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.
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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 v220.127.116.11 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.
July 21, 2014
Maximum Disc Replacement for Series 9x7s
Software vendors, as well as in-house developers, keep Series 9x7 servers available for startup to test software revisions. There are not very many revisions to MPE software anymore, but we continue to see some of these oldest PA-RISC servers churning along in work environments.
9x7s, you may ask -- they're retired long ago, aren't they? Less than one year ago, one reseller was offering a trio for between $1,800 (a Series 947) and $3,200. Five years ago this week, tech experts were examining how to modernize the drives in these venerable beasts. One developer figured in 2009 they'd need their 9x7s for at least five more years. For the record, 9x7s are going to be from the early 1990s, so figure that some of them are beyond 20 years old now.
"They are great for testing how things actually work," one developer reported, "as opposed to what the documentation says, a detail we very much need to know when writing migration software. Also, to this day, if you write and compile software on 6.0, you can just about guarantee that it will run on 6.0, 6.5, 7.0 and 7.5 MPE/iX."
Some of the most vulnerable elements of machines from that epoch include those disk drives. 4GB units are installed inside most of them. Could something else replace these internal drives? It's a valid question for any 3000 that runs with these wee disks, but it becomes even more of an issue with the 9x7s. MPE/iX 7.0 and 7.5 are not operational on that segment of 3000 hardware.
Even though the LDEV1 drive will only support 4GB of space visible to MPE/iX 6.0 and 6.5, there's always LDEV2. You can use virtually any SCSI (SE SCSI or FW SCSI) drive, as long as you have the right interface and connector.
There's a Seagate disk drive that will stand in for something much older that's bearing an HP model number. The ST318416N 18GB Barracuda model -- which was once reported at $75, but now seems to be available for about $200 or so -- is in the 9x7's IOFDATA list of recognized devices, so they should just configure straight in. Even though that Seagate device is only available as refurbished equipment, it's still going to arrive with a one-year warranty. A lot longer than the one on any HP-original 9x7 disks still working in the community.One developer quipped to the community, five years ago this week, "On the disc front at least that Seagate drive should keep those 3000s running, probably longer than HP remains a Computer Manufacturer."
But much like the 9x7 being offered for sale this year, five years later HP is still manufacturing computers, including its Unix and Linux replacement systems for any 3000 migrating users.
So to refresh drives on the 9x7s, configure these Barracuda replacement drives in LDEV1 as the ST318416N -- it will automatically use 4GB (its max visible capacity) on reboot.
As for the LDEV2 drives, there are no real logical size limits, so anything under 300GB would work fine -- 300GB was the limit for MPE/iX drives until HP released its "Large Disk" patches for MPE/iX, MPEMXT2/T3. But that's a patch that wasn't written for the 9x7s, as they don't use 7.5.
Larger drives were not tested for these servers because of a power and heat dissipation issue. Some advice from the community indicates you'd do better to not greatly increase the power draw above what those original equipment drives require. The specs for those HP internal drives may be a part of your in-house equipment documentation. Seagate offers a technical manual for the 18GB Barracuda drive at its website, for power comparisons.
July 16, 2014
Kell carries key account of 3000 revival
We've come to learn that community icon Jeff Kell is battling a serious illness. While I wish this keystone of MPE wisdom a quick recovery, and the best wishes to his wife, I'd like to share some insights he relayed about the transition from Classic 3000s to the ultimate edition of the server he's worked on and cared for most of his career at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
I'd asked Kell to explain what the HP CEO during that transition era, John Young, might have been talking about while the CEO told Computerworld in 1985 about the strategy of RISC. As the clipping from Computerworld to the left shows, Young was a lot less than clear about what RISC would do for HP's long-term computing plans. A comment in the second paragraph of the clipping -- about networking, one of Kell's most ardent studies -- made me want to reach out to him earlier this summer. Young's conflation of "9000 series terminals emulated the 3000 architecture in some ways, but not really completely" was something Kell could clear up.
I'm not aware of any similarities [Young noted] between 3000/9000 Series except after adoption of RISC, and they used the same processors/hardware. They may have shared some peripheral hardware earlier, but certainly had little in common until RISC. The 3000/9000 had practically nothing in common prior to that other than perhaps HP-IB peripherals.
Network-wise, the 9000-series was following the ARPA/Ethernet track, while the 3000 initially started down the IEEE/OSI architecture. Ethernet was only accepted by the 3000 as an afterthought, it was a checkbox on the NMCONFIG dialogue if you wanted to allow it, and it defaulted to OFF.
So unless Young was talking post-RISC (timeframe is wrong), I'm not sure how he would compare 3000/9000 lines at all. The initial RISC 3000s were in the last half of the 1980s. If I recall correctly, my "migration training" to the "new" 3000s was at the Atlanta response center around 1985 (or a little later) and we were expecting a 930. We ended up with a 950 (since the 930 sucked so badly.) But I do recall many of the details.
"At that time," he said, "we had stretched our Series-IIIs to the limit. HP had "loaned" us a 42 and 48 to "tie us over" until delivery of Spectrum. We had the week at the migration center in Atlanta and spent most of it doing switch stubs for our extensive set of SPL support routines. We finally got a 950 and never looked back, but we had several engineers scratching their heads in the process. We were doing some really peculiar stuff."
Those were "interesting times" indeed. I think at the time we had a Series III with 64 terminals attached (production), a Series III-R (development), a Series 40 or 42 (Library), an academic 44/48, a leftover Series III (academic), and that loaner pair of 42/48 (or 52/58?) to tie us over until Spectrum. We were long overdue for an upgrade, but no hardware was available yet to satisfy the need.
The 3000's direction on networking was most disturbing, taking the OSI standard model in the midst of our evolving Sun/Solaris Internet computers. We had 3000s on our LAN that could only talk to other 3000s on our LAN... while the rest of the server room was on the Internet. It was laughable.
It would be another decade before Posix came to MPE, and it started to play well with the other kids on the block. But unfortunately, a decade too late.
HP executives were taken up with the "Unix" movement... and the 9000s dominated their focus. The 3000s were just along for the ride. And looking back today, that wasn't such a great bet either.
Kell is a classic example of a chapter of living history -- and the lessons we learn from it -- that should be cherished by the community. After nearly 40 years, the decommissioned 3000s at his UTC shop were picked up for recycling. "We're now officially 3000 history," he said, "with nothing left on site."
