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.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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 email@example.com, 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.
February 15, 2013
3000 pro uses open source version control
We've been polling the 3000 community about its choices for development tools, but the range runs wider than QUAD or versions of Notepad. One enterprising veteran has tapped the free, open source toolset git to create a batch transfer system for EDI.
The git solution is one of those software choices that seems to defy the traditional structures for care and feeding of software. Like the Joomla Content Management System, git is supported by a vast range of users, comes free of charge for any Windows, Unix or Linux-based workstation or server, and is used by very large companies as well as untold thousands of smaller ones.
One 3000 IT pro, James Byrne of the trading specialist and freight forwarder Harte & Lyne Ltd., checked in to report how git is helping him manage the development of new modules which connect to newer enterprise environments. The git techology supports Behavior Driven Developments. BDD provides developers and business analysts with shared tools and a shared process to collaborate on software development.
Last year I had to create an EDI batch transfer system from one of our suppliers into our billing system hosted on the HP 3000 and written in PowerHouse. For that project I created a git repository for the HP on our source archives' Linux host, and then transferred over all of our source code, job files, udc and cmd files -- and anything else I believed to be locally developed source -- into the git repository using the HP 3000s HFS layout.
I then checked out the specific directories and files into a working directory on my Linux workstation, wrote the new stuff and edited the old stuff in GVim, and checked everything back into the remote repository.
Byrne said he then FTP’ed the new stuff onto the HP 3000 and ran it. "If there were any bugs -- and when are there not? -- I edited the source on the workstation, checked it in to the repository, and FTP transferred it from there to the HP 3000 for the next iteration."
It seeems to me that written out it appears more cumbersome than it actually is. It all went fairly smoothly once most of the gotchas and ‘oops-I didn’t-know-that’ were gradually uncovered and weeded out the the workflow.
One of the major benefits of doing things this way was that everything was built using BDD methodology and the new systems is covered by reproducable tests. Recently a change occured external to our system that broke one of the transfer scripts. We were able to identify the exact problem in our code and fix it with remarkably little effort in an amazingly short time, all because the test suite identified exactly where the exception was occuring and in what way the new behaviour varied from what was expected.
Byrne said the next thing he expects to be writing for, if not actually on, the HP 3000 is a set of Quiz reports to extract the company's 3000 database data into XML files, for transfer and loading into a new billing system. "After that is done," he said, "it seems very likely that then we will bid adieu to our old workhorse."
January 28, 2013
Five years after, which environments died?
Five years ago this month, the OpenMPE volunteer group was running another slate of directors for its election. Micro Focus had assimilated Acucorp in its mission to become all things COBOL to all platforms' users. The Greater Houston RUG was releasing details for its 2008 conference, one that would feature Alfredo Rego as keynote speaker. At HP, its 3000 lab savants were starting up their final year of development of patches.
Meanwhile, Windows XP users were lobbying Microsoft to save their OS from extinction. An InfoWorld article reported that a group of users had launched a petition.
With Microsoft saying it will stop both OEM and shrink-wrapped sales of the OS come June 30, the clock is ticking. But we know lots of you want to keep XP alive, to not be forced to upgrade to the less-than-stellar Vista. Millions of us have grown comfortable with XP and don't see a need to change to Vista. It's like having a comfortable apartment, one that you've enjoyed coming home to for years, only to get an eviction notice.
Windows XP just dropped below a 40 percent market share last month, according to Net Applications. That firm uses signatures from Web browsers to calculate these figures. Windows XP patches are still available for free. So are patches for MPE/iX. XP has not changed any more than the 3000's OS during these five years — so they have that in common, too.
But obtaining your free MPE/iX patches might take quite a bit of waiting on hold with the HP Response Center now, five years after HP stopped creating the patches. In a bit of special handling, MPE/iX users got a free pass, literally, on patching, a savings that users of HP's Unix, VMS and NonStop do not get. It's just that acquiring the patches means explaining you want a patch to an enterprise server, not an HP printer.Five years is a long time in the computing business. It's such a long time that the competitors in the enterprise sector now consider cloud computing their best bet to grow a customer base. It's a strategy that didn't even exist in early 2008.
The wait time for seeing enterprise server growth feels like the kind of endurance required to extract MPE patches directly from HP.
"Right now I am on hold with the HPRC, trying to find any existing security patches for MPE/iX 7.5," a 3000 manager told us last week via email. He didn't succeed, ultimately, after more than an hour. It's a good bet that an independent 3000 support company would get whatever patches are needed. There's not that many, compared to the number of patches for XP, or even Windows.
But just like those users of XP, the customers still relying on MPE/iX will not be deterred by a vendor's newer products. The complaints of 2008 were about Windows Vista, and from the looks of them they appear to be spot-on, in a historical review. This year the complaints from these "homesteading" XP users are about Windows 8 -- although Windows 7 has finally gained the largest share of desktop server market.
Put another way, it took Windows XP about five years after Microsoft announced it would stop sales of the OS to cede its No. 1 ranking as the world's most-installed OS version. The same five years have seen the departure of OpenMPE elections, the elimination of RUG groups of all sorts, lab experts from HP's MPE group working at indie software companies, and Micro Focus turning toward the homesteading 3000 sites as a source of new customers.
There are enough prospective 3000 sites out there to encourage a company the size of Micro Focus to pursue them in a North American campaign. It takes a long time to exterminate a user base completely. There are ways to try to do it quickly, like Hewlett-Packard did more than a decade ago. But pushing toward commodity solutions when older ones are working is like extreme pest control. You can release poison gas in the house to get rid of rats, but something that severe harms the existing business, too.
Microsoft never tried to eradicate its XP users this way. But HP performed this on MPE, and now the company's feeling the effects of poison gas over its enterprise practices, with the proprietary legacy profits and growth all but dead. MPE/iX never had a majority of HP's OS business like XP did at Microsoft. It just pattered along on quiet feet doing things like recording tests of military vehicles, a software system still in use today in the US, we've learned.
