February 26, 2014
Comparing Historic 3000 Horsepower Costs
Over the last few weeks we've checked in with Jeff Kell, the system manager at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. The university powered off its last two HP 3000s not long ago, and along the way has mounted dozens of Unix and Linux CPUs and virtual servers to replace that pair of MPE machines. We asked him what he believed the school's IT group had spent on MPE over 37 years -- and limited the question to the capital costs of systems. (Ownership cost is much harder to calculate across four decades.)
Kell, who founded the HP 3000 listserve and newsgroup, as well as chaired the SIGSYSMAN group for Interex over the years, said "We have had comparable expenses with each iteration of the 3000's life-cycle." Across those decades, the university owned Classic HP 3000s based on CISC technology, then early PA-RISC servers -- new enough in that generation to be considered "Spectrum" 3000s -- then later-model PA-RISC units, and finally the ultimate generation of HP 3000 hardware.
"In short, it was an expenditure in the low six figures, once every decade," Kell said.
We ran Series II, then Series IIIs, and the tags were low six-figures in the 1970s. We then got some 950s in the late 1980s (we had some early Series 950 deliveries) at about the same price point. Then the 969 in the 1990s, again about the same. And finally, the A/N-Class during this century.
Comparisons to two points seem worthy. The pricing for the value of high-end 3000 computing remained constant; at the time of the late 1980s, for example, a Series 950 was the most powerful 3000 available. Then there's the comparison to the expenditure of acquiring the hardware to support dozens of servers, virtual and otherwise. The low six figures won't buy much toward the high end of business critical computing gear over a decade, using today's commodity pricing. The newest servers might seem cheaper, but they don't give durable service for 10 years per installation, like the ones at Kell's shop did.It was not all smooth sailing on value for expenditures, Kell added. The A-Class server line was performance-challenged, even though it was rated a bit faster than the previous, K-Class 3000 hardware known as the Series 900 line.
"We had some performance issues with the A500 after we started offering our "online" applications: self-service, and we tried web-based apps, too -- but that was early on and challenged," Kell reported in his 3000 debriefing. Even at that moment in time, there was belief expressed for the ability of HP 3000 hardware to rise to the need, so long as it was more powerful 3000 hardware. Given the performance issues with the A-Class, he explained, "there was some political incentive to address the problem when we got the N-Class, which was a dominating force until the end of our 3000 days. It never blinked."
In short, the longest lifespan for any server still available with a Hewlett-Packard 3000 badge belongs to the N-Class. This is illustrated by the drive to match the horsepower of the top three models in that lineup, an effort which kept Stromasys CHARON engineers well-engaged during 2013.
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February 21, 2014
Just how fast is that A-Class, anyway?
By Brian Edminster
Earlier this week, there was a report of an A-Class HP 3000 going wanting on eBay. It was being offered for $2,000 with no takers. The system at hand was an A400-100-110, the genuine bottom of the A-Class line.
While I'd argue that a $2,000 A400 with a transferable MPE/iX licence is a steal, there seems to be a lack of appreciation for the wide variance in speeds in what is considered a A-Class' system.
I believe the system that was being offered as a bare bones A400, as indicated by its system number "A400-100-110." The first character (A) is the class; the next three numbers (400) are the family; the next three are the number of CPUs (100, meaning one); and the last three are the HP rated speed in MHz of the PA-RISC CPU chip. (In this case, it's a PA-8500) This system on eBay also happened to be missing a tape for creating/booting from a CSLT, so if your boot drive failed -- or you needed to make configuration changes that required booting from tape -- you would be out of luck without buying a little more hardware.
This particular A400 system, according to the AICS Relative Performance chart mentioned in the article, runs at a 17. That's about 1.7 times faster (CPU-wise) than the original 917/918 systems. In IO-intensive applications, I have found it felt closer to 2 times faster. I have also worked on an A400-100-150, which CPU speed-wise is a 37. (That system also happens to allow installation of 2GB RAM vs. the 1GB limit on an A400-100-110).
So in short, we can have a greater than 2:1 performance potential between two servers that are both ostensibly A400 A-Class systems. And that's not even taking into account the advantages of multiple CPUs for performance in complex multi-user environments.A400s and A500s have been available in both 1-way and 2-way models, while the N4000s are available in 1-way, 2-way, 3-way, and 4-way configurations. Prior generations of PA-RISC systems could be configured with as many as 4, 6, or even 12 processors. [Ed. note: I recall that several of those higher numbers were available only to HP-UX users.]
Performance benefits aside, multiple CPU systems have been, in my experience, more resilient to CPU failures. This is by virtue of having multiple CPUs. I've had multi-CPU systems where a single CPU failed, and if I had not noticed a minor difference in batch throughput, my online users wouldn't even have noticed. I simply scheduled a service call for the next day -- after warning my users of a previously unplanned service outage, and making sure the backups ran for the night.
It took longer for the hardware to self-test and MPE/iX to reboot than it took the service engineer to replace the bad CPU. Total un-planned down-time was about an hour. Not bad.
It was not quite hot-swap easy, like many modern RAID disk arrays. But that HP 3000 was plenty resilient enough to "Take a licking, and keep on ticking" -- as they once said of Timex watches.
Brian Edminster is the curator of the MPE Open Source repository and website www.MPE-opensource.org, as well as founder of an independent consultantancy.
February 19, 2014
Finding Value in An Exiting MPE Box
A few weeks ago, Jeff Kell of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga asked around to see if anybody wanted his decommissioned N-Class server. It's way above the power range of the A-Class servers, and even includes some storage options not usually found in a decommissioned 3000.
But the interest hasn't been strong, according to our last update from Kell. He put out his offer -- basically trying to keep the system from becoming more than spare parts, he said -- on the mailing list that he founded two decades ago. We refer that resource as the HP 3000 newsgroup, but it's a LISTSERVE mailing list of about 500 members.
We've heard several reports like this for HP 3000s being turned off, but none of them involved an N-Class system. There's a Series 969 on offer for free -- yes, take it away is all that Roger Perkins of the City of Long Beach asks. While that 969 is more powerful than an A-Class, it's still leagues behind an ultimate-generation N-Class 3000.
This begs the question of what value your community would assign to any used system, regardless of size. Horsetrading on hardware is an IT manager's pastime, when searching for newer for more powerful systems. But it's becoming clear there's a reset going on in the market.
Kell's offer on the newsgroup was straight to the point.
Kell also mentioned his own A-Class onsite, an A500, DATs, two DLTs, a few internal drives, and a dual connect VA fiber channel array. "It has an external SCSI rack that had some issues we never quite resolved; it won't boot today since the mirrored disks have issues). But the VA array was healthy. Assuming the software transfers these days, both these systems have MPE/iX 7.5, Mirror/iX, ToolSet, and TurboStore/7x24."
We have tentative arrangements to have our last two 3000s decommissioned, but was curious if there was any interest in the hardware/systems. Hate to sound like a sales pitch, but we're basically happy with shipping, plus a certification the drives are wiped.
We have an HP 3000-N4000 4-way, DATs, 2 DLTs, a few internal drives, and a VA fiber channel array (dual connect). It's perfectly fine.
That's a very suitable datacenter keystone to build a homesteading practice around. In fact, that's what the university had in mind when it bought those servers.
We tried our first "migration" in 1997 off the 3000 to Banner software, which was a gigantic Oracle monster, one that the UT system had essentially licensed for all campuses. But compared to our legacy application's customizations -- we did just about anything we were asked -- Banner was too restrictive. There was a revolt, and we ended up only implementing Financial Aid and student Account Receivables. So knowing that we had to stick on the 3000, we got that N-Class as our "homestead" machine. The A-Class was just a warm standby. We ran periodic snapshot backups and popped them over to the A-Class for restore, and did a full sync on weekends.
We ran that way for another decade, when we had Round 2 of the Banner conversion. We had roughly four generations worth of HP 3000s, maybe even actually five. After our delays for the Series 950 we purchased, HP provided us with a temporary Series 52/58 (development/production) systems to tide us over until the delivery -- our Series IIIs were beyond maxed out.
February 07, 2014
Code-cutter Comparing Solutions for 3000s
When a 3000 utility goes dark — because its creator has dropped MPE/iX operations, or the trail to the support business for the tool has grown faint — the 3000 community can serve up alternatives quickly. A mature operating system and experienced users offer options that are hard to beat.
One such example was Aldon Computing's SCOMPARE development tool, once a staple for 3000-based developers. It compared source files for more than 15 years in the HP 3000 world. Eventually Aldon left the MPE business. But there are a fistful of alternatives. Allegro Consultants offers a free MPE/iX solution in SCOM, located at
At that Web page, scroll down to SCOM. Other candidates included a compare UDC from Robelle, GNU Diff, diff in the HP 3000's Posix environment, and more. If you're willing to go off the MPE reservation -- and a lot of developers work on PCs by now -- there's even a free plug-in for Notepad++, that freeware source code editor which relaces Notepad in Windows. You can download that plug-in as an open source tool at SourceForge.net
When the subject first surfaced, Bruce Collins of Softvoyage offered details on using diff in the HP 3000's Posix.
run diff.hpbin.sys;info="FILE1 FILE2"
The file names use HFS syntax so they should be entered in upper case. If the files aren't in the current account or group, they should be entered as /ACCOUNT/GROUP/FILE
Donna Hofmeister offered a tip on using Robelle's compare UDC:
Regarding Robelle's compare. Being a scripting advocate, I strongly recommend adapting their UDC into a script.... and take a few seconds to add a wee bit of help text to the script, to make life more enjoyable for all (which is the reason for scripting, yes?)
Other environments that might be operating in the 3000 datacenter provide alternatives. Former HP engineer Lars Appel brought up a Linux option in the KDE development environment:
If using KDE, you might also find Kompare handy...
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kompare (see screenshot)
On MPE, as others mentioned, there is still the Posix diff in two flavours: the HP-supplied in /bin and the GNU version that lives in /usr/local/bin. The former allows two output formats (diff and diff -c); the latter also allows “diff -u”.
Oh, regarding /bin/diff on MPE... I sometimes got “strange” errors (like “file too big”) from it when trying to compare MPE record oriented files. A workaround was to use tobyte (with -at options) to created bytestream files for diff’ing.
Appel has noted the problem of comparing numbered files, like COBOL source files, when one or both files have been renumbered.
With Posix tools, one might use cut(1) with -c option to “peel off” the line number columns before using diff(1) for comparing the “meat”. Something in the line of ... /bin/cut -c7-72 SourceFile1 > BodyText1.
February 04, 2014
Making Domain Magic, at an Efficient Cost
Five years ago, HP cancelled work on the DNS domain name services for MPE/iX. Not a lot of people were relying on the 3000 to be handling their Internet hosting, but the HP decision to leave people on their own for domain management sealed the deal. If ever there was something to be migrated, it was DNS.
But configuring DNS software on a host is just one part of the Internet tasks that a 3000-savvy manager has had to pick up. One of the most veteran of MPE software creators, Steve Cooper of Allegro, had to work out a fresh strategy to get domains assigned for his company, he reports.
We have been using Zerigo as our DNS hosting service for a number of years now, quite happily. For the 31 domains that we care for, they have been charging us $39 per year, and our current year has been pre-paid through 2014-08-07.
We received an e-mail explaining exciting news about how their service will soon be better-than-ever. And, how there will be a slight increase in costs, as a result. Instead of $39 per year, they will now charge $63 per month. A mere 1900% increase! And, they won't honor our existing contract either. They will take the pro-rated value of our contract on January 31, and apply that towards their new rates. (I don't even think that's legal.)
In any case, we are clearly in the market for a new DNS Hosting provider. Although I am not a fan of GoDaddy, their website. or their commercials, they appear to offer a premium DNS Hosting service, with DNSSEC, unlimited domains, etc. for just $2.99 per month. Sounds too good to be true.
Cooper was searching for experience with that particular GoDaddy service. GoDaddy has been a default up to now, but acquiring a domain seems to need more tech savvy from support. The 3000 community was glad to help this other kind of migration, one to an infrastructure that MPE never demanded. The solution turned out to be one from the Southern Hemisphere, from a company whose hub is in a country which HP 3000 experts Jeanette and Ken Nutsford call home.Cooper said that some 3000 vets suggested "rolling my own," self-hosting with his external DNS. Here's a few paragraphs addressing those two topics:
We have a dual-zoned DNS server inside our firewall, but we do not have it opened to the the outside world. Instead, only our DNS hosting service has access to it. The DNS hosting service sees itself as a Slave server and our internal server as the Master server. However, our registrars point to that external DNS hosting service, not our internal server, so the world only interrogates our DNS hosting service when they need to resolve an address in one of our 31 domains.
Why don't we open it up to the world? Well, we get between 200,000 and 3,000,000 DNS lookups per month. I don't want that traffic on our internal network. There are also DDoS attacks and other exploits that I want no part of. And, since some of our servers are now in the Cloud, such as our mail, webserver, and iAdmin server, I don't want to appear to disappear, if our internet connection is down. Best to offload all of that, to a company prepared to handle that.
When I need to make a change, I do it on our internal DNS server, and within a few seconds, those changes have propagated to our DNS hosting service, without the need for any special action. The best of both worlds.
Now, on to the issue from earlier in the month. Our DNS hosting service, Zerigo, announced that they were raising rates by 1900%. And, our first attempt at a replacement was GoDaddy. Although the information pages at GoDaddy sounded promising, they made us pay before we could do any testing. After three days of trying to get it to work, and several lengthy calls to GoDaddy support, they finally agreed that their service is broken, and they can't do what they advertised, and refunded our money.
The biggest problem at GoDaddy is that I (as the customer) was only allowed to talk to Customer Service. They in turn, could talk to the lab people who could understand my questions and problems. But the lab folks were not allowed to talk to me, only the Customer Service people. This is not a way to do support, as those of us in the support business know full well.
After more research, I hit upon what appears to be a gem of a company: Zonomi. They are a New Zealand based company with DNS servers in New York, Texas, New Zealand, and the UK. And, they let you set up everything and run with it for a month before you have to pay them anything. We were completely switched over with about an hour of effort.
Now, the best news: they are even cheaper than our old DNS hosting service used to be. If you have a single, simple domain, then they will host you for free, forever. If you have a more complex setup, as we do, the cost is roughly US $1 per year, which beats the $63 per month Zerigo wanted to charge. The first ten domains cost $10 per year, then you add units of five more domains for $5 per year.
The only risk I can see is if they go out of business. In that case, I could just open our firewall and point our domains to our internal server, until I could find a replacement. So, that seems reasonable.
That problem is solved. On to the next fire.
January 29, 2014
University learns to live off of the MPE grid
One of the most forward-looking pioneers of the HP 3000 community shut off its servers last month, ending a 37-year run of service. The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga IT staff, including its networking maven Jeff Kell, has switched over fully to Linux-based computing and an off the shelf application.
UTC, as Kell and his crew calls the school, has beefed up its server count by a factor of more than 10:1 as a byproduct of its transition. This kind of sea change is not unusual for a migration to Unix and Oracle solutions. HP 3000s tend to be single-server installations, or multiples in very large configurations. But to get to a count of 43 servers, IT architecture has to rethink the idea of a server (sometimes just a blade in an enclosure) and often limits the server to exclusive tasks.
After decades of custom-crafted applications, UTC is running fully "on Banner, which has been SunGuard in the past," Kell said. "I believe it's now called now Ellucian. They keep getting bought out." But despite the changes, the new applications are getting the same jobs done that the HP 3000s performed since the 1970s.
The heyday of the HP 3000 lasted until about 2009 or so, when UTC got all of the Banner applications up and running, Kell reports. Banner -- well, Ellucian -- has many modules. Like a lot of migrating sites that have chosen replacement software off the shelf, the transition was a stepwise affair.
It's Linux / Oracle replacing it. The configuration was originally Dell servers (a lot of them), but most of it is virtualized on ESXi/vCenter, fed by a large EMC SAN. They got some server hardware refreshed recently, and got Cisco UCS blade servers. I'm sure they're well into seven figures on the replacement hardware and software alone. I've lost count of how many people they have on staff for the care and feeding of it all. It's way more than our old 3000 crew, which was basically six people.
The 3000 was still pretty heavily used until 3-4 years ago, when they got all of Banner up and running. The 3000 continued to do some batch transfers, and our Identity Management. The 3000 was the "authoritative" source of demographics and user accounts, but they are now using Novell's Identity management -- which bridges Banner/Oracle with Active Directory, faculty/staff in Exchange, and the student accounts in Google Mail.
We had dedicated 3000s in the past for Academics. They later jumped on an IBM system, then Solaris for a time, and now Linux. We also had one for our Library catalog and circulation (running VTLS software), but they later jumped on the Oracle bandwagon. More recently, the whole module for the library has been outsourced to a cloud service.
Even in the days when the 3000 ruled at UTC, there were steps in a transition. "I think we peaked at seven 3000s briefly while we were in transition -- the days we were moving from our old Classic HP 3000 hardware to the then-new Series 950 RISC systems," Kell said. "After the delays in the 3000 RISC system deliveries and the promises HP had made, they loaned us a Series 52 and a 58, so we could keep pace with production while waiting on PA-RISC."
January 16, 2014
Replacing parts a part of the 3000 lifestyle
We'd like to hear from the community about 3000 parts: the ones that will push them away from MPE, as well as the parts that will keep decade-old servers running. Check in with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Customers who continue to rely on HP 3000s place great store on parts. Spare parts, the kind that tend to wear out sooner than others like disk drives, or the ones which can force a company into disaster recovery like a CPU board. The veterans in the community know that there's no support without a source of parts. And the demise of 3000 installations, like a well-run junkyard, can be a source.
However, a dearth of spare parts forced one 3000 customer into entering the world of HP 3000 emulation. Warren Dawson had systems that were aging and no clear way to replace what might fail inside them. Dawson's in Australia, a more remote sector of the 3000 empire. But his need became the spark that moved HP's iron out and replaced it with Intel-based hardware. Commodity became the follow-on costume that Dawson's information now plays in.
While there are portions of the HP 3000's high-failure parts list that can be replaced with third party components -- drives come to mind -- a lot of the 3000's body is unique to Hewlett-Packard's manufacture. Another company in Mexico, a manufacturing site, moved its applications off MPE because it figured that replacing 15-year-old servers was a dicey proposition at best.
This leads us to our latest report of HP 3000 parts, coming from a switched-off site in California. Roger Perkins has a Series 969 that he's working to give away. Like everybody who paid more than $50,000 for a 3000, he'd like to believe that it has value remaining. But on the reseller market, he might be fortunate to get a broker to haul it off.
Those who do are likely to take the system for its parts. What's more, the HP 3000s that are going offline are not the only resource for replacement parts. Other HP servers can supply this market, too. Finding these parts is the skill that homesteading managers must master.One of our bedrock sponsors, Pivital Solutions, makes a point of ensuring that every support customer has a depot-based spare parts source. Whatever you'd need to get back online, they've got on hand. Not something to be hunted down, ordered and then shipped in a few days. Steve Suraci of Pivital asked questions back in 2012 that still need answers, if homesteading's risk is to be fully considered. And sometimes the parts aren't even inside a 3000. They just have a MPE version that's got to be hunted down, if a support provider doesn't depot-stock parts. Hostess Brands had a Series 969 back then, one which needed an fiber router.
How many HP 3000 shops are relying on support providers that are incompetent and/or inept? The provider was willing to take this company's money, without even being able to provide reasonable assurance that they had replacement parts in a depot somewhere in the event of failure. There are still reputable support providers out there. Your provider should not be afraid to answer tough questions about their ability to deliver on an SLA.
The easy questions to answer for a client are "Can you supply me support 24x7?" or "What references will you give me from your customers?" Harder questions are "Where do you get your answers from for MPE questions?" Or even, "Do you have support experts in the 3000 who can be at my site in less than a day?"
But Suraci was posing one of the harder questions. "Here are my hardware devices: do you have spares in stock you're setting aside for my account?" Hardware doesn't break down much in the 3000 world. But a fiber router is not a 3000-specific HP part. Hewlett-Packard got out of the support business for 3000s for lots of reasons, but one constant reason was that 3000-related spare parts got scarce in the HP supply chain.
There are other support companies that guarantee parts availability. But many sources of support services to keep 3000s online wait to acquire customer parts as needed. Some of them pull components like power supplies out of the plentiful HP-UX servers from the early decade of this century. HP called those boxes K-Classes, servers that were both Series 800s as well as Series 900s.
