Upstart startup leads off with 3000 news

Good every day
Do you remember the day your first 3000 logon banner rolled across a terminal or a PC? That heady feel of stepping into something new with a promise of permanent promotions? You knew about MPE, a little, or just slid into an office chair and began to plug away at COBOL apps that tapped IMAGE data for the first time.

Starting the NewsWire, 25 years ago today, was not like that. My partner Abby and I arrived at the first issue with 22 years of publishing experience. Between us, we'd managed and launched operations for 18 news publications in the tech industry. Abby was already a publisher at four different magazines.

What was different about the NewsWire startup was its ownership. Just us, along with 10,000 or so owners of HP 3000s. Our audience owned our future. A few told us we were making something that would turn out to make us nothing. A subscription was "Not even worth $10 a year," said one 3000 veteran who'd written features at the HP Chronicle, my previous 3000 outpost. He came on to write for the NewsWire in our October 1995 issue, Volume 1 Number 1, as we say in publications.

That first technical feature, written by someone who doubted we'd sell subscriptions, was "PatchManager/iX: Maintenance Simplified." It toured the new software from HP for patching MPE/iX 5.5. That release was only forthcoming, as they call books that are promised but not yet released. In particular, one staging tool in PatchManager would improve patching. "Welcome to the 21st Century," the feature read. "MPE will go one better than most Unix systems with the StageMan/iX."

The software resolved a crying need. "Backing out a patch in today's MPE/iX environment can rival the agony of abdominal surgery—without the benefit of amnesia," Guy Smith wrote.

HP had been working on PatchManager/iX for more than a year by October of 1995. In publishing the NewsWire 25 years ago, we were picking up the trail of a business server getting a restart from its vendor. PatchManager was "created strictly to address customer issues with the patching process, not as a cost-saving measure," HP said.

Early technology

Like our readers, we were more cautious about new technology from the commodity sector. One report said "HP 3000 managers press Win95 into service—slowly" while the 3000-ready app Netmail/3000 was releasing DeskLink. The module of Netmail connected HP Deskmanager mail nodes to the outside world. "Until DeskLink came along, HP had been recommending the HP Deskmanager sites set up a Unix system to give their Desk users Internet access." The fall of 1995 was so different that email systems were thriving that didn't use the Internet—we always capitalized the word Internet that year.

We counted on those subscribers for our first revenues, but it was the advertisers and vendors who showed up first. At one point over the last 25 years, we had more than a thousand paid readers. That point arrived years after ads from sponsors—we borrowed the term from TV advertising—carried the NewsWire's fortunes. A publisher, my partner Abby stared down the daunting first months with just a few advertisers. WRQ, the biggest software company serving the 3000 other than HP itself, shook our hands on the Toronto Interex 95 floor for a full-page spread. Those pages 12 and 13, plus HP's ad on the inside front cover and Adager's ad on the back cover, were among our bedrock supporters. Full pages from MB Foster and the Support Group were also part of the starting lineup of our startup. All are serving the 3000 today. Well, not HP.

Creating the graphics files for printing was also Abby's job, tied so closely to the artwork for the ads. I came in during her first issue work to find our Macintosh LC struggling through refreshing pages. We ordered a Power Macintosh 8500 that day, but the chugger of the LC was going to have to get us through our first printing. 1995 was not a great year for Apple. In a few more months, Bill Gates would advise Apple to sell itself to Microsoft.

HP assured our readers they wanted open systems computing. The 3000 was putting on the clothing of an open system, an ill-defined term that usually meant Unix. Open was certainly not the truth about any system vendor's Unix, operating systems usually handcrafted from the standard Berkley Unix to exploit vendor hardware. Unix was open in the sense that software vendors always supported it in general. On the ground, vendor to vendor, the OS had as much support in apps as MPE/iX. If your app was having a problem, you called a vendor support line and logged your problem.

Taking our shot

If MPE/iX enjoyed the popularity of Unix in 1995, we might not have taken our shot with the NewsWire. The 3000 world was a forgotten backwater of IT. Our modest venture of two publishing pros in two back bedrooms, tapping experience and a deep list of contacts and experts, never would have had much chance against the likes of publishing giants like IDC, CMP, Ziff Davis, or even Datamation. I'd written freelance for Datamation two years before our NewsWire upstart startup. In the year before we launched the NewsWire we'd both worked on contract for Interex, writing and managing subscription campaigns. One of the hardest talks we faced in that fall was telling Interex executive director Chuck Piercey we were going to sail our own ship into the rest of 1995.

Always the former sports editor at heart, I wrote an editorial for that issue that compared the 3000 to baseball legend Cal Ripken. That year, Ripken broke the record for consecutive games played without a day off. Choosing to use the 3000 represented that same pursuit of reliability. 