The manager at that site said today that "I like the idea of keeping MPE alive, even if I don't have a 3000 to run it on." He's got a test archive and a 3000, but would prefer to use modern hardware along with an OS that HP last patched in 2008. He has a sound idea: it's the environment and the software that make a customer stand fast, whether it's MPE or XP.
An emulator probably won't make the 3000 market pick up new customers. A modern development suite can aid in growing new applications. However, if growth in your organization isn't as keen a mandate as stability is, it's feasible to take refuge in a technology designed to cradle MPE and keep it alive.
January 25, 2013
Raise your stock, maybe, with emulation
You might not have any COBOL running at your 3000 installation. We just heard from a customer who was in this unique position, this week. He is also a candidate to let the Stromasys emulator take over for his 3000 iron -- even at the regular production-grade emulator price of $25,000.
We haven't seen much of this yet. Most of the inquiries are "will it run?" or "how can I get it for less?" or "what promise do I have my software can be licensed on it?" That last one is the least predictable, unless you have your own application in-house, and use only MPE utilities from third parties. No problems there.
Apparently in that in-house situation, a Maryland IT manager asked me if it's feasible to let the emulator make him a hero, by raising his stock in his career at his company.
The transfer from PA-RISC HP systems to Intel-based hardware -- of Pascal programs -- would do the job to get to heroic reality.
Do you realize how much my personal stock would rise if I could go to management and say this?
"Our existing legacy TurboIMAGE data bases on the HP 3000 and the code that runs them (a few Pascal programs that drive VPlus for entry, a few more Pascal programs, and a few Query files that generate reports) can be replaced by Intel hardware and mass storage."
If the above statement (in quotes) were true, and we could make it happen for $25K, we might become a Stromasys customer.
Is it realistic?
We'll see once we interview him and learn about licensing. But with a budget ready, in-house code at hand, and nothing but standard MPE/iX FOS software, there shouldn't be a problem here. This may be a way to get a stock rise -- something Apple would love to see happen pretty soon. Personal stock is easier to lift than the corporate securities. Switching to Intel-based MPE provides security, so long as the software licenses don't get in the way.
January 23, 2013
Developer tools for 3000 redux, not re-dos
We asked 3000 veterans what they're using while they do development in the MPE environment. Several steady and stable solutions emerged, over and over. Like a lot of life in the 3000 world, there's a lack of surprises that contributes to higher productivity. Just because there are more elaborate developer tools on migration platforms doesn't mean that the MPE tools don't serve 3000-caliber needs.
For example, Tracy Johnson of Measurement Specialties uses three editors to maintain and develop on the 3000.
I'll use whatever editor suits my need for the moment. Qedit lets me edit a file that someone else may want to open at the same time. (I only need single user access when I need to do a KEEP.) Especially those pesky SECURCON or STREAMX config files that something else may open for less than a second. Saves me the extra step of having to make a copy then edit the copy. Then their full screen feature lets me use the arrow keys.
Quad has those convenient WHITEN and DEBLANK commands. The faux full screen seems easier for one-key page flipping than Qedit's real full screen.
EDITOR has LENGTH and RIGHT commands if I need to change the record width. Also, it is my editor of choice for mass changes with MPEX's hooked EDITCHG command.
Consultant Roy Brown of Kelmscott Ltd, describing himself as a hired gun, says "I'll use whatever the client possesses. Basic FOS tools, at a pinch -- Query, FCOPY, KSAMUTIL, etc." But he recognizes the better, third party favorites and wants to use them whenever possible.
I'll take MPEX, QEdit and Suprtool if I can get them. Quad rather than EDITOR at another pinch. I carry a file that, executed in Quad, sets the userkeys for me.
I also carry Reflection, and hope that the HP 3000 end of that will be on the client's machine.
But these days, I like, where permitted, to copy all the source to my Windows PC and work on it with UltraEdit and UltraCompare. The productivity boost is amazing.
Brown likes to sign his emails with the William Morris quote, "Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."
January 18, 2013
Bridges to Cross Before Useful Emulation
It's been a month since the community got its hands on a freeware version of the Stromasys emulator. Some reports from these freeware testers have emerged. But the next installment of this saga comes from more installations and software license agreements. An MPE license is in place, but the subsystems such as COBOL II are not covered. More bridges lie ahead for this software to bring some homestead systems back to the future.
One example reported to me came from a manager of healthcare 3000s, all doing work with customized code in a healthy-sized datacenter. The company hears the clock ticking on the life of their MPE commitment. The veteran manager there, already experienced in the consulting world, says some more time needs to elapse with success stories and production testing before his employer would consider HPA/3000 as a new path toward some extra years on the 3000.
He approached the freeware release with gusto. I heard from him more than two weeks before the pre-Christmas unveiling of the A-202 version, crafted to two users only and licensed for non-commercial use -- unless you're evaluating it for production purchase. "I downloaded the emulator as fast as I could the Monday that it became available," he said two weeks ago.
I've been playing with it since, and am currently looking for a new (to me) computer to host it. My current computer is an Intel i3 Core with 6GB of memory. The emulator runs fine on it, but I'd like to find a computer that I can dedicate to the emulator, so that I can have my desktop PC back.
So far I'm happy with what I've seen and have run into only one issue. That being, accessing a remote tape drive. I'll get back to that issue later and gather more info, because I'm not sure of the cause.
I hope to get a copy for my customer so that we can demo it, and hopefully get them to buy a license. But we've got a ways to go before that happens.
Indeed, one vendor of software for the 3000, who's also helping companies migrate, said he's still concerned about protecting his products in a HPSUSAN license strategy that revolves around a USB key. It's a design that is just one removal of a thumb drive away from stopping a production machine, although Stromasys could replace that key in a matter of days, or maybe even hours.
The issues with licensing third party software remain untested, although Robert Dawson in Australia got Cognos software and some other packages transferred without incident. He left his reseller of Cognos to do the finagling. There's plenty of software tool support from the likes of Robelle, Minisoft and more, but application vendors are still in the process of letting their emulator policies be known.