A Series 969 server like the one turned off by Perkins and pushed to the curb serves a need for homesteaders. A reseller first has to take it out of a datacenter, clean up and test what's inside the cabinet, then do triage on what's worth keeping in the 3000 food chain. Not many places have enough storage to run the equivalent of an auto salvage yard. You know, the kind of place where a steering wheel bearing you need is deep inside a junked Dodge Dart.
Depending on the model of HP 3000, many have value in their spare parts. An owner who's getting rid of a 3000 shouldn't expect much compensation for a system they're selling off for parts. But the operators in the 3000 community who are both selling used systems as well as supporting these servers need a supply of components. How much they need depends on the limitations of available warehouse space.
Governments are beginning to insist on responsible recycling. Purchasing a computer in California now includes a recycling fee built into the sale at retail and consumer spots like Best Buy. But Goodwill Industries' Reconnect takes on many computers, regardless of their working status.
There's a lot to consider when keeping an HP 3000 running as a mission-critical component. MB Foster summed up the elements well in a Sustainability Plan document you can download from their website. Way back in 2010, Foster asked some good questions that a Sustainability Plan should answer.
Okay, so let’s look at the impact of a crash on Friday afternoon when the HP 3000 was backed up last Saturday (you do verify your backup tapes, right?) You have a full backup from last Saturday and daily backups from Monday through Thursday. The spare parts are not on site, and you have to contact your provider to get the parts and a skilled technician to the site, and then you can start restoring your hardware and application environments. How long will it take to restore all the data, applications and the whole system?
Way, way back in 2005 -- yes, more than eight years ago -- one of the bigger sources of HP hardware said the savvy customers were arranging for their own inventory of spare parts. Genisys' Robert Gordon said that customers who know the 3000 have their own spare parts options to rely upon.
"They're either going to go to third party maintenance, or they're going to self-maintain," Gordon said. "I think a lot of people are technically savvy on the 3000; they know it's not rocket science, and they're going to buy spare board kits. So we're going to see that business pick up. We'll see a lot 3000 sales in the year 2006." There are fewer 3000s to sell in the marketplace today. But that doesn't matter as much as locating the ones which are still around.
January 09, 2014
Eloquence: Making a Bunny Run Elsewhere
An email poll over the last week asked 3000 owners and their suppliers what was in store for their systems this month. One reader in Long Beach, Roger Perkins, has a 3000 they've shut down at the City of Long Beach and wants to find "somebody who's interested in taking that out for us. I don't know if it's worth any money, but I was hoping we wouldn't have to pay anyone to take it out." Perkins left his number for a recommendation on recycling a 3000: 562-570-6054.
Our experience with this situation is that individuals -- fellow 3000 owners -- will be interested in the machine for parts, provided they don't have to bear too much freight costs. But there's something more unique than a collection of slower CPU boards and decade-plus-old discs on hand. The city has an MPE/iX license attached to its 3000. It's a system element that's not being sold any more, and essential to getting a virtualized 3000 online.
But little will change in that sort of transition transaction, except the location of a boot drive. In contrast, at Genisys Total Solutions, Bill Miller checked in to report that a change in databases has extended the reach of the application software for financials that has been sold by Genisys since the 1970s.
Though we have migrated all of our software to a Windows platform running Eloquence, we still have an HP 3000 that has been in operation for close to 13 years and has not failed at all during that time. We still support a handful of HP 3000 clients, who also seem to think the HP 3000 is the Energizer Bunny and see no reason to move from it.
Our main business is selling and supporting our applications on the PC platform. We have found Eloquence (as is IMAGE) to be a reliable and easy to maintain database.
December 30, 2013
2013 emboldened 3000 changes for both migration and homesteading practices
As a service to readers who crave summary and broad strokes, we hearby sketch what the year 2013 meant to the 3000 community. It's too much of a cliche to say that the previous 12 months were driven by change. That's been an essential element for the community since 2001. But a dozen years has now spread changes onto the migrating community member, as well as those who have made their mission one to homestead.
The HP 3000 CHARON emulator from Stromasys showed more promise this year, but some of its impact lay in the way it held migrations in check without even being deployed. Another factor came from the economy. By year's end the markets were flying at an all-time high, but the recovery has its blind spots, according to some 3000 users. Couple the proposed savings in keeping MPE apps virtual with with an uncertain future for HP's replacement solutions, and the movement away from the 3000 slowed.
Even with that evidence, some shutdowns of systems stood out. A major installation of 3000s that had been serving the airline industry saw their work moved to .NET replacements, as Open Skies became New Skies. We also saw Hewlett-Packard closing down its own internal HP 3000 operations at long last, powering off the final four systems, just 12 years after advising its customers to do the same.
The year also offered a chance to see what remained on the field a decade after the community marked the World Wide Wake of 2003. The server got its first iPad app when a terminal emulator emerged for iOS, even as other experts found other ways to get an MPE console onto a tablet. And the exit of expertise continued throughout our 3000 world, even as some stalwart resources remained online.HP set the pieces in place long ago for its 3000 strategy to evolve away from the need for physical hardware. The Apps on Tap strategy that led to the Open Skies offering -- where networked 3000s serve up apps to customers who don't have servers onsite -- is now being echoed in Software as a Service.
Sites that moved off HP 3000 installations for ecommerce software watched their vendor get acquired, then see the open version of their software slip into a 140-product lineup. It was an example of how migrations became a part of life at those 3000 sites that had already left MPE behind. Even among the sites where server migration hasn't occurred, data migration is already afoot. Customers are now looking at a migration off of Windows XP for their users, and some are facing the same reluctance and lack of budget they saw for 3000 diaspora.
Hewlett-Packard had its share of problems to overcome, from shuffling the pathways to MPE documentation online to keeping its enterprise mission critical business from evaporating. Each of the four quarters of revenues for its BCS group posted a 20 percent sales decline from the previous year's numbers. It was a continuation of a 2012 trend. The company's CEO and CFO called the Unix server business a formerly growing venture. Then there was the announcement of curtailing another HP business OS, OpenVMS, starting in 2015 when new Integrity systems won't run on the environment. Things got so critical for BCS and its bretheren that HP reorganized the whole enterprise server operation into a single unit, then removed its executive VP from the job.
Emulator news emerged from two fronts. Stromasys built out its management for the CHARON product and opened the doors on its North American rollout with a May Training Day event. The latter was the first 3000-specific event in almost two years. In the snows of February in Europe, a similar event for CHARON recalled HP's final organized event for the 3000, nine years earlier. Early in the fall, a group of freeware developers was trying to create a not-for-commerce version of what it called a simulator of HP 3000 hardware. Successful booting remained elusive.
In the meantime, the offering of an emulator had customers checking HP's rules and processes for license transfers, some three years after the company shut down all other 3000 operations. It helped to be able to ask for the right process, and ask the right person.
Another trend emerged in the longevity of the 3000 expert. Outlasting the 3000 server was a duel that some experts were giving up. One company in LA made a shift to Windows because its IT staff for the 3000 was aged 67 and 72. But among those who continued to keep the MPE lamp lit, techniques to continue 3000 operations still emerged. Replacing HP's disks with third party alternatives got detailed to swap in fresh hardware for decade-old drives. Moving store to disk files with attributes intact is possible with newer open source archiving software.
The year showed that change itself has changed for the community. The long run of the HP 3000 unreels into the dark of the as-yet-unlit future. There was even a careful examination of the costs of remaining on the 3000 for 5-10 years.
December 13, 2013
Euro 3000 allies find a foothold in meeting
Yesterday we made reference to a 2001 Q&A interview with Stan Sieler, the Allegro co-founder interviewed in our latest print issue. Across the top of that page is a 2001 web ad for an entity called Millware Corporation. It was a company whose Dave Wiseman was pushing out a web-enabled dashboard, based inside a free terminal emulator. ScreenJet's Alan Yeo was one of the Millware partners, too. And Yeo has remained a vital force in meetings in 2007, 2009, and the HP3000 Reunion of 2011.
The truth about the HP 3000 community is that remains connected. Yours has always been a social group, long before there was such a concept as social networking via Twitter, Facebook, and the others. Last week the old-style networking was afoot, thanks for Millware's old founder taking a first step.
Dave Wiseman sent the word to more than 50 HP 3000 community members in Europe to gather on December 5, and despite serious storms about Europe on meeting day, he got 10 to make the trek to London. He reports:
I’ve included my invitation to as many of our overseas friends as I can, so that if they are even thinking of coming to Europe, this might form a focus time to come over.
A huge thank you to all who made the effort to get to London last week to meet. It was great to see all our old friends and everyone clearly enjoyed the meeting. Amazing to see that apart from going grey or bad, most of us were still recognisable. As far as I am aware, everyone made it safely home, although I had to stay in London, as all trains were cancelled due to storm damage on the line.
Despite the storms in Germany and what ended up as relatively short notice, we still had around 10 of us from as far afield as Berlin, Lyons, Wurzburg, Sheffield and various other places around the UK. With a large sprinkling of beer and a few bottles of wine after, we revived many fond memories of conferences past. Alas, none of us took any photos -- which shows that we’re just not the modern generation who would have all this posted on Twitter before they’d eaten!
Our thanks must also go out to Ian Kilpatrick who generously paid for the meal and the drinks so please visit his website at WickHill.
We all resolved to have another meeting in the not too distant future, and so I would ask you all to answer the following questions for me and I’ll happily organise another meeting.
Again, if you can think of anyone who might be interested in attending, let me have their details for future mailings. Especially I do not have many contacts form the other European vendors --- so if you are in touch with the vendors in your country, you know what to do.
1. Would you like to come if you can?
3. London/Outer London hotel/Amsterdam/somewhere in the sun? Suggestions?
4. Preferred day of the week?
I would probably try to organise the next one in a location that has meeting rooms, as well as a bar
December 11, 2013
In a slowing market, things can shift quickly
Our November printed edition of The 3000 Newswire carried a headline about the success that the Stromasys CHARON emulator is experiencing in your community. However, one of the green lights we noted in that article turned red during the time between writing and delivery into postal mailboxes.
Ray Legault has checked in to report that the project to virtualize HP 3000s closing down in a soon-to-be-closed disaster recovery site has been called off. The close-out doesn't appear to reflect any shortfall in the value of the CHARON element. But carrying forward applications has proved to be complicated.
In particular, the costs for license upgrades of third-party software came in for special mention. This isn't standalone application software, like an Ecometry or MANMAN or even an Amisys. That sort of app isn't in wide use in 3000 customer sites, and to be honest, off the shelf solutions never were. The software license that needed a transfer wasn't from HP, either. MPE/iX has a ready, $432 transfer fee to move it to an industry-standard Intel system. No, this well-known development and reporting tool was going to cost more than $100,000 to move to a virtualized HP 3000.
"Our project was cancelled due to other reasons not related to the emulator," Legault said. "Maybe next year things will change. The apps not having a clear migration path seemed to be the issue."So file this blog report under a correction, or perhaps an update. But I wouldn't want to be the bearer of incorrect news, and there's something virtuous about filing a correction, anyway.
Where we made our mistake was in observing activity in license transfer inquiries, then getting information about a pending CHARON purchase, but not seeing a confirmed PO. That's a document we rarely see here at the Newswire. These days, it's a rare thing for anyone to share a number as specific as, say, $110,000 for a license fee.
For a company which has eight remaining applications to push into the year 2018, and needs to keep those apps hotsite-recoverable, an emulated 3000 with low hardware costs makes good sense. But there are license budgets to resolve in order to proceed with this sort of transition activity.
Most important, we haven't heard any reports yet of any vendor who flat-out refuses to license their MPE/iX software for CHARON. Perhaps when a vendor has to watch a $110,000 sale disappear, it could spark a different approach to the business proposition of serving a slowing marketplace. Maybe next year, things will change.
In the news business when there's a mistake, we were always taught to close the correction with "We regret the error." In this case, everybody regrets the shift in strategy.
November 25, 2013
Calculating the 3000's Time to Purchase
On an informal call with a 3000 vendor today, he delivered some sound advice about purchasing. "In the end, it's really about how they buy -- not how you sell." This makes a difference to everyone at this time of year, when fiscal year-end closing is less than six weeks away.
Sometimes a buyer of IT products or a service will want to make a purchase, but then the learning curve gets twisted. The manager might have an outdated estimate of how long it takes to get something into a status for a PO. This can be especially true for an HP 3000. Even when the system is on the path away from mission-critical, en route to migration, buying something related to a 3000 can be a distant memory.
This is not to be confused with renewing support contracts. Those are renewals, not outright new purchases. The time needed to get to a PO can include the processing time at related vendors, in some cases. For example, there's the licensing which is part of making a transition to the only emulator for HP 3000s. Software suppliers, or HP, require time to approve transfers. You only learn how much time your organization, or your vendor, needs by purchasing something. Or attempting to, near the end of your fiscal year.At Dairylea Cooperative, transferring the 3000's MPE/iX license to an emulator took almost a week, Jeff Elmer reports. The HP employee Erick learned about the process from Stromasys, the maker of the emulator.
Once Erick was on board, it was just a matter of signing another document and processing a credit card purchase of $432. It took 3 days from the point when they said it could be done to when I had the appropriate documents via e-mail. (It took 3 days to convince them to do it, so the process overall was 6 days. I hope convincing them to do it is no longer necessary.)
Over at Boeing, the internal workings of the purchasing process for emulator hosting hardware will be tested. "I think we are too late in the year to get the hardware," said the 3000 manager there.
One vendor said they figured on 16 months to get to the PO point for their product. Another said their mission to close a purchase was nearly complete -- but the customer's legal counsel still had to weigh in on the deal. It's a good idea to review the timeline for purchasing if you're just getting back to supplying your 3000 with something, even if it's just assessments for transition or sustaining services.
That's especially true if you're left with money in your budget you'll need to spend, or lose it for next year. Only a buyer can put a Rush on an IT purchase. We're in the Season of the Rush now, the same part of the calendar when HP announced its 3000 exit. It was no surprise when nothing related to migration purchasing happened during the following year.
November 18, 2013
MANMAN and a 3000 in new Ohio action
Just when you thought the HP 3000 and MPE were done with new installations, along comes a manufacturer to put another system online.
If you break it down, this kind of event needs a few elements to succeed today.
1. A license structure for software (apps and utilities) that is low-budget. Extending third party licenses, for example, rather than buying new ones.
2. In-house expertise to manage and maintain a new system -- or if not in-house, then in-organization
3. A requirement for inexpensive HP hardware for the install. Because if you're going to put something online that has an HP badge on it today, you'll want component redundancy. Think spare CPUs and CPU boards.
The 3000 install was mentioned during last week's CAMUS manufacturing RUG conference call. Measurement Specialties has been a MANMAN manufacturing app and 3000 supporter for so long that ERP Director Terry Simpkins was even used by HP to testify about the integrated 3000 solution. In print. In an ad. Remember print ads for computer systems? HP even bought a few in the 1990s.
Simpkins wasn't at his usual spot during the CAMUS call because he was in Ohio, we were told, working on another outpost in the MSI network. There's more than a dozen worldwide, with many outside of North America. There were years when Simpkins was in China for weeks on end.Some MANMAN customers have a clear path to put as much application up as they like. These forward thinkers got a source code license from ASK Software when such a thing was available from the MANMAN creators. Computer Associates and the succeeding MANMAN owners cut off the source purchasing.
A 3000 owner who maintains their own applications, written in house, is in a similar situation to a site installing MANMAN from source code. In fact, they have a lot in common. One of the reports from users on that RUG call was that most of the efficient operations in MANMAN come from mods. No, not the rockers from the Sixties in Britain. It's short for modifications, of course, custom programming either built in-house or bought from a consulting and support house.
Back in 2011, the MSI IT Director Bob Andreini had a staff of 32 to help him manage operations. Simpkins was responsible for MSI's ERP implementation and support, with a primary focus on MANMAN.
Simpkins has been asked in the past why new operations in MSI go online running MANMAN, sometimes resulting in a 3000 coming online. His answer: "We are using HP 3000 systems for general ledger, accounts payable, inventory control, purchasing, production scheduling, order entry, and invoicing." Way back in 2008 there were 11 locations around the world, "and we have a substantial investment in its continued operation."
Measurement Specialties has been a self-maintainer of its 3000 hardware for more than a decade. They've done their own independent support. Simpkins been a clear speaker along the lines of Teddy Roosevelt for as long as I've known him. 13 years ago HP was trying to assert that IT managers were not looking at platforms anymore when they deployed apps, just the software. Here's the exchange we had in a Q&A for the Newswire.
HP likes to tell us in the press that IT managers at your level don’t make deployment decisions around platforms anymore, that applications are the only thing that matters. What do you believe?
I think that’s bullshit. If I’m looking for an application and I find two that run equally well, and one of them runs on a platform I already have expertise with, I’m all over that one. I don’t believe that we’re all in a heterogeneous environment, or that we want to be in one. I’m not afraid of a heterogeneous environment, but why do I want to add complexity to my life if I don’t have to?
November 07, 2013
Staying on Schedule in a Move to Windows
Yesterday we reported on an airline service provider who's made the move from HP 3000s to Windows .NET systems and architecture. While there's a great advantage in development environment in such a transition -- nothing could be easier to hire than experts in Visual Studio, nee Visual Basic -- companies such as Navitaire have to arrange a new schedule. To be precise, the job handling features of MPE/iX must be replaced, and Windows won't begin to match the 3000's strengths.
Enter a third party solution, or independent software as we like to call it here in the 21st Century. in 2010 MB Foster built a scheduler for Windows sites, and yesterday we heard a customer from the Windows world size up the MBF Scheduler tool. This was an IT shop where a HP 3000 has never booted up. But NaturMed, a supplier of supplements and health education, is a user of the JDA Direct Commerce (formerly Ecometry-Escalate Retail) software on its Windows servers. The company's never seen an MPE colon prompt, but it needs that level of functionality to manage its jobs.
"We've helped Ecometry with the move of many customers off the 3000 and onto Windows," said CEO Birket Foster. "If senior management has simply decided that Windows was the place to be, we could help automate the business processes -- by managing batch jobs in the regular day and month-end close, as well as handling Ecometry jobs and SQL Server jobs." Automating jobs makes a Windows IT shop manager more productive, like creating another set of hands to help team members out. For a 3000 shop making a transition, something like an independent job handler means they'll be able to stay on schedule with productivity.Companies that use Windows eventually discover how manual their job scheduling process becomes while hemmed in with native tools for the environment. Credit card batches must be turned in multiple times a day at online retailers, for example. The site that sparked the MBF-Scheduler design didn't have a 3000's tools, either. It just had 14,000 jobs a day running.
"It seems like this is extremely powerful," one Windows shop said of the product after looking it over, "and we could benefit from this."
Job listings, also known as standard lists (STDLISTs), are common to both the 3000 and Windows environment, and the software was built to provide the best of both 3000 and Windows worlds, Foster said. The software's got its own STDLIST reviewer, one that's integrated with a scripting language called MBF-UDAX. Ecometry sites working on HP 3000s usually rely on a tool as advanced as Robelle's Suprtool for job scheduling.
Foster's Scheduler includes filtering buttons in job reports by user, by job name, by status and by subqueue. A recent addition to the product introduced a custom category that managers can use to select or sort jobs. While running thousands of batch jobs a day, some are in distinct categories. Customers like the idea of managing factory floor jobs separately from finance jobs, for example. Managers
Measurement Systems, the manufacturer which runs a dozen HP 3000s in sites across North America, China and Europe, uses the MBF Scheduler. The product manages a complementary farm of MBF Scheduler Windows servers to move jobs among servers throughout Measurement Systems' 3000s. Terry Simpkins there has been devoted to Infor's MANMAN implementations well beyond the vendor's ability to support the application. Like other customers around the community, Simpkins and his team have compared the Scheduler to MPE's mature tools, and favorably. Sites like this don't need a separate Unix or Linux server for job scheduling, which is the usual way to keep Windows IT on schedule.
Windows schedulers serve HP 3000s, but also server Windows-only IT environments where some MPE/iX operations will be headed. At Measurement Specialities, for example, the IT pro who handles scheduling never sees the HP 3000. But enterprise server-born concepts such as job fences are tools which are at his command.
November 06, 2013
Open Skies flies to a .NET transition
Mark Ranft has been reporting on choices being made by his Pro 3k consultancy to move airline transaction processor Navitaire off a farm of 35 HP 3000s, carefully and with precision. The application -- which began its life as IMAGE-MPE software in the 1990s -- has become New Skies, a shift from its Open Skies roots. Windows .NET is the platform of the future.
