the CHARON emulator was going to cost the HP 3000 shop more than $100,000. IBM told its PowerHouse customers on the day of the sale that for any renewal quotes for Powerhouse software, "please take no action. A new quote will be issued to you by Unicom. Further instructions on how to process your renewal with [Unicom] will be provided to you shortly."Unicom is also the owner of the US Robotics product line, customers and technology, as well as a maker of products for the IBM Z Series and the i Series. The latter is the latest generation of IBM's AS/400 line, thought of as a complement to the highly-integrated structure of the HP 3000. Cognos had terminated development for the Series i version of its PowerHouse toolset and sent the product into Vintage Support in 2005. Five years later the MPE version of the product moved into the same category.
A few members of the Powerhouse community speculated on what the latest change of ownership might mean for the customer base. Consultant Ken Langendock said on the PowerHouse mailing list, "I would hope it means it will continue to improve. IBM has not wanted to do anything with the product since the takeover [from Cognos]. I have been trying to find out if they added a patch for Oracle 12c and nobody will answer me. If I had a wish, it would be that Powerhouse will work with MySQL."
PowerHouse was the most widely installed 4GL in the HP 3000 community as well, ranging from simple Quiz reporting included in MRP software like MANMAN all the way to complete suites. IBM bought Cognos in 2008. While some IBM operations have a stellar track record for customer service, Dave Vinnedge of Accuride reported in in 2012 that his Cognos experience didn't match that.
“I have not yet seen a lot of diligent customer service practices, at least on the Cognos side of IBM,” he said. “For example, my boss started receiving the 2010 PowerHouse support renewal notice every 15 minutes. It took over a day for my boss to be sure that IBM knew that there was a problem -- and two more days for IBM to fix it.”
IBM's VP of Mergers & Acquisitions Robert White said in a letter to customers the deal is "a move we believe will benefit our Cognos ADT customers by including it as part of the broader portfolio of UNICOM application offerings." White's letter described Unicom as "providing enterprise software, computing hardware, telecom platform, IT services, IT real estate, M&A and financing services for Fortune 500 and Global 2000 companies, and federal, state and local government organizations."
The holding company also has an IT real estate arm. Unicom reports that its greatest asset for the entity is "expertise in storage, security, enterprise and carrier communications" and says it has the "largest portfolio of purpose-built turnkey platforms." Another group, Unicom Engineering, is a light-manufacturer of appliances, with primary facilities in Canton, Massachusetts; Plano, Texas, and Galway, Ireland.
The company also offers 30 standard products and a large selection of turnkey platforms and appliances. Offerings include solution design and system integration services, ways to deploy what the company calls "the best-fit, form and functional platform for their application," in a scope from robust enterprise security appliance to a highly integrated carrier-grade rack mount system.
The Unicom press release announcing the acquisition gave special mention to HP's Allbase database as among those supported by Powerhouse, but failed to describe the IMAGE/SQL databases that PowerHouse taps on HP 3000 servers. But it says that its Global Services unit "is a component of the company's strategy of providing IT infrastructure and business insight and solutions to clients."
January 03, 2014
Replacing 3000 meant dozens more servers
Tony Shepherd (left) and Jeff Kell switch off an A-Class and N-Class server at the December decommission of the UTC's HP 3000s. MPE drove the operations of the university for more than 30 years.
At the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, the HP 3000 was decommissioned last month. The university's operations had been managed under MPE and MPE/iX since 1976. After 37 years of service -- the last five as an archival system -- the servers went dark as the team of original 3000 experts executed a shutdown and a power-off.
By the time that legendary legacy system went offline for good, more than 43 servers had been powered up and maintained to replace its operations. Jeff Kell, who not only chaired the MPE Special Interest Group but also started the 3000 newsgroup on the Web, explained the replacement strategy that requires dozens of servers. Kell has gone into networking management for the university.
Every one of them are at the very least a virtual guest VM (and those are in the majority). Most of the database systems (Oracle) are standalone physical servers. There are a few dedicated blades left as well.
And yes, it makes me ill just looking at it, in contrast to the single 3000 we had running everything. Of course our new application Banner includes fancy report writers (Argos) and front-end web portals and Oracle management/monitoring -- but still, times change.
Networking inherited one of those blade chassis last year, and we run our own ESXi cluster on it. Our DHCP / DNS / etc infrastructure servers are all redundant. Typically we have a physical server in the main datacenter and a VM in our secondary datacenter for each, so you have "physical redundancy" for all of the core services that make things work.That includes physically redundant routers, network connections, and fiber as well.
There was a "whole lot" of my life poured into that beast. Not that specific model, but in the systems that it ran (we have had numerous chassis). It is something you don't see very often these days: "in-house code."
Kell pointed out, in an extensive report about the changes, that most computer owners only have web pages, by now, to represent in-house coding. At UTC there was so much more, including some programming that remained useful and vital for more than three decades. We'll have more on that next week.
December 31, 2013
Date-based deadline looms once again
Tomorrow and Thursday, we'll be taking a few days away from our 3000 reports to celebrate the New Year. We'll return with a story on Jan. 3. But 14 years ago tonight, your world was waiting for a new year of calamity. Developers, managers, even executives had spent years planning, coding, even setting aside operations while waiting for Y2K to occur. For many HP 3000 owners, the start of our current century mandated the biggest project they'd ever accomplished: preparing an entrenched set of programs to handle formats for new dates.
For one part of the classic 3000 community, it will be happening all over again. The only break these managers of healthcare billing systems will get is a one-year reprieve. And 90 days of that is already gone.
The healthcare industry is expanding its ICD diagnostic codes in the US, a government mandate that has nothing to do with the Affordable Care Act. More than 48,000 distinct codes will be required in order to be paid by the Medicare and Medicaid systems. One story from the New York Times said that getting injured by a killer whale could be one of the thousands of new codes, a part of the fine-tuning to move from ICD-9 to ICD-10.
Virtually the entire health care system — Medicare, Medicaid, private insurers, hospitals, doctors and various middlemen — will switch to a new set of computerized codes used for determining what ailments patients have and how much they and their insurers should pay for a specific treatment.
Some doctors and health care information technology specialists fear major disruptions to health care delivery if the new coding system — also heavily computer-reliant — isn’t put in place properly. They are pushing for a delay of the scheduled start date of Oct. 1, 2014 — or at least more testing beforehand. "If you don’t code properly, you don’t get paid,” said Dr. W. Jeff Terry, a urologist in Mobile, Ala., who is one of those who thinks staffs and computer systems, particularly in small medical practices, will not be ready in time. “It’s going to put a lot of doctors out of business."
ICD-10 has already had a one-year extension for its deadline. It was supposed to be supported by Oct. 1 of this year. HP 3000 managers didn't have that kind of deadline-extending option as 1999 ran out. But they've had postponing options for their migration projects, and they've used them. Migrations off MPE are probably the only thing that could outstrip the resource levels needed to succeed at Y2K.The Y2K story was a success story, perhaps the most shining moment of the HP 3000's history aside from going from 16-bit to 32-bit with PA-RISC without rewriting applications. Y2K was feared, misunderstood, and exploited by competitors who'd already engineered four-digit dates. Windows comes to mind; MPE was among a wave of computers that had suffered from comparisons to those low-priced alternatives. But the independent software vendors created tool after tool to help MPE/iX make it to 2000. And COBOL programmers, who'd become specters in the years since their software went to work, found themselves back in demand and in the spotlight.
The HP 3000 and its community had been serving crucial industries such as healthcare for more than two decades by the time Y2K arrived on the horizon. Established, older systems needed new hope and some re-engineering. Experts who still work on HP 3000s brought in-house and off-the-shelf software into the future. We asked some what they'd be doing at midnight of Dec. 31, 1999. Most had plans to stay close to the phone.
