February 21, 2014
Just how fast is that A-Class, anyway?
By Brian Edminster
Earlier this week, there was a report of an A-Class HP 3000 going wanting on eBay. It was being offered for $2,000 with no takers. The system at hand was an A400-100-110, the genuine bottom of the A-Class line.
While I'd argue that a $2,000 A400 with a transferable MPE/iX licence is a steal, there seems to be a lack of appreciation for the wide variance in speeds in what is considered a A-Class' system.
I believe the system that was being offered as a bare bones A400, as indicated by its system number "A400-100-110." The first character (A) is the class; the next three numbers (400) are the family; the next three are the number of CPUs (100, meaning one); and the last three are the HP rated speed in MHz of the PA-RISC CPU chip. (In this case, it's a PA-8500) This system on eBay also happened to be missing a tape for creating/booting from a CSLT, so if your boot drive failed -- or you needed to make configuration changes that required booting from tape -- you would be out of luck without buying a little more hardware.
This particular A400 system, according to the AICS Relative Performance chart mentioned in the article, runs at a 17. That's about 1.7 times faster (CPU-wise) than the original 917/918 systems. In IO-intensive applications, I have found it felt closer to 2 times faster. I have also worked on an A400-100-150, which CPU speed-wise is a 37. (That system also happens to allow installation of 2GB RAM vs. the 1GB limit on an A400-100-110).
So in short, we can have a greater than 2:1 performance potential between two servers that are both ostensibly A400 A-Class systems. And that's not even taking into account the advantages of multiple CPUs for performance in complex multi-user environments.
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February 20, 2014
Migration best practices: Budget and plan as if taking a business vacation
Is a migration as much fun as a vacation? That seems like an easy question for the HP 3000 homesteader who's still got a transition in their future. Only a small percentage of the managers of these servers plan to homestead forever. For the rest of the installed base, this transition is a matter of when, rather than if.
With its feet in both camps of homesteading and migration, MB Foster held a webinar yesterday that delivered best practices for the CIO, IT director or even systems and programming manager who faces the someday of moving away. When an organization with the tenure of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga shuts down its servers -- after 37 years of service -- it might be evidence that migration is an eventuality. A possibility for some sites.
For those that still have that mighty project on their futures calendars, the advice from Foster mirrors things like home remodeling and vacation planning.
"This is a business decision, not a technical decision," CEO Birket Foster has always said, in delivering these practices over more than a decade. "A migration’s just like a vacation –- the more you plan, the less it costs, and the better the results." Perhaps the comparison might align with the concept of taking a business vacation. That's the sort where you tack on a few extra days to a business trip, and carry along the same set of bags while you go further.
February 19, 2014
Finding Value in An Exiting MPE Box
A few weeks ago, Jeff Kell of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga asked around to see if anybody wanted his decommissioned N-Class server. It's way above the power range of the A-Class servers, and even includes some storage options not usually found in a decommissioned 3000.
But the interest hasn't been strong, according to our last update from Kell. He put out his offer -- basically trying to keep the system from becoming more than spare parts, he said -- on the mailing list that he founded two decades ago. We refer that resource as the HP 3000 newsgroup, but it's a LISTSERVE mailing list of about 500 members.
We've heard several reports like this for HP 3000s being turned off, but none of them involved an N-Class system. There's a Series 969 on offer for free -- yes, take it away is all that Roger Perkins of the City of Long Beach asks. While that 969 is more powerful than an A-Class, it's still leagues behind an ultimate-generation N-Class 3000.
This begs the question of what value your community would assign to any used system, regardless of size. Horsetrading on hardware is an IT manager's pastime, when searching for newer for more powerful systems. But it's becoming clear there's a reset going on in the market.
Kell's offer on the newsgroup was straight to the point.
We have tentative arrangements to have our last two 3000s decommissioned, but was curious if there was any interest in the hardware/systems. Hate to sound like a sales pitch, but we're basically happy with shipping, plus a certification the drives are wiped.
We have an HP 3000-N4000 4-way, DATs, 2 DLTs, a few internal drives, and a VA fiber channel array (dual connect). It's perfectly fine.
Don't forget: Migration Best Practices today
MB Foster's kicking off its season of Webinars -- the 13th year of showing off details of best practices for 3000 operations, strategy and transitions -- using slide its summaries, a presentation and interactive Q&A and chat features. The event is this afternoon at 2 PM Eastern.
Today's meeting, which requires a commitment of under an hour, is all about app migrations, modernizations, and the budgeting that's worked for their clients over the last decade. You can sign up for the free experience that provides an online chat room, slides with the salient points, Q&A exchange via standard phone or IP voice, as well as Foster's expertise. The company specializes in application migrations -- the first step in the ultimate transition in a 3000-based datacenter.
February 18, 2014
No takers for a $2,000 HP 3000 on eBay
It might have been the most valuable part that was missing from a $2,000 eBay listing for an A-Class 3000. There's no mention of a transferrable MPE/iX license for this rock-bottom system. But perhaps it was the horsepower, too. It's hard to understate how many HP 3000s run faster than a 1-CPU, 110Mhz A-Class.
Jesse Dougherty at Cypress Technology, a reliable HP 3000 reseller, reminded readers on the 3000 newsgroup about the offer.
I really thought that these would sell like hotcakes. I threw one up on eBay for 2k with a basic config. If any one is interested in a cheap back-up running MPE/iX 7.5, check out our link.
Other resellers have reported, several years ago, that you couldn't sell any N-Class system, the next level up in HP's ultimate generation of 3000s, for even $4,000. But an N-Class is 10 times more powerful than such an A-Class at the bottom of the HP lineup. Using the Relative Performance chart devised by AICS Research, there's a spread of 121 HP 3000 Performance Units between a single-CPU A-Class and the 440Mhz N-Class running one processor. The official HP relative performance chart (click for detail) doesn't use as many decimals to compare server speeds, but the spread is the same nevertheless.
February 17, 2014
Durable advice speeds up HP 3000s
Our editor Gilles Schipper posted a fine article on improving CPU performance on 3000s "in a heartbeat." One of our readers asked a question which prompted Gilles to clarify part of the process to speed up a 3000, for free.
Gilles, who offers HP 3000 and HP 9000 support through his firm GSA, Inc., has also replied to a recent question about how to make a DLT backup device return to its speedy performance, after slowing to about a third of its performance.
The Heartbeat article focused on needless CPU overhead that could be caused by a networking heartbeat on 3000s. Gilles points out:
Fortunately, there is a very simple way to recognize whether the problem exists, and also a simple cure. If your DTCs are connected without transceivers, you will not be subject to this problem. Otherwise, to determine if you have the problem, simply type the command
In the report that is produced, you will notice OPEN files (ones with an associated asterisk ending the file name); these are 1W in size.
There are two such files associated with each configured DTC, file name starting with the letter H, followed by six characters that represent the last six characters of the DTC MAC address, followed by the letter A or B. The EOF for these files should be 0 and 5 for the respective "A" and "B" files.
Otherwise, your CPU is being subjected to high-volume, unnecessary IO, requiring CPU attention. The solution is to simply enable SQL heartbeat for each transceiver attached to each DTC. This is done via a small white jumper switch that you should see at the side of each transceiver. Voila, you've just achieved a significant no-cost CPU upgrade.
Compete details are in Gilles' original article. On speeding up backup time, he pointed out that adding an option to the STORE command will help you track IO retries.
February 14, 2014
Even a classic 3000 game can get LinkedIn
LinkedIn, the Facebook for business relationships, is now the home a new group related to the HP 3000. Veterans of the system know Empire as a stragegy game that was first hosted under MPE in the 1980s. Now these game players have their own LinkedIn Group.