July 07, 2014
User says licensing just a part of CHARON
Licensing the CHARON emulator solution at the Dairylea Cooperative has been some work, with some suppliers more willing to help in the transfer away from the compay's Series 969 than others. The $1.7 billion organization covers seven states and 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 IT Director Jeff 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 a customary HP 3000 upgrade: hardware costs were low, but software fees were significant.“The cumulative expense of the third party software upgrades was nearly a deal-breaker,” he 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.”
Just as advertised, software that runs on an HP RISC server runs under CHARON. ‘Using those third party tools on the emulator is completely transparent,” Elmer said. “We had one product for which we had to make a command change in a job stream, and we had to make a mind-shift in evaluating what our performance monitoring software is telling us. Apart from that, it is business as usual.”
July 01, 2014
Northeastern cooperative plugs in CHARON
A leading milk and dairy product collective, a century-plus old, is drawing on the Stromasys emulator’s opportunity.
A $1.2 billion milk marketing cooperative — established for more than 100 years and offering services to farmers including lending, insurance and risk management — has become an early example of how to replace Hewlett-Packard’s 3000 and retain MPE software while boosting reliability.
The Dairylea Cooperative has been using the Stromasys CHARON emulator since the start of December, 2013, according to IT director Jeff Elmer. The organization that was founded in 1907 serves dairy owners across seven states in the US Northeast, a collective that had been using two Hewlett-Packard brand RISC servers for MPE operations.
Dairylea has taken its disaster recovery 3000 offline since December 1. Although HP’s physical 3000 server is still powered up, it’s been off the network all year while production continues. “Once we made the switch to the emulator, we never went back to the physical box,” Elmer said. ‘We can’t see any reason to at this point.”
“However much we may love HP’s 3000 hardware, the disk drives are still older than half of our IS department. Some of our users never knew there was a change.”The Stromasys emulator has been the easiest element to manage in the co-op’s Information Systems group. “For some weeks now I’ve been wanting to get around to making arrangements for the removal of both physical HP 3000s,” Elmer explained, “but the day-to-day distractions of the many other computer systems that don’t run MPE keep filling up the time. Since going to the emulator the only thing we’ve used the HP 3000 physical box for is to store a few files to tape for transfer to the emulator.”
As with any replacement solution, CHARON has required some learning to adjust everyday 3000 operations. We'll have more on that tomorrow.
June 26, 2014
3000 sages threwback stories on Thursday
Two weeks ago in the modest London pub Dirty Dick's, a few dozen veterans and sages of the 3000 system had their personal version of a Throwback Thursday. This is the day of the week when Facebook and Twitter users put out a piece of their personal history, usually in the form of a picture from days long past.
If pressed for a piece of June Throwback Thursday material, I might reach for our very first blog post. Nine years ago this month we kicked off our coverage of new, every-workday reporting. My first story was a tribute to a just-fallen comrade in the 3000 community. Bruce Toback died in that month the Newswire's blog was born. As I said in that first blog article -- "A Bright Light Winks Out" was already a throwback, before the term gained its current coin -- Toback was extraordinary, the kind of person that makes the 3000 community unique. He lived with a firm grip on life's handrail of humor. He died unexpectedly of a heart attack at age 48. As part of a gentle and generous Toback memorial, David Greer hosts pictures of Bruce like the one above. Many of these were taken as Toback became important to the Robelle Qedit for Windows project.
The passing of a special life is a good reason to celebrate what remains for all of us. That's probably what motivated those London veterans to gather at Dirty Dick's Pub this month to toss off stories and toss back drinks. Bob Green of Robelle (pictured here in a throwback picture in the spring of 2001, when he was working from his Anguilla island headquarters) shared some pub photos and a brief report about this month's Throwback Thursday for your community.
“It was great to catch up with 3000 colleagues from around the world: Steve Cooper, Dave Wiseman, Brian Duncombe, Kim Leeper, Brad Tashenberg, the Nutsfords and many more (about 20 in all). We exchanged notes on the current state of the machine -- especially the new emulator -- and discovered what each of us was doing. [Editor's Note: Duncombe (above) had made this trip in a record 48-hour-complete turnaround, from Canada to the UK and back. The intensity still burns bright for some of your community members.]
Green noted, while posting photos of Cooper and Leeper in conversation, or the sweet couples' photo (below) of Jeanette and Ken Nutsford, "An amazing number of people are still doing the same thing: helping customers with their IT concerns. But in reality, most of the time was spent swapping war stories from the past, which was great fun.
"Here are some photos from the party. Everyone is older, but perhaps you will remember some of them." This photo of the Nutsfords, ever the COBOL and HP Rapid standards-bearers, is something of a coup. The couple retired from the world of the 3000 to set off an epic career of cruise line travels, so catching them for a picture requires some foresight. They are circling the globe in a lifestyle that shows there's another, more rewarding kind of migration awaiting the luckiest of us.
June 23, 2014
New search for 3000 expertise surfaces
New openings for HP 3000 production and development jobs are uncommon prizes by now. Contract firms have been known to solicit MPE help while making a migration happen. Application support suppliers need IT professionals who know the details of mission-critical software, too.
But every once in awhile, a company that's still dedicated to using MPE software sends the word out that it's hiring for HP 3000 and MPE specifics. Such is the case from Measurement Specialties. The location is at the company's Hampton Roads, Virginia headquarters. The job listing from Terry Simpkins, Director of Business Systems for the manufacturer which uses MANMAN, Fortran and VEsoft's MPEX and Security/3000 -- among other platform-specific tools such as TurboIMAGE -- describes both classic and specialized enterprise IT skills.
"The leading manufacturer of sensors and sensing systems" is seeking a Business Analyst.
Areas of responsibility include:
- Daily user training and support
- Participate in projects in all functional areas of the business
- Serve as backup support for HP3000 operations and nightly processing
Key skills and capabilities include:
- Strong MANMAN experience and expertise
- Ability to read Fortran and perform some level of programming
- Strong understanding of MPEX scripting and Security/3000 menus
- Ability to handle multiple concurrent projects and tasks
The organization says that "If you are interested in a challenging and exciting opportunity with a dynamic and growing company," please contact
Terry W. Simpkins
Director of Business Systems
Measurement Specialties, Inc.