What remains of the 3000 farm is going up for sale, he noted in a posting at the HP 3000 Community of LinkedIn. Asked why Windows and its .NET architecture is a suitable replacement for the MPE/iX operations that served major airlines, Ranft said that Windows, like MPE or Linux or HP-UX, is just a tool.
"The enterprise architect must understand the strengths and the weaknesses of the platform and design the application around them, Ranft told us when the migration was underway, some five years ago. "Sometimes this may mean you have large pools of mid-tier systems/application servers to make up for the lack of resiliency in the operating system. This could be compared to using the RAID concept for disk arrays. However, I fear that most enterprises will find the licenses, care and feeding of the numerous mid-term systems needed is far from being inexpensive. Keep in mind that MPE was never exactly cheap."
.NET has been popular for years, a way to apply the Windows environment with more complete application architecture for enterprises. But some of the latest advice about .NET seems to factor in the slowing speed of the Microsoft juggernaut. One writer has even called .NET a failed Microsoft business line, but IT managers who use the product say it's a good choice for Windows implementations.
Ranft has reported that the enterprise once known as Open Skies ran more than a dozen of the largest HP 3000s that Hewlett-Packard ever sold. Five years ago he said
We have 21 HP 3000s. Eighteen of them are the largest, fully-loaded N4000-4-750 systems you can get. We have migrations to Windows in various stages, but there is also a very real need for legacy data access after the migration. The alternative is to migrate all the data and all the archival history, and that can be costly.
.NET has been on the radar screens for 3000 migration since at least 2004. Back when Managed Business Systems was one of the four HP Platinum Migration partners, Rich Trapp said at an HP World presentation the environment may be involved if an organization chooses:
To port their applications, since some porting tools convert the existing applications into .NET. Tools from Unicon specialized in .NET while they were being used by 3000 sites doing a migration. Once inside the .NET framework, further enhancements may involve .NET development.
For the limited number of companies that choose to re-build their applications, they may be re-written or re- engineered in a .NET development environment.
To replace 3000 apps with off-the-shelf packages, which can mean adopting an implementation in a .NET development environment. After replacement, customizations and interfaces may best be written in .NET.
The development for all of these choices takes place in Microsoft's Visual Studio IDE. Like many transition choices from standard 3000 tools -- VPlus, COBOL II, 4GLs, DEBUG and the like -- stepping into Visual Studio means a serious increase in power, as well as a learning curve if a 3000 pro hasn't developed VB skills yet.
.NET adoption means that a staff will need to be up to speed on Visual Basic .NET, C# and SQL Server -- or another .NET-compatible database. There's also a need to get a scheduler working in the Windows world. Fortunately, a 3000-like scheduler has been available for Windows since 2010, from MB Foster. MBF-Scheduler has gained advanced reporting tools, explicit and fine-grained filters, and the same robust functionality as the MPE/iX job handling tools.
The primary difference between development in an HP 3000 environment and a .NET environment is the HP 3000 is geared toward procedural design, while .NET is geared toward object oriented design. Procedural design establishes procedures or steps as a sequence of commands, acting on data structures. With object oriented design, developers model real-world situations and business scenarios as objects that perform actions, have properties, and trigger events.
Even nine years ago, when .NET was much less entrenched, Trapp said that ".NET provides efficient development, well-structured applications; a large number of interfacing techniques and interfaces; and a large quantity of existing, re-usable source code."
October 30, 2013
Marking Moments on Wake Anniversary Eve
In about six hours or so, the HP 3000 community might pause to commemorate one of its last collective acts. Ten years ago the World Wide Wake, organized by event ringleader Alan Yeo, invited members in dozens of locations throughout the world to lift a glass and salute the end of HP's manufacturing of the HP 3000 computer. MPE/iX would be recrafted and revised for another five years, but Oct. 31, 2003 was the last day customers could order a new HP-badged 3000.
At the time we invited a director of the Interex User Group, Denys Beauchemin, to offer a confirmation about the success of the system and record the aftermath of HP's departure. He did so in our Open Mike column in the November printed issue of the NewsWire. (It would be almost two years before we'd start up this blog.) It's fun to track the predictions in that column. Beauchemin, heading up a group that itself would remain open just another 20 months, collected sentiments from community notables including the late, great Wirt Atmar, who would pass away a little more than five years later.
Wirt outlived HP's 3000 business, right down to the closing of its MPE labs at the end of 2008. Unless you're reading this from the blazing-fast Google Fiber of the afterlife, you've also outlived the end of HP's 3000 saga. For HP computer users whose systems are facing an end of manufacture, the following is educational. It's memorable for migrators to revisit that time of reflection, too, and see if anything resonates in today's platform ownership.
Please leave a comment below to share your own story of the 10 years that have followed this anniversary. Or email one to me to tell your tale of what has followed the Wake.
By Denys Beauchemin
On All Hallows Eve of the year 2003, an historic event took place without fanfare and virtually ignored by the vast population at large. Only the cognoscenti will mourn the passing into computer history of the HP e3000, née HP 3000. This magnificent machine, which would be marking its thirty-first year of existence next month, is instead disappearing from the list of HP computer products. End of Sales for the HP 3000 is now upon us.
I was first introduced to the HP 3000 in 1977 somewhere in New Hampshire. At that time I was working in Montreal on an HP 21MX designing and programming applications in a timesharing bureau. I immediately took a liking to the HP 3000, transitioned jobs to be able to work on one and joined the users group for the first time. Over the years wherever I worked, there was always an HP 3000 in my environment. The HP 3000 has been part of my career almost from the beginning. Its passing fills me with melancholy, and whilst I had not been doing as much with it these last several years, I could always count on it being there, adding new capabilities along the way. This is true no more.
I asked a few luminaries of this long-lived computing environment to reflect on the machine, its passing and perhaps to shed some light on this event and what its effect might be.
“A great IT platform: reliable, affordable, flexible, easy to operate, and easy to program. And every release compatible with the previous for over 30 years. Perhaps some future OS team will adopt these same goals.” — Bob Green, Robelle
“The HP 3000 has been one of very few computers with a very important property: it lets people get things done. Because of that, it’s been my primary professional focus for the last 24 years, and hopefully for many years to come. Its cancellation was the straw that broke the camel’s back in my regard for, and trust in, HP as a company.” — Stan Sieler, Executive Vice President, Allegro Consultants. [Ed. note: Sieler marked his 30th anniversary at Allegro this month.]
“One of the worst things a hardware company (which subsequently develops some excellent software) can do to that software is to support it as if it were hardware. The 3000 was a victim of such treatment. RIP.” — Fred White, Co-creator of IMAGE
“My association with Hewlett-Packard began in 1963, when I was first introduced to extraordinary quality of HP instruments. Our official association with MPE began in 1976, and it too represented to me the very highest ideals of quality engineering. MPE was a magnificent operating system, simple, stable and extraordinarily efficient. The death of MPE concerns me greatly about the future of HP itself, not because MPE was ever a substantial contributor to HP’s bottom line, but because its death is indicative of the kind of company that HP is now casting itself as: a manufacturer of commodity products, having wedged itself in between Dell and IBM, a virtually unsustainable niche. I have come to believe that the most likely scenario now for the future of HP is for HP to be bought by Dell in three to seven years, just for the printer division, with the remainder of the organization either sold off or disposed of. If true, that’s a sad end for a company with which I’ve proudly had a life-long association.” — Wirt Atmar, AICS Research, Inc.
“When HP announced that it was no longer in HP’s best interest to continue with the HP 3000, my reaction was one of joy. I believed that — once HP was out of the HP 3000’s way — MPE-IMAGE would be able to prosper ‘under new management’. HP, unfortunately, had other ideas. Be it as it may, I feel a tremendous amount of loyalty towards MPE-IMAGE users and, as HP’s MPE-savvy people dwindle, I keep adding more and more items to my to-do list. I love IMAGE and I continue to work, on a full-time basis, searching for ways to make the lives of TurboIMAGE users as rewarding as possible.” — F. Alfredo Rego, Adager.
“The HP 3000 has been my business companion for 26 years, providing continuity for my COBOL application development. It enabled my company to become an international solution provider and its tragic demise is a reminder of my own mortality on this earth. May the spirit of MPE live on forever in the user community it leaves behind. I believe that inside every HP 9000 there is an HP 3000 waiting to be released after October 2003.” — Jeanette Nutsford, Computometric Systems Ltd, New Zealand/UK/USA
“I came from an IBM mainframe background and then started working on the HP 3000 at HP as a Systems Engineer on the Series II in 1976. I knew I had gone to heaven when I could use a terminal to do compiles and queries in a very short time and on-line with a very user friendly operating system, MPE. Times were good then in the user community because everyone was in a learning mode and helped each other. Times have changed and we must now move on to new challenges. I really miss the good old days but am glad to have met a great circle of friends along the way!” — Paul Edwards, Paul Edwards & Associates.
October 22, 2013
3000 stays above water at manufacturer
Ed. Note: The HP 3000's ability to remain running over more than 25 years has kept it in service at MacLean-Fogg. IT Director Mark Mojonnier updated us on the current status and future plans for their MPE/iX server. At times, the computer simply needed to keep its (disk) head above water.
We've been running HP 3000 systems since 1983. The company was originally part of Reliance Electric out of Cleveland years ago. In 1986, Reliance sold a piece of that business to MacLean-Fogg company in Mundelein, IL. The new company, Reliable Power Products, bought its first HP 3000 Series 48 in 1987. We had a flood in the building later that year and had to buy another one. The disk drives were high enough out of the water to survive, so when the new one arrived, we warm-booted it (with the old disk packs) and it picked up right where it left off.
At the time we bought our first HP 3000, there was a single manufacturing location to support. Now, there are 11 manufacturing facilities in North America we support. The business has grown from $25 million to about 10-15 times that now. Same base software -- just a lot more functional these days. It evolves constantly.
Since those first days, we have had an Series 925, Series 957, Series 969, Series 989, and now an N4000-750 (for production) and a N4000-500 for DR. We run home-grown ERP software written in COBOL. We run about 200-250 users pretty much all the time. The system runs 24/7/365, basically unattended. We have developed all sorts of notification software that pages, texts, emails, and calls when the system sees $STDLIST for unexpected things that went bump in the night (or day). There are two of us that write the software, manage the OS (not much to do there), and handle the day-to-day activities.
When we bought our latest HP 3000 systems, we found that these were actually new machines that had simply been in storage for many years. These new ones simply blow the doors off that Series 989. Fiber vs. single-ended SCSI is no match on throughput. Our 2-3 hour overnight processes dropped to 1 hour. Just being able to backup to LTO instead of DLT made a big difference.
We moved from that Franklin Park address simply because the building would have a tendency to flood just about every year. In 1987, we had 18 inches of water. This was called the flood of the century. 18 inches rising up the back of a Series 48 doesn't leave much dry space. Then, starting in 2008, we had a flood almost every year through 2013. Now, 6-8 inches of water in the office doesn't go over too well with furniture and office equipment. But those floods never hurt the HP 3000s.
After about five of these floods, the company decided to sell the building. They moved the factory to Tennessee and the corporate offices to South Carolina. The 3000 now resides in Mundelein, where the two of us continue to keep the 3000 running.
However, as most 3000 sites go, the system is being phased out over the next few years. We are installing EPICOR. It runs on a cluster of Windows and SQL servers. The plan is to phase it in, and phase out the HP 3000, all over the same time period. The two HP 3000s will remain around for a few years after that to hold archived data.
I hate to see them go, but I've been working with them since 1983 (30 years and counting) and hope to see another four to five years. It's been quite a ride. I hope it continues for a few more years.
October 21, 2013
Cars and cigars continue to rely on 3000
MacLean-Fogg is a corporation of almost a billion dollars with operations on five continents. But on one of those, North America, an HP 3000 continues to serve the company. We recently heard from Mark Mojonnier there, whose job title reads, IT Director, Legacy Systems.
The headquarters operation in Mundelein, IL is Mojonnier's charge. This is a manufacturer, one whose corporate message is that if you've been inside a car, the company's parts have been important to the drive. "We form things and we make things," and the processes and expertise at its plants includes hot and cold forming of aluminum and steel, molding of silicon and carbon fiber, secondary injection and insert molding, CNC machining, plus product assembly. The organization even uses what it calls “exotic fastener materials” in something called warm forming.
HP 3000s once broke the ground for Computer Integrated Manufacturing in plants like Mundelein, a village in Lake County with about 30,000 residents. Manufacturing computers usually work in small villages and cities, in part to capitalize on lowered costs of resources. The company just opened a hot forming plant in Savanna, IL this year.
"May our HP 3000 live forever," Mojonnier said as he tended to keeping his subscription with us on target. There's not much reason the system running his application won't, considering that it now has a virtualization future when the company is ready to part ways with HP-built iron, if needed. As for 3000's MPE heart, that is still lighting a fire at the Thompson Cigar Company, too.Managers Steve Osborne and Russ Anderson oversee and manage the HP 3000 at the maker of fine smokes in Tampa. Long ago, the Ecometry User Group conference provided hand-rolled cigars to all attendees at a late '90s-era gathering. At Thompson, the tradition to tobacco goes back even further. It's the oldest mail order cigar company in the US. Originally opening in Key West, the company will celebrate its centennial in just a couple of years.
Bought in a bundle of 40, its Churchill-sized Victor Sinclair Sampler is just $39.95. Companies using HP 3000s for commerce, either through the stately old-school of catalog shopping or the speed of the Web, can keep costs down on their IT operations using HP 3000s. Like the surround code that's custom-crafted around off-the-shelf applications like Ecometry, Thompson's products -- another manufactured good -- are hand rolled.
Whether it's at MacLean-Fogg Component Solutions -- building items like automotive wheel fasteners and locknuts -- or stocking up the storage humidors of Thompson, some manufacturing companies continue to find good value in their 3000 applications.
October 18, 2013
Dairy co-op skims cream of MPE off 3000s
More than three decades of HP 3000 servers have booted and remained online at Dairylea Cooperative. Now the collective of New York dairy farmers will put its next generation of MPE apps onto Intel iron, running the Stromasys Charon emulator.
Jeff Elmer, the IT director for the co-op, said the HP 3000 has a long history, even longer than his tenure there -- and that's work for him that stretches back to 1985 for the organization. It's a modest operation, and the collective is on its way to using SAP for the long term. In the meantime, though, a virtualized MPE/iX server is going to handle the information flow for these milk producers.
"The company has a long term commitment to switch to SAP," he said, "but MPE will be powering our producer payroll and milk laboratory systems for at least a couple more years in the comfort and safety of the emulator on new hardware, to say nothing of enjoying the various advantages of virtualization. After SAP, the emulator still has a future as an historical repository."
So while HP's 3000 hardware is headed for a shutdown at Dairylea, it's MPE that becomes the cream to be skimmed off Hewlett-Packard computers that stretch back to the early 1980s.HP forestalled a purchase of the ultimate generation of 3000 iron when it announced it was ending its MPE operations, Elmer said.
I was doing the legwork for an upgrade to an N Class the day I heard that HP had abandoned the 3000; as a result of that announcement, we abandoned that upgrade. As for our current HP 3000, it's a venerable 969 KS/100 that we bought when 969s were new and yes, it is still running like a champ. There was a Series 68, a Series 70, a 925, and a 935 before there was a 969. The company has a long history with HP. They were using HP 3000s before I started here and I am in my 29th year as of October.
Co-op executives are not confident about the lifespan of drives in those 3000s, however, and so the Charon emulator makes its debut there in the months to come. Elmer also paid the various upgrade/transfer fees for third-party software, as well as submitting paperwork to HP for a license transfer from the physical box to the emulator.
"Our company has always tried to keep our licensing straight, and our maintenance and support up-to-date with all of our business partners," he said. "That policy will continue with the emulator. All that, and we even got a physical DLT8000 tape drive to work with the emulator! Now I know for sure that if there is a legal reason to restore from an old backup tape, I can do it. What more could you want?"
September 04, 2013
MPE's Skies app flies from Open to New
A healthy clutch of HP 3000 N-Class servers is going onto the used market soon, the result of a migration off of MPE. These computers represent a couple of futures, one dreamed of in 1998, and another, the reality of some 2013 computing for MPE.
The servers have been running the Open Skies application almost since the N-Class was released. Open Skies in its first incarnation was a software company with an application by the same name. Southwest Airlines put Open Skies, with its reservation breakthroughs, into everyday use. The application only ran on MPE/iX. In time, in a move characteristic of another Hewlett-Packard, the vendor purchased the Open Skies software company. The deal was designed to show markets of 1998 what could be done with an HP 3000 and cloud-based apps. At the time, HP was calling the strategy Apps on Tap.
Here in the waning days of summer 2013, what remains of Open Skies has been migrated to Windows .NET by Accenture and its Navitaire division. Industry-standard environments are easy choices for companies like Accenture, a consulting company that grew out of the '90s-era Anderson Consulting. The migrated app is called New Skies and now takes over for Open Skies completely. Airlines around the world used Open Skies to perform revenue accounting on online ticket sales. But at one time, even the fundamental concept of online ticket sales was a novelty. It was led into the world by MPE servers.
Mark Ranft has been managing the transition from the Skies which were Open to the Skies that are New. The work has been performed for Navitaire, a company Accenture created when HP sold off Open Skies at the end of 2000. Of course, less than a year later, that generation of Hewlett-Packard, led by its revenue growth queen Carly Fiorina, ended 3000 futures at the vendor.
Ranft says that of the 35 N-Class servers which did revenue accounting for airline customers, about six are still installed and will be sold now that the migration is complete. The final customer relying on Open Skies, rather than the New Skies .NET replacement, switched off the 3000 this year. Open Skies founder Dave Evans wrote an eulogy and history for the software that put HP into the airline business.
"We were successful because of the rock-solid nature of HP 3000 and IMAGE," Evans said, "and we competed with the legacy mainframes. But we are set to retire our HP 3000 Airline/Rail reservation system Open Skies after 19 years of faithful service."
Over these years it has been responsible for the efficient handling of over 1.5 Billion passengers. I'm sure many of you have flown carriers that have used the Open Skies system over those years -- more than 60 airlines around the world have used Open Skies. Here is a brief history:
1986 - Morris Air Charters (in Salt Lake City) converted a basic Tour Operator/Charter booking system from our Zicomp minicomputer to a HP 3000 Series 42
1992/1993 - I wrote MARS (Morris Air Reservation System) on the HP 3000. MARS was the first true Ticketless airline reservation system. Remember when you had to have tickets to fly?
1994 - Morris Air merged into Southwest Airlines. MARS became the base of Southwest Airlines Ticketless system for over 10 years.
1994 - Open Skies company was founded -- Open Skies was the next generation of ticketless systems written on the HP 3000.
1995/1997 - With the help of Adager we convinced Southwest Airlines (SWA) that the HP 3000 and IMAGE could support them better than a mainframe, and we commenced a project to write a reservation system for Southwest. That project actually went very well -- we also enlisted the help of Quest's Netbase to get the scale and reliability we needed. Unfortunately, Y2K panic popped up its ugly head, and the current SWA reservation system vendor pushed SWA to invest a lot of money to ensure that their system would work in Y2K. Eventually, for many reasons, SWA decided to invest in the current system and shut down the project.
1998 - Open Skies company WAS sold to Hewlett-Packard Company and became one of the launch "Software as a Service" products for HP.
2000 - Apparently Hewlett-Packard didn't want to do Software as a Service anymore, at least with the airlines. They focused on the more profitable printers, PCs, Servers, and we all know where that got them. Thanks, Carly. She sold us to Navitaire/Accenture in November 2000.
2002 - After HP announced the end of HP 3000, we began a project to rewrite Open Skies on newer technology -- we chose Microsoft .Net. and MS SQL for the database for "New Skies".
2005 - New Skies was launched, first front to back new technology Airline (and bus and rail) Passenger Service System. Major competitors are Amadeus and Sabre, both still rely on Mainframes.
2005 - 2013 ... New Skies has now booked around 1.6 Billion passengers for over 50 Airlines in 30 countries.
Fall of 2013 - last Open Skies customer will move to New Skies. Going to be a sad day...
We owe the success of Open Skies really to many people, many of you in this [community]. We have had our struggles over the years, but this community has always been there to help us.
Our systems are mission-critical, 24x7x365.25 in nature. We have seen many competitors come and go over the years -- their downfall was usually caused by a lack of operational stability and performance scalability. It was easy to pick off all the guys in the '90s that architected their systems on 'open systems,' Unix, and relational databases.