In case the replacement of non-MPE versions of things like healthcare software doesn't go as smoothly as planned, there is an important place for HPA/3000, even in migrating shops. But while an emulator's lifespan is measured in decades, there are only fewer 3000s running as the calendar pages of 2013 flip away.
It needs more than technology success. Out front and obvious commitments from app companies in the 3000 space; controlling virtual disk behavior that might let multiple copies of software run at the same time (a concern voiced by two veteran MPE companies); file transfer that needed to be addressed by a tool from indie software consultant Keven Miller of Ranger 3K; a lack of testimony in regard to scaling the solution -- there is much to document and announce about this invention in order to give it wings in 2013.
We hope there's good information on all this coming out to retain 3000s in production status, using the emulator. The alternative is a freeware hobbyist tool or a clandestine consulting solution (2-user, 948 horsepower 3000s would do nicely for consultants). Not the destiny for something built to carry MPE over the bridges to the future, however.
January 14, 2013
Could migrations be sparked by fresher development environments?
In a recent poll I conducted about the tools of the 3000 developer, I found a lot of classics. Finding classics at work is common among the 3000 community. And just because technology is steeped in legacy doesn't make it a fool's tool. Micro Focus likes to tell customers who are using its COBOL and development environment software, "Just because it's old doesn't mean it's not gold."
However, nearly all of the three dozen veteran coders -- architects, designers, maintainers and more -- use something first released in 1980s. And only one who replied to our December poll mentioned any change management or version control software as part of coding and creating for MPE. Perhaps everybody works with code they created, on a small team --perhaps as slim as just themselves.
So when these experts said their software toolset runs to Qedit, QUAD, EDITOR/3000, MPEX, Suprtool -- or in one gruesome report, the bare-bones vi -- we assume they're using what they grew up getting adept with. Success breeds habits, and then practices. It's a good strategy for decades if nothing much changes. But when a corporation acquires other companies and IT environments, it eventually gets a datacenter architecture too big for a few favorite tools and nothing else. These kinds of companies and corporations are on the path to migrations away from the 3000. What they'll use to create systems on the new boxes will be designed to embrace change while it feeds multiple-platform developer teams.
The question is, can these advanced and high-productivity tools ever push a maybe-migrator across to engaged status? Put another way, can the likes of Visual Studio, Eclipse, or InDesign sell a company on Windows PCs, Linux enterprise servers or networks of iMacs? Can a toolset lead a company to modernize its enterprise environment? Perhaps it can, when you consider what IDEs yield: application software, the element that's supposed to trigger all enteprise platform decisions.
There's a nifty IDE primer online at the Mashable website, but it's more of a way of understanding what types of IDEs are out there. It admits it's only a sampler of everything available for enterprise developers.One long-time 3000 vendor, now in heavy engagement with migrators, calls this strategy "offering a great set of tires to try to sell a car." Better development tools are more than just very good tires, though. A better analogy might be smartphones. Apple wants your iPhone purchase, and they lure you with App Store gems. Google wants to sell Android phones, and their hook is the superior contact, syncing and mapping tools built into that phone OS.
Many 3000 companies who are left using the server rely on bulletproof solutions, running at a cost they can justify. Something more than the loss of HP-branded support, or worries about parts supply chains, will have to be at work to get them to migrate. Newer tools might not be enough by themselves. But there's always the skills of newer developers, the kind a company must hire eventually when veterans retire or depart. Younger development teams will expect collaboration and coordination. The 3000 experts are so good at this they don't seem to need an integrated development environment.
In the 3000 world, among those who are not yet migrated, there's no apology about using the battle-tested favorites. "I designed on paper and pencil -- still do, but have added Visio for the diagrams," said the community's security expert Art Bahrs. "Then I used editors on my PC and uploaded the code, compiled/ran/said proper incantations, and debugged on the PC. I repeated the cycle until done."
Chuck Trites, an independent consultant and developer, said "I still use EDITOR, and have used Quad and others too. I also use Ultra Edit, which is nice for large files and large rec sizes. Still doing FORTRAN and COBOL. I use MPEX and Suprtool and a few other gadgets."
Other 3000 sites have a simpler answer about what to use to develop. "Contractors," said Tracy Johnson, a former OpenMPE director who works on the IT staff of Measurement Specialties. Perhaps that means that the tools that a contractor brings along are the spark for any changes and modernizations.
At one point, Acucorp offered a COBOL development environment that hooked up with ScreenJet and Eloquence, all in the service of speeding up modernizations. Acucorp developed a 3000-aware COBOL, just about the time HP was announcing its end-game in the 3000 business. Then Acucorp got acquired by -- wait for it -- Micro Focus. It sells Visual COBOL for Visual Studio 2010. Mike Howard, whose Unicon Conversion Technologies is one of the companies who have made 3000 migrations across to .NET, testifies about Visual COBOL. He calls it the fountain of youth for legacy COBOL shops.
A supplier of COBOL solutions tries to make its developers more powerful and aware as they stick to an olden, golden language. Micro Focus is nearly the only game in the COBOL community by now, aside from Fujitsu. If the language remains constant but expanding across vendors, then the differences might lie in IDE feature sets.
January 11, 2013
What If: Fault lay not in the 3000, but in HP?
In the early years of my HP reporting career, the company tried to sell PCs against IBM. It had innovative technology in touchscreen HP 150s with strong links to enterprise office software via those PCs. HP's ad slogan began with an invitation to a customer to imagine something more connected to the customer than IBM: "What If?"
It's a good question today, nearly 30 years later, especially when used to evaluate HP 3000s. HP lopped off its futures with the server in 2001, less than a year before it attacked the PC market by purchasing Compaq. Some products had to go, if HP hoped to convince institutional shareholders that a $25 billion acquisition was good business.
So the 3000 was derided and deprecated by HP. The server had a failing ecosystem. Customers wanted other HP products, like PCs for businesses, running Windows. Over a few more years, HP acquired even more love of outside products. It changed itself as a company, while it fled from the challenge of asking customers what if about its unique technology like the HP 150. Now there are calls for HP to return to the company that it was before it became a consumer-obsessed, low-touch customer service juggernaut that's careened into a financial ditch.
