An Ill Wind Blows for HP's Show
Early word: Technology Forum postponed

HP reaches out for its MPE bits

HP's engineers reached out to a public customer mailing list and newsgroup this week to look for a key cross-complier — one that a development arm of HP had lost and could not recover from other HP software groups after a disk crash. Once the call from HP went public, another part of the 3000 team at HP replaced the missing software. But the incident showed how complex the tree of software has become for HP to manage MPE/iX builds. Several customers took note of how the incident shed light on the disaster recovery and backup process in the HP lab.

The problem surfaced after a Unix system in HP labs endured a disk crash. Much of the development of HP's software takes place on HP-UX systems, including the building of Steams/iX components for the HP 3000 operating environment. As we noted in an item in this month's Hidden Value column, typical applications which use the Streams/iX subsystem on MPE/iX are web servers, sendmail and most commonly, the POSIX “|” HPPIPE command. HP is funding an engineer project this month to review its build process for MPE/iX, to ensure that an outside organization could find everything it needs to carry MPE development forward.

The engineers in one HP lab looked hard over the weekend for the cross-compiler, but couldn't find what they needed. Engineer Nandisha H M explained in a public post:

In the last few weeks back there was a OS disk crash on Harry (HP-UX 10.X) which is our build machine for Streams/iX. Later we were able to  configure the source repository and other minor settings but, could not  set up the build environment for the same. One of the reason was we  could not find HP-UX 9.x ANSI C Compiler (HP92453-02 A.09.01).

  We tried our level best to resolve this by contacting few internal teams in STSD but, none came to our rescue. Please help us to find the HP-UX 9.x ANSI C Compiler and let us know if you need any more information.

Erik Vistica of the MPE lab in the US soon reported that his group had forwarded the needed compiler to Nandisha's group. But the misplaced bits of HP's build lab triggered comments on the newsgroup where the HP engineer looked for the cross-compiler. In spite of Vistica's quick recovery, few of those newsgroup opinions expressed confidence in HP's ability to maintain MPE/iX.

Tracy Johnson of Measurement Specialties posted in reply, "If OpenMPE were out there, perhaps this listserv could have helped. Too late now, it seems." Mark Landin added, "Fine backup and disaster recovery setup you have there." And Michael Berkowitz of CGS Inc. said, "Without a doubt this is the most pathetic, pitiful thing I've heard. HP employees are begging for help from the users to find lost HP software. Is there no one at HP worldwide that can help them?"

While there was someone in HP's world to help find the missing bits, the level of disbelief indicates the above-average expectations 3000 customers have of their vendor. Many of the 3000's dedicated friends on the 3000 newsgroup are long-term IT professionals who might be embarrassed to need to search so publicly for internal software. Wirt Atmar of AICS Research noted in a post on the newsgroup, "Every organization is filled with internal confusions and misinformation, but those confusions should remain internal. On the other hand though, [this] and other incidents of the same ilk lately are a telling window into the current state of HP."

At least HP was not bashful about hunting about for its missing MPE/iX bits.

Whatever it takes to secure the 3000's enviroment needed to be done. Communication between labs in a company as large as HP is just one of the disadvantages that a smaller development group — like a 30-member OpenMPE virtual lab — will turn to an advantage.