Again, thanks to all who have pushed the HP 3000 forward over the years. Open Skies will probably not make the history books, especially in relation to the HP 3000, but together they did change history for the traveling masses.
September 03, 2013
iPad emulation shows off app's fine-tuning
An IT director whose 3000 application runs on fine-tuned screens has sparked an upgrade in the iPad terminal emulator TTerm Pro. Jeff Elmer reports that his specially-coded VPlus fields have made the transition to the iPad application. All it took was an enhancement request, he says.
At Dairylea Cooperative, a group of milk producers based in New York State, the company has employed HP 3000s for more than three decades. The application uses the ability to map colors to fields -- a feature of WRQ's Reflection -- to guide users through inquiries, deletes, changes and adds.
Color-coding fields is a classic HP 3000 nuance, one that permits data entry workers to keep pace with the efficiency and speed of the HP 3000. Elmer's story reminds me of a report from the IT manager for the Oakland A's baseball team. When asked in the 1990s if his staff was ready to switch to a Windows-based interface instead of traditional VPlus forms, he said, "If I did switch them, they'd have me hanging from the flagpole in centerfield." User practices -- okay, habits -- have a way of producing efficiency. If the iPads at the Cooperative were going to replace some terminals, they'd have to stop blinking, even if the colors won't map across.
Historically we used the enhancement characteristics of the fields in our VPlus screens in conjunction with Reflection’s color configuration to color code our program screens. That is, in “Inquiry” mode the fields were a light purple. In “Add” mode the fields were white. In “Change” mode the fields were yellow. In “Delete” mode the fields were red.
These visual cues were very effective in helping our users know exactly what they were doing to the record without having to think (and we all know that thinking is not popular). However, when it came time to test HP 3000 access via TTerm Pro on company iPads, we quickly discovered that several of those fields were constantly blinking and made an otherwise perfect solution unpopular.
In fairness to TTerm, of course those fields should be blinking, since the blink attribute was on in the forms file and TTerm doesn’t map to colors in the same way as Reflection. I sent an e-mail to Turbosoft's support asking if anything could be done. They responded quickly.
"Clearly Turbosoft understands customer service," Elmer reports. "They told me how to capture the information they needed to investigate further, and in short order rolled out a new version to the App Store with an On/Off control for blinking. They followed up with me immediately to see if the change met our needs. The screens are now perfectly readable with no 'end-user annoying' blink."
The $49.95 app is working to capture other 3000 specifics, too.
A very nice feature of TTerm Pro is HotSpots. This enabled us to put a softkey on-screen for the enter key and allowed us to set up automatic logins for specific users. The “enter key” looks like a function key label in the bottom center of the screen (between the other function keys) and the automatic login is an on-screen button labeled “Login” which appears instead of the MPE i/X prompt. Touch it and you log in. For our application on an iPad, this is probably as close to perfect as we’re going to get.
August 26, 2013
Buy wee HP discs? Small payoff, big price
It's probably a habit you could break easier than you think. If you're keeping a 3000 online, either in homesteading or pre-migration mode, you could quit buying something as antique as 18GB disk drives. Taking a minute to consider the payoff might help adjust this habit.
We spoke to an IT manager at a California school district who was heading for a Linux replacement, somewhere down the road, for his HP 3000. One reason for the migration was the price of hardware. Yes, even in the year when HP hasn't built a 3000 for 10 years, original equipment disc is selling. Our IT manager reported his 18GB device had doubled in price.
That's original HP-branded disc, certified to run on an HP 3000. Sounds good, but it doesn't mean much in 2013. If that disk doesn't boot a 3000, or it becomes lost in the 3000 IO configuration -- LDEVs fall off -- who will you complain to? The seller of the disk, perhaps. But there's no HP anymore that knows or cares about the HP 3000 and its discs. So much for vendor warranty or certification.
Your third-party indie support company will do the certification -- let's just call it a check -- on the suitability of a model of drive. Seriously, we can't see why managers would buy system discs that have less storage than a USB flash drive crafted to look like a Despicable Me minion. Buying these is a habit, and one you can break with many SCSI discs out there, selling for under $100.Let's not call this habit silly or unwise. Let's call it unaware, the raise our awareness. Not long ago, 3K Ranger owner Keven Miller shared his research on replacement discs for 3000s.
From what I've experienced, any SCSI disk should work. I got an IBM 4GB drive from someplace, and it wouldn’t work. I put it onto a Unix box (HP-UX, Linux I don't recall) then found that the low level format was a 514 block size, not 512. I had to learn about using "setblock" to reformat the drive. Then, I could install MPE onto it as an LDEV 1.
I have these disks laying around
4GB Seagate ST14207W FastWide SCSI-2 68F
2GB Western Digital WDE2170-007 Ultra Fast Wide 68F
18GB IBM Ultrastar IC35L018UCD210-0 SCSI-LVD/SE U160 80pin
18GB IBM DNES-318350 SCSI-LVD/SE U160 80pin
36GB IBM Ultrastar DDYS-T36950 U160 80pin
36GB Maxstor ATLAS 10K IV U160 80pin
36GB Maxstor ATLAS 10K III U160 80pin
There was a time, perhaps 25 years ago, when 18GB discs not only seemed vast, but they were just a dream. Now the collection of USB sticks shown in the picture above sells for $28 at WalMart and holds 6GB more than that costly HP-branded disc.
If you can move beyond the HP PA-RISC hardware, and onto a virtualized server, you'll tap into the vast universe of such cheap storage. One minion can hold more than an LDEV 1, circa 1993. Back up. If one minion stops working, plug in another on that virtualized, PC-based MPE/iX system.
August 07, 2013
Open source enables MPE enhancements
Earlier this week we looked at the prospects for creating an OpenSSH server component for HP 3000s. Some veteran developers have spent a bit of time on the engineering and learning the undocumented behavior of parts of MPE/iX. As such, this is work that could benefit from the knowledge in source code. Source was licensed to seven companies by HP.
We also wondered if enabling the server aspect of OpenSSH would be considered an MPE/iX enhancement by Hewlett-Packard -- or just a repair of a bug report. That would mean it was a workaround for anybody who'd like the complete OpenSSH on their MPE system.
The source code was provided to help repair problems and perform workarounds for homesteading HP 3000 customers. HP didn't want anybody creating new features for MPE/iX. But enabling the full range of SSH services doesn't constitute a new feature -- at least not from Brian Edminster's viewpoint. He runs a repository of open source software for HP 3000 users.
If OpenSSH gets better on MPE/iX, Edminster suggests it won't improve simply by way of MPE internals information.
I'd argue that because OpenSSH is not an HP product -- and if making modifications to allow it to use existing features (even undocumented ones) within MPE/iX can allow it to work -- HP would not have grounds to complain. MPE/iX would not be modified in the process. They may not be happy about it, if such a modification extends the useful life of the remaining systems. But I don't believe they'd have legal standing to object.
I'm not a lawyer, and I don't play one on TV, the 3000 NewsWire, or the 3000-L. What I'm saying is not legal advice, just my own opinion of the situation. If someone is potentially at risk from HP by acting on the above advice, they should first get advice from competent contract and intellectual property counsel.
However, I'd go so far as to suggest that even if enabling OpenSSH required a binary patch to an existing MPE/iX routine which might not be behaving properly, HP still wouldn't be able to complain.
During the brief discussion out on the 3000-L newsgroup, Allegro's Stan Sieler identified the behavior of some routines that could help complete OpenSSH. He quipped that if somebody such as Ken Hirsch -- who started the OpenSSH project rolling more than seven years ago -- wanted to know more about the likes of "a way to actually write to a terminal while there is a read pending," they could've just asked Stan.
Edminster makes a case that documenting system internals and processes, out in the clear, is a backup resource to the community. (This is also documentation which these support firms paid to license, so they have their rights to make it a customer benefit, instead of open explanation.) It's a complicated line to cross, because in this case the MPE/iX internals would have to be understood and utilized to extend OpenSSH -- an open source package.
My understanding is that the agreement between HP and the licensed MPE/iX source holders is to prevent compiling and/or distribution of any new or enhanced copies of MPE/iX. I believe the specific reason MPE/iX source was licensed was to allow 'dissecting' the code — to see what it really does under the hood, regardless of what the documentation says (or doesn't say).
Why? To allow better understanding of how it works — so that coding workarounds can be developed for applications, and so that in the case of the discovery of a bona fide bug in a critical area of MPE/iX. In this way, at least the option exists of creating a binary patch that can be used to fix a bug (or mitigate the ill-effects of the bug, if a fix is not feasible).
And really, compiling a documentation wiki of system internals and processes (especially the Posix routines as implemented and undocumented user-callable MPE/iX internals) along with workaround best practices for porting code, would be a very valuable thing to preserve existing knowledge.
Back when MPE/iX was subject to change -- because new releases came out from time to time -- using procedures not documented by HP was considered a 'Bad Idea'(tm). Now that the OS is, for all intents and purposes, static, that may no longer be the case. While Stan Sieler was right in saying: "You could have just asked me," it also begs the question: What happens when, someday, he's not available to answer?
August 06, 2013
Community experts explore Opening SSH
A little way back in July, we reported that the OpenSSH software on the HP 3000 was still somewhat short of full open source functionality. It could be completed, with some extra help from community experts and some testing. Brian Edminster of Applied Technologies looked into what was needed to create a OpenSSH interactive client that would run under MPE/iX.
For anybody new to OpenSSH, it supplies services for encrypted communication sessions. Secure file transfers are the prize here. This would be one way to use the 3000 as an SFTP server, not just a client.
Edminster said, "The fact remains that SSH cannot connect to a remote system and execute commands that produce any output. Ken Hirsch did the original port, but he only really needed the SFTP client -- so the issue with ssh wasn't addressed."
Hirsch had asked years ago "if anybody knows a way to actually write to a terminal while there is a read pending, then I could use OpenSSH as a server on the HP 3000. Apparently there are undocumented MPE/iX sendio() and rendezvousio() calls. There are also tread()/twrite() routines in libbsd.a that I think are intended for this, but there's no documentation for these, either."
As of this week, the community is looking into connecting these dots and producing documentation.We asked out on the 3000 newsgroup if anybody with access to source code or inside knowledge of these routines might help. First, Keven Miller of 3K Ranger looked into the MPE routines.
Long ago I looked at the libbsd contribution, and was sad that it didn't come with the sources. Just include files. So, with Ron's request, I started playing with it. So, here are some details of my testing....
1. I extracted the OIO module from libbsd.a (NMRL), which contains tread,twrite.
(I had to manipulate the libbsd.a file some, in order to access it)
2. I created this C test program
#pragma intrinsic FOPEN
#pragma intrinsic FCLOSE
proc int main ()
int R, n;
char buf ;
f = FOPEN ( "TTY", 0644, 00004 ); /* cctl,und,stdin,ascii r/w */
printf ("tread 5>");
memset (buf, '*', 10)
buf  = 0
R = tread (f, buf, 5)
printf ("tr %d [%s]\n", R, buf);
n = sprintf (buf, "-twrite-")
R = twrite (f, buf, n);
printf ("tw %d\n", R);
R = tread (f, buf, 0);
FCLOSE ( f, 0, 0 );
So it appears to run okay.
- tread acts like a binary read. It must read the count characters. i.e., 5 in my code.
- Return does not terminate the read.
- tread returns the number of characters read. It uses an MPE file number.
- twrite returns the number of characters written.
Next, I need to test as two processes or two threads to have them both active.
However, the problem is it leaves the terminal in some odd state. Once the program ends, I get the CI prompt. But when I hit return, it appears to be hung. It can receive TELLs. If from another session, I do abortio on its stdlist device, it shows SOFTWARE ABORT, then get the CI prompt. But hung again.
After aborting the session, (in Reflection NSVT), I can log back in and have a normal TTY.
Oh, and the program requires PM. Underneath tread/twrite, it calls sendio and rendezvousio. I did try FOPEN with nowait-io set. tread didn't read (no echo of characters) and could not complete the read.
Stan Sieler of Allegro took on the task next, but he issued a caveat about working with the deep-inside routine. (Allegro has licensed source code for MPE/iX, but there's no obvious path between that source and Sieler's testing). He addressed the need to use the tread and twrite calls.
Yes and no, it depends. (There's some terminology and background needed to explain.)
So, in brief... "genmsg", an undocumented routine in the kernel of MPE/iX (and MPE V), has the ability to do "non-preemptive," "soft preemptive" and (allegedly) "hard preemptive" writes to terminals, including network terminals
(However, it's not clear if true (MPE V style) "hard preemptive" writes were ever implemented on MPE/iX.)
But genmsg requires privileged mode, and the routine is capable of aborting the system if called incorrectly. I usually hesitate to post information about potentially dangerous routines.
This doesn't conclude the quest to finish up OpenSSH for the 3000 user, so a server as well as a client is available. But now the ball is rolling, thanks to this notice from some other MPE experts.
It's not clear if enabling the server aspect of OpenSSH would be considered an MPE/iX enhancement by Hewlett-Packard -- or just a repair of a bug report, and then a workaround for anybody who'd like complete OpenSSH on their MPE system.
July 31, 2013
Tools trace patterns of IMAGE databases
Is there any program that will show the network of a TurboIMAGE database? I want to output the relationships among sets and items.
In 2011, Connie Sellitto researched the above question, a query posed again just today on the HP 3000 newsgroup. Sellitto was aiding new programmers who were charged with moving a pet organization's operations to a non-MPE system. Understanding the design of the database was important to this team. Sellitto mentioned a popular tool for PCs, but one not as essential as an IT pro's explanations.
You might try Microsoft's Visio, and you may need to have an ODBC connection to your IMAGE database as well. This produces a graphical view with search paths shown, and so on. However, there is still nothing like a detailed verbal description provided by someone who actually knows the interaction between datasets.
To sum up from 2011, we'll refer to ScreenJet founder's Alan Yeo's testing of that Visio-IMAGE interplay
Taking a reasonably well-formed database into Visio and reverse engineering, you do get the tables and items. It will show you what the indexes in the tables are, but as far as I can see it doesn't show that a detail is linked to a particular master. Automasters are missing anyway, as they are really only for IMAGE.
My conclusion: if you have done all the work to load the databases in the SQL/DBE and done all the data type mappings, then importing in Visio might be a reasonable start to documenting the databases, as all you would have to do is add the linkages between the sets.
If you don't have everything in the SQL/DBE, then I would say we are back where we started.
ScreenJet knows quite a bit about moving 3000 engineering into new formats. It built the EZ View modernization kit for 3000 user screens that are still in VPlus. Yeo said the ubiquitous Visio might be overkill for explaining relationships.
Visio has free and open source competition, software which HP support veteran Lars Appel pointed out a few years back. "Perhaps Visio has similar 'database graph' features, such as the free or open source tools like dbVisualizer or SquirrelSQL."
If you have Adager, Flexibase, or DBGeneral -- or already have a good schema file for the databases -- just generate the schema files and import them into Word or Excel and give them to [your migrators]. If they can't put together the data structure from that, no amount of time you can spend with Visio is going to impart any more information.
Barry Lake of Allegro pointed out that users "may want to take a look at Allegro's DBHTML product, which creates a browser viewable HTML file documenting the structure of an IMAGE database." Allegro's site has an example DBHTML output on its website, although it doesn't draw pretty pictures.
At a more fundamental OS level, Michael Anderson points out to understand the structure of a TurboIMAGE database, "you could use QUERY.PUB.SYS, then issue the command FO ALL, or FO SETS."
A few other options for tools came up. Yeo said that "I think there was a schema draw option in Flexibase SQL that drew a neat block diagram of the database and the linkages." And finally, Brian Edminster of Applied Technologies looked through his toolbox and found software written by theKompany, an enterprise founded by former Newswire columnist Shawn Gordon. Edminster reports
There's DataArchitect from theKompany, founded by Shawn Gordon. I bought an early copy of it, and found it useful for satisfying those people at my client's sites that just had to have such a tool to believe that the DBMS was 'industrial strength.'
But alas, Edminster's research showed theKompany.com's website is offline today, and so getting a copy of DataArchitect might be a fruitless pursuit. When a database can outlast the industry-standard (Linux-based) tools that are built to track it, that says something about oldest-school design.
July 18, 2013
Staff's expertise sparks 3000's replacement
One of the more entrenched MPE advocates in the 3000 community has seen his server move into archive status. John Wolff, who was formerly the Vice Chairman of the OpenMPE group, reports that the Series 928 that drove the self-storage provider has been replaced with a Windows application. However, the MPE architecture and the health of the 3000 did not drive this replacement.
This was actually done for an interesting reason. My programmer was 72 years old and an expert at Transact, and I am 67 years old. Looking at the future it would be very difficult to find replacements for us given the "ecosystem" for the HP 3000 at this point. I think the hardware could be kept going for another 10 years, but the personnel could not.
So the programmer retired, and the computer operations were moved to a Windows application. It's less efficient than the 3000 -- so much so that LAACO has hired two additional staffers to do processes manually with the Windows app that MPE and Transact did completely automatically, Wolff said.
The migration mantra says that retaining and finding MPE-savvy staff is the hardest part of homesteading. This case study is about a replacement of the application however. Change is the common element, but replacing an app is less dependent on knowledge of the code's internal structure. A replacing company is making a transition.
We're shifting the name of the "Migration" category to "Migration & Transition" as of today, to reflect the two approaches to change.
Despite the cost of acquiring the Windows application, and hiring the extra staff to do what MPE and Transact did, plus the capital cost of more compute power for an existing server, Wolff said LAACO is in better shape for the future.
Naturally we transferred our data, which was no big deal. The new application does not require any Windows pros, as it is totally maintained by the vendor. Judging support costs between the two systems was not even considered, as they are both nominal. The Windows hardware was already leveraged because it runs as a virtual server. So, costs of ownership were not even considerations. It had much more to do with specialized future human resources.
July 11, 2013
A New Opening for Old 3000 Skills
Sometimes we've noted the opening of a contract or consulting opportunity that requires HP 3000 experience. We're usually following the initial posting. In December we broke the ice on an East Coast position for 3000 work, offered at a contractor level. This time we're helping a reader who's ready to hire someone, looking for "the elusive COBOL programmer" to employ.
The 3000 Newswire is happy to make this kind of news a part of our daily feed. If you have an opening, be sure to contact us. For candidates, other avenues exist while looking for a place to deploy your senior skills. The HP 3000 Community on LinkedIn has a Jobs section of its discussions, for example.
Today, the opportunity rests in an Ecometry-centric shop. It's either full-time, or long-term contract, and telecommuting is an option, too.
A leading ecommerce/direct-to-consumer service company is seeking a COBOL programmer with Ecometry and HP 3000 programming experience. They will be involved in every phase of the development lifecycle. He/she must be able to attend requirements meetings, translate the requirements into design documents, code from a design document, create test scenarios/cases/scripts, perform and support various testing cycles, create implementation plans and implement the change. Telecommuting is an option, so all qualified candidates are encouraged to apply regardless of location.
For any community member who'd like to apply, they can send an email to email@example.com, using the subject, "Cobol/Ecometry/HP3000 Programmer." You'll want to include a cover letter, resume and salary history and expectations.The skill set is well within the range of many candidates. Last December when we passed along that consultant and contractor opportunity, 24 leads blew into our in-box in 48 hours. Here's the lineup of needs at that Ecometry shop.
ο Extensive knowledge of COBOL and Ecometry, either on the MPEix platform or on Open Systems
ο Bachelor (4-year) degree in Computer Science, MIS or related field and at least five years of programming experience
ο Experience with either HP COBOL and IMAGE DB or Fujitsu Netcobol for Windows and SQL.
ο Knowledge of Ecometry accounting, warehouse, shipping, order management and merchandising functionality.
ο Ability to work within a team, interfacing with Ecometry support staff and third party vendors for problem resolution
ο Ability to make sound judgment and develop applications that make a positive effect on business.
ο Ability to work with minimal supervision on complex projects.
ο Must be resilient and possess solid ability to multi-task.
ο Perform efficiently under pressure
ο Advanced computer skills.
Experience with the following is a plus:
ο SQL Server database experience
ο Suprtool and Qedit knowledge
ο MPE to Open Systems conversion
ο Windows programming languages
ο Ecomedate data warehouse using SQL Server
This position will include the opportunity to learn other technologies (C#, VB.net, ASP.net, SQL Server) for those candidates who are interested.
