February 13, 2017
ODBC treasure might be in your system
Solving HP 3000 challenges can sometimes be as simple as tracking the tools in your hand. Tim O'Neill, a 3000 manager never shy about asking for help, checked in on the 3000 mailing list needing help for his databases.
We would like to export all the data in a format that could be imported by Microsoft Access. Data relationships would be redefined after import. It would be nice to export, with relationships defined, that would run on Windows.
Minisoft's Doug Greenup peered over O'Neill's shoulder, as it were, sitting at his console.
Actually you own our ODBC driver which could be used for the requirement you outline. You were on support until 2009, so you have a version that handles this.The website support.minisoft.com has extensive documentation on our ODBC tool. You could also renew your support and get the most current ODBC version, along with access to our technical team to assist you.
The HP 3000 community is full of databases that need access to the world of Windows. Sometimes those 3000 servers have lightly-used tools to make the connections. As is customary for a budget-sensitive group, O'Neill's collegues on the mailing list had ideas on how to do that export without buying anything.Lars Appel, helping out from a perspective of supporting the Eloquence database (an IMAGE workalike) said a migration tool from the Marxmeier labs might do the job.
If ODBC is not an option, you might also try the DBEXPORT program that is available for migrations to Eloquence. By default, it writes output to "comma separated" text files (unless you use binary mode), which will likely work for importing to MS Access. The link page includes a link to the download location, including source code (so customizations would be possible).
However, using ODBC is likely better for transferring structure info.
Appel's sum-up takes note of the advantages of buying tools and maintaining support for them. Paid solutions do more, do it faster, and include access to support pros to explain how the hidden treasure can solve problems. Minisoft is still selling its ODBC solution, too.
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February 06, 2017
German A-Class sells for $162 per CPU
Yesterday afternoon the seller of the A-Class twin-processor model A500 closed his auction of the server. After seven days the bidding rose from an opening bid of $1.07 to $323.59, not including shipping. Some lucky bidder who's been using eBay for stocking up on computers, terminals and servers now owns a system that sold for $37,000 new: A greater than 99 percent discount.
One way to sum this up is to watch nearly all of the hardware value of an A-Class—a device that represented the ultimate line of HP's MPE/iX hardware design—evaporate over 15 years. However, the computer sells in today's US market for at least $1,300. That preserves almost 4 percent of original pricing.
However, another way to calculate this turn of events relies on return on investment. These servers are clearly in their 15th year of service. Dividing that original price by its incredible term of service gives you a cost of about $200 a month for hardware which will run a business and doesn't require replacement. The enduring benefit of MPE/iX was its astounding value. This discouraged hardware replacements, a problem HP could not solve.
Half-empty or half-full? HP's 3000 iron keeps dropping in cost. The components are aging, of course. Finding a handful of systems to part-out for spares could keep such a 15-year-old server running. Intel hardware, of much newer vintage, provides an unlimited lifespan if you're using the PA-RISC emulator from Stromasys.
eBay can be a resource for HP's MPE/iX hardware, but my, a manager must be cautious. A hardware resource that's a company rather than an individual seller—or better yet, a coordinated hardware-software support enterprise partnership—is more prudent. At $162 per processor, eBay might be worth a gamble. But getting money for a server returned may not be as simple as for a disappointing collection of sports cards: one of the other purchases the new owner of the German A-Class made last week.
January 23, 2017
SD cards take a hand in 3000 storage
One of the most unpredictable hardware devices in HP's 3000 iron is its SCSI drives. Out in the user community one enterprising manager is trying to link the server to microSD cards. John Zoltak checked in with other users last week about the project.
Zoltak was simply trying to copy one 917LX disk to a new disk on the server's SCSI bus. A 4GB drive is standard on a 917, so just about any microSD card would match that storage. A bit of open source wizardry props up SCSI2SD, a combination of hardware and software. You can purchase an SCSI2SD card on eBay and in other Web outposts.
Zoltak didn't begin there, however. He was searching for an offline diagnostic tool to do the disk copying. "I want to copy the system volume sets, so using VOLUTIL is not an option. And at this point just how does anyone get the diagnostics passwords? My other choice is to attach the 3000 disks to a PC and copy there."
That other choice leads the way to SCSI2SD. Using PC-based disks, of course, is one of the serious advantages to using a Stromasys Charon emulator for 3000 work. The 9x7s are so old they don't have a Charon equivalent, but the strategy is the same.
As for ODE, once you locate a diagnostics password (an exercise left to the 3000 customers who have a support provider) you must be prepared to wait on DISCCOPY. "There is a DISCCOPY in the ODE," Craig Lalley reports. "Hook up both drives and you should be able to copy the drive if it is copyable. I must warn you, it is slow, like all night all day sort of slow. But it is free."Stan Sieler of Allegro took a hand in this quest to more reliable disc via cloning.
My recollection of using ODE is that portions of it might not allow reading/writing to non-HP disk drives. I know that's true for some diagnostics, just can't remember which ones. If you use ODE, try to somehow check that it copied the entire disk. At some point, these HP diagnostics didn't handle large disks.I don't recall what "large" meant, but I recall bugging HP about it for some time until they released a (perhaps final?) version of the diagnostics that did support larger disks.
A few days later, Zoltak announced he was working on getting his 3000 to boot off an SD device.
I'm attempting to install to a device called SCSI2SD V6 and run the 3000 off of an SD card. So far, a few glitches. I'm in discussion with the developer and working through issues. I'll let everyone know how it goes.
Sieler said he'd tried out SCSI2SD a while ago. "I found that it worked, but that it was much slower than it should have been. I worked with the developer, but with no real success."
Things have gotten better with the device, perhaps, according to Zoltak.
I'm using the V6 version which should be faster. It supports sync transfers up to 20MB/sec. I can't yet get MPE to install on it. It hangs when I try.
So far I've hit a few repeatable problems using an Adaptec 2940 simple setup on a PC and have been emailing [developer] Michael McMaster.
January 16, 2017
Older hardware, current support, new prices
HP's 3000 hardware is still being offered for sale. Hewlett-Packard Enterprise wants none of this 2017 action. Independent hardware brokers sell HP 3000s today, and by the looks of the pricing the transactions might be simply for parts. How could anyone operate a company while they rely on a $975 server?
The price is one data point on a wide spectrum of a sweeping array of servers, all offered on the 3000 mailing list this week. At the tip-top of the spectrum was a $3,175 system, first introduced early in the 1990s. At the very bottom was the faithful Series 918LX, priced at $675 including a DDS-3 tape drive. The newest computers came in at that $975 price.
The range of power ran from the 918 to the Series 989KS/650. It was a $290,000 system sold new in the late 1990s. The one on offer this week from the broker carried a price tag that was discounted $288,625.
Antiques? Some, perhaps, but not all. Series 918 and 928 servers from HP—both on the list—are running production systems today. Roy Brown, a consultant and developer in the UK and a member of the 3000 list, is running two Series 918s. One much newer server is holding archives at a migrated shop in Texas. While using the old, or very old HP iron one smart customer keeps support current for such boxes. Even when they're not on the critical path for computing.HP's sales ended in the fall of 2001 for those 918s and 928s. In that year the servers were sold for $3,700 at Phoenix/3000, the used hardware outlet operated by the North American HP 3000 distributor. In 15 years' time those boxes have held on to about 20 percent of their price.
The hardware is only one part of the ecosystem that's gotten inexpensive. We've heard of simple support agreements that are just $140 a month. At Republic Title of Texas, Ray Shahan said he's got an N-Class system hosting archived data. Shahan's company has a current support contract for this archival 3000.
It's been over a decade since that 3000 went into archive mode, so long ago Shahan said he's not sure anymore what the actual model is for the HP server. Independent support is around now to keep track of such details.
The original sales prices for those older systems "might be too depressing to hear," according to Terry Simpkins at TE Connectivity. Simpkins is among those 3000 veterans who remember when something like a $311,000 Series 997-500 included MPE/iX license fees charged by the number of users. HP placed value in its databases for the 3000, too. Non-3000 servers were less costly, until you added in the software HP included with MPE/iX.
Today's prices don't suffer under the valuation of included software. Transferrable 3000 licenses remain an audit-worthy strategy. Management rigor won't be stout for licensing software on a $675 backup server, though.
Moving onward to new prices will remind 3000 migrators of the old HP midrange pricing. For example, an LTO-5 tape duplicator—an device useful for anyone keeping archives of older enterprise data—costs $12,000 from TapeMaster today. That's an entry-level 1:1 unit that simply replaces older tape with new. Someday that duplicator will be discounted by 96 percent. It will be sold as scrap or for parts much sooner than a 3000. It won't be working in 2033, 15 years from now. The A-Class servers for sale this week for $1,200 are already 15 years old and are still working in shops like Republic Title.
It's not easy to say for certain it's depressing to see a $311,000 server go on the market for $3,175. The 9x7 line was rolled out before Bill Clinton took office. That a 9x7 is worth anything is a tribute to the stubborn economics of the 3000 line. As Clinton liked to say while winning office, it's the economy, stupid.
December 19, 2016
University completes its course with regrets
After decades of use in a wide array of business and educational functions, the Idaho State University of has shut down its HP 3000s. The institution worked with Powerhouse tools from the earliest days of the 3000, a period that included some years using MPE V. Idaho State University turned off our HP 3000s. "We have the one N-Class server, plus two A-400s, for sale or for parts if there is interest."
John MacLerran reported to the 3000 mailing list, "with fond memories", the accomplishments and lifespan of MPE/iX at the university based in Pocatello.
The HP 3000 had been in use at ISU since the early 1980s, running everything from Procurement and Payroll to Student Registration and Grading. When I started work at ISU as a programmer in 1984, we had two Series 68s (later upgraded to Series 70s). Over the years, we upgraded as budget allowed. We installed the current boxes in Summer of 2001. Our production box was an N4000 4-way 440 mHZ box, and our development box was an A400 110 mHZ box. In 2004 we added a VA7100 array to our N4000 box, and it was this configuration that we turned off in October.
We went live with Banner, an ERP for universities, in 2009— but some applications on the HP 3000s hung on much longer because there was no suitable replacement in the ERP system.
Since we are a State of Idaho agency, there is a somewhat convoluted process for us to sell the boxes, but if there is any interest, you can contact our Customer Services manager Tony Lovgren at email@example.com for more information.
Idaho State worked, tested, and managed its migration over more than 11 years. Since the choice to migrate was replacing in-house Powerhouse with the Banner application, its exit from the 4GL was simplified. Batch processing was harder to replace.
A bank reconciliation functionality in Banner (by now, renamed Ellucian) splits up accounts payable and payroll, while the MPE/iX app unified both AP and payroll. "I am rewriting that in Oracle PL/SQL as an add-on for Ellucian," MacLerran said, "at the same time, adding enhancements to include unclaimed property processing, as mandated by state law.
These revisions following a strategy that lets the university rely on updates from Sungard, the vendor selling Ellucian. MacLerran said that whenever possible, his department wants to "not to modify Ellucian directly, but to do add-ons instead — and we were able to hold to that in all but a very few cases."
It's a significant choice for any migrating 3000 site that's moved to a replacement suite. "Having a no-modification policy saved us quite a bit of heartache," MacLerran said, "as Ellucian comes out with patches and updates quite regularly. Since we didn't modify the original code, we don't have to spend too much time making sure it's still in sync."
Ellucian has aspects that are common to wide-ranging replacement applications. There are organizational operations at the university that have been handled by the 3000 which the ERP's inventory module couldn't match, for example. Another bit of replacement software will step in for the existing MPE/iX app.
A more complete spec listing of the available 3000s:
- N4000 - 4-way 440mHZ with 16 GB RAM, 3SCSI ports, PCI Fibre-Channel interface card.
- A400 - 110mHZ -- Perhaps RAM of 512MB
- A400 - 400mHZ -- not sure how much RAM (we got this from another state agency, but never turned it on)
Due to State of Idaho regulations, the university cannot include disk drives -- by law they must wipe, and then shred them.
December 12, 2016
Security in cloud IT expands to fit ERP
HP 3000 sites that make a migration bring a broad array of technology into their planning rooms. In the world of MPE/iX, the server and infrastructure was almost always on the premises of the company or in a subsidiary's offices. Once a company begins to migrate to commodity environments, this structure starts to evaporate. In a meeting about what to do next after something like MANMAN, clouds and the ground they float above get equal valuation.
Security is a challenge in the process of floating clouds for enterprise IT. As Terry Floyd from The Support Group is leading Disston Tools through its migration, he's seen that security is no sacrifice to the gods of change who live in the clouds.
Kenandy is making its way into the command center of Disston. "We are seven months away, on schedule, and on budget," Floyd said when he checked in last week. "There is a lot to do here. MANMAN is very robust, and Disston has a lot of customizations, as well as serious use of EDI."
By its nature EDI passes sensitive information across networks. Kenandy works by riding the Salesforce cloud and its networking. Disston won't have to settle for something less secure.
"We are just getting into setting up user security settings," Floyd said. "Kenandy is as robust as MANMAN is. It can be tightened down as much as you want."
May 09, 2016
First came MPE's migration—now, the apps
By mid-2011, the Washington State Board for Community & Technical Colleges (SBCTC) stopped using the 36 HP 3000s that had powered 34 campuses since 1982. Even at that time, though, after the largest transfer of educational apps off MPE, SBCTC knew the target HP-UX systems would see another migration. One migration began another. Migrating off MPE hosts was a prelude to another migration, four years after landing on HP's Unix.
Michael Scroggins, the CIO at SBCTC, checked in with us after we spotted him on next month's HPE Discover conference speaker list. He's talking about the role of a CIO in today's IT. Why Would You Want to be a CIO? promises insights.
The CIO is a high-risk position. There are many thoughts and much advice related to surviving as a CIO. You’ve got to get there first. This discussion will center on strategies and considerations that you can use to get there. Why would anyone want to be a CIO? It is the best job in the world… if you have what it takes.
SBCTC has been taking its data forward for more than 13 years, proposing and moving and re-moving its data since 2003. SQL Server and Windows NT was the first target announced, and by 2009 that HP-led initiative had been shuttered while HP repaid what it hadn't finished to the colleges. The Lift and Shift Project was next and took about 18 months. Then in 2014, the eight HP-UX Integrity servers at SBCTC were upgraded to Itanium 4 systems. The original MPE/iX apps were lifted onto Integrity servers after being virtualized.
"We used AMXW’s MPE virtualization environments," Scroggins said, "and consolidated multiple colleges onto isolated environments on the HP-UX instances of Itanium 2 blade servers on the C7000 chassis. The solution leveraged the state’s data center where all colleges are centrally hosted." Lift and Shift cut the colleges' server count from 36 down to eight, all in a consolidated state datacenter.
Another move, off the lift and shift apps, was always in the plans, however.Some parts of the shifted solutions were supposed to have a 5-7-year lifespan before they moved again, to a managed services platform. Back in 2010 this was the novelty of the cloud. But the foundational move took the MPE apps onto HP-UX. Back then, we asked Bob Adams at SBCTC and heard that a hosted ERP setup without servers onsite was the ultimate goal.
"The bottom line is that this project was our last chance to get this thing done right,” he said. “We weren't going to change technologies. All we wanted to do was extend what we have.” Making the next change means going to Oracle's Peoplesoft applications. This will cut out the Marxmeier Eloquence databases that have subbed in for IMAGE. The migrated apps will be considered legacy systems — to be maintained for several years after the last colleges go live, in order to maintain an archive.
Scroggins says that ctcLink is
the largest higher education project of its kind in the U.S. The goal of the ctcLink Project is the implementation of Oracle/PeopleSoft ERP software applications including Campus Solutions, Finance, Human Capital Management, and Hyperion pillars at all 34 colleges.
"This affects every student, staffer, and faculty member in the college system," Scroggins said. "We went live with the first three colleges last August and are scheduled with the next six in October of this year. The balance of the colleges will go in two additional phases a year apart."
SBCTC moved a Student Management System, Financial Management System, Payroll and Personnel Management System, and Production Management System in that 2010 move. The migration was "with minimal technical changes in programming languages, operating systems, and database and no changes to user application functionality." At the time, Scroggins considered the HP 3000 to be "seven years past end of life. The project was intended to stabilize our applications" by moving away from the hardware that HP stopped building in 2003.
May 04, 2016
CPR for a Non-Responsive Console
On my HP 3000, after a short power blip, the console is now non-responsive. I can connect to the system's GSP port and the session is connected, but nothing is displayed. Neither <ctrl> A or <ctrl> B works. I type away, but get no response. I can then connect via VT-MGR and take the console :console !hpldevin and I receive all the console messages.
So, the messages are being sent (since I see them on the VT connection), but neither the physical console or the GSP gets any console messages. What can I try?
Gilles Schipper says
I believe a START NORECOVERY reboot is in order here. Since <ctrl> A <ctrl> B do not work, you will need to power-recycle the machine to effect a reboot. Presumably you would want to do this after gracefully stopping all jobs and asking online users to log off, if possible.
Depending upon which patch level your level of MPE is on, the :SHUTDOWN RESTART MPE command may also work from a logged-on session with at least OP capability.
Mark Ranft adds
If you haven't rebooted, I've seen similar issues. From the VT console can you try to do 'abortio 20' until it says no I/O to abort. A WHILE loop may make this easier. I've had luck with this in the past. But since Ctrl-B doesn't work, you may be out of luck.
Robert Thwaites notes
These are the simplest things to try first
Among the commonest issues: forgetting to do an x-on after a <ctrl>S (x-off) to stop output, so you can look at the line you are interested in. One time I saw another issue where someone had pressed <space> on the console and hadn't pressed <return>.
April 20, 2016
Like a Classic Mercedes, Those Old 3000s
Built to last.