What if the fault lay not in the HP 3000's starry design, but in HP's leaders themselves? When Steve Jobs takes a walk through the neighborhood of Palo Alto to counsel an ousted CEO of HP, you can be pretty sure that a great deal had changed for HP, and none of it for the better. And that walk took place more than two years ago. Jobs believed that Mark Hurd should've never left HP.
That's how completely Hewlett-Packard had faulted from its enterprise line. A leader who slashed R&D, and rubber-stamped even more pell-mell pursuit of the consumerist strategy, was now the bulwark. Proof enough HP had changed completely, and offered in a story this week from the Apple community.If the HP 3000 were a sound product -- and it has been HP that's grown unsound since that 2001 Fall of the Compaq and MPE disasters -- perhaps we can hear a "What If" about the indelible value in the 3000 concept. A computer whose intellectual property, from silicon to software, is controlled by its creator. A system built on the use-it-forever designs of PA-RISC, rather than the churn of commodity systems.
Today I interviewed a former 3000 manager at Dayton T. Brown, the largest and most thoroughly equipped independent engineering and testing laboratory in the U.S. They purchased a Series 917 and a Series 937 in 1994. They stopped using them completely in 2007. That's 13 years at a major US business running on servers built to last. By way of contrast, that was a typical kind of enterprise product. When Dayton T. Brown bought their 9x7 systems in the early 1990s, only HP's printers were commodity items driving enterprise IT.
In the Apple world, this lifespan is the equivalent of desktops from 2003 still running the largest printer and mailing house in Austin. iMacs from a decade ago are still on the job in shipping, planning, even design at Touchpoint. Apple controls all of that intellectual property in those Macs, just as HP once did with the 3000.
The story circling in the 3000 community this week about Steve Jobs has him imploring Mark Hurd to return to HP. Hewlett-Packard was an essential part of the Silicon Valley ecosystem. Losing another CEO -- Carly Fiorina had left five years earlier -- was going to be bad for HP. MacRumors reports that Bloomberg Businessweek is telling this story about that fear of HP's faults.
Three days after he’d resigned as CEO under pressure from the company’s board of directors, Hurd received an e-mail from Steve Jobs. The Apple founder wanted to know if Hurd needed someone to talk to.
Hurd met Jobs at his home in Palo Alto, according to people who know both men but did not wish to be identified, compromising a personal confidence. The pair spent more than two hours together, Jobs taking Hurd on his customary walk around the tree-lined neighborhood. At numerous points during their conversation, Jobs pleaded with Hurd to do whatever it took to set things right with the board so that Hurd could return. Jobs even offered to write a letter to HP’s directors and to call them up one by one.
The BusinessWeek article takes a look at how HP fell from its dominating position in tech. and if new CEO Meg Whitman can pull it out of the ditch. She's hearing many analysts say a split of HP -- into what it once was in the 3000 days, and another part of what it became afterward -- is the only way.
What if Hewlett-Packard wasn't right for the HP 3000 anymore, by 2001? The company had let its board fall under the spell of consumerist forces which made printers the primary profit engine. PCs were a natural product to follow a printer, and Compaq owned a dominant part of that market. That's why HP bought them -- to become number one and overtake Dell.
By now, the advice that's become rampant among investors -- the same audience that cheered HP into buying Compaq -- is that enterprise systems like the 3000, or Integrity, will continue to fail when paired with PCs.
And at Dayton T. Brown, no more HP servers run the largest labs in the US. Dell's servers, running Microsoft's Windows, have replaced the Hewlett-Packard products from the old HP Way. If HP wasn't right for the 3000 anymore -- instead of the other way around -- there's hope in a future where the gleaming heart of the system, MPE, can live beyond anything that HP might become over the coming year. As Shakespeare might have told the HP board and braintrust, "The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in the stars, but in ourselves."
January 03, 2013
Panel producer pursues PDF processes
Norbord, an international producer of wood-based panels, runs some of its operations on an HP 3000. This $1 billion company with 13 operating sites around the world needed to create PDFs on its 3000, a task assigned to John Pickering of the company. He went to the 3000 newsgroup for advice on how to do this, working to discover free, online resources already stocked away by indie support companies.
Pickering began by pursuing shareware, which is can sometimes be the budget choice for 3000 shops. (There's a superior and tested PDF-creating solution from Hillary Software, byRequest, which does this for 3000s as well as other enterprise systems.) But if a site wanted to bale together shareware like the txt2pdf software, a manager like Pickering needs Perl to run.
I'd be happy to use the shareware txt2pdf, but I don't know where to begin. The Sanface web site indicates that Perl is required, but that isn't on this 3000, either.
Allegro Consultants, supporting 3000s and crafting MPE software even in 2012, ponied up the Perl that Pickering needed to run txt2pdf.
I've placed TXT2PDF.c version 1.1 from Phil Smith onto my site (It's MPE Software item #13) for those that might want to review it.
It's most likely not as advanced as the Sanface product. Probably need to change its name also.
Finally, Robert Mills reported that while he managed 3000s at Pinnacle Entertainment from 2001 to 2008, txt2pdf version 1.1 never gave him many problems in production use.
I had to increase the size of either the pageObs and/or locations arrays, because some of our reports were causing an abort (think that I doubled the size of them).
We didn't have HP's C compiler, so I downloaded GCC and it worked fine. Also, I had some other utilities that were only available in C source, which also compiled and worked when using GCC.
The Gnu C Compiler (GCC) Mills mentioned is the public domain bootstrap software of the 3000's open source software era. It was first forged in the 1990s by Mark Klein, whose DIS International hosts the compiler's software. The latest versions of GCC and related tools may be downloaded from DIS.
An open document format such as PDF was once locked away from HP 3000s until such open source options appeared. We chronicled the other aspects of PDF techniques for HP 3000 use in a story almost two years ago.
The longer that HP 3000s remain online worldwide, the more these updated features will need to be added to the MPE toolbelt. The community is not shy about sharing its experience, and it seems to be well-stocked in what's needed to use open source solutions.