July 09, 2013
What Kind of UPS Best Protects Your 3000
Editor's Note: ScreenJet's founder Alan Yeo wraps up his investigation of UPS units, having had a pair fail and then take two HP 3000s offline recently. Here he explains what sort of UPS to buy to avoid a failure that knocked solid 3000s offline, by way of dirty transfers during the all-important Transfer Time (TT) window.
By Alan Yeo
Last in a series
First off, the answer to the problem: Double Conversion UPS units are what you want. They are more expensive than Line Interactive ones, but it is claimed they are cheaper in the long run, due to increased battery life. I’ll let you know in a few years. The HP 3000
Whilst a Line Interactive UPS claims that attached equipment shouldn't be at risk during the TT window, as far as I can read it can be before it is disconnected from the mains. APC for example have a compensation scheme which wouldn't be required if this wasn't possible. Note: It's interesting that APC only offer this protection policy on 120V products, for those of us using 220/240V supplies the risk is obviously deemed to be too great to cover. The fine print:
If your electronic equipment is damaged by power line transients on an AC power line (120 volt) while directly and properly connected to a standard APC 120 volt product covered by the Equipment Protection Policy (EPP), you can file a claim with APC for compensation of your damages. Coverage of damages is determined by the limits of the EPP.
TT seems to be related to the Sensitivity Level: High, Medium or Low. And the Sensitivity Levels can be altered by how you configure the UPS, for example on many UPS's you can adjust at what upper and lower input voltages it should transfer to/from battery. On 120V UPS's this range is typically 127-136 at the upper end, and 97-106 at the lower end. In High Sensitivity mode the TT is something like 2 milliseconds and if set Low around 10 milliseconds. Switching to/from battery frequently is bad for battery life, as is protracted running from the battery on a Line Interactive UPS. So the compromise is between High Sensitivity with possibly frequent but low TT, and Low Sensitivity with less frequent but longer TT.
Theoretically during the TT there is no power going to the connected equipment, so long TT's may be a problem for some equipment, also if transfers are frequent equipment may see a pulsed power supply.Keeping it clean On-Line
If Line Interactive UPS technology can fail, what should you use? On-Line or Double Conversion technology seems to be the answer. These can be hard to spot as the word “Online /On-Line” is used to describe a mode of virtually any UPS: i.e. a Line Interactive UPS is described as being in online mode when it is feeding mains direct to the attached equipment. So it's probably best to use the term Double Conversion, as this is less misleading. In a Double Conversion UPS the equipment is always fed from the inverter, which has tandem input supplies, one from the battery and one from a mains fed rectifier. This means that the equipment never sees “Mains” power, and there is never any TT as the supply from the inverter is continuous regardless of which power source it is using.
Double Conversion UPS's are more expensive to buy than Line Interactive ones, but it is claimed they are cheaper in the long run due to increased battery life. I'll let you know in a few years.
In just checking a few facts I have just discovered that Wikipedia has a great page that clearly covers the different types of UPS technology. So much so that I wish I had found it before, and also hadn't bothered trying to write this explanation. So if you want more info, or are totally confused by my description, try: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uninterruptible_power_supply . There is also a great white paper, The Seven Types of Power Problems in PDF format on the Web.
Wow, are we an HP customer again?
Surprise, Surprise. Apart from the odd printer cartridge, we haven't bought anything HP since 2001, and I couldn't see much likelihood that we would. But we have just bought a new HP UPS! It appears that as a result of the “Invent” phase (which I understand has now been terminated) HP are one of the leaders in advanced UPS technology, and they do a range of Double Conversion units. We were fortunate and picked up a really nice HP unit, plus a huge auxiliary battery pack (we now have an estimated 2 hours full load uptime) for less than the cost of a smaller new APC Line Interactive. Okay, they were customer returns due to damaged packaging, but were brand new and unopened.
The sad part for HP is why we got it so cheap! I had to ask the UPS reseller why the HP one was a lot cheaper than other makes of similar Double Conversion UPS's he had for sale, especially as the new list price was as high or higher than the others. His answer surprised me.
“They are difficult to sell, because nobody recognises HP as a UPS supplier.” He told me that customers who ran data centers with HP Servers would buy new HP UPS's, but that in his experience nobody else did. So if they got returns or cancelled orders, they found them very hard to shift unless they discounted them heavily. He did say that in his opinion that it really was nicely-made equipment, and that we were getting a great deal (well he is a salesman!).
It's an ill wind that blows no good
Well the wind may have caused this, but its certainly blown away a few misconceptions we had about how protected we were and how good our backup recovery strategy was. I think we had OK strategies for either total loss, or losing a single Server to a specific problem. But I don't think we had anticipated multiple (but not total) failures at the same time, or an HP 3000 outage that was caused by multiple problems that could only be discovered in a serial manner. Our total recovery time was days, not hours! The upside is that we are now better protected, have less kit running and plans for even less (feet on the ground, head in the cloud) and are now working on a recovery/disaster plan that encompasses what we have learnt.
Hopefully this saga may be a warning to others to pull out the manual for your UPS and see if it really meets your needs and expectations.
Oh by the way, on the Saturday after the outage I had a visit from an engineer from the local power distribution company, to check out our voltage that had been running earlier that day at about 264V (standard here in the UK is 240). He said our problem spikes were probably caused by a commercial neighbour with a badly-configured backup generator setup. Or it could have been the power company themselves using one to fill in a hole in the grid due to downed lines. But that we would never be able to prove it! Anyway to finish, here’s a couple of nice quotes I found at the APC site:
How large can a surge be?
Electrical industry standards indicate that electrical power surges inside a building can reach levels up to 6,000 volts and 3,000 amperes, which could deliver up to 90 joules of energy.
How often do electrical surges occur?
Very large surges could occur a few times a year in medium exposure areas or as often as 40 times a year in high exposure areas. All of which may be storm induced. Beyond storm induced electrical disturbances, normal equipment operation can also produce surges, some over 1,000 volts. These surges may occur several times a day.
About that Dual Conversion claim of increased battery life, I’ll let you know in a few years. HP 3000s are certain to still be running by then!
Alan Yeo is a developer and entrepreneur at ScreenJet, which delivers the TransAction any-platform replacement for Transact, as well as ScreenJet software, plus interface modernization services for HP 3000s which rely on VPlus today.
July 08, 2013
UPS Redux: Finding Gurus and a False Dawn
Editor’s note: Previously, when a pair of HP 3000s were felled in the aftermath of a windstorm that clipped out the power, a sound strategy of using an Uninterrupted Power Supply in the IT mix failed, too. After a couple of glasses of merlot, our intrepid IT manager Alan Yeo at ScreenJet continues to reach out for answers to his HP 3000 datacenter dilemma — why that UPS that was supposed to be protecting his 3000s and Windows servers went down with the winds' shift.
By Alan Yeo
Second in a series
Feeling mellower, with nothing I really want to watch on the TV, I decide to take a prod at the servers and see what the problems are.
Decide that I'll need input to diagnose the Windows problem, so that can wait until the morning. Power-cycle the 917 to watch the self-test cycle and get the error, do it again. (Well sometimes these things fix themselves, don't they?) Nope, it’s dead!
“Take out my long spoon and sup with the devil,” as they say, with a Web search. Nope, Google turns up nothing on the error, apart from a couple of old HP-UX workstation threads, where the advice seems to be “time to call your HP support engineer.” Nothing on the 3000-L newsgroup archives, either. (I'd tell you the 3000 error code, but I've thrown away the piece of paper I had with all the scribbles from that weekend).
Where's a guru
when you want one?
I really wanted to get the 917 back up and running over the weekend, as it had all our Transact test software on it. Dave Dummer (the original author of Transact) was doing some enhancements to TransAction (our any-platform replacement for Transact) and we had planned to get some testing done for early the following week, to help a major customer.
So it's 11:30 PM UK time, but it's only 3:30 PM PDT! I wonder who's around at Allegro? A quick Skype gets hold of Steve Cooper, who with the other Allegroids (interesting, my spell checker thinks Allegroid is a valid word) diagnose within five minutes that the 3000 has got a memory error. The last digit of the error indicates which memory bank slot has the problem.Okay, I'm not going to start climbing around the back of the rack at this time of night. I leave it until the morning, but at least I know what the problem is.
Feeling refreshed, let's get these hardware problems sorted. Get the Windows server booted with “Hirens Boot CD” magic set of tools for fixing loads of stuff. Diagnoses that there are a couple of missing .DLL's. Okay, patch them in, still problems! seems to be a hall of mirrors every time we patch something in, the next missing file is found. This could go on for ages.
Try various Windows recovery reinstalls, but they all fail, Windows 2003 doesn't think it's installed, but would happily install if I let it reformat the hard drive. Not the recovery I was looking for. Run some disc-checking utilities and basically whilst the disc checks out okay, the file directory (or whatever it's called) is smashed. Do we spend a lot of time rebuilding a Windows system that's only running one piece of software that should have been moved off anyway? Simple choice, no. Leave it to my co-worker Mark to figure out what to do to get mail flowing again, whilst I take a look at the 917 memory problem.
Pulling the memory card is no problem. Working out which of the five banks is bad takes a bit more work, but a bit of plug engineering and a couple of reboots shows that we have 64MB (2x32) of bad memory. No problem, plenty left, so remove it and reboot. Great, get to the ISL prompt, do a START NORECOVERY and go get a cup of coffee and a cigarette, and I’ll soon have this system back up.
SYSTEM ABORT from SUBSYS 143
Long Story Short (or another one bites the dust)
Okay, it's about time we cut this story short — although I am certain you want to read about someone else's trials and tribulations, even as I suspect you’re only reading to find out why your UPS is useless. Suffice it to say that the 3000's LDEV 2 had also been fried, which we replaced, then the DAT drive was dead, which was replaced, but was still dead.
So in the end, we decided our fastest recovery solution was to scrap the 917 and merge its data with a 918 that has a clone in the shop. It’s a choice which makes DR recovery a lot simpler, also one less piece of kit burning electricity, that should help save the ice caps!
So what got Fried? HP 3000, Dell Intel Server, one modem, one DTC 16 -- and of course the two APC UPS's that were supposed to be protecting everything.
Why? Okay, okay, I've finally got around to the Meat and Potatoes bit. Given that the APC “Smart” UPS's had done such a wonderful job of protecting everything, it didn't seem much point sending them off anywhere for repair and putting them back into service. Also, I needed to get some replacements in ASAP. But the conundrum was why they hadn't protected everything as had been my expectation, so it’s about time to do some research on UPS's.
It turns out there is a little bit of a clue in the three letter acronymn. The “U” stands for “Uninterruptible” not “Clean.” I discover that there are two main types of UPS: the normal Line-Interactive. Everyone makes them, everyone's got one UPS like the APC Smart UPS. Then there’s the “On-line” ones. The major difference is that standard “Smart” UPS's (most of the time) feed a mains supply out to everything plugged into it. In contrast, the on-line versions feed everything from an inverter 100 percent of the time.
But I hear you say (and as I thought) “My APC UPC filters the power, chopping down over voltage, boosting under voltage, and supplying power if the mains fails.” Well the answer in classic 3000-L mode is, “Yes, but it depends.” Now I'm no electrical expert, but I’ve worked up a layman's interpretation.
There’s something in the mix called Dirty Transfers.
Line Interactive UPS's do AVR, Automatic Voltage Regulation. Instead of going to battery during low or high input voltages, this sort of unit will use an Autotransformer to increase or reduce the voltage to a safe operating range without running on the battery. Within their stated tolerances, they can run almost indefinitely doing a number of things.
- AVR Boost, where the UPS is compensating for a low utility voltage;
- AVR Trim, when it is compensating for a high utility voltage.
- If the voltage fluctuates outside a set range, or on some of them if the rate of change of the voltage exceeds a given threshold, then they will Transfer, using the battery power via an inverter. The UPS then monitors the AC supply and when it deems it is back within tolerance it transfers back to the mains supply.
It is this Transfer Time (TT) that can cause some problems. Such as those at our shop.
In the finale: Keeping it clean, and learning you're an HP customer once again.
July 05, 2013
Would You Like Fries With That 3000?
Editor's note: Intrepid veteran developer Alan Yeo of ScreenJet in the UK had a pair of HP 3000s felled recently, despite his sound strategy of using an Uninterrupted Power Supply in his IT mix (or "kit," as it's called in England). In honor of our fireworks-laden weekend here in the US, we offer Yeo's first installment of the rescue of the systems which logic said were UPS-protected. As Yeo said in offering the article, "We're pretty experienced here, and even we learned things through this about UPS." We hope you will as well.
New UPS Sir!
"Would you like fries with that?"
By Alan Yeo
First of a series
"Smart UPS" now has a new meaning to me. "You're going to smart, if you're dumb enough to buy one" I guess this is one of those stories where if you don't laugh you'd cry, so on with the laughs.
By the end of this tale, you should know why your UPS may be a pile of junk that should be thrown in the trash. And what you should replace it with.
A Friday in early June and it was incredibly windy. Apparently we were getting the fag end of a large storm that had traversed the Atlantic after hitting the US the week before. Sort of reverse of the saying "America sneezes, and Europe catches a cold." This time we were getting the last snorts of the storm.
Anyway, with our offices being rurally located, strong winds normally mean that we are going to get a few power problems. The odd power blip and the very occasional outage as trees gently tap the overhead power lines. Always worst in the summer, as the trees are heavily laden with leaf and drooping closer to the lines than they are in the winter, when they come round and check them.
So this situation is not normally something we worry about. We are fairly well-protected (or so we thought) with a number of APC UPS units to keep our servers and comms kit safe from the blips and surges. The UPS units are big enough so that if the power does go out, we can keep running long enough for either the power to come back -- or if we find out from the power company that its likely to be a while, for us to shut down the servers.
We keep all the comms kit, routers, switches, firewalls and so forth on a separate UPS. This UPS will keep them running nearly all day, so that way we still have Internet access, Web, email and more, so can keep functioning, as long as the laptop batteries hold out.The wind picked up during the morning and we had the expected a flick of the lights, and the odd bong, ping, and beep from the computer room as the UPS's responded to the odd voltage fluctuations and the momentary outages. Around 12:30 we had a quick sequence of power blips, followed by a couple of minutes of power gone, at which point the UPS's started bleeping loudly as they took the load. This is normally the trigger for me to wander in there and just do a visual glance at battery levels. I was stood in there as the power came back and was watching as the server's UPS came back normally. Then the comm's UPS flashed all its lights, beeped and went dead!
It's not dead, its just
sleeping after a long squawk!
Humm… First I thought it must be the overload switch, so disconnected all the load, grovelled around behind it and pressed the reset switch. Nothing. So I disconnect from the mains, reset, power it back on, nothing. Check the fuse in the plug, all okay, its still dead. Dig out the APC manual, whose symptoms say "don't use, return to your supplier for service."
At this point the power goes completely for 10 minutes, and as I can see that the server UPS batteries are already half empty (or half-full if you're an optimist). "They must have been taking more of a load during the morning than I thought," I say to myself. I decided it was time for a controlled shutdown of the servers, which I did. Now I was going to have to rejig the power cables, so that we could feed power to the comm's kit (which was now on a dead UPS) from the server's UPS. A couple of minutes of work commenced, to move their supplies to spare outlets on the APC Switched Rack PDU that is fed by the UPS. The PDU is a network-addressable Power Distribution Unit, one that can power up/down individual power outlets, and thus we can remotely shutdown or reset the servers if needs be.
So at this point the power comes back, and I power up the comm's kit, leaving the servers off. Decide I'll go for lunch, let the batteries recharge a bit, and make sure that the power is staying on before I restart the Servers.
Lunch passes, with a glass of Merlot.
Now the power seems to be stable, so it's back to the computer room to bring up just the essential servers. Our main HP 3000 test server. A Windows mailserver, and a Windows file server that also handles our VPN connections (because everyone works remotely now).
I'm in the middle of this when the power goes out again. I look at the PDU which tells me that we are drawing 3 amps (240v * 3 = 720 watts) = about 10 minutes worth on a half-charged 2200VA UPS. Not worth it, so I shut the servers down (but I don't throw their power switches).
At this point the power comes back and stays on for about five minutes. There's me standing there trying to decide what to do, when the power goes off again, and then comes back. At which point the sole remaining UPS goes BANG! It flashes its lights a bit whilst beeping manically, and then goes dead. The room fills with the smell of over-heated insulation, so I pull the UPS power plug.
Okay, "Sod this for a bunch of Soldiers," thinks I. Was going to finish early that day to help some friends set up for a weekend Charity Clay Shoot. "I'll go now and come back later -- when hopefully the wind has died down and the power is back to normal -- and then pick up the pieces."
Back in the datacentre at 8 p.m. and the wind is gone, with power back to normal. Okay, should just have time to get everything working before dinner. Play with the UPS for 10 minutes, but it's dead. So we are going to have to "walk the tight rope without safety harness or net" and run everything direct from the mains.
Not exactly completely unprotected computing, because when we had had the new office wired 18 months ago, we installed surge protection on the mains supply. Its like a couple of cartridges that sit next to the distribution panel that absorb a surge, decaying in the process, until the point they need replacing. They have a status indicator on them telling you if they need changing, but they were showing green, so I thought I'd risk it for a few days, until we could source a new UPS.
Why do these things always hit at a weekend?
Comms come back okay, although I noticed that an old dial up modem was dead that was still hooked up for dire emergency remote access if Internet access failed. Okay, now for the servers: power up the Series 917 and let it start its self test check (which takes ages, and lots of memory); power up the Series 918 (it does its memory tests much quicker); power up the Windows 2008 file server and a Windows mail database server. Plus, an older Windows 2003 server that still ran the SMTP software, which should have been moved to the 2008 server, but hadn't because we had never got around to it.
The HP 3000 918 comes up clean, the Windows 2008 server comes up, the Windows mail database server comes up. But HP 3000 917 is downed with an FLT error, the Windows 2003 Server is looping around boot start-up into Windows launch, then straight back to boot start-up. Wonderful! Sod it, go and have dinner and decide if I'm coming back later.
July 03, 2013
As legacy iron ebbs, virtual servers swell
Business must the good in the HP server replacement industry. Stromays sent its customers and allies a notice the firm is moving into larger headquarters in North Carolina.
Since opening our region in 2008, the Stromasys North Carolina office has experienced great success, thanks to the support of our partners and valued customers. Due to our continued expansion and planned growth, we are moving to a larger office space.
The new address (2840 Plaza Place, Suite 450, Raleigh NC 27612) certainly doesn't need to accomodate more servers built upon HP's PA-RISC or DEC Alpha and VAX designs. Everything Stromasys sells rolls out in virtual software mode, except for the USB keys that contain the official HP 3000 HPSUSAN ID numbers. (CTO Robert Boers told us last year that those keys cost $50 each to create, so they aren't your Fry's Electronics models.)
The company continues to investigate how to get a virtualized 3000, running on Intel hardware, up into the cloud. Even the HP Cloud, which can accept applications running on Linux -- but not HP-UX. The Stromasys virtualized HP 3000 is cradled in Linux, after all.
With a tip of the hat of congratulations to this partner in MPE's future, we also take note of another physical 3000 going offline. But the HP Series 987 (at a customer who wants to remain unnamed) is being replaced with the final model of Hewlett-Packard branded entry-level 3000 iron.A score of MPE-using companies rely on this A-Class server, as they have being using this virtual 3000 host for 20 years from this provider. We once called this virtualized strategy timesharing, and then Apps on Tap. It all means replacing a physical 3000 inside a datacenter with something elsewhere -- or never relying on HP's iron onsite in the first place.
And while one of those companies may migrate to Windows in the near future, it will be a slow process. There's lots of application customization at that site. Corporate overseerers of IT want all of that organization which still relies on MPE to run on the same platform. "Otherwise they'd be happy," said a manager.
That MPE computing has been a part of this manager's life since 1984. "It’s such a workhorse! Some companies that have gone to Windows-based systems talk about performance issues." For those who haven't made the move, perhaps they sleep better at night, like those OpenVMS customers have been -- the ones which HP is cutting loose by the end of this decade.
July 01, 2013
Will MPE spell its end date in 2028?
We've covered this topic about a year ago on our blog, complete with a thorough examination from VEsoft's Vladimir Volokh. But a couple of recent reports about the future of MPE deserve some air time. The premise has always been that the calendar handling of the 3000's OS will be kaput in about 14 years' time, owing to some 20th Century-style thinking about the CALENDAR intrinsic.
But CALENDAR won't make a 3000 stop working. Jeff Kell, the networking wizard whose employer the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga still has 3000s on the premises, offered this opinion.