That's what a veteran analyst called the HP 3000s at her company. It's a UK firm, The Wesleyan, and it's been running MPE and MPE/iX since at least 1990. Jill Turner says the oldest system is a Series 947. That would be the early part of the 1990s, to be sure.
That 947 and four other HP 3000s including an N-Class, are going offline in 2017. "We are a financial services business, and the HP 3000s hold all the policies sold up to about 2010," she said. "These are serviced daily, weekly, monthly, yearly depending on the type of policy."
Turner called those 900 Series systems, including a 987 and 969, "old proper machines." They're the sort that never quit. They do eventually get out-performed by newer models, or can't run Oracle, or have experts with knowledge about 3000s retiring soon. The hardware does age, though, as it does for all owners. That's not why the 3000s are leaving The Wesleyan.
"The Wesleyan are currently migrating the data from the HP 3000s onto a new system," Turner said, "and we expect everything to be migrated by mid- to end of 2017. As technology moves forward the company is moving to other platforms, and I think the new systems are hosted on IBM Pureflex servers."
Turner admits to being biased in favor of the 3000s. This can happen after a couple of decades of success, when a migration choice is based on the age of the hardware instead of the utility of the software. You can't beat the cost of owning a 3000, she adds.
"The HP 3000s are probably the cheapest platform to run within the business," Turner said. I am very biased as I have only ever worked on the HP 3000s, but one example is we had a disc failure on the 969."
The system carried on as mirrored disc. Our support firm Newcorp couriered one out to me so I received it the next day (and they sent two spares). I changed the disc, no one knew but me. The new replacement system for the 3000s had a failure when the power went off. It took IBM two days to get the part, and it came from Holland.
"I have a 26-year-old Mercedes which I always compare to the old HP 3000s: built to last." The Wesleyan bought into the future of 3000 ownership, even when HP was counseling not to do that. The N-Class server was purchased in 2002, the first full year HP was preaching migration.
April 06, 2016
Stromasys reports aim at speed, and help
The fine art and craft of tuning an Intel-based server to mimic HP's 3000 hardware has evolved. The Charon HPA emulator has been in production shops for more than three years. In the beginning, the software's demands on hardware were outlined in a table of preferred servers. Or in calls to a product manager. The latter has always produced more robust performance than the former. A recent string of messages on the 3000-L showed why. They also showed that a 3000 jobset that ran three times faster, after "setting power management to dynamic."
Performance tips on the L about selecting and tuning for the best hardware have included the following advice
Set other settings for performance
System Isochronous Mode enabled
Hyper-thread off or 1
Intel Speed Step enabled
If this set of instructions doesn't make much sense to a prospective user, it illustrates why Charon HPA is a fully-guided product by now. Customers and prospects buy services from Stromasys to deploy this solution. There's no other way. Downloadable freeware copies left the marketplace last year.
Emulating a legacy hardware server to run enterprise-grade applications is not a hobbyist's mission. Stromasys product manager Doug Smith says the customers have been better served with engineering-driven integration insights. He's got success statistics to prove it.The nuances of installing and integrating Charon for the success include networking deployment advice. Ray Legault, a systems manager at Boeing, shared these insights when another manager asked him about the impact of networks on Charon.
I did not perform any tests over the network. My actual servers are 1,800 miles away. In Linux, I make sure my ETH1 is set correctly.
ethtool -K eth1 rx off tx off sg off gso off gro off txvlan off rxvlan off
To avoid having to redo every time you reboot, just add this line to the bottom of the ethtool file:
post-up ethtool -K eth1 gso off gro off
So it looks clear that knowing Linux's ethtool will be an essential skill of integrating Charon, too. Expert services are now crucial for the product. That's why it's become a solution for the serious user, one trying to eliminate the need for 15-year-old HP hardware.
April 04, 2016
Working to Set MPE's Future to Forever
When a 3000 manager asked about running Speedware on the Stromasys Charon HPA emulator, the question evolved quickly. In just a few hours, MPE experts were talking about how long the OS could keep running. The detour of the 2027 CALENDAR intrinsic came up. It turns out the community experts are already working on that.
Jeff Elmer of Dairylea Cooperative, whose success story with Charon was part of our 2014 reporting, told the readers of the 3000-L that he's pleased with the way the Stromasys product cut out HP's MPE/iX hardware. The words "run MPE forever" were part of his message.
We used HP's 3000 hardware for 30 years. We've been using the HPA3000 emulator in production since December 2013. Our users would have never known the difference if we had not told them.
We had a 969KS 100 and went to a 2-CPU A-Class on the emulator. Performance is essentially identical but all concerns about "ancient" hardware went away. (Our RAID array hard drives were older than our web developers). Charon is running on a 1U "off the shelf" Proliant server under the Red Hat Linux environment (if we didn't have a DLT8000 and a DDS tape drive attached to it, all that it would take up in the rack would be the 1U). We run our disaster recovery version of the emulator in another location under VMware on OmniCube hardware, although we have never used it for anything other than testing.
"Based on our experiences we would recommend it to anybody," Elmer said. "You could run MPE forever with this setup and over time your performance would only improve as you put newer, faster hardware under it." Whoa, forever? It's the promise of virtualized servers that emulate antique hardware. But MPE/iX has that calendar problem that'll rear up at the end of 2027, right? Not so fast there, said one MPE expert.When Denys Beauchemein said that forever really meant December 31, 2027, Robelle's Neil Armstrong begged to differ. "That doesn’t stop the system from running, and a lot of issues can be handled at the application level quite easily," he said.
There are people working on such things at the OS level. I’ve been reducing the dependency on CALENDAR in all our software as well. By reducing the number of calls to CALENDAR, this helps mitigate the impact, of course, and adding options to change the result of a call to CALENDAR directly after a call are being considered.
It is an interesting problem.
Beauchemein retorted with the viewpoint of the IT manager who needs to be away from MPE/iX, since it's old.
That is fantastic news. Now I need to find my abacus and see if I can get them to refurbish it along with my slide rules.
Has anyone here even booted a 3000 for December 31, 2027 and see what goes on at the virtual stroke of midnight? Unfortunately, I do not have one handy.
All that Armstrong could offer in reply about a Jan. 1, 2028 bootup was "Yes, it’s been done. Nothing catastrophic happens."
He is right, nothing catastrophic happens. But what does happen?
SETCLOCK allows a manager to revise such a future date and time, but only up to December 31, 2027. It won't accept a higher date; it reports "out of range" if you try. MPE/iX continues to run. After midnight SHOWTIME will give the wrong result, year 1900. But if your application doesn't care about a time stamp (which is unlikely in a business computer) this doesn't matter. SHOWTIME will show Jan. 1, 1900. If days of the week matter, by setting the system date to Y2K, the day of the week will align with the correct day for 2028.
One of the sharpest of the MPE minds, Vladimir Volokh -- who co-created MPEX -- has given us a deep dive on that set of CALENDAR problems. He reports he's done that 2027 boot 10 years ago. In our conversations, his opinion has been that someone in the community will find a way to reroute MPE/iX to a future in 2028 and beyond, relying on current dates.
Dates don't vex MPEX, Vladimir added when we talked about this a few years ago. MPEX can do operations with dates—because unlike COBOL, or even the first language of MPE, SPL, MPEX has a DATE datatype. "If you have MPEX," he said, and here we could hear a wink, "and who doesn’t—DATETOCALENDAR is a function in MPEX."
Last week's exchange on 3000-L shows there's already work underway on getting beyond 2028. The thing about an abacus is that it does still work. Ours hasn't needed to be refurbished since we bought it in 1989. Unlike an abacus, MPE/iX has a purpose for being an everyday tool when the software has close ties to specialized business logic. It has a better reason to keep working forever—however you define that timeframe.
March 30, 2016
Big G anniversary recalls era of 3000 crunch
This month marked the 150th anniversary of General Mills, the benevolent cereal giant that started its business just after the Civil War milling flour. The maker of Wheaties, Gold Medal Flour and Play Doh, the company known as the Big G got a rousing eight minutes of celebration on the CBS Morning News this weekend. When the report turned to Wheaties, it triggered a memory of one special era for the HP 3000. MPE/iX once managed a giant boxcar-load of operations for the food company, a firm so large it acquired fellow 3000 customer Pillsbury in a 2000 deal that teamed century-old rivals to make the world's fourth-largest food company.
Powerhouse was an essential part of the Pillsbury legacy, but the reach of the 3000 was even deeper at General Mills. Mark Ranft, who operates the Pro 3K consultancy, said his time at the Big G covered the years when core corporate functions were controlled by a fleet of 3000s.General Mills was glad to point the way to lifting the 3000 into a higher rank than Unix. In the period where The Unix Hater's Handbook was making the rounds, IT Manager Mike Meinz booted out HP-UX from General Mills' datacenters after a brief fling. In language of the era, Computerworld said that General Mills "tried Unix, but it did not inhale."
"There is a panacea of thought that you have to have Unix," Meinz said in the article. "You don't have to have Unix."
General Mills went so far as to pull an HP 9000 out of the IT lineup and move its warehousing application over to its HP 3000s. The company was just into the process of converting those Classic 3000s to PA-RISC models. The vendor was taking steps to position the 3000 as a less-proprietary choice. "Not only is the HP 3000 open," Meinz said in the ad, "but it's an excellent, easy-to-use transaction-processing system for business-critical operations."
The headline that provided too-rare coverage of the 3000 in Computerworld enjoyed a joke at the expense of Unix. "Cheerio to Unix, cereal giant says," noting that the 9000 was chosen at first because it was the only platform that could host a preferred warehouse system. General Mills bought the source code for the application and did the porting. "What followed became a testimonial to MPE's portability," the article said. Meinz said he had anticipated the porting project would take six months, but it only took two. And much of that time was spent developing enhancements rather than actually porting it."
March 28, 2016
For any fate, applications need budgets
At Idaho State University, the HP 3000 is moving into its final months of production use. It's been more than eight years to bring all of the MPE-based applications' duties into a new hosting environment. Sun was the early winner in this migration, but after taking the early round of replacement apps onto Solaris, the university is settling on Linux. This was a migration that didn't give Hewlett-Packard any place as a host.
Even in the realm of replacement software's big bounty, some apps moved across more slowly. Payroll, financials: these things moved in a straight line to Ellucian's ERP software for universities. But telecomm, inventory, motorpool — the 3000 ran all of this — had to be moved separately.
Along the way, the prospect of keeping those extra applications alive included the option of virtualizing the 3000 onto a Stromasys server. The timing didn't work for the university because it was so close to decommissioning its last 3000 apps, according to Senior IT Analyst John MacLerran.
We were hoping to use the emulator for a year or two while we finished migrating our remaining applications off the 3000. However, it was decided that the effort required to obtain software licenses from all of the vendors would be better spent accelerating our migration off the platform.
Whether an application remains on MPE servers, or makes its way to Linux as a replacement or a rewrite, applications require budget. The word "effort" means the expense in man-hours and dollars. Staying has a cost. Analyzing the timing can help a 3000 owner decide when its budget should be turned to departure dollars. It's only possible when the Hewlett-Packard hardware remains sound and healthy."It's not like we saw anything that would keep Charon from working for us," MacLerran said, "but it didn't save us any work in our migration."
The cost/benefit ratio didn't work for us -- we wouldn't have been on the Charon platform long enough to recoup our investment in the emulator. It made more sense for us to pay an additional year of maintenance on the original hardware, since we would've had to do that anyway during the migration to Charon. Instead, we put additional resources into getting the applications migrated.
The University began its look at the Charon solution in 2014, but its thorough evaluation got interrupted when MacLerran was tapped to help a languishing internal project get back on schedule. By 2015, the final evaluation decision was made, based on the finish date of migrating its final MPE applications.
We are in the final stages of shutting our HP 3000s down. Everything we used to use them for has been migrated elsewhere -- much of it to Ellucian, and some of it to other third-party vendors (i.e., where Ellucian doesn't have an equivalent function). The only remaining activity on the HP 3000 is data archival for records-retention purposes.
To satisfy that, we're extracting our data and putting it in Oracle tables. That way, we can query for the information that may still be needed for audit, but not for transactional purposes.
MacLerran said the university expects to pull the plug on its HP 3000s by the end of June, 2016.
March 16, 2016
Brain drain reduces migration options
At a large Eastern Seabord organization in the US, the exit of MPE-skilled staff has cut away the migration choices for its HP 3000 operations. The server ran the organization's management of equipment parts. Some of the parts are being tracked back into the 1980s, so unique are those components.
It's like taking the durability of an HP 3000 and applying its model to vehicles, for example. Old F-150 pickup trucks, or the most beloved Jeeps, need parts that might've been designed decades ago. Get a large enough fleet and you need an extensive and fast database.
IMAGE/SQL drove all of the enterprise business operations until 2002, when other solutions started to rise up at this enterprise. The HP 3000 9x9s there stepped back into a support role, running the parts application. When HP announced the 3000 was leaving its product list, the organization started to plan for a database migration.
"I still had a licensed HP-UX server (HP9000/I70) with paid software support at that time," said the IT manager, who didn't want us to use his name. "The plan was to purchase Eloquence for HP-UX, move IMAGE data to Eloquence, and rewrite our data entry and retrieval programs from their original Pascal to something on HP-UX, which might have been Pascal (if available) or C."
The migration to Eloquence, with what the manager called "universal homing capabilities," would be moved to Linux, which might have required another program rewrite. It could have been as simple as going from C on HP-UX to C## on Linux. Then expertise started leaving the organization.
Then "it became impossible to buy Eloquence," the manager said. "There was almost no one left working here who knew what IMAGE and the HP 3000 are. No one knew what Eloquence was, and no one wanted to know."
This enterprise shop already had MS SQL with paid support on Windows, "so I was led to hire a consultant to migrate the data to SQL and rewrite the apps in PHP. It sounded like a quick way to a good end."
The Windows momentum had carried the organization away from HP-UX, eliminating Eloquence in the process.
With money being dumped into Microsoft as the solution for all, no one would want to hear a request to buy another database. We bought a new-at-the-time HP-UX server (RX 2660) for this project, but could not go ahead without the Eloquence piece and someone to convert the apps. So the server languished, and eventually was boxed up.
Now the plan is to migrate only the 3000's data at that enterprise. "We would rather stay on MPE and keep on developing," the manager said. "What I really wanted to do was to migrate the application from IMAGE to Eloquence, which would have set the stage for future migration to a new OS if necessary."
Migrations can be delayed for many reasons. But with the market's HP 3000 expertise in flux, keeping a migration moving seems to be one way to help ensure the widest range of choices to preserve app code. If application expertise leaves a company, all that's left is to move data. There are good solutions for that in the MPE world. MB Foster talks about some today at 2 PM EDT.
February 26, 2016
21 days of radio silence on the 3000-L
The slowing current of 3000 communication showed a fresh signal by the end of this month. As we write it's been 21 days since a message of any kind on the 3000-L MPE newsgroup. The resource that carried 45 messages during last February has 10 for the current month. All of this month's traffic was wrapped around finding resources: Brian Edminster of Applied Technologies and Vesoft support. Both were located.
However, the three weeks without a new message is new territory for the community's log of technical help and outreach by cohorts. Among those who were posting during 2015, several told us they're on the mailing list-newsgroup out of habit — rather than needing details for their datacenter's 3000s.
"I’m still on the list out of inertia, nostalgia and mild interest," said Dave Heasman, a UK IT manager. "My employer got rid of their 3000s and me in 2008. Bought a series of packages to replace a big bespoke brokerage/investment system."
Robert Mills said he "remained a member of the list, mainly as a lurker, to keep appraised of what was happening in the 3000 community. Except for three requests in September 2012, December 2014, and February 2015, I've only posted to the list when I felt that the 3000 knowledge I had would help somebody solve a problem." Mills said he retired when his company went insolvent in 2009, but he's kept his hand in IT.
"I have been involved with the GnuCOBOL (formerly OpenCOBOL) Project on SourceForge since October 2014, and decided to write a macro preprocessor that emulated the functionality available on the 3000," he said. "The preprocessor, CobolMac, is now in its 5th version (B.04) and has received good reviews by its users."
Others who contacted us said they haven't worked on the 3000 since the days that HP sold support for MPE/iX. "I have been a BizTalk developer full time since 2008," said Kent Wallace. "I needed to work, and this was the direction the world was going." The 3000-L still has more than 500 subscribers on its mailing list rolls, but much of the messaging comes from consultants and vendor experts, supplying answers to questions and tips. A total of 45 messages have passed through the list since the start of 2016. The IT pros like Wallace have taken the path to other platforms, first to HP-UX, then to Windows.
"I left my previous employer in Boise and I moved to a Microsoft shop, whose mainframe was HP-UX," Wallace said. "However, in 2015 we migrated off HP-UX and onto SQL Server on Microsoft Server 2008. We do health insurance and the purchased software, Trizzeto, was moved to MS SQL servers."
Another registered user keeps up with the community, but he can imagine a future where he'd be back on the MPE/iX front lines. "We're totally out of the 3000 business," said Ted Johnson of Wake Forest University, adding a sad-face emoji. "But I love seeing the 3000-L posts and keeping up. Who knows — maybe they'll get rid of me one of these days, and I'll end up back on a 3000."
The 3000-L, hosted at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga where the late Jeff Kell launched it the early 1990s, holds more than two decades of traffic. 10 years ago the list was big enough to measure a signal-to noise-ratio, but by now it's almost entirely signal. When John Burke was a monthly columnist for the NewsWire who summarized its content in net.digest, he rounded up the following help in just one month's communications. For a 3000 owner managing a homesteading shop, the 3000-L's tips still carry some value.
• Do you want to know when a particular account or group was created? LISTACCT and LISTGROUP are no help. But “listfile /ACCOUNTNAME,3” for the account or “listfile /ACCOUNTNAME /GROUPNAME,3” for the group tell all. And then some.