December 28, 2012
2012 marks 3000 flights of Linux penguins
By Ron Seybold
Third in a series
The year 2012 might have been the first to signal a significant decline in the number of migration projects among the HP 3000 installed base. But for those who were making their transition, Linux was more popular than ever, in either a supporting role to protect HP 3000s, or as host environment.
Add in the 2012 doubts about Oracle's database support for Itanium -- with the attached concern about HP-UX -- and Linux took steps forward to stand as an equal migration target to HP's Unix. In an allied story, since Oracle's technology looked doubtful for HP's Unix futures, other database solutions took a higher profile among 3000 migrators.
Marxmeier Software's Eloquence database 8.20 gained indexing features in 2012 so valuable that the 3000 community members once paid extra for them. With a decline in the availability and future of the '90s-era Omnidex indexing tech, Eloquence's creators added a fast indexing technology, one which its advocates called "like a Google search through your database" in speed. The database has been in 3000 migration toolsets since the earliest days of the transition era, in part because Eloquence applies relational database management for Linux (and HP-UX and Windows) in an IMAGE workalike design.
Migrations in total started to show some significant declines at selected service-providing vendors during 2012. Speedware became Fresche Legacy in the spring of the year, a shift that embraced IBM midrange migrations. The company's president said that the period from the start of 2011 through March of 2012 posted no new 3000 migration projects. Fresche's Chris Koppe said he didn't think the era of migration had ended for the community, while fellow Platinum Migration vendor MB Foster said it was still engaging new 3000 migration business.
The shift in the community's migrations was running down to individual companies, said the Eloquence database creator Michael Marxmeier, after ISV customers finished their transitions. "By now the majority of that migration business is over, and that's okay," said Marxmeier. "ISVs have settled in place; they've probably already moved on. At the beginning they had to come up with a solution to keep their customers successful, and quickly."Linux, grown up from more than a decade of hobbyist work and the zeal of open source devotion, started proving its production worth in 2012. Europ Assistance launched the work to replace its MPE host with a Linux system, right down to considering a Powerhouse license re-purchase for the new environment. Linux comes at a price point for purchase and maintenance which matches MPE better than server-grade Windows or Unix environments.
Even HP had its preferences for Linux hosting over HP-UX. HP's clouds are pretty much a non-starter for existing long-time HP customers. You can't host HP-UX apps in HP's cloud.
HP's Odyssey project wants to bring "hardened" HP-UX features to RedHat Linux, since HP doesn't want to be left out of the Linux currents. While there's a clear five-year future of HP-UX, the years beyond that are less defined. Since companies like Europ Assistance are going to take multiple years to make a migration, few of them want a future shorter than a decade.
More analysts and developers spoke up in 2012 about considering Linux the next, best alternative for the customer who doesn't want to embrace a proprietary Unix. (All of the Unix environments are proprietary, starting with HP's Unix, Sun/Oracle's Solaris, as well as IBM's AIX. Code created for one OS must be revised to work in another.)
These changes, however, loom larger than the strategy of moving from a Unix to one of the Linux distros such as Ubuntu (favored for the 3000 emulator) or RedHat. Marxmeier said this kind of migration wouldn't be painful for an Itanium Unix customer.
Itanium certainly has its users, and it’s hard to tell if it will make it or not. However, this shouldn’t be a concern to the customer. But if they’d like to move to something else, the proven technology of Linux is readily available. About half of our customers are using Linux these days.
Bill Highleyman of the High Availability Journal said the HP Odyssey project, one which aims HP-UX key features at a hardened RedHat, could make Linux an easier choice than HP-UX.
"If Project Odyssey is wildly successful, it may drive a huge competitive advantage for HP," he said. "However, if HP customers embrace the move to highly reliable standard operating systems, HP-UX may be the first to go, since migrating Unix applications to Linux is a reasonable task."
December 20, 2012
What'll you use to code in the New Year?
A few weeks back we began to ask the 3000 community about its tools for development. Companies committed to the platform need to develop, as business opportunities arise, acquisitions close, or efficiencies of scale trigger changes. The answers from the developers using MPE/iX included many well-known tools.
But anything resembling a development environment, with change management or a workbench of testing tools, looked like an unknown in the first phase of our survey. There's code being cut and maintained, but lots of the change management is happening with the ol' noggin, as we suggested in the LinkedIn version of our poll. (Take a minute and tick a box there, to give us all even more data.)
Cortlandt Wilson, an independent consultant and contractor who's aided MANMAN customers for many years, watched the reports of Quad, Qedit, vi, Edit/3000 and more roll across the 3000-L replies. He believes there's more in the developers' toolbox that wasn't being mentioned.
"I wouldn't be surprised if others use some kind of Software Change Management or version control software on their PCs but didn't think to mention it," Wilson said. This is the kind of toolset that coders in the non-3000 worlds take on faith, because there are so many options there.Only one respondent among those who replied on the 3000 mailing list mentioned version control (SCM).
"It's what some software engineers call zero-eth level software engineering," Wilson said. "In other words, a very basic tool.
To give an example of life beyond MPE/iX, Wilson described his current setup.
I'm currently working on a small PC based (non-MPE/iX) project to reconstruct which Excel spreadsheets were updated -- a job that a proper SCM environment would track for us. Small software companies still repeat the same stupid mistakes even though the proper tools are much more ready to hand than they were with MPEiX. In this case, the company already uses an open-source project management system that includes SCM integration, but they won't authorize the time to hook it up.
Wilson added that automating the compile and link process is also part of the SCM process, an element that was mentioned by several respondents.
The potential for development doesn't demand stepping away from COBOL. Micro Focus has been making the case for years that COBOL doesn't make IT antique. Or as the company says, "just because it's old doesn't mean it can't be gold."
December 07, 2012
Attempt at migration preceded emulation
At the newest HPA/3000 Charon emulation site, IT manager Warren Dawson said the decision to keep MPE/iX running was not the first choice for his company in Australia. Migration was a prospective strategy at the organization, but it didn’t pan out for the application.
