April 23, 2014

Emulator's edition earns closer look in call

First of two parts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 22, 2014

Making the best of an attack

The industry-wide provider for hosting TypePad is up, then down, then up again in the battle being waged with hacker Denial of Service attacks. It's the everyday host of the Newswire's blog, so you'll have some trouble getting onto it to read us. It's been five days, and everybody is getting frustrated. This sort of an outage would be getting a 3000 pro's IT recommendations reviewed. Not even deadly storms have knocked out many a 3000 this long.

This is the genesis of good experience, however. It's giving us a good reason to build out an important new branch of the 3000 Newswire's services. Story for Business, which as of this week is a simple Tumblr blog, is giving our readers stories about MPE-related news.

If you go far enough back, you'll recall an era of our history where we hosted our website from an HP 3000 Series 928. We worked with HP's MPE implementation of Apache/iX, until the lags and differences -- imagine an FTP server which didn't include all protocols -- pushed us onto Linux machines. Those machines at 3k Associates continue to perform.

So we're using the formula this week suggested by MPE veteran Vladimir Volokh. Clearly, this is a bad experience that our sponsors and readers are weathering. Vladimir says, "We get asked, 'how do you come up with so much good experience for us?' Because, good experience comes from bad experiences."

Posted by Ron Seybold at 09:50 PM in Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 21, 2014

A week-plus of bleeds, but MPE's hearty

BleedingheartThere 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.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 06:45 AM in Migration, Newsmakers, User Reports, Web Resources | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 15, 2014

Not too late to register for RUG meet

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

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

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

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

April 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.

OldheartWebWise 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

Debian Wheezy
Ubuntu 12.04.4 LTS1
CentOS 6.5
Fedora 18
OpenBSD 5.3
FreeBSD 10.0
NetBSD 5.0.2
OpenSUSE 12.2

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.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 11:18 AM in Migration, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 09, 2014

How SSL's bug is causing security to bleed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1.0.2 will be fixed in 1.0.2-beta2

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

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

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

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

April 03, 2014

Learning to Love Your Legacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 02, 2014

Newest paper-based issue signals Spring

By Ron Seybold

It might feel a bit absurd to think that hand-written forms, some even photocopied, would be essential vehicles of crucial monetary reports. PDF has become old-school, it’s so mainstream now. After all, several current and former Newswire sponsors sell software to eliminate paper. 

“Good luck with that,” my friend says of eliminating the need to extract. We meet for our coffee in the evenings now, while drinking decaf, because his alarm rings at 5:30 every workday and a good night’s sleep makes for an accurate workday. He's breaking open envelopes with springtime government forms, and more lately paper checks and money orders, enclosed. It's a temporary job with lasting benefits.

He tells me, with a look that I envy, that his wife is rousing herself into those wee hours to make his breakfast, pack his lunch. It’s like the Cleavers, June and Ward, I told him. “Yeah, and just like my dad,” he replies, talking about his pop eating eggs in the Sixties before sunup, to make a 7AM shift start. He says those eggs were cooked by his mom, who was just as much on the clock as his dad.

I remember such mornings only dimly, from my own days when I served that government in the US Army. You got used to a workday beginning before sunrise. Coffee of high-test variety was essential. And boy, was that Army of the 1970s ever run on paper. Three part forms and carbon and typewriters, not to mention my job — radio teletype operator, relaying troop strength and mobile armor readiness reports. All printed out on rough newsprint-grade paper in three-inch-thick rolls. Delivered across equipment that was already more than a decade old, and balky on our lucky days.

But those Army days of mine, like my pal’s temporary workdays, have one thing in common. It’s the rare job, he says, “where when you’re not there, you don’t have to care.” The work is important, of course. This agency pumps the lifeblood of revenue into the US. But for a season that’s well-known this time of year, it’s powered by piecework. Like a dance, he tells me, and I furrow my brow because I don’t get it. “We can raise up our desks to stand, and I rock back and forth while I move that mail.” I can just see him in his thick-soled shoes, flexing calves while he funnels all that paper through the mill, a throwback to shift work. There’s even a company cafeteria, he says, and a nurse’s station for paper cuts and sometimes worse.

The careful reader of ours will note that we’re now shifting to calling our paper issues Spring, and so forth. We have printed four per year, like the seasons, ever since 2006. Things do change, like climate or the habits of readers. If it were up to me, there would be a respected place for paper in my life for the rest of it. If I’m lucky, that’ll extend beyond the 3000’s CALENDAR wall of 2028. I’ll only be 71 by then. Just a boy, compared to the sage age of Fred White (beyond 85 now) or Vladimir Volokh (just celebrating number 75 this spring, he tells me.)

While my friend talks of everlasting paper, I think fondly of our newsletter, that name we gave to this Newswire product when we created it back in 1995. It was a time when online usually meant rolling off a PC terminal or a 3000’s 792 hardware. There was no Web when we planned this, but we certainly had to embrace it quickly. We got advice on making a website, but the blog was built out of our own observations. It helped that I’d been telling 3000 stories for a couple of decades before the blog went online.

Where does that leave all the paper we’ve all grown up communicating with, like this newsletter? Like all those forms in my pal’s workday, probably everlasting, but not as common. The ratio of customers using paper is dropping all over the world, not just in his temporary job. Perhaps paper becomes a seasonal tool, something special that is used on demand, just as it does down in that workroom he describes as “a football field’s worth of fluorescent lighting.” 

If a government can be run with decades-old communication technology, something that a serious share of its customers prefer, then that’s an option which ensures everyone can participate. One former Hewlett-Packard competitor, Unisys, now touts its information technology as stealth. “You can’t hack what you can’t see,” says the company. Things have changed a great deal, as well as not much at Unisys — the mash-up of Burroughs and Sperry from the 1980s. BUNCH referred to Burroughs, Univac, NCR, Control Data and Honeywell, all muscling up against IBM. 

HP was nowhere in that picture until its 3000 floated up out of the software labs that created IMAGE and MPE. Burroughs is still trying to catch up to the leaders, even while it calls its products stealthy and itself Unisys.

My friend likes to boast that the security in his temp job makes it a challenge to hack anything so old as paper. Our US government insists on this secure channel, I learned years ago while communicating corporate data on Social Security payments. No email, they said. So one paper document at a time, one issue a season, we continue our polished practices of telling the tales about what we earn, what we’ve bought, our alliances and competitions. In a few short weeks, I’ll see my pal back at the taco breakfasts, while that paper he has touched wearing latex gloves moves along to semi trailers, and eventually warehouses as anonymous as his own temp job.  Maybe that’s the fate for anything inclusive, like a computer that never leaves a program behind no matter how old, or a paper news vehicle still filling envelopes and mailboxes. 

But we do embrace the modern even while we honor the old. One avid reader of ours wondered why stories of migration would ever be printed on our pages. 

The fact that our pages are still in the mails, in their own season, is a testament to how inclusive our work has been here across nearly two decades. E-filing documents or mailing papers, migrating to commodity environments or homesteading, these are apt examples of being inclusive — even while we still practice our exclusive storytelling about the HP 3000. Like that sea of paper in my pal’s mill, heaven knows when that storytelling will ever end.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 10:12 AM in History, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 01, 2014

New MPE 8.0 includes cutting-edge remotes

Almost 10 years after the last update to MPE/iX -- the PowerPatch 2 of release 7.5 -- a new version of the operating system is emerging. What's being called MPE/iX 8.0 by the World OS ID board has begun to surface from the rogue collective of open source coders known as ReBoot.me, which has a website based in Macedonia.

HummingbirdIt's not known as this point how ReBoot.me got its hands on MPE/iX source code, but the modifications to the OS appeared to be demonstrated on an HP L-Class server. The new version was captured in a video released for a few hours on YouTube, but removed from North American, Asian, African, European and all Middle Eastern YouTube users. This 8.0 MPE/iX can still be viewed in a demo from viewers in the Bahamas, or any location that employs the domain .bs.

The secrecy appears to stem from some first-ever features on any operating system. Much like the groundbreaking memory space allocation of MPE/XL, the 8.0 release -- ReBoot.me calls it New MPE -- supports cloud hang time, self-repairing line breaks, and the manipulation of drone clusters. Seynor Blachboxe, the code-named spokesperson for the open sourcers, said the drone support was a late addition, one that helped fund the entire project.

Drone manipulation is a nascent computer science, even in 2014, Blachboxe said. His claims echo those of AeroVironment, a US defense contractor building bird-sized drones to extend government surveillance. With its roots running back to the real-time capabilities of RTE, the MPE DNA made it ready for the surveillance of hundreds of thousands of Drone Jobs simultaneously. ReBoot called these instances Hand Offs.

The cloud hang time feature automates and monitors any service interruptions that may be caused by meterological impacts, according to the ReBoot team. The New MPE does a constant rebuild of its accounts structure while handling intensive IO requests, making the software able to restore to its latest stateless image in a matter of millseconds during an interruption.

"You won't be able to see the downtime, and you won't be able to see the drones, either," Blachboxe said on the YouTube video. "This entire release is really about not seeing anything new that's happening within MPE." Licensing battles look like they may be highly visible, however, since ReBoot was not among the eight licensed owners of the MPE/iX source code released during 2010.

The open sourcers appeared to be unfazed by the prospect of battling Hewlett-Packard over rights to a product it no longer sells or supports. Citing a list of legal projects and management efforts tied to more critical needs for the vendor, the coding group said it doesn't expect a challenge that will be recognized in its sovereign nations.

"Winning that lawsuit wouldn't contribute enough to HP's bottom line to make their investors happy with the legal expense," Blachboxe said.

UTC 530Eager beta testers managed to download a handful of builds for the New MPE during the hours that the YouTube video was first visible. These releases could only be activated -- by use of an HP 792 terminal attached to an HP Cloud partition -- during the rolling 24 hour period of 04-01-14, as recognized in the vicinity of coordinates -49.591071, 69.497378, (click on map at right for detail) using the UTC +5:30 as a base. A beta-test version of 8.0 includes the first access to GPS coordinates, to locate a user's system and authorize the download, Blachboxe explained.

"If a user can't figure that out, they won't be of the caliber of computer professional we'd like to test this release," he said. "It's New MPE, after all."

Posted by Ron Seybold at 02:47 AM in Newsmakers, Web Resources | Permalink | Comments (3)

March 31, 2014

On the Inclusive Nature of Modern Paper

By Ron Seybold

Editorial-Icon-185.epsA friend of mine recently took up working a temporary job. It’s that kind of economy in places, even in Texas of 2014, and this job is the third that he’s working at once. But it’s his only full-time job, and this one gets him into a commute before daybreak. For years, we met early Wednesday mornings for breakfast tacos, but now it’s coffee in the evenings for us. My friend is working for a certain government agency that every one of us Americans has a relationship with, one that he doesn’t want me to mention by name. All he wants me to say here, with a wink, is “This is their busiest season.” And here in Austin, the agency has temp jobs available for a few months. 

Every minute of those temp jobs is based on the durable value of paper.

Of all documents that wage earners, retirees and businesses must transmit here in the American springtime, one out of every four are sent via paper. The government would rather not see this continue to be true. But some people are still true to their paper. We’ve been true to paper here at the Newswire, too — now for 150 printed issues.

There are other ways to communicate and learn about what we all do, what we spend and how we budget, the stories that we tell in reports to an agency or to each other about our earnings, our revenues, and our estimates for the future. But in the end, the most fundamental trust — as well as the means to include everybody in telling these stories — relies on paper.

And oh my, even well into the 21st Century, does my friend ever have stories about his early mornings with paper.

He talks of cardboard letter trays and plastic mail tubs, bins and crates and metal racks, all jammed with envelopes. A workday, he says, lived among the sizes that I’ve come to know in my own career of paper: the No. 10 envelope, the 9x12, by now the Tyvek, and even greeting card envelopes. All opened while using talc-lined latex gloves. He talks of staplers rated to punch together 80 pages at a time, the motorized and manual letter openers, plus hand-wielded staple pullers to rearrange the forms just so. My pal rattles off their four-digit numbers like they were MPE commands, instructions he has memorized like some newbie 3000 operator — back in the days when there were such things as operators.

He says the forms stream in around the clock, like what sounds to me like so many HP 3000 jobs, scanned with the oldest of school-skills, eyeballed by dozens of temps in a room that sounds bigger than any datacenter a 3000 ever occupied. He tells me that when he walks into that room with its hung ceiling tiles, the floors thump while he crosses them. Sounds like classic datacenter design to me, with raised flooring and ceilings for cables. 

But then he says this governmental room has less than a dozen keyboards across more than 150 desks. It’s manual work, and he adds with a grin, “The greatest part of it is that anything that people did in the 1970s with records is still being done today, by us.”

That must sound familiar to a 3000 developer, veteran, vendor or manager reading this. See, they all know that paper’s got backward compatibility as well as security that no nouveau computer system can ever match. Where do all those forms go? Well, keyed into acres and acres of hard drives, their data tapped in once they’re extracted from envelopes. But the forms themselves live in warehouses. “For heaven knows how long,” says my breakfast pal.

“Heaven knows how long” could be words to swear by in our 3000 world. People attempt to estimate when they can migrate, and then begin. The process can take a matter of months or the better part of a decade. But the equivalent of those paper documents, the redoubtable 3000, churns onward just like those 1-in-every-4 government forms that fill my pal’s paper mornings.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 10:34 AM in Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 28, 2014

MPE's dates stay at home on their range

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 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
Oxygen Finance

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.