Johnson, who's helped to administer 3000s for Measurement Specialties (a cross-global manufacturer) as well as OpenMPE, moved the group of users off Yahoo, he reported.
Since February of 2000 I've kept a Yahoo Group dedicated to the text game of Empire on the HP 3000, mainly to announce regenerations of new games and enhancements. Empire is piggy-backed as an account on the INVENT3K server, which is still running in DR mode. Games are free -- and unlike most Internet games today, it doesn't track your whereabouts, place cookies, install hidden apps, or seek your mother's maiden name.
The game still goes on, but since Yahoo went to NEO format last year, I've been looking for something easier to manage (and more socially viable). Without plunging into the supra-popular mediums like Twitter and Facebook, I have decided to close the Yahoo Group and put a new one for Empire on LinkedIn.
February 13, 2014
App modernization gets budget-sleek look
Transitions are still in the future for HP 3000 shops in your community. It might not have made sense to switch platforms in 2003 (to nearly everybody) or in 2008 (when HP's labs closed, but the 3000 remained online) or even in 2011 (when HP ended all of its support, and indie support firms stepped up).
But by 2014, there will be some shops that would be considering how to budget for the biggest transformation project they've ever encountered. Pulling out a CRM, ERP or even a manufacturing system, honed over decades, to shift to commodity hardware is a major undertaking. But it's been going on for so long that there's best practices out there, and one vendor is going to share the best of the best next week.
For some US companies, Monday is a holiday, so it'd be easy to let Wednesday sneak by without remembering it's Webinar Wednesday at MB Foster. The first show of the new year is all about app migrations, modernizations, and the budgeting that's worked for their clients over the last decade. It's a 2PM Eastern start for the interactive presentation February 19. You can sign up for the free experience that provides an online chat room, slides with the salient points, Q&A exchange via standard phone or IP voice, as well as Foster's expertise. The company says that it specializes in application migrations -- the first step in the ultimate transition in a 3000-based datacenter.
February 12, 2014
How Shaved Sheep Help Macs Link to 3000s
The HP 3000 never represented a significant share of the number of business servers installed around the world. When the system's highest census was about 50,000, it was less than a tenth of the number of Digital servers, or IBM System 36-38s. Not to mention all of the Unix servers, or the Windows that began to run businesses in the 1990s.
If you'd be honest, you could consider the 3000 to have had the footprint in the IT world that the Macintosh has in the PC community. Actually, far less, considering that about 1 in 20 laptop-desktops run Apple's OS today. Nevertheless, the HP 3000 community never considered Macs a serious business client to communicate with the 3000. The desktops were full of Windows machines, and MS-DOS before that. Walker, Richer & Quinn, Tymlabs, and Minisoft took the customers into client-server waters. All three had Mac versions of their terminal emulators. But only one, from Minisoft, has survived to remain on sale today.
That would be Minisoft 92 for the Mac, and Doug Greenup at Minisoft will be glad to tell a 3000 shop that needs Mac-to-3000 connectivity how well it hits the mark, right up to the support of the newest 10.9 version of the OS X. "Minisoft has a Macintosh version that supports the Maverick OS," Greenup said. "Yes, we went to the effort to support the latest and greatest Apple OS."
But there were also fans of the WRQ Reflection for Mac while it was being sold, and for good reason. The developer of the software came to WRQ from Tymlabs, a company that was one of the earliest converts to Apple to run the business with, all while understanding the 3000 was the main server. The first time I met anyone from Tymlabs -- much better known as vendor of the BackPack backup program -- Marion Winik was sitting in front of an Apple Lisa, the precursor to the Mac. Advertising was being designed by that woman who's now a celebrated essayist and memoir writer.
What's all that got to do with a sheep, then? That WRQ 3000 terminal emulator for the Mac ran well, executing the classic Reflection scripting, but then Apple's jump to OS X left that product behind. So if you want to run a copy of Reflection for Mac, you need to emulate a vintage Mac. That doesn't require much Apple hardware. Mostly, you need SheepShaver, software that was named to mimic the word shape-shifter -- because SheepShaver mimics many operating environments. The emulation is of the old Mac OS, though. It's quite the trick to make a current day Intel machine behave like a computer that was built around Apple's old PowerPC chips. About the same caliber of trick as making programs written in the 1980s for MPE V run on Intel-based systems today. The future of carry-forward computing is virtualization, rooted in software. But it's the loyalty and ardor that fuel the value for such classics as the 3000, or 1990-2006 Macs.
February 11, 2014
Making a few more comparisons of code
It's always a good thing for the community to read about a tool they need and use, because it usually brings up some notes about allied solutions. When we wrote about replacing code comparison tools for developers who work on the 3000, we got several notes about other solutions. One can't be purchased any longer. Come to think of it, the other one cannot either -- but both of these tools can be obtained and be used in a development environment for HP 3000s.
The first is the much-beloved Whisper Programmer Studio. Bruce Hobbs left us a comment to say that this PC-based dev environment, one built to talk to the HP 3000 and files on the server, "offers a Compare Files item from their Tools menu. It does a fine job in a GUI environment."
Whisper came up in a note that our contributing editor Brian Edminster sent after the story emerged. "I still use it daily at my primary client," Edminster said, while giving us a heads-up he's still looking into how to make Notepad ++ a better player in the MPE development world. 3000 access is a problem to be solved, but Edminster specializes in open source solutions, so we'll stay in touch to see what he discovers.
In the meantime, you can enjoy his rundown on Programmer Studio versus Qedit for Windows.
The other solution for comparing files lies inside MPE/iX itself. That OS is also a product that, like the beloved Whisper, is no longer being sold. (It's being re-sold, however, each time a used 3000 changes hands.) Vesoft's Vladimir Volokh called to remind us of the hidden value inside MPE.
February 10, 2014
No need to look far to find a PDF 3000 utility
PDF is becoming the archival choice for so many companies. Documents that once moved about in formats specific to their environments, like HP 3000 reports, have been earmarked for PDF transformation. For some companies, they'll need storage of these documents outside of the 3000 disks and databases.
Ray Shahan mentioned such a project on the 3000 newsgroup recently.
We’re looking at storing all of our printable historical transaction docs on the HP 3000 as PDF docs in a SQL Server database. We’ve looked at winpcl2pdf that uses GhostPCL, but had some issues using it due to the CCTL from the 3000.
We also are looking at two products from OpenSeas, SpoolPDF (handles the CCTL) and OpenPDF (does the conversion of PCL to PDF). These two products seem to work fairly well (we’ve hit a snag or two with fonts, but have resolved those thus far).
It’d be ideal to have a freeware product, but that seems unlikely, so we’re just looking at other offerings to see the cost/benefits of each.
There's a 3000-friendly solution in plain sight, from a long-time provider, that handles both the PDF creation -- plus the movement onto the SQL Server database. Hillary Software supplies these utilities.
February 07, 2014
Code-cutter Comparing Solutions for 3000s
When a 3000 utility goes dark — because its creator has dropped MPE/iX operations, or the trail to the support business for the tool has grown faint — the 3000 community can serve up alternatives quickly. A mature operating system and experienced users offer options that are hard to beat.