“We were rewriting our software in a VB and .NET version, but in the end it turned out to be taking too long and being too costly,” Dawson said. “In the meantime we’d tied down the migration of the databases into SQL databases, so that was already running smoothly. Now they use those databases for other applications. We’ve done that migration, but our main system is still the TurboIMAGE/SQL system." A nightly extract through Minisoft's ODBC drivers creates a mirrored version of the database in SQL Server.
Even while the company has eliminated the risk of hardware failures, the challenge of finding replacements for its 3000-savvy talents remains the same. “COBOL programmers here are few and far between,” Dawson said. “In terms of my own job security, it’s cemented that somewhat — great for me, but from the company’s point of view it’s an issue. It will be an issue to get someone to replace the skills in COBOL, because that’s what we mainly use."The parent company of Dawson’s firm has been talking about an adoption of the corporate system, “but that’s at least five years away. So even with a 947 with failing hardware, it was still well worth going with the emulator.”
By making the HPA/3000 solution a keystone in the company, Dawson feels like he’s retained the best part of the 3000 computing experience. “I’ve found that it’s not the hardware that I liked, it’s the operating system.”
Crucial to the process was the support from the creators of the Charon HPA/3000. “I’ve been very pleased with Stromasys themselves, because any issue I raised, they fixed it as fast as they could,” he said. “I was unaware that any of my issues had already been raised, because the way they treated me was that anything I said was important to them, even if they’d heard it before. Not saying they’d already heard it, but saying, 'Tell me about this, and let’s go through it.' ”
"The biggest issue I had which I was asking them about was the security key that’s got to be connected into the host PC. We were planning disaster recovery, but we didn’t have a key to replace that one. They said they’d give us a temporary key we could use for a number of hours. So they’d already addressed that possibility."
Support issues with timezone differences haven’t presented a problem. One key Stromasys engineer bridges the gap between Australia’s workday and the one in the US headquaters, Dawson said. The Stromasys labs include operations in Moscow as well as North Carolina.
December 06, 2012
Software allies smooth path onto emulator
Customers of the HPA/3000 emulator will be watching to see which software companies want to collaborate with Stromasys, to make sure this source of modern, updated MPE/iX servers on Linux iron gets into 3000 shops.
The first HP 3000 manager to take an emulator into production moved the services of very old iron onto a very new MPE/iX platform. IS Manager Warren Dawson’s company was using a Series 947 server which was more than 20 years old to take care of mission-critical operations.
Nearly all of Dawson's third party vendors have come on board and made efforts to ensure their software works. “One was a little slow in doing so, so we made a workaround," he said, "and I made it a permanent workaround. I didn’t know when they would come on board. They came on just before we went live, and we’d already decided to move away from their product.”
In the case of the switch in backup processes, Dawson’s procedures now back up twice as much data, using HP’s standard STORE and RESTORE programs — in less than than when the backup was done using the third party software on the 3000 box.
The change from using HP’s native iron to emulation has also reinvigorated some of Dawson’s MPE software vendors.“I’ve even gotten better support from some of our vendors now that we’re emulating. They see that there’s an extended life in the system, and so a couple of them have made efforts in that regard. We’ve been paying support for years, and for some software we’d hadn’t asked for support in 10 years. They’ve come back to our requests to help us and been very good about it.
One backup software solution didn’t make the transition from 3000 hardware and storage devices to the emulated system. DAT tapes presented an extra effort. Dawson used a utility to copy the tapes to disk, “and for some reason when I did that, it didn’t work properly in the backup software. There was some sort of SCSI issue which was at Stromasys’s end, and they’ve since resolved that issue. But the backup vendor said initially they weren’t supporting the emulator, so we worked something else out.
The Quiz reporting tool from Cognos is part of the software set that’s made the step onto the emulator. The company buys and maintains its Cognos licenses through a reseller, and that partner has handed the relicensing of Quiz onto the emulator. “I haven’t dealt directly with Cognos for a long time,” Dawson said.
Minisoft’s ODBC drivers run on the emulated system, since part of the application’s project is to extract data. Since the databases and the application have been emulated, Dawson’s remains able to use Visual Basic programs, using the ODBC drivers, to do reports as well as updates. However, the complexity of moving toward Windows 7 has raised issues that Minisoft has been helping to solve. Dawson singled out the company as taking extra time to help make the emulation succeed.
“Minisoft’s been the most helpful, because that reporting system started out being the most troublesome. We’ve been having a VB 6 program issue, where those programs ran under Windows XP but are an issue under Windows 7. These programs were written 10 years ago, and the people who wrote them are long since gone. They explained how I could run their software in different ways, with the old driver under VB 6 on XP versus a new driver for .NET on Windows 7.”
Crucial to the process was the support from the creators of the Charon HPA/3000. “I’ve been very pleased with Stromasys themselves, because any issue I raised, they fixed it as fast as they could,” he said. “I was unaware that any of my issues had already been raise, because they way they treated me was that anything I said was important to them, even if they’d heard it before. Not saying they’d already heard it, but saying, “Tell me about this, and let’s go through it.”
The biggest issue I had which I was asking them about was the security key that’s got to be connected into the host PC. We were planning disaster recovery, but we didn’t have a key to replace that one. They said they’d give us a temporary key we could use for a number of hours. They’d already addressed that possibility.”
Support issues with timezone differences haven’t presented a problem. One key Stromasys engineer bridges the gap between Australia’s workday and the one in the US headquaters, Dawson said. The Stromasys labs include operations in Moscow as well as North Carolina.
December 05, 2012
First production emulator wins IT's respect
The first HP 3000 manager to take an emulator into production moved the services of very old iron onto a very new MPE/iX platform. IS Manager Warren Dawson’s company was using a Series 947 server which was more than 20 years old to take care of mission-critical operations. That 3000 had 112 MB of memory. Now it’s working on the HPA/3000 Charon emulator with 2 GB of memory. “We’ve really increased our speed, our memory and our disk,” Dawson said.
“I was testing the emulator over the last 10 months, and I was most impressed with the speed gains,” he said. The gains on month-end processes on the emulated 3000 system slashed the time from almost 10 hours to 65 minutes. “That was phenomenal, and it was on the main database. The guys at Stromasys were very pleased to hear some of the statistics I was churning out. They could emulate, but couldn’t have someone hit it every day, and hit it hard.”
