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April 2006

User group hopes to Encompass tech travel

The Encompass user group has announced dates for the 2006 HP Technology Forum, the second edition of the event which found a place on the HP tech travel schedule after Interex imploded last summer. This year the Forum gathers in Houston, a hotbed of HP activity (from the HQ group which served Compaq before its merger with HP.) The town is also likely to be steamy, as is much of South Texas, even in mid-September.

The George R. Brown Convention Center will host the event, which drew about 4,000 attendees counting everybody in 2005. This year's show will be held Sept. 17-22, far enough away from HP's end-of-fiscal-year meetings that managers can attend sessions and meetings with top accounts and sales staff. The Technology Forum is as much a training ground for HP Americas Presales people as it is a resource for the HP customer.

This year's event costs $995 including the discount for being an Encompass member, and the user group and HP (co-creators) promise registration will open June 1. The content lineup includes MPE in the list, perhaps a nod to the migrating customers still seeking advice on embarking down their path away from the 3000. But the content list in this week's e-mail also includes HIPAA and SOX compliance and Tru64 Unix, so no tech stone is being left unturned. For now, Encompass is still seeking papers for presentations at the Forum Web site.

As Interex did before it, Encompass and the Tech Forum are reminding paper presenters that "sessions that include marketing “fluff” will not be considered for approval. There should be no sessions that pitch the sales of a product." This may not be the case for HP itself while presenting to its Presales staff. One session last year was titled "Winning against the IBM P5." Marketing might have crept into that one.

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HP announces power supply failures

HP has announced power supply failures on a range of its replacement servers for HP 3000s: the HP 9000 units most commonly installed by customers who have been migrating.

A message this morning from HP's Business Report Center tells customers using an rp7405/rp7410, rp7420 or rx7620 that the Bulk Power Supply (BPS) needs to be changed out for a new module. HP identified the failed BPS units with the serial number range 73040CG00452 to 73040CI01407. That's the serial number of the BPS, not the server itself. HP also notes an Engineering Date Code of 0437 or lower that needs to be verified.

The 7410 is an HP 9000 model in the same N-Class as the HP 3000's N-Class. Customers who converted their HP 3000 N-Class servers to HP 9000s created a 7410 after the conversion. HP's got a lot of power supplies to replace, but the vendor is only supplying parts for its support customers. This is a customer-installed repair, if you're relying on HP's support.

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Looking for advice on unplugging Powerhouse

Thousands of HP 3000 sites relied on Cognos' Powerhouse at the language's peak, in the days when a home-grown application was the norm among the 3000 community's shops. That number has declined, along with the 3000's installed base, but some companies are still using Powerhouse while they try to migrate away form the fourth-generation language.

One such company is gm2 Logistics, Ltd. The company began using the packaged MPE application from Distribution Resources back in the 1980s, and the years have added a significant amount of customization through Powerhouse. John Boyd, the IT director there, is looking for a report from an HP 3000 site that has migrated away from Powerhouse.

gm2 is moving to the IBM iSeries servers, which Boyd has said are a revelation. However, it's the application migration which has run over budget, he reports.

We are an existing user on an Series 989-250 in the UK. Our entire system is written in Powerhouse and uses Omnidex and all the usual utilities: JMS, Orbit, Netbase and DBGeneral. We have about 450 users and are in the midst of this migration to an iSeries.

As something of a personal crusade on my part, do you know of any similar companies over your side of the pond that have successfully re-engineered their Powerhouse applications to something else, and been successful? The costs of the new project to migrate to an ERP system seem to be mushrooming, and I would just like to see if there are any other similar migrations from a similar outfit.

3000 support includes former HP engineers

HP has spread its expanse of experience all across the 3000 community — perhaps nowhere more obviously than through ex-HP staffers working at third party companies supporting the computer, its operating system and applications. Even though HP has got a 2-3 year exit plan for its 3000 operations, its expertise will work on after the HP support center no longer takes calls.

Many third party support companies use former HP staffers. One example of ex-HP staff still working for the 3000 community comes from Abtech. Although the company endured some rough times seven years ago during HP's pogrom against used 3000 resellers, the firm has maintained its presence in the 3000 space through support of the systems.

"The majority of HP 3000 business that we are doing these days is in regards to support," said Abtech president Bob Russell. "We have the intellectual capital and capability to support customers who chose to stay with the HP 3000 platform, for many years to come

Russell said his company has several CEs in its support network who have HP employment on their resumes.

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How HP bails out those patches

Last week we took a look at the bailout process for HP 3000 patches. By "bailout" I mean the green light to release a patch from beta testing to the 3000 community. More than 80 patches across three versions of the MPE/iX OS are in beta. Getting them out is a matter of having them tested. But tested how much?