"All around MPE environments, other systems go down, fail, and struggle to stay online. The HP 3000 takes the field every day. If computers were baseball players, the HP 3000 would be the Cal Ripken of the league. Cal recently broke Lou Gehrigs' Major League record for most consecutive games played." The numbers matched up. Ripken had played in 99 percent of the innings across the 2,131 games in a row. "Cal is steady, productive, and not flashy—but respected by those who watch baseball closely. Those are the traits of the HP 3000."

We started up in October, a time that leads up to the World Series. In the summer of 1994, I'd toured ballparks with my 11-year-old Little Leaguer for a road trip. The journey and its fatherhood roots would become Stealing Home, after 25 years of conception, revision and writing, then publishing. Baseball felt like a natural fit for the NewsWire and our 3000 focus. Willie Mays was a baseball legend and a star. He knew it was an every day, all the time job. "It isn't hard to be good from time to time in sports. What's tough is being good every day," he said. That was the 3000 and its community and its major league of vendors: good every day.

Not without fears

We had our panic and fears during those earliest days. 3000 owners might have experienced some on the day they learned HP wasn't going to continue selling the servers. They could do little to change that. We had to ride out the fallow times in the first year, those months when some vendors wanted to wait to see who'd support the upstart news outlet.

When we traveled to our first Interex show with a full issue, in Anaheim's HP World of 1996, HP was waiting with a warning. Frankly, the state of the 3000 market was not going to earn an HP recommendation of the 3000 to the large corporations. Glenn Osaka had been in charge of the 3000 group and then moved up to managing the business server group. Hearing that HP's heart wasn't in its 3000 work sent a bolt of panic into us. Two people with ad contracts to serve and plenty of ink, paper, and postage to buy—we didn't want to hear how little the upper HP brass thought of the 3000. It was a legacy business, after all. Show some respect.

Little of that first hard summer of 1996 matched the wonder of dreaming up the NewsWire in the spring of the previous year. In March of 1995, we talked about a newsletter that would do the work of a magazine, produced on a tight budget. We'd worked for a publisher together whose purse strings were always drawn tight. We didn't need four-color printing. We'd learned to do good with two colors: black, and a fire engine red. We had to educate many a vendor on how to create artwork that required only two colors.

Then we printed the first issue and got the newsletters delivered two weeks late, produced on too-heavy paper that busted our postage budget. A new printer took us to press the very next month. Abby had to hunt down a graphics company to replace the in-house work the old printer performed.

Y2K and the rising tide of tomorrows

Like many people in our community, the approach of the Year 2000 lifted our ship. Advertising swelled as software companies added products and customers. The legacy applications and systems were going to need more attention to get them through the narrow part of the calendar, that Dec. 31 when the first two digits of the year were going to turn over for the first time in computing history.

The 3000 business seemed to be soaring by the end of 1999, a period when we posted some of our highest page counts. Interex conferences carried extra ad dollars and gave us chances to sign on new subscribers. The web site was popular enough to carry a paywall tied to subscriptions. For the first three full years, an HP 3000 hosted our web pages. Our webmaster Chris Bartram created a random passcode generator on a 3000 which assigned login passwords for subscribers. After more than three full years, another website, 3kworld.com, paid to license our content. We walked away from further subscription growth to get our stories into a wider world. 

More than two years later, HP's managers looked at the prospects for selling these servers in a post-2000 world. Maybe legacy computing became more vulnerable after the classic apps cleared the Y2K hurdle. We'd only been publishing for about six years when the fateful November 2001 news arrived. I developed the Homesteading label for the thousands of customers who'd be going nowhere soon. I was in Europe vacationing with my son when the call from Abby arrived. In a burst of hubris and desperate hope, I rewrote a front page of the Flash Paper that handed the shutdown news from HP to a readership stunned at the prospects of fewer tomorrows.

For some of our readers, HP's intentions of almost 19 years ago mattered little. Their companies were always going to follow their own counsel and were devoted to a full return on their 3000 investment. Many more had careers derailed or sidetracked, saw fortunes dwindle, made plans for different tomorrows.

The NewsWire was never built to become a massive operation with offices, staff, and benefits. Things were lean enough in the Nineties that no one here carried health insurance. Organizing for a small footprint—though not so small that healthcare didn't ever arrive here—gave us a plan for survival long term. Here at the end of 25 years of publishing, 20 of those years have unfurled in the shadow of HP's certain departure from 3000 life.

Those earliest months when we could believe in HP's 3000 faith were still tinged with wry, sometimes dark comedy. Citizen Kane is a favorite film here, and we'd often quote one of its lines at each other when times got tough. Kane is replying to his trust manager when he's asked why he'd want to buy the New York Examiner. "I think it would be fun to run a newspaper," Kane said.