It’s entertaining, in a horror-flick kind of way, to consider that Y2K is an Extinction Level Event. But it’s a lot more likely to be like a snow day at school, maybe a snow week. I haven’t talked to a programmer yet who plans to fly over the New Year. Lots of them plan to be working, though. While a few programmers are stockpiling canned goods, buying armored Hum-Vees and digging shelters, most of them have been digging into programs to get things fixed. Technical experts with a respect for society aren’t worried about the end of this year. They won’t predict what will happen, but only that we’ll survive. The safest prediction? Some great prices on canned goods and used survival gear by the end of January.
As you're toasting 2014 tonight, and saying goodbye to 2013, take a moment to recall how collective work and respect for mature skills made January 1, 2000 a safe morning for information technology -- and the world which relied upon it. Some of the 3000's migrated healthcare information customers will be facing a similar deadline, based on a date. Amisys/3000 became Amisys Open while the vendor moved off 3000s. Now the customers are hoping ICD will have the same kind of ending as Y2K.
December 30, 2013
2013 emboldened 3000 changes for both migration and homesteading practices
As a service to readers who crave summary and broad strokes, we hearby sketch what the year 2013 meant to the 3000 community. It's too much of a cliche to say that the previous 12 months were driven by change. That's been an essential element for the community since 2001. But a dozen years has now spread changes onto the migrating community member, as well as those who have made their mission one to homestead.
The HP 3000 CHARON emulator from Stromasys showed more promise this year, but some of its impact lay in the way it held migrations in check without even being deployed. Another factor came from the economy. By year's end the markets were flying at an all-time high, but the recovery has its blind spots, according to some 3000 users. Couple the proposed savings in keeping MPE apps virtual with with an uncertain future for HP's replacement solutions, and the movement away from the 3000 slowed.
Even with that evidence, some shutdowns of systems stood out. A major installation of 3000s that had been serving the airline industry saw their work moved to .NET replacements, as Open Skies became New Skies. We also saw Hewlett-Packard closing down its own internal HP 3000 operations at long last, powering off the final four systems, just 12 years after advising its customers to do the same.
The year also offered a chance to see what remained on the field a decade after the community marked the World Wide Wake of 2003. The server got its first iPad app when a terminal emulator emerged for iOS, even as other experts found other ways to get an MPE console onto a tablet. And the exit of expertise continued throughout our 3000 world, even as some stalwart resources remained online.HP set the pieces in place long ago for its 3000 strategy to evolve away from the need for physical hardware. The Apps on Tap strategy that led to the Open Skies offering -- where networked 3000s serve up apps to customers who don't have servers onsite -- is now being echoed in Software as a Service.
Sites that moved off HP 3000 installations for ecommerce software watched their vendor get acquired, then see the open version of their software slip into a 140-product lineup. It was an example of how migrations became a part of life at those 3000 sites that had already left MPE behind. Even among the sites where server migration hasn't occurred, data migration is already afoot. Customers are now looking at a migration off of Windows XP for their users, and some are facing the same reluctance and lack of budget they saw for 3000 diaspora.
Hewlett-Packard had its share of problems to overcome, from shuffling the pathways to MPE documentation online to keeping its enterprise mission critical business from evaporating. Each of the four quarters of revenues for its BCS group posted a 20 percent sales decline from the previous year's numbers. It was a continuation of a 2012 trend. The company's CEO and CFO called the Unix server business a formerly growing venture. Then there was the announcement of curtailing another HP business OS, OpenVMS, starting in 2015 when new Integrity systems won't run on the environment. Things got so critical for BCS and its bretheren that HP reorganized the whole enterprise server operation into a single unit, then removed its executive VP from the job.
Emulator news emerged from two fronts. Stromasys built out its management for the CHARON product and opened the doors on its North American rollout with a May Training Day event. The latter was the first 3000-specific event in almost two years. In the snows of February in Europe, a similar event for CHARON recalled HP's final organized event for the 3000, nine years earlier. Early in the fall, a group of freeware developers was trying to create a not-for-commerce version of what it called a simulator of HP 3000 hardware. Successful booting remained elusive.
In the meantime, the offering of an emulator had customers checking HP's rules and processes for license transfers, some three years after the company shut down all other 3000 operations. It helped to be able to ask for the right process, and ask the right person.
Another trend emerged in the longevity of the 3000 expert. Outlasting the 3000 server was a duel that some experts were giving up. One company in LA made a shift to Windows because its IT staff for the 3000 was aged 67 and 72. But among those who continued to keep the MPE lamp lit, techniques to continue 3000 operations still emerged. Replacing HP's disks with third party alternatives got detailed to swap in fresh hardware for decade-old drives. Moving store to disk files with attributes intact is possible with newer open source archiving software.
The year showed that change itself has changed for the community. The long run of the HP 3000 unreels into the dark of the as-yet-unlit future. There was even a careful examination of the costs of remaining on the 3000 for 5-10 years.
December 24, 2013
A Present Under Most Trees for 2013
We've used our previous three days of blog articles to sketch a current portrait of the HP 3000 and MPE's history and future, courtesy of Allegro Consultants' Stan Sieler. While reviewing this material, taken from our latest printed 3000 Newswire issue, Sieler's even-handed replies showed a gift that's been presented to nearly every 3000 customer, past, present and future: the sparks that fly off the flint of change.
Nobody welcomes change very much if they're in charge of IT today. Change makes the certainty of stability a memory. But it also prompts the need to expand knowledge and skills, a demand for taking risks, and perhaps a reason for looking at life in a new way. If you haven't been reading for a few days, you can look over our interview with Sieler in Part 1, plus Part 2, as well as Part 3. Migration's prospects are considered, as well as the outlook for homesteading and history of our system and community.
As a writer -- which has always been my work, and therefore the means for my 3000 chronicles -- I can compare that flinty present to something I've received in past. I've been handed edits and reviews on my longest work, which meant that some of the years of building a novel had to scrapped or seriously revised. Such is the kind of gift that ensures we keep giving our best, even as we rue the sparks that are a-flying.
We're taking a few days off here to celebrate Christmas with our families. We wish all of our readers and supporters a happy holiday. We'll be back on Friday, December 27 to begin our annual set of year-end roundup stories -- a great way to get a big picture of what that present under our trees means.
December 23, 2013
2013 makes a new migration definition
In our interview with Allegro's Stan Sieler, we asked the veteran developer what has changed about 3000 options for the future. His answer identified a significant shift in the definition of migration. He also spoke about Allegro's own season of considering an emulator project, the tech challenges that will be outside of the system's capability, and how his practice of magic has shaped his exemplary technical career. On the occasion of his 30th year with Allegro Consultants, we spoke via iPad in November, just as the US was switching to back off Daylight Saving Time.
In the first year after HP's 3000 announcement, there were a list of options of what could happen to the community over the decade to come. Is there anything new on that list?
There are the same options but with one difference. Migration means something different now. It's not migrating your app with a 3000 lookalike shell on a Unix machine. It's migrating to Stromasys. It's a variation of 3000 Forever.
We still see people coming out of the woodwork that we've never heard of, using 918s, 928s or newer machines. They have no intention of leaving because they have no funding to leave, and now they've encountered a problem and they're reaching out to the rest of the community. We see people who tend to be on bigger machines, who are either running into limitations, or they're worried about the continued maintainability of the hardware. They are looking at high-end Stromasys solutions.More than a decade ago, Allegro was considering the prospect of creating its own HP 3000 emulator. The issues involved HP's permission, the economics of creating a product, and more. What happened?
We were concerned that at the time, in addition to not yet having HP permission, that we'd face potential legal action if we did anything. We didn't want to open that door to HP. I kind of regret that now, because I would have approached an emulator a little differently than Stromasys, and I think that might have had some payoffs.
We've certainly reached out to Stromasys several times to help them with performance limitations that they're encountering with their implementation. I'm hoping that with some of the other 3000 vendors in the process, they may be able to put economic arguments in place that will help convince Stromasys to still pursue that help.
What do you think of the prospects for this emulator making a lot of difference for customers staying on the HP 3000?
I think if they can solve their high-end performance challenges, then they might be able to make some big sales to those kinds of customers. The problem: I don't know how many of those people there are.
It's true: managers are moving off the 3000, and so are moving away from IMAGE. Out of all the SQL databases you've seen, which one is the smoothest in replicating what IMAGE does for MPE apps?