I posed the question to HP labs member Jeff Vance late last week, who assured me that the issue was being looked into. While I wait for HP's answer, I looked up the last reply I got from last summer. Ross McDonald, chief of the 3000 labs, said the number of test reports needed, well, it depends. On how complex the patch is, what the scope of the change covers.

Quite awhile back (late summer of '04), the 3000 lab members gathered at an OpenMPE meeting during the final HP World. I could sense the frustration, even back then, on how little testing the user community could offer for the labs' enhancement work.

2004's HP comments during that OpenMPE meeting led me to believe that fewer customers might now be required to test patches -- fewer than, say, back in 2001, before the market got busy migrating their 3000s. How many are enough? Until I receive an update — I have asked how many of the 80 "jailed" patches have at least some beta report — I'll let McDonald speak for HP, in his 2005 reply.

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LIsten up: Tell HP support to look at the clock

In our weekend podcast (3MB MP3 file) we talk for about 5 minutes about the way time doesn't move fast enough in HP's support arm. We hear from 3000 customers like John Bawden of Qualchoice. John wants to test those 3000 patches, the ones that HP's 3000 group is asking about. HP won’t let him. John has moved on from HP support, like a lot of you. He represents the kind of customer who asked for enhancements.

Did HP tell Bawden and others that when they stepped off the HP support train, they'd lose the chance to get their enhancements on their systems. We bet not. But HP can reset its clock and start treating beta-test reports for 3000s different than the systems they're not cancelling. Ask HP to do this, now that it's asked you to test its enhancement engineering.

HP makes case to get patches into PowerPatch

HP informed the 3000 user community that the MPE/iX 7.5 PowerPatch deadline is hard upon the 3000 lab, and there are more than 30 beta-test patches still not qualified to be included in the PowerPatch. Tests of PowerPatches must be completed by customers on HP support. The 7.5 patches can only be tested on a subset of the 3000 installed base: any server released before the 9x8 systems won't be able to run 7.5.

HP's Jeff Vance sent a message about the beta limbo to the 3000-L newsgroup and OpenMPE mailing list today. He pointed out the many possible testing prospects — customers who asked for enhancements, customers who voted for an enhancement via the Systems Improvement Ballots of 2003 and 2004.

(Yes, some of these enhancements are still not in General Release status, more than three years after a customer's request. Time moves slower in the 3000 community; many customers are still running a 6.5 version of MPE/iX, or even earlier releases.)

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OpenMPE and belief in changes

In this week's saga of the cut-rate Series 987 on auction in South Texas, another Texan has pushed the bidding to triple digits. Matthew Perdue, who operates the ISP, consults for HP 3000 clients in the healthcare biz, and sits on the OpenMPE board, holds the current high bid of $153 today.

Perdue, who will be the subject of our 3000 NewsWire Q&A interview in our upcoming May issue, wants to use the system for experimentation at first, then press the 9x7 hardware into service at a client site that's on a budget but needs more horsepower.

We first wrote about Perdue several years ago when he was offering a 3000-based ISP application, since the ones that he'd tried to use from the Windows world were so bad. This year he reports that he's hoping that 9x7 systems will eventually be able to run MPE/iX 7.0, to help with all of the HP patch beta-testing that's still to be done. It's a request HP has refused several times, even through extra help offers from the OpenMPE network of customers.

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HP enhances its 3000 analyzer tool

HP has made improvements to its free System Inventory Utility (SIU), the script which is designed to give the System Manager everything from a full summary to a detailed view of what exactly is installed on a given system. HP's MPE/iX engineer Jeff Vance reported that the newest version of the tool has been enhanced

so that when the “level” parm is set to FILES it displays additional “special” MPE files. Example file types include: KSAM (data, previously just KSAM key files were reported), KSAMXL, KSAM64, CIR, RIO, MSG, etc.

When the SIU first made its debut more than four years ago, our TestDrive reviewer John Burke said "it is intended to help the team planning a migration to identify files and systems that might have to be dealt with. For the homesteader... it is intended to help organize the 3000 system and target areas that might need your attention."

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Turn spoolfiles into PDF documents

HP 3000 data becomes more useful if it can be e-mailed as industry standard report documents. After more than a decade of pushing at it, Adobe has made its PDF format pretty much the de-facto way to exchange docuements, even the complex ones.

Which might have prompted this question from HP consultant and Suprtool trainer Jeff Kubler:

Does anyone have a lead on a tool that converts spoolfiles to PDF files? Are there any Contributed Library tools?