It's been fun. We look forward to more, bolstered by support from companies with a long-term view of 3000 usefulness, like Pivital Solutions. We have enjoyed support from readers and owners and veterans of the 3000 world, too. Here's to a fresh quarter-century, however it looks. The Tampa Bay Rays are looking like a good prospect to get into the World Series, winning on a pittance of a payroll. Little things that are built smart can surprise you with their ability to be good every day.

 


MPE/iX networking flaw has workarounds and a fix

Network switch
Gilles Schipper, our Homesteading editor who's shared so much advice and instruction, wanted network help. Along the way to answers, an MPE/iX flaw was uncovered. There's a fix. But first, the problem.

Schipper writes, "All of sudden, two HP 3000s (running MPE/iX 6.5) are unable to accept VT sessions from terminals on same network. Network administrators unable to point to any network configuration or equipment issues that could explain the problem.

Further investigation shows that one or two IP's associated with PRINTERS (usually 1, but sometimes 2) have appeared in the "GATELIST" command within NETTOOLS.NET.SYS (along with the IP address of the router).

It seems that the inability of network terminals to log on to either system is always due to this bizarre situation that I've never seen before.

Currently, the solution is to run a job every five minutes or so that issues a NETCONTROL NET=LAN; UPDATE=ALL, which results in ONLY the correct router IP address in the GATELIST, and after which everything is okay. How can I fix the problem permanently without requiring the running of the UPDATE job?

Craig Lalley says he's seen this before.

"I suppose you will probably want to know how I resolved it. I don't remember... but, network redirects come to mind. Are they getting network redirects at the console? Do they have the correct gateway in NMMGR? Have you looked at the buffers?

NETTOOL.NET -> RESOURCE -> DISPLAY?

Of course, what does LINKCONTROL @,A show? Finally, look at the Name Resolution."

Mark Landin puts the blame on a routing table.

"Sounds like your routing table is getting polluted with bad RIP updates. Doubt it’s coming from the printers themselves. Not sure how you’d track that down. Maybe if you put a PC running Wireshark on the same LAN you could find the source of the bogus updates."

Billy Brewer thinks the router redirects cause the problem.

"What you are seeing most likely is ICMP Redirects (normally coming from a router). I don't think I've ever seen where you would get a printer IP address showing in your gatelist in Nettool as that doesn't make any sense. Basically the culprit is sending out an "alternate" gateway and the HP 3000 unfortunately listens and updates the gateway (Gatelist).

The network guys (at least in my experience) are never wrong or guilty until you prove it to them. Anyway, if this is the case, you can watch your console and if you get the result below, it will tell you the IP address of the equipment sending the ICMP Redirect.

SYS-A:** NETXPORT IP : NETWORK PROBLEM; Gateway redirects severe

Loc: 215; Class: 2; Parm= $A1C37920; PortID: $FFFFF972

If you convert the PARM= value from hex to decimal you get the IP 161.195.121.32, which should be the router that your system is having trouble with.
A1 = 161
C3 = 195
79 = 121
20 = 32

Finally, Doug Werth pointed out this is a flaw in MPE/iX which introduced a security hole. That's significant, because 3000s don't often exhibit those. The continued use of these servers on modern networks, pretty remarkable for a server first built in 1972, will expose such stuff.

Werth says, "What you are seeing is in fact caused by ICMP redirects. It has nothing to do with printers or DNS or network resources of any nature. Simply put, a router on the network is inspecting packets and believes it knows a better gateway for the HP3000 to route to use and tells it so via a gateway redirect. The HP 3000 dutifully updates its routing table accordingly.

"If the redirect packets occur at a high enough rate the 'ICMP redirects severe' message is written to the system console. This makes identifying the culprit fairly easily whereby one can ask the network administrator to disable that feature. Yet it only takes one redirect to mess things up which won't reach the threshold of 'severe.' and thus making identification much more difficult. The offending packets can be located by formatting a link trace directly on the HP 3000, or with a packet sniffer like Wireshark externally.

"And how to fix the problem permanently without running the UPDATE job? Beechglen has a patch for all versions of MPE/iX to permanently ignore ICMP redirects. Contact us on how to track down the offending gateway and patches."

"I have long considered this a significant security hole in MPE, as well as all operating systems that accept and act upon ICMP redirects. Turning them off permanently is a must. No server should allow for the possibility of a rogue piece of equipment getting on the network and rerouting its packets. That is a job that should be left solely to the configured default gateway."


25 Years: Java promise yields Go e! app

Let's Go e Enhydra app
It's November of 2000, close to a year past the harrowing Y2K milestone. The HP 3000 is now renamed the HPe3000, adding a letter to remind customers and prospects that the 36-year-old server is ready for the Web.