One such example was Aldon Computing's SCOMPARE development tool, once a staple for 3000-based developers. It compared source files for more than 15 years in the HP 3000 world. Eventually Aldon left the MPE business. But there are a fistful of alternatives. Allegro Consultants offers a free MPE/iX solution in SCOM, located at
At that Web page, scroll down to SCOM. Other candidates included a compare UDC from Robelle, GNU Diff, diff in the HP 3000's Posix environment, and more. If you're willing to go off the MPE reservation -- and a lot of developers work on PCs by now -- there's even a free plug-in for Notepad++, that freeware source code editor which relaces Notepad in Windows. You can download that plug-in as an open source tool at SourceForge.net
February 06, 2014
PowerHouse's Unicom owner is an original
Anybody can make a mistake, and we've made one about the new owners of the Powerhouse and Axiant ADT development tools. The software that was once a part of Cognos, and then became a product of IBM's, is now owned by the original, founding company of Unicom's extensive enterprises. I identified the owning division as Unicom Engineering, Inc. Not true; that group is a manufacturer of appliances.
Chief Integration Officer Eric Vaughn sent us a note to set things straight. Unicom Systems is the proud owner of software that it sees as a good value with fine prospects. Part of the story which we like best is that the oldest, most accomplished part of Unicom is the owner of a tool with genuine legacy. "He's a real original" is something that can be said about both PowerHouse and the group that now owns it.
The ADT tools were acquired by UNICOM Systems, Inc., a separate division of UNICOM Global. UNICOM Systems was the original company founded in 1981 by Corry Hong, who continues to lead all of UNICOM today. UNICOM Systems develops and supports a large portfolio of enterprise level software across multiple platforms. The ADT suite, including PowerHouse 4GL Server, PowerHouse Web and Axiant for PowerHouse, are under the care of the UNICOM Systems development and support infrastructure. See our page at http://unicomsi.com/products/powerhouse.
Vaughn also took a moment to note that over more than three decades of software development, distribution and support, nothing has ever been sent off into the sunset. Considering how much Unicom develops and sells, that's great news for a PowerHouse community with keen interest in the new ownership.
February 05, 2014
3000 emulators moving ahead on Windows
Changes to the most dominant computer environment on the planet, Windows, as well as reaching backward to the days of a surging client-system strategy, have sparked some research and solutions for next-generation HP 3000 emulation.
We're not talking about emulating the 3000 hardware. Stromasys CHARON HPA/3000 is the tool for that. The subject here is getting a traditional HP 3000 application screen to display on what we once called desktop PCs. Now they're mostly laptops, but at their essence they are smart clients, linked to servers. WRQ did the biggest trade in this kind of tool, selling hundreds of thousands of copies of Reflection over the years.
MB Foster is reminding 3000 customers there's a migration coming for those desktop environments running Windows. The firm has been a supplier of the Reflection line of emulators and connectivity software since the 1980s. In a few months, Microsoft will be pulling its XP version of the desktop OS out of security patching status. XP won't stop working, not any more than MPE/iX did when HP stopped patching it. But running a company with XP-based PCs, attached to 3000s, is asking for a lot of blind luck when it comes to patching for trouble. Much more luck will be needed for the PCs, a situation which is leading Foster to remind users about upgrading Reflection for the future.
Attachmate acquired WRQ years ago, but the Reflection brand lives in in the combined corporation. On April 8, when the XP patches end, things get more risky for the company that hasn't migrated to Windows 7 or 8. MB Foster wants to help with this aspect of that migration, too.
February 04, 2014
Making Domain Magic, at an Efficient Cost
Five years ago, HP cancelled work on the DNS domain name services for MPE/iX. Not a lot of people were relying on the 3000 to be handling their Internet hosting, but the HP decision to leave people on their own for domain management sealed the deal. If ever there was something to be migrated, it was DNS.
But configuring DNS software on a host is just one part of the Internet tasks that a 3000-savvy manager has had to pick up. One of the most veteran of MPE software creators, Steve Cooper of Allegro, had to work out a fresh strategy to get domains assigned for his company, he reports.
We have been using Zerigo as our DNS hosting service for a number of years now, quite happily. For the 31 domains that we care for, they have been charging us $39 per year, and our current year has been pre-paid through 2014-08-07.
We received an e-mail explaining exciting news about how their service will soon be better-than-ever. And, how there will be a slight increase in costs, as a result. Instead of $39 per year, they will now charge $63 per month. A mere 1900% increase! And, they won't honor our existing contract either. They will take the pro-rated value of our contract on January 31, and apply that towards their new rates. (I don't even think that's legal.)
In any case, we are clearly in the market for a new DNS Hosting provider. Although I am not a fan of GoDaddy, their website. or their commercials, they appear to offer a premium DNS Hosting service, with DNSSEC, unlimited domains, etc. for just $2.99 per month. Sounds too good to be true.
Cooper was searching for experience with that particular GoDaddy service. GoDaddy has been a default up to now, but acquiring a domain seems to need more tech savvy from support. The 3000 community was glad to help this other kind of migration, one to an infrastructure that MPE never demanded. The solution turned out to be one from the Southern Hemisphere, from a company whose hub is in a country which HP 3000 experts Jeanette and Ken Nutsford call home.
February 03, 2014
Yours is a gathering group of users
Almost as soon as the June meeting of SIG-BAR was announced, others in your community wanted to join in. A meeting of ASK Computing manufacturing veterans and friends -- the IT managers running and developing the MANMAN app, still used in scores of companies -- want to gather in a reunion on June 14. It's just a few days after the June 12 SIG-BAR, a bit up the road in the UK.
SIG-BAR, for any who don't know, is the communal gathering of HP 3000 people lately being organized by Dave Wiseman. It's named SIG-BAR because such an event usually convened at the hotel bar of the main conference hotel of Interex shows. With a beverage at hand and cocktail nuts aplenty, the HP 3000 users and vendors solved the problems of the world informally. When last call rolled around, everybody knew and trusted one another better. If they were lucky, someone had done something silly that had just made everyone who worked with machines all day seem more personal. Like Wiseman (above) posing with the inflatable alligator that he toted through the aisles at an Interex show in Orlando. Wiseman notes that "we filled it with helium at Bradmark's stand -- they were giving away balloons -- so we had high squeaky voices all evening in the bar!"
Those were the days when the bar bets could not be settled with smartphones. When the bets were about commands in MPE or model features of HP 3000s, the community's experts flexed their memory muscles.
The reunion of ASK users is just being mounted in Milton Keynes, a manufacturing town just a couple of stops up from Euston Station in London. And London is the location for the June 12 meeting of SIG-BAR at Dirty Dick's. SIG-BAR on Thursday, ASK on Saturday, all in the gentle climate of and English summer. Why go? To stay in touch with people who know how to help your continued use of HP 3000. It's the one element that always made the HP 3000 users stand out from others that I chronicled from the 1980s onward. A very social species, you've been.
January 31, 2014
The Final 3000 Quarter at Hewlett-Packard
It's the final day of HP's Q1 for 2014, so in about three weeks we'll know how the company has fared in its turnaround. Analyst sites are rating the stock as a hold, or giving the company a C+ rating. It's instructive to see how much has changed from the final quarter when 3000 customers sent measurable revenues to Hewlett-Packard.
That would be the Q1 of 2009, including the final two months of HP's regular systems support sales of November-December of 2008. At the end of '08 HP closed its MPE/iX and 3000 lab. And without a lab, there was no way business critical support would offer much of an incentive to keep HP's support in a 3000 shop's IT budget.
The customers' shake-off of HP's support revenue didn't happen immediately, of course. People had signed multi-year contracts for support with the vendor. But during the start of this financial period of five years ago, there was no clear reason to expect HP to be improve for MPE/iX, even in dire circumstances. Vintage support was the only product left to buy for a 3000 through the end of 2010.
In Q1 of 2009, HP reported $28.2 billion in total sales. In its latest quarter, that number was $29.1 billion. Nearly five years have delivered only $900 million in extra sales per quarter, despite swallowing up EDS and its 140,000 consultants and billions in sales, or purchasing tens of billions of dollars worth of outside companies like Autonomy.
