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May 31, 2006

HP hasn't been open to personality changes

In the first day after we reported on Advant's program to offer third party services for creating HP 3000s from "generic" PA-RISC systems, HP has not responded to the news. But the vendor might feel that it doesn't need to answer. Its policies on third party alteration of systems are already on record — on a Web page which Advant's Steve Pirie has already pointed out.

The business landscape has changed since HP laid out its policies on PA-RISC server alterations. HP no longer sells its HP 3000 line, so the damages it might sue for, to prevent third parties from changing HPCPUNAME, may be harder to tote up. The method to alter the stable storage in the servers has changed, too; an SS_CONFIG program — long requested by the OpenMPE advocates for the transition to third party support —  is no longer HP's key to transforming a server from one model to another. Advant will do such work for a fee for other third party suppliers, as well as its own support customers, by using SSEDIT, a program that it developed "with no knowledge whatsoever" of HP's technology.

"SSEDIT's been around since 1995," Pirie said, "and HP has had a good look at it. Listen, why don't they go after the people who do MPEX? Anybody that writes their own program and runs it on an HP system — what does HP have to say about it?"

What HP has said is that third party resellers aren't allowed to reset model strings on HP 3000s. HP enforces this with a statement that its support engineers will not repair problems with 3000s that fail to because of errors induced by third-party changes.

From the HP Web site where Pirie — posting anonymously as "Captain GREB" — said "What HP wants you to know about model strings:"

Model Strings Cannot be Set by Customers or by Resellers

Mismatches between HP e3000 A- and N-Class Server model strings and the actual processors installed in the server may result in the server not successfully booting until an HP field CE properly sets the model strings. Mismatches related to processor module frequencies are the most frequent reason for “model string failure to boot” error messages.

If the actual number of processors in an HP e3000 A- or N-Class Server is greater than the number specified in the model string, the number of processors configured at bootup time are limited to the number authorized in the model string and a warning is issued to the user.

These bootup failures and warnings are most likely to occur if someone attempts to move processor modules between servers, or if someone attempts to convert an HP 9000 Server to be an HP e3000 Server. HP field CEs have been instructed to only reset model string values when repairing failing equipment or installing properly purchased HP e3000 field upgrade kits or additional processor modules—never to reset the model strings when someone has improperly added processor modules to an HP e3000 A- or N-Class Server. [Ed. note: italics ours]

There can be little doubt the customer community has a right to modify the HP 3000 hardware once the vendor exits the market. A step toward a third-party's capability before the end of 2008 — when HP can still charge a customer a support fee for this service — might be tested by HP. While using SSEDIT, enabling a processor's full speed under MPE/iX is just a matter of adding an "A" after a pound sign in the program. SSEDIT's sample script to set a model string makes note of the speeding up enhancement. This is the change HP has refused to make to its A-Class and N-Class lineups.

05:33 PM in Homesteading, News Outta HP, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 30, 2006

Can a 3000 server become generic?

A company operated by HP 3000 support and sales corporation Advant wants to help customers create late-model HP 3000s with maximum CPU speeds, telling customers to bring their own licenses of MPE to systems being sold as "GREBs," a Generic REplacement Box for an HP 3000 or 9000.

Advant's Steve Pirie said the company has started to enable these generic systems — Advant doesn't sell the hardware — by employing SSEDIT, software which Advant has been using to modify HP server model strings for support procedures. Advant does not sell SSEDIT, which it describes at the Web site irs4hp.com. It says SSEDIT is a recovery solution, meaning that it was introduced as a means to rescue inoperative HP PA-RISC servers including 3000s.

A GREB would not exist without SSEDIT to give the server its critical personality information: the details of how fast a given 3000 processor will run. "That's how it gets done," Pirie said. "There's no secret to how a GREB gets born. You go to eBay, you buy what you want, and then you GREB it. GREBing it is running SSEDIT, putting in the correct information that you need."

The 3000 community has long speculated that a third-party answer would emerge to counter HP's N-Class crippling. Advant, through GREBs and its use of SSEDIT, appears to be the first such reply.

Pirie said SSEDIT "is all proprietary stuff to us. HP could do the same thing if they wanted." He added that he believes it's possible that many customers don't care anymore what HP thinks about a third-party's alteration of HP server model strings  — whether it's for the purpose of recovering a system, or purchasing a newer 3000 with processors running at maximum speed.

The minimal information at a new Web site, grebs4hp.com, shows a lineup of three newer N-Class servers now available for purchase. The table at the site shows servers running at the maximum speed of their PA-RISC processor, unlike the N-Class systems sold by HP, which are speed-limited — some customers call them "crippled" — because of system personality information.

Has HP worked out an arrangement to allow its servers to be upgraded in speed? Pirie says, "I have no idea. They might be stupid enough to try and do that." The vendor has told OpenMPE's advocates repeatedly it will not open up A-Class and N-Class horsepower range, slowed down on almost all of its newer HP 3000s. But a GREBs system, used with SSEDIT, will provide this maximum horsepower, Pirie said.

08:34 AM in Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (2)

May 29, 2006

Charting the change in weather for shows

Hurricaneseason2006conditions1 Chris Koppe, marketing director of HP Platinum Migration partner Speedware Ltd., has been working to get in touch with the Greater Houston RUG conference organizer Denys Beauchemin via e-mail. Speedware wants to help sponsor the GHRUG conference. We directed Koppe — who now now serves on the Encompass user group board, after serving on the Interex board — toward our March 20 report about the GHRUG conference dates and location, because Koppe wasn't sure if conference was set, or when it would be.

Koppe said he also wants to reach out with Encompass to the GHRUG. And yes, Speedware would like to present some papers at the conference being billed as "the only HP 3000-focused conference" of 2006.

As the 2006 Atlantic hurricane season kicks off this week, it's assuring to know that November's GHRUG dates are beyond the sternest part of hurricane season in the Gulf, although there are always exceptions. Weather doesn't follow a schedule, especially with the Gulf waters remaining warm longer in recent years.

But last year's hurricanes had an impact on the conference schedules around the Gulf. This year, both Encompass and GHRUG are having their shows in Houston. What's more, HP is moving about one-third of the corporation's datacenter operations into Houston. Is HP moving its facilities into harm's way? Hurricane Rita came close to Houston just three weeks after Katrina leveled the levees in New Orleans.

What is it about the pull toward Houston that HP continues to undertake? There's the location of the Compaq resources there in the city, the former headquarters of HP's takeover partner, sure. Too obvious?

On the Internet newsgroups, 3000 users are discussing Katrina, even now, more than nine months on from the disaster. I think of Katrina -- and Rita -- when I think about HP's recent decision to consolidate its 85 datacenters into six. Two of them are in Houston. HP said it picked the three cities on several factors, including the cities' safety from natural disasters. I can understand that a little for the centers in Austin (it floods here, but there's high ground on the old Tandem site in North Austin), and even in Atlanta.