Another manager checked in to tell us his system won't get to experience the new two-digit power of a 2028 edition of the virtualized HP 3000 -- certainly driven by a CHARON virtualized 3000 at that point.
Well, by 2027, we may be used to 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?)
Our major Y2K-issue was dealing with a "semester" which was YY01 for fall, yy02 for spring, etc. We converted that over to go from 9901 (Fall 1999) to A001 (Fall 2000) so we're good for another 259 years on that part :) Real calendar dates used 4-digit years (32-bit integers yyyymmdd).
Entitled "Schlegel's HP3000 end of life," the message was delivered by Tom Ruganis, MIS Manager Emeritus.
I have been an HP user/manager for 37 years at Schlegel in Rochester, New York, starting on a Series II. We are now running a single 968RX, down from a network of six 3000s. For the last 20 years, we have run a mix of MANMAN and in-house Sales/Order Entry with a lot of local “enhancements.”
Our plans are to replace this with Enterprise IQ from IQMS, running on a Windows-based server, based in South Dakota. Hopefully this will occur soon, as I will be retiring as of this Friday (7/5/13).
In the meantime, I will be providing contract support.
It will be a sad day when we finally pull the plug.
June 27, 2013
Backing up proves an emulator just works
Proving the concept of emulation for MPE operations is becoming popular this year. To offer evidence, longtime managers of 3000 servers check out the mundane as well as the specific tasks that drive their companies. Backup is a backbone of real IT -- and one evaluator shared his pleasure in watching the Stromasys CHARON HPA/3000 product improve on such an essential mission.
The process is somewhat different than on a physical HP 3000. First off, you can do backups while people are still on the 3000, if you have backup software to support that. When you configure the emulator, you specify a virtual tape drive, similar to the way you specify the virtual disc drives, with each virtual device pointing to a file in the Linux environment. Then, when you run MPE's STORE command, CHARON puts the data in the file associated with that virtual tape drive. When the backup is done, you can copy that file (using standard Linux commands) to some other backup media for archival.
One very nice thing I found is that CHARON doesn't ever run out of 'tape' on a backup. It just keeps growing the file as needed. When I configured our emulator environment, I configured the tape drive at 8GB, thinking that would be enough. However, when I finished the software install and had copied our test data, I had about 10GB worth. When I did the full system store, Charon successfully backed up everything and expanded the virtual tape drive size to be 10GB.
Later, when I did just a SYSGEN to the virtual tape drive, the file was only 5GB. No more having to worry about what tape density you're using -- and no more getting the 'please insert next tape' message on a backup.
Backup is just the latest example of "it just works," the motto that the emulator prospects come away with once they're done with a proof of concept. A serious number of them will be using the product to extend the life of MPE applications that are destined for replacement. Until that day, everything has to be backed up. Of course, the real test of any backup process is to restore your data.
To do an MPE restore, you find the Linux file that corresponds to the backup tape you desire, copy it back to the emulator directory (using the appropriate Linux commands), name it the same as the virtual tape drive you configured in Charon, and do an MPE restore. Charon reads the file as if it were a backup tape and finds the appropriate MPE file to restore. It works the same way for SYSGens, except that it creates a bootable image that you can boot from later.
At this stage, everything works as expected with CHARON and its backups. "You don't need to 'pre-build' the tape file before a STORE," says product manager Paul Taffel. "CHARON rewrites any pre-existing file before starting a Store, and the file will then grow as large as needed. The :DEVCTRL command must be used to put a virtual tape online before any STORE or RESTORE operation."
The 3000 manager who was proving the emulator concept was satisfied. But it will be later in the year before the emulator takes over the 3000 hardware's work.
"All in all, we were pleased with what we saw," he said. "But when an internal project needed more resources, I was pulled off all of the other projects I was working on, including the CHARON testing, to devote 90 percent of my time to this other project. We were almost ready to begin the procurement process, once I had verified that PowerHouse Web worked. I hope to resume testing when my current project is finished."
June 25, 2013
Hiring developers who are old is new again
Migration is the same as legacy modernization when it comes to its end result. That's change, even if the applications in the 3000 world still look and act just as they did on an HP 3000. Migration sounds more drastic because it describes the transition of apps from one platform to another. Modernization -- especially in the hands of services companies -- takes smaller steps but still wants to shift operations toward something more popular, current, and easier to hire for.
However, that ease can become a disappointment if the only goal is to hire newer and younger programmers who work cheaper. A recent study showed that the old programmer is not only a better value, but now in shorter supply.
Bruce Hobbs, a veteran 3000 developer, pointed out the article in IT World which said, "Like a fine wine, programmers get better with age."
Researchers from the computer science department at North Carolina State University have released a study in which they examined whether programming knowledge gets better with age. Specifically, they used data on over 84,000 members of the Stack Overflow website community: the questions they ask and answer in that forum, and the site reputations for each user as proxies for the general population of programmers and their level of programming knowledge.
Does age have a positive effect on programming knowledge?
Do older programmers possess a wider variety of technologies and skills?
To what degree do older programmers learn new technologies?
3000 managers who are planning for the future know it's not easy to find a senior programmer. "I'll be looking for a couple of experienced HP 3000 MPE resources very soon," said one IT director recently, "and I know they won't be easy to find. Been there and done that."
At the Stack Overflow site, younger programmers demonstrated a shorter range of knowledge, asked and answered questions about a narrower set of topics, and even scored lower than programmers in their 30s about nouveau topics such as iOS and Windows Phone 7.
Based on all this, one can conclude that as programmers get older, they get better; they know more about more programming topics, and they learn new technologies just as well if not better, than their younger counterparts. Take that, whippersnappers!
This is a development, so to speak, that runs counter to one of the driving mantras of migration and modernization: older technical choices, and the human resources that understand them, are more costly, because these programmers are harder to find. As it turns out, the value in a programmer is correlated with knowledge rather than age. But the gurus at places like Gartner are delivering a different message.In a briefing on how IT changed after the economic downturn of 2008, VP Dale Vecchio advised IT managers to control costs by looking at a calendar of birthdays.
Organizations are dependent on an aging workforce to deliver their applications. It’s become one of the single biggest drivers we’ve seen. We recommend that you ask HR to provide a chart of retirement dates for specific job titles.Tell them, ”I don’t care who the person is; just let me understand when these retirements are likely to occur." It’s about managing this skills challenge, managing the retirements of Baby Boomers.
Understand, Vecchio isn't crazy enough to presume that the technologies running modern business -- tech that's anything but nouveau -- should be replaced. No, COBOL will always lead business tech choices, it seems, at least in enteprise settings. But local schools should be enouraged to train young programmers in these elder skills.
We believe organizations must engage with the secondary education institutions, to help support these declining skills where necessary. You need to tell those institutions, “If you train ‘em, we’ll hire ‘em.”
It might be easier to hire younger IT pros, but that won't make them as productive or as experienced as the older programmer who's becoming harder to find. All programmers seem to become elusive after 50, not just those schooled in MPE skills. Vecchio suggested that the solution is to procure for the younger programmer a better development toolkit. "There are development environments to help improve the productivity of your existing workforce — to help you manage more change with potentially fewer people as they inevitably retire."
But the applications are not retiring soon enough to make a difference. Even HP-branded 3000 hardware is being purchased to keep the apps running. At one marketing company in the Northeast, "we are moving to an HP 3000 N4000-400-750 box, which is being built with a XP12000 disk array subsystem. Our backup HP 3000 will be the N4000-400-500 with a XP12000 disk array subsytem -- which is our current production machine."
The applications in place on systems which are modernization targets are best understood by older programmers. Not because they were on hand to document the building of the apps. The wisdom of interviewing users and developing to needs is difficult to replicate without the years of experience. If you see an older programmer available, sieze on the chance to employ them. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the median age of a programmer at about 42 years old.wrote the articles for IT World, sums it up thusly: "Just because a guy finds himself getting up more in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom doesn’t mean he can’t still knock out a killer iPhone app for you. He just made need to take a few naps along the way."
June 19, 2013
Operations and applications get watched and tracked in emulation efforts
While explaining what a virtualized 3000 does with its MPE bootup volume disk image, questions come to mind. A systems manager will be asking about the following, since they're probably unfamiliar with tapping an MPE system instance which is part of a Linux environment. Here's a set of queries from a prospect who was working though proof of concept this spring. He is preparing to use the Charon emulator as a migration stopgap.
How do we do backups and restores with the emulator? Its architecture is that each HP 3000 LDEV is a separate Linux file, so identifying where MPE files are for backup and restore looks more difficult. For example, I have configured an 18-GB virtual disk drive as LDEV 32, so in the Linux directory where the emulator resides is an 18-gig file named 'LDEV32.DSK'. All of the MPE files stored on LDEV 32 are in that file. If I need to restore a file to pub.admin (one of our production accounts), how do I identify which Linux backup it is on, and how do I then mount that virtual disk to do an MPE restore?
This is an HP 3000 administrator with some applications which have already been moved to other host environments. Not a pro who's unfamiliar with Unix or Linux. He allows that there are "lots of questions that I'll have to work through, operationally." It's such operational questions that define the legend of building a datacenter around a general-purpose computer like the HP 3000 -- one designed to operate as if it had to be reliable enough to be installed in a satellite.
Applications, languages and utilities are coming on board in such emulated environments for the 3000. Some of these vendors must be contacted directly by the customer. For example, Nobix's Transpooler that manages jobstream operations will be part of one manager's emulation configuration. Could that manager do without the Nobix software?
The answer is "probably not." They are jobstream related -- scheduling, after execution error examination, and so forth. The CSL Sleeper utility [from Boeing] can handle some of the scheduling, but it's not as flexible as the Nobix Transpooler product. Also,the product is better at sending spoolfiles to printers than plain MPE.
The ability to re-send spoolfiles, delete them and otherwise manage them, without the use of MPE spooler commands, is very useful to us. We would probably not be able to go forward without it -- at least not without dedicating a lot more resources (personnel and time) toward developing a workaround.
Stromasys is promoting the idea that companies like Nobix would rather transfer a license and keep a support contract than see a customer disappear. This is all up to the emulator customer to arrange. But the truth of it is, some vendors might believe they are certain to be part of an emulator setup, and they might hold out for an upgrade fee. People suspect Cognos will be in this group, but the reports from customers are surprising. Cognos/IBM has made a tidy living doing that sort of re-license over the last 20 years. Powerhouse for MPE is on "Vintage Support" by now, but the real money is in a license upgrade fee.
"They have been very gracious in this," one manager said. "As of PowerHouse 8.49F, IBM removed licensing requirements on the MPE version of the product."
Unfortunately, we allowed our PowerHouse license to lapse when we were on PowerHouse 8.49E, so we missed that feature. We let it lapse to save on the annual maintenance fee, which for the N-4000 box with unlimited users was several thousand dollars annually. For testing, IBM gave us a 'universal' license, which will work on any HP 3000 box. I haven't asked, yet, if there will be a charge when we purchase the emulator.
Our optimism has mostly to do with the way Stromasys has implemented the emulation. It's an elegant solution because they've emulated the HPPA chip in software, so MPE thinks it's running on regular HP 3000 hardware. I am very impressed with that. It behaves just like a physical HP 3000, in terms of booting and system management. All of the tools are there and work: sysgen, ioconfig, nmmgr, and more. I was able pretty much to have the emulator in a Reflection window side-by-side with our HP 3000, so that I could make sure nmmgr values were similar for network config.
June 18, 2013
How infrastructure survives heated times
Over the past 24 hours I feel like I've been living the work life of a 3000 IT manager. We've had telecomm outages here, the kind that can mean lost business if it were not for backup strategies. Unlike the best of you, we don't have a formal plan to pass along in a disaster. Today's not really a disaster, unless you count the after-hours pleasure we hope to savor from Spurs basketball.
In a lock-down IT design, writing captures what to do when a telecomm service winks out dark. Our broadband provider is ATT, with an 800-number repair line to call. We poked at that twice today for one of our landlines, now without a dial tone since yesterday afternoon. There's a different repair number for the Uverse Internet service -- and also the world of IP everything else, since our downed data line means not only no fast Web, but no San Antonio Spurs NBA Finals basketball in about 2 hours or so.
Consolidation to a single provider promises savings, but also a single point of failure. Coordinating service between two arms of the same company? Well, that's not an automatic thing anymore. Meanwhile, the cloud-based IT promised by HP and others just pulls all of this recovery farther away from your affected IT shop.
About 10 days ago, MB Foster gave a thorough primer on the issues any company faces in keeping its disaster recovery process up to date. There's old tech (phone trees to spread the word on outages) as well as new elements like measuring the Mean Time To Recovery of Operations. MRRTO can help you decide where to put the effort first in a downtime event. Foster can help you ready for the calamity with a thorough inventory of what's running, something that CEO Birket Foster says too many companies just don't have up to date.
"You look at the different processes in your company and figure what's critical to keeping the business alive," Foster said in a June 5 Wednesday Webinar. "It comes down to understanding if there's a cluster of applications which work together, so you have to bring them all up together at the same time," he said. A DR plan must identify key users -- old tech, like keeping up to date with user cell phone numbers, so they can be notified.
"Hardware is usually not the problem here," Foster said. "That said, there was a vendor in the HP 3000 community who had a board go bad on their 3000. It took them 13 days to get the other board in and back up, and then into recovery. It was mostly about sourcing the right part. They didn't have good connections in that area." Then there was also the matter of getting competent resources to install the board.
Tomorrow MB Foster offers another Webinar, since it's a Wednesday. Gods of Data Quality examines Master Data Management (register for free), the MDM that "ensures your company does not use multiple – or potentially inconsistent - versions of data in different parts of its operations; understanding the concept of 'one version of the truth.' "
Each one of these Webinars gives me plenty to think about and try to plan for.We're feeling some pain today in our little micro-sized shop, but it hasn't cost us business up to now. We're done what Foster advises: knowing what is running in your system lineup through an inventory. but that knowledge is in my head today, and if I swerved to avoid a texting driver and got myself the ER, my partner or a backupn helper wouldn't know how to deliver this news story to you, even if I'd written it in advance. What do you do when your broadband pipe goes down and stays down for awhile?
"This is a business problem, not an IT problem," Foster explained. The trenches-level repairs are on the IT lines, but the stakes are up at the boardroom level and in the finance officer's purview. That increases the pressure on IT, especially if the economies of curtailing support have been demanded from the CIO or CEO. In a personal example, just last week I toted up savings of dropping a hot-spot wireless feature on my mobile phone account. It's there when Wi-Fi can't do the job. It seemed costly at $25 monthly on a micro-business budget. Hot-spot I'd only used outside our offices on travel could be cut out, right? To pay more more crucial IT services, like website renovations. There's always something.
Except that for the last 24 hours, that hotspot off an iPhone 4GS has kept the Newswire's email and Web blog services online, right here in our offices. (It's not effective to have to go to a coffee shop to do secure Web work, but it's better than nothing.) Have you been forced to economize, debating over dropping a service contract or support agreement you rarely use? Or been told to drop? The finesse is in keeping these DR lifelines intact, ready for the day of disaster. The more you know in a formal plan, the more professional your respose looks to the executives in charge.ATT brings everything into our offices now. 25 percent of our email, and all through their lines. 100 percent of the bandwidth for everything on a wire, including the TV. Our landline numbers, the ones which rarely ring anymore in the era of email but always can open our door to new business. 512-331-0075 has been in the public eye so long that a transition to a cell-only number seems unthinkable. We pay for extra support and maintenance on these relics -- our headquarters is smack in the middle of some of the oldest and messiest copper in Northwest Austin.
As I write, the second ATT truck of the afternoon cruises our street. Matt (they all have names you should use) is unsnarling and fixing a network pedestal at the property next door. This hub controls our telecomm and that of a half-dozen other addresses in the area.
I'd call these residential issues -- our office is in the midst of a a stately 40-year-old neighborhood in one of Austin's oldest high tech corridors. But when I register our trouble ticket for the phone llne, ATT says in its recording we are a Major Business Account. I don't question that designation, because it gets us to the head of the line with a human being. Broadband service, sadly, doesn't enjoy this distinction. ATT considers us consumer-grade customers, even as we work with an 18GBit download speed.
Take this checklist and answer honestly to see how much you must do to survive calamity.
- Did you recently cancel support for software still crucial to the business, but now on a "declining" platform of the 3000?
- Is your support provider working within a Service Level Agreement -- so you know how much the "increasing impact of a system costs" after an outage of one hour, or four, or 8 or 12 or a day or a week? What's the pain and cost of each of these downtime periods?
- When you place a support call, how soon to talk with an agent, human being or expert on your system?
- Do you have redundant hardware in place for when a computer does offline -- and is it hot-standby, or not?
Perhaps most importantly, how long has it been since your DR plan has been tested? By a test, I don't mean the last time you needed it to work. Those reports are costly. This is a controlled event that yields a lot of documentation on the success of your DR-MTTRO plans. Foster pointed this out
Here at the Newswire we're light on our docuementation. I could write out for my partner how we recover from calamity internally -- the locations of our backups, the process to restore, the way to transfer a full backup onto reserve hardware. Who we call when we cannot resolve it ourselves. How the telecomm is supposed to work. We have religion to do that today, but you can't just drop that kind of information into the hands of your best sales person, chief muse and dreamer, or even a veteran office manager who's unfamiliar with the fundamentals of problem resolution.
This can happen inside a 3000 shop, one with other environments like Linux and Windows at work. Our partner and friend Alan Yeo had a UPS calamity with his power last month, and it was five days before the affected 3000 went back into service. This is an organization with more than 30 years of 3000 and IT background that presumed a UPS could keep a system online -- instead of permit the server to be fried, while other computers all around escaped that fate.
And so, Alan is preparing an article entitled, "Do you want fries with that?" in his set of cautions. Electricity is about the only essential service that hasn't rolled over on us over the last week. Without it there's the coffee shop, alternative business allies nearby (like our friend Candace's personal coaching service). We called her as a backup to the Spurs game tonight, too -- just before ATT's broadband repair succeeded after six hours of heroic effort.
May 09, 2013
Socializing can lead to contained footprints
Our friend and columnist Scott Hirsh just called to confirm he'll be at tonight's Stromasys HP 3000 Social at the Tied House. I took the walk over there today, because it's just down the street from the Caltrain Station as well as the terminal for the San Jose light rail. Buffalo burger is today's special.
But what's more special is the range of 3000 sites who'd be Charon HPA/3000 prospects, if only they knew how to focus on fitting into a new server paradigm. One site that Scott visited out in Union City, Calif. was discussing available IT datacenter floor space. "How are you fixed for that?" says Scott.
"Well, we've got this big system in the back of the datacenter we have to keep running," the IT manager says, explaining the server keeps significant parts of the company running. Even though Scott is out there in Union City to help the manager with Dell solutions, he's curious about what this box is.
"We're pretty sure it's an old HP 3000," the manager says. Scott's invited him tonight for some beverages and heavy appetizers, but there's been no RSVP yet from Union City. If you're in the area, come by tonight, or tomorrow at the Computer History Museum. You might find a way to free up floor space while you don't have to throw your critical MPE applications overboard.
Hope to see you tonight over a pint. You never know what opportunity might bloom, like those curbside flowers growing out of a beer cask on Villa Street at the Tied House.
May 07, 2013
Emulator's days are not so early after all
"It's early days," say more than a few community vendors about the lifespan of the Charon HPA/3000 emulator. They point to a lack of reference accounts. Some note that no third parties are engaged to teach and train and support the virtualization solution. Even the vendor acknowledges the performance of this 3000-on-Intel magic needs to surpass the power of a 4-way N-Class system.
But it's not early according to Adager's CEO Rene Woc. We tried out the accepted wisdom and found him pushing back on the popular view. It's misguided, by the reports he's getting from customers small, medium and very large. He reached out for a Yogi Berra quote to guide his outlook. "The future ain't what it used to be," Yogi said. That's especially apt when customers are gathering license data for your software, to be used on Charon. Or when they share their intentions, which is to keep MPE software running well into that future. How different it is than it used to be.
These are customers getting information about Adager's license transfer plan. "It's just another MPE machine," Woc reported. "We are treating the emulator just like HP3000 hardware."
As has been well-chronicled by now, there's no technical issues in this complete emulation. "Our customers didn't come across any issues," Woc said. Given the reputation of the Adager labs -- a tight-knit group that uncovered the last, corruptive bug in IMAGE and alerted HP to spark a repair -- "no problems" means Charon runs as expected.