HP Europe is running a "Let's Go e!" conference. The event is so multilingual that a set of translator booths sits at the back of an Amsterdam hotel conference room. The presentations will convince customers from France, Spain, Italy, Germany, and the UK that tge 3000s in their datacenters can connect data with remote customers.

Amsterdam translation booths
I'm in the audience and look back to see a UN translator setup worthy of a scene in Judgment at Nuremburg. In real time, the genuine capabilities of a Java-driven app are being demonstrated. It's a proud moment for people like me who invested in the future of the 3000 world.

In a way, the conference is multi-lingual for technology, too. Java made its debut in commercial markets just a few years earlier. In that room we're being told that MPE/iX can speak Java right alongside Unix and Windows NT. It's an important point, that similarity with an open Unix environment, or the omnipresent Windows. The 3000 deserves a seat at the table, HP believes. It's especially important in Europe, where they've had a tough year selling against Unix. HP-UX and Sun Solaris are well dug-in across the continent.

An IT manager from Dornier, which makes custom looms for the fabrics sector, explains how their Enhydra web app server built upon Java/iX runs as fast anything. An outside team built them the app for Windows NT, then moved it to the 3000. At the time, that would've been a 3000 before the ultimate generation. 

Not especially fast compared to what would be announced four months later: PCI-based 3000s of the A-Class and N-Class. Still, for Dornier's business clients, fast enough.

Java earned a reputation over the next year or so as being significantly slower on MPE/iX than open system implementations. In almost one year's time, HP decided the ecosystem of the 3000 didn't have a strong future. Despite the translation magic in that Amsterdam meeting room, the place the e3000 was going to go was away from HP's futures.


25 Years: Build an emulator, so they'll stay

Field of dreams
Emulator day was a Saturday. February 2, 2002 arrived less than 90 days after HP cut short the lifespan of the HP 3000 hardware. On that Saturday, Robert Boers of Software Resources International announced a prototyping project.

We are currently building a prototype HP 3000e emulator, capable of running unmodified MPE and its applications on a Windows platform. Note that this is an A/D project only, we have made no decision yet about making it a product.

Boers was leading the company that would later become Stromasys after a name change. On that Saturday in 2002 he noted, "It is correct that we did not get much response about my note about hardware emulation. Our experience with the VAX and PDP-11 emulators is that the concept is often confused with operating system emulation, and the assumption is that recompiling would be necessary, or that not all applications will run.

"The hardware emulators we build are operating system-independent. The demo we use to show the concept is to unplug a SCSI system disk from a VAX, plug it into a SCSI port of a PC, and boot VMS (or another VAX operating system) from it. We do not need to convert the binary VAX code in any way or form. Performance is not an issue, we have reached VAX 7000 Dhrystone performance on a PC.

"The emulator engine we use is likely flexible enough for the HP3000 hardware (we use the same for PDP-11 and VAX). The core VAX emulator prototype (CPU, memory, disks) took less than 4 months to develop.

"It took us about a year to convince Compaq to support their software on our VAX emulator as they would any other VAX," Boers added. "We did that by passing their VAX hardware diagnostics and architecture tests. They now offer very reasonably-priced VMS transfer licenses."

At the time Compaq was the owner of the DEC lineup. Later that became HP, but the vendor grappled with the concept of transfer licenses without a released emulator in the 3000 marketplace.

In those early days of 2002, we asked HP's Winston Prather about the prospects for speed in setting up a licensing program for an emulator. What's the rush, he wondered. As we pointed out during his interview in that same season, many more people would be available as 3000 emulator customers in 2002 than, say, 2006.

Boers answered a raft of questions in the same timeframe from 3000 customers about the PA-RISC hardware emulator that would become Charon.

1) Would hardware emulation take more processing power than an OS emulator?

Depends on the OS. With a rich feature OS like VMS, the amount of code required to map all functionality accurately would be huge, expensive to write and to debug, and techniques to speed up execution by dynamically translating instruction sequences would not work. With 1-2 Billion instructions per second available the trick is more to keep the code size small. The total size, including the emulation of the major peripherals, of the run-time part of CHARON-VAX is < 500 KB and it fits in PC cache memory.

The big advantage of hardware emulation is the ability of fast and comprehensive testing by running the hardware diagnostics.

2) Does your VAX emulator provide bridges or gateways to the native OS or hardware? Is such even desirable?

Those bridges are available and used e.g to store emulated disks as files (although you can connect physical disks). Serial lines are effectively telnet sessions, and instead of mapping to the host serial ports, you can link them to host applications. But the goal is to leave the OS of the emulated system in control; our design goal is always to be able to run any available OS of the emulated system.

3) For MPE to run directly (ie. loaded directly from HP tapes) wouldn't you have to emulate the entire HP 3000 architecture?