But when I consider how close Rita came to Houston, I wonder if HP isn't fooling itself about Houston's safety, being so close to the Gulf.

If you're considering a registration to either conference — Encompass and the HP Tech Forum open up the online registration on Wednesday, June 1 — try not to let the weather scare you off. There's much to be learned at either of these conferences. The lessons probably won't include evacuation procedures. A record four major hurricanes hit the US last year. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA), America's weather service, is predicting a lively 2006 hurricane season, however.

It might be a minor tempest compared to the challenge of transition for 3000 customers who have waited for 2006 to begin. Both of these conferences have potential to set a clearer path to safe waters.

06:10 AM in Homesteading, Migration, News Outta HP, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 26, 2006

Matt Perdue: Making things work for a long time to come

Mattperdue OpenMPE Board member Matt Purdue is the subject of our May Q&A interview. He pursued the Series 987 system which had a starting bid of $7 and won the system at auction. He's also put a lot of time and energy into helping HP 3000 sites homestead, or prepare for their transition.

Yesterday we ran the first part of our Q&A with Purdue. Today we continue with his reports on migration pace, optimal platform, and how long an HP 3000 could be expected to do useful service.

How fast do you see your clients and contacts doing their migrations?

     At a very cautious pace. One has to remember that these application systems are used to run the entire business (at least the ones I work on) and not just a portion of the business. PCs are used, but the core business data resides on the 3000. Therefore they are very cautious in changing the system that supports their very existence.

Of all of the platforms and OSes you’ve seen, which one looks like a good fit for the 3000 customer who’s got to migrate?

   Linux. Running on anything.

Q&A continues

Being realistic, how long would you recommend a customer could rely on their 3000? What are the factors you’d ask them to consider?

    For hardware and software, at least another 10 years, maybe more. The hardware should be able to be supported with parts from the secondary market for at least 10 years — start buying now.     Software is another issue; if an application is relatively stable, then 10 years at least — if the app needs changes, then the support period depends on availability of people to do the work, and I’m sure there will be people around the MPE community for at least another 5-7 years with dwindling numbers as Year 10 approaches.

    Other consideration factors would include hardware availability and stability of the applications. Along with availability of people to do software support and maintenance and hardware maintenance. Consider what has happened in the almost five years since HP’s announcement — people and hardware are still available and that five years has passed very quickly. Certainly many shops have gone to other platforms or are still in the process, and overall the number of software people has remained basically stable.

    I remember some saying that everyone was going to flee the 3000 and there’d be no one left to turn off the lights by 12-31-06. Well, if the past five years experience can be a guide for the next five, that forecast will simply not be true.

Considering your Amisys experience, is there a packaged application you could recommend to healthcare companies leaving the 3000?

    Facets provides about 60 percent of the functionality of Amisys, so for those going to Facets there will be a lot of surround code that has to be written and tested to get back to business levels available with Amisys/3000 and Amisys Advance for HP-UX. Amisys Advance is available and probably the best course, but any Amisys customer has to take into account the end of the PA-RISC chipset announced by HP last year — so they’ll have yet another migration in the future. Migrations will become a way of data processing life. I do have a group of consultants that would like to write a replacement for Amisys, but that as you know takes time, money and a willing HMO to assist with the design and testing.

On support: do you offer it for hardware or software on 3000s? Is the third-party market meeting the needs of your clients’ support?

       While I maintain my own systems as much as possible (I’ve been “homesteading” since my first 3000 Series 48), I do what you could call “front line” hardware support for clients — taking a look at the problem and making a determination based on experience if the problem can be solved internally or either HP or third party support has to be called.

   For example, I can replace disk drives, power supply boards, interface boards, etc. and do reloads or reinstalls with no problem, but if a CPU board goes out, well, then it’s time to call HP! Software support I’ve done since 1977, including acting as a standby systems manager from 1977 to 1985 for one company. Not to knock HP’s hardware support people, but for a long time now most of them are based in the 9000 and don’t really know the 3000. So some of the third party support companies can provide very good maintenance services, since they have a lot of the 3000 people who left HP!

What is the one HP 3000 end-of-life policy that you want HP to reconsider soonest? What’s most in need of reversal?

   Allowing 9x7s to run MPE/iX 7.0 and 7.5. HP is not going to change its corporate mind and announce the reversal of its end of 3000 business, and that is that, so there’s no reason to even hope for that one.

   Other issues such as un-crippling the speed of the lower end boxes to run at full power won’t be done either, due to third party software vendor rights issues and issues HP has internally. Personally, I’d like to see that un-crippling allowed on a case-by-case basis for any sites that use third party software which was not sold on a tier basis, such as MPEX and Adager. That way the interests of third party companies can be protected but those sites that have completely home-grown code and just a couple of third party utilities can extend the useful life of their machines.

  HP has publicly stated they are having problems with sites testing beta patches. In a posting a day or so ago, Jeff Vance stated HP may be looking into changing their policy on allowing sites without HP software support to do beta patch testing. So there’s reason to hope HP will change and see that allowing 9x7s (the largest installed base of 3000’s) to run 7.x is in the interest of the community and HP. It would garner them a tremendous amount of goodwill in the community. Many, many sites have machines they will be willing to use to help HP with the patch testing and 7.x issues. HP only need to ask and they shall receive.

Will you stand for another term on OpenMPE when your term expires in 2008?

    I’d very much like to continue to serve the community and present to HP the issues that many people report to me.

Does OpenMPE have a mission for 2006 until HP opens up its source code review process?

   Yes, there are issues to resolve no matter what HP decides to do with MPE after 2008. The “pack it up, put it away” source code review project is still in process and we’re asking HP to let us help. You see, HP decided not to do some of the system improvements that customers requested; maybe those could be funded by the OpenMPE community and the work performed for HP, at HP’s direction of course. This would benefit the community, HP, and OpenMPE for the present needs of user base. It would also help OpenMPE and HP build a stronger working relationship.

    HP’s source code review process is independent of the ultimate decision to release MPE, so that’s three issues: 1) Source code “pack away” review process; 2) Release MPE after 2008 to non-HP support and 3) Work on non-HP supplied and funded SIB issues. I’m sure there are others, but these three come to mind right away.

What do you think is the most misunderstood aspect of being a 3000 homesteader?

     It depends on who’s doing the misunderstanding. I know of some people that think that if the management of a company won’t allocate the funds to pay for what can be very expensive migrations, then they’re not facing reality or they’re not worth supporting anyway. For those people, I’d say that I’m sure they’ve put in budget requests and made their best professional recommendations, only to be turned down by upper management for whatever reasons, sometimes despite making strong and urgent appeals to management.