Adager charges a $975 license transfer fee to move software from one HPSUSAN number to another. The software does not cross check with an HPCPUNAME, so moving the HPSUSAN to the emulated server, plus that transfer fee, covers the extent of Adager's operations. This is one vendor that 3000 users don't have to work out a license with. One of many (like Minisoft) who see continuing business coming out of emulated 3000s.
"It's to Stromasys credit they've been able to distribute this news about it," Woc said. "Our customers have made the decision to go ahead with it. It's beyond testing. It's between decision and testing, and then putting it to work. We've gotten very encouraging signals, and not necessarily from hobbyists. From actual companies that are at different stages. People have moved on from testing to ordering their license transfers [from us].
"People have called to order a trial Adager license" as a result of Charon HPA/3000 testing, he added. "At this stage it's taking off. As far as tangible results right now, I think it has a good psychological effect. People feel comfortable knowing that they're not facing a closed future."
Yogi's comment about the future that "ain't what it used to be" was a darkening one in the old days of software and systems. A computer fell out of product lineup, then the vendor ended support. The customers fled and the independent software community curtailed support. Now the future includes many years of 3000 production for these license transferring customers.
And Woc said that customers include some very large corporations, because Adager has always been in shops very large and very small. Robelle is on the Stromasys bandwagon too. These kinds of software products don't make up applications off the shelf. But to be honest, software off the shelf has not been the 3000's specialty for a long time. Ecometry and MANMAN aside, and a few dozen Amisys sites -- the 3000 keeps working on customer-written apps. Only these tool providers, like VEsoft and its MPEX -- need to agree to licenses for Charon. The rest of the solution is code a customer owns because they're built it themselves.
The emulator product "takes the pressure off in the sense that MPE cannot be continued," Woc said. "It will run on the latest and greatest Intel hardware." He added that VMware, part of the solution, "is a fully supported product. From that point of view, I think people feel confident they have an option -- knowing also that the [off the shelf] 3000 applications have very little development. The shops that depended on Ecometry and the like know they will still have an engine to keep running their business."
If the economy fully recovers, some of these emulator sites will move ahead with migrations. "We will see. If they can still handle their business, even after that, they may just stay. If a new business model comes up, like mail order became ecommerce so many years ago. It's so hard to predict." These days are early for some application users. For others, it's a matter of scheduling an emulator product that's a small fraction of the cost of a migration -- both in capital cost as well as the price of disruption of what's not the future, but today.
April 24, 2013
Program for legacy with a legacy dev tool
Good tools don't always survive bad times. When HP pulled its plug from the 3000 dynamo, popular development tools began to slide. One of our favorite COBOL legends and 3000 consultants, Bruce Hobbs, was looking for ways to connect to the legacy community for such a dev tool, Programmer Studio.
"I have a vague recollection that you published something awhile back regarding the demise of Whisper Technology, and the situation for anyone now interested in using the Programmer Studio product," Hobbs said. "Could you please point me in the right direction?"
The genesis of Programmer Studio comes from the days when HP was still buying print ads for the HP 3000 in the general computer industry trade press. Ads that astounded the installed base -- like the one at left -- because they were so rare, and resonated so well with the established consumers. The 3000 had giant corporations using it, something HP had to admit from time to time while it labored to create a business computing market for Unix. Whisper popped up often when we surveyed the legacy developer community in December. This is unsupported software, but it's still in use at the occassional programmer's bench, such as the one that Michael Anderson operates at J3K Solutions.
I was never much for purchasing tools for development. However, since the late '90s onward, I used Programmer Studio from Whisper Technologies as a "character based" editor. In the latter years of working on MPE, the languages I used also included Java, Perl, and SQL.
(In a bit of circular technology, the Robelle programming tool for the HP 3000, Qedit for Windows, also knows a lot about Suprtool -- since Supertool is also a Robelle product.)
"But today I don't use the HP 3000 much any more, nor Windows," Anderson added. "For years Programmer Studio kept me tethered to Windows as my favored editor. Recently I've started using JEDIT on Linux. JEDIT doesn't know how to access the HP3000, so for that I still use Windows along with Programmer Studio."Authors and creators tend to dig in with their tools. Hobbs asked about Programmer Studio because of its reputation, but he understood the software had not survived the HP purge.
But for that matter, that kind of afterlife is where other 3000 software resides today. The developer of the Programmer Studio has moved on to other things, according to the Whisper Technology founder Graham Wooley. In 2009 he said
Unfortunately Whisper Technology is no more. As the developer, Greg Sharp had looked after Whisper and Programmer Studio by himself for the last three years, but he has now moved on to other things and the company has now closed.
The UK's Whisper built and promoted the Programmer Studio PC-based toolset, then sold it as a development environment which understood exchanges with the 3000, but could also be used to create programs under Windows. Robelle responded promptly with a Windows version of Qedit, and for more than five years the 3000 ecosystem had a lively competition for programming tools.
Survival is one of the better measurements of quality, but good technology sometimes has to succumb to business issues and investment strengths. Such was the case for HP's business with the 3000 and MPE. Like Programmer Studio, MPE is no longer supported by its creators. Unlike Programmer Studio, MPE has third party support, as well as an emulation engine being sold this year. These things are markers of survival.
An experienced 3000 developer like Hobbs probably won't care much about support for a programmer's tool. Wooley's company was a lively bed of 3000 ardor in the 1990s. At one point, he placed a bet with Adager's Alfredo Rego. Wooley was so concerned about HP's treatment of the 3000 in 1993 that he wagered with Rego that HP wouldn't advertise the system -- mostly as a prod for HP to do so. Wooley lost his bet, happily, when Hewlett-Packard put ads in both US and European publications for the 3000 at the 11th hour of that year.
An abandoned but beloved product is usually passed along from one user to another, with each exchange marking another step into the public domain. HP's been vigilant about MPE to keep the OS out of this sort of drift. People admire it in the same way that Programmer Studio advocates praise that product.
The difference is that you'll still be able to buy support for MPE from independent professionals, some of whom have a source code license for the software. Adager is on that source code holder list. So are the indie support firms Pivital Solutions, Allegro Consultants, Beechglen Development and Terix. They are all eating their Wheaties, surviving into our new era.
April 19, 2013
Where Everybody Knows Your CPUNAME
The iconic TV show Cheers splashed a theme song about the fictional Boston tavern every Thursday, way back in the 1980s. It was a drinking outpost "where everybody knows your name, and they're all so glad you came." If attendance works out well for Stromasys at its HP 3000 Social -- four weeks away -- they're likely to have the same sort of turnout. The Tied House will be a place where everybody knows your name because so many will be familiar to each other. That's what more than three decades of community gives you.
This week the blue and white postcards arrived in mailboxes announcing the combination of Social and Training May 9-10. We found one in our mailbox, but word of the event is spreading beyond the reach of the US post. Vladimir Volokh of VEsoft called to report he'll be at the Tied House. Neil Armstrong, developer and curator of Suprtool, has also been tracking the event closely.
These VIPs of your community will be joined by people experienced in 3000 matters who seek a way around aging HP hardware for MPE. And there will be some stopping by to see the names that they know and meet new ones with something in common. Everybody there will be listening for news about licensing. Right now this is a rare brew that prospects are thirsting for if they want to emulate a production machine.That postcard doesn't share much of the agenda for the meeting, some details of which are revealed at the Stromasys RSVP webpage. (The whole thing is free, by the way, right down to the heavy appetizers where everybody knows your name.) More to the point, it doesn't reveal the strategy that will drive your feet to that bar where everybody will know your name. Your interest in the emulator is assumed. Knowledge and experience and boasting and whining, laced with humor, were always the prime reasons for attending an HP 3000 user group event. In the absence of a user group, this kind of gathering will have to provide those usual incentives. Expect a lot of "we migrated awhile ago, and here's how it went" along with "we don't want to, and here's the license and support issues we need to solve."
The technology is not an issue. The training on May 10 will prove that to anyone who hasn't seen a demo yet, and the take-home freeware A202 version will give attendees an easy way to do a proof of concept.
Will the system administrator who's moving away from Powerhouse -- slower than expected -- be at Tied House, or the Computer History Museum the next day? Stromsays is keeping track of the RSVPs. Such an attendee would be interested in how the licensing is going with IBM, the keepers of the Cognos products. Powerhouse users have recent memories about investigations about their licenses, with demands for upgrade fees.
We've begun the effort to get Charlie Maloney of IBM, formerly of Cognos, to tell us anything about licensing Powerhouse for the emulator. No comment yet, after about a week of attempts. But Charlie is busy being the Software Sales Representative at IBM Software Group, Information Management, so he might need repeated attempts. I'll keep trying.
I anticipate that if the Tied House and CHM are filled with more than tire-kickers who want to talk about an emulator in demonstration, they'll get down to license discussions. An IT analyst up at a higher education institution said if license fees to move to the emulator match the annual HP 3000 hardware maintenance contract, it's a deal-breaker.
The issue that would destroy the cost-neutrality concept would be software licensing fees. To save costs during our migration to the ERP software, we let software maintenance lapse on all of the utilities that were permanently licensed -- that is, all of those that would continue to run without a refreshed license key each year.
It almost sounds like utility vendors on that system haven't earned a dime during the migration. Taking those utilities onto the emulator, sans support, is only even remotely possible if the emulator is stopgap on the way to a migration. We'll leave it to the reader to judge if its fair.
Migrating customers will look at these license vs. support tradeoffs and see the challenge of staying with MPE. They've made the decision to stay with hardware that demands a support contract of significant investment, but at least their software licenses have no surprises. It doesn't mean the software is anything close to free, since the 15-20 percent application support fees are in place. All that IBM, nee Cognos, will charge for its 8.49F Powerhouse is Vintage Support.
The tough part for that analyst is that his Powerhouse license is 8.49E, not F. The F version had all of its platform-upgrade fees removed, we learned. The way from 8.49E to F is as uncharted to me as Maloney's reply.
There's always the possibility that customers who know each other's name could get together to arrange a group negotiation with such upgrade-fee vendors. Stromasys won't do this officially; it's up to the emulator customers. As for those utility support dollars, they ought to be going to the vendors if those utilities are key to keeping a production system online. That's the 3000/MPE tradition: guaranteed uptime.
We hope it's a rich brew of license and support insights at Tied House, blended with the eye-opener of the training that includes a Linux cradle for the emulator the day after.
April 02, 2013
CAMUS schedules Spring webinar for April
The ERP and manufacturing user group CAMUS will host its every-springtime user group event on April 17, including discussion about the future of MANMAN led by community advocate and 3000 veteran Terry Floyd of the Support Group.
Terri Glendon Lanza, the founder of the Ask Terri ERP and manufacturing consultancy, has announced the call-in and PowerPoint meeting, which will begin at 10:30 Central US time. After an hour of talk and questions about the upcoming years for one of the oldest MPE applications -- still running in several hundred companies -- 3000 homesteading advice starts at 11:45.
Steve Suraci, owner of support and systems provider Pivital Solutions, talks first about Resources for Homesteading. Tom Bollenbeck of Ideal Computer follows up, on the same topic, at 12:05.
The user group's traditional and lively Talk Soup puts a signature on the meeting, which is free. An open discussion is scheduled to start at 12:25. You sign up at the Sign Up Genius website.
Up for discussion: MANMAN Modifications, and a possible CAMUS give-away. "Help us outline contents, actions, or a submission list for modifications with financial assistance from CAMUS," Lanza said in her April 2 announcement. "We could talk about the emulator during the open discussion if you want. Everyone is welcome."
Details for the webinar phone-in and log-on will be emailed to registrants prior to the meeting. You can send questions to Lanza at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call her at 630.212.4314.
CAMUS is also prepared to help support a springtime in-person 3000 Social and Stromasys Training event. This is allegedly being held in May, but we're waiting on final confirmation from Stromasys. Once again, the Bay Area's Computer History Museum in Mountain View has been proposed as the setting.
"CAMUS would consider helping sponsor events whenever it may happen, spring or fall," Lanza said. The user group was one of the sponsors the HP3000 Reunion, held at the Museum in September, 2011.
March 29, 2013
Hope floats today for a 3000 resurrection
As a former Catholic altar boy, I learned a lot about resurrection during Springs in the 1960s. But the headline above isn't early April Fool's blasphemy. Some 3000 users -- more than a dozen, like disciples -- believe that an emulator in their market is a reason to believe in the server's revival.
They're somewhat correct, but how accurate is a revival of MPE/iX, versus the hardware to host it? Stromasys has accomplished the latter miracle with Charon HPA/3000. Servers as common as bottled water are running MPE/iX today, in production environments or proving the concept that PA-RISC systems have come back from a state of doom. Some are even succeeding with untested chips from AMD, somehow, rather than the approved Intel processors.
We've just approved a comment here on our blog that invests the emulator with these regenerative powers. HP would need a revival of its spirit to start to sell proprietary servers again, but at least there's powerful spirit among a few customers. None of them are paying HP any longer for the 3000. We'll get to that in a minute, and how it affects the salvation of critical MPE/iX applications. But to that prayer:
I say that with the advent of Stromasys and the interest from application developers who wrote for the HP 3000, there is now the opportunity for the community to form a company to begin marketing MPE/iX. The world is ready for a stable, secure, alternative to the out-of-control Linuxes and the costly well-known operating systems.
This manager doesn't want his name or company mentioned, but I assure you he's real and in charge of several HP 3000s. Third parties provide MPE and 3000 support at his site, and he runs HP's final low-end model of 3000, an A-Class. Although this is the season of miracles for hundreds of millions, marketing MPE/iX would demand a change of ownership at Hewlett-Packard. To kick-start it, people like our manager above would have to become customers of HP once more. The company took a conservative view of "customer" and "owner" five years ago this month. Nothing's changed there yet.
The issue of enabling Intel hardware to host MPE/iX is settled. Over and over, we've heard that the emulator runs the 3000's OS just as well as HP-built iron, the boxes HP stopped building nearly 10 years ago. The big rock to roll back is the status of software ownership. Many of the largest software companies take a dim view of operating their programs on fresh hardware. At least without any notice of the shift in platform.
Some companies -- and the 3000 veterans know who they are -- want a license fee upgrade if there's significant performance boosts on the new platform. The change that triggers this is the HPCPUNAME. Unless it still reports "Series 929" or somesuch, this emulated installation is a newer 3000.
Other software vendors are simply delighted their products will continue to work at customer sites. A customer site, however, is often defined as a company which pays a regular fee to maintain a relationship with the vendor. There's a lot of dropped-support software running out in your community. Vendors always have to live with this. Now there's a new wrinkle with the change of platform.
"If I was a paying customer of a software vendor, I'd keep quiet about using the emulator," one vendor said. He added that he's got no problems with his own customers using Charon. Any company prohibiting a switch "would be stupid, because you'd be losing revenue."
Earlier this week, however, I heard a statement that's true. "There's no application company yet which has approved a license for running software on the emulator." There's one story of Cognos permitting Quiz to run on a production emulator at an Australian insurance corporation. Warren Dawson, who plunged into the emulation pool, got it arranged by his Cognos reseller. Who's dealing with IBM these days, since Big Blue bought Cognos long ago.
IT managers can be lured into beliefs that run afoul of the computer vendor's catechism, however. Some managers believe they own their software once it's abandoned by the vendor. HP made its case that MPE/iX will always belong to HP, and always did, even while people were buying support from HP in 2008.
At a user meeting that year, the business manager of 3000 operations at HP Jennie Hou made HP's position clear.
Hou confirmed the clear intention that HP will cede nothing but "rights" to the community after HP exits the 3000 business."The publisher or copyright owner still owns the software," Hou said when license requirements beyond 2010 were discussed. "You didn't purchase MPE/iX. You purchased a right to use it."
Several years ago, a European Union judge gave an advisory on a case about PC software. The judge said if a company walks away from a product, anybody has any right they'd like to use it in any way. There's a lot of defining to do to arrive at "walks away." It was only one judge. But things are changing very quickly in the world of intellectual property.
To see the cross that such hopeful disciples bear, look at what I wrote five years ago, after hearing HP's statement and seeing the slide below.
We were writing about independent support and source code -- which at the time wasn't released. Now MPE/iX source is in the hands of seven companies. One recently reported they'd used their source to create workarounds for support customers -- just the limit HP hoped for the use of its MPE/iX source.
I wrote in 2008
It's a mystery how HP can give any significant use of MPE/iX to third parties in the years after the vendor won't offer services for the 3000 community. A third party owns nothing under these rules, but should build a business model and employ experts on this basis? Risky business, that.
A third party will just have to hope to rely on access to MPE/iX source. And nothing else but hope. In any contract no better than a typical customer's, a support firm would own nothing but that Right To Use what HP owns. Support for the third party support supplier for MPE/iX from HP? Shut down, by 2010. Support suppliers could consider that deal a sketchy foundation to build a business upon.
The 3000 community can only hope that's not HP's intention for support providers: To make any alternative support for the 3000 community remain sketchy. HP retains its ownership, but the intention of this 2005 announcement was to "help partners" do support business. Here's that HP 2005 statement, as a reminder of Hewlett-Packard's intentions.
"When HP no longer offers services to address basic support needs of e3000 customers, HP intends to offer to license HP e3000 MPE/iX source code to one or more third parties — if partner interest exists at that time — to help partners meet the basic support needs of the remaining e3000 customers and partners."
You generate partner interest with customer purchases, now that HP's made hardware emulation legal. Then you step out of the way and let licenses evolve. For the disciples, the back half of that resurrection is a revelation they must arrange on their own.
March 25, 2013
Searching for help in all the right places
Today a long-time 3000 site in the candy business called to find out if anybody was available to help with a little contract work. Maybe about two or three years' worth, because that's how long it would take this 3000 stalwart to pull out of their existing 3000 applications.
They've already pulled out of some. Oracle Financials now takes the place of an MPE/iX app, for example. But while Oracle is more popular with the market's experts, the in-house software that it replaced performed better.
The search for 3000 expertise led us to recommend a couple of favorite webpages. The OpenMPE contractor-consultant page has added new consultants in the last few weeks. Over at LinkedIn, the HP 3000 Community is fast approaching 600 members. And while LinkedIn would like the employer prospects such as our candy company -- and its Call Center, Order Entry, Order Fulfillment and Sales Audit apps, all running on N-Class servers -- to pay $295 to list a job opening, it's not needed. You can start a discussion in several places for free about an available job.
Three months ago we dipped our line in the water to attract two dozen applicants with 3000 experience in just under 36 hours, using the redoubtable 3000-L mailing list. We heard from long-time consultants, independent contractors, and even 3000 pros who thought their current company's use of MPE/iX looked a little shaky.
LinkedIn will take on any discussion in the 3000 Community group, regardless of whether it mentions jobs or not. It's hard to describe how many of the nearly 600 are available for work there, but it's not a miniscule percentage.
There's also an HP 3000 Jobs subgroup, which is part of Bill & Dave's Excellent Machine out on LinkedIn. Apply for the Bill and Dave's membership (it's free) and the Jobs subgroup is open to your offering and your seeking, too. Bill and Dave's is another 780 members big, and it's got lots of retired HP 3000 expertise in there. You never know who will want to take on an outside contract, after leaving the good ship HP.
March 20, 2013
Emulator connects to terminals, POC efforts
What was restarted as a pilot project more than four years ago at Stromasys is now a full-fledged product. The CHARON-HPA/3000 operations inside Stromasys are receiving continued investment, according to company officials. The emulator is a proof of concept project at several companies who've contacted us, but it's a full-fledged software solution at the vendor which created it.
The software's starting to caper through springtime on laptops and low-cost desktops across North America and elsewhere. One manager who briefed us about the POC work at his site said he put up the A-202 Freeware edition on an HP desktop with an i3 Core Intel chip. The desktop came off eBay with a $150 price tag. The demonstration yielded "a sigh of relief I could hear across the room." Top IT managers are happy to see a way for MPE applications to run onward into the future, independent of HP-built servers.
Installing the emulator software and setting it into service requires an ability to know how to put an IP address into a terminal emulator, in order to connect over a network. Any A-202 freeware users who have limited networking skills are presenting special support needs to Stromasys. The company says it's working in a couple of directions to find a method to help such users in a cost-effective manner.
Stromasys has two versions of the HPA/3000 documentation, one for the A202 Freeware Edition and one for the Demo-to-Production Edition. The company is restructuring these documents to turn them into User Guides, an upgrade from the comprehensive collection of notes available at the moment. Fortunately there are very few issues that only concern Freeware users, so having to spend time supporting freeware users — with advice and instruction that doesn't benefit the vast majority of its customers and prospects — has not been an issue.