Yes, certainly, that is exactly what we do for the VAX and PDP-11 emulators. For the PDP-11 we emulate over 100 devices (for the VAX less). We generate each device emulator component directly from its hardware description. A CHARON-VAX emulator is booted directly from the standard VAX/VMS installation kit on CD or standalone backup on tape.

4) Could you emulate multiprocessor 3000 hardware config (or, would you need to?)

Yes, but you need a host SMP system to benefit from the multiple emulated CPUs. We run actually clusters of VAX/VMS systems on a single SMP host that way. It only makes sense if performance is an issue, but if the original hardware is capable of it, the emulator should be capable as it is a direct copy.

5) Seems that if you implement a truly portable HP3K hardware implementation, as more modern host hardware becomes available, you could end up with a more powerful MPE box than you could ever have with real 3000 hardware - cheaper too!

Our standard VAX 3600 emulator runs at about five times the speed of a hardware VAX 3600 on an AMD 2000+ system (and probably gets 3 percent faster every year). But the 3600 is a slow system (compared to current technology) to start with. I have not looked into the HP 3000 designs in detail to be able to give an opinion here.

6) How much would we be restricted to peripherals and storage that are compatible with a real HP 3000, and how much could we use non-3000 components: tape drives, DASD, NICs)?

It is a matter of documentation and implementation time, there is no fundamental restriction except for real-time requirements (e.g. connecting with a parallel interface to an instrument), where the host system PCI latency might play a role. But NICs, disks, and tapes map very well. Emulated disks are generally faster than physical ones, because you can use the latest technology.


In-person meeting's fate traces 3000's track

Empty office

It remains uncertain when everyone can return to an in-person office. For the HP 3000 manager, this kind of return may not even be necessary. With few exceptions, nearly every hour of maintenance, configuration, and development on MPE/iX can be virtual. And virus-free, unless you consider the kind of viruses transmitted over the Internet.

The HP 3000 often had its vaccinations to resist such viruses up to date. Security breaches continue to be rare, too. Securing passwords is usually enough to prevent uninvited traffic in the 3000's processors. Even configurations on Intel servers — through the Charon HPA emulators — can be secured in a way that gives 3000 managers few intrusions to talk about.

The conversations about security took place over the 3000's mailing list. In our articles we often called it a newsgroup, one that serves a need the face-to-face meetings served. Online does it more efficiently, and at less cost. It’s the kind of thing I wished we would have sponsored earlier. We had to start with print, because ink on paper made it real. Even today in the book world, reviewers demand a printed book at times. Anybody can publish an ebook. Paper makes the author more select.

But by the year 2001, there was room for the newsgroup. 3kworld.com, and a website plus paper for the NewsWire. This year the news exchange on 3000-L has slowed to a trickle. We made our transition to survive by broadening beyond paper for the 3000. There were opportunities. The 3000-L newsgroup begat the NewsWire. For a time, we even licensed our articles, the reporting and content, to a website operated by the biggest North American 3000 distributor. 3kworld didn't last long, but it continued the tradition of getting what you need to know remotely. For decades, August was a big month for in-person training, and September hosted a lot of conferences, too. Web access has filled those opportunities

Long ago, the 3000 experts could work safely from a laptop to administer and repair 3000s. Some of these support pros even had a customer carry around a phone to show the hardware racks and insides of cabinets. Parts that had been shipped to the datacenter, where that phone was running a FaceTime session, were customer-installed. We figure out what we can do that can be helpful to a community whose people are still serving.


25 Years: 3000 gets firebombed, then ideals

Cathedral firebomb
The deepest and dimmest part of the 3000's road might have been the earliest days of 2002. All customers knew for certain was that HP had lost its desire to create more MPE/iX customers. Sixty days earlier, the vendor had revealed its plans to end manufacturing the HP 3000 hardware. About another four years was all HP could promise to thousands of customers.

We talked to Winston Prather, head of the 3000 division, during that darkest month of January. OpenMPE was only an ideal from a few loyal customers, including Jon Backus who spurred the organization's creation.

We asked Prather questions about where 3000 people might head next. This was a time before customers leveled serious broadsides at Hewlett-Packard. His replies went beyond the standard "migrate to another HP server platform."

People are talking about a hobbyist’s license for MPE source code. Is this a good first step for an OpenMPE?

I have no problem showing our source code to people from a hobbyist perspective. I’ve always been an advocate for sharing source code.

Would sharing source code hurt HP in any way?

It’s not obvious to me. I tend to think not. I tend to think that HP would not consider that harmful to us. Those customers who would stay beyond 2006 don’t buy anything from us anyway.

Is HP willing to allow MPE to move beyond the HP umbrella?