• The number of sectors reported by the REPORT command for a group or groups is sometimes inaccurate, sometimes very inaccurate. Running the program FSCHECK.MPEXL.TELESUP and issuing the SYNCACCOUNTING command will fix this problem.
• In case you were wondering, despite many requests for the enhancement, TurboStore will NOT append store sets to tape. Well, it might if you use the proper incantations, but it is unsupported and highly dangerous because under certain circumstances you could overwrite a previous backup without knowing.
• Speaking of things you cannot do that you might like to do, the ALLOW command is not persistent across sign-ons unless you use the extremely dangerous “ALLOW @.@; commands” version. This is another example of an enhancement that has been requested for years, but now will never happen. Fortunately, there are a number of options, for sale and free (MPEX, CSL, etc.).
• CI integer variables are signed 32-bit entities. So be careful if you are doing some wild arithmetic in your CI scripts.
• Here is a little trick when using Apache’s indexing (for example to keep track of documentation) to index file displays. You can override the default ascending sort by name by appending “?N=D” to the url. Instructions on changing Apache’s default behavior are available on the Web.
• If you are trying to program VPlus applications and are interested in working examples programmed in your favorite language, look in the group HP32209.HPPL89 (which should be on every FOS tape). This group contains source code for the ENTRY program in a variety of languages including COBOL, Fortran, Basic and Pascal.
• To see the firmware (aka PDC) Revision of a system (CPU): Run cstm, and at the cstm > prompt, type ‘map’ and note the Dev Num of a CPU and then type ‘sel dev DEV_NUM’ (e.g., ‘sel dev 41’) and then type ‘info’ and then type ‘il’ and look at the output for the ‘PDC Firmware Revision’. Easy, huh? Thanks to Guy Paul of HP for this tip.
• SPFXFER will allow you to write to disk (undocumented “feature/bug”). But don’t do it, because SPFXFER cannot read the disk file it creates! Doing this could lead to a big oops.
• While it would certainly be a nice to have, MPE/iX CI scripts have no provision for inline comments. Sorry, don’t even bother trying.
February 24, 2016
Bringing a First 3000 Love Back to Life
Stories of HP 3000 longevity are legend. Less than 10 years ago, Paul Edwards could report on a Dallas-area customer who was running a Series 70 system in production. Paul was circumspect about who the lucky company was — lucky because they were still leveraging a system HP stopped selling in the late 1980s.
We heard from a longtime 3000 lover in Buffalo recently who wants to turn back the calendar on his Series 42 system. By his system, we mean that literally: Matthew Bellittiere took personal possession of the same system which he learned MPE upon in the early 1980s. The 42 was a server that considered a DDS tape drive an upgrade. Reel to reel was the standard backup peripheral for any computer HP first sold during the early half of the 1980s. HP gave the Series 42 its debut in 1983.
Bellittiere waited awhile to rekindle his old flame. About 20 years ago, he took the Series 42 into his home, but only this month is he working on getting it up to speed. A system that is 30-plus years old, that hasn't been started in 10 years: some might think this is scrap, or worse. But listening to his request, we hear a man who's finding a long ago sweetheart, rescued from the mists of time.
This HP Series 42 is the first HP mini mainframe that I started on around 30+ years ago. I arranged many updates over its active life. Some of the updates include increasing the memory by exchanging the 1/2 meg cards with 1-meg boards. I upgraded to the HP670H disc drives, and also to the DDS tape drive. In 1996 the company upgraded to a Series 947, and HP did not want the 42 back. It was going to scrap, so I requested it and it was given to me. I have had it ever since with plans to get it up and running.
I had to ask: Is the Series 42 project a hobby, or a work system? "Yes," Bellittiere admitted, "it is more of a project for me." But he needs the help of MPE V experts in our community to bring his old flame back to life.
Bellittiere understands there are special procedures required for a server whose discs are its newest parts (circa 1990, so 25 years old already). "My first question: does it need any special treatment before powering up?" he asks. "I think any internal memory will have been lost long ago. It has been at least 8 to 10 years since being powered up."
The components that die soonest in a 3000 are usually the power supply and the internal battery, although the disks are often not far behind. "I am not sure of the power up routine — can you help with some ideas?" I said we knew some 3000 experts with MPE V, CISC-generation hardware savvy. He replied with some hopeful praise aimed at his community.
"I am glad that you are still out there. I would not know who else could help me."
The Series 42 was a noble steed, one of the genuine workhorses of the 3000 line. HP used it like a team of draft horses in its labs. I took a tour of the company's disk drive manufacturing plant in the late 1980s — in the days when HP still built some of the world's most dependable drives in the industry, in Boise, Idaho. A wall stacked with Series 42s was doing burn-in testing for the 7973 drives that were already a mainstay in 3000 shops. At five-plus years already, the Series 42s looked like tiny tugboats, computing craft like ships whose decks was peeling but whose hulls were still buoyant.
I hope there's an MPE lover out there who's got advice for Bellittiere. The wisecracks are easy enough about boat anchors or semiautomatic target practice. People said the same thing about F-150 pickup trucks for awhile, too. My son Nick bought his first F-150 right after cut its lines on the 3000, when that truck was 22 years old, an age Nick hadn't yet achieved himself. People live and work in our world who find old tech a delight. Send your help and advice to Matthew via email, or at 716-536-3298. Let him see a colon prompt from a server introduced before fax machines were common office tools.
February 10, 2016
Linux box feeds Series 918 for daily needs
HP never designed a smaller PA-RISC 3000 than the Series 918. The server that was released in the middle 1990s helps untold 3000 sites keep MPE/iX in the production mix. While surveying the customer base to learn about the 2016 state of the server, James Byrne of Hart & Lyne reported that a 918 at the company processes data FTP'd from a Linux system. The reason for sticking with MPE/iX, Byrne said, is the state of today's toolset for Unix and Linux. We'll let him explain
By James B. Byrne
Our firm has been running its business applications on HP3000s since 1982/3. First on a time-share service, and then on our own equipment. Our first in-house HP 3000 was a Series 37 ("Mighty Mouse") running MPE IV, I believe. Anyway, that is what my little brown MPE software pocket guide tells me.
We subsequently transitioned to a Series 42 and MPE V, and then a 52, and then to a Series 925 and MPE/XL, which soon became MPE/iX. Then through a 935 to our present host, a Series 918LX running MPE/iX 7.5.
And in all that time we ran the same code with the same database. We still can produce reports of transactions going back to 1984.
Presently the HP 3000 runs the greater part of our online transactions and handles all of our billings and payables. Due to changes in our business model, our main business operational application is now provided by a service bureau. Twice each working day a separate process, written using the Ruby on Rails framework, scans the PostgreSQL database, extracts all unbilled items, and produces a transaction file that is then forwarded via FTP to the HP 3000. Once the transaction file is transferred, the same FTP process triggers a job on the HP 3000 to process that file into invoices.
Our intent is to move off of the HP 3000 and onto Linux, moving away from proprietary solutions to open source computing. This includes bringing our operational software back in-house and off of the service bureau. We are actively developing software in pursuit of this strategy. However, the progress toward a final departure from the HP 3000 has not been as rapid as we had hoped.
There are many reasons for this but the main one is the primitive nature of the tools in common use by the Unix-Linux community. These have improved greatly over the past decade, but they are still nowhere near the effectiveness of efficiency of software I used on the HP 3000 in the 1980s.
There are exceptions, of course. Git as a version control manager is head and shoulders above anything I was exposed to on the HP 3000, or any other platform of my personal knowledge, whatever may have existed elsewhere. Likewise Perl, Bash and Ruby are far superior to MPE's native command scripting language. And the sheer variety of software tools available for Linux dwarfs by several orders of magnitude that which was ever provided for the HP 3000. Even if you could afford the 3000 tools.
But for online transaction processing and speed of development, not to mention stability and reliability, nothing in the *nix world that I have encountered even approaches the HP 3000. PostgreSQL is certainly a more then adequate replacement for IMAGE/SQL, but the open source rapid development tools are a different story.
February 03, 2016
MPE site sizes up Linux distro for Charon
When we interviewed one HP 3000 manager who's homesteading, James Byrne had a question about the kind of Linux that's used as a platform for Charon on the 3000. Byrne's heart rests in the ongoing lifespan of MPE apps, a thing Charon can help make possible. There's a matter of spending additional money on a proprietary solution, though, no matter how stable it is.
There's another issue worth looking at in his organization, Hart & Lynne. The Canadian logistics company has Linux wired extensively into its datacenter. Having been burned with an HP pullout from MPE, the solutions that go forward there have to meet strict open source requirements to run in the datacenter there. Nobody wants to be caught in the vendor-controlled blind alley again.
Bynre's got a problem about about something called KVM, and how genuine open source Linux needs to adhere to that product. Byrne described KVM as a Linux-kernel-based virtualization system and is therefore Open Source software.
Doug Smith, the HP 3000 Director of Business Development at Stromasys, said KVM isn't a part of the Charon installation set. "KVM is part of the Linux kernel, the part that allows Linux within itself to create virtual machines—kind of like a hypervisor. This is not utilized by our software."
KVM users have strong feelings about hard-line open source licensing. Byrne's issue is that VMware's software—which isn't required for every Charon install—looks like it might be operating outside the General Public License that many open source solutions utilize.Byrne says that "Charon-HPA runs on ESXi vmkernel, which VMWare claims is not derived from Linux." Then he explains why that's a problem for his adoption of Charon.
VMware is presently being sued by Linux developers for violations of the GPLv2 with respect to the Linux kernel. It is alleged that VMware is in fact using GPL code but are not providing the source for their derived vmkernel, as is required by the terms of the GPLv2.
VMWare is thus attempting to benefit from Open Source projects through misappropriation of public goods for private profit, and attempting to assert proprietary rights over the work of others. In short, they are not a company we wish to deal with, either directly or by proxy.
(Below, VMware's overview of the architecture of VMware's ESXi architecture.)
Regardless of what happens between VMware and those Linux developers, VMware doesn't have to be deployed as part of Charon HPA, according to a Stromasys product manager. VMware is a commonly used component, but it's not mandatory.
This alliance of Linux and MPE was considered beyond a dream back in the days when the HP lab for MPE was closing. A fully open sourced OS acting as a cradle for a legacy OS first created in the proprietary era? Cats and dogs living together. It says something nice about the flexibility of Linux, a trait that's a byproduct of its open source development community.
But the alliance also says something about MPE/iX and its continuing value. Stromasys believes as much, investing in R&D not even HP could get into its budget to give MPE/iX a way to boot up on Intel hardware. Extend the value of your apps with fresh hardware, the vendor says. To this day, even HP-UX won't jumpstart on Intel systems—unless they're Itanium servers. X86-Xeon won't work with HP's Unix.
That enduring value of MPE and the 3000's PA-RISC architecture is something Byrne sees clearly after decades of managing 3000s. "The real problem with the HP 3000 is that it just works," he said, "and so every other issue gets precedence above migration."
January 26, 2016
Migrating apps creates years of 3000 work
A double-handful of HP 3000s, 10 in all, remain on duty a few more years at a North American manufacturer with multiple sites. The systems are a mix of 9x9 and N-Class systems, waiting on a project to complete that will replace the 3000 apps with comparable software on Windows.
This app replacement is an example of one of the three flavors of migration discussed tomorrow (Jan. 27) in an MB Foster webinar. The first of a four-part series, Application Migrations / 3R's of Migration, starts at 2 PM Eastern US time.
At the North American manufacturer, according to systems engineer Dan Barnes, the Fortune 1000 company uses Lawinger Consulting for HP 3000 application management.
Our client has four remaining production locations using individual HP 3000s, plus one EDI server and one development server. All are awaiting conversion to a Wintel-based application alternative, which is still two-to-five years down the road for them. We have an additional 4 DR servers as backup to these systems.
There's nothing virtual about these systems. The servers are physical HP 3000s. "We will stay with these until completion of the application migration, then harvest," Barnes said.
Lawinger's support team does all the 3000 support remotely, unless specific activities require them to be onsite. The application "is being modified as a replacement to the shelf app," Barnes added.
Replacement plans for migration have some of the highest rates of success, even though the software must often be heavily modified to match existing business practices. Lift and shift proposals from the past decade, where tens to hundreds of thousands of lines of code were dropped onto a new platform, are being trimmed back.
Foster's webinars often include advice on the best practices of choosing replacement software. A company making a transition to a replacement app needs to understand what data will be needed, at what detail level, and in what timeframe. The best answers to those questions might come from outside of the IT group. In fact, Foster says they often do. A solid team of transition stakeholders always includes an important seat for a member from the business group.
Replacement of a 15- or 20-year MPE/iX app suite also might not be a favored choice in the IT group. That group includes the experts who know the programs best. Nothing seems like it will be a clean, quick fit for what's been running the company — not at first. Replacing with a non-MPE version of the app sometimes leaves key integrated surround code at the curb, too. Replacing surround code is a good project for outside expertise. Companies which consult on that task have field experience on success to share.
The good news: replacing a business suite is not as dangerous as replacing a human body joint. You get to shop and specify and test for replacement software, even while the worn-down hip of the business suite continues to bear the weight of the company's enterprise. Backing out of a replacement -- replacing the replacement -- is just as extensive in software as it is in medicine. It's like doing it all over again. But replacing after an attempt at rehosting? That's the least effective strategy of all.
January 25, 2016
VMware solution assists Win10's 3000 debut
Windows 10 is making its way into HP 3000 shops. Earlier today a manager had loaded up Win10 and then discovered that Reflection, the terminal emulator built for HP 3000 access, wasn't working anymore.
"My Attachmate Reflections v18.104.22.168 does not work — it has an error when trying to start," said George Forsythe. He wanted to know about any available updates for the former WRQ product. It's not a former product, but Reflection for HP, as it's known today, is a Micro Focus product. Last year Micro Focus bought Attachmate, the company that purchased WRQ.
The short answer is version 14.1.543 (SP4), according to Craig Lalley. It's a matter of an update, but a mission-critical connection might demand a faster solution. One well-known program that aids Windows migration of 3000-attached desktops was mentioned by Neil Armstrong, developer of the Robelle data utility Suprtool. VMware can have your back if you're taken a PC onto Win10 and something critical like the 3000 connection stops running, he said.
This is why I've "virtualized" some key environments that are used for development. If something like this comes up, you're not stuck with a critical problem at a key moment.
Supported software is sometimes built with customized routines to use desktop OS modules. That means it can stop working when a desktop environment changes. There's profound changes in Windows 10. Forsythe reports the AICS freeware terminal emulator QCTerm, built for the 3000, still works on Win10, even while his not-quite-fresh Reflection didn't.
Armstrong said the reliance on using VMware to preserve stable desktops comes with a cost. You can't ignore updates to the virtualization engine.
Once something like [a desktop OS release] is stable and set up, you just turn off all updates and back it up. Of course, the weak point then becomes if VMware doesn't work with whatever OS update is currently going on. But there seems to be enough resources and typically there is a solution on hand, as long as you keep that software up to date.
Micro Focus is maintaining Reflection, but one 3000-L member reports the upgrades are no longer free. Older versions of Reflection work with Win10, according to Steve Cooper of Allegro, "with only a few nuisances that can be worked around."
Cooper was using version 10.0.5 of Reflection. When we last checked, that's software more than a decade old. Apparently the extra value of later releases is offset by their compatibility challenges. There's a lesson in there about older software, like QCTerm and elderly Reflection — and MPE/iX — being a more stable solution, even in the face of change.
And if Windows 10 is software that's too new to behave well on a PC connected to a 3000, there's a way to stay on a prior release and stop the "upgrade to Windows" reminders. Paul Edwards, consultant, board member and OpenMPE volunteer, offered this advice.
For those of us who really want to stay on Win 7 for a while and not be reminded to upgrade to Win 10, there is a tool available from www.ultimateoutsider.com/downloads. It is GWX Control Panel. The control panel has a status page to tell you whether the “Get Windows 10” app is running, whether it is enabled, whether the Win 10 files have been downloaded to your PC, and if so, how much room the files are taking up on your computer. If the files are there, the control panel can remove them for you. This is much better than modifying the registry.
I have installed and run the GWX Control Panel. I had it delete the Win 10 logo, folders, and files (6 GB). I had no problems with my PC afterwards. And no Win 10 reminder.
January 22, 2016
A 3000, awaiting replacement, still at work
If the above headline sounds like your homesteading situation, then you're an interim homesteader. Or a wannabe migrator, which can amount to the same thing if the pain of retaining a 3000 and MPE is low. In the hospital they ask you to rate your pain on a scale of 0-10. Nobody says 0, unless they're deep into morphine. There's usually some.
At Cerro Wire, the pain level must be not more than a 2, but the 3000 is being targeted for replacement. As part of our survey of the 3000 managers who speak up on the 3000-L, we got a report back from Herb Statham. He's led the 3000 computing at the manufacturer based in Alabama, with operations elsewhere in the US, too. Statham notes that the MPE server at Cerro continues to work. It's something like staying on your job even after you've been laid off, because they can't find a replacement yet.
Uncommon for an employee. Commonplace among interim homesteading systems. Statham, who was hiring for 3000 operations as recently as 2014 -- and had a contract 3000 expert at work until October — reports that Intel-based systems are preferred now at Cerro.
We are still running an A500 box at Cerro Wire. The game’s afoot to replace our current business applications with ones that are Intel- and Microsoft-based. I do not know when the final decision will be made, but the HP 3000 just keeps chirping along. I am trying to get “semi-retired” to only work two or three days a week, until the “new and better” system is in place.
Intel had prospects earlier at Cerro, in a different capacity. Statham was public about a 3000 emulator's chances there, even before the Stromasys Charon software had a big footprint. Cerro was going to be a classic 3000 manufacturer pushing their MPE apps into a long-running role. Leaving the HP hardware behind looked to be important, but other apps on other platforms were already working there.Some IT managers call this situation "floating." So long as the MPE applications don't fall short, their cost of ownership and low need for attention keeps them running. A turn-off date at the start of 2016 becomes a midyear close-out, and then that depends on how soon replacement apps on Windows get integrated. Any nagging pains about relying on an environment now in its fifth decade of useful life are offset by the Tylenol of low costs and stability.