1000 Lucas Way, Hampton, VA 23666
Office: +1 757-766-4278
Mobile: +1 757 532-5685
June 20, 2014
Time to Sustain, If It's Not Time to Change
In the years after HP announced its 3000 exit, I helped to define the concept of homesteading. Not exactly new, and clearly something expected in an advancing society. Uncle Lars' homestead, at left, showed us how it might look with friendly droids to help on Tattooine. The alternative 3000 future that HP trumpeted in 2002 was migration. But it's clear by now that the movement versus steadfast strategy was a fuzzy picture for MPE users' future.
What remains at stake is transformation. Even to this week, any company that's relying on MPE, as well as those making a transition, are judging how they'll look in a year, or three, or five. We've just heard that software rental is making a comeback at one spot in the 3000 world. By renting a solution to remain on a 3000, instead of buying one, a manager is planning to first sustain its practices -- and then to change.
Up on the LinkedIn 3000 Community page I asked if the managers and owners were ready to purchase application-level support for 3000 operations. "It looks like several vendors want to sell this, to help with the brain-drain as veteran MPE managers retire." I asked that question a couple of years ago, but a few replies have bubbled up. Support has changed with ownership of some apps, such as Ecometry, and with some key tools such as NetBase.
"Those vendors will now get you forwarded to a call center in Bangalore," said Tracy Johnson, a veteran MPE manager at Measurement Specialties. "And by the way, Quest used to be quick on support. Since they got bought by Dell, you have to fill in data on a webpage to be triaged before they'll even accept an email."
Those were not the kind of vendors I was suggesting. Companies will oversee and maintain MPE apps created in-house, once the IT staff changes enough to lose 3000 expertise. But that led to another reply about why anyone might pursue the course to Sustain, when the strategy to Change seems overwhelming.Managed Business Systems, one of the original HP Platinum Migration partners, was ready to do this sustaining as far back as a decade ago. Companies like the Support Group, Pivital Solutions -- they're still the first-line help desks and maintainers for 3000 sites whose bench has grown thin. Fresche Legacy made a point of offering this level of service, starting from the last days when it was called Speedware. There are others willing to take over MPE app operations and care, and some of these vendors have feet planted firmly in the Change camp, as well as staking out the Sustain territory.
Todd Purdum of Sherlock Systems wondered on LinkedIn if there really was a community that would take on applications running under MPE. We ran an article last year about the idea of a backstop if your expertise got ill or left the company. Five years earlier, we could point to even smaller companies, and firms like 3K Ranger and Pro 3K are available to do that level of work. Purdum, by his figuring, believes such backstops are rare.
Although I agree with the need for sustained resources to keep an HP3000 running, I'm not sure that "several vendors" can provide this. We have been in the business for over 23 years, and as a leader in providing hardware and application support for HP 3000s and MPE, I don't see many other vendors truly being capable of providing this.
Purdum asked, tongue-in-cheek, if there was a 3000 resurgence on the way he didn't see coming. No one has a total view of this market. But anecdotal reports are about all anyone has been able to use for most of a decade. Even well-known tool vendors are using independent support companies for front-line support. Purdum acknowledged that the support would be there, but wondered who'd need it.
Customers who use MPE (the HP 3000) know their predicament, and offering more salvation does not help them move into the right direction. I am only a hardware support company (that had to learn all HP 3000 applications) and it disappoints me a little that the companies you mentioned, most of which are software companies, haven't developed software that will allow these folks to finally move on and get off of this retired platform.
I can't change it, I just sustain it... applications and all.
Sustaining mission-critical use of MPE is the only choice for some companies have in 2014. Their parent corporations aren't ready for a hand-off, or budget's not right, or yes, their app vendor isn't yet ready with a replacement app. That's what's leading to software rentals. When a company chooses to homestead, it must build a plan to Sustain. HP clearly retired its 3000 business more than three years ago. But that "final" moving on, into the realms of real change, follows other schedules, around the world. On the world of Tattooine, Lars first changed by setting up a moisture farm, then sustained. And then everything changed for him and Luke Skywalker. Change-sustain-change doesn't have a final state.
June 17, 2014
How a Fan Can Become a Migration Tool
We heard this story today in your community, but we'll withhold the names to protect the innocent. A Series 948 server had a problem, one that was keeping it offline. It was a hardware problem, one on a server that was providing archival lookups. The MPE application had been migrated to a Windows app five years ago. But those archives, well, they often just seem to be easier to look up from the original 3000 system.
There might be some good reasons to keep an archival 3000 running. Regulatory issues come to mind first. Auditors might need original equipment paired with historic data. There could be budget issues, but we'll get to that in a moment.
The problem with that Series 948: it was overheating. And since it was a server of more than 17 years of service, repairing it required a hardware veteran. Plus parts. All of which is available, but "feet on the street" in the server's location, that can be a challenge. (At this point a handful of service providers are wondering where this prospective repair site might be. The enterprising ones will call.)
But remember this is an archival 3000. Budget, hah. This would be the time to find a fan to point at that overheating 17-year-old system. That could be the first step in a data migration, low-tech as it might seem.From the moment the fan makes it possible to boot up, this could be the time to get that archival data off the 3000. Especially since the site's already got a replacement app on another piece of newer hardware, up and running. There's a server there, waiting to get a little more use.
Moving data off an archival server is one of the very last steps in decommissioning. If you've got a packaged application, there are experts in your app out there -- all the big ones, like Ecometry, MANMAN, Amisys -- that can help export that data for you. And you might get lucky and find that's a very modest budget item. You can also seek out data migration expertise, another good route.
But putting more money into a replacement Hewlett-Packard-branded 3000 this year might be a little too conservative. It depends on how old the 3000 system is, and what the hardware problem would be. If not a fan, then maybe a vacuum cleaner or shop vac could lower the temperature of the server, with a good clean-out. Funk inside the cabinet is common, we've seen.
Overheating old equipment could be a trigger to get the last set of archives into a SQL Server database, for example, one designated only for that. Heading to a more modern piece of hardware might have led you into another kind of migration, towards the emulator, sure. But if your mission-critical app is already migrated, the fan and SQL Server -- plus testing the migrated data, of course -- might be the gateway to an MPE-free operation, including your archives.