Product manager Paul Taffel is at the nexus of this springtime growth. "The momentum is certainly building," he said, "and it really is fulfilling to talk to users who had no hope of finding a solution like CHARON, and to be able to show them such a high-quality product."
The HPA/3000 edition of CHARON will have a fresh release this spring, "and we have also started working on some major enhancements to improve our high-end performance."
Every 3000 manager uses either physical terminals, or a terminal emulators running on a PC (or very rarely on a Mac) to connect to their HP 3000. "This doesn't mean that they're running old-fashioned applications," Taffel said. "It's still the way that everyone who uses an HP3000 connects users to it."
Some sites may use fancy network connections to allow users running PC-based programs to access information stored on the HP 3000, without using a terminal emulator. But pretty much everyone uses software like Reflection or Javelin to open up a terminal emulator window when then need to log on to the system to issue commands or start up programs.
There are very few users still using serially-connected physical terminals (which require a DTC to connect to an HP 3000). Almost everyone who is using Reflection, for example, uses it to connect to their HP 3000 over a local network.
Contrary to our earlier reports, Stromasys believes the HPA/3000 will work with DTCs, although it hopes an enterprising user to try to hook one up and report their findings. And while Alan Yeo has reported that CHARON won't work with DDS tape drives, Stromasys says that's not true.
"My home test system — that $1,300 one — has a DDS-3 drive built in," said Taffel. "Warren Dawson (our first user) built his test system with a tape drive, but then decided against building one into his production system."
VMware can demand some close management in a few cases. When the CHARON Freeware Edition is run inside VMware on a laptop, users normally connect to the virtual HP 3000 machine by running Reflection on the same laptop. Despite the fact that Reflection and CHARON are running on the same physical PC, you connect them to each other using the network. If your laptop is plugged into a wired-network, Windows is provided with an IP address on the network -- and you must configure your virtual HP 3000 to have an address on the same network. When you do this, Reflection can talk to CHARON with no problem.
In VMware, things get much more complicated if your laptop is connected to a network using a wireless adapter. Stromasys has solved the problem of connecting Reflection to CHARON using a laptop connected to a wireless network.
If that laptop isn't connected to any network (wired or wireless), then connecting Reflection to CHARON requires yet another solution. This configuration is also being documented as part of the User Guide.
Freeware users of HPA/3000 are providing opportunities to solve problems such as wireless access points from inside VMware, and document it for the greater good of the 3000 community. Freeware users expect support for their experiments with emulation.
March 07, 2013
Enterprise Failure: Selling to the Consumer
COBOL expert and 3000 veteran Bruce Hobbs shared a story with me this week about selling straight to a product's users. That's the way HP 3000s moved into tens of thousands of companies during the 1980s. Back in those simpler sales days IT directors -- we called 'em DP managers in the day -- did the selecting and purchasing of corporate computer assets.
The sale happened in the office of the head computer honcho. This person was the consumer, if you will, of the product being offered. More than anything, they wanted something that would work and be a joy to use. (Joy being a relative term, considering it was the 1980s and ENQ/ACK was still a big part of what we called datacomm. Not networking, which was an even deeper black art.)
The story Mr. Hobbs shared was from the world of Apple, where a blogger took note of Why Nobody Can Copy Apple. In summary, Apple wants to sell directly to the user of its computing solutions. The mobile arm of this vendor now has a large footprint in corporations because of this. People are Bringing their Own Devices to the office. It's enough of a phenomenon to trigger a recent webinar on the topic from MB Foster.
However, current enterprise computing sales -- the kind that displaced the 3000 -- take place in an office outside of DP Departments (as we used to call them in the '80s). Corporate Purchasing began to buy systems, or the perhaps the selection happened in the Office of CFO. These officers were accountable to the cost of what they purchased, more so than how reliable or flexible or value-driven systems behaved. This is what put Intel PCs and Windows onto so many desks, long after the users curtailed all manner of love for these affordable choices.
This is the kind of technology selection that's gotten developers and IT administrators removed from decisions. Now IT must present its applications as a portfolio of assets, just to win a place at the boardroom table. No vendor cares less about enterprise-driven sales than Apple. And yet somehow the company has made itself a permanent resident in the plans of corporate IT. BYOD proves that consumer sales work.
You don't talk for long about Apple's culture without invoking Steve Jobs these days. It's a lot like the Bill and Dave stories that once cradled any Hewlett-Packard business computing discussions. Jobs had this to say about selling directly to the user of any computing device.
What I love about the consumer market, that I always hated about the enterprise market, is that we come up with a product, we try to tell everybody about it, and every person votes for themselves. They go ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ and if enough of them say ‘yes,’ we get to come to work tomorrow. That’s how it works. It’s really simple.
With the enterprise market, it’s not so simple. The people that use the products don’t decide for themselves, and the people that make those decisions sometimes are confused.
We all have sad memories of 3000-using companies who were hounded away from MPE by confused corporate purchasing departments. In the realm of the most price-driven organization, government, coming in just 8 percent lower in a bidding contest will earn a sale of something less worthy.
So the 3000 can sometimes earn its owner -- the technologist who still tends to it -- unfair emnity. "Our HP 3000 lives on here, to the immense annoyance of all those who do not understand and love it," said one DP Manager who talked to us on background. "I am personally hated because of my association with it, and viewed hereabouts as a dumb cluck with a degree in useless knowledge."
But corporations don't make products great. Consumers do that, especially when they recognize what they need and delight in getting it. Even when it's different, like Apple or the HP 3000. It doesn't take long to get to the passion then, those moments where the consumer uses the word love on an inanimate object.
March 06, 2013
Emulator earns exam for test databases
An HP 3000 manager is exploring the option of using the Stromasys emulator to host archived test databases as well as an inventory of vehicles and parts. If Stromasys could supply its software, the system could emulate an A500 server installed recently to replace a vintage Series 996.
The 32-year veteran of 3000 programming and management said he'd consider it "a rise in my personal stock if I could go to management and say the emulator could replace TurboIMAGE, VPlus and Pascal programs onto Intel hardware and mass storage.
"If that were true, and we could make it happen for $25,000, we might become a Stromasys customer," he said.
Their app tracks reliability and maintainability of vehicles. Reports have been created using Query and a few dozen customized Pascal programs. One portion of the application is still live: several parts and equipment databases for a warehouse operation. "They still have parts coming in and going out," the manager said.
The HP 3000 is also hosting data that's been static for more than three years. "We're required by regulation to have a way to bring it back online, or keep it there," he said. That 3000 archives hundreds of IMAGE databases that haven't been converted to Oracle.
"There's no new development," he said. "We do not have any COBOL, either,"
However, the situation at the testing center could be tailor-made for the emulator. There are virtually no third-party tools or apps to license, and the application that's online runs off basic HP FOS software, with the exception of those HP Pascal reports. Switching to Intel-based MPE can provide hardware security, so long as software licenses don't get in the way.
He convinced his managers to buy a used A500 HP 3000 several years ago, but the computer requires an ongoing maintenance contract and has had its problems over the last year. It would have been easy to make the case for an emulator while that server was experiencing problems, but the solution wasn't released at that time.
Mass storage support has become a lure for an emulator, too. A disk failure in that Series 996 was on a list of items for this manager to resolve. Emulation could tie newer storage into the system.
"I could have an IMAGE database, and Query files. That's incredible."
Third party solutions like the emulator have seen a rise at the center since HP's decline in the 3000 business. While HP provided support, "As we got to know more, and HP got cheaper, the amount of hand holding from them seriously declined," he said.
March 04, 2013
Modern COBOL awaits in migrations
Migrating 3000 sites, as well as prospects, can expect one element to remain the same: COBOL. Unless a company is buying an off-the-shelf application to replace their 3000 suite, COBOL will remain in control even on a platform as novel as Linux. We haven't heard many reports of 3000 sites rewriting from COBOL to anything else, simply to maintain their mission-critical in-house apps. (Ruby, an object oriented programming language, has been stepping in for COBOL at QSS, the K-12 application provider with 3000 customers.) What tips the scales in favor of sticking with COBOL is more than a developer's comfort with the language. Relaxed formatting and structure are hallmarks of any modern COBOL.
Is sticking with COBOL in 2013 a sound choice? To be sure, many 3000 users wouldn't choose COBOL for a brand-new app. Many are developing in other environments (Visual Studio) on what we call surround platforms. The key data remains on a 3000 for now, feeding those other-apps.
But COBOL has changed a great deal, and for the better, if you decide to move away from HP's COBOL II. The language once had a reputation of being verbose. Okay, that hasn't changed. But COBOL in updated flavors has dropped all the fixed A/B margin formatting, uppercase-only text and rigid division-section structure that was still in place when HP left the languages business.
COBOL supporters in your community still like to talk about how readable and maintainable COBOL still is, even in the face of the brace-and-bracket languages world. George Willis of investment house Fayez Sarofim migrated the MPE applications using AMXW, "so that we could 'lift and shift' our COBOL and Powerhouse code with somewhat minimal changes." The company chose HP's Unix as its platform last year, but AMXW works with Windows and Linux, too.
The exception to COBOL is FORTRAN in the 3000 world. MANMAN relies upon FORTRAN for its MRP work, and many a manufacturing site has coded in customizations using FORTRAN. But outside of the manufacturing base, COBOL rules the past as well as the future.
The advantage to starting with a clean slate for a mission-critical application: you choose whatever language fits best. But 3000 sites don't get a clean-slate restart, since the data is always of legacy vintage. You wouldn't write a mobile application in COBOL. But when you consider the tasks 3000 apps perform -- rely on transactions, used record-structured data, handle heavy loads -- COBOL still fits well.
A white paper from Creative Intellect Consulting says that "COBOL's past shortcomings don't compromise its appropriateness for the future." That is only true, however, if a modern COBOL is waiting on the other side of a migration. Everything is more modern than COBOL II, and right at the end of HP's 3000 futures one company modernized COBOL II. The suite that emerged was called AcuCOBOL-GT.
Acucorp released the product as a revamp of MPE/iX COBOL, but it emerged within a few months of HP's 2001 exit announcement. Now AcuCOBOL-GT has been absorbed by Micro Focus, whose Visual COBOL 2.1 is still adding more compatibility for AcuCOBOL. Some companies that made the jump to things like AMXW embraced AcuCOBOL as part of their move.
There are still macro issues to resolve, for the companies which employed them in their 3000 applications. Consultant Michael Anderson of J3k Solutions reports that the way he handled macros in COBOL II while moving to HP-UX is "to compile the original source on MPE, and then use the listfile as the new source code for HP-UX-based AcuCOBOL or Micro Focus COBOL. Then do some cutting and pasting into new copy books (COPYLIBs) on the HP-UX server."
Visual Studio, probably the most widely adopted development environment for companies that rewrote code to .NET, is supported by the Micro Focus product. That support lets customers edit, compile and debug using Visual Studio 2012 or 2010. This COBOL support isn't widely known, if you're examining Visual Studio from the world of Windows. Support for Visual Basic, Visual C#, Visual C++ is built in to the free "Express" versions of Visual Studio. But if your frame of reference for development is COBOL rather than Windows, you'll know that going Visual doesn't mean leaving COBOL behind.
MicroFocus doesn't own all of the modern COBOL choices. There's COBOL-IT, a commercialization of the OpenCOBOL open source code. COBOL-IT has been built by former Acucorp managers, using the same model that's worked in other open source advances: improve upon features without erasing compatibility, then add professional-level support. As recently as two years ago, Speedware (now Fresche Legacy) was promoting the use of COBOL-IT in migrated environments. Fresche is now working closely with Micro Focus, too.
There's also Fujitsu's NetCOBOL, which includes support for .NET as well as Windows' Visual tools. There's a difference in pricing as well as reach between Fujitsu and Micro Focus. NetCOBOL supports Linux and Solaris along with Windows, and it doesn't use a runtime pricing model. The Micro Focus tools -- and there are a mighty raft of them, considering the company aquired Borland, too -- run everywhere. (Well, maybe not under MPE. But there's that Acucorp heritage inside the software, after all.)
Proven success keeps COBOL running much of the world's business computing, more than 50 years after the language was invented. It's hard to refuse something that's worked for this long -- if its community keeps reinventing it. If your IT efforts include care for languages and programs, like so many do, then caring about your next COBOL should be an issue to investigate.
February 27, 2013
Some version management required
Like the old saying of "some assembly required," the more current demands of application development will require version management, at the least, for 3000-bred apps. They are mission-critical programs, and we've not heard terrific reports about off the shelf replacements for 3000s during a migration. It's possible and has been accomplished, but many more stories are in our files concerning existing code, working on a new platform.
If you're moving code away from a 3000 to another platform, some version management is the minimum you will require. More likely, the solution will integrate a compiler suite with Windows Studio tools. There's something on the market called COBOL Studio from ATX II Tecnologias de Software, S.A. More familiar targets would include the Visual COBOL for Visual Studio, from Micro Focus.
What does it look like when a 3000 is doing more beyond a good programmer's editor? Perhaps like the story that Walter Murray -- who moved from HP's languages lab to a job managing 3000s for the California Corrections System -- shared with us.
For version management, I use HP SRC. I have one master library and one person responsible for keeping it in sync with what's in production. We archive not only the source, but also the compiler listing, object file, and executable, each time a new version is migrated to production. We also archive job streams, UDCs, tables, and so on. We have separate libraries for personal use and projects.
That last part might be just as important as any other Murray mentioned. Good developers have a yen for creating programs, and the ones you'll want to attract will have personal projects. The most broad minded companies set aside time for the code creators to work on these projects.
You never know when some personal coding will yield a breakthrough that can be applied to a mission-critical roadblock. But without management for version changes, the chain of succession for a development team is much weaker.
Murray had other recommendations for the coders who will stay on the 3000 to homestead. (After all, SRC is an MPE/iX tool.) He likes to use Quad, but notes that
the only bothersome limitations with Quad are that it doesn't handle files with variable length records (of which we have very few any more) and the search is case-sensitive (which leads us to avoid lower case in COBOL source code except for comments).
For debugging, I use XDB (HP Symbolic Debugger/iX). It's well worth the time spent learning to use it, even if it's not as good as HP Toolset as a symbolic debugger for COBOL.
February 26, 2013
All Star year may be on horizon for 3000s
This is the story of two Tims, one who you may know and one you probably don't. But they have something in common. Tim Duncan and Tim O'Neill have enjoyed success over long careers with underrated groups. They're both seeking additional years providing their fundamentals at a great value. And they're both optimistic about unsung but praiseworthy futures.
Tim Duncan is a man with fans. The two-time MVP for the San Antonio Spurs is called the Big Fundamental in his basketball career. This Tim can be easy to overlook at awards time in the NBA, because his game is based on superior execution of the fundamentals. Passing. Blocking shots. Rebounding. Scoring. All without flash to call attention to his efforts. He makes success, selflessly.
Tim O'Neill makes his first appearance in public in this month's printed Newswire. He's been managing HP 3000s since the system was only seven years old. He came to his work by way of a career in math and statistics. He is reaching out for more years for his 3000 by way of the new emulator. His organization, a test facility for the US military, has sustained itself using only the fundamentals: IMAGE, VPlus, Query, plus some HP Pascal.
Both Tims are looking for extra years in what they do well. Making memorable minutes on the court. Making MPE do its work quietly, providing the best value.
Like the HP 3000, Duncan's Spurs are being overlooked. They lack the youthful dazzle of teams from LA or even Oklahoma City. But like the 3000, it's a group he leads that's been elite for an extraordinary period. Duncan's Spurs will earn a playoff spot this year for the 16th straight season. There's been nothing like it in sports, not even the New York Yankees. But alas, unheralded today.
O'Neill wants to extend the value of his expertise, like Duncan. His systems run without software problems, thanks to the fundamentals of MPE. He'd like to keep running that environment without a need for HP-built hardware. The ability of the emulator to lift MPE into Intel hardware? "Incredible," he said while he learned about its particulars.
The ability of a 36-year-old power forward to stay among NBA leaders in blocking shots, rebounding, making points and minutes happen? Some might say incredible, but they'd probably have to live in Texas. In the wider consciousness of the basketball world, his team and effort are considered old.
But as all of us in this community get older, we believe there's no fundamental flaw in being old. A friend and former Newswire columnist, Scott Hirsh, is working for Dell this year, after providing mass storage savvy with a half-dozen other vendors. Before that, Scott was the SYSMAN Special Interest Group leader. He says with humility, "These days I'm usually the oldest one in the room" when companies seek their tech futures. "I used to be one of the youngest."
At the same time that the HP 3000 is considered one of the oldest servers in the datacenter's room, it is gaining one of the younger technologies in the enterprise. The 3000 hardware has been virtualized. And as anyone who's had hardware dropped by a vendor knows, virtualization can extend the months and years of service for a server environment. Digital's servers got this virtualization during the past decade. Virtualized servers are among the bedrock elements in a modern IT architecture.
At Tim Duncan's workplace, the extra pass to the open shooter becomes a bedrock element. On the Spurs' end of the court, a team effort makes for what the experts will admit is basketball the way it was built to be played. No single player needs to overwhelm an opponent. The Spurs practice a "good to great" habit in delivering the ball to a shooter. What they all covet isn't stardom. It's winning.
At Tim O'Neill's workplace, simple and elegant designs that have served for three decades are at the bedrock of tests and tracking. The subjects are military vehicles, the fundamentals of modern defense. All he wants to do is keep MPE working. He says any hardware that keeps his environment winning will get the job done.
You don't find many customers who can tease apart the 3000 success to say that it's the software that made the system a winner. But like "good to great," the software that represents the 3000's fundamentals makes a winner.
This month Tim Duncan earned a spot on the NBA All Star team. He was overlooked for the award in 2012 for the first time. "I thought those days were over for me," he said this year, a reasonable belief at age 36.
In the same way, many IT architects think that MPE's days as a fundamental are over. Tim O'Neill thinks otherwise. He's not ready to put in a purchase request yet for the emulator, even while it sounds incredible. But if he does, his procurement department will have it easier in one respect than when it bought 3000 service recently. They need to take the low bidder. There's nobody who can virtualize 3000 hardware other than Stromasys.
It will be a marvel to watch a 30-year-old application take its place on the IT court of today, on an emulator. Much like a marvel of watching Duncan pass the ball the length of the court, like a touchdown pass to the end zone in football. There's nobody else in the game who can make that play turn into points more often.
In a few more months we'll know if Duncan can repeat his championship success. He already has four titles, an elite number in the NBA. But if his Spurs sustain their "Drive for Five," he will be the player with the greatest number of seasons between first championship (1999) and the last.
Watching a fundamental All Star regain elite status is fun. It's the kind of game that makes being a Spurs fan, or a 3000 reporter, such an incredible experience during 2013.
February 22, 2013
Where You Can Check for 6 and 7.x
All 3000 customers have MPE/iX installed, but the operating environment comes in three flavors. In the homesteading world of 2013, two of those three will need to be served up by your community's comrades.
Last week 3000 manager John Watson -- one who says he worked for HP for awhile -- asked around to see who had a copy of MPE/iX. He was after a version 6.x or 7.x. If that request was for a 7.5 release, it's easy to obtain. In fact, the Stromasys freeware HPA/3000 emulator can be downloaded with a 7.5 MPE/iX included. No subsystem software, of course.
But the earlier MPE/iX versions? Ask your neighbors, because there's no official way to get that software. Pivital Solutions' Steve Suraci, whose company was among the very last to be an official HP 3000 reseller, confirmed the comrade-swap situation. Pivital continues to support 3000 sites, as its primary business. But that won't make the earlier MPEs any more available, by the book.
"HP has made no provisions for this situation that I am aware of," he said. "My guess is that this customer will easily come across what he is looking for. But we would not be able to legally provide it to him."
Resolving this problem is not as simple as moving up to 7.5 from other releases, for reasons that anyone managing a 3000 would know well.HP built the 6.5 release to accomodate Large Files features that were needed by Amisys/3000 healthcare customers. The 7.0 release included support for the new PCI IO bus. These releases tend to have been frozen in place around the homesteading community. Customers are loathe to change these, because things remain stable if they do not.
You've got to be careful about which MPE/iX SLT you use from another system, too. "I just recently got a 939," said Watson, "but the SLT tapes I have from 2006 have been cut from a different model. I think patch MPEMX90 should have been applied before cutting the tape."
Without the patch, his 3000 "just hangs a little about you try start norecovery," he said.
Problem? What problem? When the community decides HP is done with the 3000, it can share what's needed. And nobody needs to know who has helped.