It works for companies that don't see massive growth coming soon. At Cerro, which is a Berkshire Hathaway company, business has been good. Back in 2014, just before the help-wanted call went out, the pressure to migrate was low.
In profile stories from 2014, we heard this report.
Statham has no pressure from Cerro management to replace the applications that are successful at running the company. With ample spare parts, independent support and storage consulting, and his own source in hand, he needs only the green light from Dell to move forward. Specifics on pricing and performance are still in play from Stromasys, at least from his vantage point. A 1.5 version of CHARON HPA/3000 was announced late last year, promising increased performance. But meeting the speed needs of an A-Class would be no challenge for the CHARON lineup.
This veteran of 3000 deployment and management has little desire to send his company toward an application replacement that might end up with Cerro "spending millions of dollars." There are many years left for MPE/iX, and his company is an all-HP shop, with the exception of a couple of Dell monitors on Statham's desk. He can see a long future for the app the company has fine-tuned to its business.
The CALENDAR intrinsic roadblock is the only thing he can forecast by now. He's not sure how HP might react to an independent fix for that issue, a date challenge that's still 13 years away. (Of course, now it's 11-plus years until the December 31, 2017 deadline)
"If we could ever get this 2027 thing out of the way, you could run your applications indefinitely, so long as you’ve got someone to support them," he says. "My only concern is HP themselves, in the event that someone said they had a patch to the operating system. You wouldn't have to worry about the year, because there was some type of workaround."
There's a number of ideas in there, from relying on MPE doing its job 11 more years (not out of the range of possibility) to seeing an independent lab develop a 2027 workaround (also not impossible, so long as community experts don't do more than semi-retire) to HP getting in the way of this kind of lifespan extension. There's zero pain to the MPE's creator in letting the OS keep working. It doesn't require much pay by now. That's the sort of thing that makes some migrations wannabes, or at least keeps them floating in the future.
January 19, 2016
It's becoming an MPE Server, this HP 3000
Hewlett-Packard stopped building 3000s in 2003, cutting off a product line in the belief that users would leave the server. But after thousands of them did just that, thinking there would be no more MPE/iX servers to be purchased, an emulator emerged. After more than four years, it might be changing the concept of what is an HP 3000. Brian Edminster of Applied Technologies wonders what's the future for the system that delivers MPE/iX apps.
"It seems to me that it's almost more accurate to call these beloved hosts 'MPE/iX' systems," he said, "rather than 3000s, since — eventually, at least — no one will be running 'original' HP hardware."
We have asked around the community about how this concept plays out. James Byrne, 3000 manager at logistics provider Hart & Lyne, offers one view on what makes up his idea of a device to use MPE/iX.
There's more at stake at his shop: software migration patterns, a way to ensure what's running on HP-built hardware operates on a fresh MPE/iX server. Pricing for a key 4GL-reporting tool — you'll know which one — got in the way at Hart & Lyne. MPE's the keystone there, but Byrne says his company won't tie itself to a single-vendor system in the future.
I consider our systems to be MPE/iX rather than HP 3000. The hardware does not really matter to us any more, since most of the rest of our critical infrastructure is already running on commodity Intel 64 bit boxes. We simply keep two or three of everything running on different 3000 hosts most of the time, and have them continually cross checking each other. That approach has covered us well in the one or two serious incidents we have experienced these past 15 years since HP gave up on the 3000.
If the Charon emulator was priced in the same range as a used HP 3000, and ran on Linux, and used KVM virtualization, then we would in all probability move to it as an interim step, if only to escape the aging hardware MPE/iX is running on.
I believe those conditions are unlikely to all be met, so we do not consider the emulator as a possibility. We still would have to deal with the issue of Powerhouse licensing fees. The last inquiry we made with respect to Powerhouse provided a price that was startling to say the least. We would even entertain moving to Powerhouse on Linux as an interim step, if the price were not so exorbitant and the product supported PostgreSQL. However, when last we looked Powerhouse only supports proprietary databases, so again it is not even a consideration.
Those examples are representative of why we are never going back to proprietary software: predaceous pricing and technological limitations dictated primarily by marketing. Whatever we write for ourselves in future, we are not going to be held to ransom if we wish to move it from one system to another.
January 05, 2016
Migrating 3000 Data from Spoolfiles to Excel
I need assistance with putting an output spool file from MPE/iX 7.5 into Excel or other readable format. The file is generated by Query, then processed by Editor, then sent to the printer. Instead of printing it, I want to put it into a readable format.
I do not have QEdit or any smart tools on MPE, so my approach thus far has been to move the file to a PC before doing anything. However, that carries with it the initialization sequence for the printer to which the job is spooled. The job is set up to print on a PCL 5 laser, which means it has hundreds of lines of control before the data starts.
Tom Moore replies
I would put commas in between my columns (in the query, or using Editor). I FCOPY from the file to a new file with NOCCTL to get rid of carriage control byte. You could also remove the PCL 5 lines by subset in the FCOPY command. Depending on the data, I would use EDIT3000 to change all " ," to "," and all ", ","," to compress the file, removing the spaces before and after the commas inserted above, then save the file for download to the PC.
I would also consider using ODBC to directly extract from the IMAGE database, rather than Query and all the subsequent steps. The HP free ODBC driver would do the job very well.
Birket Foster of MB Foster notes
Not only did we make that free ODBCLink/SE as HP's lab resource from 1998 to 2006, but we have continued to develop the ability to work with data in all kinds of file formats. We do supply 32- and 64-bit versions for ODBC to the HP 3000.
UDALink-MPE was designed for the HP 3000. We provide data in several different formats including XLS for Excel, XML, CSV etc. We can have a discussion about what you are trying to do with data; perhaps UDACentral is the right product for your challenge and we can organize a demonstration for you.Charles Finley adds
There seem to be at least three steps to what you are trying to do.
- Remove the headers, footers and perhaps page numbers from the report.
- Remove the ff or CNTL characters from the text file.
- Import a space-delimited file to Excel.
There are any number of different scripting tools that can do this including various Unix tools. Here's a reference to an Excel solution that might get you started. In fact, if it were my problem to solve, I would likely do it all with Excel scripting.
John Hohn replies
- Output to a delimited file (tabs, pipes, etc).
- Download to your laptop or PC or wherever Excel is running
- Start macro recording in Excel
- Import/format the delimited file, save as .xls
- Turn recording off, save macro
Set the Excel file to auto-execute the macro every time the Excel file it's opened, i.e., re-input/format the delimited file. Then you can, for example, schedule delivery of a new version of this delimited file whenever you'd like, to your server. When people open it they would automatically get the formatted version of the new data.
Connie Sellitto of Hillary Software suggests
Hillary Software has a product, byREQUEST, which does just this.
It has the ability to suppress headings on pages after the first, and define the type of data in the columns (text, numeric, dates in various formats). It can remove blank pages and leading and trailing blank lines. It can even call an Excel macro to make the headings a different font, background color, etc — anything you'd want to do with a macro. In addition to Excel, byREQUEST can create a PDF file, Word, csv or Text.
December 02, 2015
HPSUSAN resources enable long 3000 life
As if in lock-step, the issues about control of 3000 licenses rose up yesterday after we discussed control of performance numbers and HPSUSAN for 3000 CPU boards. Consultant Torben Olsen wrote from Denmark that creating a backup hardware unit for a 3000 would be in the best interests of his client.
As has been discovered before in your community, having control of moving an HPSUSAN identifier to a backup box has issues. For one, there are fewer resources available to make such a move. Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, being a company in the throes of establishing new order and processes, is not one that Olsen wants to employ.
"I am not yet ready to spend weeks trying to get a valid answer on this matter from HP, so I hope there are another way," he wrote on the 3000-L mailing list.
I encourage my last HP 3000 client as much as I can to move on to another platform, one where they can be more sure to get required support in the future.
In the meantime, we consider getting a copy of the hardware. But we have the probably well-known problem that if that should work, we also need to be able to change the HPSUSAN. In the old days Client Systems could help with that, but my search for them did not give any usable result. Are they still in business? Are there any other possibilities?
Client Systems still operates a website that even offers HP 3000 hardware. Other HPSUSAN administration possibilities have revealed themselves on the 3000-L already. There's more at stake for the 3000 software vendors who still operate product support efforts, however. HPSUSAN is their way of knowing their software hasn't been copied illegally.HP once considered the 3000's CPUNAME designations as the most prized piece of the tech puzzle. In the late 1990s, a ring of hardware resellers were turning HP 9000 hardware into HP 3000 systems, according to the claims in a set of HP lawsuits. The vendor cared enough about protecting its reseller network that it pursued punishment for those ringleaders. It even rigged up a High Tech Task Force, using friendly law enforcement, to try to make a case against that theft.
The control of an HPSUSAN is a different matter, one that HP has never challenged with such legal efforts. An HP 3000's HPSUSAN number belongs to its owner, and it can be transferred to another owner. Making a hot-spare of a 3000 demands some advanced tech, though, to read the HPSUSAN into another CPU board's processor dependent code storage.
Client Systems was the last North American distributor to be able to do this. It's a technique that is matched in skill by the ability to un-cripple an A-Class server so it can run many times faster than HP concocted in its marketing schemes. As we reported yesterday, Craig Lalley of EchoTech has done such an un-crippling, returning an A-Class to its full speed capability.
Hewlett-Packard Enterprise (the new name of the old home of the 3000) has little to gain by helping, or to lose while overlooking, these homesteading customers' needs. It's now up to the independent consultants to supply what's needed. For a corporation in as much flux as the now-split HP, the value of controlling a computer that it's dropped seems a minor issue. Lalley's on the 3000-L reporting his skills, and there are others in the community with similar experience.
Andreas Schmidt, a 3000 manager in Germany, summed up the past as well as a proposition for a future where HPSUSAN could remain in control of its owners.
In the good old days, only HP support engineers had a tool to change the HPSUSAN on the main board so that third party software, licensed through the HPSUSAN, could continue to work if a hardware event forced a HPSUSAN onto a new board. If HP also provided this little program as open source, you could plan to change the HPSUSAN appropriate to use other hardware with different HPSUSAN.
The question to pose to a support provider might sound like: "How can I create a hot-spare of my 3000's CPU board, for disaster recovery purposes?" Or it might sound like Terry Simpkins speaking five years ago at a CAMUS user group meeting. He was saying, "Why doesn't everybody have a spare CPU board as part of their DR program?" It was possible to get HP to do the swap back then, when it was a single company that only had ousted its second CEO in five years.
Randy Meyer is the General Manager and VP of HP's Mission-Critical Systems group today. His unit sells Integrity servers, the successor to the HP proprietary hardware legacy. Even though Meyer's office seems like a place to get a ruling on this, in those latter HP support years the HPSUSAN swapping happened as an HP Support activity. Both of these units went into the new Hewlett-Packard Enterprise. Getting anybody at HP to recognize a 3000 as something other than a latex printer sums up the challenge that Olsen wants to avoid.
November 24, 2015
The Wide World of Connecting Storage
IO used to be more complex for IT. Sure, the array of choices for disk is vast today. But in the era when 3000s used to think they were lucky to get SCSI plugged into them, configuring disk connections was not simple. HP-IB protocol, built to link HP's instruments, was simple, used for all HP devices, and slow. But it was integrated and seamless compared to the SCSI of single-ended, fast/wide, and Ultra Fast.
Such was the case for one 3000 manager seeking advice from his colleagues. You never think about these things on a 3000 until the hardware breaks. Or backups fail. Or storage media gets rare. Aging hardware is one of several issues that require expertise, even if a 3000 runs the ultimate 7.5 version of MPE/iX. Our manager hunted for his help on the longest-running 3000 classroom in the world, the HP3000-L mailing list.
A single-CPU A-Class was moving away from DDS technology, the DDS-3 that was first launched in the '90s. There are other options for 3000 tape backup. But these options include single-ended, fast/wide, and other cable and termination combinations. DLT technology, introduced more recently but still a 1990s choice, runs with HP 3000s. It helps to get the ends right, though, if DLT is to have a new beginning on an old-school 3000.
"Until now they have done their backup on DDS," a manager talking to the 3000 newsgroup explained. "Lately they had a failure on the DDS drive, and have realized that it is getting difficult to get new tapes. They have decided to move to DLT8000, model C6378A, and have bought two of them. One is supposed to go live on the 3000, and the other to be stored as a spare device."
The DLT is hooked to the Ultra Wide SCSI interface on the A-Class. But ODE/Mapper doesn't recognize the device."
There was an error, and no DLT joy. Soon enough, one veteran consultant said, "You will have trouble connecting a fast wide SCSI device to an ultra-wide SCSI controller." It wasn't a rookie mistake, but the veterans who still prowl 3000-L had a solution and even a link to an inexpensive fix. So it goes, here in the fifth decade of HP 3000 mission-critical service. Answers are everywhere.This wasn't an inexperienced 3000 pro, it seemed, when reading that he tried to "add the device in IOCONFIG by adding first the path 0/0/1/0.2, and then the device with the command: ad 8;path=0/0/1/0.2.0;ID=dlt;mode=autoreply."
SCSI on the 3000 sure isn't the world of USB, where just 2.0 and 3.0 cover the scope of IO choices. A $59 adapter card connected that DLT to the 3000. The IO challenge also prompted advice even a pro might not know — making a case for having fresher hardware than HP's to run MPE.
There was advice about using Mapper on the 3000 to troubleshoot an IO device from Michalis Melis.
Normally the path and the device should be recognized by running ODE/ Mapper without even loading the operating system. You do not have to go to SYSGEN. If Mapper fails you have a problem before the OS loads.
Craig Lalley made the link between two incompatible kinds of SCSI interfaces.
You are trying to hook up a Fast/Wide SCSI device to an Ultrawide interface. The C6378A can only connect to a HVD Fast Wide SCSI interface (A4800A SCSI card comes to mind). Remember, the A-class does not support Dual-Head cards, so your only option is A4800A. You need either a DLT8000 with a Fast-Wide interface, or you need a cheap A4800A HVD (High Voltage Differential) SCSI card. You can daisy chain devices to the card, but I would only use one tape at a time.
Lalley also tipped his hat to Keven Miller, who supplied the link to that $59 adapter card.
Then Denys Beauchemin, who has been among one of the more prolific contributors to the 3000-L, delivered detailed advice about connecting backup devices. His background reaches back to the first decade of 3000 use, including years spent with Hi-Comp on backup software development.
Fast/Wide SCSI (FWSCSI) is essentially HVD SCSI on SCSI-2 standard. This means that the signal is a differential in the voltage between various wires (HVD is High Voltage Differential) and Ultrawide SCSI is SE (Single Ended) SCSI, on the SCSI-2 standard which makes is wide (16 bits), like the FWSCSI.
So what is needed is a converter to power the signal from the Ultra Wide SCSI interface on your server to the FWSCSI interface on the DLT device. I have a number of those somewhere here, but they were for SE SCSI, not UltraSCSI. They might work for that, since all they did was provide the powered signal and the cable is the one that converted from wide to narrow.
Another thing to consider is that since HP nicely crippled the A-class, that 3000 system would not be able to keep the DLT8000 streaming. And that device hates not streaming, so much so that it will enter shoeshine mode and perform abysmally. Just a parting gift from HP to the MPE community. You should hear what they're doing to the VMS crowd.
That last comment comes from Beauchemin's current duties as migration manager for the OpenVMS users who are leaving that platform. VMS had a steady Internet community to help Digital users, just as the 3000 has 3000-L. People like Beauchemin, largely working outside the 3000 world, are still providing advice for homesteaders -- even while assisting in migrations. After migration there is much to manage, but simply migrating off Hewlett-Packard's 3000 hardware makes using MPE/iX less complex.
November 09, 2015
Making 3000 Disk Faster By Virtualizing It
Age is an issue for HP 3000 homesteaders, a challenge that must be met on more than one front. Aging in-house expertise will require a replacement IT professional. That can be tricky to locate in 2015, but one way to approach the task is to train a consultant who's already a trusted resource.
At Conax Technologies, the veteran HP 3000 manager Rick Sahr was heading for retirement, an event that threw the spotlight on the suitability of MANMAN for ERP. Consultant Bob Ammerman stepped in to learn MPE/iX and the 3000's operations. That was a solution that followed an effort to replace MANMAN with another ERP software suite, running under Windows.
The trouble with the replacement application stemmed from its database. Oracle drove that app suite, and Conax and Ammerman were assured that having strong experience in Oracle wasn't a requirement of adopting the replacement app. "I'm a SQL Server guy," Ammerman said. His work to interface MANMAN with Windows helped to preserve the 3000's role. That rescue was the best way forward when the company chose to back away from the new app.
The shift in plans opened the door for the Stromasys Charon HPA emulator. As it turned out, the $100,000 of server and SAN disk purchased for the ERP replacement app was a good fit for virtualizing the 3000. Charon can just about match the CPU performance of the replaced Series 928. The bonus has been what virtualization has done for storage and disk speed. It's erased the other age barrier, the one presented by old disk drives."As soon as you go out to touch the disk, it just screams," Ammerman said of the Charon solution. Backups now blaze along, because the virtualized 3000 system is writing to virtualized tape drives. A Windows-based backup for the Dell server and the SAN takes care of protecting the disk images which aere created while using Charon.
The emulator's virtualization of the 3000 CPU is governed by the number of CPU cores, threads, and the speed of the chips. The Dell system runs at 2.7 GHz, a little lower than Stromasys has recommended. "It just works," Ammerman said of what's kept the 3000's age from showing. The nips and tucks that came along with the facelift of hardware are protecting the company's MPE/iX investments.