May 06, 2014
PowerHouse users study migration flights
A sometimes surprising group of companies continue to use software from the PowerHouse fourth generation language lineup on their HP 3000s. At Boeing, for example -- a manufacturer whose Boeing 737 assembly line pushes out one aircraft's airframe every day -- the products are essential to one mission-critical application. Upgrade fees for PowerHouse became a crucial element in deciding whether to homestead on the CHARON emulator last year.
PowerHouse products have a stickiness to them that can surprise, here in 2014, because of the age of the underlying concept. But they're ingrained in IT operations to a degree that can make them linchpins. In a LinkedIn Group devoted to managing PowerHouse products, the topic of making a new era for 4GL has been discussed for the past week. Paul Stennett, a group systems manager with UK-based housebuilder Wainhomes, said that his company's transition to an HP-UX version of PowerHouse has worked more seamlessly -- so far -- than the prospect of replacing the PowerHouse MPE application with a package.
"The main driver was not to disrupt the business, which at the end of the day pays for IT," Stennett said. "It did take around 18 months to complete, but was implemented over a weekend. So the users logged off on Friday on the old system, and logged onto the new system on Monday. From an application point of view all the screens, reports and processes were the same."
This is the lift-and-shift migration strategy, taken to a new level because the proprietary language driving these applications has not changed. Business processes -- which will get reviewed in any thorough migration to see if they're still needed -- have the highest level of pain to change. Sometimes companies conclude that the enhancements derived from a replacement package are more than offset by required changes to business processes.
Enter the version of PowerHouse that runs on HP's supported Unix environment. It was a realistic choice for Stennett's company because the 4GL has a new owner this year in Unicom."With the acquisition of PowerHouse by UNICOM, and their commitment to developing the product and therefore continued support," Stennett posted on the LinkedIn group, "is it better to migrate PowerHouse onto a supported platform (from HP 3000 to HP-UX) rather than go for a complete re-write in Java, with all of its risks. To the user was seamless, other than they have to use a different command to logon. The impact to the businesses day to day running was zero."
The discussion began with requests on information for porting PowerHouse apps to Java. The 4GL was created with a different goal in mind than Java's ideal of "write once, run anywhere." Productivity was the lure for users who moved to 4GLs such as PowerHouse, Speedware, and variants such as Protos and Transact. All but Protos now have support for other platforms.
And HP's venerated Transact -- which once ran the US Navy's Mark 85 torpedo facility at Keyport, Wash. -- can be replaced by ScreenJet's TransAction and then implemented on MPE. ScreenJet, which partnered with Transact's creator David Dummer to build this replacement, added that an MPE/iX TransAction implementation would work as a testing step toward an ultimate migration to other environments.
Bob Deskin, a former PowerHouse support manager who retired from IBM last year, sketched out why the fourth generation language is preserving so many in-house applications -- sometimes on platforms where the vendor has moved on, or set an exit date as with HP's OpenVMS.
Application systems, like many things, have inertia. They tend to obey Newton's first law. A body at rest tends to remain at rest unless acted upon by an outside force. The need for change was that outside force. When an application requires major change, the decision must be made to do extensive modifications to the existing system, to write a new system, or to buy a package. During the '90s, the answer was often to buy a package.
But packages are expensive so companies are looking at leveraging what they have. If they feel that the current 4GL application can't give them what they need, but the internal logic is still viable, they look for migration or conversion tools. Rather than completely re-write, it may be easier to convert and add on now that Java and C++ programmers are readily available.
Deskin added as part of his opinion of what happened to 4GLs that they were never ubiquitous -- not even in an environment like the HP 3000's, where development in mainstream languages might take 10 times longer during the 1970s.
There weren't enough programmers to meet the demand. Along came 4GLs and their supposed promise of development without programmers. We know that didn't work out. But the idea of generating systems in 10 percent of the time appealed to many. If you needed 10 percent of the time, maybe you only needed 10 percent of the programmers.
The 4GL heyday was the '80s. With computers being relatively inexpensive and demand for systems growing, something had to fill the void. Some programmers caught the 4GL bug, but most didn't. There was still more demand than supply, so studying mainstream languages almost guaranteed a job.
Now even mainstream languages like COBOL and FORTRAN are out of vogue. COBOL was even declared extinct by one misinformed business podcast on NPR. The alternatives are, as one LinkedIn group member pointed out, often Microsoft's .NET or Oracle's Java. (Java wasn't considered a vendor's product until Oracle acquired it as part of its Sun pickup. These days Java is rarely discussed without mention of its owner, perhaps because the Oracle database is so ubiquitous in typical migration target environments.)
Migration away from a 4GL like PowerHouse -- to a complete revision with new front end, back end databases, reporting and middleware -- can be costly by one LinkedIn member's accounts. Krikor Gellekian, whose name surfaces frequently in the PowerHouse community, added that a company's competitive edge is the reward for the lengthy wade through the surf of 4GL departures.
"It is not simple, it takes time and is expensive, and the client should know that in advance," Gellekian wrote. "However, I always try to persuade my clients that IT modernization is not a single project; it is a process. And adopting it means staying competitive in their business."
Deskin approached the idea that 4GLs might be a concept as extinct as that podcast's summary of COBOL.
Does this mean that the idea of a 4GL is dead? Absolutely not. The concept of specifying what you want to do rather than how to do it is still a modern concept. In effect, object-oriented languages [like Java] are attempting to do the same thing -- except they are trying to be all things to all people and work at a very low level. However, it takes more than a language these days to be successful. It also requires a modern interface. Here's hoping.
April 23, 2014
Emulator's edition earns closer look in call
First of two parts
The recent CAMUS user group meeting, conducted as a conference call, promised some testing and analysis of the Stromasys CHARON HP 3000 emulator -- as done by an outsider. MB Foster is an insider to the HP 3000 community, but the vendor doesn't have an affiliation with Stromasys as a partner. Not at this point, although there are always opportunities for longstanding vendors to join their customers with such a new solution.
CEO Birket Foster said the company's been asked by its customers if MB Foster products would run safely in the CHARON environment. The question not only has been of high interest to 3000 managers. One similar answer lies in the Digital environment, where CHARON has more than 4,000 installations including some CAMUS members who run MANMAN in a VAX system. All's well over there, they report.