HP is willing to allow MPE to live on. I don’t know anyone who’s said differently.

People use Microsoft operating systems with HP hardware today. Do you think an OpenMPE, from a third-party entity, could keep people buying HP hardware?

Would people stay on and eventually buy some HP systems? Probably. Is it material, financially? I don’t think so. Would we invest to make that happen? Probably not. I don’t want to stop MPE from living beyond HP, but the return on investment wouldn’t be worth it for us.

How soon do you think have to make a decision about licensing MPE to parties outside HP?

I don’t feel the need to hurry, other than I know in the chat rooms there’s a lot of discussion about it. It comes back to my feeling that, yes, I want to enable an afterlife. But it doesn’t change my recommendation. If I think the majority of my major accounts — and maybe some medium and small accounts — need to do something different than [use HP 3000s], then what’s our hurry? What’s the difference between announcing this type of enablement here in January, versus waiting six months?


HP emulator OS licenses: easier for VMS than MPE

VW bug license plate
For hobbyists who operate emulators, licenses for OpenVMS have a new supplier. VMS Software Inc. is supplying OS licenses for the VAX users who employ the Stromasys Charon emulators. Up until this year, such licenses were only available from HP.

The HP-only license remains the only type that 3000 hobbyists can use. It might seem like a small point, since a hobbyist won't often be concerned with OS licenses. But the 3000 was once on its way to such a license, attached to the need for an emulator.

The OpenVMS free-to-tinker agreements from VSI have an attractive price, one that MPE/iX never achieved: free.

Hobbyist licensing for VAX and other DEC systems was already a tradition by the time HP merged with Compaq in 2002. Compaq had acquired DEC and its business servers in 1998. The plan for a large footprint for OpenVMS might have played a role in getting the first Stromasys emulator into the world.

That was back in the day when Charon was offered by Software Resources International. The company renamed itself Stromasys in 2012, remaining in close connection with HP. Hewlett-Packard said Charon "prolongs the usability of HP OpenVMS VAX and MicroVAX applications by enabling their transfer to new hardware platforms without any conversion effort."

It was just the sort of thing the 3000 community desired: vendor blessing of an independent emulation tool. More important, such a blessing was going to arrive before HP stopped selling new OS licenses.

"CHARON-VAX emulates a complete MicroVAX system on an OpenVMS Alpha, Linux, Windows NT or Windows 2000 platform," HP told customers in a 2005 web page, "allowing OpenVMS applications to run unmodified."

A $500 license for a production-level system was HP's best offer at the time. Users had to be running an Alpha system to get that deal. Windows and Linux systems would cost a user $1,000. HP called these extension licenses. The hobbyist-grade OS was free.

HP is providing the following extension licenses for the CHARON-VAX environment, allowing the OpenVMS VAX operating system and OpenVMS VAX layered products and licenses to be transferred to the CHARON-VAX environment.

HP bought in fully on integrating Charon with HP's support. The existing HP software service contracts were valid on supported OpenVMS VAX applications running on the emulator. HP fixed software problems if they were also seen in a comparable VAX environment. The offer extended to a layered version of the OS, which included compilers, clustering, and more.

Emulator licenses for MPE/iX

HP 3000 users were teased with a deal that hinged on the release of Charon or any other emulator. In a crucial move, a customer would be able to purchase a license that was not connected in any way to an existing 3000 system.

Late in 2003, HP said it "intends to establish a new distribution plan for MPE/iX which will likely be effective by early 2004. The MPE/iX OS would be licensed independent of the HP e3000 hardware platform. The license terms would grant the licensee the right to use a single copy of MPE/iX on a single HP hardware platform subject to certain terms and conditions."

HP wanted its emulator-based users to host the systems on HP-branded PCs. There was little technology available to verify such a condition, though. MPE would be provided "AS-IS" with no warranty.

HP didn't endorse the use of a 3000 emulator in 2004. The HP stuck fast to the strategy that the best move was a transition from MPE/iX to another HP platform. "At the same time, HP realizes that some customers are interested in running MPE/iX applications in an emulated environment."

The expected price for an MPE/iX license was $500, with a right to use that was non-transferable. HP was going to include subsystems software such as compilers, but it didn't get specific about products.

The DEC VAX license was generous in its bundle of software:

ACMS, ALL-IN-1, HP Ada, HP BASIC, HP C, CMS, COBOL, DCE, DCPS, DECmigrate, DECram, DECwrite, DFS, DQS, DTM, DTR, DECnet-Plus, DECnet Phase IV, DECwindows Motif, FMS, Forms, Fortran, GKS, LSE, MACRO-64, MAILbus, MMS, Notes, Pascal, PCA, PHIGS, RMS Journaling, RTR, SLS, SQL, TCP/IP Services for OpenVMS, VAXcluster, OpenVMS Clusters, Volume Shadowing for OpenVMS, X.25, X.500.