Eloquence. I really like Eloquence. Michael [Marxmeier] has done amazing things with it. Tech support from him is immediate and reliable. He doesn't have problems with you publishing benchmarks. Eloquence has a lot of nice features in it. It has more features than any other SQL database — plus the IMAGE compatibility. It's a win-win situation, it seems to me.
Do you consider the 3000 has always had a tech boat anchor that made it obvious HP would leave it behind? Is it the equivalent of an unsupported system by now?
It's certainly true about CPU speed and amount of memory, stuff like that. That doesn't mean it won't run perfectly fine.
Are there a set of new tech challenges the 3000 is never going to meet, important challenges?
That would imply that this is going to be a new product you write, and nobody is ever going to write a new product for the HP 3000. If you are doing a new application, it's probably going to talk to a database. Almost anyone you hire will know how to do SQL stuff, not IMAGE stuff. It's just too far behind the times for a new application.
Of all the many projects you're worked on, which stand out at the most fun for you?
For projects, creating SPLash!. I worked with Jacques van Damme. In the very early days, Jason Goertz was helping out. But I remember sitting with Jacques in the HP Migration Center and there was a LaserJet sitting there between us. We had Post-It notes that said things like "tree building" or "generate code." Each was a name of the 20 modules that made up SPLash!. Our source code control system was that if you wanted to modify something, you took the Post-It note off the printer and put it on your terminal. It worked well because you had instant communication with the other developer.
There was that, and then our work with Alfredo Rego on repacking detail datasets. That was Steve and me working with Alfredo, and to some extent Fred White. That was something where data integrity was of absolute importance. Yet it still had a lot of opportunity for using interesting technology, doing things efficiently and fast.
How do you think practicing magic over the last 15 has had an impact on how you approach your day job?
I've always tried to think outside the box, and with magic it's easier to do. If you're developing a magic effect, you tend to look at the end result and work backwards. That the way I've done a lot of my 3000 stuff — like when I think I was the first person to propose intercepting disk IOs — I remember sitting down with Joerg Groessler and outlining how it could be done. And so basically giving him the idea for the online backup on the Classic HP 3000s. You could do it behind the operating system's back by intercepting disk IOs.
You don't start out by saying, "what can I do, and where will that lead?" You take the end result, intercepting disk IOs, and work backwards. Sometimes that's the same thing with magic. You say "I want you to be able to look at the card in your hand and see it's not the card you thought it was, but it's a different back, and a bigger card than you thought it was."
Sometimes a technique comes out for the 3000 and you think of what you can do with them. Like procedure exits came out, and you say, "What can I do with these things?"
If you could talk to the Stan of 30 years ago, what would you tell him to pay attention to?
[Laughing] Buying Apple stock. I would say pay more attention to the Internet and how to link computers together. About 20 years ago, my ophthalmologist asked me where the future of computers is going. I said the future is with computers working together. And I think that's still the answer. We're beginning to get there, but we're not there enough yet. I can't leave this iPad and walk over to my desktop, and resume this conversation yet, like nothing has changed.
December 19, 2013
Making More than 30 Years of MPE Magic
Stan Sieler is as close as our community might come to being source code for MPE and the HP 3000. He recently noted on his LinkedIn page he’s celebrating 30 years with Allegro, the company he co-founded with Steve Cooper. Three decades at a single company is a rare milestone, but Sieler goes back even farther with MPE and the 3000.
Few programmers have more people using their code. He’s the co-author of SPLash!, a compiler that brought the original SPL systems language from the Classic HP 3000s to PA-RISC systems. Then there’s his wide array of free software contributed to the community: things like RAMUSAGE, a tool that reports how HP 3000 RAM is being used. Sieler was honored as an outstanding contributor to the HP user group’s annual Contributed Software Library three times.
Sieler took up the practice of magic 15 years ago, which was evident as he gave a tour of the Computer History Museum at a 3000 software symposium held there in 2008.The patter of the tour was a seamless as our 90-minute talk for this interview. We spoke via his iPad, using the everday magic of Skype, just a few days before our November printed issue went to press.
Over the years you’ve been at Allegro, what’s changed for the industry?
Everything, and nothing. We’re still bitching about changes that manufacturers do to their software. I’m still trying to do new things. A lot of the things that have changed are simply bigger, faster, more memory and more disk. In terms of software development, the biggest change is the prevalence of more GUIs, of course. But even then, we were foreshadowing that with things like block mode apps, such as VPlus. We didn’t have a mouse, but we were still interacting with screens.
Some of the good guys are gone. I don’t know if we’ve identified the new good guys yet. Some of the new good guys have come and gone; Apple, for me, is in that category, with the restrictions on iOS and the restrictions they’re trying to put on the Mac. They’re removing the fun and the power.
What’s changed in your Allegro work?
It depends on what hour of the day you look at me. Yesterday I was doing work in SPLash! (the company’s SPL compiler for PA-RISC systems) on a product we introduced years ago. The day before that, I was putting an enhancement into X-Over, a product we released in the early ‘90s.
On the other hand, there’s work on things like iAdmin, our app for the iPad. I’m working on finalizing Windows support and MPE support for it. I’m testing the MPE support, but the Windows support is a little harder. Mostly because Windows, despite its power, is missing surprisingly simple concepts: give me a list of hooked up disk drives, so I can directory searches of them without hanging. On MPE, at least, if you do the equivalent of DSTAT ALL, you know what volume sets there are, and you don’t even have to know that to do a LISTF of everything.
You created SPLash!, but what other environments and languages do you develop in after all of these years?
SPLash! is a minor amount. A lot of my work is in C, and some is in HP’s Pascal — which I regret they didn’t port to Itanium, because it’s such a good Pascal.
Anything you wish you’d studied sooner, looking back?
I was at HP in 1979 learning about DS/3000. I said to myself I didn’t need to learn networking, that there were enough other things to learn. I skipped that area for development, although I’ve been a networking user since 1971 on the ARPANet. I’ve finally changed my mind and have to develop for it now.
We were about the 21st machine on the net at UC San Diego. As students, a friend and I were doing a project for DARPA, and we got early access to the net.
Wow. ARPANet more than 40 years ago. That’s some way-back-there experience. About the only story I’ve ever heard from a 3000 expert farther back was Fred White, who co-created IMAGE.
Well, I realized that Fred White was like my assistant scoutmaster. He[the assistant scoutmaster] worked for Burroughs, talked about the machine and I knew he was a major figure there. He had daily arguments with [mathematician and physicist] Edgar Dykstra, who was a scholar at the time working for Burroughs. My scoutmaster and Fred White were like peas in a pod. They were different and willing to go their own way and got very interesting things done — and outside small communities, people don’t really know who they are. Getting older, I occasionally think of that myself now: who knows who I am, and do I care?
For next time: The challenge of climbing the tech ladder, new interests, and how to consider being well-versed in work that's not well-known.
December 16, 2013
XP's exiles as reluctant as MPE's refugees
The drumbeat of Windows XP end of life got louder this month, sparked in part by the CDW PC hardware vendor. A tech talk from Spiceworks, the social network of the tech professional, focused on the practical needs of any company that plans to rely on Windows beyond Microsoft's end date. There's a deep set of forum questions being discussed on the Spiceworks site. The commentary echoed the situation that MPE/iX managers muddled through from 2006 to 2010, those grey years when HP seemed to want to exit the 3000 market, but changed its course a few times.
And it has some distinct similarities. Microsoft will sell Custom Support -- at about $200 per PC -- after XP's end of life. This recalls the two years of custom MPE vintage support sold by HP in 2009-10. So naturally, the XP-using community hopes this bodes well for an extension of Microsoft's XP life. From PC World:
Because Microsoft sells Custom Support agreements, it's obligated to come up with patches for critical and important vulnerabilities. And it may be required to do so for years: The company sells Custom Support for up to three years after it retires an operating system. Participants receive patches for vulnerabilities rated "critical" by Microsoft. Bugs ranked as "important," the next step down in Microsoft's four-level threat scoring system, are not automatically patched. Instead, Custom Support contract holders must pay extra for those. Flaws pegged as "moderate" or "low" are not patched at all.