A retiring MPE guru, along with hardware that's more than 15 years old could point to a migration, one with a serious deadline for completion. "Nobody's in a hurry to move now," Ammerman said. "We'd hoped to get off the 3000 years ago." Now the letters of interest for replacing MANMAN have yet to go out to prospective vendors. Infor, the vendor that's holding the reins and license for MANMAN, has a shot at replacing the MPE/iX app.
When a company can expand its IT know-how by hiring the right person to learn MPE/iX, that's a serious gap that's been overcome. The hurdle of disk age was cleared at Conax by virtualizing that hardware so it runs on late-model drives attached to a Windows system. The most important part of the mission-critical solution remains stable and unchanged: the MPE/iX application.
It's all been made possible with the right approach to managing legacy hardware. "I like old tech," Ammerman said, explaining that he started with Data General business servers. DG has emulation solutions, too. Finding something fresh to emulate what's been successful has been a proven strategy for companies that can't justify migration yet.
November 05, 2015
Licensing advice for hardware transitions
Today the CAMUS user group hosted a phone-in meeting, one where the main topic was how to manage licensing issues while changing hardware. Not HP to HP hardware, within the 3000 family. This migration is an aspect of homesteading: moving off the Hewlett-Packard branded 3000 hardware and onto Intel servers. The servers run Stromasys Charon HPA, which runs the applications and software built for MPE.
In-house apps need no such relicense, but everything else demands disclosure. This is a personal mission for companies that want to leave HP hardware behind, but keep their MPE software. In one story we've heard, a manager said the vendor would allow its software to run under Charon. "But you're on your own for support," the vendor told the manager. No-support licenses are the kind that satisfy auditors. In lots of cases, self-support or help from independent companies is better than the level which that sort of vendor offers.
We've talked with three managers who've done this MPE software relicensing, all reporting success. Two of these managers told their stories at today's meeting. Last year we collected the tale of re-licensing from Jeff Elmer, IT manager for Dairylea Cooperative. They left a Series 969 for a PC-based host when old drives in the 969 posed a risk.
He said licensing the software for the Charon emulator solution at Dairylea was some work, with some suppliers more willing to help in the move than others. The $1.7 billion organization covers seven states and uses at least as many third party vendors. “We have a number of third party tools, and we worked with each vendor to make the license transfers,” said Elmer.
“We won’t mention any names, but we will say that some vendors were absolutely wonderful to work with, while others were less so. It’s probably true that anyone well acquainted with the HP 3000 world could make accurate guesses about which vendors fell in which camp.”
Some vendors simply allowed a transfer at low cost or no cost; others gave a significant discount because Dairylea has been a long-time customer paying support fees. ”A couple wanted amounts of money that seemed excessive, but in most cases a little negotiation brought things back within reason,” Elmer said. The process wasn’t any different than traditional HP 3000 upgrades: hardware costs were low, but software fees were significant.
“The cumulative expense of the third party software upgrades was nearly a deal-breaker,” Elmer said. “In the end, our management was concerned enough about reliance on old disk drives that they made the decision to move forward. In our opinion it was money very well spent.”
Another guest at today's conference, Bob Ammerman, manages 3000 operations at Conex Technologies. He didn't negotiate with Unicom when Conax Technologies did its test runs of Stromasys Charon HPA. Another IT group member did the bargaining, and in the end, Conax still runs its Powerhouse Quiz, QTP and even the 4GL. But its license load is lighter.
The arrangement with what people still think of as "Cognos" took a long while, so long that IBM was dragging its feet in correspondence. As a consulting contractor for the company, he said, "We were bringing our software packages over one by one, and the dealing started all over when the software was bought by Unicom." In the final arrangement there was an approval issued to transfer licenses, but Conax elected to reduce its user count for its software based on these products.
"We now have a 1-user license at the developer level," Ammerman said. "We've moved away from use of the software, too," although Quiz is still important to Conax. A reduction in reporting is possible because Ammerman wrote a set of SQL stored procedures in VB Net to move data from MANMAN operational databases into SQL Server. That's where some reporting has moved, although some canned Quiz reports still operate at the company.
That mission covered the biggest software tool at the company. There was still the matter of MANMAN to transfer. The dealing with Infor, the current owners of the manufacturing app, was still to come.
Conax cut back on its Powerhouse use by developing an in-house reporting system Ammerman calls SQLMan. "We built one application from [the Cognos products] as a sidecar app," he said. Cost codes drive the report queries at this manufacturer of temperature sensors. New reports are only developed as canned queries when they utilize Quiz. Much of the reporting comes out of a SQL Server database that runs off a snapshot of the MANMAN data.
"All the stuff that I've been building has reduced the need for the Cognos software," Ammerman said. The single-3000 shop has ported line-of-business important applications away from Powerhouse.
It's significant to note at this point that arranging these license transfers is the responsibility of the individual company. Stromasys takes no role in making these transfers happen. Any existing deals in the marketplace between other 3000 users and their app vendors don't carry any weight — at least not officially. There's no posted pricing lists for these arrangements at the app vendors.
So Conax cut its own deal with Infor to keep MANMAN on MPE/iX under the emulator. "We moved it relatively cheaply," Ammerman said. "We're now paying an annual license to Infor. They were glad to be nice to us."
In the very first success story for Charon HPA, Warren Dawson moved his company's applications that relied on Powerhouse to the emulator in 2012. His company was using a Series 947 server which was more than 20 years old to take care of mission-critical operations.
Nearly all of Dawson's third party vendors came on board and made efforts to ensure their software works. “One was a little slow in doing so, so we made a workaround," he said, "and then I made that a permanent workaround. I didn’t know when they would come on board. They came on just before we went live, and we’d already decided to move away from their product.”
In the case of a switch in backup processes, Dawson’s procedures now back up twice as much data, using HP’s standard STORE and RESTORE programs — in less time than when the backup was done using the third party software on the HP box.
The change from using HP’s native iron to emulation has also reinvigorated some of Dawson’s MPE software vendors.
“I’ve even gotten better support from some of our vendors now that we’re emulating," he said. "They see that there’s an extended life in the system, and so a couple of them have made efforts in that regard. We’ve been paying support for years, and for some software we’d hadn’t asked for support in 10 years. They’ve come back to our requests to help us and been very good about it."
One backup software solution didn’t make the transition from 3000 hardware and storage devices to the emulated system. DAT tapes presented an extra effort. Dawson used a utility to copy the tapes to disk, “and for some reason when I did that, it didn’t work properly in the backup software. There was some sort of SCSI issue which was at Stromasys’s end, and they’ve since resolved that issue. But the backup vendor said initially they weren’t supporting the emulator, so we worked something else out.
The Quiz reporting tool is part of the software set that’s made the step onto the emulator. The company buys and maintains its Powerhouse licenses through a reseller, and that partner has handed the relicensing of Quiz onto the emulator. “I haven’t dealt directly with Cognos for a long time,” Dawson said.
Minisoft’s ODBC drivers run on the emulated system, since part of the application’s project is to extract data. Since the databases and the application have been emulated, Dawson’s remains able to use Visual Basic programs, using the ODBC drivers, to do reports as well as updates. Dawson singled out the company as taking extra time to help make the emulation succeed.
“Minisoft’s been the most helpful, because that reporting system started out being the most troublesome. We’ve been having a VB 6 program issue, where those programs ran under Windows XP but are an issue under Windows 7. These programs were written 10 years ago, and the people who wrote them are long since gone. They explained how I could run their software in different ways, with the old driver under VB 6 on XP versus a new driver for .NET on Windows 7.”
October 27, 2015
Data migration taxes migration time budgets
It can take months to move data from one platform to another. Just ask Bradley Rish, who as part of the Potpourri Group managed a two-step process to migrate away from Ecometry software on an N-Class HP 3000. Potpourri first went to Ecometry on HP-UX, then a few years later moved away from HP's proprietary environment to Windows. Same application, with each move aimed at a more commodity platform.
But there was nothing commodity about the company's data. Data migration required eight months, more than the IT pros at the company estimated. Rish said that two full-time staffers, working the equivalent of one year each, were need to complete the ultimate migration to Windows.
Migrations of data don't automatically mean there's an exit from the HP 3000. At Potpourri, after a couple of years of research by IT, the exit from the 3000 was based on HP's plans for the computer, not any inability to serve more than 200-plus in-house users, plus process Web transactions. It's a holding company that serves 11 other web and catalog brands. Starting now through the end of 2015, more than half its transactions occur in the final 90 days of each year. Holiday gift season is the freeze-out time for retailer IT changes.
High-transaction installations create some of the largest collections of data. Two staffers working for one year is one approach to leaving an app. For the record, by the second migration, Ecometry still wasn't working as fast as it did on the 3000. But sometimes vendor plans for a server demand a migration. "Ecometry is IO unfriendly under Oracle," said Rish, "but Ecometry is less unfriendly under Windows than HP-UX. It's still not as fast as the 3000."
If the speed of processing takes a hit, at least there's a way to complete a migration quicker. Automation slims down the time required to move data. Some details on how this works, and reports of success in the field, will come from MB Foster on the Wednesday Webinar, starting at 2 PM Eastern Time.Potpourri operates some familiar websites, but CEO Birket Foster's company has even better known case studies to share. Exxon, for example, "had a very customized application running on an HP 3000," he said, "and we moved it to an HP Itanium Unix box. There are Endian issues in doing that," referring to the differences between Big Endian and Little Endian data types of HP 3000s and HP's Unix systems." The company had an operation of 300 well-heads.
"You can't buy a 300 well-head off the shelf application anywhere," he said in a Webinar earlier this year. "It was a $32 billion a year operation, and we were able to complete it for them under budget, and on time." UDACentral was at the heart of that project.
MB Foster recently began to license that software for use by independent integrators and consultants. Rental licensing is new, based on project size in records, as well as duration of use. Two years elapsed between those Potpourri migrations from Itanium to the Ecometry that runs on Intel Dell servers. In the retail business, getting a project completed in nine months is crucial. That holiday quarter is off limits for changes.
October 26, 2015
Migrating licenses: an individual's mission
Hewlett-Packard's 3000 hardware is getting older, and although it's well-built, 13-year-old drives make for a good migration spark. The move to Stromasys emulators is another sort of migration, shifting MPE onto standard Intel hardware, but what of the application and software licenses? Getting them transferred is a mission for each company migrating away from HP-badged 3000s. So far, we've heard few reports of show-stopper licensing woes.
The first company that's discussed is the owners of the Powerhouse software. While that's not Cognos, or even IBM anymore, its owners are still a company that does not automatically see value in keeping a customer on support. Bob Ammerman didn't negotiate with Unicom when Conax Technologies did its test runs of Stromasys Charon HPA. Another IT group member did the bargaining, and in the end, Conax still runs its Powerhouse Quiz, QTP and even the 4GL. But its license load is lighter.
The arrangement with what people still think of as "Cognos" took a long while, so long that IBM was dragging its feet in correspondence. As a consulting contractor for the company, he said "We were bringing our software packages over one by one, and the dealing started all over when the software was bought by Unicom." In the final arrangement there was an approval issued to transfer licenses, but Conax elected to reduce its user count for its software based on these products.
"We now have a 1-user license at the developer level," Ammerman said. "We've moved away from use of the software, too," although Quiz is still important to Conax. A reduction in reporting is possible because Ammerman wrote a set of SQL stored procedures in VB Net to move data from MANMAN operational databases into SQL Server. That's where some reporting has moved, although some canned Quiz reports still operate at the company.
That mission covered the biggest software tool at the company. There was still the matter of MANMAN to transfer. The dealing with Infor, the current owners of the manufacturing app, was still to come.Conax cut back on its Powerhouse use by developing an in-house reporting system Ammerman calls SQLMan. "We built one application from [the Cognos products] as a sidecar app," he said. Cost codes drive the report queries at this manufacturer of temperature sensors. New reports are only developed as canned queries when they utilize Quiz. Much of the reporting comes out of a SQL Server database that runs off a snapshot of the MANMAN data.
"All the stuff that I've been building has reduced the need for the Cognos software," Ammerman said. The single-3000 shop has ported line-of-business important applications away from Powerhouse.
It's significant to note at this point that arranging these license transfers is the responsibility of the individual company. Stromasys takes no role in making these transfers happen. Any existing deals in the marketplace between other 3000 users and their app vendors don't carry any weight — at least not officially. There's no posted pricing lists for these arrangements at the app vendors.
So Conax cut its own deal with Infor to keep MANMAN on MPE/iX under the emulator. "We moved it relatively cheaply," Ammerman said. "We're now paying an annual license to Infor. They were glad to be nice to us."
That's long-term thinking on the part of Infor. Vendors who are cooperating in these license migrations look toward a future when MPE won't be an option any more for their customers. Some vendors have solutions that run on other platforms. As an example, MB Foster "was happy to do a transfer," he said. This strategy preserves an investment while it maintains support revenue for vendors.
Users at Conax employ a front-end interface to SQLMan. If the company could "bring down MANMAN nightly for a snapshot, we would." Instead, they shut down the application completely once a month. It also means that company historical data is online at anytime. "One company manager asked me to look at 2010 data, and we could," Ammerman said. "We used to have to purge the old data, but we don't have to anymore" with the SQLMan transfer procedures.
Carrying licenses forward involves calls and contact vendor-by-vendor, but some have policies in place. Especially those who've done decades of business with 3000 users. From backup software right down to applications, everything's been migrated to the fresher Intel hardware running MPE/iX. "They'd be silly not to re-license products," Ammerman said, "if they want to keep their support revenue."
October 19, 2015
Emulator helps DTC-printer shop into 2015
A classic manufacturer of temperature and pressure equipment needed to bring its MPE/iX environment onto current-day hardware. Even though Conax Technologies was still using DTCs like the one at left to link 3000s to terminals, as well as to line-feed printers, the Charon-HPA software helped to lift the full MANMAN solution onto a virtualized HP 3000 environment.
Like many of Charon's customers, Conax was working with aging Hewlett-Packard hardware. A Series 928 was linked to user terminals as well as printers over a DTC network. The Datacommunications and Terminal Controller was a hardware device, configured as a node on a LAN, to enable asynchronous devices to communicate to Series 900s. Terminals were directly connected to DTCs, and at Conex, printers as well.
"The printers were our biggest challenge," said Bob Ammerman, the IT consultant who oversees the MPE/iX operations at the company. "We had wires running to desks, we had DTCs. Some of the PCs were using QCTerm." About 40 users access MANMAN at peak times at the company's operations in New York State.
Those printers were a significant element in the multi-part form heritage of the company. After the implementation of Charon was completed, MANMAN "thinks it's still printing to the dot-matrix devices, but we've upgraded them to laser printers," Ammerman said. The emulator project included license transfers of Cognos PowerHouse products, the 60-user MANMAN license, as well as middleware from MB Foster and others. Conax took the responsibility for arranging each transfer.
Retiring aged hardware like old disks, dot matrix printers, and non-IP networks is a common need among Charon's user base. But the software is not as easily replaced. Applications like MANMAN become part of the fabric of manufacturing companies the size of Conax. Networking has made the leap from DTCs to TCP/IP. While the company could "take our remaining terminals and dumpster them," MANMAN and its decades of data has to keep working.
"Conax has built its business model around MANMAN," Ammerman said. Like many such companies, any move to another ERP solution would trigger changes to its business processes. Staying in the MPE environment, but moving the hosting hardware to a Intel-based server stack, preserved the firm's work of customizing software to meet company practices.
"Every piece of the 3000 software just ran" on the Charon emulator after testing and some revisions to accommodate needs at Conex. "As I like to say, the bits in there don't change," said Ammerman, who can count his IT experience back to the days of classic Data General minicomputers. While he admits to liking old tech, the new hardware-software stack is up to date on virtualization choices: the Dell servers (using 2.7 GHz processors) run VMware, with Ubuntu Linux configured to manage Charon, and MPE being managed by that Stromasys emulator.
The manufacturer has bought a perpetual license for Charon, which is software that's sometimes licensed for a fixed term. "I'd do it again," Ammerman said of the virtualization that brought a DTC-laden shop into the virtualization era. "We're very pleased with Stromasys."
September 11, 2015
Fiber and SSD discs boost 3000 speed
While getting an update an IT manager at the welded carbon steel tubing manufacturer Jackson Tube, we discovered a field report on the combination of Linux, Fiber Channel networks and large disk that's being installed by Beechglen. Early this year, Mike Hornsby briefed us on the basics of the setup, one designed to bring fast storage options using Storage Area Networks to 3000s. Dennis Walker at Jackson Tube supplied some specifics.
We are currently using Beechglen's Linux Fiber Optic SAN on solid state drives with Distributed Replicated Block Device (DRBD) replication, which gave us a giant increase in speed. It's very cool; they use a Linux server with SCST Target SCSI for Linux to act as a Fiber Channel SCSI device. It uses Qlogic Fiber Channel boards to connect to the HP 3000.
Our setup is in-house, using their hardware on a hosting contract with Beechglen. We have two of their SAN devices and two of their HP 3000s, one production and one development system. The SANs are connected over an Ethernet fiber converter in two different buildings 1,000 feet apart. They have set up Linux's DRBD, and so can cross-mirror the HP 3000 logical block devices.
Before they told me about their setup, I had already been investigating a similar solution with the same software but with a SCSI-iSCSI adapter. They offered what I wanted all set up and tested, and using Fiber Channel. Plus they said they had to patch MPE to work correctly, which I could have never have done.
The Linux Fiber Optic SAN doesn't have a fancy user interface, Walker added, "but having used Linux since 1992, the text configuration files and shell commands are just fine for me. Most people have them do everything and just know they have a Beechglen SAN, so it's all transparent to them."