    There are those that think homesteaders are cheap. Well, maybe they just have different priorities for their capital than others think what should be done. It doesn’t mean they’re cheap or not worth supporting; it just means they’ve decided that what someone else suggests or wants to sell is not in the best interest of their organization.

   I’d say most homesteaders I know (individuals, mid-level and upper level management) want to get the best value for the dollars spent — and spending many tens-of-thousands of dollars, or even millions, to simply move from one platform to another with almost no other benefits other than “we were on box A, now we’re on box B” is not a sound business decision.

04:22 AM in Homesteading, Migration, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 25, 2006

Q&A: Matt Perdue, OpenMPE Board Member

Matt Perdue says he specializes in finding a way to make things work. A sparkplug on the OpenMPE board of directors, Perdue manages his Hill Country.Net ISP business from San Antonio, using the $7-a-month ISP as a platform for his IT consulting with HP 3000 customers both homesteading and migrating. Last month he had enough moxie to win at auction a Series 987 for less than $300, a disaster recovery system — sold new at more than $100,000 — which Perdue has put in as an upgrade at a homesteading customer’s site.

He embraced computers early in life. Perdue started working with them in high school in Maryland, learning everything he could on what the district used. After serving as a student on a school district advisory committee for educational technology, he contacted Hewlett-Packard to say “can my group come and learn on what you’ve got?” The HP of that era opened up everything it had available in its Rockville office for experimentation — including Perdue’s first HP 3000.

He began his IT career doing consulting work for HP customers recommended by HP, “since at the time HP didn’t have any internal resources for such work.” Working in an time when a customer would use a “CRT” — cathode ray tube, for readers who’ve only known “monitors” — he built a CRT interface for a client to an HP9830 workstation “so they wouldn’t waste paper.” His development missions have included applications such as accounting systems, mailing list processing, professional time and expense billing, court docket tracking, and residential design and construction management.

Perdue has served as comptroller of a company, CEO of two construction firms and a residential design firm. But his most significant post to the 3000 community might be his director’s position on the Board of OpenMPE, serving the community in discussions with HP about the future of MPE. After one very interesting year on that board, he ran for another term this spring.

With Perdue’s background in development, consulting, and supporting migration-bound 3000 packaged systems including MANMAN and Amisys, we wanted to ask him about the years to come in a homestead-migrate business, as well as how the 3000’s future looks post-HP. We interviewed him via e-mail in early May, just after HP asked again for beta-testers for its MPE/iX enhancement patches.

How have you changed your business model since HP stopped making and selling the HP 3000?

    The 11-14-01 announcement definitely put a crimp in plans. Prior to the announcement I had five-year plans to release or re-release three software packages and make major marketing efforts in conjunction with HP’s software developer program. After the announcement, needless to say, that changed. Instead of updating the packages native to the 3000, a review had to be done to determine the cost and market return for those packages.

   I can certainly tell you it was not a welcome announcement. As a result, two of those packages have been mothballed and may never resurface again. Our business has changed from producing or re-releasing three packages to one, supporting clients either eventually migrating or homesteading, and continuing to assist clients with business operational support. I’ve also acquired more 3000 hardware than I would have otherwise, both for my consulting group and my clients.

What is the mix of 3000 versus other kinds of work you’ve been doing?

    The 3000/MPE is still the bulk of my time, probably 80-85 percent. The rest is business support functions, project management, working with Linux, investigating Itanium and helping clients solve whatever they need solved.

Q&A continues

Which 3000-related skills have been useful to you in non-3000 work?

   A thorough understanding of solid, best of practice data processing methods. I’ve been told I’m paranoid about my backups. I still know people that give only passing interest to proper backup procedures, but good backup methods and following them have saved me and many a client too many times to count!

Proper training of personnel, run-time documentation, problem reporting and escalation methods, day to day maintenance procedures — there are so many things you see having been in so many different IT departments over the years that I guess you just automatically start forming in your mind the “best of practice” procedures from what you’ve seen.

What do you say to the 3000 community members who doubt OpenMPE will ever make any difference to the customers?

    OpenMPE has already made a difference and will continue to do so. HP is a very large company and has many layers of history, corporate culture and many considerations to take into account — some we know of, some they’ve not shared. So progress can be frustrating at times. Ultimately, however, through persistent and dedicated representation of the community’s interest, I think OpenMPE has helped the folks at HP to better understand the issues its customers have faced since the 11-14-01 announcement.

    I do see that HP is taking these things into consideration for the future of MPE. I thank them for listening to the issues as the community sees them. The process is not complete, but I definitely feel HP and OpenMPE are on the right track.

How much time do you spend on OpenMPE work? Is there any compensation for your time?

   Time spent varies; there is no compensation at this time. When OpenMPE is successful in becoming the custodian and “lab” of MPE and we develop a customer base to provide support for MPE, that may change; but nothing has been discussed. The Board meets by conference call each week for one to two hours and then there are side issues of support for OpenMPE itself between those calls.

A few years back you were offering an ISP management package running on MPE. What’s become of that app? Is ThumbNet still using it through the ASP model?

   Thumb.Net is still using it, as are two others. I’ve had inquiries from others but have been swamped developing a full replacement system for a client that runs their entire business: basically a membership accounting system with some curious member-specific requirements. The system also maintains a great deal of information that the members purchase from the company — they’ve been in business 46 years, so there’s 46 years of history. In my “spare” time I’ve been working on porting that ISP package to both Itanium and gentoo.org Linux.

08:11 AM in Homesteading, Migration, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 24, 2006

Fewer changes mean fewer glitches

At SMB HP 3000 customer Aerocraft Heat Treating, a combination of new-platform tools that work like 3000 stalwarts IMAGE, COBOL II and VPlus made a one-year migration possible. With few changes needed for applications, there were fewer glitches

    The promise of using the ScreenJet-AcuCOBOL combination lies in its ability to bypass change. Both solutions have been engineered to understand nearly all of the 3000’s nuances in screen handling and intrinsics.

    Bob Karlin, a consultant and developer from the 3000 community who contracted on the migration, said that when Aerocraft added Eloquence to the mix, the company eliminated much of the tedium of rewriting for a new environment. Not every need was met by the mixture, but most were, and the rest got workarounds.

  “The combination of AcuCOBOL with ScreenJet and Eloquence meant that I was able to take Aerocraft's programs off of their 3000, and with relatively minor changes, just run them,” Karlin said.

   “There were a couple of small gotchas; a few VPlus things that are not supported by ScreenJet, all of them fairly minor to what we were doing, certain kinds of control traps. In those particular cases they were unneeded, and I commented them out.”

   AcuCOBOL and ScreenJet handled the traps in the programs at a different level, Karlin added. “If you need to do the same kind of trapping that you did on the 3000, you’d take it back to the screen level, as opposed to handling it in the application.”

   Nothing’s perfect or 100 percent automated in a migration. Karlin said he wished for a little more understanding of the 3000’s intrinsics.