CHARON is so much newer in 3000-land. Principal Consultant Arnie Kwong of MB Foster outlined some of the research results from testing on an Intel i7 server with 64GB of memory and SSD storage, as well as a more everyday 8GB capacity box, albeit an AMD-based system. (Both systems can run CHARON for the 3000 emulation.) Wong said using a private VMware cloud, or private backup machines, are common computing-share practices that deserve extra attention with new possibilities of CHARON. "What will it let me do that's different?" he asked.
One of the assumptions of using cloud infrastructure and these new capabilities is whether the fundamental operating characteristics, business processes and business rules embedded in applications like MANMAN are sufficient for what you're doing now. Having talked to lots of MANMAN customers, all of the industry-standard and regulatory practices can be impacted if we do something major like shifting the platform.
Kwong went on to forecast the use of CHARON in a cloud-based implementation and ponder if that use affects regulatory compliance, as well as "the ability to operate on a global basis, and what new opportunities we can do in that mold." He said he'd confine his comments to instances where a cloud-based infrastructure was already in use at MB Foster customer sites. "But our leading candidate to do this kind of thing isn't a VMware kind of architecture." CHARON, Kwong noted, relies heavily on VMware to do its emulation for HP 3000 operations.Most members of the user group on the call have pieces of their IT infrastructure running in a cloud aspect, such as Google Mail. "They have Internet-based functionalities, global applications that function well. We looked at the HP 3000 applications such as MANMAN that are enabled and helped by having all of that architecture in place." The 3000 is a platform service inside a cloud environment, Kwong said.
Migrating a 3000 to CHARON means "you have to have some systems engineering and systems administration done to bring it up. A key is to look at sizing of the environments and properly sizing data and program sizes and shapes, as far as the size of the application portfolio. You should look at what you are going to be able to effectively maintain."
Testing for such an emulated environment may require more time from technical staff that the time you have available, considering the depth of MPE/3000 knowledge in many sites. "Concurrently, you need to have folks with knowledge of your cloud infrastructure. A key takeaway for this call is you need to pay attention to staff availability of people with a deep technical knowledge, both on the HP side and in your cloud infrastructure."
Kwong said that managers can snapshot production states, to on to things such as a physical inventory cycle. "In a case of global operations, that might not have been easily possible before. Using the virtualization infrastructure offered via CHARON, and storage infrastructure in particular, you can do functions you just weren't able to do in the HP 3000 environment that's tied to physical hardware."
In an evaluation from MB Foster that could lead to implementing CHARON, the company looks at the business cycle activities that need those kind of functions, "and study how we'd map it; for example, could I give one to three days more production time."
One Stromasys representative on the call checked to see if the MB Foster results were off the limited-use Freeware edition, or a full-production installation. Kwong said it was full-production, and the Stromasys rep said the company didn't have a relationship yet with MB Foster. The two said they'd take that issue offline. Regarding the license movement needed to enable CHARON use, Kwong said it wasn't an automatic assumption that everything could move without a major cost, but "it's fair to say that in a lot of cases you'll be able to move without a tremendous cost in relicensing.
Foster said that slides which summarize its results and planned migration processes for the CHARON testing will be available in a forthcoming MB Foster Webinar Wednesday.
April 21, 2014
A week-plus of bleeds, but MPE's hearty
There are not many aspects of MPE that seem to best the offerings from open source environments. For anyone who's been tracking the OpenSSL hacker-door Heartbleed, though, the news is good on 3000 vulnerability. It's better than more modern platforms, in part because it's more mature. If you're moving away from mature and into migrating to open source computing, then listen up.
Open source savant Brian Edminster of Applied Technologies told us why MPE is in better shape.
I know that it's been covered other places, but don't know if it's been explicitly stated anywhere in MPE-Land: The Heartbleed issue is due to the 'heartbeat' feature, which was added to OpenSSL after any known builds for MPE/iX.
That's a short way of saying: So far, all the versions of OpenSSL for MPE/iX are too old to be affected by the Heartbleed vulnerability. Seems that sometimes, it can be good to not be on the bleeding edge.
However, the 3000 IT manager -- a person who usually has a couple of decades of computing experience -- may be in charge of the more-vulnerable web servers. Linux is used a lot for this kind of thing. Jeff Kell, whose on-the-Web servers deliver news of 3000s via the 3000-L mailing list, outlined repairs needed and advice from his 30-plus years of networking -- in MPE and all other environments.About 10 days after the news rocked the Web, Kell -- one of the sharpest tools in the drawer of networking -- posted this April 17 summary on the challenges and which ports to watch.
Unless you've had your head in the sand, you've heard about Heartbleed. Every freaking security vendor is milking it for all it's worth. It is pretty nasty, but it's essentially "read-only" without some careful follow-up.
Most have focused on SSL/HTTPS over 443, but other services are exposed (SMTP services on 25, 465, 867; LDAP on 636; others). You can scan and it might show up the obvious ones, but local services may have been compiled against "static" SSL libraries, and be vulnerable as well.
We've cleaned up most of ours (we think, still scanning); but that just covers the server side.
There are also client-side compromises possible.
And this stuff isn't theoretical, it's been proven third-party...
Lots of folks say replace your certificates, change your passwords, etc. I'd wait until the services you're changing are verified secure.
Most of the IDS/IPS/detections of the exploits are broken in various ways. STARTTLS works by negotiating a connection, establishing keys, and bouncing to an encrypted transport. IDS/IPS can't pick up heartbleed encrypted. They're after the easy pre-authenticated handshake.
It's a mess for sure. But it’s not yet safe to necessarily declare anything safe just yet.
Stay tuned, and avoid the advertising noise.
April 09, 2014
How SSL's bug is causing security to bleed
Computing's Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) forms part of the bedrock of information security. Companies have built products around SSL, vendors have wired its protocols into operating systems, vendors have applied its encryption to data transport services. Banks, credit card providers, even governments rely on its security. In the oldest days of browser use, SSL displayed that little lock in the bottom corner that assured you a site was secure -- so type away on those passwords, IDs, and sensitive data.
In a matter of days, all of the security legacy from the past two years has virtually evaporated. OpenSSL, the most current generation of SSL, has developed a large wound, big enough to let anyone read secured data who can incorporate a hack of the Heartbeat portion of the standard. A Finnish security firm has dubbed the exposed hack Heartbleed.