PolarbeardukeoutThe 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.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 01:38 PM in Migration, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 14, 2014

Listen, COBOL is not dead yet, or even Latin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 28, 2014

Cross-pond experts to meet in UK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 24, 2014

The Volokhs Find the Amazon Finds Them

AmazonmapIn 1980, a 12-year-old boy and his father began to create a beautiful expansion of MPE for 3000 customers. These men are named Volokh, and that surname has become the brand of a blog that's now a part of The Washington Post. The journey that began as a fledgling software company serving a nascent computer community is a fun and inspiring tale. That 12-year-old, now 45, is Eugene Volokh, and along with this brother Sasha the two created the Volokh Conspiracy. Volokh.com became a blog in 2002 -- something of a breakthough in itself, according to the Internet's timeline. Now the new owner of the Post, Jeff Bezos, has replaced a long-standing blog from Ezra Klein with the Volokhs' blend of legal reporting, cultural commentary, and English exactitude.

Bezos, for the few who don't know him, founded and owns the majority of Amazon, the world's largest online retailer. And so, in one of the first Conspiracy posts out on the Post, the article's headline reads

In Brazil, you can always find the Amazon — in America, the Amazon finds you

This is a reference to the Russian roots of the Volokhs, according to founding father Vladimir. He recalled the history of living in a Communist country, one that was driven by a Party relentless in its dogma and control. With the usual dark humor of people under oppression, he reported that "In Russia the saying is, 'Here, you don't find the party -- the party finds you.' "

AmazonAmazon has found the Volokhs and their brand of intense analysis -- peppered with wry humor, at times -- because it was shedding Ezra Klein's Wonkblog. Left-leaning with a single-course setting, this content which the Volokhs have replaced might have seen its day passing, once Klein was asking the Post for $10 million to start his own web publishing venture. There may have been other signs a rift was growing; one recent Wonkblog headline read, "Retail in the age of Amazon: Scenes from an industry running scared."

This is not the kind of report that will get you closer to a $10 million investment from the owner of Amazon. That running scared story emerged from this month's meeting of the National Retail Federation, a place where 3000 capabilities have been discussed over the years.

We've run reports of NRF from Birket Foster of MB Foster in the past. Those capabilities surround the need to secure commerce that runs through HP 3000s. At one point the server had scores of users of software that included Point of Sale aspects, although few 3000s ever integrated with such retail devices. But NRF isn't the point of this article. We intend to congratulate Eugene, Sasha -- and of course their proud father -- for breaking into the mainstream media with their messages, information and opinions.

"When you ask them how they feel about it," Vladimir told us this week about his sons and their blog's transition, "they say, 'We will see.' " The Conspiracy didn't need the Post and its mainstream megaphone. The compensation is slight, Eugene wrote as he explained why volokh.com will slip behind what he calls "a rather permeable paywall" in a few months. 

The main difference will be that the blog, like the other Washingtonpost.com material, will be placed behind the Post’s rather permeable paywall. We realize that this may cause some inconvenience for some existing readers — we are sorry about that, and we tried to negotiate around it, but that’s the Post’s current approach.

In exchange, the Conspiracy, with its ample roster of bloggers covering legal and intellectual subjects, is going to remain free for the next six months, even up at the Post website. "For the first six months, you can access the blog for free. We negotiated that with the Post, by giving up likely about half of our share of the advertising revenue for that time. (Six months is the longest we could get.)"

The website the Volokhs established has an avid readership. Along with that blogosphere presence, Eugene has been visible enough in places like The New York Times, CNN and NPR that I'd give him the award for Most Famous Person that MPE Prowess Ever Launched. It was back in the year when he worked as a teenaged, seasonal programmer for Hewlett-Packard that MPEX was born to become the developer and DP manager's power tool, an express lane for managing and hyper-driving an HP 3000. Vladimir and Eugene created that software, which founded VEsoft.

But more than three decades later, the 3000 and MPE have become a minority of Eugene and Sasha's work-weeks. These men are now professors of law at UCLA and Emory. When asked if the millions of dollars you'd imagine coming off a Post blog would change them, Eugene exhibited a typical pragmatic quip.

What will [we] do with all the millions we’ll rake in? We are sharing advertising revenue with the Post, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be much. Our hourly rate for our blogging time will remain pretty pathetic. We’re not in it for the money; if we were, we’d be writing briefs, not blog posts.

The HP 3000 doesn't take a turn in the subject matter of the Conspiracy. The blog's metier is the law, how the law impacts social behavior like privacy and information sharing, as well as intellectual property rights. It's wide-ranging, a lot like the 3000 has been since it began in the era of "general-purpose computer." To keep reading the Conspiracy for free after July, Eugene says, you can subscribe to its RSS feed, register at the Post with a .gov or .edu address, follow it on Twitter, or look for an imminent Facebook page.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 05:07 PM in History, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

January 23, 2014

Unicom sets new roadmap for Powerhouse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 21, 2014

Hewlett-Packard decays, not a 3000 killer

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 15, 2014

Foundation for the Emulator, 5 Years Later

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 14, 2014

PowerHouse licenses loom as used value

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 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.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:02 PM in Migration, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

January 08, 2014

Unicom sees PowerHouse as iconic estate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 23, 2013

2013 makes a new migration definition

GoldfishmigrationsIn 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.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:34 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 20, 2013

Climbing a Tech Ladder to Newer Interests

When Allegro's Stan Sieler announced he'd completed 30 years of employment at the firm, it seemed to spark our curiousity about how things have changed over that period for the creator of so much MPE software -- and parts of IMAGE/SQL, for that matter.

StanMugHe joined HP in 1977, after working on Burroughs systems. Over the years both with HP, and then later, he’s left many fingerprints on the 3000 identity. He proposed multithreading that HP finally implemented for DBPUTs and DELETEs. Wrote STORE on the Classic 3000s, plus can see various aspects of MPE/iX because of his work on the HPE operating system [the MPE/XL predecessor using an instruction set called Vision] before he left HP. A lot of the process management stuff that was his code is still running today. Sieler assisted on Large Files. IMAGE/3000 on the classic systems has intrinsic-level recovery he designed. A week after he left HP, they canceled the Vision project and ported 95 percent of his work to MPE/XL.  

Then came the Allegro work during the era when the 3000 division called the company Cupertino East: Jumbo datasets in IMAGE/SQL. Master dataset expansion. B-trees. By that time he was already in the Interex User Group Hall of Fame. We interviewed him for the Q&A in our November printed issue, and spoke via Skype. Stan used his iPad for the chat.

Second of three parts

How are you coming to terms with being really well-versed with a work that fewer people not only know about, but even use?

Yes, that’s a hard question. I know the two places I’d go if I wasn’t doing Allegro anymore. In both places I think I’d be applying knowledge I’ve learned. It may not specifically be MPE, but it’s things like being careful about maintaining data structures of filesystem and the users’ data. These are lessons we’ve learned for 34 years on the HP machine. I think as we get older, we ought to be able to go up the technical ladder. The problem is that there isn’t enough of a ladder, in most places.

What makes the higher rungs of the corporate ladder hard to reach for someone who’s as experienced as you?

I have a friend who’s a fellow magician, and a senior scientist at Apple. I eat in their cafeteria and we talk magic, and I look around and they’re all young enough to be my kids, except for a smattering of people. He agrees that Apple needs more older people, because we’ll point to things and say, “See this? That shouldn’t have happened. We saw that kind of problem 20 years ago. We’d know better than to do that.”  Apple is one place I think I’d want to work, except I don’t think I could stomach their policies. I could see going to Google, too.

My dream job? Being CTO of Tivo. They have the best DVR, and it’s crap. But everyone else’s is worse. It’s so easy to look at theirs and say they could do this and this better, and they haven’t. I’d like to improve it, so I could use it. It’s a lot like the 3000. A lot of the things I’ve helped push over the years are things that I wanted: The ability to properly handle bigger disk drives, and things like that. But sometimes you don’t get your way

What is the current mix of MPE work in your week, versus all other work?

It varies from day to day, and sometimes it’s hard to tell, because there are a few things that I do that run on MPE as well as HP-UX, three or four products plus a couple of internal tools that run on both platforms. There there are things like Rosetta — where all of the work is done off the 3000, but it’s supporting reading from STORE tapes, so it’s 3000-related. But definitely more than half of the work I do is off the 3000. We’ve got a proposal or two out to enhance our 3000 X-Over tape-copying product for them, and then we could use the enhancements ourselves. We’ve identified a relatively major new feature we could add.

People can see Apple seems to be losing its steam. Does it seem like an echo of what happened to HP and the 3000 in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s?

I remember when HP was first abandoning the 3000 in favor of Unix. To some extent, Apple’s doing the same thing with touch computing and changes for the interface on the Mac to be more tablet-like. Also, Apple is putting in more restrictions on what your apps can do if you buy through the App Store. In terms of hardware, Apple’s very quick to roll things over. At least with the 3000, things tended to be backward-compatible for a lot longer time. You didn’t really have a problem with a new version of an OS using more resources and rendering the older machines useless.

On the flip side, a lot like the 3000 came out with the A-Class machines and you’d ignore their crippling, that was pretty cool hardware. Apple’s doing the same kind of leap. I used to bring people into the office to see my Mac Pro, and I’d say, “this is technology aliens dropped down to Earth, it’s so advanced.” The Mac Pro black tower? That’s a more advanced race of aliens.

HP’s been through more than a decade now of no futures for the 3000. How much worse has that been for you than the decade leading up to the 2001 announcement? What have we really lost?

It’s a lot worse in terms of number of customers, income, the ability to fund doing interesting projects. That’s why we’ve branched out to do other things. 

Do you handle Unix support calls, for example?

Allegro does. I tend to get pulled in when they’re hard problems. Same thing goes for the 3000, where I tend to not handle the frontline call. 

For next time: redefining 3000 migration, Allegro's emulation considerations, and how practicing magic can impact a tech career.

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

December 19, 2013

Making More than 30 Years of MPE Magic

Stan 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.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 10:01 AM in Homesteading, Migration, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (1)

December 11, 2013

In a slowing market, things can shift quickly

Whoa-stopOur November printed edition of The 3000 Newswire carried a headline about the success that the Stromasys CHARON emulator is experiencing in your community. However, one of the green lights we noted in that article turned red during the time between writing and delivery into postal mailboxes.

Ray Legault has checked in to report that the project to virtualize HP 3000s closing down in a soon-to-be-closed disaster recovery site has been called off. The close-out doesn't appear to reflect any shortfall in the value of the CHARON element. But carrying forward applications has proved to be complicated.

Page 1 Nov 13In particular, the costs for license upgrades of third-party software came in for special mention. This isn't standalone application software, like an Ecometry or MANMAN or even an Amisys. That sort of app isn't in wide use in 3000 customer sites, and to be honest, off the shelf solutions never were. The software license that needed a transfer wasn't from HP, either. MPE/iX has a ready, $432 transfer fee to move it to an industry-standard Intel system. No, this well-known development and reporting tool was going to cost more than $100,000 to move to a virtualized HP 3000.

"Our project was cancelled due to other reasons not related to the emulator," Legault said. "Maybe next year things will change. The apps not having a clear migration path seemed to be the issue."

So file this blog report under a correction, or perhaps an update. But I wouldn't want to be the bearer of incorrect news, and there's something virtuous about filing a correction, anyway.

Where we made our mistake was in observing activity in license transfer inquiries, then getting information about a pending CHARON purchase, but not seeing a confirmed PO. That's a document we rarely see here at the Newswire. These days, it's a rare thing for anyone to share a number as specific as, say, $110,000 for a license fee.

For a company which has eight remaining applications to push into the year 2018, and needs to keep those apps hotsite-recoverable, an emulated 3000 with low hardware costs makes good sense. But there are license budgets to resolve in order to proceed with this sort of transition activity. 

Most important, we haven't heard any reports yet of any vendor who flat-out refuses to license their MPE/iX software for CHARON. Perhaps when a vendor has to watch a $110,000 sale disappear, it could spark a different approach to the business proposition of serving a slowing marketplace. Maybe next year, things will change.

In the news business when there's a mistake, we were always taught to close the correction with "We regret the error." In this case, everybody regrets the shift in strategy.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 06:21 PM in Homesteading, Newsmakers, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 27, 2013

HP quarter beats analyst estimates, but Integrity solutions' profit, sales slide again

FY 2013 summaryHP 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.

Enterprise Group Summary Q4 2013Business 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.

"What you take away from what we're doing in R&D is that innovation is still at the core of Hewlett-Packard," Whitman said. "Our number of engineers who are at the core of what's going to drive our innovation is actually up year over year. We expect that R&D will be up across most of our segments -- major segments next year, and in total at the HP level. So we're still very much committed to driving the right R&D at the right time and the right place." 

Q4 2013 summaryShe 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.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 03:03 PM in Migration, News Outta HP, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 21, 2013

UK reunion of 3000 mates achieves quorum

Dave Wiseman reports that he's achieved a quorum for a December 5 meeting of HP 3000 users and vendors. The gathering at a "Young's pub for the cognoscenti" starts after 11 AM on that Thursday in London, at a venue called Dirty Dicks.

DirtyDicksWe're not kidding. But the name of a pub with good food for thought fits Wiseman's aim for this first European reunion. He wanted a meeting where vendors could network, without worry about which users might attend. It's not the traditional aim of a user meeting, but these are untraditional times for the 3000 and MPE.