    “It would be nice of somebody handled a replacement for a few of the ubiquitous HP intrinsics that neither Eloquence or ScreenJet have,” he said, because people have to write their own, like SETJCW.

  “There’s no equivalent; you have to create either something else, or your own SETJCW idea in order to access a standard Windows environment variable and do the thing the same way. You can do it, but it’s just one of those little things.”

   Karlin added that AcuCOBOL, although it does an extremely good job of emulating HP’s COBOL, “does not handle the use for debugging paragraphs at all. So you have to go through and comment those things out.”

   But the combination of 3000-aware tools and an MPE-savvy consultant gave Aerocraft a quick migration. “ScreenJet is absolutely wonderful to do the migration,” he said. Migration tools to help a site going forward part still need to be addressed.

    “As long as you’re going to keep the old COBOL programs, there are certain things that would be really neat to continue the underlying philosophy of the View interface. It involves adding a bunch of items to a working storage table. It would be nice to do that sort of thing within the AcuCOBOL template.”

   New development going forward at Aerocraft is in .NET, Karlin said. Windows was the best choice for a company with limited in-house computer staff, and Karlin said a newer operating system eliminated some kinds of processing the 3000 demanded.

   “Once you moved over to a Wintel box running a more modern environment, the underlying OS on that platform produced the same results [in screens]. You didn’t need to do the same kind of processing that you needed on the 3000.”

11:23 AM in Migration, Newsmakers, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (1)

May 23, 2006

A small-medium 3000 shop migrates quickly

A high-temperature company has weathered the cold news of HP’s 3000 exit without relying on full-time IT staff — just two outsourced experts. To make a transition from its HP 3000 systems, Aerocraft Heat Treating, a small-to-medium sized business (SMB), used a toolset from ScreenJet, a database from Eloquence, and a development environment from AcuCOBOL. Together with 25 years of outsourced 3000 experience, the combination got Aerocraft migrated in less than a year.

While the hardware aspects of the migration — as well as the conversion of 40 reports from Cognos to Crystal Reports — were handled by Data Pacifica’s Jay Jakowsky, Bob Karlin of Karlins' Korner waded in to transition software of a 16-user operation from an A-Class HP 3000 to a pair of Dell servers running Windows.

The migration eliminated Hewlett-Packard from Aerocraft’s shop. HP is no longer serving computer needs at the company, founded in 1959, which uses 18 gas-fired atmosphere furnaces to treat steel, titanium and high temperature materials. Its clients are aerospace firms like Boeing and manufacturers such as General Electric.

The novelty of this migration? It's one of the first SMB businesses reporting on their own HP 3000 applications that they had migrated — rather than an SMB using a packaged app, and so having their vendor migrate them. Aerocraft is a small manufacturing company, typical of many of the HP 3000 shops

This story provides one answer to the question, "How is it possible to have your own applications migrated if you're an SMB?"

Adam Lynch is the company’s general manager and oversees all aspects of computing. Lynch managed several Y2K projects and has done multiple ERP implementations. He hired Jakowsky to guide the migration, which started in early 2005 and completed last November.

   Karlin, long a community contributor to the 3000 through service on COBOL committees, user groups and consultants’ forums, brought extensive experience in Visual Basic, .NET and Windows environments along with MPE expertise in subjects like VPlus and HP’s COBOL II. But he also tapped the ScreenJet-AcuCOBOL combination to move 40 programs and 80 VPlus screens.

   Thanks to the compatibility of those tools, as well as Marxmeier Software’s Eloquence, Karlin believes that Aerocraft migrated two to three times faster.

    “I’d say that we saved one to two years,” he said. “It would have been a rewrite instead of a migration. Virtually everything was plug-compatible. I was able to move the entire database over in a week.”

   Migrating to the Wintel solution gave Aerocraft a major boost in performance, using the Eloquence database. Karlin estimated that “When we moved from the 3000 to the Windows server, we had an increase of performance of between 4:1 to 10:1.”

   The cost savings between the two sets of hardware were nowhere near as great, he added. Karlin estimated that the two rack-mounted Dell servers came in at half of the price of the 3000 system they replaced.

06:43 PM in Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 22, 2006

HP's changes double profits in quarter

Hewlett-Packard followed CEO Mark Hurd's leadership to another positive quarter this spring, as HP posted a 51 percent increase in profits for the second quarter ending April 30. Hurd's been given much of the credit for the company's turnabout in business performance, a shift toward focused enterprises and away from being everything to all customers.

Toward that goal of focus, HP announced it will consolidate its 85 datacenters into three cities in the US: Austin, Texas, Houston and Atlanta. Each city will host two datacenters. HP says the consolidation will allow it to reduce IT spending by about $1 billion. HP plans to use the datacenters to also showcase products and services. The plan includes a strategy by new CIO Randy Mott, hired away from Wal-Mart, to consolidate 784 HP databases into one data warehouse.

HP chose the locations based on availability and affordability of space, power and network bandwidth as well as a low probability of natural disasters. However, Houston evacuated more than 1 million people as recently as last September in the run-up to Hurricane Rita.

HP's press release reports each location will host two separate physical sites with more than 50,000 square feet of floor space within 15 miles of each other. HP 3000s continue to work on mission-critical applications in HP's data operations. The 2005-2006 cost-cutting at HP has been a Hurd trademark, delivering on the promises of improved business from Carly Fiorina-led merger with Compaq. HP's stock has gained 50 percent in share price since last year.

Revenues for HP's second quarter topped $22 billion, a five percent increase over the same period of fiscal 2005. Hurd is responsible for setting HP on a more focused mission that has boosted those revenues: sell big businesses everything they need for IT; remain focused on printing, adding printing services like kiosks and commercial printing; sell portable products like notebooks and handhelds to grow HP's PC business.

HP intends to remain in the PC business because its volume purchasing gives the vendor an edge in component prices for other computer products it manufactures. The company announced that its operating profits increased in its four major segments, including Enterprise Storage and Servers, (ESS) home of the Integrity servers designated to replace HP 3000s in the product lineup.

HP said that Business Critical Systems sales fell 7 percent year-over-year; Integrity server revenue grew 93 percent, but PA-RISC and Alpha sales dips caused the overall decline.

Hurd said the company is going to be driving sales in servers with initiatives and deals.

"We have been focused on driving margin expansion in Enterprise Storage and Servers," Hurd said, "and we’re pleased with the progress we have made. However, we need to do a better job driving growth and you’ll see us take actions in the form of pricing and go to market initiatives."

Operating margins increased 7.5 percent in ESS, 15.5 percent in the Imaging and Printing Group, 3.6 percent in Personal Systems (the PC and notebook group) and 8.9 percent in HP Services, where the remaining HP 3000 support business is housed (along with HP's lab staff for the 3000).