“The users are very happy. They’ve notice their reports are coming up a lot quicker. Instead of 15-20 minutes, in a few minutes it’s done. Performance gains are bigger in some areas than others. The lowest performance gain I’ve found is in backup itself.”Justifying the cost of the emulator became simpler because the HP 3000’s disks kept failing on a regular basis. The HPA/3000 eliminated the difficulty of replacing that type of hardware.
“Because you’re not dealing with physical devices, it’s now made it a lot easier to consider even expanding what we have," Dawson said. "We had a failure of the HP 3000 box every one or two years, and it’s been really hard to source parts here in Australia. The last failure we had was an LDEV 2 disk, and so that became a SCSI disk with an adapter.”
In another instance, an internal cable for a tape drive failed. Parts supply remains an issue throughout the country, Dawson said, since there are few 3000s still running there. But he added that the company searched around the world for that cable. “The best we could get was a two-week wait for it, and we could not wait two weeks for something as critical as that.”
Over the years of moving drives in and out, the cable was pinched and then broken, and “we could not source another cable. We ended up making our own.”
The company has turned off its HP 3000 production machine. “In the end, we had the confidence to do that,” Dawson said. We’ve gone to modern hardware we can get at the drop of a hat, We can almost go into the shop and and saying that one and that one, and one in blue. It removes the need for having specialized spare parts.”
Emulation created a new range of storage space. The company had a project to split its database, due to legal requirements. To do the split, they needed to duplicate the database, and “we wouldn’t have had the space to do that on the Series 947’s disks.”
VMware hosts the virtualized partition where the HP 3000’s emulation resides. “We’ve taken the Stromasys software and moved it to its own VMware environment. It’s by itself, so nothing will impact it there. It’s running really smooth.”
November 28, 2012
As Itanium speeds up, sites fly to Windows
Within the next week, HP's going to ship a new generation of Itanium-based servers. Using the Poulson chipset known as the Itanium 9500, these blade-based systems are going to outperform the current generation of Integrity servers by a factor of 3.29, according to HP.
The engineering gains are impressive. HP tested the new Integrity blades that use the 9500 series against the Itanium 9300-powered servers. Blades start at $6,490 for the 9500-based systems. "For those remaining committed to Itanium and its attendant OS platforms, notably HP-UX, this is unmitigated good news," said Forrester's analyst Richard Fichera. HP's building these new servers exclusively in Singapore, so it can offer three times the computing speed at about the same price.
But even with all that improvement, HP needed to remind the market that these gains were also heading to its Intel x86 Xeon systems. The reason for that reminder: more of HP's customers, such as those leaving the 3000 in migrations, are moving to Windows.
We're not hearing nearly as many reports of migrations which landed on HP-UX systems. The latest news arrived today from Bob Thorpe of National Wine and Spirits. At the Detroit-area IT center, this 3000 pro turned migrator said their customized system is being moved, COBOL and all, to Windows.
"We are in process of having our in-house designed app (using COBOL, IMAGE, and VIEW) converted to NetCOBOL," he said. "We will migrate to a Windows Server platform by March or April next year."
It doesn't matter so much that it took NWS 12 years to leave MPE/iX. What seems more meaningful is that in spite of the Itanium speed-ups, HP couldn't lock NWS into its single-vendor, OS-plus-Itanium environment during those dozen years.The newest Itanium muscle will arrive a little more than two years after HP's 9300-generation Integrity boxes rolled out to customers. These newer blades consume 21 percent less power, led by a new entry-level server, the Energy Star-certified Integrity rx2800 i4.
But dropping the cost of ownership for Itanium has mostly been a pleasure for the existing HP-UX customer. Oracle cast a year's worth of doubt over the chip's future until the courts made the vendor cease, and pledge to support HP-UX and the other operating systems which rely on Itanium. That's one reason HP reminds the market about Itanium's advances and where the improvements will end up: Xeon systems.
With advancements in availability and reliability, HP’s mission-critical Converged Infrastructure will continue to enhance established HP Integrity platforms supporting HP-UX, HP NonStop and OpenVMS operating systems. Over time, these advancements will cascade to mission-critical x86 platforms delivering a single, unified infrastructure for Unix, Windows Server and Linux environments.
That means this "i4" line of Itanium-9500, with its new server blades of a two-socket BL860c i4, the four-socket BL870c i4, and the eight-socket BL890c i4 -- all of these are simply pilot units for the inevitable transfer away from Itanium. How inevitable depends on the customer's trajectory. Windows-bound sites like NWS don't much care how much Itanium can outperform Xeon.
At TechWeek Europe, one writer there interviewed the European head of HP's Integrity business. The website's Peter Judge didn't hear HP expecting to sway many new customers.
According to VP of Business Critical Systems for EMEA Mark Payne, customers still see plenty of performance benefits in the Itanium platform, and would not move across until the x86 platform can match that. Itanium-based systems like Integrity have better mission-critical performance, and users won’t move away until, at the very least, x86 can equal that, said HP.
Unix systems are obviously changing their role in the datacentre, and no one at HP actually suggested they would start to win back business against x86 servers. However, there was a clear expectation that the end of the Oracle lawsuit and the new chips would unlock demand from uncertain customers.
Judge compared the Unix vs. mainframe battles to the future facing the installed HP-UX base. "When we hear that the Unix ecosystem is doomed, we should take some perspective, and expect a similar process to occur. There seems every reason to expect Unix to last as long as the mainframes it failed to dislodge."
HP's message off its own Itanium website shows that it considers "legacy systems" to be its own older Integrity servers. A business case study of manufacturer Steelcase started with the company's use of the Tru64 OS and PA-RISC, then movement to Superdome Integrity. HP seems just as enthused about seeing fewer Oracle licenses needed in the more powerful configuration.