"Remember all those good old days standing around at trade shows talking to each other? Never being interrupted by potential customers? Then there were the evenings sitting in hotel bars. Well as far as I am aware, I am still chairman of SIG-BAR. I've dusted off the old ribbon and it's time for another meeting (only without the pretence of having business to do and without the hassle of actually bring a stand!)

"I've left in our US friends on this message," Wiseman announced with the notice of the quorum, "although of course it is unlikely that they will come. But they may be interested in what is happening -- maybe we could have an international vendors meeting one day!"

I trailed round London looking at a few venues and found a couple of pubs that would let us have space without charging for it. All of the hotels wanted to charge money!

Only one has sent me the email that they promised and they also offered the best venue – we would have exclusive use of the front upstairs of Dirty Dicks. They have a range of real ales (it's a Young's pub for the cognoscenti) and a menu below (not grand, but the food isn't the only thing we're there for.)

For the non-British 3000 user, Young's has been "one of London's oldest and most recognisable cask ale brands and the pubs that bear the same name," according to The Guardian. And of course for the 3000 users who are among the best-versed in the world about classic information analysis and management, they'll know that cognoscenti are "people who are considered to be especially well informed about a particular subject."

"Dirty Dicks is just across the road from Liverpool Street station," Wiseman said, "so for those of you flying into Stansted it is very convenient; less so if you come to Heathrow."

The address is 202 Bishopsgate, London EC2M 4NR. The meeting will have the benefit of offering Christmas fare as well as its regular menu. If you're in the area and want to attend, drop a note to Wiseman at his email address, [email protected]

Vendors and 3000 friends who are confirmed to be on hand, as of late last weekend:

Pete Brearley
Kim Harris
Dave Wiseman
Roger Lawson
Dave Love
Peter Ackerman
Ian Kilpatrick
Bill Pugsley
Jason Kent

Posted by Ron Seybold at 09:01 PM in Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

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 SolutionsPivital 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.

ScreenJet Logo MarxmeierLogo
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.

Applied Tech logoAnother 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.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 04:35 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 31, 2013

Looking Forward from a Peaceful Wake


Ten years ago today, scores of HP 3000 users, managers, vendors and devotees gathered in pubs, cafes, back yards and offices to celebrate the end of something: HP's finale to creating new HP 3000 servers.

On our separate photo gallery page, we've collected some images of that day. But the people in those pictures were holding a wake for Hewlett-Packard's 3000s (and a few for MPE/iX). Even today, it's hard to make a case that the server actually died on Halloween of 2003. What ended was the belief that HP would build any more 3000s. 

I cheated deathThe gatherings ranged from "The Ship" in Wokingham in the UK, to Vernazza, Italy, to Texada Island off British Columbia, to Melbourne, to the Carribbean's Anguilla, and to a backyard BBQ in Austin -- where a decommissioned 3000 system printer and put-aside tape drives sat beside the grill. At a typically warm end of October, the offices of The Support Group gave us a way to gather and mourn a death -- the official passing of any hope of ever seeing a new HP 3000 for sale from Hewlett-Packard.

Company employees chatted with several MANMAN customers under those Austin oaks, along with a few visitors from the local 3000 community. Winston Krieger, whose experience with the 3000 goes back to the system’s roots and even further, into its HP 2100 predecessor, brought several thick notebook binders with vintage brochures, documentation, technical papers and news clippings.

HP, as well as the full complement of those October customers continued to use the server during November. And while the creator of the Wake concept Alan Yeo of ScreenJet said, "the date does sort of mark a point of no return, and it will be sad," Birket Foster had his own view of what just happened.

“The patient’s not dead yet," he said at the time, "but we did pass a milestone.”

One software vendor announced new products at the gathering. Steve Quinn of eXegySys said that "We will not be mourning the death of the HP3000 as much as celebrating the birth of two new products." Both ran on Windows but had deep roots in MPE. Almost 40 people signed in at the company's HQ in Salt Lake City.

The Wake drew the interest of mainstream media in the US and the UK, including some of the first notice from the business press in several years. But no outlets devoted mainline coverage to the impressive array of parties and commemorations; instead, Web-based reports of the Wake appeared from print publishers and ABC News. The Wall Street Journal, Computerworld and the website The Register also reported on HP’s end of sales. 

On the website where Yeo first hosted the photos, Gary Stead of the UK reported in a note he was "looking for a job 1st Nov!" 

But Duane Percox, Doug Perry, Steve Cooper, Rick Ehrhart, Ric Goldman, Mark Slater, John Korondy, Tom McNeal, and Stan Sieler joined HP’s Cathlene Mcrae,  Mike Paivinen, Peggy Ruse, Jeff Vance and Dave Wilde to raise glasses in salute at the pub The Dukes, just down the street from HP’s MPE labs. Everybody went back to work on 3000s the next day.

Quinn of eXegySys said his company's new products, while running on non-3000 servers, "both extend far beyond the capabilities of their forefathers." The same can be said of everyone who attended a wake for an HP Way business and an ideal. Moving onward is natural in a lifecycle. The Chinese philosopher Lau Tzu said "New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings."

Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:06 AM in History, Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 25, 2013

Age vs. Youth, and Rebooting Your Value

HP 3000 pros usually count several decades of experience or more in IT, but that almost always makes them on the leeward side of age 50. That's a deterrent to getting hired in the next phase of a work life, if you're forced to move away from what you've done well for most of your career.

It doesn't have to read that way, if you believe some of the sharper knives in the modern computing drawer. There is an age bias out there. Younger turks believe the elders are holding them back. Pros who took their first jobs before Reagan was President see a lot of shrugs over an interview desk when a Gen-X or Millennial is looking at their history.

Jimmy Wales founded Wikipedia when he was 35, but here he is about 12 years later saying that youth doesn't trump experience every time. There's a balance. Out on the readwrite.com website, a story says, Jimmy Wales To Silicon Valley: Grow Up And Get Over Your Age Bias. "Silicon Valley frowns on age, yet several of its most successful entrepreneurs argue experience tends to trump youthful exuberance."

While the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics show an overall median age of 42.3 for American workers, tech workers skew much, much younger. Only six of the tech companies reviewed by Payscale had a median age (equal number of people above and below a number) above 35.

And only one—HP—came in above 40.

In the article, Wales says it's a mistake to believe tech entrepreneurs are past their prime if they aren't worth a billion dollars by the age of 35, or even 25. "Wales and other successful tech entrepreneurs say this thinking is as wrong as it is dangerous."

The article cites the same study we reported on this summer about older programmers being more productive. Wales is quoted in the article, "A better question might be: How can we in the tech community make sure that unusual success at a very early age is not mistakenly thought to be the norm?"

And for the HP 3000 pro moving into the next phase, being an entrepreneur is sometimes the only likely way to keep working. Join the movement and you'll find lots of people your age.

According to data from the Kauffman Foundation, the highest rate of entrepreneurship in America has shifted to the 55–64 age group, with people over 55 almost twice as likely to found successful companies than those between 20 and 34. Indeed, Kauffman highlights that the 20-34 age bracket has the lowest rate of entrepreneurial activity.

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

October 11, 2013

The Comment-y Stylings of Tim O'Neill

ComedymicComment sections of blogs are usually tar pits of abusive and misdirected retorts. I feel lucky that comments on the Newswire's blog have been otherwise, for the most part. On many tech blogs the comments that follow a story devolve at lightning pace into rants about the NSA, partisan politics, the insulting disappointments of Windows/Apple/Google, or the zen koan of climate change.

Tim O'Neill has lifted up the reputation of commenting to an enabling art. The manager of a 3000 system in Maryland, he's become prolific in his messages that echo or take a counterpoint to the stories we run here. His comment count is running at 15 over just the past five months. For our unique but modest-sized outpost of 3000 lore and learning, that's a lot. He's got a comment for almost one in every five stories.

CommentsHP's actions of 12 years ago are still a sore point with some 3000 managers. Count O'Neill among them. We ran a story yesterday about HP's best case scenario for 2014: it will lose sales more slowly than this year. Some new products will get R&D focus. Pockets of sales growth will pop up. Overall, less revenue, for yet another year.

O'Neill shot off a comment within an hour of our story.

This does not sound too hopeful, if the best they can promise is slowing the rate of revenue decline while at the same time spending $3B on R&D. At the same time, they have essentially no cutting-edge mobile products (and no WebOS,) a stagnant flagship OS (HP-UX, no new releases in about a decade) a second flagship OS sentenced to death (OpenVMS -- HP finally kills the last of the DEC that they hated for decades) and shuttered sales and support offices (relying on VARs and the Web for sales, instead of interpersonal interaction.)

O'Neill never fails to note that a retained 3000 business would be helping HP, even today. "Meanwhile, the long-ago-jilted MPE lives on, ancient LaserJets continue to crank out print jobs and make money for toner refillers (I still have LJ 2000 and 4000 series printer in service,) and digital signal generators (HP, not Agilent) still generate signals. They do still make nice new printers. Maybe they should buy Blackberry to get into the smartphone business."

It's great to have a chorus behind you when reporting on one 3000 news item after another. It's even better when there's a consistently different-sounding voice on webpages. If there was an Andy Rooney position on the 3000 Newswire's stable of contributors, O'Neill could fill that post.

When my story this week noted that a few N-Class servers, to be mothballed at HP's datacenter next week, would be available for purchase, O'Neill took another tack.
Customers should not be buying cast-off 3000s if they can help it. Instead, they should be ramping up for the future and buying Stromasys-ready hardware.

O'Neill has left fat pitches for other readers to comment upon. "I wonder if anybody still has an HP 150?" Or "Does anybody remember the name of the company that was marketing a wireless 3000 terminal in the late 1980s?" Then there are these comments below, in response to articles about the HP Computer Museum needing older computers, or a new iPad app that gives the 3000 user a wireless terminal for apps or console work.

Well I think the Terminal-on-a-Tablet is a great idea, and gosh we could have really used that and a wireless link 10 years ago when we needed to constantly interact with MPE. I can see great usefulness for people who are using MPE actively, e.g for inventory. It gives one more reason to stay with MPE and one more reason to buy Stromasys boxes on which to run MPE.

Gosh, I wonder if anyone still has a HP 150? It was coolest thing! But people here only used it for a terminal!

O'Neill can also find a silver lining in a report about two 3000 experts replacing themselves (due to age) and moving off an app built long ago.

This article amply demonstrates that: 1) MPE is extremely good at OLTP and business management processes, and is not easily replaced 2) MPE is very cost-effective (e.g. this company had to increase staff after MPE, and 3) "Migration" is incorrect terminology, and vendors made a lot of money, once, by doing it. Now, "if only" a consortium such as a modern-day OpenMPE or OSF could be created, to take command!

Not too many readers remember, or can put into context, the aims of the OSF (the Open Software Foundation) as they related to the HP 3000. OSF was about putting common software platforms in place across Unix servers from many vendors. HP did hope that Posix on MPE would help port some software to the 3000. Both projects fell short of such hopes. O'Neill is hopeful in a way I've rarely seen about the prospects for a rebound of MPE.

I say that with the advent of Stromasys and the interest from application developers who wrote for the HP 3000, there is now the opportunity for the community to form a company to begin marketing MPE/iX. The world is ready for a stable, secure, alternative to the out-of-control Linuxes and the costly well-known operating systems.

He has observations on the differences in vendors serving his company, sparked by news that HP's taken a dive out of the Dow 30.

"Dive" is being kind. They were thrown out. As an example of their inablity to market themselves, the following is illustrative. Next week Dell Computer will host a technical day at our facility. This will be the second such day in the past six months. Customers go and hear the latest. HP has equal opportunity to rent the space, purvey the lunch, and pitch their wares to willing listeners. HP does not do it. Too few sales people spread too thin?

It's been nice to be noticed, but as you can see from the comment string off our front page, not all of it has been complimentary. Recent reporting on OpenMPE got rapped by a pair of principals who were onstage at the end of the organization's activity. But the rarest of things, outright praise for memories, appeared after I wrote about what we all miss from the August HP conferences of our past years.

It is poignant and evocative, meaning if I were an emotional person, it would have brought me to tears. I actually attended the [August] 1996 show in Anaheim! There I had the privilege of speaking with Fred White, who predicted the demise of MPE while on the sidewalk outside the convention center, as well as the subsequent demise of HP-UX. (When was the last new release of HP-UX? Years ago, right?) You wrote that Interex (later HP World) always left people "invigorated, rededicated or just stirred up." True. "Rededicated" rhymes with "medicated" which, nowadays, we HP 3000 people feel as though we need to be! It will be interesting to see how Stromasys emulation will work with VMWare, of which we are heavy users.

I invite you to write a comment for your own pleasure and our information. Whether you shoot this messenger or toss kudos, it will make its way into our shared story.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 03:09 PM in Homesteading, News Outta HP, Newsmakers, Web Resources | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 02, 2013

Tablet terminal sale: Telnet now, NS/VT soon

BlockModeTTerm ProHP 3000 managers who'd like to try out a tablet user interface for MPE software can get a half-off price on Turbosoft's TTerm Pro at the iTunes store "for a couple of weeks," according to vendor representative Art Haddad. The app's being run through its paces by numerous 3000 veterans and stamped as suitable for production. For one California IT manager, however, TTerm Pro is going to get better in the future. That's because the app runs via telnet today, but won't have NS/VT services until a later version "In the not-too-distant future."