But while HP's market share in PCs rose 1.4 percent (at Dell's expense), revenues from HP Services fell 2 percent from last year's Q2, even while the service business became more profitable. Hurd's rigorous cost-cutting and layoffs — more than 15,000 employees will separate from HP in his plan over the next several years — are driving up the earnings. HP posted more than $1.4 billion in profit for its second quarter as well as record cash flow.

The layoffs are not across the board. Hurd reported that HP is hiring in its sales force, focusing on beefing up a unit which Hurd reorganized back into separate groups after Fiorina had combined it into a single unit.

As has been the case for many years, printing provided the largest share of HP's Q2 operating profits. 52 cents of every dollar of HP operating profits comes out of its Imaging and Printing group. Services contribute the next largest share, at 17.2 percent.

HP says it's on track for the company's first $90 billion fiscal year. It beat analyst estimates for profits and revenues for Q2, in some measure because Hurd keeps telling investors HP still has lots of changes to make.

"While we clearly have more work to do, we are building a stronger, more competitive HP," Hurd said on a conference call with analysts.

07:02 PM in News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 19, 2006

The Winner of the Series 987 Bargain

As we reported on several days during April, a Series 987 HP 3000 — a $100,000 system when new in the early '90s — got auctioned off last month with a starting bid of $5. The winner of the auction paid more than 40 times that, including tax. But the bottom line for Matt Perdue, OpenMPE board member and HP 3000 consultant and developer, was $255.74 plus the cost to pick it up. 

Purdue is based in San Antonio, and the server was in an auction warehouse in Houston, so the shipping wasn't outrageous for the 110-pound server.

In our May printed issue (hitting the streets next week; e-mail me if you want to get onto our postal mailing list and get a free copy) we interviewed Purdue, prompted by his pursuit of that deal that's a steal. What will he do with a system that can nothing more recent than MPE/iX 6.5, a box that HP says can support more than 1,000 users?

Purdue's treating it as a production system for a client who's homesteading — and moving up to their own in-house computer from an ASP computing model (Remember Application Service Providers? Purdue is one of those, too.) He says in our interview:

I’ll be using it for testing various disk drive configurations and application timing tests for a client at first, then actually putting it into production for that same client.

It has a tremendous value as a production box, even running MPE/iX 6.5, as they’ll be able to move from my HP 3000 A500, when development is completed, to a machine of their own — and still have roughly the same processing power at an extreme fraction of the cost; indeed, an absolute bargain!

06:30 AM in Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 18, 2006

Make a present of a presentation

Encompass has a deadline of tomorrow (May 19) for paper proposals for its September HP Technology Forum. The lineup includes MPE and HP 3000 issues; nearly all of the talks and meetings surrounding the 3000 at last year's conference tracked migration solutions and strategies.

As they said on Seinfeld, "Not that there's anything wrong with that." Chuck Ciesinski, an OpenMPE board member, reminded 3000 users today on the 3000 newsgroup about the deadline. Last fall, in the wake of the first Technology Forum, he said of the conference:

The content of the sessions I was in reminded me of the InterWorks Conferences that Interex put on. Yes, there was a little marketing, but not as much as I had anticipated. The conference appeared to be geared towards larger more enterprise like customers, like my new employer, banks, and international groups. 

More 3000 customers are stepping up to contribute their migration experiences, both successful and woeful. Some stories don't have an ending yet. Every year that Interex hosted a conference with a migration roundtable, the majority of the panel members hadn't finished their migrations.

Bottom line: You don't have to have all the answers to get airtime at what will be the biggest HP-only conference of the year. You need to set aside the time to work up about an hour of talk, as well as make budget to be in Houston for a few days in September.

In our May printed issue, (hitting the streets next week; e-mail me if you want to get onto our postal mailing list and get a free copy) I wrote in an editorial that sharing experience is a way of service to your community — as well as connecting with others. Homesteading customers also have stories to tell about how they have survived the decline of HP's services and lab development. It will be interesting to see if anyone wants to tell a homestead story at the Tech Forum.

The particulars:

  • You have to register at the Technology Forum site to submit a proposal. The proposal is all that is due by tomorrow.
  • There are general session guidelines available on the Encompass Web site.
  • Yes, Virginia, there is a place for MPE papers at the Forum. Here's the full list of the Primary Technical Areas:
    -Business Continuity & Availability (including disaster tolerance & recovery)   
    -Database Technologies (including Oracle, SQL, and MySQL)   
    -High-Performance Computing   
    -ILM (Information Lifecycle Management)
    -Imaging & Printing Technologies   
    -IT Consolidation   
    -ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library)   
    -ITSM (IT Service Management) 
    -Management Software (including OpenView & desktop management)   
    -Messaging & Collaboration   
    -Microsoft Windows   
    -Mobility & Wireless   
    -Open Source Linux   
    -Personal Systems   
    -Regulatory and Standards Compliance (for example HIPAA and Sarbanes-Oxley)   
    -Servers (including Blades, Integrity, Alpha, PA-RISC, and power management/cooling)   
    -Thin Clients   
    -Tru64 UNIX   

For questions about the Call for Papers, contact Encompass Headquarters directly at 877.354.9887 or i[email protected]

06:12 PM in Homesteading, Migration, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 17, 2006

A Multitude of Ways to Move Your Console

There's plenty of change in the 3000 manager's life these days. Some of it might involve changing the location of HP 3000s from one part of the IT shop to another. Users and support experts have discussed the many ways to adjust a 3000 console's location. The method you choose depends on budget, experience and technical skills depth.

Kent Wallace, a 3000 manager for Idaho-Oregon healthcare delivery system Primary Health, needed to move his 3000 console:

I was asked to move the console another 10 feet (more) from the rack (it's an N-Class HP 3000/N4000-100-22). What are the 3 pin positions on the wire that I need to extend this RS-232 cable?

Reid Baxter of JP Chase offered the most direct answer, for those willing to modify cables. "Pins 2, 3 and 7."

Tracy Johnson of Measurement Specialties added:

In addition to what Reid said, you can also get a 3-pin mini-din extension cord and extend the other end.

Our blog contributing editor Gilles Schipper chipped in with a solution offering even farther movement:

If you want to extend the range of the console to anywhere on the planet (at least where there’s Internet access) you could consider the HP Secure Web Console to replace the physical console.

Depending upon the condition of your physical console, this solution may also save a bit of wear and tear on your eyeballs.

(Schipper wrote us a great article on setting up such a web console in November.)

Former HP support engineer Lars Appel offered another take on Schipper's strategy:

While Gilles is right about the possibility of using the web console, it would probably be easier to use the already built-in dedicated LAN port of the N-Class systems that gives access to the GSP by telnet.

I prefer the “telnet console” over the “web console” because it gives more freedom in the choice of terminal emulator — whereas the web console typically lacks features like “easy cut and paste” or special key mappings (e.g. German language ;-) or something similar.