In January of 2009, HP 3000 revenues were even more invisible than the Business Critical Systems revenues of today. But BCS totals back then were still skidding by 15-20 percent per quarter, 20 quarters ago. And even in 2009, selling these alternatives to an HP 3000 was generating only 4 percent of the Enterprise Server group's sales. Yes, all of enterprise servers made up 2.5 percent of the 2009 HP Q1. But that hardware and networking is the short tail of the beast that was HP's server business, including the 3000. Support is the long tail, one that stretched to the end of 2008 for MPE, more than seven years HP announced the end of its 3000 business plans.
It's easy to say that the HP 3000 meant a lot to HP's fortunes. In a way it certainly did, because there was no significant business computing product line until MPE started to get stable in 1974. But the profits really didn't flow off the hardware using that 20th Century model. Support was the big earner, as the mob says of anybody who returns profits to the head of the organization. HP 3000 support was always a good earner, right up to the time HP closed down those labs and sent its wizards packing, or into other company divisions.
It had been a small business all along, this HP 3000. A billion dollars was a great quarter's worth, and the 3000 division never came close. But all of HP's business critical servers together only managed $700 million in sales -- five years ago. The profits from such customers were only significant because of support relationships. This is why those contracts were the last thing HP terminated.
January 30, 2014
Ensuring You Edit with the Right Quad
HP 3000 editors may be passe in many homesteading sites. Better tools for manipulating and tracking code are available on Linux, Unix, PC and Mac systems. But not many of them have the advantage of grabbing onto an MPE module during development. Robelle's Qedit has moved to PCs, but a 3000-native tool remains the free Quad.
You just have to be sure you're using the right version of this tool.
Walter Murray, who served in HP's Langauge Labs for many years, still likes using the MPE-centric Quad. He explained why, and noted an annoyance, too. One that another MPE veteran helped work around. Said Murray, "For editing, Quad has become my editor of choice. Among its bothersome limitations are that the search is case-sensitive (which leads us to avoid lower case in COBOL source code, except for comments)."
Alan Yeo of ScreenJet has pointed out that the version of Quad being used makes a significant difference. "All Quads are not equal," he said. (Quad can be downloaded from a link off the 3k Associates archival website, a terrific resource for MPE software.)
January 29, 2014
University learns to live off of the MPE grid
One of the most forward-looking pioneers of the HP 3000 community shut off its servers last month, ending a 37-year run of service. The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga IT staff, including its networking maven Jeff Kell, has switched over fully to Linux-based computing and an off the shelf application.
UTC, as Kell and his crew calls the school, has beefed up its server count by a factor of more than 10:1 as a byproduct of its transition. This kind of sea change is not unusual for a migration to Unix and Oracle solutions. HP 3000s tend to be single-server installations, or multiples in very large configurations. But to get to a count of 43 servers, IT architecture has to rethink the idea of a server (sometimes just a blade in an enclosure) and often limits the server to exclusive tasks.
After decades of custom-crafted applications, UTC is running fully "on Banner, which has been SunGuard in the past," Kell said. "I believe it's now called now Ellucian. They keep getting bought out." But despite the changes, the new applications are getting the same jobs done that the HP 3000s performed since the 1970s.
It's Linux / Oracle replacing it. The configuration was originally Dell servers (a lot of them), but most of it is virtualized on ESXi/vCenter, fed by a large EMC SAN. They got some server hardware refreshed recently, and got Cisco UCS blade servers. I'm sure they're well into seven figures on the replacement hardware and software alone. I've lost count of how many people they have on staff for the care and feeding of it all. It's way more than our old 3000 crew, which was basically six people.
January 28, 2014
Cross-pond experts to meet in UK
Last 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.
January 27, 2014
Polymorphic computing still tweaks billing
Editor's note: more than five years ago, Hewlett-Packard was promoting an old concept with a new speech. HP's current Labs director Martin Fink spoke about polymorphic computing, and MB Foster's CEO Birket Foster was on hand to note what was nascent about the concept, as well as what still needed to be developed. Cloud computing has gone beyond nascent to become commonplace, but billing for individual apps -- not just CPU and bandwidth -- is still a work in progress. The apps on MPE systems are specialized parts of computing, but not easily available through most common clouds (like Amazon Web Services, or Google).
Until billing for MPE apps via the cloud is worked out, companies will be migrating apps to capture the potential of polymorphic computing. Foster's article still offers a lot to think about while considering the true benefits of a transition for MPE apps.
There's a marvelous stop-action film online that explains polymorphic computing. The film was made in 1959. The earliest design of MPE was still a decade away. Most people believe polymorphic computing didn't emerge until almost 50 years after the film was made. Enjoy it, as well as Foster's report below. The pieces are still in motion, and like transitions, they're not stopping.
By Birket Foster
The CommunityConnect 2008 conference in Europe featured Martin Fink, the Senior VP and GM for the HP Business Critical Server group. Fink gave a talk on Polymorphic Computing. What is that, you say? Well, Fink used an analogy from the car industry, one where you have different cars with steering wheels, engine, chassis and tires that can be changed on demand. Think of the object-oriented programming concept of late binding, he suggested.
Here's how it sounded to me, a software vendor sitting in an audience full of software vendors. Your polymorphic car would assemble itself in your garage for the purpose you need -- so you could have a sports car one evening for what Fink called “a hot date with the wife,” then the next day you could order up a minivan to go shopping, and in the afternoon the polymorphic assembly garage would deliver a pickup truck so you could pick up some lumber for a do it yourself project.
January 24, 2014
The Volokhs Find the Amazon Finds Them
In 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.' "
Amazon 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.
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.
The 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.
January 22, 2014
UDALink for MPE adds capability and speed
MB Foster is rolling out news of a refreshed UDALink for MPE, software that handles data access and delivery, reporting writing, client-server and analytic capabilites for HP 3000 customers. Those capabilities got a lift in the latest release, as well as speed improvements. UDALink is part of what the company calls its Universal Data Access (UDA) Series of products.
HP has been working to upgrade its PC-using customers to Windows 7 this year, using repeated attempts to wrench Windows XP servers out of enterprises. A recent webpage pointed to HP's equanimity about moving to 7 or 8. An article on a ZDNet website said that HP's never stopped selling Windows 7, really, even though the version has become hard to get in the consumer market. HP seems to understand that its customers might not be prepared for the "Tile World" of Windows 8. Windows 8.1 regained the venerable Start button that Microsoft lost in its 8.0 release. But choosing between either of these updates to PCs can lead a customer to upgrade its free, ODBCLink/SE bundle-ware in MPE/iX to UDALink, Foster said in a release.
UDALink is the logical upgrade path if the organization is considering:
• Upgrading desktops to Windows 7/8
• Deploying a DataWarehouse or Operational Data Stores
• Deploying generic or strategic DataMarts as part of your enterprise reporting strategy
• Required to extract, off-load or preserve legacy data on Microsoft SQL Server
• Upload data into a cloud application like Salesforce
New capabilities of the latest release of connectivty software include a 64-bit driver; QuickConnect and support for JDBC3 and JDBC4; support for the ultimate version of Powerhouse, 8.49F; along with the ability to run in the emulated Stromasys HPA Charon environment -- which expands the potential uses of UDALink.