The HP 3000 LUNs are just flat files pointed to by the SCST configuration and can be copied for one kind of backup when the 3000 is shut down, which is a super-fast backup and recovery. Although we don't back up that way, we have a base system backup of the LUN files for a quick recovery, and we do disk to disk backup using TurboStore True Online to a private volume LUN setup on a regular disk drive. Those backup files are FTP'd to our company backup servers.
The performance is radically faster. We've seen 4,000 to 5,000 logical IO's per second, compared to a couple hundred at the peak on our old Model 20 Arrays. We've been on the system for 15 months with no problems. I consult with a company in town that uses much fancier EMC arrays with Windows servers and they cannot say the same. Plus, they have lost data because of EMC problems. This solution is not nearly as fancy, but it's very simple and reliable using just regular Linux subsystems.
The vendor recommends an upgrade to an A-Class or N-Class to take advantage of native Fiber Channel. The solution uses CentOS Linux.
September 09, 2015
Still Emulating, After All of These Years
The Dairylea Cooperative was among the first of the North American 3000 emulator users to testify about making the choice to dump its HP hardware and keep MPE/iX. We ran a detailed story about Jeff Elmer and the organization that covers seven US states with sales, distribution and marketing for dairy farmers. There's a long history of Dairylea success, as well as success with the 3000.
We decided to check in after a couple of years and see what everyday life with Linux, MPE and the Charon emulator looks like today. The IT director Jeff Elmer answered our queries straight away, as if he was ready for the questions. He's making good use of VMware, so in that he's right in step with the virtualization strategy that was celebrated at the recent VMworld.
By Jeff Elmer
We started with the emulator in December 2013 and never looked back. We always loved the HP 3000 hardware, but with the emulator we no longer have any significant concerns about hardware failure since we aren't dependent on a RAID array consisting of disk drives built when some of our web developers were small children.
Even if we did encounter a hardware issue with the Proliant server that hosts the emulator, we could just fail over to an instance of the emulator we have standing by to run under our VMware environment in our business continuity site. We can "power up" that emulator in another city without getting out of our chairs. We would then restore from our most recent full backup (we do a full every day of the week which is written to disk and copied to the business continuity site) and then tell people to use the Reflection shortcut that points them to the emulator in the business continuity site.Our users never saw a difference between the "real" HP3000 and the emulator. Performance has been equivalent and it has also emulated that legendary HP 3000 reliability since we have had no downtime. The worst experience we have had with the emulator is a couple of instances when the system time got out of whack.
While we would prefer that something like that never happen (and recognize that it could be a disaster in some shops), having it occur roughly once a year isn't much more than an inconvenience to us. Stromasys let us know that this is corrected in the latest version; I'm assuming it was pretty difficult to track down since it was an intermittent problem.
It has been business as usual for us in the almost two years that we have been using the emulator, and our expectation is that it will be business as usual as long as the organization needs the systems that run on it.
I would recommend the product to anyone who wants to use their HP 3000 indefinitely.
July 21, 2015
User group takes virtual tack for conference
A vendor with ties back to the 1980s of the HP 3000 world took several steps today into the new world of virtual user conferences. The education and outreach at the Virtual Conference & Expo came in part from Fresche Legacy, formerly Speedware, but it was aimed at that company's latest prospects: IBM Series i enterprises. Advances in long-form remote training, with on-demand replays of tech talks, gave the IBM COMMON user group members of today a way to learn about the IBM i without booking time away from workplaces.
The offerings on the day-long agenda included talks about vendors' tools, as well as subjects like "Access your IBM i in the modern world with modern devices." Customer-prepared talks were not a part of today's event; that sort of presentation has become a rare element in the conference experience of 2015. But some of the best HP 3000 talks at the Interex user group meetings came from vendors, lifted up from the ranks of users.
The virtual conference of today won't be mistaken for the full-bore COMMON Fall Conference & Expo of this fall. That's a three-day affair in Fort Lauderdale, complete with opening night reception and conference hotel rates at the Westin. A few days in Florida could be a perk for a hard-working IT manager, even in early October.
But the practices of remotely educating users about enterprise IT have become polished by now. Wednesdays in the 3000 world have often included a webinar from MB Foster, guiding managers in subjects like Application Portfolio Management or data migration. Those are more dynamic opportunities, with individuals on an interactive call using presentation software including a Q&A element. They also cover skills that are more essential to the migration-bound customers — although data migration skills promise great potential payback for any IT pro.But whether it's on-demand talks bolstered by chat requests at the COMMON event, or a phone and demo-slide package at a Wednesday webinar, training doesn't equal travel anymore. A three-day event would've looked small to the HP Interex user group member of the 1990s. Over the final years of that user group's lifespan, though, even a handful of days away to train and network at a conference became an on-the-bubble choice.
Making a migration from a legacy platform like the 3000 opens up the opportunity to increase the level of learning in a career. But even legacy computing like the IBM i can trigger reasons to train and explore fresh features. It's another reminder that what matters to a vendor is not necessarily the strength of a legacy server's ecosystem, but the stickiness and size of the installed base.
IBM's i still counts six figures' worth of installed customers, and many have links to other IBM systems. IBM could afford to take care of an established base of proprietary computer systems. The independent third parties like MB Foster and others that remained after HP exited have been left to care for 3000 users on the move, and otherwise.
June 25, 2015
Throwback: The Days of the $5,000 Terminal
By Dave Wiseman
Most of you will know me as the idiot who was dragging about the alligator at the Orlando 1988 Interex conference, or maybe as the guy behind Millware. But actually I am a long-time HP 3000 user – one of the first three in the south of England.
I was just 27 when I started with an HP 3000. I had been in IT since 1967. One day I was approached by Commercial Union Assurance (a Big Blue shop) to set up an internal Time Sharing system. My brief was to set up "a better service than our users have today," a Geisco MK III and and a IBM Call 360. In those days, the opportunity to set up a "green fields site" from scratch was irresistible to a young, ambitious IT professional.
I investigated 30 different computers on around 80 criteria and the HP 3000 scored best. In fact, IBM offered the System 38 or the Series 1, neither of which met our needs well. IBM scored better in one category only – they had better manuals. I called the HP salesman and asked him in. What HP never knew is that if the project went well, there was a possibility that they would get on the shortlist for our branch scheme – a machine in every UK branch office. That would be 45 machines, when the entire UK installed base of HP 3000s was around 10 at the time.
IBM tried everything, including the new E Series which had not been publicly announced at the time. It was to be announced as the 4331 and you only — yes only — needed 3 or 4 systems programmers. I asked about delivery time compared to HP's 12-14 weeks for the 3000. I was told that IBM would put me in a lottery, and if our name came up, then we would get a machine.
So HP's salesman came in. I said I wanted to buy an HP 3000, to which he replied, "Well I'm not sure about that, as we've never done your application before. Why don't you buy a terminal and an acoustic coupler first, and make sure that your application works"
"Okay" I said, "where do I buy a coupler from?"
"No idea," he replied, "but the 2645A terminal is $5,000."
So I bought that 2645A (from our monthly hardware budget of around $1.5 million) and started dialing into a 3000 at the Winnersh office. On occasion, when I needed answers, I would drive over there and work on their machines. One durability test was to unscrew the feet on the disc drive and push it until the disc drive bounced onto its HP-IB cable. On more than one occasion the cable came out and you could just plug it back in and carry in working. If you tried that with an IBM you could expect two days of work to get it restarted.
I went to the first European Users Group meeting at the London School of Economics in 1978 and listened intently to all of the presentations, especially when HP management took the stage. They got a hammering because the performance of KSAM was not as good as several people had expected. After having dealt with IBM, I came back with the view that if that is the worst thing that they had to complain about, I was having a piece of this action. At the back of the hall there were two piles of duplicated paper – one yellow and one white. These were advertising Martin Gorfinkel's products LARC and Scribe, which amounted to the first vendor show.
After those tests and the investigation, we bought a Series III with 2MB of memory, two 120Mb 7925 drives, an 7970E tape drive, and a 2635A console. We purchased the 3000 during a unique three-month window when SPL, IMAGE and KSAM were included. Additional software included BASIC, a Basic compiler and APL. The machine arrived on time and was located in the network control area of the suburban London datacentre — the HP 3000 was not important enough to despoil the gleaming rows of Big Blue hardware.
We had users in six different buildings around the country. We had an eclectic mix of 2645A, 2641A, 2647A and later 2640 terminals. As we grew, we added 2621, 2622, 2623, 2624 and 2626 terminals. We also connected Radio Shack TRS 80 machines and IBM XT PCs. What we wouldn't have given for PC2622 emulation then. (That's WRQ Reflection, for you newbies.) We needed a number of printers to print out Life Assurance Quotations, and HP only sold a 30 character per second daisy wheel, which was three times the price of a third-party printer. HP's view was very simple – they would not provide hardware support for the CPU if we bought third-party printers. I called their bluff and bought the printers elsewhere.
At first, I connected all of the terminals at 2400 baud as the original systems (IBM Call/360 and Geisco) only had 1200 baud dial-up, so 2400 was very fast for our users. As usage grew, I could turn the speed up to 9600 to give the users an apparent performance boost at no cost.
Performance was always an issue. The IBM guys couldn't understand how we could run so many users on such a small box, but we were always looking for improved performance, as we had the largest HP 3000 around already. There were no tools available in those days, so we used tricks like putting a saucer of milk on each disc to see which one curdled first from the heat. (Not really, but we did spend a long time just standing there touching the drives lightly to see.) We did a full system unload and reload every three months, and unloaded and reloaded most databases at the same time.
I was laid off in a downsizing exercise in 1983 and went into software and system sales. The company intended that the HP 3000 would be replaced by the IBM. But at least five years later, they were still using the MPE machine.
May 08, 2015
Wiping An MPE Past Clean: Tools and Tips
The 3000 newsgroup readers got a query this week that's fit for our migrating epoch. "It's the end of an era, and we're going to dispose of the HP 3000," said Krikok Gullekian. "After deleting all of the file, is there a way to wipe out the operating system?"
Such wipe-outs are the closing notes of the migration's siren song. Nobody should leave evidence behind of business data, even if that 3000 is going out to a tech recycle house. A piece of software, a classic part of hardware, and even wry humor have been offered to meet the wipe-out request.
Donna Hofmeister of Allegro Consultants pointed to WipeDisk, a program that's hosted on the computer that will no longer know its own HPCPUNAME once the software finishes its job. It will sanitize an MPE/iX disk drive. (Versions for MPE/V, HP-UX, Mac OS X and Linux are also available.)
"You install WipeDisk on your target system and run it when you're really, really really sure you're ready to say good-bye to your old friend," she said.
It's not complete enough just to run MPE's VOLUTIL>FORMATVOL command, Allegro notes on the product's webpage. "You cannot count on VOLUTIL>FORMATVOL to ‘erase’ a disk. It might, or might not, depending upon the disk vendor’s implementation of the device firmware."
Hardware to fully erase the disks magnetically was also offered as a solution. Then there was the reference to the Hewlett-Packard of the era of this month's new Presidential candidate, Carly Fiorina.After a few suggestions to take a hammer, chain saw, or wood chipper to the drives, Denys Beauchemin pointed managers at the everlasting legacy of magnetic degaussing. "I would think that degaussing the disk drives, or simply taking the disk drives out and destroying them separately, would be the most secure method, if you have any concerns with anyone ever being able to read from these disks. Seems a shame to destroy good hardware, though."
Alan Yeo of ScreenJet got the sharpest word in, during a week when 3000 users began commenting on their ardor for Fiorina's candidacy. To wipe out MPE, Yeo said, "just leave it in the hands of HP. They started a fairly good job in November of 2001."
Fiorina probably never knew of the server, but it was on her watch HP pulled its plug. The vendor failed to wipe out MPE altogether, though. Only 2028 will do that, and even that date might not be able to complete the wipeout.
"You're asking advice on committing a sin," added Michel Adam, Systems Analyst for Canada's Government of the Northwest Territories.
March 26, 2015
Checkup Tips to Diagnose Creeping Crud
When an HP 3000 of the ultimate generation developed trouble for Tom Hula, he turned to the 3000 newsgroup for advice. He'd gotten his system back up and serving its still-crucial application to users. But even after a restart, with the server looking better, things just didn't seem right to him.
I am concerned, since I don't know what the problem was. It almost reminded me of something I used to call the Creeping Crud, where people started freezing up all over the place, while some people were still able to work. The only thing was a reboot. But in this case, it seemed worse. Only a few people on our 3000 now, but we still depend on it for a high-profile application. What should I check?
The most revealing advice came from Craig Lalley, who told Hula he'd try a Control-B into the 3000's system log. The steps after the Control-B command are SL (for System Log) and E (for Errors only.) Typing CO puts the 3000 back in console mode. Hula's system had lost its date and time on one error, and the Alert Levels showed a software failure along with lost boot functionality.
But amid the specifics of eliminating the Creeping Crud (it may have been a dead battery) came sound advice on how to prepare for a total failure and where to look for answers to 3000 hardware problems. The good news on the battery is that it's not in a Series 9x7. Advice from five years ago on battery replacement pointed to a hobbyist-grade workbench repair. More modern systems like Hula's A400 at least have newer batteries.Using a DSTAT ALL was suggested, as well as checking the status of available storage with DISCFREE. Mark Ranft said "I would make sure there's a good full backup. (Just in case you need it for recovery.) If you don't have one, doing one may help identify a disk issue. I would check the system logs especially for disk errors. I would check for network errors, using linkcontrol @,all." He shared his own recovery experience.
I had a system acting strangely this past weekend. It was basically hung but allowed new logons. I could not abort anyone. When I got to the point where I tried to stop the network, I got a system abort 1458 from Subsystem 102. I didn't bother to take a dump. I completed the boot and everything was better.
Chuck Trites reminded Hula to create a current CSLT tape, and "run BULDJOB to create the BULDJOB1 and 2 files — in case you need to recreate the accounting structure and UDCs — and store them to tape."
Hula's own check list included the following:
During the reset, the 3000 got up to the date and a little past and seemed frozen. I pulled the plug and restarted again. It took 2-3 times as long as normal and at first, the red fault light was on (I never saw that on before). After it got a bit into the restart, the fault light turned off by itself. The only attention message I got about the whole thing was a message with everything unknown on the 3000.
When the computer came all the way up, it still seemed very sluggish. I scheduled the nightly update and backup and went home to look at it more in the morning. I logged on from home and the backup seemed to be running okay.
This morning I tried resetting the GSP and checked the connections to the console terminal. I also found out that someone else had a hard time getting on the 3000 towards the end of the day. Very sluggish. But this morning, everything seems back to normal.
Hewlett-Packard's hardware builds have been extraordinary, but a server that's been churning out critical data for more than 12 years (A-Class boxes production stopped in 2003) can develop crud. Something as simple as replacing a dead battery might be the answer to the woes. Advice for the crud also came from Gilles Schipper, Jack Connor and the others mentioned. What they've got in common is working in a support practice, or at least a consulting business that includes 3000 sites.
Self-maintenance is common in a community like the 3000's. It's also a good practice to have a support vendor, one who knows the system as well as the volunteers posting to the newsgroup.
March 20, 2015
3000s still worthy of work to secure them
While an HP 3000 might be an overlooked resource at some companies, it's still mission-critical. Any server with 40 years of history can be considered essential if it's still part of a workflow this year. Managers of 3000s don't automatically think of protecting their essential resource from the malware and hackers of 2015, though.
That was illustrated in a recent thread on the 3000 newsgroup traffic. A 3000 manager serving the Evangelical Covenant Church needed help restarting an old Series 9x7. (By definition, any Series 9x7 is old. HP stopped building this first generation of entry-level 3000s more than 20 years ago.) The manager said the 9x7 had been "in mothballs," and he wanted to run an old in-house app.
I was able to boot up and login as OPERATOR.SYS but cannot remember/find the password for MANAGER.SYS. Is there anyway to reset, clear, or overwrite the password file? I know the old machine is a very secure one, but now I am hoping there is a way around it.
And then on the newsgroup, advice on how to bypass 3000 security began to emerge. It surprised one consultant who's recently closed down a big 3000 installation full of N-Class servers. Should the community be talking about how to hack a 3000, he wondered? The conversation really ought to be about how to ensure their security, practices we chronicled a few years ago.It's not like the bypassing information shared was certain to sidestep MPE's security. But Mark Ranft of Pro3K thought these answers should be taken offline.
Please remember that even though these are legacy systems, providing expert level security tricks and secrets to help people break into systems is still probably not a great idea on an open forum. I suggest you reply with your hacking suggestions in private email messages.
Not many 3000s sit on open, public networks. But the servers which they communicate with are often on accessible networks. Who's to say what's even accessible these days? Unisys, which is a long way from relevant in the enterprise computing field by now, is selling its newest products as Stealth Computing. "You can't hack what you can't find," they say in their ads on NPR.
Security is never so simple as that. But hackers navigate complex protection all the time. HP sold a security software product that one support expert said "implements directory encryption." The kingpin of 3000 security is of course Security/3000 from Vesoft. (Founder Vladimir Volokh called today to report things are looking up in his company, so to speak. Q1 of 2015 is more robust than Q1 of 2014.)
Controlling who can login as an operator is a great way to enable tighter security for a 3000. Passwords for OPERATOR.SYS are an excellent practice. If a 3000 is in mothballs with no sensitive data on it, these kinds of habits aren't essential. But how can you be sure no data is essential, of no use to hackers or competitors? Better secure than sorry.
March 04, 2015
Tablet opens new access window on 3000
HP 3000s have the ability to communicate with iPads, although the inverse is even more true. The software that makes this possible is in regular use at an ecommerce company in the US. A seasoned manager at the company checked in with us, on her way to setting up a link between an Ecometry box and Apple's tablet.