This prompted Schipper to clarify his suggestion:

Lars is absolutely right about the built-in “secure-web-console” that comes with all N-Class and all but the earliest A-Class e3000s.

And, yes, the built-in is definitely more functional, allowing cut-and-paste as well as telnet access, whereas the external variety has only Java access to it via a web browser and no cut-and-paste.

So, if one has a choice, the built-in is definitely superior and available with only proper configuration.
However, the external secure web console is available for all HP 3000s, and would still be most useful where is internal secure web console is not an option.

Jeff Kell, curator of the 3000 newsgroup where the advice appeared, added the last word and a little joke:

The internal one isn't really "secure" — it's plaintext telnet. The GSP "documents" some secure access mode (ssh? https?) but I could never get it to work on our A-Class.  Maybe it's an HP-UX thing. 

The external web console was the really insecure "secure" web console.  It used a secret decoder ring :-)

11:09 AM in Hidden Value, Homesteading, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 16, 2006

More consolidation in ERP

After Activant became an acquisition in the Thomas Cressey Equity Partners Portfolio last week — moving the OpenERP solution (formerly eXegeSys) into a bigger conglomerate — another 3000 solution has gone deeper inside a massive buyout. Infor, a $800 million company with offices and customers "including many of the world's leading process and discrete manufacturers and distribution companies," is purchasing SSA Global for an eye-popping $1.36 billion.

SSA Global is well-known to the several hundred MANMAN customers running the application on the HP 3000. SSA purchased Computer Associates ERP businesses several years ago, then turned some heads by telling 3000 sites they didn't have to migrate off the MANMAN application, despite HP's advice, so long as no major enhancements was an okay future.

Now the combined company is primed to be the third largest ERP application provider in the world, just after SAP and Oracle. There's a lot of AS/400-i5 energy among its development managers and customers, making IBM look closer at what's become the leading supplier of apps for the i5 platform. It's also become a company with 7,000 employees and 37,000 customers. A few hundred of those still use HP 3000s, for now.

A brief note from ERP consultant Terri Glendon Lanza on the MANMAN mailing list was titled, "Here we go again," probably the sentiment that a MANMAN community feels after being passed from parent to parent, each bigger than the last, over the past six years.

A good report on the merger from the IBM i5 perspective notes that the two companies have a track record of never sunsetting an application — with the exception of MANMAN, "where a platform has been killed off by its owner, such as Hewlett-Packard's HP 3000 server platform."

Killed off? We don't know about that, but finding someone to answer questions about MANMAN's future might feel like a death march in a company getting as big as Infor-SSA. Oh, and Infor's owners? They're the Golden Gate Capital group that now also owns parts of WRQ and Ecometry. There must be some gold in those enterprise customer hills. The SSA deal is scheduled to close this summer, but insiders own 84 percent of the SSA shares that Infor is purchasing. Done deal, probably.

04:45 AM in Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 15, 2006

Keep pedals moving to give change meaning

In our podcast for this week (3MB MP3 file), I talk for seven minutes about how change can bring things together, and how less can deliver more. This spring I helped make change make good, in a world well outside of the 3000 community. Our Hill Country Ride for AIDS cycling route got shorter, but drew more riders, many trying to manage hugging shoulders on roads that can seem so narrow next to the traffic of 70 MPH SUVs.

Does the traffic toward 3000 alternatives seem faster to you this year? Listen to the sounds of developing the nerve, as we tell our new riders, to share the road. We are, after all, riding in the same direction, whether on bicycles or moving along in our careers. For any 3000 customer, it's moving toward the future, and its changes.

07:50 PM in Homesteading, Migration, Podcasts | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 12, 2006

HP, partners take a late tilt at migration in UK

The e-mail in our box at the NewsWire was titled "For Whom the Bell Tolls." Migration tools supplier Alan Yeo of ScreenJet calls our attention to what he says might be the last meeting in the UK to promote the concept and benefits of migrating away from the HP 3000.

"This is probably the last HP 3000 Migration event that anyone will bother organising in the UK, unless there is sufficient interest in this one," Yeo wrote us. "The last couple that anyone tried to organise here about two years ago were cancelled through lack of interest."

Yeo has extra self-interest in the event on June 20 in Reading at the HP offices there. "They didn't have people like Jeanette Nutsford, Michael Marxmeier and myself presenting at those other events," he quipped. (Nutsford was legendary for running a productive COBOL Special Interest Group for Interex before she and husband Ken took to the high seas for months of cruises. Marxmeier is the guru behind the IMAGE plug-compatible database Eloquence.)

Details in the flyer from the HP User Group UK (download the PDF file) offer an "HP e3000 Migration Seminar." The day begins at 10 and ends with a general Q&A session at 3, with lunch included. Yeo said there's a way to bypass the 75-pound (UK) entry fee, too.

"As you can see from the flyer, HPUG UK Ltd has organised an HP 3000 Migration Seminar in the UK, and a few of us have been roped in to provide some meaningful content," he said. "The inside track is that if people register to say they are an Acucorp Invitee, then it's FREE."

Acucorp is a co-sponsor of the  event. The agenda also includes about an hour or so of afternoon discussion about how to modernize MPE applications — which we assume is not code for "migrate them to another platform."

06:13 PM in Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 11, 2006

Developers can help test beta patches

Paul Edwards, a director on the board of the OpenMPE advocacy group for the 3000, has suggested another resource to test the enhancements and bug fixes for the system. This work has been sitting in limbo waiting for customers on support to test it. HP won't release the patches to the entire HP community until they are tested.

Edwards suggests that the DSPP developer members who know the 3000 and have systems can help get these 3000 enhancements into the community. DSPP is the latest generation of the HP program to help developers create applications and tools for HP servers.

While there are not a lot of DSPP members with 3000 experience, there are certainly more than the number of beta-testers HP's been able to scratch up. The vendor recently warned users that a deadline for 7.5 PowerPatch was fast approaching, and several key enhancements still hadn't passed test muster. At the moment, HP won't let a non-support customer test a beta patch.

Edwards said, in a comment on our April 24 report about the beta-test logjam

It would help if HP would allow the MPE members of HP's DSPP community to be allowed to have access to these patches from the response center. Currently most of these people don't have support agreements with HP on their DSPP systems.

HP says it's reviewing how to modify its patch testing program to get these enhancements — some requested as far back as 2003 — into the community. All 3000 owners, regardless of their HP support status, can download patches for enhancements and bug fixes from the HP IT Response Center.

09:32 AM in Homesteading, News Outta HP, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 10, 2006

Tricks with command files

I'm working on a command file on my HP 3000. Is there any way to have it copy part of itself into a separate (temporary) file?

HP's Jeff Vance replies:

MPE does not support the Unix concept of ‘here’ files, where input data for the command can reside in the same file as the command, except in the case of jobs. But even in a job, you may not include inline data for a script or UDC invoked by that job.