OpenSSL has made a slow and as-yet incomplete journey to the HP 3000's MPE/iX. Only an ardent handful of users have made efforts to bring the full package to the 3000's environment. In most cases, when OpenSSL has been needed for a solution involving a 3000, Linux servers supply the required security. Oops. Now Linux implementations of OpenSSL have been exposed. Linux is driving about half of the world's websites, by some tallies, since the Linux version of Apache is often in control.
One of the 3000 community's better-known voices about mixing Linux with MPE posted a note in the 3000 newsgroup over the past 48 hours to alert Linux-using managers. James Byrne of Harte & Lyne Ltd. explained the scope of a security breach that will require a massive tourniquet. To preface his report, the Transport Layer Security (TLS) and SSL in the TCP/IP stack encrypt data of network connections. They have even done this for MPE/iX, but in older, safe versions. Byrne summed up the current threat.
There is an exploit in the wild that permits anyone with TLS network access to any system running the affected version of OpenSSL to systematically read every byte in memory. Among other nastiness, this means that the private keys used for Public Key Infrastructure on those systems are exposed and compromised, as they must be loaded into memory in order to perform their function.
It's something of a groundbreaker, this hack. These exploits are not logged, so there will be no evidence of compromises. It’s possible to trick almost any system running any version of OpenSSL released over the past two years into revealing chunks of data sitting in its system memory.The official security report on the bug, from OpenSSL.org, does its best to make it seem like there's a ready solution to the problem. No need to panic, right?
A missing bounds check in the handling of the TLS heartbeat extension can be used to reveal up to 64k of memory to a connected client or server.
Only 1.0.1 and 1.0.2-beta releases of OpenSSL are affected, including 1.0.1f and 1.0.2-beta1.
Thanks for Neel Mehta of Google Security for discovering this bug and to Adam Langley and Bodo Moeller for preparing the fix.
Affected users should upgrade to OpenSSL 1.0.1g. Users unable to immediately upgrade can alternatively recompile OpenSSL with -DOPENSSL_NO_HEARTBEATS.
1.0.2 will be fixed in 1.0.2-beta2
For the technically inclined, there's a great video online that explains all aspects of the hack. Webserver owners and hosts have their work to do in order to make their sites secure. That leaves out virtually every HP 3000, the server that was renamed e3000 in its final HP generation to emphasize its integration with the Internet. Hewlett-Packard never got around to implementing OpenSSL security in its web services for MPE/iX. 3000 systems are blameless, but that doesn't matter as much as insisting your secure website providers apply that 1.0.1g upgrade.
The spookiest part of this story is that without the log evidence, nobody knows if Heartbleed has been used over the past two years. Byrne's message is directed at IT managers who have Linux-driven websites in their datacenters. Linux has gathered a lot of co-existence with MPE/iX over the last five years and more. This isn't like a report of a gang shooting that's happened in another part of town. Consider it more of a warning about the water supply.
In a bit of gallows humor, it looks as if the incomplete implementation of OpenSSL, frozen in an earlier edition of the software, puts it back in the same category as un-patched OpenSSL web servers: not quite ready for prime time.
April 07, 2014
MPE patches still available, just customized
Last week a 3000 manager was probing for the cause of a Command Interface CI error on a jobstream. In the course of the quest, an MPE expert made an important point: Patches to repair such MPE/iX bugs are still available. Especially from the seven companies which licensed HP's source code for the HP 3000s.
This mention of MPE bug repair was a reminder, actually, that Hewlett-Packard set the internals knowledge of MPE free back in 2010. Read-only rights to the operating system source code went out to seven companies worldwide, including some support providers such as Pivital Solutions and Allegro Consultants.
The latter's Stan Sieler was watching a 3000 newsgroup thread about the error winding up. Tracy Johnson, the curator of the 3000 that hosts the EMPIRE game and a former secretary to OpenMPE, had pointed out that his 3000 sometimes waits longer than expected after a PAUSE in a jobstream.
I nearly always put a CONTINUE statement before a PAUSE in any job. Over the years I have discovered that sometimes the CPU waits "longer" than the specified pause and fails with an error.
A lively newsgroup discussion of 28 messages ensued. It was by far the biggest exchange of tech advice on the newsgroup in 2014, so far. Sieler took note of what's likely to be broken in MPE/iX 7.5, after an HP engineer had made his analysis of might need a workaround. Patches and workarounds are a continuing part of the 3000 manager's life, even here in the second decade of the 3000's Afterlife. You can get 'em if you want 'em.A workaround is the more likely of repairs for something that's not operating correctly in MPE, by this year. Patches were a free HP 3000 element, and those that HP created still are free today -- unlike the situation for HP's still-supported servers. The dilemma is that the final round of patches HP built weren't tested to HP's satisfaction. Plus, there's no more vendor work on new repairs.
Enter the third party supporters, the companies I call independent support providers. They know the 3000 as well as anybody left at HP, so long as they're a party to the source code for the operating system. In many cases, a binary patch isn't what a customer wants. Such a thing has to be tested, and a lot of production 3000s are under lockdown today. Changes are not invited.
But in the case of an MPE/iX jobstream PAUSE error, there's always a chance for a fix. HP's Jim Hawkins looked at Johnson's problem and ranked the causes Nos. 1-4. Number 4 was "possible MPE/iX bug."
Sieler said that it looked like this was a genuine MPE/iX flaw. What to do, now that the MPE/iX lab at HP -- which once included Hawkins -- has gone dark? Sieler pointed to patching.
After analyzing hxpause, the executor responsible for implementing the CI PAUSE command, I suspect there is a bug in the MPE/iX internal routine "pausey", which hxpause uses. The bug appears to be triggerable by :BREAKJOB/:RESUMEJOB, but I have not characterized precisely what triggers it. It is, however, apparently the result of the equivalent of an uninitialized variable.
I believe Allegro could develop a patch, should a customer be interested in it.
Patches beyond the lifespan of an HP lab are a touchy topic. A binary patch, as Allegro's Steve Cooper describes this kind of assignment, is likely to live its life in just one HP 3000 installation. It's a creation to be tested, like any patch.
And now it seems that patches are not only a for-pay item, but something to be guarded. HP even pressed a lawsuit against an independent company when the vendor observed that its patches were being distributed by the indie. No money changed hands in the suit settlement, but the support company said it would stop redistributing HP's patches.