Users are trading their lore and wishes on the Spiceworks site. One question that came up was "what happens on the day that Microsoft support ends?" The answer is similar to the one for the MPE world: XP will continue to operate beyond a vendor's "end of life," in this case, April, 2014.
I'm assuming no one knows for sure what will happen to XP machines that remain in use after the EOL, but I have my guesses. I'm thinking that a week or two after the EOL, a malware or virus will be released, and since there's no OS patch for it, it will easily spread in the wild. Windows XP machines will then be either useless or very hard to use.
The situation could be more dire for the millions of companies using Windows XP, because malware is aimed at these systems constantly. One theory, however, proposed that the XP community would shrink in size and become less of a target than more current Windows releases.
If the virtual desktops have no Internet access they'll be fine. The only real issue with XP after April will be the lack of patches. If your machines aren't exposed, I don't see why you should be concerned.
There's sometimes sensible logic that can be traced through the security-via-obscurity argument. It helps if your environment was never targeted to begin with. HP's own Unix continues to draw malware breeches every week, while the diminishing MPE installed base has had no new security problems. "Potential security vulnerabilities have been identified in Java Runtime Environment and Java Developer Kit running on HP-UX," HP reported this month. "These vulnerabilities could allow remote unauthorized access, disclosure of information, and other exploits."Most MPE/iX managers have some responsibility in the Windows world. There's a separate topic on the Spiceworks site that deals with the homesteading XP user's needs and concerns. Even as an operating environment loses its vendor protection, the IT managers in the field make the ultimate decision on when the risk outweighs the stability. One XP manager noted that the expense of making a change -- and that's what drives the interest of a company like reseller CDW -- would be hard to justify to top management. (Sound familiar?)
We're in no hurry at all and we have easily over 100 systems on XP.
Problem is, XP works just fine with all our contemporary apps (Office 365, various SQL clients, etc) so transitioning upward only translates to Accounting as a hardware cost without any obvious benefits. Somehow I am unable to sell the idea that email or Excel sheets will be created/sent or edited any faster with a fleet of shiny new PCs using the interface formerly known as Metro.
That said, we will be slowly leaving this low orbit, just without any panic. Maybe if the Microsoft-promised XP targeting malware surfaces on April 15th we'll speed it up. This is no Y2K, replace all your computers or die moment, not by any stretch of the imagination.
And as HP 3000 customers learned, not even Y2K was the calamity that some feared. Replacing computers wasn't necessary in that situation. On the other hand, putting Windows 7 or 8 on systems built 12 years ago will have its performance challenges.
And yes, HP still maintains a code for MPE's software products, included as part of the legend in its Security Bulletins.
December 10, 2013
Google's doodle touts COBOL's relevance
Yesterday was the 107th anniversary of the birth for Dr. Grace Hopper, inventor of the world's most widely distributed business language. That's COBOL, which might puzzle Millennials who manage the world's IT. COBOL's historic ranking won't surprise anyone who earned IT stripes in MPE, of course.
Hopper worked in the US military before her years developing what we call Common Business-Oriented Language. The US Department of Defense provided shelter for researching what we now call the Internet, another technology that's going to have a lifespan longer than its creators'. Dr. Hopper died on New Year's Day 1992, by which time 30 universities had presented her with honorary degrees. From 1959 to 1961, Hopper led the team that invented COBOL at Remington Rand, a company that swelled in size while it built 45-caliber pistols during WW II.
The last COBOL compiler ever developed for the HP 3000 didn't come from its system creator Hewlett-Packard and its language labs. Acucorp created a version of its AcuCOBOL in 2001 that understood MPE/iX and IMAGE nuances. Bad timing, of course, given the business-oriented decision HP made about the 3000 later that year. But while Acucorp eventually became a cog in the Micro Focus COBOL machine, there are still Acucorp voices out there in the IT market. And they speak a business argot that's being celebrated now in this holiday season.Micro Focus has been posting a 12 Days of COBOL feature on its website this month. One of the alerts to the information -- which points at new COBOL capabilities and features -- came from Jackie Anglin, the long-time media coordinator for Transoft. She joined Micro Focus several years ago after her service to migration-transformation supplier Transoft.
The 12 Days items on the Micro Focus blog were up to No. 9 as of yesterday.
Say 'hello' to 21st Century COBOL
COBOL hasn't lasted this long by standing still. As well as its rich OO extensions, take a look at the new XML, SQL and Unicode features in Visual COBOL. They’re there to help you bring apps bang up to date with industry standards.
Migration-bound IT directors might roll their eyes at any message that COBOL is keeping up with newer languages. But according to the online technical publisher Safari Books -- where the ultimate MPE/iX administrator's book is still for sale -- COBOL rules an overwhelming share of the world's information for business. "Applications managing about 85 percent of the world's business data are written in COBOL," it reports on a listing for COBOL for the 21st Century.
Micro Focus likes to say that 35 percent of all new business application development is written in COBOL. That fact may not be as objective as Gartner's 85-percent figure -- but even if it's close, Dr. Hopper should be toasted this week. Few inventions have retained their relevance for more than a half-century, especially ones that are based entirely on brainpower. Dr. Hopper dismantled seven clocks in her home before the age of seven. She also set a language to ticking that hasn't run out of time yet.
December 09, 2013
Long run of 3000 unreels beyond the dark
By Ron Seybold
This is the time of the year when movie critics everywhere assemble their retrospectives of 2013 films. The HP 3000 has been having something of a revival, as they call the movie's screening of old classics, because of the Stromasys emulator. Such an invention never would have gotten traction without HP's mistakes made after November, 2001. People stood by their servers, in part because they got messages from HP that the computer's run would be extended.
While they remained in their seats, CHARON's MPE-on-Intel debut was spooled up on the next projector.
In 2005, after all, there was the rude surprise to the vendors who became ardent partners of migration off the 3000. The deadline of 2006 became 2008, and then finally 2010. One such vendor said it was a disservice to partners who were ready to pick up the pieces. At HP’s support business lair, the company's lifespan of the 3000 was measured in how many months of payments might arrive from large customers. It had nothing to do with the quality of the server’s ecosystem, and everything to do with the quantity of the revenues it created.
But as the karma police often do, they’ve caught up with the company which made raw business growth its mantra, instead of Next Bench design and Management by Walking Around. Old collegial business got eaten alive by tigers from the PC vendor Compaq, unleashed by the first CEO plucked from outside HP. So when Carly’s proxy fight took HP out of the hands of its family, and then spying and sexual harassment and then being fleeced on acquisitions followed, our friends in this market took bitter solace in seeing karma catch up. The water was still cold out in the sea around that scuttled ship. But at least the captains of the line were getting soaked. Three of every four 3000 owners never bought another HP enterprise server.
But that bitterness, the shaking of our fists at fate, it doesn’t make swimming in the current easier. Better to flatten our hands and stretch our arms into the bracing water and survive, see how it changes our lives. That’s the story we really want to tell, the one that we don’t know how we’ll live though. Only that we know that we will indeed live through it. Just wait. The last reel might be the sweetest.
At the Newswire we’ve lived through more than 18 years to tell some surprising stories. How the spirit and great heart of a community of people who use computers raised thousands of toasts on a single Halloween 10 years ago. You will never see a worldwide wake for a computer again. People love Apple’s products, and Steve Jobs got a floral tribute across the doorsteps of hundreds of his stores. But a little computer line that never had more than 50,000 machines running at once? A number so small that Apple sells that many iPhones in just eight hours? How could something so small ever generate smiles and black armbands and barbecues all at once, around the globe?
It had something to do with people, not with machines. Just like those seats in the dark at the Paramount Theatre had everything to do with light. When the Austin Film Festival opened up this fall, It had been 15 years since I’d been standing on line for a movie, hours at a time. But what was promised was light in black and white with an acting icon (Nebraska, with Bruce Dern at 77, still younger than Fred White) or in color and as obscure as a big-star movie could get (The Art of the Steal with Kurt Russell and Matt Dillon) released in Canada so quick you couldn’t tune into two episodes of Glee before the movie was gone. Or a searing and sobbing documentary about women who were battling obesity with weight loss surgery, All of Me, the movie that won the audience prize at the Festival.