It's not exactly free from the Interex Contributed Library (and what ever happened to those programs, anyway, since the Interex bankruptcy?) but the txt2pdf toolset works nicely to make this conversion. Even in its most advanced version it's under $1,000, at last glance. Bob McGregor reports as much.

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Why moving on quick is good for the future

Change can be scary, costly for customers. Software vendors hate it — until it opens up their markets. In our Weekend Edition podcast, (3MB MP3 file), I talk for six minutes about how options and imagination – those are essential to staying ready for the future, changing fast enough to make a difference.

Customers are considering where to go from their cozy 3000 world. A lot has changed in systems since they last made such a choice. You have to be sure your vendor — or the platform provider for your new system — has the commitment to follow through on change. In a couple of instances, HP's management couldn't, um, manage this for the 3000.

Try not to worry about whether the vendor is leaving some software vendors behind. Those that have the legs to maintain the pace, they will keep up. It's a lot more serious when your vendor cannot, or will not, keep up with what the market needs from a system.

What $7 might have cost in 1993

A few days back we took note of an HP 3000 Series 987 server selling this week for $7 on auction. (It's gotten exactly one bid since it went up at Lemons Auctioneers; the auction ends in about a week.) I scratched around our offices to dig up the HP original announcement of the /150 version of this server, just to see how much this kind of system used to cost.

Bottom line: A customer would've paid $138,320 for this RX version in October of 1993, which included a whopping 64MB of memory, a 100-user MPE/iX license a full 1GB of disk. Even at the usual 10-20 percent discount, this was easily a $120,000 system when outfitted for real use.

Armed with the numbers, I calculated the discount, in the event this system sells for under $10. Figure a savings of more than 99.99 percent on this unit. (I had to reach for an HP product even older than this Series 987 — my HP 14-B calculator, circa 1989, and still working with its original set of batteries — to figure the result to beyond five decimal places.) Only the cost of shipping and power makes this anything less than a steal, compared to its original asking price.

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Independent MPE Ed options are en route

Since HP is stepping out of the HP 3000 education business, a third-party team with several decades of experience in MPE training is ramping up its first offerings this spring. These days, getting people to attend in-person training is getting to be the exception which proves the rule: online, Web-based training.

In years past this was called Computer Based Training, but CBT was a soul-less experience compared to being in a seat in front of an instructor. Now with software like the kind used during last summer's OpenMPE meeting in Cupertino, students can raise their hand, ask questions, chat with other students, even refer to a Web page within their messages.

The training partnership of Frank Smith at Alden Research and Paul Edwards of Paul Edwards & Associates reports that they are continuing the transition process from HP to their venture in accordance with the agreement signed by both parties last year.

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Amazing: 1,200 3000 users for $7

Nothing holds its value for long in the world of computing. But HP 3000s do better than many business systems, selling for a significant fraction of their cost even a decade after they were purchased new. However, an exception this week shows the potential for unbelieveable savings for homesteaders.

An HP 3000 Series 987RX is up for auction at a current asking price of $7. The system, which was turned off five years ago, "was running fine" in 2001, according to Spring, Texas school district IT manager Michael Anderson. The system was turned in to the fixed assets department of the district earlier this year, after it had served as a disaster recovery system between 2001 and 2005.

It's difficult to describe the nose-dive in value for such a system, should it sell for less than $10. Imagine a BMW sedan, built in the 1970s, selling for under a dollar and you get the picture. Perhaps that comparison might include the note that the car could only travel less than 25 MPH, but was in great shape and a bargain to update. HP lists the relative performance of the 987 at 3.2 times the speed of a Series 918. This $7 server is still more powerful than the first generation of the A-Class servers released in 2001, according to the Relative Perfomance chart at AICS Research.

Memory for the 987 Series is still available online at $129 for 128 MB. The 987 tops out at 784 MB for RAM capacity. And this server will never boot up with MPE/iX 7.0. But it runs MPE/iX 6.5, still a supported version of the 3000's OS.

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HP points out 3000 security enhancements

Some customers might not call them enhancements, but the new security patches to the 3000's OS released last week represent some internal improvements that no company but HP can deliver to the computer. For the next few years, anyway; HP has stopped OpenMPE's source code lab plans until 2008 by announcing a couple more years for the vendor's support to 3000 customers.

Not that there's anything wrong with that, as Jerry Seinfeld might say. But now HP's 3000 group has some new work before it — figure out how to extend the lifespan of MPE expertise in the company. For years, HP's virtual CSY group was estimating its on-time departure from the 3000 space at Dec. 31, 2006. Now these engineers and managers will need to make a couple more years of time in their workloads for MPE/iX. At least you'd hope so, anyway, since support issues with the 3000 could be non-trivial over the next two-plus years. When an OS gets 30 years mature, things that require the vendor's repair are closer to its core. You will want lab-level HP backup for support now; even completing what's on the to-do list is going to need seasoned engineers (think IMAGE LargeFile datasets).