For MPE/iX, the emulator license to create new 3000s based only on PC-Intel hardware never showed up in time. HP inserted a clause that said such a license could only be purchased when an emulator was being sold. Then the vendor closed out the offer by saying it would sell no MPE/iX licenses of any kind after 2010.

The deal stands in sharp contrast with the OpenVMS lifespan engineered by HP Enterprise. An independent company, VSI, holds the rights to the OS. Now it's going to be able to distribute an OpenVMS for hobbyists.


Making today's switches handle 9x7s?

Series 9x7 Family
For any manager outside the HP 3000 ecosystem, it's hard to fathom: a business server last sold during the 1990s hosts a scheduling app today. Yes, it's a 9x7 Series HP 3000, the servers that launched the second generation of PA-RISC computing at HP. First, there was the Series 930 in 1987, followed quickly by the Series 950 and the 925. In a blink of an eye, HP built the 9x7s, known as Nova servers at the time.

MPE/iX 6.0 is as current as it gets for a Series 957, the system that Jim Maher is trying to keep in play at his company. That's an HP 3000 first shipped 29 years ago. These are usually the RX models that sold for about $63,000 new. That configuration gets you 64 concurrent users. Back in those days, a 3000 was sold with a fixed number of users.

"Has anyone experienced issues, or had to make configuration changes, to their HP 3000 when upgrading Cisco switch IOS to version 16.09.05?" Maher asked on the lightly-used HP3000-L list.

He explained that "it's a 957 running 6.0 that runs an old scheduling app developed years ago. We have been trying to get off it for years. We connect through a transceiver on the multi-function board. Pretty simple, I'm told. The last time they updated the Cisco switch they had some problems. Any help would be much appreciated."

For the most part, development on the 9x7 Series ended in 1997. That's when HP rolled out the Series 997 along with the recently updated Java/iX. The version 4 of Java turned out the be the last one included with MPE/iX. 

Maher didn't get a reply on the 3000-L to his query, so if a reader here has Cisco-plus-MPE/iX 6.0 experience, please pass it along to him. Meanwhile, marvel at a 29-year-old design managing to keep up with 21st Century switches — with a little help from the 3000's friends.


Old hardware dogs use newer tricks for mail

Mailbox in field
HP 3000s can surprise us with their tenacity. A consultant to a financial services company is managing mail exchange from an HP 3000. The work relies on the Telemon MAIL software, created in the 1990s by the well-regarded data transfer company.

Telemon gave the world the Typeahead Engine during the 1990s. The hardware device improved HP 3000 connectivity speeds. When the Internet rose up in the next decade, MAIL made its way into some 3000 shops.

In the years that followed, MAIL found a place in many other IT shops because it had been released into the wild. Stein said MAIL, installed on a 3000 today, shows as being from 1998. "They would like to send email out via a service, such as SendGrid, instead of a local exchange server."

The HP 3000 in the equation is timeless enough that it doesn't have a formal database. It uses Keyed Sequential Access Method files. "They are big on KSAM," Stein says. "KSAM is definitely a different animal."

Emailing data from a 3000 is a different animal, too. The Telemon software is at the heart of MAIL.MAIL.ESP from Beechglen. "Addressees can be configured with SETVARs," says Tracy Johnson from TE Connectivity. "It sends via our company exchange server and is routed from there."

"Beechglen's software uses Telamon's email program. MAIL was shareware. If SendGrid uses SMTP relay, I believe you can configure it to use SendGrid." Johnson offers to cut a DDS tape of MAIL and snail mail it to Stein.

Mark Ranft of Pro3K says, "I’ve used the Telamon mail.exe program for years. The mail hosting server must be configured to allow mail forwarding from the IP address of the HP 3000. Keep in mind, your mail/security teams may not permit this.

"I am not familiar with SendGrid, but it may allow mail forwarding. I see it has an option for Address Whitelist setting, which allows a specified email address or domain for which mail should never be suppressed."

MAIL and the Beechglen software were created by utility software firms. Meanwhile, Netmail/3000 was built by an Internet pro who focused on well, email: Chris Bartram at 3kassociates.com. Netmail was as full-featured and standards-based as an email package ever got on the 3000.

“They are big on KSAM” is a phrase I never thought I’d hear again. Of course, people think there’s no more MPE enterprise computing, either.

People have been deploying email for decades on MPE/iX. From 2009, this question sits on the Web: Is there a job stream for using Telamon's MAIL program that produces an email with multiple lines in the email body? 

Donna Hofmeister replies, "Put the body into a file, then use the '-m' switch. Alternatively, load the body text into a CI variable and cite/de-reference the variable when you run the program.