I waited the longest for the movie with the biggest buzz, the Coens’ Inside Llwellen Davis. After two hours on line and three in the theatre, I felt like somebody who’d been eager for an HP Unix replacement. Good, sure, but not equal to my expectations. I’d been set up by Raising Arizona, Oh Brother Where Art Thou, Blood Simple, and Fargo. The equivalent of the Series III, MPE V, the Series 68, the Mighty Mouse, the Spectrum computers of PA-RISC. The movie was just average by their standards, like the N-Class servers, or the petite A-Class that Dave Snow carried under his arm in the spring of 2001. At the time, it was so coveted somebody wanted to buy that first unit right there in the room of a conference that was also a casualty, SIG-PROF, dead along with Interex. We learned later HP crippled the A, to prop up prices of other 3000s.
We grew bolder as we all grew older, those of us who found a lifeboat, crafting our own raft away from the wreck. We learned things better than we knew a little bit: writing for story and drama, or Ruby on Rails and .NET, or yoga video production, or the art of teaching. Our friend John Burke, he of so many Newswire words, became a mathematics professor. It was just the way things added up for all of us. Everybody had a new plot of daily work, even while they kept cultivating what was left over from the bounty of the 1980s and 1990s.
There are more surprises yet, things as delicious as Susan Sarandon taking questions after another little known gem, the musical Romance and Cigarettes — so under-appreciated its director John Tuturro bought it back from the studio to save it. When the late great James Gandolfini breaks into song, belting out a Tom Jones tune, I didn’t believe it could work until I saw it. Something like the experience I saw in California when MPE booted up on a laptop, and a 3000 vet learned over and said it felt like everything MPE was brand new again.
Tension makes for a good story, the uncertain outcome of the hero’s greatest desire. Our most essential desire is to survive and grow older in peace and wisdom. Our movie’s last reel hasn’t unspooled yet, and the lights haven’t come up while the credits roll. Keep your thick soled shoes nearby. We can get in line together because we know each other, and say, “I wonder what we’ll see today?” Maybe we’ll hear a story a few more times about our escapes and heroic plans for next year. The business of our lives runs on stories.
December 06, 2013
Waiting in line to see a story of survival
By Ron Seybold
I whiled away hours on the streets of Austin a few weeks ago, waiting to take a place in the dark. The Austin Film Festival was rolling, celebrating its 20th Anniversary with nine days of movies. Anniversaries usually prompt memories. We tell stories of how things used to be in our lives, partly to mark how far we’ve travelled, along with how far we’ve grown.
We don’t like to think about growing older. Not most of us, not when we have to lace on our shoes with extra thick soles like I did to stand on a Congress Avenue concrete sidewalk, waiting for the newest Coen Brothers film to unreel at the gaudy, throwback Paramount Theatre. I stood beside a woman who’d been setting sound stages with props for several decades. She talked for more than an hour about how Bruce Willis loved the tacky statue she chose for Armageddon, loved it so much he bought it after the movie wrapped. I heard that story four times in about 90 minutes.
Some of our readers might feel the same way about the annual November Nightmare story I write, recalling the tacky HP business deke on 3000 owners. It changed all of our lives, though, so it merits its testimony. But as I’ve promised in my last paragraph of this year’s edition of the Nightmare, this year is the last time I’ll tell that story. Everybody knows the Titanic goes down at the end of that North Atlantic voyage. The story we don’t know is how the survivors’ lives went on. Most of all, we want to know what they did next. How did the disaster affect them?The after-effects of late 2001 surprised most of us. Run down the list and you will find surprised parties at the customer sites, of course, and then at the vendors whose entire living was built on the future of the system. Yes, Abby and I at the Newswire were among those surprised, at least by the timing.
But after all, we were surprised we’d made most of the way through 2001 on her dream of serving news about a computer that everyone said was dead in 1995. We got six swelling, hot-growth years out of the gamble. But then another 12, as of this fall, serving news about the survivors, even how to survive, as well as chronicles of the casualties.
Others who were surprised were competitors. HP’s competitors at IBM, who figured on sweeping up plenty of 3000 customers, but that didn’t happen. The 3000’s competitors at HP, who figured on gathering nearly all of the market into Unix folds. Again, didn’t happen. Customers were now free to choose anything, because everything was a struggle. Swimming toward the Unix lifeboats, the ones with the high gunwales painted with the same vendor colors as the scuttled cruise liner — well, that looked less fruitful than letting their Windows ships hold more business passengers.
HP was also surprised that so many 3000 owners went noplace for years, despite a deadline that should’ve made everyone leap into seas of change. Even our competitors we faced at the Newswire surprised us, by leaving us last standing in the HP-only news business. Good man Tim Cullis at HP User in the UK, the Interex volunteers and allies like Chuck Piercey and his HP World. Also, HP Professional and its magazine mavens. All gone away, gone to good grass pasture, or gone under. We didn’t figure we’d be here, left to turn out the lights on whatever day that finale appears. We’re not eager for the dark.
But many of us crave the dark when there's a great story waiting inside it -- like when we sit in front of a movie screen.
December 05, 2013
3000 vet votes for his IMAGE replacement
In the 3000 Newswire's printed edition that's nearly in every subscriber's mailbox, we interviewed Stan Sieler on the occasion of his 30-year anniversary at Allegro Consultants. He co-founded the company with his partner Steve Cooper in the early 1980s, when IMAGE was simply IMAGE/3000, sans Turbo or even SQL in its name.
Sieler and Allegro have written significant parts of the database for HP in those ensuing decades. We figured it would be a fun question to ask him what the best substitute is for IMAGE -- for the 3000 customer who's making a migration. Or the customer who already has migrated, but is finding the obvious Oracle answer doesn't work optimally with lifted-and-shifted code.
Sieler's did the interview with us from his iPad, over Skype, and he's a big fan of Apple products including the Mac Pro. His answer on replacing IMAGE didn't surprise us much, but it's the first time we asked an IMAGE co-creator to weigh in on a replacement.
When I heard that Stan considered the lack of a native Mac OS Eloquence as his only kind of bother, the issue of emulation came up. (I confess to wanting Eloquence to come up with a perfect record; so many developers have said just that during the previous decade of transition.) Surely virtualizing the Mac would work as well as a virtual HP 3000 has already.
I really like Eloquence. Michael [Marxmeier] has done amazing things with it. Tech support from him is immediate and reliable. He doesn’t have problems with you publishing benchmarks. Eloquence has a lot of nice features in it. It has more features than any other SQL database — plus the IMAGE compatibility. It’s a win-win situation, it seems like. The only thing that kind of bothers me is that he doesn’t have a version for the Mac.
Newswire: Isn’t that something solved by running a virtual machine in the Macintosh?
Stan: Yes, and I don’t know why I never really thought about that.
Newswire: Wow, I can’t believe I actually gave you an idea.
Stan: Well, part of the issue is that some of our applications like Rosetta have the ability to restore into an Eloquence database and create it on the fly. I can’t test that aspect of it on the Mac, versus doing it on a Linux machine or an HP-UX server.
December 02, 2013
While you were away, what HP put into play
We're back after a 4-day holiday. The Thanksgiving holiday period can be interesting times for watchers of Hewlett-Packard. We count ourselves among that group, even though the company has little to do with the lives of homesteading 3000 users. (But not nothing at all -- we heard last week that HP Support contracts for 3000-connected HP peripherals have been altered. End-of-support-life dates have been adjusted, according to our source. Check your contract; indie providers are available as an alternative.) HP announced the Odyssey program to give a Linux future path for Unix customers during the week. Of course, the 3000 exit notice took place just a week before Thanksgiving in 2001.