In the world of iPad apps, these kinds of upgrades are often downloaded at no charge. Dave Evans, systems Security and Research Manager of the San Bernadino Schools, said that telnet would work for him now, but it would require the customary batch job needed to launch telnet on his 3000s. The 3000's config file for inetd must be edited to enable telnet services for users. According to HP's documentation, the services file must include the line telnet 23/tcp. A batch job starts inetd to launch the Telnet server.

But TTerm Pro's half-off price is getting more managers interested in trying the tablet interface in production use.

"The interface looks really nice on the iPad," Evans said, "and at $25 I don't mind spending that much." Evans, who added that he has a lot more to manage at the schools' IT department than just the 3000, acknowledged that no terminal emulator was ever sold for 3000 users for even as low as $49.95, the non-sale price for TTerm Pro.  

Of course, those Windows-based emulators -- you could sometimes find them on sale under $200 a seat -- employed extensive scripting features, something that TTerm Pro won't embrace wholesale from any that are already written for the Reflection emulator, for example.

However, tablets are already in use by the IT support staff at the school district, Evans said. That access runs through Citrix, "because the Citrix receiver client on the iPad works really well. I do it all the time from home when I get an email which tells me there's a 3000 problem. Instead of running over to my computer and firing up Reflection, I just fire it up on the iPad and work on it from there."

Evans and the staff don't need a telnet interface, or even the more ubiquitous NS/VT, to resolve those kinds of issues. A simple colon prompt access will do the job there, so the group doesn't even need an emulator, as it relies on Citrix.

"The screen and the keyboard obviously take a little adjustment on the iPad," Evans said, "but when you need to do something in a bind, it's really nice to have a tablet available." Support access doesn't require the NS/VT block mode data entry. For production use of the TTerm Pro emulator, Evans sees a target "for occasional access out on the road type of use."

Support vendors have looked over the app. "I purchased a copy, and it works quite nicely," said Gilles Schipper of GSA. "There's a minor problem with a persistent incorrect complaint of invalid host, one that is only satisfied by aborting the app and restarting. The so-called 'invalid host' is then connected to just fine. In general, this is a nice app for a reasonable price."

The set of early adopters of the app have been posting positive comments about the response from the Turbosoft R&D team, too. "I also purchased a copy," said Allegro's Stan Sieler. "The R&D team responded to some enhancement suggestions I had, including increasing the amount of terminal memory, pretty quickly."

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:45 PM in Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 01, 2013

Stromasys updates its rollout sales efforts

It's been close to five months since emulator vendor Stromasys announced its North American sales kickoff at a May Training Day event. In a Q&A interview with the company's senior VP of sales and services, Rich Pugh says the prospects still have interest and questions, but fewer of the queries are about technical capabilities. Pugh said he’s been pitching large companies this summer on 3000 replacements using the CHARON virtualization engine. CEO Ling Chang sat in on the interview, to introduce Pugh to us.

Second of two parts

Is there anything that seems to be in common among your prospects’ installations, regarding horsepower needs? I know that CHARON was going to get a 1.3 refresh for greater performance.

Rich PughAt one site, there’s 11 separate applications that run and one overnight batch job. The way we brainstormed doing their solution is not a like-for-like replacement, but considering breaking apart the application, and possibly stacking multiple processors. There’s Datapipe, a cloud company and hosting provider similar to Rackspace, and do our proof of concept from the cloud. The plan is to reduce the space to the point of eliminating the server from the DR site, and let the physical assets reside in the production environment.

This is the kind of dialogue of flexibility that we’re trying to position, instead of the traditional methodology of just buying a license in capital dollars.

So would that change the investment level for the customer?

Not really. The analogy that I would use is Microsoft Office 365: just another way of using what you might need permanently or temporarily, over the cloud. At Stromasys we’ve had a value prop that’s just been traditional. Buy a license. What Ling and I are suggesting is that this is clearly an area that makes sense, to use the cloud for proof of concept.

Have any of the major third party application suppliers — Ecometry, MANMAN, Amisys, or others — had their customers use CHARON as of today?

Direct access to that application-using community hasn’t been as robust as we’d like. I don’t have a specific response to that question yet; we may have an update soon.

Is that access important in any way? Is the first-year business going to come from customers who have their own application code?

We expect that the direct sales effort will give us more insight into that over the next 90 days.

How might you overcome the late start HP created for this product with MPE customers? This is a new situation for a Stromasys product.  

CEO Ling Chang: That’s a good point. This is a market that remains undefined. It is our challenge to find those who are remaining, and still run their business-critical applications on the HP 3000. Right now, based on preliminary information we received from the service providers at our training day event, the numbers vary. But it’s in terms of the thousands. Not the hundreds of thousands, as in the old Digital product line.

Our challenge is to give those remaining 3000 customers a bridge to their next step — whether it’s to migrate, or stay on.

With the OS already off HP’s support list before the product became available, is there enough customer base remaining to succeed?

Chang: It’s something we have to balance, because Stromasys is still a very small company — and yet we’re going into the enterprise market, which requires resources. While we do that balance, we’re still early in the process. Our goal is to team with HP 3000 partners where we have mutual interests to help get the word out.

Pugh: When Gartner describes what’s going on in the emulation space — where we were named a Cool Vendor — they say that the operating system is just the personality. In the past operating systems were like a religion that you’d never breach. Put MPE against VMS? Give me a break, don’t go there. Now it really doesn’t mean a thing. These are just personalities of what we do, which is a hardware emulation. 

A lot of the problem a customer has to solve is a business problem: risk management, not necessarily when the decision was made to choose a platform to run that application. I’m not minimizing any of the strengths of MPE. But it’s just not as technically important as it was back in the day when IT architectures — because of the proprietary nature of every element — mattered so much. 

I can appreciate that Gartner’s personality conversation would resonate with today’s Millennials. A CFO at the company I’m selling to is in his 30s. They don’t know what MPE means to the business.

What’s the difference in length of project between going to CHARON vs. an application replacement onto a non-MPE platform, or a rewrite?

Chang: As you know, any time you’re looking at a rewrite you’re talking about multiple years. Those projects do not usually come in on time, or under budget for that matter. But even while a customer is doing that, we can be a solution to keep the application up and running. We can implement our solution in a matter of days.

Is there a structure or process in place to develop a network of resellers and consultants for CHARON in the 3000 market?

Chang: We would love to explore the opportunity for a company to become a reseller. We can do a sell-with model, to make it a win-win for a consultant. 

Pugh: We’re refining our channel model. There are certainly companies that could offer presales, or sales and presales support. And then they could be a value added reseller. We’re going to be in the process of introducing a program that allows a company or an individual to get started and get their feet wet, and then become a full VAR. Just months ago we didn’t have that opportunity to give such partners a stair-step approach to building a business around this product.

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

September 30, 2013

Making Real Customers from Virtualization

Rich PughFirst of two parts

Rich Pugh describes himself using a term that’s far from a virtualized IT pro. Pugh, who’s the new senior VP of worldwide sales and services at virtualization vendor Stromasys, says he’s “carried a bag” since the middle 1980s. The term refers to a salesman who’s working on a commission basis, someone who visits customers to close sales. That was not unusual at any size of IT customer in 1985, when Pugh started at Digital Equipment. Today these kinds of visits from such computer hardware vendors are reserved for large accounts. That’s what makes Pugh’s current job selling the Stromasys CHARON HPA/3000 emulator such a profound echo. His company is replacing the 3000 hardware which once required a sales call to spark an install.

Stromasys has been ramping up its executive and strategic team over the last 18 months, all while the company has rolled out and refined its server virtualization software for the MPE marketplace. Bill Driest was introduced to the community at this May’s Training Day as Stromasys GM in the Americas Region. Driest now works for Pugh, since the latter arrived this June. All was explained to us by CEO Ling Chang, who joined the company herself in 2012. 

Print-ExclusiveIn the fall of that year, Chang was introduced to us by Stromasys founder Robert Boers in a joint Q&A — in much the same way she introduced Pugh to us this month. We wanted to check on the outlook for selling a virtualization engine which emulates a server that was cut loose by HP more than two years ago. Emulators often surface while system support is still in place but manufacturing has ended. In the case of HPA/3000, everything was dropped by HP before Stromasys could sell a single unit.

Of such challenges are heroic stories made. Vendors have given up on creations or developments that had much life remaining, and Pugh and Chang believe they’ve got a good shot at replacing some mission-critical HP 3000 systems. Driest said that the North American rollout of HPA/3000 began with that May Training Day. Three months later the prospects still have interest and questions, but fewer of the queries are about technical capabilities. Pugh said he’s been pitching large companies this summer on 3000 replacements using the CHARON virtualization engine.

We interviewed Pugh and Chang in August, a month when HP 3000 users often gathered at a North American conference. In the week we talked, Google’s founder was announcing a burger built in a lab using 20,000 cow stem cells. A product that puts MPE software on Intel chips might seem as much of a surprise. Pugh is working to give the 3000 community a taste for the CHARON novelty, one that wants to eliminate HP’s iron like Google wants to remove the cow, but with genuine flavor.

What industry experience since Y2K led you to Stromasys, Rich?

Wireless data sales team leadership for ATT. Then for the last eight years, I worked at Insight, a large global reseller. HP was Insight’s largest partner, and they ran the New York market.

North American GM Bill Driest said he considered your May event the rollout for the product. How does your sales organization work?

Our sales model is quite different in each of the worldwide regions. In America we have our direct sales organizations, led by Bill. I come from an enterprise background, where I sold as a global account manager. I’m very proud of the fact that I carried a bag, with the recognition is that you have to drive revenue to the company. It’s something that I take very personally and seriously. 

But with that said, I’m very familiar with the channel model. For example, Insight was a $5 billion dollar company that didn’t engineer a thing, but the intellectual power of our people there was really the value we provided to the market. However, with the experience that I left Digital with, I wanted to get my arms around direct client interface with the larger companies that we want to sell CHARON to.

What can you say about the large prospects you’ve been visiting?

I think they’d rather not have their names used, but one provides tax returns for the financial services industry. They’ve got two of the largest 3000s that were ever built.  They have a production site and a DR site in separate states. They’re very interested in using us as an alternative to their platform given a catastrophic failure in their production environment.

The conversation we had with them was on the basis of risk management. Not competing on refurb system pricing or technical problems. When I asked him what compelled him to assemble his staff for our meeting, he said, “It took us a week to get our production system back up. We can’t afford that given the obligation we have to our clients.” Their application has to be supported until 2035.

The choices were a COBOL converter, a full migration, or our virtualization platform. He said he could not afford to use anything from the old [3000] hardware architecture. Even if he got the most stable box in the world, it was all the peripherals that would be unstable.

That’s one prospect. How about a different industry?

There’s a large insurance claims processing firm. They’ve already put it through the proof of concept and now it’s just a matter of addressing the short term and long term implementation of the CHARON solution. Then there’s a cooperative of farmers who run their billing system through an HP 3000. The business reason they’re looking at us is to get off their older hardware platform, out of the maintenance costs. Our contact there is convinced we’re the right solution, and it’s a matter of getting the budget in place so they can move on it.

There’s also a company that runs Software as a Service for the financial services industry. On their own, they’ve used the freeware version of our product, and they’re convinced that it’s the right move for them to make. Again, it’s sold on a business-level conversation. It’s refreshing to take our sales strategy to this level, which I believe will shorten our sales cycle and drive an earlier adoption.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 09:50 AM in Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 25, 2013

3000 data experts explore Big Data today

Big-dataIn the latest of its Wednesday Webinars, MB Foster looks at the elements of Big Data as they relate to IT planning. Members of your community who are heading to other platforms have better reason to learn more about the concept, since their new systems are likely to need application interfaces to vast tracts of land from the world of data.

The webinar is free and starts at 2PM Eastern Time today. Registration for the interactive audio and PowerPoint presentation is at MB Foster's website.

As data specialists for operational, analytical and migration purposes and thought leaders on the topic of data, we want to accelerate users' understanding of new data-related topics and practices such as Big Data.

As an example of Big Data usage: In the TV show Criminal Minds, Penelope uses her analytical skills to combat crime. She dives into large and complex structured and unstructured data sets (records, mobile devices, video’s and cameras) to help the FBI team capture criminals in the nick of time.

In the webinar, CEO Birket Foster and his team will discuss.

  1. What is Big Data?
  2. How might you use it?
  3. What do you need to do to organize it?

The subject has potential for employment opportunity. One IBM analysis reveals that every day, we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data and almost 90 percent of the total data in the world has been created just in the last two years. Within five years, the US could be at a 140,000-worker shortage for Big Data IT workers. The expertise is driven into four buckets of skillsets: Data scientist, data architect, data visualizer and data change agent.

According to a Computerworld roundup of the skills among those buckets, it seems that data architect -- the kind of expertise that Foster's software has enabled ever since the earliest days of its DataExpress -- falls closest to 3000-built experience.

Data architects: Programmers who are good at working with messy data, disparate types of data, undefined data and lots of ambiguity. They may be people with traditional programming or business intelligence backgrounds, and are often familiar with statistics programs. They need the creativity and persistence to be able to harness the data in new ways to create new insights.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 05:19 AM in Migration, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 20, 2013

UK 3000 vet gears up for European reunion

SIG BARDave Wiseman, the founder of HP 3000 vendor Millware and an MPE veteran since the system's most nascent days, is floating the idea of a "3000 Revival" to be held in Europe later this year. Wiseman was the chairman of SIG BAR, he told us in explaining what the Revival might amount to. Today he's calling the event this year's HP3000 SIG BAR meeting.