This kind of protective culture from systems vendors is endemic by now, according to Source Direct's Bill Hassell. "This is a hot topic, both for customers as well as third party support organizations," he reported. "There have been very strong reactions from customers to recent statements about firmware restrictions." Hassell, well-known as an HP-UX expert among former Interex user group members, pointed to a handful of articles from HP's own blog and the industry press such as ZDNet, or one from PC World.
But the first one Hassell pointed at was the message from HP's own Mary McCoy, VP of Support for HP Servers, Technology Services. It's titled Customers for Life. In essence, the February posting says HP's firmware only gets an upgrade for "customers with a valid warranty, Care Pack Service, or support agreement."
We know this is a change from how we’ve done business in the past; however, this aligns with industry best practices and is the right decision for our customers and partners. This decision reinforces our goal to provide access to the latest HP firmware, which is valuable intellectual property, for our customers who have chosen to maximize and protect their IT investments.
In the face of this, and other HP announcements such as ProLiant patch availability, the customers who are commenting at HP's website are not happy. One noted that "the customer segment who will suffer the most from this revision in HP firmware availability will be the small and medium businesses performing their own in-house IT support." Some say the pay-for-patch mandate is only going to drive them to other vendors for small business servers. HP asserts that every vendor is doing this by now.
Enter the indie patching potential for MPE/iX. Binary patches are much more of a possibility when source code is in the hands of a support company. As far as I know, the source for HP-UX, or any other proprietary Unix, isn't in the wild, and the same can be said for Windows. Linux source is always available, of course. Nobody is going to be tagged as a Customer for Life when they choose Linux.
But that's also true of MPE/iX. Enter an indie support relationship and you get the benefits of that vendor's expertise, based upon the level of their understanding of MPE. Leave that relationship and you're not penalized. You're just on the hunt now for another support vendor of equal caliber.
A support company's caliber is measured by the way it conducts its business practices, not just what it knows how to create or fix. This vendor lock-in is something familiar to a 3000 owner. But it was technology, not business decisions, which enforced such lock-in during the 20th Century. The indie companies have a patch for the current era's lock-in error.
March 27, 2014
Beyond 3000's summit, will it keep running?
If you consider the last 40 years and counting to be a steady rise in reputation elevation for the HP 3000 and MPE -- what computer's been serving business longer, after all? -- then 2027 might be the 3000's summit. A couple of 3000 experts have climbed a summit together, as the photo of Guy Paul and Craig Lalley above proves. What a 3000 might do up there in 20 years prompted some talk about 2027 and what it means.
The two 3000 veterans were climbing Washington state's second highest mountain, Mt. Adams, whose summit is at 12,280 feet. On their way up, Paul and his 14 year old grandson had just made the summit and ran into Lalley, and his 14 year old son, on their way to the top.
The trek was announced on the 3000 newsgroup last year. At the time, some of the group's members joked that a 3000 could climb to that elevation if somebody could haul one up there. "Guy is a hiking stud," said his fellow hiker Lalley. "Rumor has it that Guy had a small Series 989 in his back pack. I wasn't impressed until I heard about the UPS."
After some discussion about solar-powered computing, someone else said that if it was started up there on Mt. Adams with solar power, the 3000 would still be running 20 years later.
Then a 3000 veteran asked, "But won't it stop running in 2027?" That's an important year for the MPE/iX operating system, but not really a date of demise. Such a 3000 -- any MPE/iX system -- can be running in 20 years, but it will use the wrong dates. Unless someone rethinks date handling before then.
Jeff Kell, whose HP 3000s stopped running at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in December, because of a shutdown post-migration, added some wisdom to this future of date-handling.
"Well, by 2027, we may be used to employing mm/dd/yy with a 27 on the end, and you could always go back to 1927. And the programs that only did "two-digit" years would be all set. Did you convert all of 'em for Y2K? Did you keep the old source?"Kell added that "Our major Y2K issue was dealing with a "semester" which was YY01 for fall, YY02 for spring, and so forth. We converted that over to go from 9901 (Fall 1999) to A001 (Fall 2000), so we were good for another 259 years on that part. Real calendar dates used 4-digit years (32-bit integers, yyyymmdd)."
At that summit, Paul said that two climbers "talked for a few minutes we made tentative plans to climb Oregon's tallest mountain, Mt. Hood, pictured in the background. We have since set a date of May 16th."
We've written before on the effects of 2027's final month on the suitability of the 3000 for business practice. Kell's ideas have merit. I believe there's still enough wizardry in the community to take the operating system even further upward. The HP iron, perhaps not so much. By the year 2028, even the newest servers will still be 25 years old. Try to imagine a 3000 that was built in 1989, running today.
Better yet, please report to us if you have such a machine, hooked up in your shop.
Why do people climb mountains? The legend is that the climber George Mallory replied, "because it is there." 2028 is still there, waiting for MPE to arrive. Probably on the back of some Intel-based server, bearing Linux -- unless neither of those survives another 14 years. For Intel, this year marks 15 years of service for the Xeon processor, currently on the Haswell generation. Another 25 years, and Xeon will have done as much service as MPE has today.
There is no betting line on the odds of survival for Xeon into the year 2039. By that date, even Unix will have a had its own date-handling issue. The feeling in the Linux community is that a date solution will arrive in time.
March 18, 2014
Customizing apps keeps A500 serving sites
HP's A-Class 3000s aren't that powerful, and they're not as readily linked to extra storage. That's what the N-Class systems are designed to do. But at one service provider's shop, the A500 is plenty powerful enough to keep a client's company running on schedule, and within budget. The staying power comes from customization, that sticky factor which is helping some 3000s remain in service.
The A500 replaced a Series 987 about a year ago. That report is one point of proof that 9x7 systems are still being replaced. It's been almost two decades since the 9x7s were first sold, and more than 15 years since the last one was built. The service company, which wants to remain unnamed, had good experience with system durability from the 3000 line.
We host a group of companies that have been using our system for over 20 years. So, we’re planning on being around for a while. One of these customers may migrate to a Windows-based system over the next few years, but I anticipate that this will be a slow process, since we have customized their system for them over the years.