However, much broader items than tactical details of contracts surfaced over this holiday weekend. The most splashy was the news that Hewlett-Packard is now the company providing infrastructure for the US Healthcare.gov website. That's the site that turned away about 80 percent of users during October because of technical and bandwidth problems.
HP signed a $38 million contract with the US Health and Human Services agency this summer, but Terraform (a subsidiary of Verizon) had built out the website hosting that blocked many an attempt to use it. Over the weekend, healthcare.gov doubled its bandwidth and can now reportedly serve 50,000 users simultaneously. That sounds like a lot, but about 800,000 citizens tried to open an account. (Just as a note, as of 2 PM today, we registered an account and shopped for the first time online.)
The largest simultaneous user count we've ever heard reported for a single HP 3000 server was 2,200. Consider that was a single server, built with PA-RISC (two generation-old chips) using SCSI IO. Redundancy has been an essential high-volume aspect of 3000s since Quest Software built its NetBase/Shareplex replication solution in the 1980s. Quest, now a division of Dell, still supports HP 3000 sites using the product, according to John Saylor there.The problem at healthcare.gov has been its architecture, rather than the horsepower of the iron. HP seems to have little to lose in taking over this contract. By the accounting at the Wall Street Journal, 36 states rely on application through healthcare.gov and just under 27,000 people were able to enroll in a plan during the first month. The 14 state exchanges enrolled 79,391 people during the same period.
The Journal article says the government has been aware of "certain problems with the Terremark hosting service since late 2010." HHS moved its Medicare and Medicaid service centers to Terremark during a two-year hosting contract. These service centers oversee Healthcare.gov.
The details in the WSJ report include an oversight, which if true, would be laughable in a standard HP 3000 environment: "Its design didn't include a full backup version of the site in a different data center. Healthcare.gov is still housed with a single data center." The HP 3000s which Hewlett-Packard unplugged from its own datacenter in October had backups in Austin. HP also got a $4 million contract in September for healthcare.gov DR services.
On the company valuation trail, HP played out a Q4 2013 report that Buys Time, Not Triumph according to a WSJ analysis. "Tech Giant Arrested Its Slide in Some Key Areas, but Pressures Will Intensify. One good quarter doesn't equal a turnaround." But the numbers which included dreary figures for HP's Unix operations still managed to push HP's stock to a two-year high as of this morning.
The markets were not spooked by the prospect of business critical server sales dipping once more.
HP also opened up access to its board of directors in a vote during the Thanksgiving week. A vote by a simple majority of shareholders will be enough to change HP rules governing the nomination of directors or the size of the board. Previously, a two-thirds supermajority was required. "The change doesn't immediately let activists storm the boardroom, but could lower the gates that keep them out," said a Journal article.
HP got its current board chairman, Ralph Whitworth, when its rules changed in 2011 to admit that principal at "an activist hedge fund Relational Investors LLC."
Right now, you've got to own at least 3 percent of HP's stock for three years to nominate a director. The Journal said only three people have owned that much sstock since the end of 2012. This makes nomination of new directors an insider affair today.
November 27, 2013
HP quarter beats analyst estimates, but Integrity solutions' profit, sales slide again
HP has managed to eke out a penny more than business analysts estimated for its 2013 fourth quarter earnings. These days such a "beat," as the analysts call it, is essential to avoiding a selloff after a report like yesterday's. But the positive news did not extend to the business group which builds and engineers the Unix Integrity servers -- a significant share of the migrated HP 3000 installed base.
More than once during the one-hour report to financial analysts, HP CEO Meg Whitman and her CFO Cathie Lesjak talked about Unix like it's a market whose growth days have been eclipsed by steady erosion of sales and profits. "We have more opportunity to improve our profitability," Whitman said about a quarter where the overall GAAP earnings were 83 cents a share. That's $1.82 billion of profit on sales of $29.1 billion in sales. Revenues declined 1 percent against last year's Q4.
But R&D, so essential to improving the value of using HP-created environments like HP-UX, has seen its days of growth come to halt, and then decline at the Business Critical Systems unit. Lesjak said the company's year-over-year decline in R&D was a result of "rationalization in Business Critical Systems." In particular, the company's Unix products and business can't justify R&D of prior quarters and fiscal years.
As you look at the year-over-year declines in R&D, that was really driven by two primary things. One is the rationalization of R&D, specifically in the Enterprise Group's Business Critical Systems -- so we really align the R&D investment in that space with the long-term business realities of the Unix market. We did get some of what we call R&D value-added tax subsidy credits that came through. Those basically offset some of the R&D expense.
Business Critical Systems revenue declined 17 percent in the quarter to $334 million, due to "a declining Unix market." On the current run rate, BCS represents 1 percent of HP sales. And BCS sales have been dropping between 15 and 30 percent for every quarter for more than six quarters. HP posted an increase in its enterprise systems business overall, mostly on increased sales of the Linux and Windows systems in its Industry Standard Servers unit.
HP said it expects "continued traction in converged storage, networking, and converged infrastructure," for its enterprise business. But somehow, as the entire Unix market shrinks, HP said it's maintaining market share in that space. R&D at BCS will not be part of HP's planned growth for research and development in 2014, though.
She explained that R&D is down "due to streamlined operations across the Enterprise Group and lower R&D expenses, specifically within BCS." Long term, we remain focused on investing in innovation across the organization, and in fact, we've added headcount in engineering in FY13." In 2011 HP announced an initiative to add Unix features to its Linux environments in the biggest R&D project driven by Martin Fink, then-GM of BCS.
"We saw improved sales in our mainstream server business, but we need to improve our pricing discipline and profitability," Lesjak said. "Although revenue continued to decline in Business Critical Systems, we expect to hold or gain share in calendar Q3. And we have announced plans to bring a 100 percent fault-tolerant HP NonStop platform to the x86 architecture."
HP-UX and OpenVMS have no such plans. BCS revenues, including NonStop operations, dropped 26 percent from 2012 to 2013. This even includes an accounting for last year's deadly Q4, when HP had to report a $6 billion loss overall.
HP finished 2013 with $112 billion in sales, down five percent, and $6.5 billion in profits before taxes. The company restructured its way to about 13,000 fewer jobs during the fiscal year. Almost 25,000 people have exited HP since the program began in 2011.
Two organizational repositions were mentioned during the briefing. Robert Mao, chairman of a new China Region for HP's business, reports directly to Whitman. She also noted that Fink, who was named head of HP Labs last year -- a post that once was a full-time job -- has now added duties of leading the HP Cloud business as its General Manager. HP Cloud competes with Amazon Web Services among others. Whitman said Fink "will significantly accelerate our cloud business."
"Martin is a true technology visionary who brings tremendous understanding of the enterprise hardware and software space, extensive experience in platform development," Whitman said, "and he literally wrote the book on Open Source."
Whitman was referring to a 2002 book of Fink's, The Business and Economics of Linux and Open Source. The book which is out of print got a glowing back-cover blurb from Tim O'Reilly. But the publisher of textbooks Prentice Hall now touts bestsellers such as How to Succeed with Women and the How to Say It series.
The strategy in Fink's book came from an era when one positive review said, "Linux and Open Source is not 'just' for geeks any more." Linux -- and not the HP-UX and VMS markets where Fink managed before his Labs post -- is what's driving the modest growth in HP server business.
November 25, 2013
Calculating the 3000's Time to Purchase
On an informal call with a 3000 vendor today, he delivered some sound advice about purchasing. "In the end, it's really about how they buy -- not how you sell." This makes a difference to everyone at this time of year, when fiscal year-end closing is less than six weeks away.
Sometimes a buyer of IT products or a service will want to make a purchase, but then the learning curve gets twisted. The manager might have an outdated estimate of how long it takes to get something into a status for a PO. This can be especially true for an HP 3000. Even when the system is on the path away from mission-critical, en route to migration, buying something related to a 3000 can be a distant memory.