Remember all those good old days standing around at trade shows talking to each other? Never being interrupted by potential customers? Then there were the evenings sitting in hotel bars….

Well as far as I am aware, I am still chairman of SIG-BAR. I've dusted off the old ribbon and it's time for another meeting (only without the pretence of having business to do and without the hassle of actually bringing a booth!)

If you know anyone who worked in the HP3000 vendor community or user groups please could you ask them to contact me ([email protected] or +44 777 555 7017) and I'll find a suitable venue and date (maybe beginning of December in London?)

"It's around 36 years since I went to my first HP 3000 meeting at the London School of Economics in Regents park," Wiseman said in his opening salvo for this year's event. "That trade show was two piles of duplicated (yes folks, pre-photocopier) sheets of paper on the LARC editor and SCRIBE formatter."

So how about a European trade show again folks? As far as I recall, the fact that there aren't many users won't make a lot of difference. The truth was we never saw that many at our shows anyway. I recall spending most of my time talking amongst ourselves anyway, and I just thought that it was about time we had a reunion. My list of our old compatriots is woefully thin, but I'm happy to co-ordinate a venue.

PS. No need top bring your stands or literature!

Posted by Ron Seybold at 02:53 PM in Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 17, 2013

OpenMPE.org domain remains redacted

A milestone recently passed for the web domain name openmpe.org. For more than eight years this was the address for the volunteer group that made HP think through migration details, as well as extend homesteading prospects. The .org seemed to fit a rotating collective of 3000 community members, all giving their time and effort to try to make the 3000's future clearer and brighter.

But in 2010, amid the rancor and countersuits filed between two then-boardmembers, openmpe.org went dark, was taken hostage. Matt Perdue, the consultant and board member who was by then in charge of checkbook, source code license, web servers as well as domain, found himself fingered as the man who'd take a website offline to prove ownership. To resolve the problem, Allegro Consultants gave openmpe.com to the group. It wasn't much longer afterward that Perdue and his combating director Keith Wadsworth both left the organization.

It's been more than two years, and the openmpe.org domain was up for renewal. Brian Edminster, who's got his own .org website (www.mpe-opensource.org) that serves the community with open source software, was watching to see if OpenMPE's domain would be released. Edminster checked in to report Perdue's ownership of the domain remains in force, for another several years.

It's not as if the domain is worth anything, like some addresses are. There's a market to bid on such things that are already owned, even estimates of what a domain might be worth. The renewal of the openmpe.org ownership represents a point that's still being made, apparently. Edminster reports

I had a reminder on my calendar to check today:

Do WHOIS lookup on OPENMPE.ORG to see if Matt's renewed the domain registration

        if not - get it to turn back over to OpenMPE.

Looks like on Sept. 8 Matt renewed it for another year. I know it's cheap to do — but is he that petty, or do you think he has more grandiose plans? I've been around long enough to know better, but I guess there's just no understanding some people.

I've written before about the stasis that has set in surrounding OpenMPE, a group that was very important during the years HP was willing to discuss its own end-game for exiting that marketplace. Grandiose plans don't seem to be in line with a volunteer organization no longer having meetings, or elections, or regular contact with HP. Everything has its time and place, and great service was done on behalf of the customers.

Near the end, a conflict arose over the scope of change MPE source code licenses could trigger. Nothing could be done to impede the plans of the seven corporations that bought a license. But a dust-up arose over the OpenMPE ownership, as well as legal conflicts between Perdue and Wadsworth. The standoff helped bring the group to a standstill. And renewing a domain looks like it's not time for an end to the hard feelings about the future of software: MPE.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 10:38 PM in Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (9)

September 10, 2013

Emulator's open sourcers prod at booting

Yesterday I mentioned news about a fresh emulator effort, one that's based in open source resources. Piotr Głowacz and some volunteer developers have been trying to create software that lets Intel servers boot up MPE/iX. The early going via open source has had its roadblocks, springing up in unexpected places. After the three articles we've written about the attempts, Głowacz emailed us that the exposure has helped.

We've got many responses from people willing to help us in our effort. The most important advance we've achieved is to get the MPE/iX 6.0 up and running. Of course, it's not at a solid state -- we're experiencing unexpected system crashes, for example, but at least the OS is recognizing all of our emulated devices.

There's a pretty good reason why an open source emulator is going to take a while to get stable. Dr. Robert Boers, whose company Stromasys invented and polished the CHARON HPA/3000 emulator, has an understanding of the shortfalls that are still ahead for the open source effort -- as well as an admiration for trying to open-source create an emulator.

Their booting problem they will no doubt find, if they ever get that far, will be due to not having a working Processor Dependent Code (PDC) implementation, which makes all the difference between booting a general PA-RISC system and an HP 3000. As we found out, even understanding the HP 3000 PDC requires a PhD (and access to source code), let alone implementing it.

Apart from the PDC, there is of course the detail of implementing a virtual PA-RISC CPU -- one that not just interprets code in a very slow manner, but dynamically translates the PA-RISC binary instructions.

Boers also noted that "even HP did not have all the [booting] information, and we had to step through MPE/iX instruction-by-instruction (including its internal 16-bit code emulator) to make sense of it." More than two years ago his company, using HP-supplied tech documentation, clawed through the barriers to make MPE/iX booting stable in CHARON. "It was a tough one to write," he said of the effort. Compared to the CHARON emulators for the DEC market, "this is by far the most complex emulator."

It's a pretty deviously complex system. The big problem is that large parts of the operating system are still running in 32-bit mode. MPE's basically an emulated operating environment. We were debugging an emulator running on an emulator.

"Apart from the PDC," Boers added, "there is of course the detail of implementing a virtual PA-RISC CPU that not just interprets code in a very slow manner, but dynamically translates the PA-RISC binary instructions." In other words, booting is a very early success. Simulating the processes of the HP 3000 via software -- even at an unstable state -- is a good start, but it's a great distance away from being able to replicate 3000-grade performance. Even Stromasys is working on getting versions of CHARON that can match N-Class top-end systems.

Głowacz said during the past week that "for now, we're working with the HPSUSAN number taken from the rp7400 we own (it's stored in our PDC/NVRAM)." That's a PA-RISC system built for HP-UX, not MPE -- and so missing the essential PDC requirement. "I'm just not sure if it'd be enough when we'll test third-party software," Głowacz said. "As for our costs [to build this], it's a 100 percent free-time project, so we're working in our spare time. That's why it took so long to bring our simulator to the current state."

Głowacz hasn't said how long his volunteers have been working on their simulator. But Boers said this kind of work just underscores the ideal that virtualization is the future for legacy environments like MPE.

I appreciate people who try to simulate legacy systems. I believe it is the only way in the future to capture the knowledge embedded in business critical legacy applications, instead of ripping everything up and repeating the mistakes of the past in a new build. Piotr might get more appreciation if he would build an HP 9000 out of it that can run HP-UX. That is somewhat simpler, as it does not have the obstacle of an embedded licensing mechanism. Before we implemented the HP 3000 PDC, we effectively had virtualized an HP 9000, running Linux.

The open source goal "for now is to have 6.5 MPE/iX up and running for at least a week," Głowacz wrote today. "After the base system beta testing, we'd like to go for a more complex verification -- IMAGE maybe?"

Posted by Ron Seybold at 03:50 PM in Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 09, 2013

Community needs story, regardless of media

WorldofWebJust as I was closing out our latest printed issue, our 139th in paper, we got word about a new entry into the HP 3000 emulation derby. It's software that wishes it could enable Intel PCs to boot MPE/iX. It's a long way from ready for prime time. Most of the problem lies in the fact that the effort is open-sourced. There's no open source for the MPE boot routines inside PA-RISC.

Print-ExclusiveYou might not even call this one a market entry, largely because it’s open sourced. It would not ever really be for sale, not any more than Linux was ever sold in the first 15 years of its lifespan. Open source relies on the volunteer time of brilliant minds. Some day, marketing and sales might be handled over the Web as well as Git stores program code repositories. However, for putting software into production that will be running a company, there’s nothing like an old-school visit in person, in a meeting room, with customer technicians on hand. That's sales today. And probably sales tomorrow, too.

We might be headed toward a day when some old-school standards seem just old, rather than classic and proven. This momentum is gathering quickly in my world of words for publication. This summer we saw the departure of InformationWeek from the ranks of printed publications. The weekly that covered the HP departure from the 3000 world, as well as HP’s e3000 rebranding of the box, is now a weekly publication of about five articles per issue. That’s around 20 a month, or the same number we put onto the Web in our blog.

EsquireSpreadWeb-based publication can do some things that print struggles to do these days. Some publishers remain devoted to the printed look, but can provide on a laptop screen, or in the case of the picture at left, on a 27-inch desktop. (Go ahead, click on it to see how close that Esquire page can be reproduced on the screen.) Online publications can be searched in a way print won't provide. (Go ahead, click on the link off our front page banner where it says Download our latest print issue. You get a PDF file that can be searched.) What's more, such online information reaches readers nobody knows, people who care about the subject but have escaped the commonplace radar. Anybody hear of Innovest as a 3000 site? We just did this month.

In 18 years of collecting and curating customer names, this one from New York escaped us. But then so did Turbosoft, the Australian firm that started to market its $49.95 iPad app up on the HP 3000 Community of LinkedIn. A rollout, on a localized website.

The Web provides ways to change the formula for information industries. Some companies never climb on the back of this tiger, while others work to make their paper versions look and behave just like print. Three years ago a company called Zinio was ready to take advantage of the juggernaut of tablets launched by the iPad. Right out of the box at the tablet's debut. This summer they’ve got scores of magazines online, readable through an app, or displayed in glorious 27-inch color on a desktop screen.

I read Esquire and love the online version — which I pay for— better than the print. I still keep print copies around for reference, but they’re not easy to dig into. There’s that index and searching thing that’s tough to offer on paper.

The same sort of quantum leap beckons from the edge of the cloud revolution. We’ve heard of a project to offer proof of concept installations for the Stromasys emulator — that’s the tested emulator, proven at sites and fully licensed for MPE — via the cloud. A company called Datapipe is working with Stromasys to offer these proofs. Some 3000 customers don’t want the hardware in their shop anymore. Just MPE, IMAGE and a proven set of applications.

The Web takes away old-school habits whenever it can improve, and then prove. What will never go away is our need for stories. How we deliver them can always evolve.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 03:30 PM in Homesteading, Migration, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 30, 2013

A 3000 emulator needs HP's IP to boot

Last week we reported a couple of stories' worth of information about a new emulator effort for the HP 3000. This one couldn't be more different than the Stromasys Charon product that's now winning customers. We've gotten a heads-up that another Charon site will be going online to replace large HP 3000s, this one in the northeast at a financial services company.

Meanwhile, Piotr Głowacz in Poland is fronting a band of developers who are taking an open source approach -- using publically-available documents.

We did our simulator based 100 percent on publicity-available docs (which is typical for FOSS projects). We've reached the point where the simulator is running, going through the install process for MPE/iX and crashes at the very unspecified moments. As we can't provide an HPSUSAN number for testing, we're just hoping our simulator will do (and we're closer to our goal each day).

We’re still checking to see if Głowacz’ team means that they're getting closer to a non-crash startup for MPE/iX every day. It’s not clear why if they had an HPSUSAN number, it would that help in the testing.

BootWhat your community learned in 2003 was HP's help would be required to emulate PA-RISC processors capable of booting MPE/iX. There's a Processor Dependent Code routine or module that halted the Stromasys work for years. HP's intellectual property lawyers wouldn't cooperate, and the Stromasys development had to get shelved. Until 2008, when HP changed its mind.

Open source has its unique advantages. One of them is finding things available in public domain and modifying that source code to solve a problem. However, PDC has been considered a trade secret by HP. Getting documentation about PDC from a public source is going to be a tough assignment. Stromasys got the information by arranging for a top-down, official relationship with HP. That's led to an HP Worldwide Reseller agreement.

Not even the licensees of the source code for MPE/iX have those internal HP docs about PDC in PA-RISC.

In a commercial arrangement, HP's lawyers might be convinced that it's a good idea to make that data available. It's a leap of faith to imagine that arrangement taking place for an open source project. This project would be the first open source re-engineering of a processor for the HP enterprise user base.

People have ported open source tools. But to open-source an simulator of a proprietary chip, booting a proprietary enterprise OS, has never been done. That distinction of emulator and simulator is important.

If the open source team has a chance getting what it needs from Hewlett-Packard, it might start with Jennie Hou at HP. She ran the 3000 business group at the end, until there was no more group.

We don't know several other things yet. Are any of these developers experienced with MPE? Charon got release-ready when some MPE veterans joined the effort. And I also asked Głowacz "why do this, for a slice of the computer community that's so small?" It's clearly not a simple effort, as an volunteer open source project for a community the size of the 3000’s. The answer sounded like a line from a political speech or a play. “As for your question why, I'd like to answer as simplest as I can — if we're not for money, why not?” Glowacz said.

The line attributed to US Senator Robert F. Kennedy goes, “There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” In truth, the line comes from playwright George Bernard Shaw’s play Back to Methuselah. It was spoken by the Serpent in that play. 