January 21, 2014
Hewlett-Packard decays, not a 3000 killer
The Unicom acquisition of Powerhouse assets finally showed up in the news section of the Series i and AS/400 world. The website Four Hundred Stuff ran its report of the transaction which proposes to bring new ideas and leadership to one of the oldest tools in the 3000 community. It will be another 10 weeks or so before Unicom makes any announcements about the transaction's impacts. We're looking forward to talking to Russ Guzzo of the company once more, to get some reaction to the idea of transferring licenses for the Powerhouse ADT suite. Millions of dollars worth of tools are out there on 3000s that will go into the marketplace.
We're not eager to hear one of the more unfocused definitions of what happened to the HP 3000 more than 12 years ago. According to Four Hundred Stuff, Hewlett-Packard killed the HP 3000 more than a decade ago. Not even close to being accurate. HP did kill off the future for itself to particpate in the 3000 community. Eventually it killed off its own labs for MPE and PA-RISC hardware. Eventually it will kill off the support business it still offers for a handful of customers, relying on a handful of MPE experts still at HP.
The 3000's operating system lives on, in spots like the one the IBM newsletter pointed out. We find it interesting that within a month, the company that created the first virtualized HP 3000, Stromasys, and the company that created the most widely installed 4GL, both had assets purchased by deep-pocketed new owners. Powerhouse itself is entrenched in some places where IT managers would like to get rid of it. At UDA, a Canadian firm, a Powerhouse application is scheduled for removal. But it's complex, a living thing at this company. Fresche Legacy, formerly Speedware, is reported to be maintaining that Powerhouse app for UDA while a transition comes together.
The IT manger realized, however, that it wouldn't be easy or inexpensive to replace the system, and that a thorough assessment and long-term plan was the best approach. The first step, however, was to ensure the viability of the aging system for the foreseeable future. A search for IBM PowerHouse experts quickly lead Mr. Masson to Fresche Legacy.
In these sorts of cases and more, the HP 3000 lives on. Not killed by by its creator vendor. If any definition of what happened can be applied, HP sent the 3000 into the afterlife. Its customer base is decaying with a half-life, but only at a different rate than the IT managers reading Four Hundred Stuff.
January 20, 2014
How to convert 3000 packed decimal data?
Independent consultant Dan Miller wrote us to hunt down the details on converting between data types on the HP 3000. He's written a utility to integrate VPlus, IMAGE/SQL and Query for updating and modifying records. We'll let Miller explain. He wants to expand his utility that he's written in SPL -- the root language of MPE -- to include packed decimal data.
Can you tell me how to transfer a packed decimal to ASCII for display, then convert ASCII characters to the corresponding packed decimal data item?
I wrote a utility that integrates VPlus, IMAGE/SQL and Query, one that I used in a Federal services contract for data entry and word processing. Basically, VIQ lets me design a VPlus screen with field names the same as IMAGE data items. From the formatted screen a function key drops you into Query. You select the records to be maintained, specify "LP" as output, and execute the "NUMBERS" command (a file equation for QSLIST is necessary before this). From there, you can scroll thru the records, modify any field, and update. I never marketed it commercially, but I have used it at consulting customer sites.
I recently had occasion to use it at a new customer's site and realized that I never programmed it to handle packed decimal format numbers; the customer has a few defined in their database. Typically, database designers use INTEGER or DOUBLE INTEGER formats for numeric data, which occupy even less space -- the goal of using packed decimal) employing ASCII/DASCII, or BINARY/DBINARY intrinsics.
I need to discover the proper intrinsics to transfer the packed decimal numbers to ASCII characters and back. I'm sure there's a way, as QUERY does it. In COBOL, I think the "MOVE" converts it automatically, but my utility is written in SPL.
HP's documentation on data types conversion includes some help on this challenge. But Miller hopes that the readers of the Newswire can offer some other suggestions, too. Email me with your suggestions and we'll share them with the readers.
January 17, 2014
Licensing software means no resales, right?
Almost for a long as software's been sold, it has not really been purchased. There were the days when a company would pay for the actual source code to programs, software which was then theirs to modify and use as they pleased. Well, not as they pleased entirely. Even a sale of the vintage MRP software source for MANMAN had conditions. You couldn't resell it on the market as your own product, for example.
Ownership of software has been defined by licenses-to-use in your enterprise market. When a municipality in Southern California switched off its HP 3000 Series 969 -- 12 years after it began to migrate in-house programs to Windows .NET -- the software on the old system immediately lost all of its value. Not the programs written to serve departments like Building and Permits. Those apps belong to the city forever. But the tools used to build them -- specifically a high-dollar copy of Powerhouse -- become worthless once the city stops using them.
You can pass along the value of MPE/iX and its included software subsystems -- TurboStore for backups, IMAGE/SQL, even COBOL -- when you sell and transfer ownership of an HP 3000. But third-party software is controlled by a different sort of license. At least it has been up to now. Here in the HP 3000's afterlife, there's a potential for another sort of license transfer. In the case of Powerhouse, its new owners Unicom Systems get to define license terms. It's never been a matter of ownership, because that always remains with its vendor. A retired product manager of Powerhouse checked in to remind us of that.
January 16, 2014
Replacing parts a part of the 3000 lifestyle
We'd like to hear from the community about 3000 parts: the ones that will push them away from MPE, as well as the parts that will keep decade-old servers running. Check in with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Customers who continue to rely on HP 3000s place great store on parts. Spare parts, the kind that tend to wear out sooner than others like disk drives, or the ones which can force a company into disaster recovery like a CPU board. The veterans in the community know that there's no support without a source of parts. And the demise of 3000 installations, like a well-run junkyard, can be a source.
However, a dearth of spare parts forced one 3000 customer into entering the world of HP 3000 emulation. Warren Dawson had systems that were aging and no clear way to replace what might fail inside them. Dawson's in Australia, a more remote sector of the 3000 empire. But his need became the spark that moved HP's iron out and replaced it with Intel-based hardware. Commodity became the follow-on costume that Dawson's information now plays in.
While there are portions of the HP 3000's high-failure parts list that can be replaced with third party components -- drives come to mind -- a lot of the 3000's body is unique to Hewlett-Packard's manufacture. Another company in Mexico, a manufacturing site, moved its applications off MPE because it figured that replacing 15-year-old servers was a dicey proposition at best.
This leads us to our latest report of HP 3000 parts, coming from a switched-off site in California. Roger Perkins has a Series 969 that he's working to give away. Like everybody who paid more than $50,000 for a 3000, he'd like to believe that it has value remaining. But on the reseller market, he might be fortunate to get a broker to haul it off.
Those who do are likely to take the system for its parts. What's more, the HP 3000s that are going offline are not the only resource for replacement parts. Other HP servers can supply this market, too. Finding these parts is the skill that homesteading managers must master.
January 15, 2014
Foundation for the Emulator, 5 Years Later
This 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.
January 14, 2014
PowerHouse licenses loom as used value
At 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?
January 13, 2014
HP to surf legacy OS onto new platform
HP's Unix customers aren't so lucky, but the companies that rely on the NonStop OS have been told they're getting an x86-ready version of their fault-tolerant environment.
“No matter what HP NonStop hardware architecture you choose, you will continue to get 100 percent NonStop value that makes what you do truly matter,” CEO Meg Whitman explained to the installed base. It's a message that might make an HP-UX customer wonder if what they're doing, strictly on Itanium hardware, will truly matter.
What matters to HP is the stickiness of the NonStop customer. They demonstrate the same kind of product and company loyalty that the 3000 customer did, at least until HP announced the end of its MPE business. Technically, there are possibilities for c7000 blades to run the environment first released when Jim Treybig left HP to form Tandem.
There are no promises here, and no roadmap for release of this transitional product. It's much further out than the reality of running MPE/iX on Intel servers -- and that Stromasys solution won't require special Intel hardware from HP. But it's more of a future than the OpenVMS and HP-UX enterprise customers are facing.