This is not to be confused with renewing support contracts. Those are renewals, not outright new purchases. The time needed to get to a PO can include the processing time at related vendors, in some cases. For example, there's the licensing which is part of making a transition to the only emulator for HP 3000s. Software suppliers, or HP, require time to approve transfers. You only learn how much time your organization, or your vendor, needs by purchasing something. Or attempting to, near the end of your fiscal year.At Dairylea Cooperative, transferring the 3000's MPE/iX license to an emulator took almost a week, Jeff Elmer reports. The HP employee Erick learned about the process from Stromasys, the maker of the emulator.
Once Erick was on board, it was just a matter of signing another document and processing a credit card purchase of $432. It took 3 days from the point when they said it could be done to when I had the appropriate documents via e-mail. (It took 3 days to convince them to do it, so the process overall was 6 days. I hope convincing them to do it is no longer necessary.)
Over at Boeing, the internal workings of the purchasing process for emulator hosting hardware will be tested. "I think we are too late in the year to get the hardware," said the 3000 manager there.
One vendor said they figured on 16 months to get to the PO point for their product. Another said their mission to close a purchase was nearly complete -- but the customer's legal counsel still had to weigh in on the deal. It's a good idea to review the timeline for purchasing if you're just getting back to supplying your 3000 with something, even if it's just assessments for transition or sustaining services.
That's especially true if you're left with money in your budget you'll need to spend, or lose it for next year. Only a buyer can put a Rush on an IT purchase. We're in the Season of the Rush now, the same part of the calendar when HP announced its 3000 exit. It was no surprise when nothing related to migration purchasing happened during the following year.
November 22, 2013
Cloud IT needs one migration or another
HP 3000s are being displaced because the servers are aging, at least in some managers' views. But moving IT operations of an organization to cloud-based providers also looks attractive to a company that wants to give up on the local datacenter concept. Why make the ongoing investment in staff and new hardware and maintenance, they figure, when a supplier like Amazon Web Services or even HP's Cloud can handle that systems service?
You just need to remember there's two migrations in a cloud transition. There's a new aspect emerging in cloud migration. It's being called Data as a Service. You must separate your application from its data during the migration phase, according to Michael Daconta, VP of advanced technology at InCadence Strategic Solutions. He's the former metadata program manager for the Department of Homeland Security. Metadata tagging is a part of DaaS, he explained in an InformationWeek article.
A 3000 site that's migrating will be counting on replacing its application in order to shut off the local datacenter. That's the ultimate separation of app and data. App replacement is today's popular choice to transition off the 3000. But there's still a migration to made, even if a replacement app can be used instead of doing a lift and shift of code. Companies have to migrate their data to the cloud, too.
Data migration is just as crucial as replicating the business rules and functions of the 3000's app. This migration also introduces the opportunity to employ the powers of Master Data Management. MDM gives the company the path to a One True Source of data. A half-dozen codes for the color black, for example, all ascribed to the same product, can be organized into a consistent view.
You could assume your data is in great shape and migrate it as is -- but you miss this MDM chance to centralize data. MDM lets you create what's called an enterprise data layer. Data in the cloud is a post-MPE strategy. You won't employ the cloud unless you're leaving 3000 apps behind.At the moment there's no announced solution to host an MPE/iX app at a cloud provider. The general manager of Stromasys, Bill Driest, said in May the company wants to develop such a combination for its CHARON emulator, but so far it's still under consideration. Unannounced products are rich with potential for speculation. However, one reason a product doesn't go into development is because no customer wants to become the test case for the first release.
We've already heard that a New York-based financial services company wants offsite emulation for a disaster recovery option using an emulator. They'll probably be employing a co-location supplier, one that will rack a PC configured for the CHARON emulator. Believe it or not, there's data migration to be done in that instance, too. Hot-switch DR needs data at both locations, updated in real time snychronization.
Data movement tools have been on offer for the the 3000 manager for decades. They will be an essential part of any migration or transition, even to a cloud solution.
November 20, 2013
PowerHouse still hums half-dozen years later
Six years ago this month, IBM tendered an offer to purchase Cognos and make the vendor a part of IBM's business intelligence group. PowerHouse was not the star of that transaction, or even a featured player. The most widely installed 4GL in the 3000's history had a bit part by that time in the Advanced Development Tools group of Cognos. ADT was profitable but not growing. Users were assured the IBM acquisition was not a death knell.
This is clearly the case today, even if some of the familiar faces are gone. Bob Deskin, the product manager for PowerHouse who answered reams of questions about Cognos intentions, retired in July. Christina Hasse, a regular on the conference speaker circuits of the 1990s, remains with the company. Then there's Charlie Maloney, whose name is invoked often today while customers try to locate a PowerHouse-aware executive in IBM.
"Has anyone been able to find someone at IBM/Cognos to deal with Powerhouse Licenses since the takeover?" asked Ken Langendock, a PowerHouse consultant. "I know Marianne Stagg has retired."
Hasse replied, "You can always contact Charlie Maloney to start the conversation and he can help you find the correct person to work with. His contact information is: [email protected], 978 - 899 - 4722." And if you spend any time at all on the IBM website looking at Cognos products other than Powerhouse, a chat box pops up quickly to offer help.The Business Analytics arm of IBM is where the Cognos products reside today. The Canadian company offered the 3000 market the first third-party reporting option in Quiz, and IBM even hosts a user manual for Quiz on the IBM website. There's a primer for the new PowerHouse user. But an active webpage for the version of the product that runs under MPE is not online any more. IBM operates off of documents pages for these kinds of products, and leaves the live website pages to the Business Intelligence aspects of Cognos.
Cognos would prefer that its HP 3000 customers migrate. In fact, the company says that “As part of our HPe3000 migration strategy, PowerHouse 4GL, PowerHouse Web, and Axiant 4GL support Marxmeier AG’s Eloquence, which has an IMAGE emulation layer.”
The PowerHouse and Axiant operations are a small part of the Cognos business, but the company insists that the products and their customers are a profitable segment. When consultant Robert Edis speculated on the fallout of a late 2006 Cognos-Speedware alliance, Edis said that development was likely to cease. PowerHouse product manager Bob Deskin replied at the time that "Eventually everything comes to an end. But we have a while to go yet."
IBM, to its credit, maintains products much longer than nearly all other vendors. The AS/400 server business, rooted in 1970s systems, has morphed several times during the last decade to include the latest in IBM hardware and software technology, and has now become Series i. Charles Finley of Transformix, an HP migration solutions and consultancy, pointed this out on the PowerHouse list.
The saving grace is that IBM does not seem to “pull the plug” on any software product that produces recurring revenue. My guess is that they will do what they have done with [the database] Informix. They keep supporting it but they do not enhance it much. At the same time they offer substantial migration paths to other IBM offerings.
What I mean is that they offer a comprehensive solution including tools and services to help customers change to some product and technologies that IBM considers sustainable in the current software markets.
Indeed, there's no plug-pulling. In 2011 IBM reiterated its support for PowerHouse on HP 3000s, although it's Vintage support.
IBM has identified PowerHouse 4GL and PowerHouse Web 8.49F as the final version of the ADT product offering on the HPe3000. This was documented in the release notes for that release, and there are no subsequent releases of PowerHouse 4GL or PowerHouse Web for the HPe3000 on our current roadmap. Mature Platform Extended Support is now part of the IBM Cognos Vintage Support offering. We are extending those provisions to PowerHouse 4GL and PowerHouse Web on the HPe3000 – MPE/iX platform.
Vintage Support provides the following services:
• Customers may continue to log cases with Customer Support.
• IBM will attempt to provide a workaround solution. Vintage support has the following restrictions:
– IBM will not provide any additional versions of the product.
– IBM will not provide any additional Interim Fixes, Refresh Packs, Fix Packs.
– IBM cannot guarantee the compatibility of the products on any future versions of Supported Environments beyond those stated for the version of the products current at the date Engineering Support ended.
November 15, 2013
Newer-comers looked forward for us all
Yesterday I wrote about the group of companies who supported this publication at the time of Hewlett-Packard's November 2001 pullout from the 3000 -- and how many of them have survived that numbskull HP strategy. I don't want to overlook another set of stout community members -- those who showed up to help out and spread the word on keeping up with 3000s, well after HP said the party was supposed to be over.