Chris McCartney of Musical Fulfillment reached out for assistance with configuring her 3000 and the TTerm Pro app from Turbosoft. Musical Fulfillment is the parent company to American Musical Supply, zZounds.com, ElectricGuitar.com, and SameDayMusic.com
Once McCartney located a back copy of the Newswire, she says, she found Jon Diercks article about the app when the software was first released in 2013. "We've been using Red Prairie Direct Commerce (aka Ecometry, Escalate, MACS) for more than 10 years and we moved to the [N Class] several years ago. We were hoping to get a few more years out of it before we had to make a decision to upgrade or move to a different ERP system."
By deploying TTerm Pro, McCartney now has a mobile way to check on the status of that N-Class server.
I am up and running on my iPad for those ‘just in case’ times when I am away from my office or laptop and I need to log in to check something on the 3000 or in Ecometry/JDA Direct Commerce. I am going into work over the VPN and using TTerm Pro to connect to our HP. I use the on-screen keyboard, but might switch to a wireless keyboard, so I have a little more screen and the comfort of a physical keyboard.
The 3000 at the company is established as a sensible solution. Up to now, there's been no compelling return on the investment to move to Ecometry hosted on Windows systems.Making these kinds of decisions, year by year, about migration's rewards can be a hard place from which to do ecommerce. There's some debate over whether there's a sensible package to replace Ecometry on the 3000, as the server continues to perform its stable, steady mission.
We've heard of some 3000 sites where they're dealing with some upper-level mission to leave the 3000. Reasons for departing the 3000 vary, but they often revolve around withdrawn support from the system's vendor. Diligent managers like McCartney arrange for independent support. They also have the advantage of ground-breaking interfaces like tablets to monitor their 3000s.
Timetables and budgets for migrations vary. It's often in the best interests of a company to get the maximum use, within sensible and safe limits, from existing applications. A product that makes the 3000 easier to manage, created within the last few years, is something of a high note here in the fifth decade of MPE service.
February 04, 2015
Checks on MPE's subsystems don't happen
Once we broach a topic here on your digital newsstand, even more information surfaces. Yesterday we reported on the state of HPSUSAN number-checking on 3000 hardware. We figured nobody had ever seen HPSUSAN checks block a startup of MPE itself, so long as the HPCPUNAME information was correct. The HP subsystems, though, those surely got an HPSUSAN check before booting, right?
Not based on what we're hearing since our report. Brian Edminster of Applied Technologies related his experience with HP's policing of things like COBOL II or TurboStore.
Like several of our other sources, Edminster knows that the third-party providers, especially the big-name players, use HPSUSAN to make sure that vendor knows where its software is booting up. Because of those exacting checks, "You've got to have some sort of plan in place to cover having to use any alternate hardware for disaster recovery," he reports, "and still expect to have your third party tools work beyond a limited time-frame."
I can't claim to be an expert in all things regarding to software licensing methods. But I can tell you from personal experience that none of HP's MPE/iX software subsystems that I've ever administered or used had any sort of HPSUSAN checks built into them. That would include the compilers (such as the BASIC/3000 interpreter and compiler), any of the various levels of the HP STORE software versions, Mirror/iX, Dictionary/3000, BRW, or any of the networking software. (I'll note that the networking software components were quite picky in making sure that compatible versions of the various components were used together, in order for everything to work properly.)
The only time I saw HP-provided software examined using the HPSUSAN was when server hardware was upgraded. It checked the CPU upgrades, or number of CPUs in a chassis.
But there's no dissenting story out there regarding what's ethical to do with intent about respecting software checks and licensing. There are always such possibilities for managers who live outside the lines. And sometimes it might be an oversight. As an example, O'Pin Systems -- a first-issue advertiser in the 3000 Newswire more than 19 years ago -- still has Reveal customers out in the MPE world relying on that reporting tool.
One such site was having a hard time with a boot-up on a different MPE/iX server. A START command to Reveal's RSPCNTL will stream a job, but RSPCNTL would terminate before a prompt was given. "I think this may indicate that the product is not validated on the new machine -- which would require re-validation," a former developer for O'Pin told us. "I don't recall exactly what's checked, but the variables HPSUSAN and HPCPUNAME are almost certainly checked for a match. VAR OPINSERIAL will appear to be set to 0, if RSPCONTROL determines that there is a validation fault."
Re-validation can be a matter of placing a call to the vendor's support line -- if there's anyone left on the vendor's staff who understands that the company still has an MPE/iX product in the field. O'Pin has such a support staffer.
Edminster had a cogent comment about this need for this validation during an era when 3000 outposts are shrinking.
I'm don't propose that software purchased for one system be moved to another, unless that's within the bounds of the original software agreements. Just because a vendor has stopped selling a product, or stops pursuing license violations of that product, doesn't make the product freeware.
It also does not make that product yours to use as though you owned it.
Most software was 'sold' with a 'right to use' license. That doesn't mean you own it, now or ever. It means that you are licensed to use it under the terms in the original contract, or as amended since.
That may sound like splitting hairs. But as intellectual property goes, it can make the difference between being able to make a living on the fruits of your work, or not.
December 11, 2014
Big, unreported computing in MPE's realm
When members gather from the 3000 community, they don't often surprise each other these days with news. The charm and challenge of the computer's status is its steady, static nature. We've written before about how no news is the usual news for a 40-year-old system.
But at a recent outing with 3000 friends I heard two pieces of information that qualify as news. The source of this story would rather not have his name used, but he told me, "This year we actually sold new software to 3000 sites." Any sort of sale would be notable. This one was in excess of $10,000. "They just told us they needed it," my source reported, "and we didn't need to know anything else." A support contract came along with the sale, of course.
The other news item seemed to prove we don't know everything about the potential of MPE and the attraction of the 3000 system. A company was reaching out for an estimate on making a transition to the Charon emulator. They decided not to go forward when they figured it would require $1 million in Intel-based hardware to match the performance of their HP 3000.
"How's that even possible?" I asked. This is Intel-caliber gear being speficied, and even a pricey 3000 configuration shouldn't cost more than a quarter-million dollars to replace. It didn't add up.
"Well, you know they need multiple cores to replace a 3000 CPU," my source explained. Sure, we know that. "And they had a 16-way HP 3000 they were trying to move out."
Somewhere out there in the world there's an HP 3000, installed by Hewlett-Packard, that supports 16 CPUs. Still running an application suite. The value is attractive enough that it's performing at a level twice as powerful as anything HP would admit to, even privately.
A 4-way N-Class was as big as HP would ever quote. Four 500-MHz or 750-MHz PA-8700 CPUs, with 2.25 MB on-chip cache per CPU, topped the official lineup.
Unix got higher horsepower out of the same HP servers. An 8-way version of the same N-Class box was supported on HP-UX; HP would admit such a thing was possible in the labs, and not supported in the field. But a 16-way? HP won't admit it exists today, and the customer wouldn't want to talk about it either. Sometimes things go unreported because they're too big to admit. It made me wonder how much business HP might've sustained if they'd allowed MPE to run as fast and as far as HP-UX ran, when both of those environments were hosted on the same iron.
December 10, 2014
Getting Macro Help With COBOL II
An experienced 3000 developer and manager asked his cohorts about the COBOL II macro preprocessor. There's an alternative to this very-MPE feature: "COPY...REPLACING and REPLACE statements. Which would you choose and why?"
Scott Gates: COPY...REPLACING because I understand it better. But the Macro preprocessor has its supporters. Personally, I prefer the older "cut and paste" method using a decent programmer's editor to replace the text I need. Makes things more readable.
Donna Hofmeister: I'm not sure I'm qualified to comment on this any longer, but it seems to me that macros were very efficient (and as I recall) very flexible (depending on how they were written, of course). It also seems to me that the "power of macros" made porting challenging. So if your hidden agenda involves porting, then I think you'd want to do the copy thing.
There was even porting advice from a developer who no longer works with a 3000, post-migration.Tony Summers: When we migrated in 2008 we chose Acucobol partly because of its HP 3000 compatibility, including macro support. However had we gone down a different route, I had already proved that I could pre-process the raw code myself and expand the macros before calling the compiler.
Robert Mills, who started the discussion on the 3000-L, said in reply to Donna, “I admit that I do have a hidden agenda, but the main reason does not involve porting.”
For many years I have used macros to make my life easier. When I left the e3000, back in 2008, and did some work on other platforms I found I missed them. I'm now in semi-retirement and have been using the free version of Micro Focus COBOL (a couple of years) and GnuCOBOL (this last year) to write software for friends, family and my own use.
A couple of times since 2008 I had thought of writing by own macro preprocessor to emulate the one on the e3000. A few months ago I decided to do it and release it as open source under the GNU GPL. The development of preprocessor, using GnuCOBOL, is now completed and in final Beta Testing and I'm writing the manual. Was hoping that I could some additional reasons, from others, as to why you would use macros instead of the copy...replacing and replace statements.
Because a port of GnuCOBOL is a available on several platforms, and my preprocessor is written in GnuCOBOL, I see no problem in taking my macros with me nearly every wherever I go. If I end up doing work on a platform that does not support a feature that it is using it shouldn't be to difficult to develop a workaround.
As it turns out, GnuCOBOL is a newer version of OpenCOBOL — a compiler that Donna says bears a close resemblence to COBOL II. (OpenCOBOL has been ported into a commercial product, too, called IT-COBOL.) Adding that she obviously thinks macros are cool, she explained.
Do my mis-firing neurons recall that GnuCOBOL was formerly OpenCobol... which was actually very close to MPE’s COBOL? (or something like that?)
I inherited a outstanding collection of macros at one job. Many of them were 'toolbox' functions. Want to center a string and the overall length of the string doesn't matter? Got a macro for that. Want to use a 'db' call? Got a macro for that. These went far beyond modifying code at compile time -- and that's what made them so valuable (at least to me).
November 18, 2014
Replacing rises as migrator's primary choice
It's the end of 2014, just about. Plenty of IT shops have closed down changes for the calendar year. Many 2015 development budgets have been wrapped up, too. Among those HP 3000 operations which are still considering a strategy for transition, there's only one assured choice for most of who's left. They'll need to replace their application. Not many can rehost it.
We've heard this advice from both migration services partners as well as the providers of tools for making a migration. An HP 3000 is pretty likely to be running an application with extensive customization by this year. We've just now edged into the 14th year since HP announced a wrap-up of its interest in all things MPE/iX. Year One began in mid-November of 2011. After completing 13 years on watch during the Transition Era, there's a lot of migration best practices to report. More success has been posted, at a better price and on schedule, when a replacement app can be integrated along with a new server and computing environment.
Of course, massive applications have been moved. One of the largest was in the IT operations of the State of Washington Community College Computing Consortium. It was a project so large it was begun twice, over enough elapsed time that the organization changed its name. The second attempt better understood the nuances of VPlus user interface behaviors. There were 40 staffers and at least four vendor services groups working on the task.
One of the issues that's emerged for rehosting organizations is a reduction in MPE expertise. Companies can still engage some of the world's best developers, project managers, and rewriting wizards for MPE/iX. It's harder to assign enough expert human resources who know your company's business processes. That's why a top-down study of what your apps are doing is the sort of job that's been going out-of-house. By this year, it would be better to engage an outside company to replace what's been reliable. This hired expertise ensures a company doesn't lose any computing capability while it makes a transition.
You'll need the use of tools to manage data in a replacement, though. Everything else is likely to change, even in a replacement, except for the data. "Replacement requires reorganizing data," Birket Foster of MB Foster told us this summer. "You could start cleaning your data now." Foster is presenting a Webinar on the subject of the Three Rs -- Rehosting, Replacing, or Retiring -- tomorrow (Wednesday) at 2PM Eastern Time.A company making a transition to a replacement app needs to understand what data will be needed, at what detail level, and in what timeframe. The best answers to those questions might come from outside of the IT group. In face, Foster says they often do. A solid team of transition stakeholders always includes an important seat for a member from the business group.
Replacement of a 15- or 20-year MPE/iX app suite also might not be a favored choice in the IT group. That group includes the experts who know the programs best. Nothing seems like it will be a clean, quick fit for what's been running the company -- not at first. Replacing with a non-MPE version of the app sometimes leaves key integrated surround code at the curb, too. Replacing surround code is a good project for outside expertise. Companies which consult on that task have field experience on success to share.
The good news: replacing a business suite is not as dangerous as replacing a joint. You get to shop and specify and test for replacement software, even while the worn-down hip of the business suite continues to bear the weight of the company's enterprise. Backing out of a replacement -- replacing the replacement -- is just as extensive in software as it is in medicine. It's like doing it all over again. But replacing after an attempt at rehosting? That's the least effective strategy of all.
November 17, 2014
HP's 3000 power supply persists in failure
Amid a migration project, Michael Anderson was facing a failure. Not of his project, but a failure of his HP 3000 to start up on a bad morning. HP's original hardware is in line for replacement at customers using the 3000 for a server. Some of these computers are more than 15 years old. But the HP grade of components and engineering is still exemplary.
"I was working with a HP 3000 Series 969, and one morning it was down," he reported. "All power was on, but the system was not running; I got no response from the console. So I power-cycled it, and the display panel (above the key switch) reported the following."
Proceeding to turn DC on
Anderson explained that Charles Johnson of Surety Systems replaced the power supply for the system.
On the console it displayed garbage when the power was turned on, but the message on the display remained. I wasn’t sure what to replace. I was thinking the power supply — but all of the power was on. As it turned out, even in the middle of a power supply failure the 3000 was working to get out a message. The back side, the core I/O, FW SCSI, and so on, all appeared to have power. That is why I found it hard to believe that the power supply was the problem.
He explained that (back in the day) HP engineered some of the best power supplies in world, lots of checks and verifications. Even though the power supply had actually supplied DC power to the various components, it was not able to verify it.
So the message "Proceeding to turn on DC power" remained on the front panel display, meanwhile the boot process on the console would hang, and if you do a <cntrl-B>, RS it would time-out with a msg:
"FATAL ERROR: System held in reset. POW_ON never came back (APERR 21)"
"Waiting until it's reasserted......"
Bill & Dave's Excellent Machine — even with a power supply failure, it still manages to get a message out (in plain English) attempting to explain the failure.
November 11, 2014
Veterans get volunteered for transition's day
Here on Veteran's Day — I'm a vet of the '70's-era military — I'm remembering there are IT pros with another kind of veteran status. They are people who count more than a couple of decades of experience with the HP 3000, managing their servers since before the time that Windows was the default computing strategy. They've been through a different kind of conflict.
I've learned that the most embattled managers employ a surprising tool. It's a sense of humor, reflected in the tone of their descriptions of mothballing the likes of 25-year-old independent apps during migrations. They have to laugh and get to do so, because their attempts to advance their positions might seem like folly at first look, or even in a second attempt.
Really, an assignment like putting Transact code into an HP-UX environment? Or take the case of working around a financial app software from Bi-Tech -- an indie vendor that "really stopped developing it for the 3000 years ago," according to City of Sparks, Nevada Operations & Systems Administrator Steve Davidek. There's been some really old stuff doing everyday duty in HP 3000 shops. The age of the applications was often in line with the tenure of the project's management.
These pros typify the definition of veterans, a term we'll use liberally in the US today to celebrate their sacrifices and courage. Facing battle and bullets is not on par with understanding aged code and logic. But two groups of people do have something similar at heart. Both kinds of veterans have been tested and know how to improve the odds of success in a conflict. Youthful passion is important to bring fresh energy to any engagement, military or technological. What earns the peace is experience, however grey-haired it looks next to Windows warriors.
With each mission accomplished -- from what looks like the Y2K effort of 14 years ago to embracing a roll-your-own Unix that replaced MPE's integrated toolset -- these veterans moved forward in their careers. "Our knowledge base is renewed with this work," one said after migrating apps that served 34 Washington state colleges. "We're on the latest products."
Recruiting IT talent into small towns — and the 3000 runs in many small cities where manufacturing labor is less costly — meant hiring for Windows experience. Adopting Windows into an organization means leaving proprietary environments even more popular than MPE/iX. Like HP-UX.
Leaving a familiar environment means enduring risks. But a tone of "yeah, that'll happen, but we'll manage through it" is what I hear from the 3000 pros marching into the dark of 2015 and beyond. And if a migration is happening next year or the years beyond, you may want to thank a colleague -- anyone whose IT battles have promoted the knowledge that creates veterans, marching in the ranks of both managers and vendors alike.
Les Vejada worked with HP 3000s for more than 20 years at HP, then moved on to HP's other enterprise platforms until the vendor cut his job. It was as if he'd mustered out of a unit. "I don't work with the 3000 anymore," he told us when he joined the Linked In HP 3000 Community. "I know the 3000 is dying, but it brings back a lot of great memories. I probably would still take something on a MPE machine if offered." Whether it's in-house, or in-community, one motto remains as valid today as it did after any conflict: Hire a Vet.
October 20, 2014
3000's class time extended for schools
The San Bernadino County school district in California has been working on moving its HP 3000s to deep archival mode, but the computers still have years of production work ahead. COBOL and its business prowess is proving more complicated to move to Windows than expected. Dave Evans, Systems Security and Research officer, checked in from the IT department at the district.
We are still running two HP 3000s for our Financial and Payroll services. The latest deadline was to have all the COBOL HP 3000 applications rewritten by December 2015, and then I would shut the HP 3000s down as I walked out the door for the last time. That has now been extended to 2017, and I will be gone before then.
We are rewriting the COBOL HP 3000 apps into .NET and Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) technologies. Ideal says they can support our HP 3000s until 2017.
And with the departure date of those two HP 3000s now more than two years away, the school district steps into another decade beyond HP's original plans for the server line. It is the second decade of beyond-end-of-life service for their 3000.Evans was checking up on the timeline.
In the original timeline HP published, did HP announce in November 2002 that the HP 3000 was at end of life? That HP 3000 production lines would shut down in 2004, and all HP 3000 support would end 2007?