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?
January 09, 2014
Eloquence: Making a Bunny Run Elsewhere
An email poll over the last week asked 3000 owners and their suppliers what was in store for their systems this month. One reader in Long Beach, Roger Perkins, has a 3000 they've shut down at the City of Long Beach and wants to find "somebody who's interested in taking that out for us. I don't know if it's worth any money, but I was hoping we wouldn't have to pay anyone to take it out." Perkins left his number for a recommendation on recycling a 3000: 562-570-6054.
Our experience with this situation is that individuals -- fellow 3000 owners -- will be interested in the machine for parts, provided they don't have to bear too much freight costs. But there's something more unique than a collection of slower CPU boards and decade-plus-old discs on hand. The city has an MPE/iX license attached to its 3000. It's a system element that's not being sold any more, and essential to getting a virtualized 3000 online.
But little will change in that sort of transition transaction, except the location of a boot drive. In contrast, at Genisys Total Solutions, Bill Miller checked in to report that a change in databases has extended the reach of the application software for financials that has been sold by Genisys since the 1970s.
Though we have migrated all of our software to a Windows platform running Eloquence, we still have an HP 3000 that has been in operation for close to 13 years and has not failed at all during that time. We still support a handful of HP 3000 clients, who also seem to think the HP 3000 is the Energizer Bunny and see no reason to move from it.
Our main business is selling and supporting our applications on the PC platform. We have found Eloquence (as is IMAGE) to be a reliable and easy to maintain database.
January 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.
Real 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.
In 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.
The 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."
January 07, 2014
Consumer drives: as robust as enterprise?
One of the components most likely to fail -- and the one which often fails first -- in an HP 3000 is its disk drive. Consider the average age of disks attached to HP 3000s. Hewlett-Packard built the last HP 3000 and inserted onboard drives in that server one decade ago. Replacement and upgrade drives from HP, built after 2003, were for sale from HP for the 3000 through 2006. And there have always been drives purposed for one HP computer, but used for another. Those would be even newer devices.
All of the above devices are considered enterprise-grade. As the 3000 moves into its second decade of post-manufacture, owners will be looking for disk replacement strategies for the HP-branded servers. A virtualized unit, like the ones from Stromasys, have no such problems -- so long as their drives are of a high caliber.
But what is the caliber of a drive that is suitable for business enterprise use? A vendor of cloud-based computing argues that the failure rate of enterprise disks is actually a little worse than that measured for consumer-class drives. Through three years, one sort of drive might be replaced for another with little concern. It's possible, however, that years 4-10 are where the enterprise advantages emerge.
Jeff Kell, who's managed HP 3000s since the 1970s, as well as Linux and Unix servers more recently, said the promises of enterprise hardware for 3000s have never been guaranteed. That's especially true in an era where HP now won't warranty hardware of any sort attached to an HP 3000. But Kell added that pure math proves that drive failures will head upward as the size of the devices soar.
"I don't know overall if disks have gotten "better" or "worse" by themselves," he said. "But the sheer order of magnitude has certainly changed -- and simple math would show you the probability of error increases as the data density increases. Old disk drives only had to keep up with a few megabytes of data. Current ones may be a terabyte or more."
January 06, 2014
IBM divests Powerhouse development tools
IBM has sold off the Application Development Tool operations from its Cognos acquisition, moving the Powerhouse, Axiant and Powerhouse Web customers and products to Unicom Systems, Inc. Financial details of the transaction were not reported as part of the news, which was broken to customers in the last few days of 2013.
The new owner of Cognos software, support operations and contracts, as well as customer accounts, is a division of Unicom Global, a 32-year-old company that's led by CEO Corry Hong. According to an IBM VP of mergers and acquisitions, Hong's business enterprise holds and manages more than 30 corporate entities in operations throughout the US, Germany France, UK, Ireland, Belgium, Italy, Spain and Switzerland. Unicom says on its websites that it acquires publicly-traded companies as a regular part of its expansion.
The parent company, which is a privately held concern, has strong ties to IBM's mainframe and midrange customer base. The latter is represented in Unicom's SoftLanding division, makers of program change management, automation and performance management on the i Series.
Hong said the scope of the PowerHouse tools' installed base impressed Unicom. "Application development tools play a key role in enterprise technology," he said in a release, "and PowerHouse is the most widely installed 4GL in the industry, with customers continuing to achieve substantial economies in reducing application development efforts.
“This is a strategic acquisition for [this division of] UNICOM Global. We appreciate IBM’s trust in selling us the Cognos Application Development Tools suite, and IBM’s confidence in our ability to effectuate such a complex global transaction. We will collaborate with IBM to ensure smooth transition for customers."
A letter to PowerHouse customers made a clear statement that as of Dec. 31, 2013, Unicom has full responsibility for customer support contracts as well as development plans, sales and license renewals.
That last element has been a classic point of negotiation and some contention for the PowerHouse customer. For example, one site discovered last fall that a license transfer from an A-Class to the CHARON emulator was going to cost the HP 3000 shop more than $100,000. IBM told its PowerHouse customers on the day of the sale that for any renewal quotes for Powerhouse software, "please take no action. A new quote will be issued to you by Unicom. Further instructions on how to process your renewal with [Unicom] will be provided to you shortly."
January 03, 2014
Replacing 3000 meant dozens more servers
Tony Shepherd (left) and Jeff Kell switch off an A-Class and N-Class server at the December decommission of the UTC's HP 3000s. MPE drove the operations of the university for more than 30 years.
At the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, the HP 3000 was decommissioned last month. The university's operations had been managed under MPE and MPE/iX since 1976. After 37 years of service -- the last five as an archival system -- the servers went dark as the team of original 3000 experts executed a shutdown and a power-off.
By the time that legendary legacy system went offline for good, more than 43 servers had been powered up and maintained to replace its operations. Jeff Kell, who not only chaired the MPE Special Interest Group but also started the 3000 newsgroup on the Web, explained the replacement strategy that requires dozens of servers. Kell has gone into networking management for the university.
Every one of them are at the very least a virtual guest VM (and those are in the majority). Most of the database systems (Oracle) are standalone physical servers. There are a few dedicated blades left as well.
And yes, it makes me ill just looking at it, in contrast to the single 3000 we had running everything. Of course our new application Banner includes fancy report writers (Argos) and front-end web portals and Oracle management/monitoring -- but still, times change.
December 31, 2013
Date-based deadline looms once again
Tomorrow and Thursday, we'll be taking a few days away from our 3000 reports to celebrate the New Year. We'll return with a story on Jan. 3. But 14 years ago tonight, your world was waiting for a new year of calamity. Developers, managers, even executives had spent years planning, coding, even setting aside operations while waiting for Y2K to occur. For many HP 3000 owners, the start of our current century mandated the biggest project they'd ever accomplished: preparing an entrenched set of programs to handle formats for new dates.
For one part of the classic 3000 community, it will be happening all over again. The only break these managers of healthcare billing systems will get is a one-year reprieve. And 90 days of that is already gone.
The healthcare industry is expanding its ICD diagnostic codes in the US, a government mandate that has nothing to do with the Affordable Care Act. More than 48,000 distinct codes will be required in order to be paid by the Medicare and Medicaid systems. One story from the New York Times said that getting injured by a killer whale could be one of the thousands of new codes, a part of the fine-tuning to move from ICD-9 to ICD-10.
Virtually the entire health care system — Medicare, Medicaid, private insurers, hospitals, doctors and various middlemen — will switch to a new set of computerized codes used for determining what ailments patients have and how much they and their insurers should pay for a specific treatment.