“Why not” is noble and laudable. But there are expenses in most of the simulator/emulator projects -- if nothing else, there's the time of the developers and testers. Those are some reasons why not. Perhaps the nature of an open source project simply absorbs these real costs of labor and systems. 

There are worse places for the 3000 community to find itself, than to be the subject of an open source simulator. Whether it’s suitable for commercial use must still be proven — once the effort gets a version which can boot. The hobbyist part of the 3000 community -- most likely to sieze on a free tool -- is already served by a free limited user and horsepower version of the Stromasys Charon software.

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

August 22, 2013

Other emulator: no sales, some commerce

The developer team that's working on a second HP 3000 emulator opened its horizons today with a message sent to the 3000-L mailing list. Piotr Glowacz was on the hunt for a copy of MPE/iX, as we noted yesterday. He'd really like copies of 6.5, 7.0 and 7.5.

One reader on the mailing list suggested this software was available from Client Systems. That company sells HP 3000s, as it has for more than five years by itself, and another 10 before that as the only North American distributor for HP's 3000 business.

The scope of this project led by Glowacz -- the group has yet to boot up a 3000 under any conditions, emulated or not -- clearly falls outside the range of sales. Today Glowacz said that there will no sales of the software once they finish. It's open source, after all. Noting that the project is not like the 3000 emulator now selling from Stromasys, Glowacz calls it a simulator.

Our simulator isn't going to be a commercial software. We want free, BSD-licensed, fully functional simulator for 3k architecture, for both private and commercial use.

There's another non-commercial aspect to this Simulator project. The group doesn't have a company behind it or enough resources to buy a bottom-end HP 3000 -- and get a copy of MPE/iX in the process.

"I know there are plenty of cheap 3k systems available," Glowacz told me in an email. "But at this moment we don't have resources needed to buy it and move it in (we're just a group of programmers, dispersed worldwide, with no commercial support and no company behind). Also, we'd need a few of these machines, as we're trying to simulate not only N-Class and A-class, but also older systems, like 9xx."

Another option emerged as a suggestion, and we're following up on that, too. Jack Connor, a hardworking volunteer for the OpenMPE board in the past and a current tech wizard for Abtech, said he believes Client Systems could provide what Piotr needs, for a fee.

I know that you can get, I believe, 6.0, 6.5, 7.0, and 7.5 from Client Systems.  There's a fee, but for bare bones MPE/iX without any of the major add-ons, I'd think price would be minimal.

These are legitimate licensed copies of MPE/iX, so all's above board as concerns HP.

I've reached out to Dan Cossey at Client Systems to check on the above, and see if this is the way it works there this year. The front page of their website they say they distinguish themselves by being

the only company authorized by Hewlett Packard in North America; that is allowed and capable of creating and loading a custom FPT (factory Pre load Tape) the exact same way it has been done at the HP factory for 30 years.

If they can do that tape for Piotr and his band of developers, then why not do it for everybody? And if that's true, it would change the prospects for any emulator, or simulator. It's been a given, up to now, that the only emulator customers will be companies which already own a valid 3000 license.


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

August 21, 2013

Open source emulator creator seeks MPE

Our ally and friend Alan Yeo flagged down a message to the 3000 community from a developer who says he's in a group that's written an HP 3000 emulator. "A second emulator," read Alan's message. He suggested that we track down details from Piotr Glowacz, the creator of the message below -- which was posted on the comp.sys.hp.mpe newsgroup.

As I can't get any response from HP, I've decided to give this group a try. With a group of system programmers, we're working on a free, open source 3k emulator, based on QEMU (and its binary translator), with the goal to get a fully functioning rp7400/N4K environment. As for now, we have it working with HP-UX 11i, but our main goal is to get MPE/iX up and running on it.

So, my question is -- is someone on this group able to provide us with MPE/iX installation media images? I know it's a gray land, but as I can't get any response from HP (even after they announced their HP3k simulator programme), I'm willing to risk, and try to run our simulator with an 'unauthorized' copy of the OS, just to check if it's working.

Glowacz might know that there's already a free version of a tested emulator out on the marketplace. The A202 version of the CHARON HPA/3000 emulator can be downloaded from Stromasys. It's a two-user instance and includes a version of MPE/iX, already hosted in a VMWare player instance and bootable from a Linux distro. Stromasys was passing out this freeware -- which is not open source software -- on USB sticks at this spring's Training Day event in Mountain View. The stick even includes an MPE/iX image. The A202 is not licensed for commercial use, only personal and pilot testing.

However, if you'd like to help Glowacz and his group, he's listing his email as [email protected]

It seems the best way to get a disk image is to purchase a used HP 3000. It's very inexpensive these days, for a small one, with a valid license. The 3000-L mailing list -- which is not where Glowacz started his hunt for an MPE image -- has seen several individuals who have 3000s which they'd like to get out of their shops or garages. Some have been offered for the cost of shipping, but we don't know how many have MPE/iX 7.5.

For that matter, we're not sure if this open source emulator requires the latest version of MPE/iX to succeed. As the developers don't yet have MPE/iX in their lab, they probably don't know that either. But many of the nearly-free 3000s have an MPE license, something Glowacz's team could create a disk image from.

It's interesting that HP hasn't responded to his request for an MPE image, but it's not clear where you'd ask for an image of MPE/iX simply for testing. There's no way for HP to just hand out an image. The OS has been tied to real HP hardware instances -- and defended in lawsuits by HP -- for close to 15 years. You cannot have a legal copy of MPE without a piece of hardware. HP created an emulator license in 2004, but you must transfer a legal copy of a license to emulator use. HP's not creating MPE licenses anymore.

To be sure, Glowacz can get an MPE installation image from somewhere in the community. For testing purposes, this could be a start. We'd advise that he go straight to NMMGR for testing once he's got it loaded. (Be sure and see if block mode works.) He should also start up ODE from the ISL prompt that he'll get off of this open source emulator.

It's easy to be skeptical about open source projects. But some amazing tools have started there. The obvious poster child for open source is Linux. We don't know if this open source emulator is hosted on a Linux system as its cradle. Stromasys began with the idea of using Windows, but that didn't even last long enough to see the light of the round of beta testing.

We'll check back in when we hear more about the open source emulator. QEMU is, according to Wikipedia's article 

a hosted virtual machine monitor: It emulates central processing units through dynamic binary translation and provides a set of device models, enabling it to run a variety of unmodified guest operating systems. It also provides an accelerated mode for supporting a mixture of binary translation (for kernel code) and native execution (for user code), in the same fashion VMware Workstation and VirtualBox do. QEMU can also be used purely for CPU emulation for user-level processes, allowing applications compiled for one architecture to be run on another.

QEMU "can boot many guest operating systems, including Linux, Solaris, Microsoft Windows, DOS, and BSD Unix. It supports emulating several instruction sets, including x86, MIPS, ARM, PowerPC, SPARC, ETRAX CRIS and MicroBlaze." The main website for the code lists HP PA-RISC as a "target" for QEMU. There is a Git repository for HPPA target support.

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

August 16, 2013

Something for MPE at Apple's App Store

About 10 days ago, the Australian software company Turbosoft announced that it had unveiled an iPad app that will emulate HP 3000 terminals. While the functionality of TTerm Pro is being reviewed for our August printed issue, we can review the costs of delivering a 3000 terminal interface to the world's most-purchased tablet.

Art Haddad made the first mention of TTerm on the HP 3000 Community group of LinkedIn. Turbosoft wasn't on my radar for MPE-ready software, but I can't even pretend to know every product. This one has been on offer for 3000s for about 20 years.

TTerm definitely supports Telnet connections, and the [HP 3000] emulations are complete. Turbosoft has been developing terminal emulation software since 1986 and the HP series of terminals has been in its Windows-based products from the early 1990s. The main feature that our Windows products have over the iPad range is NS-VT support, as well as scripting. However, there is a plan to add NS-VT support to TTerm Pro in the not too distant future.

TTermProConnectionsHaddad, who works from Australia but actually takes calls in North American West Coast time (that's an early workday there) also gave us a peek at what it's like to sell on the Apple App Store. TTerm was already evolving when we talked last week, but that improved version was going to take a few more weeks of review time before Apple would sell it. Apple's system would then notify a user who'd bought the app a newer version could be downloaded.

Somehow, Apple has turned around the usual software formula: now sales and delivery has been made to lag behind development. This situation might serve to explain a little about the $49.95 price for the app. It only seems pricey until a 3000 manager goes to look for another terminal emulator app -- on any tablet. Not just Apple's.

There is no other HP 3000 terminal app for an iPad, although there are a number of telnet 'terminal' programs that can log on to a 3000. Haddad's company took the challenge of bringing a multiple-terminal emulator through the Apple iOS development rigors, as well as getting it sold in the only place you can buy an iOS app. That's a vendor-controlled store. On August 16, a US court threw out a lawsuit against Apple, one that claimed the vendor should not limit iOS customers to buying apps through the App Store.

Haddad has nothing to do with the lawsuit, but he did comment on how the Windows version of TTerm Pro gave his company no advantage in creating an iOS release.

"We've been developing the app for what feels like forever," he said. "We've spent a lot on it. Apple is not the easiest company to develop software for. With Apple we pretty much had to start from scratch. They're very firm about that. You can't take the code that you're got and put it onto an iPad. It's just not possible."

In the summer of 2010 we reported on another terminal emulator that was going to appear on the iPad, but that project didn't come to fruition. Haddad's insight -- like confirming that it's between two and three weeks from release to Apple to the update availability -- shows how tough some apps can be to craft. 

About the only other software developer in the MPE community who's shown the stamina to release an iOS app is Allegro Consultants. Its iAdmin app is coupled with a backend service to track crucial system data like CPU use and disk capacity, among other markers.

In addition to its 2392, 700/94 and 700/92 emulation, TTerm Pro emulates terminals from 20 other vendors. Some of these vendors have not shipped systems in two decades: Stratus, Siemens Nixdorf and Televideo come up on the supported terminals list.

LouisC.KThis is an iPad version of a $125 Windows 7 product, so perhaps this app is not as pricey as it might seem compared to a 99-cent Angry Birds, or even the top-notch PDF reader, annotator, and filer GoodReader selling at $4.99. It's a similar situation that Stromasys is tackling with its HP 3000 hardware virtualizer, Charon HPA/3000. Just like Louis C.K. jokes in his comedy routine about in-flight WiFi, the miracle for these products is getting overlooked by our altered reality about software value. (Warning for those new to Louis C.K.: link NSFW.)

This value issue is also the dilemma the HP 3000 faced at Hewlett-Packard, once commodity systems entered the price list. Lowering a price can be a way to lower the perception of value. HP took holding up its pricing to an extreme that flattened customer base growth. But like getting an iOS program written and updated in the App Store, keeping a 3000's value in line with 2013 expectations is tricky. Until you hear Louis C.K. shout about magic we overlook -- having a 40-year-old OS built well enough to continue running companies today, firms that might want to use the system via an iPad.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 03:54 PM in Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 25, 2013

Where Three 3000 Pros Have Gone

Jon Diercks. Jim Sartain. Jim Hawkins. Each of these pros have had a large profile for the HP 3000 community. If one of these J-Men escaped your attention, we can recap. But first, understand that all technology prowess moves on -- not just MPE's -- hungry for the next challenge.

JondiercksDiercks is the author of the only professional handbook for MPE/iX. Written during the year 2000 and published less than six months before HP's 3000 exit announcement, The MPE/iX System Administrator's Handbook is virtually out of print by now, but Diercks still has his hand in 3000 administration, on the side. He raffled off author copies of his book at the 2011 HP3000 Reunion. The book remains alive on the O'Reilly Safari website, where it can be referenced through your browser via your Safari subscription.

IPadCharonToday he's the IT director for a tax accounting and financial services firm in Northern California. In his spare time he's managed to put the console screen for the HP 3000 emulator onto an iPad for control. First time we've ever seen that done; the 3000's native MPE/iX colon prompt has been there before, but not a BYOD interface for the Stromasys product. See for yourself, above.

SartainJim Sartain became the essence of IMAGE at HP while it was adding its SQL to its name. In his final work at the vendor, he ran the Open Skies division of the HP 3000 unit at Hewlett-Packard. What's that, you may ask. In the late 1990s, general manager Harry Sterling bought a software company outright to capture 3000 business and prove the server was capable of modern IT. Open Skies offered online reservations software for JetBlue, RyanAir, Virgin Express and AirTran, among others. 

Today Sartain has become a VP again, this time at another software icon. After managing quality assurance for Intuit, Adobe and McAfee, he's leading the Engineering 4.0 Initiative for Symantec. As usual, Sartain is reaching for the big goal. The initiative will "transform Symantec Product Development world-wide," according to his page at LinkedIn. He's running an Engineering Services organization for the company's security, tools and shared software components.

When TurboIMAGE was facing a campaign of disrepute at Hewlett-Packard in the early 1990s -- one of the database's darkest times -- Sartain was in charge of sparking new engineering requests for the 3000 keystone. Sartain may be best-known in the 3000 community, however, for work he led in response to a customer revolt in 1990.

Once customers expressed their displeasure at a waning emphasis on IMAGE, the 3000 division of 1991 had to respond with improvements. Sartain was directly responsible for HP's offering of an SQL interface for IMAGE, the first advance that signaled CSY’s commitment to what the unit called the Customer First strategy. Sartain worked with a revived IMAGE special-interest group to revitalize the database. Dynamic detail dataset expansion and third-party interface work also began on his watch.