Itanium once had a clear power disadvantage against the PA-RISC chips that drove the ultimate HP generation of 3000s. It took as many as three years for Itanium to catch PA-RISC after the Intel-based systems began to ship. Somewhere in the future of HP's migration campaign, customers like NWS will be hearing more about Xeon systems than Itanium servers. Windows Server, not the Integrity server, is luring migrations.
November 16, 2012
Running a Freeware Emulator: Just Ducky
Editor's Note: I asked several HP 3000 veterans to see how well the installation of the new freeware version of the Charon HPA/3000 emulator worked for them. In yesterday's article, Alan Yeo of ScreenJet led us through a weekend-long journey to get the right VMware and a 2GB Player-ready file onto a server, rather than a desktop. A genuine HP 3000 played a key role. Now with an ISL> prompt on his screen, Yeo plunges forward.
By Alan Yeo
Second of two parts
Okay, so with no documentation at hand (as of last weekend), let’s try ISL>START NORECOVERY
This starts the MPE launch, I get prompted for date and time which I correct, and it continues with a normal 7.5 launch, right the way through to starting JINETD and logging on as OPERATOR.SYS.
You know what they say. "If it looks like a Duck and quacks like a Duck, it’s probably a Duck," and this thing looks like an HP 3000 and would have probably quacked like one if it could.
As far as I can tell I'm sitting at the console of an HP 3000! I’m running in a Putty Terminal, so I'm not going to be able to do any block mode stuff, but it’s good enough to run a whole load of MPE commands and have a look at the created environment. Yes, it still quacks!I don't want to try doing too much perched on my stool in front of a rack in the computer room, so can I access this thing from our network? Immediate answer, is No. It is configured with some strange IP address, so I need to reconfigure it for our network. On an HP 3000 easy just go into NMMGR, but that's in block mode and I'm connected via Putty.
Looking around the screen I see another icon, which turns out to be for xhpterm (a nearly usable HP Terminal Emulator). I launch it, up pops a colon prompt and I logon as Manager Sys. So far so good, let’s try NMMGR; it loads and runs and I do some basic network configuration, validate and exit — and darn I have lost my connection as the IP address has changed. Now what do I do? as I don't seem to have any way to change the IP address that xhpterm is using, and my Putty window has disappeared somewhere.
Let’s try connecting from a real terminal; nope no luck, looks like I have broken this, maybe this demo version only works with its fixed IP? Anyway back to the i7, and decide that I'll shut down the VM and maybe reload. It may have been me but I couldn't find a way to shut down the VM without saving changes, which I didn't really want to do as I had obviously screwed something. So I saved changes.
I thought maybe I'd have to blow the files away and re-extract the CHARON files again, but I thought, well let’s just launch it again! I did, it went through the boot sequence again, during which I spotted that the new IP I had set had taken effect, and magically when I launched xhpterm again it connected. They must have configured it to use the current IP address of the emulator.
Can I get to it externally via Reflection now? Yes! Okay, now we are "Cooking with Gas." (For those non UK readers you'll have to Google that). File transfer a bunch of stuff, and everything works!
Think I'll finish tidying up in NMMGR, but it won't run from Reflection! Why not? What normally stops NMMGR running? Yep, hptypeahead was turned on, but how — I hadn't done it and it’s not a default. A quick search shows that this box has a whole bunch of SYSTEM UDCs set including:
setvar hpsysname 'CHARON-DEMO'
setvar tz 'PST8PDT'
setvar hptypeahead true
Now fine and dandy if I had actually been in Pacific Time, and if I had wanted hptypeahead set (I NEVER have hptypeahead set!).
Bit of a cleanup job to get rid of UDCs and replace with a set from one of our HP 3000s. Driving an HP 3000 with someone else's UDCs is rather like walking around in someone else's oversize boots. They are still boots, they keep the water out, but it just feels a bit uncomfortable, and you can't run!
I do a bunch of file transfers and restores, some COBOL and Transact compiles, restored a database, ran some programs, everything worked. And to be honest I didn't expect it not to!
For those of you thinking of trying the emulator, don't waste your time trying to find something in MPE that doesn't work properly, or a program that gives different results, You won't. I know this sounds too good to be true, but it isn't.
I was fortunate enough to have Mike Marxmeier explain to me a year ago how a hardware emulator works, and basically if you can get the OS to boot, it’s a done deal and anything that runs on that OS hasn't the faintest idea that the hardware has changed. And this is the real MPE we are booting, not an emulated MPE.
The only thing that is emulated is the hardware, so the only place where there might be problems would be in handling peripherals, or possibly the interpretation of error codes from them. Believe me, way beyond my capabilities or desire to go investigating.
So we now have a virtualised MPE 7.5 HP 3000 running on an Intel i7 server (which we have called "Sharon"). It only permits two concurrent users (hey, this is the free version) and I'd defy most people to logon and know that it wasn't a real HP 3000.
I don't know what the final hobbyist version of the CHARON-HPA 3000 package will look like, as I was just being used as a guinea pig tester by Ron. However, this 7.5 box came with all the subsystems I needed to do anything I wanted. If the final hobbyist version doesn't, then unless you already have a 7.5 box with an MPE license then it will be virtually useless to you.
CHARON-HPA 3000 is exclusively 7.5, so you won't be able to take subsystems of your aging 6.0/6.5 9x7/9x8 and use them. My opinion is that for the Hobbyist Licensed version this shouldn't be a problem, as it’s restricted to two users so it’s not like HP would be opening the floodgates on the use of unlicensed subsystems. What’s more, anyone moving from an earlier version of MPE already has a licensed version of them anyway. However, HP is a strange company these days, so I guess we just wait and see what happens.
Commercially, I'm sorry it works, as it will give people more excuses to homestead instead of using ScreenJet's software to migrate. Personally, I like it, as it sticks two fingers up in the air at HP and says "see, if you had wanted to keep all those HP 3000 customers you lost it was technically possible.” And who knows — as ScreenJet's Transact and VPlus migration products also run on MPE, and we now have a new MPE platform, maybe there may be emulator customers interested in advanced versions of Transact or VPlus with all the bugs fixed. And versions that are far more capable than the original HP versions, and are supported!