Pivital Solutions comes to mind first. They were HP 3000 official resellers, the last ones to claim a spot for that, more than a year after HP pulled out of the futures business. Started print advertising, became sponsors of the Newswire's blog. All to freshen up our world with another resource to keep 3000s online, running long after HP figured the ecosystem would become toxic.
I'd also like to tip my hat to ScreenJet, another supporter who arrived in our media after November 2001. First in print, then as one of three founding sponsors of the Newswire blog. With a blog not being a thriving commercial concept in 2005, ScreenJet, Marxmeier Software and Robelle were first to the table to ensure we could afford to report and tell stories online as our primary communication. Robelle was with us from our very first year in print, but ScreenJet and Marxmeier joined in after HP said there was no future in 3000s.
Another new face has been Applied Technologies, a modest consultancy which has been a source of articles as well as financial support. You can get surprised by such good things that happen in the wake of something challenging -- like humanitarian acts in the face of natural disasters. If you clicked on a link to help typhoon victims over the last week, you're that kind of person.Add to this list of newer-comers here the MPE Support Group, Transoft, DB-Net, Unicon, Allegro Consultants, Can-Am Software, Bradmark, Viking Software, Acucorp, PIR Group, Comp Three, Ordina Denkart, ROC Software, Blueline Services, Core Software, Printer Systems International, Tally Printer, Managed Business Solutions. All arrived after November 14, 2001. Honestly, the list of companies who've been part of our community by supporting the Newswire, whether for one month or for 216, is long. At our last count there have been 146 companies who've had enough of a yearning for the 3000 that they'd be a part of our blog or print issues.
I'm grateful for every one of those commitments, gestures of looking forward for us all -- to a future of deep changes, or to a tomorrow that preserves the heritage of our yesterdays. This will be the last year I'll recall that sudden dagger of November 2001 with a story and an essay. If you want more stories of that day, leave yours to the comments fields below, or send them along via email.
November 14, 2013
4,383 days for an ecosystem to slip, survive
It's November 14 once again, a date plenty of people don't consider special. I was part of a telephone-only CAMUS user group meeting today. While we chatted before our meet began, I asked if anyone knew the significance of the date. It took a few minutes of hinting before someone -- Cortlandt Wilson of Cortsoft -- said this was the day HP ended its future vision for a 3000 business.
At the time HP said it was worried about the fate of the MPE and 3000 ecosystem. It had good reason to worry. It was about to send a shock wave that would knock out many denizens in that ecosystem. The losses to customers can be counted many ways, and we have done that every year since that fateful day. This is the 12th story I've written about the anniversary of the HP exit. The day remains important to me when I count up what's been pushed to extinction, and what has survived.
Companies come to mind this year. The photo at right shows the vendor lineup for our printed November 3000 Newswire in 2001. (Click it for details.) It was a healthy month, but not extraordinary. Almost 30 vendors, including three in our FlashPaper, had enough 3000 business to make budget to advertise. We'll get to the ones who remain in business after a dozen years. But let's call the roll to see what HP's ecosystem exit pruned or hacked away.
3KWorld.com was a worldwide 3000 website operated by Client Systems. It was large enough to draw its own advertising and used all of the content of the Newswire under a license agreement. It's gone. Client Systems has hung on, though.
Advanced Network Systems (web software circa 2001) and Design 3000 (job scheduling) and Epic Systems (hardware resales) are all gone, too. Interex went out of business in 2005 in a sudden bankruptcy; OmniSolutions (MPE interface software) and TechGroup (consulting) and WhisperTech (a programmer's suite) and COBOL JobShop (programmer services) are all gone, too.
Believe it or not, out of a list of 29, those are the only complete extinctions. Some of the rest have changed their colors like a chameleon, blending into the IT business of 2013. And many have gotten too pared down to consider the broad business outreach they felt confident about in 2001.Still serving under their same flag after all these years? Count on 3K Associates, Adager, Computer Solutions, Genisys, Lund Performance Solutions, MB Foster, Minisoft, Nobix, Open Seas, Orbit Software, RAC Consulting, Robelle, ROC Software, Robust Systems, and The Support Group.
A few others have evolved but remain alive after being absorbed. WRQ is now deep inside Attachmate, so deep the WRQ name is no longer part of the corporation. Quest Software slipped into Dell this year. Both of these acquired companies still sell, or support, MPE clients. The same is true of Speedware, which rebranded as Fresche Legacy while it's now honing in on IBM AS/400 clients.
And then there's Hewlett-Packard. Ah, the hand that threw the switch that sent a shock to the ecosystem. Within six months of November 14, the dominant Compaq managers were led by a CEO in her third year to erase HP's Way. Bill Hewlett's son Walter lost a proxy fight so legendary that it's the example used on the Wikipedia entry for proxy fight.
It's coincidental that the departure of 3000 products from HP's future happened at the same time as the vendor's decade-plus slide. The company has reported profits each year. HP became Number 1 in sales by adding billions in PC business. But the rest of the company's heritage has become a specter. Some community members take some bitter solace in knowing that the HP which believed in their computer died its own death less than a year later in a courtroom, where that proxy fight had its finale.
People must weather change as a regular part of life. One friend of mine took note a personal shift in business opportunity, on the heels of a decline, and uttered the prayer of the pivoting hopeful player: "The only constant is indeed change."
The tally of 3000 pros and resources pushed into extinction after these 12 years isn't limited to the Newswire's November 2001 lineup. Other extinguished companies from the Interex side include Hi Comp (backup software) plus the lineup of Interex conferences including HP World, the HP e3000 Solutions Symposium, and one of the hardest-working technical meetings, SIG/3000. A meeting in person is a high-risk opportunity to learn and grow. The Web filled in, at a rate we couldn't imagine in 2001.
Oh, the irony of that November. We wrote a lead story for our Flash Paper that reported a record month for 3000 sales at the US distributor of the server. We then had to fold over another sheet of paper at presstime, an Extra, to explain that HP said it only started a two-year period of "business as usual," to quote the impossible spin of the vendor's marketing chief. "There really was no other choice," said the company's general manager of the time about the exit scheme.
There was another choice, but HP didn't make it for the 3000. Get over it, or forget it, or take the time to make a good transition -- these were all responses that changed tens of thousands of lives and careers. We don't know of many people who left IT altogether for another career since then. Some have retired, or at least planned to do so.
Through those dozen years I've tried to put the most reasonable face on the inevitable trend that HP started. The vendor said its decision to talk about its walkout on this market was "about concluding it's time to advise customers about the long-term trend." It's certainly been a longer term than HP could imagine in 2001. More than twice as long if the remaining vendors and customers count for anything. I believe they do -- representing sage management of a resource, or the prospect for a transition-migration services company and vendors of products for the same.
If 20 out of those 29 advertising partners are still in business, the impact of that trend is limited to what two-thirds of them have done next, or what they've done with what's left. Downsized with layoffs and canceled projects. Consolidated product lines and froze enhancements. Launched new products into different, crowded markets. Found a buyer or a senior partner to infuse cash and new commerce in a new direction. Timed their own exit with enough fortune to retire.
Unlike these companies -- some so small their operating budget wouldn't buy coffee service for a single HP sales region -- Hewlett-Packard didn't want to be the last person to leave the MPE party. Lead onward to Unix, it figured, telling customers on Transition Day No. 1 that free licenses for HP-UX were available. Six years later, according to Dr. Robert Boers of 3000 emulator vendor Stromasys, HP told them that 75 percent of former 3000 owners were using something other than HP servers.
It's a story with potential to be a rousing case study by business graduates, the exit of a vendor that could bank on more than 25 years of business selling a proprietary product. But it can be debated that a simple roll call of survivors tells just the most public part of the story. The career changes and chameleon shifts, the evolution of the elder generation of computer wizards can only be told one story at a time. If there are any less than 4,383 stories like that to tell, I'd be surprised. But we've all lived though a dozen years of surprises throughout that inevitable trend. I'm still here to tell stories, about survival as well as slippage. Try to permit next year's November -- the 40th year of MPE -- contain a memory of the day your ecosystem changed.