HawkinsAnother HP Jim, Hawkins, was among the last deep-technical pros to work on MPE/iX at the vendor. His name became synonymous on the 3000 newsgroup with IO expertise, and for more than six years he worked post HP-announcement to lead "various Roadmap teams to deliver on HP e3000 end-of-life roadmaps to meet basic customer and partner needs."

Hawkins can still be seen posting occassionally on the 3000 newsgroup, delivering engineering history that can be helpful for the IT pro still meeting IO issues. Today Hawkins has become HP's Integrity System Quality Program Manager, which includes programs to detect product issues earlier in the lifecycles of Proliant and rx2800 Integrity servers. He's still at the vendor after entering his 3000 era on the MPE customer and R&D support team in 1986.

These J-Men helped to build intelligence, software engineering and hardware prowess for the 3000. They're out in newer fields looking for challenges in technology. They all have worked in the era where HP wanted to be known as a 3000 customer's Trusted Advisor. You might say they're still proving that Trust Never Sleeps.

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

July 23, 2013

IT's print populace loses a weekly citizen

InfoWeek Digital WinsWord came today that the last issue of InformationWeek has left the presses. The weekly magazine that covered Hewlett-Packard's rise into an era of open systems -- and noted HP's shift to the Internet for its 3000 business -- shut down its printed edition with today's issue. InformationWeek started printing 28 years ago when there was no Web. Today it took its steps out of postal boxes by proclaiming, Digital Wins.

There was a time when that headline might've proclaimed a market victory for a computer vendor of the same name. But the realities of producing what had become a 36-page weekly, printed in four colors and mailed around the world, caught up with the advertising preferences of today. My partner Abby Lentz heard the news and said, "They contributed to that win themselves, didn't they?"

This was not the first news of an IT weekly shutdown. PC Week left the postboxes years ago. Earlier this month, PC World stopped its printed editions. Earlier in 2013, Newsweek and US News & World Report took their exits from the world of ink and paper. All were general interest magazines. Specialization is a more modern business model for information.

It's not that these information outlets have outlived their utility. But the means for news delivery has changed as much as the publishing of books. I learned the news of the InformationWeek shutdown from David Thatcher, a former HP 3000 vendor who's seen his MPE software product ADBC thrive and then decline.

ADBC is database middleware which linked the IMAGE/SQL database closely with Java. It was released in the era when Java was touted as the language most likely to succeed at crossing platform barriers. Java might be replacing something else, a technology standing on a predecessor's back as surely as the InformationWeek print issues helped lift the Web into dominance.

ADBC continues to have utility for some 3000 managers. One 3000 manager, whose clients provide a very crucial military service, runs a 3000. The system design at the shop included a tool advanced at its first release, the middleware that uses Adager's Java-based tool designs.

Twenty-eight years is a long time in an industry that paves itself over like IT does. Last summer I marked 28 years on the job writing about Hewlett-Packard, and the last 18 of those have included a print edition we've published. It's been an interesting time for print purveyors. At one time, publishing a print edition or hailing from a print staff was needed to confer competence. Today, simply writing on a regular basis with attention to the facts and exclusive reports will do the job. Look in the front of most best-selling paperbacks and see that more than half of the glowing reviews come off websites.

We're heading toward a day when printing a periodical will seem like a luxury, or even a vanity, instead of a stamp of validation. Major publications take their pages out of circulation when the economics of print take a back seat to the habits of readers. We still hear from readers who say they focus on their 3000 news once our print editions arrive in those postal boxes.

One advantage of having a weekly deadline was the ability to research a story without a need for hurling it into plain sight even faster than overnight. But research happens so much quicker than it did in 1984. Archives are online. Our own references to software created in 1997 like ADBC are just a handful of keystrokes away.

Meanwhile, that paving proceeds apace. The technology that once looked invinceable, like Unix or even C, takes its place in the back rows of the parade. InfoWorld, still printing a weekly edition, reported that Java's owner Oracle wants the language to take the place of C -- at least in spots where C's been embedded for years.

With an upgrade to the embedded version of Java announced Tuesday, Oracle wants to extend the platform to a new generation of connected devices, aka the Internet of things. Oracle also hopes that Java can supplant the C language in some embedded development projects.

The Internet of things includes devices ranging from street lights to home automation and security systems, said Peter Utzschneider, Oracle vice president of product management. "It's basically the third generation of the Internet."

Just as there's a Web 3.0 on the horizon, publication has already gained a new generation. We subscribe to the local newspaper here in Austin, because without it there would be only cursory coverage of the city's issues. (You can't rely on 150 seconds of a TV story to understand something.) But our daily is giving us fewer reasons to pick up that recyclable newsprint off our driveway, even as we still purchase it. I read the Statesman's digital edition without getting out of bed, before sunup. When the carrier missed delivery, we could still print out the puzzles to enjoy.

If print reaches out better than digital formats, it can continue to win readers. But in a world of $29-a-month 6-megabit broadband service, the unique format of paper, ink and staples wasn't enough for large publishers like the Washington Post Company (Newsweek) or UBM (InformationWeek) to keep presses running. Companies track when their tools retain their value -- like the 3000 -- and when to take steps away from established solutions. So long as someone reads, regardless of the medium, a proposition of value remains.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 04:49 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 22, 2013

When needed, 3000 can stick to the fax

It's easy to assume that the fax machine has gone the way of the electric typewriter. But just as CIOs misread the need for 3000-grade data efficiency, the facsimile still works in business around the world. Just as you might expect, there are still a couple of applications that can take HP 3000 data and push it into a fax.

FaxLifeIn a delightful article from the website Mobiledia, author Kat Ascharya tells the story of how this technology refuses to disappear. In our own experience here at the 3000 Newswire offices, we learned that the US government's Social Security Administration requires some payroll documents to be verified by fax. Ascharya tallies up the places where this late '80s tech has held on.

Fax machines are relics of the Stone Age, yet they still persist around the world. It turns out heavily-regulated industries -- like banking, finance, law and healthcare -- are one reason sales hold steady. And despite strong competition from cloud-sharing services like Dropbox and Google Drive, over 35 million all-in-one fax machines were shipped worldwide in 2011 and 2012, according to Gartner. And that doesn't include single-function machines, which the firm stopped tracking years ago.

"There are still plenty of fax machines out there," Ken Weilerstein, a Gartner analyst, told Fortune. "Declining in this space doesn't mean disappearing by a long shot."

In the 3000 community one of the best known and most versatile software tools, Hillary's byRequest software, includes fax distribution among its report methods.

As Ascharya's feature asked, "Why do businesses insist on fax when you can just scan, convert and e-mail? You can do it to anything and send it anywhere at any time." The byRequest description does include a broad range of sending -- including the fax.

In a single step, report files, data files, and business forms can be securely selected, formatted and distributed to one or more users in any variety of popular PC desktop files.  Create formatted files in PDF, Word, Excel, HTML and more. Use unlimited delivery options to distribute files to PCs, LANs, WANs, network folders, server archives and the Internet. Files can also be emailed, faxed or printed.

By the year 1987, I had to persuade the owner of The HP Chronicle -- my entry to the HP market -- to get our publishing company its first fax machine. European markets for HP and Sun were opening up to us. An LA Times article of the following year touted the fax as "revolutionizing office environments."

And in 1987 HP released its first PA-RISC HP 3000s, using chip technology so durable that it's now being emulated in the Stromasys CHARON HPA/3000 virtualization engine.

There's even an HP 3000 application, AventX MPE (nee Fax/3000) that started out as a fax-only solution.  STR Software's owner Ben Bruno told us in 2010 he'll be supporting the MPE version of the software until every 3000 owner using it gives it up. "We sold 600+ customers a license of AventX MPE from 1988 to 2002," he said. "We have retained about 100 of them on non-MPE platforms, and 50 of the remaining MPE ones will never replace it."

We're not saying that the HP 3000 is computing's equivalent of the fax machine, except in one aspect -- it's lived on for a long time. Ascharya wrote about a tool's durability as a means to cement itself as a standard.

It lives because, for a long time, it was the best and often only way to share documents quickly. Sure, there are faster and more convenient options, but no one standard has emerged to dethrone the king from its place atop the office machine kingdom. And to understand why, we have to look at its history.

The facsimile transmission has had over 160 years to cement itself as a business-world standard. In 1843, Scottish inventor Alexander Bain received a patent for a method to "produce and regulate electric currents in electric printing and signal telegraphs" -- in other words, the first fax transmission.

A short film, The Secret Life of the Fax Machine, provides an entertaining tour of why this classic technology has survived.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:43 PM in Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 12, 2013

Glossary to the Future: SDN

Editor's Note: Some HP 3000 IT managers and owners are preparing for a world where the old terms and acronymns lose their meaning -- while newer strategies and technologies strive to become more meaningful. This series will examine the newer candidates to earn a place in your datacenter glossary.

SDN ArchitectureServer virtualization is going to change the way computing resources are delivered. In many shops in the HP 3000 world, virtualization is already at work. What's more, with the rise of the Charon HPA/3000 emulator, a virtualized HP 3000 server will become another resource, one that extends the life of MPE applications.

But for the company that's designing its move into commodity computing, there's another level of virtualization which is in its early days: Software Defined Networking. Its architecture is detailed above. HP explains the SDN technology this way in a white paper.

With SDN, you're using commodity server hardware (typically on top of or within a virtualization hypervisor) to manage, control, and move your network's data. This is different from the pre-SDN approach of running management and control software on top of purpose-specific specialty chips that move the bits to and fro. SDN means you can deploy entire new network components, configure them, and bring them into production without touching a screwdriver or a piece of sheetmetal, thanks to SDN.

HP's technology to deliver SDN to a commodity server network near you is called OpenFlow. Its relationship to the HP 3000 of legend is slight. But a company that will use virtualization to full potential will want to make plans for SDN, and if your vendor of choice is HP, then OpenFlow.

Like a lot of HP's newest technology, OpenFlow is pitched as a tool to ramp up agility. The vendor says "aging networking environments" hold down innovation.

Enterprise network design and architectures have remained largely unchanged for more than a decade. While applications and systems have evolved to meet the demands of a world where real-time communications, rich-media, and mobility are the norm, the underlying network infrastructure has not kept pace.

HP 3000 IT managers will recognize the tone of "what you've got is holding you back," but in the case of deploying more virtualization resources, SDN could have a role to play for any company heading to the cloud.

Enterprise network design and architectures have remained largely unchanged for more than a decade. While applications and systems have evolved to meet the demands of a world where real-time communications, rich-media, and mobility are the norm, the underlying network infrastructure has not kept pace.

A new paradigm in networking is emerging. SDN represents an evolution of networking that holds the promise of eliminating legacy human middleware and paves the way for business innovation. With SDN, IT can orchestrate network services and automate control of the network according to high-level policies, rather than low-level network device configurations. By eliminating manual device-by-device configuration, IT resources can be optimized to lower costs and increase competitiveness.

The desire for automated and dynamic control over network resources is not new. However, with the emergence of technologies such as OpenFlow, the ability to implement SDN to increase agility has never been simpler.

OpenFlow platformsIt's early days for SDN, according to several articles from Infoworld. Switch and router vendors such as Cisco are grappling with how to offer their purpose-specific, hardware-based networking devices at the same time as SDN software starts to take the lead in network management. But Infoworld's Matt Prigge says that "SDN is most certainly the way of the future, especially as more and more on-premises networks move into the cloud, where the technology is nearly ubiquitous." 

SDN VisionHP touts its lineup of SDN-ready network hardware (above) such as the HP 3500 Intelligent Switch, while it shows the end-to-end SDN solutions vision (at right; click on either graphic for more detail). HP says that since virtualization has redefined how apps, servers, and storage are deployed, it's now heading toward the network. "Once a brittle bottleneck standing in the way of dynamic IT, the network’s future is one of greater agility, scalability, and security. Now is the time to make that future a reality." 

Posted by Ron Seybold at 05:38 PM in Migration, News Outta HP, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 11, 2013

A New Opening for Old 3000 Skills

Sometimes we've noted the opening of a contract or consulting opportunity that requires HP 3000 experience. We're usually following the initial posting. In December we broke the ice on an East Coast position for 3000 work, offered at a contractor level. This time we're helping a reader who's ready to hire someone, looking for "the elusive COBOL programmer" to employ.

The 3000 Newswire is happy to make this kind of news a part of our daily feed. If you have an opening, be sure to contact us. For candidates, other avenues exist while looking for a place to deploy your senior skills. The HP 3000 Community on LinkedIn has a Jobs section of its discussions, for example.

Today, the opportunity rests in an Ecometry-centric shop. It's either full-time, or long-term contract, and telecommuting is an option, too.

A leading ecommerce/direct-to-consumer service company is seeking a COBOL programmer with Ecometry and HP 3000 programming experience. They will be involved in every phase of the development lifecycle. He/she must be able to attend requirements meetings, translate the requirements into design documents, code from a design document, create test scenarios/cases/scripts, perform and support various testing cycles, create implementation plans and implement the change. Telecommuting is an option, so all qualified candidates are encouraged to apply regardless of location.

For any community member who'd like to apply, they can send an email to [email protected], using the subject, "Cobol/Ecometry/HP3000 Programmer." You'll want to include a cover letter, resume and salary history and expectations.