The client company's top brass wants to migrate, in order to get all of its IT onto a single computing environment. That'd be Windows. But without that corporate mandate to make the IT identical in every datacenter, the company would be happy staying with the 3000, rather than looking at eventual migration "in several years' time." It will not be the speed of the server that shuts down that company's use of an A500. It will be the distinction that MPE/iX represents.There are many servers at a similar price tag, or even cheaper, which can outperform an A500. HP never compared the A-Class or N-Class systems to anything but other HP 3000s. By the numbers, HP's data sheet on the A-Class lineup lists the top-end of the A500s -- a two-CPU model with 200 MHz chips -- at five times the performance of those entry-level $2,000 A400s being offered on eBay (with no takers, yet.) The A500-200-200 tops out at 8GB of memory. But the chip inside that server is just a PA-8700, a version of PA-RISC that's two generations older than the ultimate PA chipset. HP stopped making PA-RISC chips altogether in 2009.
HP sold that 2-way A500 at a list price of just under $42,000 at the server's 2002 rollout. In contrast, those bottom-end A400s had a list price of about $16,000 each. Both price points didn't include drives, or tape devices. Our columnist at the time, John Burke, reported on performance upgrades in the newer A-Class systems by saying
There is considerable controversy in the field about the A-Class servers in particular, with many people claiming these low-end boxes have been so severely crippled (when compared to their non-crippled HP-UX brothers) as to make them useless for any but the smallest shops. Even if you accept HP’s performance rating (and many people question its accuracy), the A400-100-110 is barely faster then the 10-year-old 928 that had become the de-facto low-end system.
I see these new A-Class systems as a tacit agreement by HP that it goofed with the initial systems.
The power of the iron is just a portion of the performance calculation, of course. The software's integration with the application, and access to the database and movement of files into and out of memory -- that's all been contributing to the 3000's reputation. "I’ve been working on the HP since 1984 and it’s such a workhorse!" said the service provider's senior analyst. "I've seen other companies that have gone from the 3000 to Windows-based systems, and I hear about performance issues."
Not all migrations to Windows-based ERP, for example, give up performance ground when leaving the 3000 field. We've heard good reports on Microsoft Dynamics GP, a mature set of applications that's been in the market for more than a decade. Another is IFS, which pioneered component-based ERP software with IFS Applications, now in its seventh generation.
One area where the newer products -- which are still making advances in capability, with new releases -- have to give ground to 3000 ERP is in customization. Whatever the ERP foundation might be at that service provider's client, the applications have grown to become a better fit to the business practices at that client company. ERP is a set of computing that thrives on customization. This might be the sector of the economy which will be among the last to turn away from the 3000 and MPE.
March 13, 2014
Can COBOL flexibility, durability migrate?
In our report yesterday on the readiness for CHARON emulation at Cerro Wire, we learned that the keystone application at that 3000 shop began as the DeCarlo, Paternite, & Associates IBS/3000 suite. That software is built upon COBOL. But at Cerro Wire, the app's had lots of updating and customization and expansion. It's one example of how the 3000 COBOL environment keeps on branching out, in the hands of a veteran developer.
That advantage, as any migrating shop has learned, is offset by finding COBOL expertise ready to work on new platforms. Or a COBOL that does as many things as the 3000's did, or does them in the same way.
OpenCOBOL and Micro Focus remain two of the favorite targets for 3000 COBOL migrations. The more robust a developer got with COBOL II on MPE, however, the more challenge they'll find in replicating all of that customization.
As an example, consider the use of COBOL II macros, or the advantage of COBOL preprocessors. The IBS software "used so many macros and copylibs that the standard COBOL compiler couldn't handle them," Terry Simpkins of Measurement Specialities reported awhile back. So the IBS creators wrote a preprocessor for the COBOL compiler on the 3000. Migrating a solution like that one requires careful steps by IT managers. It helps that there's some advocates for migrating COBOL, and at least one good crossover compiler that understands the 3000's COBOL nuances.Alan Yeo reminds us that one solution to the need for a macro pre processor is AcuCOBOL. "It has it built in," he says. "Just set the HP COBOL II compatibility switch, and hey presto, it will handle the macros."
Yeo goes on to add that "Most of the people with good COBOL migration toolsets have created COBOL preprocessors to do just this when migrating HP COBOL to a variety of different COBOL compilers. You might just have to cross their palms with some silver, but you'll save yourself a fortune in effort." Transformix is among those vendors. AMXW support sthe conversion of HP COBOL to Micro Focus as well as AcuCOBOL.
Those macros were a staple for 3000 applications built in the 1980s and 90s, and then maintained into the current century, some to this very day. One of the top minds in HP's language labs where COBOL II was born thinks of macros as challenges to migrations, though. Walter Murray has said
I tried to discourage the use of macros in HP COBOL II. They are not standard COBOL, and do not work the same, or don't work at all, on other compilers. But nobody ever expects that they will be porting their COBOL. One can do some very powerful things with macros. I have no argument there.
COBOL II/iX processes macros in a separate pass using what was called MLPP, the Multi-Language PreProcessor. As the name implies, it was envisioned as a preprocessor that could be used with any number of HP language products. But I don't think it was used anywhere except COBOL II, and maybe the Assembler for the PA-RISC platform.
Jeff Kell, whose 3000 shutdown at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga we've chronicled recently, said macros were a staple for his shop.
In moving to COBOL II we lived on macros. Using predictable data elements for IMAGE items, sets, keys, status words and so forth, we reduced IMAGE calls to simple macros with a minimum of parameters.
We also had a custom preprocessor. We had several large, modular programs with sequential source files containing various subprograms. The preprocessor would track the filename, section, paragraph, last image call, and generate standard error handling that would output a nice "tombstone" identifying the point in the program where the error occurred. It also handled terminal messages, warnings, and errors (you could put the text you wanted displayed into COBOL comments below the "macro" and it filled in code to generate a message catalog and calls to display the text).
It's accepted as common wisdom that COBOL is yesterday's technology, even while it still runs today's mission critical business. How essential is that level of business? The US clearinghouse for all automated transfers between banks is built upon COBOL. But if your outlook for the future is, as one 3000 vet said, a staff pool of "no new blood for COBOL, IMAGE, or VPlus," then moving COBOL becomes a solid first step in a migration. Just ensure there's enough capability on the target COBOL to embrace what that 3000 application -- like the one at Cerro Wire -- has been doing for years.