Additionally, take advantage of the variables that the MAIL program
recognizes:

MAILSMTPHOST
MAILFROM
MAILTO
MAILCC
MAILBCC
MAILSUBJECT

Using them will help shorten your run line.

Photo by Mikaela Wiedenhoff on Unsplash


3000 emulator marks 10-year run

Zelus logo 2010
One decade ago this week, the Stromasys PA-RISC emulator made its debut in the market and on our webpages. The founders of the project were Dr. Robert Boers and the company's CEO in 2010, John Pritchart. Their interview with us remains useful. The talk, published a couple of years in advance of the release of what Stromasys called Zelus at first, shows the path for replacing HP 3000 hardware remains sound.

Newswire Classic

A long-awaited 3000 hardware emulator appears to be on its way to market, as Stromasys this summer announced a development, test and shipping timeline for Zelus. The product is described as a “cross-platform virtualization system” by the company that was founded as a spin-off from the Digital Computer European Migration Center in 1998. Stromasys, which called itself Software Research International until last year, has thrived on an emulator for DEC customers, those who need to keep using Vax, Alpha and PDP-11 hardware to support legacy applications. HP put the 3000 effort at Stromasys on ice for more than a year while it cleared the transfer of MPE boot technology for the emulator.

The software has more to offer than making companies able to use 3000s indefinitely. Stromasys says Zelus will buy time for the sites which are migrating and need more connectivity and power for their interim 3000s during a migration.

Robert Boers headed up the company during 2009, but this year brought on John Pritchard as CEO so Boers could focus on the tasks of being the firm’s CTO. In the wake of the company’s announcement about Zelus at the recent HP Technology Forum, we interviewed the pair via Skype, bridging the gap between Texas and their Swiss headquarters -- even as the company works out details to bridge what will be an 8-year gap in 3000 manufacture when Zelus goes on the market next year.

Your press statement on Zelus says the product “ensures continuity after the phase-out program of the HP 3000 hardware.” Do you believe that’s how your customers will view the situation: phasing out the 3000?

Pritchard: For people who have mission-critical legacy systems, they believe all of their hardware are on life support. What we’re offering is to shift their focus away from worrying about hardware maintenance to giving them a software platform life that is independent of a hardware platform.

When it ships next year, will this product bridge the gap between 3000 hardware last built in 2003 and the newer technologies such as iSCSI?

Boers: Things like iSCSI will work out of the box. We do that for our VAX and Alpha emulation routinely, because iSCSI is elegant and useful. You tell Windows to create a virtual disk which is an iSCSI disk. You can tell the emulator that this virtual device is your SCSI drive. You can map to new hardware, so if you have serial ports, for example, you can map them to an Ethernet-based remote serial multiplexer. Most of this stuff is mapped standards.

So does that mean that the controlling environment for the emulator will be Windows?

Boers: It can be anything. For the time being, we typically develop under Windows 64 bits. But we provide these products under Linux as well. The customer only sees MPE. Basically, these things behave as virtual clients. From a usage point of view, you don’t have to know where they run. In Linux, we remove what we want, so you have something that runs on the footprint of VMWare. But for all of these choices, we need to know more about what the customer is looking for.

Pritchard: One of the purposes of this announcement to start to invite a dialog with the community. We want to select a few sponsor companies who’ll say, “Here’s my application, I want to be one of the first to migrate. Here’s my configuration, and here’s what I need.” We want to focus our development team on just a few specific customer applications.

We’ve gotten far enough in our prototyping to know that it really works, and what we need is a lot more market feedback and a couple of sponsor customers to work with, to get a few successes under our belts.

What is being a sponsor customer going to look like?

Pritchard: We’ll select a couple of companies that will give us complete access to their environment for their 3000 application. The customers we’re looking for in early adopters should be lower-risk environments.

Boers: Let me give you a couple of examples. In dealing with Hewlett-Packard, the issue they had the most difficulty with was the whole physical licensing process, their hardware-enforced licensing mechanism. They have given us two device ID strings which we can use in out emulators, a low- and a high-end machine.

The other issue is something that HP is washing it’s hands of: Unlike physical hardware, you can run this emulator on a number of different platforms with different performances. A lot of the third party licensing is based on performance. If we don’t do anything, then there’s no performance information there. I want to know from the third party software providers if that’s okay, or what we can do technically with ease, provide information about relative system performance [of the emulator.]

We can emulate a system ID string as a standard. Every time you install an emulator you buy another license key.  Whether to some extent software vendors want to link to that.

We addressed this a couple years ago, when we did our first attempt. I didn’t really get information in that area — except for comments that it should really be HP, as part of their software transfer licenses [of MPE/iX] who should take care of that. But obviously, HP is pretty much out of the game by now.