The SPOOKHELP script on Jazz may be of some use. This single script contains the help text for all of the SPOOK commands plus the code to search for and display that text once HELP xyzzy is entered.

How can we execute a command after a user enters the :bye command in MPE?

Olav Kappert replies:

It is possible to execute many commands after the bye has been entered.  Simply create a UDC (maybe a cmd file) called bye.

The contents of the UDC for the command bye is up to you.  This would be useful if you want to do statistics before the session terminates.

John Pittman adds:

Don’t let them do a bye. We don’t allow any users access to OP system prompt at all. They get a logon no break UDC that runs a menu, and when they end the menu, they get logged off.

Inside that UDC at exit time, we build a string giving user, connection point (LDEV or IP of their PC) connect time, CPU date etc and append it to a log file. Then we know when anybody last used the system, how many users are using different connections, when different user names are using the same connection point, and so on.

I am now beginning the process of restoring our production system to another 918LX. I got the following errors when logging onto a non-SYS account.

SECURITY VIOLATION  (FSERR 93)                  
Couldn't open UDC file "UDCSYS03.UDC.SYS". (CIERR 1923)
No system-level UDCs have been initialized. (CIWARN 1929)
No UDC directory was built or exists. (CIWARN 2060)

The specified file "UDCSYS03.UDC.SYS" exists and has the following  characteristics for the concerned user:

:listf udcsys03.udc.sys,4
FILE: UDCSYS03.UDC.SYS            

               WRITE : AC
              APPEND : AC
                LOCK : ANY
             EXECUTE : ANY

GROUP --------  READ : ANY
               WRITE : AL, GU
              APPEND : AL, GU
                LOCK : ANY
             EXECUTE : ANY
                SAVE : AL, GU

FILE ---------  READ : ANY                FCODE: 0
               WRITE : ANY              **SECURITY IS ON
              APPEND : ANY                NO ACDS
                LOCK : ANY                   
             EXECUTE : ANY                   


What else do I have to do to enable system level UDCs?

OpenMPE's Donna Garverick replies:

As manager.sys:
  (should show no system UDC set)
:setcatalog udcsys03.udc;system

Former OpenMPE director Ron Horner adds:

It sounds like the file COMMAND.PUB.SYS might have some issues. To test, perform a SHOWCATALOG and see what gets displayed.

08:11 AM in Hidden Value, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 09, 2006

IBM alternatives aim at new customer

IBM put its AS/400 entree onto the migrating 3000 shop's menu in 2002, but the offerings have gotten sweeter in the past four years. It's been a time of tumult for the existing IBM customer, seeing their system renamed from iSeries to System i5 and now to System i. The changes are aimed at customers like the 3000 community, though.

While those renames might have been cosmetic changes, lots of power has been added: an advanced CPU, partitions, the Hypervisor — which supports partitioning and controls the multiple operating system environments in each partition — and a bunch of new applications from other operating systems. Linux has become a real solution running on the System i by now. IBM's also just dropped prices by as much as 20 percent on its integrated bundle of hardware, operating system, Web suite and database.

The result has been 2,700 new System i customers during the past year — not an astounding amount of growth, but enough to make IBM pledge, once again, its loyalty to the platform and its customer base. This faith has led serveral HP 3000 sites facing a migration to choose the System i.

The system even got a blurb on national radio last month, when Prairie Home Companion's Garrison Keillor broadcast a show from the System i headquarters city of Rochester, Minn. Getting the mention out to 4 million listeners can't hurt, considering the system's reveneues were off 22 percent for the most recent quarter. IBM, which had a bad revenue quarter across the board, has had good success selling smaller System i solutions. So it's cutting prices on the bigger units.

It's the cost of ownership, however, that makes the IBM alternative to the 3000 shine. IBM execs also point to the the 1,700 new applications for the system, with 240 "ServerProven" tools and 70 new tool vendors. "For the first time in a decade," according to System i analyst Thomas Stockwell, the System i market actually grew."

Turned out of their platform by HP, some customers are turning to the Series i as an alternative. Experience with the server is validating their change from HP's blue to Big Blue.

Initial reports from migrated sites show that finishing a transition away from HP onto IBM recalls the robust days of the HP 3000. Bob Zart, VP of Finance at multi-channel retailer Flax Art, described a safe move onto IBM’s platform. Zart’s shop now runs a packaged application from CommercialWare.

Zart said HP and Ecometry couldn’t convince him to adopt a Unix platform to replace their 3000 catalog sales app from BSA. “I have to be honest, I was so upset with HP that I just dismissed anything they came at me with,” he said. His reservations got reinforced when he got acquisition cost estimates. “The guys at Ecometry thought we needed three HP-UX servers. It was much more expensive than CommercialWare.”

The CommercialWare application has been competing head-to-head with software from Ecometry for many years. Ecometry officials usually boasted that CommercialWare rarely won in such encounters. But the story at Flax may point to some advantages CommercialWare is now enjoying. That application doesn’t need as much care and feeding, since it relies on the integrated database in the System i environment and a less complex system architecture. Oracle drives the Ecometry solution on Unix, demanding a database administrator’s expertise.

What’s more, the IBM server comes from a vendor who hasn’t wavered in its commitment to an integrated solution. HP’s doubts about the future of the System i didn’t stick with Zart. HP envisions the commodity-ruled computer market trends are working to squeeze out the 245,000 System i customers.

“I haven’t seen anything like that,” he said. “They can’t keep these things in stock, they’re so popular. And HP’s kind of helped them with that, by discontinuing the 3000. Where else were we supposed to go?”

The best destination for Flax turned out to be running on an entry-level iSeries Model 810. The company spent three months in 2004 converting its data from the 3000 to CSV format, using Robelle’s Suprtool. Zart also chose to write some custom interfaces with his own staff, rather than pay for CommercialWare’s ready-made add-on solutions. In hindsight he thought better of having to commit his in-house resources to create interfaces.

Some of the learning curve at Flax was handled by contract programmers, called in to handle the RPG code at the heart of the CommercialWare application. The BSA app on the 3000 was not only aging, but heavily customized “to the point where we couldn’t take updates for it anymore,” he said. Sticking with the vendor’s design by modifying business practices makes more sense now. “We’ve always had a bad habit of trying to change the computer to meet us, instead of us changing the way we do things to fit the computer. We opted not to buy the source code so we wouldn’t be tempted,” he said.

Flax operates a retail store in San Francisco, runs a Web site, and books catalog sales of art supplies, the typical multi-channel retailing picture. About 85,000 SKU product identities have to be tracked. The Web and retail channels were new at Flax, so adding point of sale and Web commerce was essential to the company’s growth. Cynthia Boucher, project manager at Flax, was brought in to steer the application replacement. She said the new software put Flax into the data mining business, among other new capabilities.