The skill set is well within the range of many candidates. Last December when we passed along that consultant and contractor opportunity, 24 leads blew into our in-box in 48 hours. Here's the lineup of needs at that Ecometry shop.

ο Extensive knowledge of COBOL and Ecometry, either on the MPEix platform or on Open Systems

ο Bachelor (4-year) degree in Computer Science, MIS or related field and at least five years of programming experience

ο Experience with either HP COBOL and IMAGE DB or Fujitsu Netcobol for Windows and SQL. 

ο Knowledge of  Ecometry accounting, warehouse, shipping, order management and merchandising functionality.

ο Ability to work within a team, interfacing with Ecometry support staff and  third party vendors  for problem resolution

ο Ability to make sound judgment and develop applications that make a positive effect on business.

ο Ability to work with minimal supervision on complex projects.

ο Must be resilient and possess solid ability to multi-task.

ο Perform efficiently under pressure

ο Advanced computer skills.


Experience with the following is a plus:

ο SQL Server database experience

ο Suprtool and Qedit knowledge

ο MPE to Open Systems conversion

ο Windows programming languages 

ο Ecomedate data warehouse using SQL Server

This position will include the opportunity to learn other technologies (C#, VB.net, ASP.net, SQL Server) for those candidates who are interested.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 05:00 PM in Homesteading, Newsmakers, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 08, 2013

UPS Redux: Finding Gurus and a False Dawn

Editor’s note: Previously, when a pair of HP 3000s were felled in the aftermath of a windstorm that clipped out the power, a sound strategy of using an Uninterrupted Power Supply in the IT mix failed, too. After a couple of glasses of merlot, our intrepid IT manager Alan Yeo at ScreenJet continues to reach out for answers to his HP 3000 datacenter dilemma — why that UPS that was supposed to be protecting his 3000s and Windows servers went down with the winds' shift. 

By Alan Yeo
Second in a series

Feeling mellower, with nothing I really want to watch on the TV, I decide to take a prod at the servers and see what the problems are. 

Decide that I'll need input to diagnose the Windows problem, so that can wait until the morning. Power-cycle the 917 to watch the self-test cycle and get the error, do it again. (Well sometimes these things fix themselves, don't they?) Nope, it’s dead! 

“Take out my long spoon and sup with the devil,” as they say, with a Web search. Nope, Google turns up nothing on the error, apart from a couple of old HP-UX workstation threads, where the advice seems to be “time to call your HP support engineer.”  Nothing on the 3000-L newsgroup archives, either. (I'd tell you the 3000 error code, but I've thrown away the piece of paper I had with all the scribbles from that weekend).

Where's a guru
when you want one?

I really wanted to get the 917 back up and running over the weekend, as it had all our Transact test software on it. Dave Dummer (the original author of Transact) was doing some enhancements to TransAction (our any-platform replacement for Transact) and we had planned to get some testing done for early the following week, to help a major customer.  

So it's 11:30 PM UK time, but it's only 3:30 PM PDT! I wonder who's around at Allegro? A quick Skype gets hold of Steve Cooper, who with the other Allegroids (interesting, my spell checker thinks Allegroid is a valid word) diagnose within five minutes that the 3000 has got a memory error. The last digit of the error indicates which memory bank slot has the problem.

Okay, I'm not going to start climbing around the back of the rack at this time of night. I leave it until the morning, but at least I know what the problem is.

False Dawn

Feeling refreshed, let's get these hardware problems sorted. Get the Windows server booted with “Hirens Boot CD” magic set of tools for fixing loads of stuff. Diagnoses that there are a couple of missing .DLL's. Okay, patch them in, still problems! seems to be a hall of mirrors every time we patch something in, the next missing file is found. This could go on for ages. 

Try various Windows recovery reinstalls, but they all fail, Windows 2003 doesn't think it's installed, but would happily install if I let it reformat the hard drive. Not the recovery I was looking for. Run some disc-checking utilities and basically whilst the disc checks out okay, the file directory (or whatever it's called) is smashed. Do we spend a lot of time rebuilding a Windows system that's only running one piece of software that should have been moved off anyway? Simple choice, no. Leave it to my co-worker Mark to figure out what to do to get mail flowing again, whilst I take a look at the 917 memory problem.

Pulling the memory card is no problem. Working out which of the five banks is bad takes a bit more work, but a bit of plug engineering and a couple of reboots shows that we have 64MB (2x32) of bad memory. No problem, plenty left, so remove it and reboot. Great, get to the ISL prompt, do a START NORECOVERY and go get a cup of coffee and a cigarette, and I’ll soon have this system back up.


SYSHALT 7,$0267


Oh, hell.  

Long Story Short (or another one bites the dust)

Okay, it's about time we cut this story short — although I am certain you want to read about someone else's trials and tribulations, even as I suspect you’re only reading to find out why your UPS is useless. Suffice it to say that the 3000's LDEV 2 had also been fried, which we replaced, then the DAT drive was dead, which was replaced, but was still dead.

So in the end, we decided our fastest recovery solution was to scrap the 917 and merge its data with a 918 that has a clone in the shop. It’s a choice which makes DR recovery a lot simpler, also one less piece of kit burning electricity, that should help save the ice caps!

So what got Fried? HP 3000, Dell Intel Server, one modem, one DTC 16 -- and of course the two APC UPS's that were supposed to be protecting everything.

Why? Okay, okay, I've finally got around to the Meat and Potatoes bit. Given that the APC “Smart” UPS's had done such a wonderful job of protecting everything, it didn't seem much point sending them off anywhere for repair and putting them back into service. Also, I needed to get some replacements in ASAP. But the conundrum was why they hadn't protected everything as had been my expectation, so it’s about time to do some research on UPS's.  

It turns out there is a little bit of a clue in the three letter acronymn. The “U” stands for “Uninterruptible” not “Clean.”  I discover that there are two main types of UPS: the normal Line-Interactive. Everyone makes them, everyone's got one UPS like the APC Smart UPS. Then there’s the “On-line” ones. The major difference is that standard “Smart” UPS's (most of the time) feed a mains supply out to everything plugged into it. In contrast, the  on-line versions feed everything from an inverter 100 percent of the time.

But I hear you say (and as I thought) “My APC UPC filters the power, chopping down over voltage, boosting under voltage, and supplying power if the mains fails.”  Well the answer in classic 3000-L mode is, “Yes, but it depends.”  Now I'm no electrical expert, but I’ve worked up a layman's interpretation.

There’s something in the mix called Dirty Transfers.

Line Interactive UPS's do AVR, Automatic Voltage Regulation. Instead of going to battery during low or high input voltages, this sort of unit will use an Autotransformer to increase or reduce the voltage to a safe operating range without running on the battery. Within their stated tolerances, they can run almost indefinitely doing a number of things.

  • AVR Boost, where the UPS is compensating for a low utility voltage;
  • AVR Trim, when it is compensating for a high utility voltage.
  • If the voltage fluctuates outside a set range, or on some of them if the rate of change of the voltage exceeds a given threshold, then they will Transfer, using the battery power via an inverter. The UPS then monitors the AC supply and when it deems it is back within tolerance it transfers back to the mains supply.  

It is this Transfer Time (TT) that can cause some problems. Such as those at our shop.

In the finale: Keeping it clean, and learning you're an HP customer once again.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 09:10 AM in Hidden Value, Homesteading, Newsmakers, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 05, 2013

Would You Like Fries With That 3000?

Editor's note: Intrepid veteran developer Alan Yeo of ScreenJet in the UK had a pair of HP 3000s felled recently, despite his sound strategy of using an Uninterrupted Power Supply in his IT mix (or "kit," as it's called in England). In honor of our fireworks-laden weekend here in the US, we offer Yeo's first installment of the rescue of the systems which logic said were UPS-protected. As Yeo said in offering the article, "We're pretty experienced here, and even we learned things through this about UPS." We hope you will as well.

New UPS Sir!
"Would you like fries with that?"

By Alan Yeo
First of a series

"Smart UPS" now has a new meaning to me. "You're going to smart, if you're dumb enough to buy one" I guess this is one of those stories where if you don't laugh you'd cry, so on with the laughs.

By the end of this tale, you should know why your UPS may be a pile of junk that should be thrown in the trash. And what you should replace it with.

Lightning_bolt_power_stripA Friday in early June and it was incredibly windy. Apparently we were getting the fag end of a large storm that had traversed the Atlantic after hitting the US the week before. Sort of reverse of the saying "America sneezes, and Europe catches a cold." This time we were getting the last snorts of the storm.

Anyway, with our offices being rurally located, strong winds normally mean that we are going to get a few power problems. The odd power blip and the very occasional outage as trees gently tap the overhead power lines. Always worst in the summer, as the trees are heavily laden with leaf and drooping closer to the lines than they are in the winter, when they come round and check them.

So this situation is not normally something we worry about. We are fairly well-protected (or so we thought) with a number of APC UPS units to keep our servers and comms kit safe from the blips and surges. The UPS units are big enough so that if the power does go out, we can keep running long enough for either the power to come back -- or if we find out from the power company that its likely to be a while, for us to shut down the servers.

We keep all the comms kit, routers, switches, firewalls and so forth on a separate UPS. This UPS will keep them running nearly all day, so that way we still have Internet access, Web, email and more, so can keep functioning, as long as the laptop batteries hold out.

The wind picked up during the morning and we had the expected a flick of the lights, and the odd bong, ping, and beep from the computer room as the UPS's responded to the odd voltage fluctuations and the momentary outages. Around 12:30 we had a quick sequence of power blips, followed by a couple of minutes of power gone, at which point the UPS's started bleeping loudly as they took the load. This is normally the trigger for me to wander in there and just do a visual glance at battery levels. I was stood in there as the power came back and was watching as the server's UPS came back normally. Then the comm's UPS flashed all its lights, beeped and went dead!

It's not dead, its just
sleeping after a long squawk!

Humm… First I thought it must be the overload switch, so disconnected all the load, grovelled around behind it and pressed the reset switch. Nothing. So I disconnect from the mains, reset, power it back on, nothing. Check the fuse in the plug, all okay, its still dead. Dig out the APC manual, whose symptoms say "don't use, return to your supplier for service." 

At this point the power goes completely for 10 minutes, and as I can see that the server UPS batteries are already half empty (or half-full if you're an optimist). "They must have been taking more of a load during the morning than I thought," I say to myself. I decided it was time for a controlled shutdown of the servers, which I did. Now I was going to have to rejig the power cables, so that we could feed power to the comm's kit (which was now on a dead UPS) from the server's UPS. A couple of minutes of work commenced, to move their supplies to spare outlets on the APC Switched Rack PDU that is fed by the UPS. The PDU is a network-addressable Power Distribution Unit, one that can power up/down individual power outlets, and thus we can remotely shutdown or reset the servers if needs be. 

So at this point the power comes back, and I power up the comm's kit, leaving the servers off. Decide I'll go for lunch, let the batteries recharge a bit, and make sure that the power is staying on before I restart the Servers.

Lunch passes, with a glass of Merlot. 

Now the power seems to be stable, so it's back to the computer room to bring up just the essential servers. Our main HP 3000 test server. A Windows mailserver, and a Windows file server that also handles our VPN connections (because everyone works remotely now). 

I'm in the middle of this when the power goes out again. I look at the PDU which tells me that we are drawing 3 amps (240v * 3 = 720 watts) = about 10 minutes worth on a half-charged 2200VA UPS.  Not worth it, so I shut the servers down (but I don't throw their power switches).


At this point the power comes back and stays on for about five minutes. There's me standing there trying to decide what to do, when the power goes off again, and then comes back. At which point the sole remaining UPS goes BANG! It flashes its lights a bit whilst beeping manically, and then goes dead. The room fills with the smell of over-heated insulation, so I pull the UPS power plug.

Okay, "Sod this for a bunch of Soldiers," thinks I. Was going to finish early that day to help some friends set up for a weekend Charity Clay Shoot. "I'll go now and come back later -- when hopefully the wind has died down and the power is back to normal -- and then pick up the pieces."

Back in the datacentre at 8 p.m. and the wind is gone, with power back to normal. Okay, should just have time to get everything working before dinner. Play with the UPS for 10 minutes, but it's dead. So we are going to have to "walk the tight rope without safety harness or net" and run everything direct from the mains. 

Not exactly completely unprotected computing, because when we had had the new office wired 18 months ago, we installed surge protection on the mains supply. Its like a couple of cartridges that sit next to the distribution panel that absorb a surge, decaying in the process, until the point they need replacing. They have a status indicator on them telling you if they need changing, but they were showing green, so I thought I'd risk it for a few days, until we could source a new UPS. 

Why do these things always hit at a weekend?

Comms come back okay, although I noticed that an old dial up modem was dead that was still hooked up for dire emergency remote access if Internet access failed. Okay, now for the servers: power up the Series 917 and let it start its self test check (which takes ages, and lots of memory); power up the Series 918 (it does its memory tests much quicker); power up the Windows 2008 file server and a Windows mail database server. Plus, an older Windows 2003 server that still ran the SMTP software, which should have been moved to the 2008 server, but hadn't because we had never got around to it.

The HP 3000 918 comes up clean, the Windows 2008 server comes up, the Windows mail database server comes up. But HP 3000 917 is downed with an FLT error, the Windows 2003 Server is looping around boot start-up into Windows launch, then straight back to boot start-up. Wonderful! Sod it, go and have dinner and decide if I'm coming back later.

Next time: Where's a guru when you want one? 

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