Some doctors and health care information technology specialists fear major disruptions to health care delivery if the new coding system — also heavily computer-reliant — isn’t put in place properly. They are pushing for a delay of the scheduled start date of Oct. 1, 2014 — or at least more testing beforehand. "If you don’t code properly, you don’t get paid,” said Dr. W. Jeff Terry, a urologist in Mobile, Ala., who is one of those who thinks staffs and computer systems, particularly in small medical practices, will not be ready in time. “It’s going to put a lot of doctors out of business."
ICD-10 has already had a one-year extension for its deadline. It was supposed to be supported by Oct. 1 of this year. HP 3000 managers didn't have that kind of deadline-extending option as 1999 ran out. But they've had postponing options for their migration projects, and they've used them. Migrations off MPE are probably the only thing that could outstrip the resource levels needed to succeed at Y2K.
December 30, 2013
2013 emboldened 3000 changes for both migration and homesteading practices
As a service to readers who crave summary and broad strokes, we hearby sketch what the year 2013 meant to the 3000 community. It's too much of a cliche to say that the previous 12 months were driven by change. That's been an essential element for the community since 2001. But a dozen years has now spread changes onto the migrating community member, as well as those who have made their mission one to homestead.
The HP 3000 CHARON emulator from Stromasys showed more promise this year, but some of its impact lay in the way it held migrations in check without even being deployed. Another factor came from the economy. By year's end the markets were flying at an all-time high, but the recovery has its blind spots, according to some 3000 users. Couple the proposed savings in keeping MPE apps virtual with with an uncertain future for HP's replacement solutions, and the movement away from the 3000 slowed.
Even with that evidence, some shutdowns of systems stood out. A major installation of 3000s that had been serving the airline industry saw their work moved to .NET replacements, as Open Skies became New Skies. We also saw Hewlett-Packard closing down its own internal HP 3000 operations at long last, powering off the final four systems, just 12 years after advising its customers to do the same.
The year also offered a chance to see what remained on the field a decade after the community marked the World Wide Wake of 2003. The server got its first iPad app when a terminal emulator emerged for iOS, even as other experts found other ways to get an MPE console onto a tablet. And the exit of expertise continued throughout our 3000 world, even as some stalwart resources remained online.
December 27, 2013
Expert's restore job INSTALLS, RELOADS
Mark Ranft, the IT manager who's been stewarding a farm of 3000s at Navitaire/Accenture for many years, recently sent what he calls a geek gift for the holidays. Ranft, who's also done service in the community under his Pro3k service company, offered a restore job for the 3000 console. The job's extra value is preserving error messages.
Here is a HP 3000 geek present for you! I used to do the first system restore interactively on the console, but would occasionally lose some important error messages as they scrolled by and I wasn't able to look back. So I came up with the following expert tip.
December 24, 2013
A Present Under Most Trees for 2013
We've used our previous three days of blog articles to sketch a current portrait of the HP 3000 and MPE's history and future, courtesy of Allegro Consultants' Stan Sieler. While reviewing this material, taken from our latest printed 3000 Newswire issue, Sieler's even-handed replies showed a gift that's been presented to nearly every 3000 customer, past, present and future: the sparks that fly off the flint of change.
Nobody welcomes change very much if they're in charge of IT today. Change makes the certainty of stability a memory. But it also prompts the need to expand knowledge and skills, a demand for taking risks, and perhaps a reason for looking at life in a new way. If you haven't been reading for a few days, you can look over our interview with Sieler in Part 1, plus Part 2, as well as Part 3. Migration's prospects are considered, as well as the outlook for homesteading and history of our system and community.
As a writer -- which has always been my work, and therefore the means for my 3000 chronicles -- I can compare that flinty present to something I've received in past. I've been handed edits and reviews on my longest work, which meant that some of the years of building a novel had to scrapped or seriously revised. Such is the kind of gift that ensures we keep giving our best, even as we rue the sparks that are a-flying.
We're taking a few days off here to celebrate Christmas with our families. We wish all of our readers and supporters a happy holiday. We'll be back on Friday, December 27 to begin our annual set of year-end roundup stories -- a great way to get a big picture of what that present under our trees means.
December 23, 2013
2013 makes a new migration definition
In our interview with Allegro's Stan Sieler, we asked the veteran developer what has changed about 3000 options for the future. His answer identified a significant shift in the definition of migration. He also spoke about Allegro's own season of considering an emulator project, the tech challenges that will be outside of the system's capability, and how his practice of magic has shaped his exemplary technical career. On the occasion of his 30th year with Allegro Consultants, we spoke via iPad in November, just as the US was switching to back off Daylight Saving Time.
In the first year after HP's 3000 announcement, there were a list of options of what could happen to the community over the decade to come. Is there anything new on that list?
There are the same options but with one difference. Migration means something different now. It's not migrating your app with a 3000 lookalike shell on a Unix machine. It's migrating to Stromasys. It's a variation of 3000 Forever.
We still see people coming out of the woodwork that we've never heard of, using 918s, 928s or newer machines. They have no intention of leaving because they have no funding to leave, and now they've encountered a problem and they're reaching out to the rest of the community. We see people who tend to be on bigger machines, who are either running into limitations, or they're worried about the continued maintainability of the hardware. They are looking at high-end Stromasys solutions.
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.
He 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.
December 19, 2013
Making More than 30 Years of MPE Magic
Stan Sieler is as close as our community might come to being source code for MPE and the HP 3000. He recently noted on his LinkedIn page he’s celebrating 30 years with Allegro, the company he co-founded with Steve Cooper. Three decades at a single company is a rare milestone, but Sieler goes back even farther with MPE and the 3000.
Few programmers have more people using their code. He’s the co-author of SPLash!, a compiler that brought the original SPL systems language from the Classic HP 3000s to PA-RISC systems. Then there’s his wide array of free software contributed to the community: things like RAMUSAGE, a tool that reports how HP 3000 RAM is being used. Sieler was honored as an outstanding contributor to the HP user group’s annual Contributed Software Library three times.
Sieler took up the practice of magic 15 years ago, which was evident as he gave a tour of the Computer History Museum at a 3000 software symposium held there in 2008.The patter of the tour was a seamless as our 90-minute talk for this interview. We spoke via his iPad, using the everday magic of Skype, just a few days before our November printed issue went to press.
Over the years you’ve been at Allegro, what’s changed for the industry?
Everything, and nothing. We’re still bitching about changes that manufacturers do to their software. I’m still trying to do new things. A lot of the things that have changed are simply bigger, faster, more memory and more disk. In terms of software development, the biggest change is the prevalence of more GUIs, of course. But even then, we were foreshadowing that with things like block mode apps, such as VPlus. We didn’t have a mouse, but we were still interacting with screens.
Some of the good guys are gone. I don’t know if we’ve identified the new good guys yet. Some of the new good guys have come and gone; Apple, for me, is in that category, with the restrictions on iOS and the restrictions they’re trying to put on the Mac. They’re removing the fun and the power.
December 18, 2013
Store to Disk preserves backups' attributes
By Brian Edminster
Second of two parts
Yesterday I outlined some of the powers of the Posix program pax, as well as tar, to move MPE/iX backup files offsite. Here’s a warning. There are some file types that cannot be backed up by tar/pax while also storing their attributes: ;CIR (circular) and ;MSG (message) files (and possibly others. I haven’t tested all possible file types yet. Also, there is an issue with tar that is a fairly well known and has been discussed on the 3000 newsgroup. Occasionally it does not un-tar correctly. It is unclear if and when this was fixed, but I’d love to hear from anybody that might be in the know, or which specific situations to avoid.