Very close, but not quite accurate. The 3000's future got its exit notice from Hewlett-Packard in 2001 (almost 13 years ago), and system manufacturing ended in 2003. The first of HP's end of life deadlines was December 2006. Virtually nobody would have figured in 2001 they'd have MPE applications still in service more than a decade after 2006.
But San Bernadino County is giving lessons on how to extend an investment, even while it finishes a migration. By the time those school district servers go offline -- and they won't be the last in the world by any means -- the 3000 product platform will have been in continuous production service somewhere in the world for 43 years.
October 14, 2014
Making a Migration Down the Mountain View
After an exit off the HP 3000, the City of Mountain View is now also saying goodbye to one of its longest-tenured IT pros. Even beyond the migration away from the municipality's Series 957, Linda Figueroa wanted to keep in touch with the HP 3000 community, she reported in a note. "I started working on a Series III back in the 1980s," she said.
But after 38 years with the City, and turning 55, it's time to retire. At a certain time, city employees with as many years as I have get the "when are you retiring?" look. We had 3000s running at the City of Mountain View from 1979 until 2012.
Our first HP 3000 in 1979 was a Series III system (which I just loved; always felt so important pressing those buttons). It had a 7970E tape drive, four 7920 disc drives and a printer. Then we moved to the monster Series 68, and ended up with the Series 957 with DLT tapes — no more switching reel-to-reels! I still have my MPE:IV software pocket guide from January 1981. (I couldn't get rid of it — coffee stains and all.)
When Mountain View took down its HP 3000, a couple of years after the switchover, the City turned off all of its other Hewlett-Packard servers, too. Only its software suppliers have made the transition, proving the wisdom that customers are closest to their applications — and leave the platforms behind. But MPE — from System IV to MPE/iX 6.5 — and the HP 3000 did more than three decades of service at Mountain View.Mountain View first purchased Dell servers to replace the HP 3000 in 2010. "We had Utility Billing and Business License software from Idaho Computer Systems," Figueroa said. "We still run the same software from DataNow (a vendor previously known as Idaho Computer Systems). But we run it now on Dell servers."
"Up until 2012 we had an HP 9000 Unix system running our IFAS accounting software from SunGard Bi-Tech. These computers were also replaced by Dell servers."
The veteran IT manager added that she used Adager, Suprtool, Reflection and several other products on the 3000. "I also used VEsoft's products, Figueroa said. [VEsoft founder] "Vladimir Volokh would make site visits once a year for years, begging me to update our software."
October 08, 2014
Another Kind of Migration
Change is the only constant in life, and it's a regular part of enterprise IT management, too. Another sort of migration takes place in one shop where the 3000 has been retired. Specialized scripts for automation using Reflection are being replaced. Thousands of them at one 3000 site.
Micro Focus, which owns Reflection now as well as its own terminal emulator Rumba, is sparking this wholesale turnover of technology. Customers are being sold on the benefits of the Micro Focus product as part of a suite of interlocking technologies. When that strategic decision is taken, as the British like to say (Micro Focus has its HQ in the country) the following scenario plays out.
Glenn Mitchell of BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina reported his story, after reading our report on Micro Focus acquiring Attachmate.
"As a former WRQ PC2622 user," Mitchell added, "it’s as sad to see my days with Reflection coming to an end as much as my days with MPE ended." As for EHLAPPI, it stands for Enhanced High Level Language Application Program Interface. And with any acronymn that has seven letters, it's a design choice that's got quite a, well, legacy air to it.
I can certainly see many parallels between the latest change at our organization and the migrations many of us undertook from MPE to other platforms.
It has been many years since I was heavily involved with the 3000 and the 3000 community. One of the ties back to those old days has been that we use Reflection 3270 as our mainframe terminal emulator here. I’ve done a number of extensive macros in Reflection VBA to assist our customers and developers, and I understand we have thousands of Reflection VBA and Reflection basic scripts in use throughout the company. (We’re a mainframe-centric organization specializing in high-volume claims processing, including Medicare claims in the US.)
Some months ago, I was told we were dropping Reflection and moving to Rumba by Micro Focus (the old Wall Data product) as a cost-saving measure. As part of that move, all of my macros will need to be converted to use the EHLAPPI interface in Rumba. According to the support staff here, a conversion was going to be required anyway to move to the latest version of Reflection. Well, the support staff has done a good job and many thousands of macros run pretty successfully with some special conversion tools they’ve provided.
Of course, mine don’t, yet.
It's an API that goes back to the early PC days, and allowed a program running on the PC to "scrape" data from a terminal emulator session running on the PC. So it represents a big move backwards in technology from Reflection VBA.
Our guys figured out a way to run our VBA scripts in Excel and trap most of the Reflection API calls (e.g. getdisplaytext) and convert them to equivalent EHLAPPI calls for Rumba. The gotcha is that they've only done the most frequently used API functions, and Rumba doesn't support all of the functions Reflection makes available via API.
Scripting inside of a terminal emulator product represents a deep level of technology. Just the sort of tool a 3000 shop deploys when it can command petabytes of data and tens of thousands of users. When things change with vendor plans, whether it's a system maker or a provider of software, support staff shifts its support to migration tasks.
As an interesting footnote to the changes in the outlook for Reflection -- given that Rumba has been offered as a replacement -- we turn to the a recent comment by Doug Greenup of Minisoft. "Minisoft has NS/VT in its HP terminal emulator," he noted when we described the unique 3000 protocol in some versions of Reflection. "And unlike WRQ, we remain independent. We still have HP 3000 knowledgeable developers and support people." The company's terminal emulator for 3000s, Minisoft Secure 92, has a scripting language called TermTalk.
September 08, 2014
Who else is still out there 3000 computing?
Employing an HP 3000 can seem as lonely as being the Maytag Repairman. He's the iconic advertising character who didn't see many customers because a Maytag washing machine was so reliable. HP 3000s have shown that reliability, and many are now in lock-down mode. Nothing will change on them unless absolutely necessary. There is less reason to reach out now and ask somebody a question.
And over the last month and into this one, there's no user conference to bring people together in person. Augusts and Septembers in the decades past always reminded you about the community and its numbers.
Send me a note if you're using a 3000 and would like the world to know about it. If knowing about it would help to generate some sales, then send it all the sooner.
But still today, there have been some check-ins and hand-raising coming from users out there. A few weeks back, Stan Sieler of Allegro invited the readers of the 3000-L newsgroup to make themselves known if they sell gifts for the upcoming shopping season. "As the holiday shopping season approaches," he said, "it occurred to me that it might be nice to have a list of companies that still use the HP 3000... so we could potentially consider doing business with them."
If September 9 seems too early to consider the December holidays, consider this: Any HP 3000 running a retail application, ecommerce or otherwise, has gone into Retail Lockdown by now. Transitions to other servers will have to wait until January for anybody who's not made the move.
Sieler offered up a few companies which he and his firm know about, where 3000s are still running and selling. See's Candies, Houdini Inc, and Wine Country Gift Baskets are doing commerce with gift consumers. We can add that Thompson Cigar out of Tampa is using HP 3000s, and it's got a smoking-hot gift of humidor packs. (Sorry, couldn't resist.) Then there's American Musical Supply, which last year was looking for a COBOL programmer who has Ecometry/Escalate Retail experience.
Another sales location that could provide gifts for the holiday season is in airports. The duty free shops in some major terminals run applications on MPE systems. HMS Host shops, at least four of them, sell gifts using 3000s. Pretty much anything you'd buy in a duty free shop is a gift, for somebody including yourself.The discussion of who's still using, and feeling a little Maytag solitude, prompted a few other customers to poke up their heads. We heard again from Deane Bell at the University of Washington, where there could be another 10 years of homesteading for the 3000. The first three finished. All in archival mode.
Beechglen furnishes an HP 3000 locally hosted system meeting the following minimum specifications
· Series A500 Server
· 2GB ECC memory
· 365 GB disk space consisting of 73GB operating system and temporary storage for system backups, and 292GB in a software RAID-1 configuration yielding 146GB of usable disk storage
· DDS3 tape drive
· DLT8000 tape drive
There were other check-ins from Cerro Wire, from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (where one 3000 wag quipped, "the users are not allowed access to files) and one from MacLean Power Systems -- that last, another data point in the migration stats under the column "Can't shut down the HP 3000 as quickly as originally believed." Wesleyan Assurance Society in the UK raised its hand, where Jill Turner reports that "they have been looking to move off for years, but are only now just getting round to looking at this, which will take a while so we will still be using them. Far more reliable than the new kit."
In our very own hometown of Austin, Firstcare is still a user, but nearly all of its medical claims processing has been migrated to a new Linux platform. That's one migration that didn't flow the way HP expected, toward its other enterprise software platforms.
There is Cessna, still flying its maintenance applications under the HP 3000's wingspan. Locating other 3000 customers can be like finding aircraft in your flight pattern. A visual search won't yield much. That's one reason we miss the annual conferences that marked our reunions. This month will be the five-year anniversary of the last "Meeting by the Bay" organized by ScreenJet's Alan Yeo, for example. But the Wide World of the Web brings us all closer.
As a historical Web document that might have some current users on it -- including retail outlets for gift giving -- you can look at the "Companies that Use MPE" page of the OpenMPE website. (That's at openmpe.com these days). That list is more than 10 years old, so it represents the size of the community in the time just after HP's exit announcement. The list is more than 1,200 companies long. And there are plenty of Ecometry sites among the firms listed, including 9 West for shoes and Coldwater Creek for its vast range of clothing. The latter may very well be remaining on a 3000 for now, since retailers' fortunes define the pace of migrations.
And so, in an odd sort of way, patronizing a 3000-based retailer this season might help along a migration -- by increasing revenues that can be applied to an IT budget. It can make for a happier holiday when you can buy what you want, even when that includes a new application and enterprise environment.
September 05, 2014
How to make an HPSUSAN do virtual work
Out on the 3000-L newsgroup and mailing list, a 3000 user who's cloaked their identity as "false" asked about using HPSUSAN numbers while installing the CHARON emulator product from Stromasys. The question, and a few answers, were phrased in a tone of code that suggested there might be trouble from HP if an illicit number was used. HPSUSAN is a predefined variable on a 3000, one that's used to ensure software is not illegally replicated or moved to another system without the software vendor's consent.
People have been talking about HPSUSAN for decades by now, even as far back as the Toronto conference that produced the proceedings cover above. A 19-year-old paper from that meeting -- the last one which was not called HP World -- still has useful instructions on the utility of HPSUSAN. More on that in a moment, after we examine what HPSUSAN does today.
On the fully-featured edition of CHARON for the 3000, a current HP 3000's HPSUSAN number is required. Stromasys installs this number on a thumb drive, which is then plugged into the Intel-based server powering CHARON. There's a 36-hour grace period for using CHARON if that thumb drive malfunctions, or comes up missing, according to CHARON customer Jeff Elmer of Dairylea Cooperative.
But the HPSUSAN process and requirement is different for the freeware, A-202 model of CHARON that can be downloaded from the Stromasys website. As of this spring, users of this non-commercial/production model simply must enter any HPSUSAN number -- and affirm they have the right to use this number. Neither HP or Stromasys checks these freeware HPSUSAN numbers. That model of CHARON software isn't meant to replace any production 3000, or even a developer box.
The freeware situation and installing strategy all makes the newsgroup's answers more interesting. One consultant and 3000 manager suggested that a number from a Dell server would be just as binding as anything from a genuine Hewlett-Packard 3000 server.HPSUSAN identifies an HP-built 3000 server, not the instance of MPE/iX which reveals that number. The U in HPSUSAN stands for Unique, as in System Unique Serially Assigned Number. HP's Cathlene Mc Rae told us this spring that HPSUSAN is a one of a kind identifier for HP-built 3000 systems. What's more, HP's SUSAN doesn't designate an MPE/iX license, even though MPE is licensed via hardware ownership.
Mc Rae explained to us, and to a CHARON prospective user, "MPE hardware and software was created before the technology of virtual systems and emulators, in the 1970s. Licenses were based on hardware ownership."
Nearly 20 years ago, HPSUSAN was not the focal point that it's become since the start of this century. HP 3000s had these numbers swapped and pirated by companies such as Hardware House in 1998 and 1999, and the civil suit and criminal investigations led to low-jack jail time and fines. Some software and service companies even chose to adjust their MPE plans after HP's legal moves. You could be in the right in this kind of circumstance, but not have enough legal budget to prevail in a court against HP. Better to keep a profile low and unquestionably legal.
Of course, that was a different HP than the one which now is scuffling to maintain its sales, as well as watching its Business Critical Servers bleed off double-digit percentage sales dips every quarter. Whatever the legal budget to defend BCS systems like the 3000 was in 1999, these kinds of servers are not HP's focal point. They do remain HP's intellectual property, however. And so, the coded language of today's exchange, starting with the question from "false."
How would one go about getting a HPSUSAN to be able to stand up a HP-3000 VM to play with? Just playing around--not intending anything, but it would be nice to see if I can do it. BTW, my budget for this project is approximately the price of a plain Einstein Bros Bagel with cream cheese.
If you know what an HPSUSAN is, then you should know how to get one. If you only offer a bagel and cheese, you're up a gum tree without a paddle. Since you need to hide behind a 'false' name, you are onto a hiding and burning your bridges at both ends.
What Tom said is true. I would suggest that an HPSUSAN is about the same as the Service Tag on your Dell. I would try using that.
If a 3000 customer has ever owned a server, they've got an HPSUSAN number on file. (It's in your Gold Book, along with all of the other configuration data and software vendor contacts. Sorry, that's 1990s thinking. HP used to issue these notebook binders upon system purchase.)
And if you still have the right to use this number -- for example, if your HP 3000 was scrapped instead of sold -- then there's a great place to start looking for a number to input while CHARON A202 is installed on that Linux-Intel laptop.
HP has not advised its customers about the utility of HPSUSANs from mothballed 3000s. Using Mc Rae's explanation above, 3000s were based on hardware ownership. If a 3000 has been scrapped -- sold for parts or just materials -- nobody else owns that server. The ownership rights don't revert to Hewlett-Packard, do they? This might be one reason for these coded replies. Nobody knows for sure, and like Mc Rae said, "MPE hardware and software was created before the technology of virtual systems and emulators."
Twenty years after the server was created, though, HPSUSAN was a topic that led David Largent to publish an Interex '95 conference paper entitled 101 (More Or Less) Moral Things To Do With HPSusan. You can read it at the 3K Associates archive website. In part, this is how Largent explained what HPSUSAN was meant to do.
The name is actually an acronym for the words "System Unique Serially Assigned Number." So what purpose does it serve? About the same as any serial number does. Software companies have found they can use HPSUSAN as a way to tie a particular copy of their software to a given machine, thus controlling software piracy. They simply request your HPSUSAN and include that in some validation logic in their program that prohibits the running of their software if the HPSUSAN from the system does not match the value in the software.
And so, CHARON requests an HPSUSAN number for the freeware version of its 3000 model. The only thing it requires would be the basic number format, as well as the integrity of the manager installing it. HPSUSAN matters to vendors other than HP, too.
Some of these freeware CHARON installations start out as pilot projects to ensure applications will run correctly. And some of those apps use software which employ HPSUSAN checks. But MPE/iX is not among that software. That's a decision that HP chose. Perhaps it was one small way to ensure that MPE users can keep their 3000 environments alive. First the pilot install, then a proper production-grade install of CHARON. They all need HPSUSANs. Some requirements, though, are more stringent than others. That's what a non-commercial license for a virtual 3000 will buy you -- installation through integrity.
July 28, 2014
Taking a :BYE before a :SHUTDOWN
HP 3000 systems have been supporting manufacturing for almost as long as the server has been sold. ASK Computer Systems made MANMAN in the 1970s, working from a loaned system in a startup team's kitchen. MANMAN's still around, working today.
It might not be MANMAN working at 3M, but the Minnesota Minining & Manufacturing Company is still using HP 3000s. And according to a departing MPE expert at 3M, the multiple N-Class systems will be in service there "for at least several more years."
Mike Caplin is taking his leave of 3000 IT, though. Earlier this month he posted a farewell message to the 3000-L listserve community. He explained that he loved working with the computer, so much so that he bet on a healthy career future a decade-and-a-half ago. That was the time just before HP began to change its mind about low-growth product lines with loyal owners.
We love the part of Caplin's message where he gambled on his expertise and spent the last 15 years staying employed, instead of running from the 3000. We've been doing something similar here. This summer is the 13th we're writing and publishing since HP announced its end-date with the 3000 business. It can be sporting to try to figure who'll be the last to turn out the lights, but there's a good chance we won't be working anymore when it happens to MPE.
Tomorrow, I’ll type BYE for the last time. Actually, I’ll just X out of a Reflection screen and let the N-Class that I’m always logged in to log me out.
I started on a Series II in 1976 and thought I died and went to heaven after working on Burroughs and Univac equipment. The machine always ran; no downtime, easy online development, and those great manuals that actually made sense and had samples of code. I still have the orange pocket guide for the Series II.
I found this list about the same time that getting help from HP became a hit or miss. I always got a usable answer after posting a question, usually in under an hour. So the purpose of this is to say goodbye, but also to say thank you for all of the help over the years.
I was in a headhunter’s office about 15 years ago and he told me that I needed to get away from the 3000 because I’d never be able to make a living until I was ready to retire. I told him that he may be right, but that I was counting on knowing enough to be able to stay employed and that I intended to outlast MPE. I guess I got lucky and won that argument.
So that devoted MPE user has typed his last BYE. But MPE -- at least in some transitional mission at 3M -- has outlasted his days with the server. The community is still full of people who will make their exits before their HP 3000s do. Terry Floyd of the Support Group has said that at some manufacturing sites, there's a good chance the expertise will retire before the hardware does a shutdown. The marvel is to be able to go into retirement operating the same flavor of enterprise server as when you performed your first COLDSTART.