The exceptions are those parts of the 3000 environment built to bring the system into the world of the new decade, or even the 1990s. File Transfer Protocol (FTP) services have lagged behind the rest of the world's FTP for some time. New patches for MPE/iX 7.5, 7.0 and 6.5 (sorry, 6.0-and-earlier users) improve FTP in several areas. HP says it makes SOX compliance easier. HP has engineering resources in place to bring these enhancements to general release, once beta test reports roll in. Get the patches while you can, if you're on HP support.

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Platforms: The easier part of migration

HP 3000 sites juggle two kinds of migrations when they leave their MPE applications behind. The first is the choice of a new platform. After all, that's the reason many sites who have decided to migrate do so: their view of the 3000's future agrees with HP's.

Then there's the application migration. In many cases, the MPE/iX apps are just too complex to migrate. IT pros, or their management, choose a new application, one which will expand and improve on the 3000's functionality. They hope. But first there's the work, to bring the new app into production.

At gm2 Logistics in the UK, platform promise has been delivered, according to John Boyd. IBM's i5 — known as the iSeries and AS/400 in its earlier generations — is stepping up nicely to improve on the 3000's ability there. The application migration has been a different story, so far.

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Migration and Chinese history

Even though HP's 3000 decision is more than four years old, frustration with the transition struggle still lives among the user base. The veteran IT staffers understand that change will be part of a lively career. Some don't savor living in such interesting times.

One recently-prolific customer, Dave Powell, spoke out on the 3000 newsgroup about how migration seems to compare to a bit of Chinese history.

The Chinese sage Mencius, 4th century BC, was asked by Prince Wen of Kung what to do about pressure from larger neighbors. Mencius replied with a tale of King Tai of Pin, who in ancient times (which is saying a lot, coming from him) had been under pressure from barbarians.

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Advice on which database issues matter

Transoft's Business Solutions Division manager Robert Collins offered advice awhile back on migration, the kind of overview that can be the first step to moving off an HP 3000. It's a 30,000-foot view, with some close-ups. But his counsel outlines several issues relative to relational databases — the ones nearly every 3000 manager will adopt in place of IMAGE/SQL.

Collins said, "You have several options. Just depends on what your company goals are:"

Using various tools (like those we sell), you can move to Eloquence or you can make more changes to the new environment you are going to. Or you can run in more of an emulated mode where you change the back end of the application to be more modern (RDBMS, VB, etc) but the code still looks and feels the same.

For instance, you can move the IMAGE database to an RDBMS such as SQL Server or Oracle, while keeping the COBOL code looking and feeling just like it always has.  You can even move your KSAM files to the RDBMS but make no changes to the source.

Same on the JCL.  You can run the JCL in an emulated mode on the target platform.

Same on VPlus, but with some added benefits.  You can emulate VPlus on the target platform and your users still get character screens.  Or you can point them to VB or ASP type screens with no code changes on the back end.

Or you can go more “native” and convert everything to use more of the native OS features.  You can change the IMAGE calls to native SQL.  You can convert the JCL to VB script or UNIX korn shell script, and so on and so forth.

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Creating rich text from 3000 report files

Dave Powell, an ignited resource from the HP 3000 user community, is considering enhancements to his HP2RTF command file for transforming MPE/iX reports to the Rich Text Format. His work is a great example of how the 3000, given its do-it-yourself nature, is going to have a longer lifespan than any vendor might give the system.

HP2RTF is an everyday solution to an application need: convert files to be used across a company (in this case, MM Fab). Powell explains:

Input is a normally a fairly plain-vanilla report saved in a cctl regular file, but can be a spoolfile, or anything with cctl.  Output is a file in rich-text format so it will be readable on any PC word-processor once you send it to a PC. We use it, plus an e-mail program, to send reports to sales reps and customers.

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Reliable advice on speeding up 3000s

About a month ago our editor Gilles Schipper posted a fine article on improving CPU performance on 3000s "in a heartbeat." One of our readers asked a question which prompted Gilles to clarify part of the process to speed up a 3000, for free.

(And no, unfortunately the article doesn't report that HP has pulled out the MPE/iX code that slows down the latest generation of 3000 systems. We're still waiting for that news from HP, perhaps in vain. But you never know...)

Gilles, who offers HP 3000 and HP 9000 support through his firm GSA, Inc., has also replied to a recent question about how to make a DLT backup device return to its speedy performance, after slowing to about a third of its performance.

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