Regardless of these limitations, I’ve found a simple way around this. Use store-to-disk to make your backup, then tar to wrap it, so as to preserve the store-to-disk files’ characteristics, before shipping the files off-system. Later, when you retrieve your tar backups and un-tar them, you’ll get your original store-to-disk files back without having to specify the proper ‘;REC= , CODE= , and DISC=’ options on an FTP ‘GET’. I’ve been doing this for several months now on several systems, and I have not had any failures.
December 17, 2013
HP 3000 Backup Files, On the Move
By Brian Edminster
First of two parts
Once store-to-disk backups are regularly being processed, it’s highly desirable to move them offsite — for the same reasons that it’s desirable to rotate tape media to offsite storage. You want to protect against site-wide catastrophic failures. It could be something as simple as fire, flood, or a disgruntled employee, or as unusual as earthquake or act of war.
Regardless of the most pressing reason, it really is important to keep at least some of your backups offsite, so as to facilitate rebuilding / recovering from scratch, either at your own facility, or at a backup/recovery site.
The problem comes in that the MPE/iX file system is far more structured than Unix, Windows, or any other non-MPE/iX file system-based storage mechanisms. While transferring a file off MPE/iX is easy via FTP, sftp/scp, or rsync, retrieving it is problematic, at least if you wish the retrieved files and the original store-to-disk files to be identical (i.e., with the same file characteristics: filecode, recsize, blockfactor, type, and so forth).
What would be optimal is automatic preservation of these attributes, so that a file could be moved to any offsite storage that could communicate with the MPE/iX system. Posix on MPE/iX comes to the rescue.
December 16, 2013
XP's exiles as reluctant as MPE's refugees
The drumbeat of Windows XP end of life got louder this month, sparked in part by the CDW PC hardware vendor. A tech talk from Spiceworks, the social network of the tech professional, focused on the practical needs of any company that plans to rely on Windows beyond Microsoft's end date. There's a deep set of forum questions being discussed on the Spiceworks site. The commentary echoed the situation that MPE/iX managers muddled through from 2006 to 2010, those grey years when HP seemed to want to exit the 3000 market, but changed its course a few times.
And it has some distinct similarities. Microsoft will sell Custom Support -- at about $200 per PC -- after XP's end of life. This recalls the two years of custom MPE vintage support sold by HP in 2009-10. So naturally, the XP-using community hopes this bodes well for an extension of Microsoft's XP life. From PC World:
Because Microsoft sells Custom Support agreements, it's obligated to come up with patches for critical and important vulnerabilities. And it may be required to do so for years: The company sells Custom Support for up to three years after it retires an operating system. Participants receive patches for vulnerabilities rated "critical" by Microsoft. Bugs ranked as "important," the next step down in Microsoft's four-level threat scoring system, are not automatically patched. Instead, Custom Support contract holders must pay extra for those. Flaws pegged as "moderate" or "low" are not patched at all.
Users are trading their lore and wishes on the Spiceworks site. One question that came up was "what happens on the day that Microsoft support ends?" The answer is similar to the one for the MPE world: XP will continue to operate beyond a vendor's "end of life," in this case, April, 2014.
I'm assuming no one knows for sure what will happen to XP machines that remain in use after the EOL, but I have my guesses. I'm thinking that a week or two after the EOL, a malware or virus will be released, and since there's no OS patch for it, it will easily spread in the wild. Windows XP machines will then be either useless or very hard to use.
The situation could be more dire for the millions of companies using Windows XP, because malware is aimed at these systems constantly. One theory, however, proposed that the XP community would shrink in size and become less of a target than more current Windows releases.
If the virtual desktops have no Internet access they'll be fine. The only real issue with XP after April will be the lack of patches. If your machines aren't exposed, I don't see why you should be concerned.
There's sometimes sensible logic that can be traced through the security-via-obscurity argument. It helps if your environment was never targeted to begin with. HP's own Unix continues to draw malware breeches every week, while the diminishing MPE installed base has had no new security problems. "Potential security vulnerabilities have been identified in Java Runtime Environment and Java Developer Kit running on HP-UX," HP reported this month. "These vulnerabilities could allow remote unauthorized access, disclosure of information, and other exploits."
December 13, 2013
Euro 3000 allies find a foothold in meeting
Yesterday we made reference to a 2001 Q&A interview with Stan Sieler, the Allegro co-founder interviewed in our latest print issue. Across the top of that page is a 2001 web ad for an entity called Millware Corporation. It was a company whose Dave Wiseman was pushing out a web-enabled dashboard, based inside a free terminal emulator. ScreenJet's Alan Yeo was one of the Millware partners, too. And Yeo has remained a vital force in meetings in 2007, 2009, and the HP3000 Reunion of 2011.
The truth about the HP 3000 community is that remains connected. Yours has always been a social group, long before there was such a concept as social networking via Twitter, Facebook, and the others. Last week the old-style networking was afoot, thanks for Millware's old founder taking a first step.
Dave Wiseman sent the word to more than 50 HP 3000 community members in Europe to gather on December 5, and despite serious storms about Europe on meeting day, he got 10 to make the trek to London. He reports:
A huge thank you to all who made the effort to get to London last week to meet. It was great to see all our old friends and everyone clearly enjoyed the meeting. Amazing to see that apart from going grey or bad, most of us were still recognisable. As far as I am aware, everyone made it safely home, although I had to stay in London, as all trains were cancelled due to storm damage on the line.
Despite the storms in Germany and what ended up as relatively short notice, we still had around 10 of us from as far afield as Berlin, Lyons, Wurzburg, Sheffield and various other places around the UK. With a large sprinkling of beer and a few bottles of wine after, we revived many fond memories of conferences past. Alas, none of us took any photos -- which shows that we’re just not the modern generation who would have all this posted on Twitter before they’d eaten!
Our thanks must also go out to Ian Kilpatrick who generously paid for the meal and the drinks so please visit his website at WickHill.
We all resolved to have another meeting in the not too distant future, and so I would ask you all to answer the following questions for me and I’ll happily organise another meeting.
December 12, 2013
Slow down, you early-adopting laggards
We could all stand to slow down just a little bit, even as the Web and the cloud and the Internet promise to hurtle us ever-faster into the future. As different as that tomorrow will be, many things will remain ever the same. What we need more of are laggards, but a new sort of that sort of pro who’s the very last to change.
One that that won’t change is testing, as un-sexy a subject as anything that ever unreeled off an episode of Lost in Space. Developers dislike it, designers hate it, users outwait it. Only the auditor loves testing, as it lets him assure his masters that all is as to be as it ever was. Testing must now embrace emulation, or virtualization, or whatever phrase you want to use for making one computer behave like it’s using another’s personality.
These doppelgangers of data delivery are now afoot in the world of the HP 3000. Some day they will be in the cloud, a concept we all hooted at from our 1990s office chairs sitting in early 2000s cubicles, hoping we’d be employed after the economy’s crash dust started to settle in the early Teens. The cloud: now it will save our budgets with computers that run anywhere, at least anyplace except the office space of our organization — real estate the corporation would like to reduce, if it could, along with headcounts.
However, the heads of 3000 managers has been wrapped around servers right down the hall or across the plaza or at least in the same city. Now these servers can be racked someplace in a hosting farm and the everyday province of another company. We can see the badge Dell, or Acer, or even IBM, and know that inside beats the heart of MPE. The Stromasys CHARON software makes that kind of magic happen, the sort that makes possible, as our Q&A subject Stan Sieler said in our November print issue, MPE Forever.
But not so fast; remember we are a community made of many laggards by today, even as oracles and wizards like Sieler work in our world.
December 11, 2013
In a slowing market, things can shift quickly
Our 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.
In 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."