“Initiatives like that give us more of an exciting view into the capabilities of the CommercialWare product,” she said. Flax went live in mid-year, pulling the 3000 out of the production environment. The busy season of the year-end holidays loomed large for customers like Flax, and Zart recommended the iSeries as an alternative platform. But he says he’d start earlier on data migration if he had to migrate again.

Zart could compare the OS400 operating system with MPE/iX after three months of use. He found the 3000’s system more operator-friendly. “MPE had lots of stuff running in the background that you never saw,” he said. “You ask for active jobs on the iSeries and you can get 217 of them.” The complexity, for him, he added, might stem from being unfamiliar with the iSeries.

Stockwell said in his article on his Web site that IBM has a new customer attract strategy to "bring new workloads to the System i, while simultaneously increasing the value of the platform by attracting new ISV talent with new, cutting-edge technologies." Stockwell said the strategy is also long overdue.

01:22 AM in Migration, Newsmakers, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 08, 2006

Speedware shares new parent with WRQ's new owners

The private equity firm Thoma Cressey Equity Partners Inc. (TCEP) has been buying up ownership stakes in several HP 3000-related companies during the past six months. The latest to enter the TCE fold was Speedware's parent corporation Activant Solutions — which last week announced it has completed the transaction that brings it into the TCEP portfolio. Activant is also moving its headquarters from Austin, Texas to Livermore, Calif. and naming COO Pervez Qureshi as president and CEO of Activant.

Hellman & Friedman LLC and JMI Equity also financed the Activant buyout. TCEP also was a partner in the buyout of HP 3000 connectivity vendor WRQ last December.

Activant Holdings, the parent corporation of Activant Solutions, posted revenues of $233 million last year. Activant acquired Speedware Corp. in 2005, including the HP 3000 Platinum Migration partner Speedware Ltd. The purchase totalled $114 million.

These acquistions have driven HP 3000-related firms inside of nine-figure corporations during the past year. WRQ's revenues, before it acquired competitor Attachmate in 2005, were more than $100 million.

AttachmateWRQ, which in 2005 reported it became a firm with more than $200 million in revenues, has shown an appetite for acquiring companies of its own. The company just announced it is paying $495 million to acquire NetIQ, a systems and security management firm that helps customers ensure operational integrity, manage service levels, reduce risk, and ensure policy compliance.

The US Mint, an HP 3000 site making the transition to IBM solutions, uses the NetIQ solutions.

AttachmateWRQ reports it will be a $400 million company once its NetIQ deal goes through near the end of July. With the close of that merger, two of the more prominent HP 3000 suppliers will sit even deeper into the asset charts of two massive software corporations — at least massive on the scale of the typical HP 3000 vendor's size.

TCEP has invested more than $2 billion in companies like Activant and AttachmateWRQ in a series of seven private equity funds. TCEP has been picking growth companies. Its investments in software have yielded earnings in excess of $150 million.

07:16 AM in Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 05, 2006

6.5 users give patches cold shoulder

HP has released five PowerPatches to extend the useful life of the 6.5 release of MPE/iX, but the prospects for a sixth collection of patches look doubtful. It's not because HP is reluctant to do the work. 6.5 sites, which make up a very large portion of the installed base still under HP support, just don't seem to want to change anything.

HP's Jeff Vance reported on the thinking from inside the HP labs on this issue. Vance has been out in front of HP's effort to get beta test patches into General Release status. An impending deadline has put the latest 7.5 beta patches on the bubble for inclusion in a PowerPatch. When we asked about including more customers in the beta test group, by allowing 9x7 owners to test, Vance told us that's a customer group not eager to add anything new.

"We have had relatively low demand from our 6.5 customers for PowerPatches," Vance said. HP released PowerPatch 5 for 6.5 in December, but Vance said the 6.5 community didn't take delivery of the gift.

We were surprised by the lack of 6.5 customer requests for this patch bundle. In general, 6.5 (and thus 9x7) customers are not installing patches or doing any significant changes to their MPE environment, based on our observations.

The observation makes sense when considering who's using 6.5: customers with little taste for change, since they're passed up 7.0 and 7.5 releases for many years. (HP brought out the 7.0 version of MPE/iX in 2001, along with the N-Class and A-Class servers.)

Some of those 6.5 users have no choice but to stay on the release, since their shops run 9x7s, which boot only with MPE/iX 6.5. HP has promised to continue 6.5 support until at least 2008, which will extend that release's lifespan to more than eight years. HP's never had an MPE/iX release supported so long.

Vance added that if the 6.5 customers get more interested in patching, another PowerPatch for the release might appear.

"This will to some degree be driven by customer demand," he said, "meaning, if 6.5 defects are found; and 6.5 customers help to beta test these defects to create GR patches; and there are “enough” GR 6.5 patches that it makes sense to bundle them into a PowerPatch release, then we’ll do that.

9x7 customers — who make up a lot of the 6.5 community — do have interest in helping with the patch testing process, according to OpenMPE board director Paul Edwards:

If HP would only listen to the continuous cries from the user community about letting 7.0 and 7.5 boot on the large number of available 9x7 systems, then these systems can be used as test systems and provide the needed feedback to HP to get those patches out of Beta jail.

08:57 AM in Homesteading, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 04, 2006

Community crafts XML expertise

On the very day we posted our story about a new third party solution for COBOL-to-XML on the 3000, a customer posed a problem that would require that solution. Or a few others for the do-it-yourself shop, if your HP 3000 budget has been reduced.

"There's some companies that need the exchange of information with our HP 3000, and they are asking us to send/receive XML files for their transactions," said Eduardo Garcia. Several experienced managers offered a mini-clinic on how to handle this format and what XML offers.

"XML is not magic," said Mark Wonsil of 4M-Enterprises. "It’s just ASCII. It is a method to markup documents that has been commandeered to handle data, albeit in a less than efficient manner. MPE can create ASCII files and hence XML files. Your only real limitation is size."

Contradicting some user reports about HP 3000 integration difficulties, Wonsil said that standards for XML make it an able tool to use under MPE/iX.

"Others have chimed in about 'integration' issues, such as different element names, but that is not directly related to XML or MPE," Wonsil. "The W3C recognized this issue and people use XSLT to transform element names today."

Computer services coordinator Eric Bender said XML drove the college off the 3000.

It was the absolute necessity for us to introduce an XML transfer  mechanism into our student records system by summer 2007 that finally tipped the balance in the decision-making process to migrate the system  off the HP.

Unfortunately, in my humble opinion, it’s the inability of the HP 3000/MPE environment to  easily be adjusted to innovation and new standards such as XML that will eventually sound its death-knell. The HP 3000 is increasingly coming to  resemble a very robust 80-year old — but in the early stages of dementia.

OpenMPE board member Matt Perdue, who pointed out our May 3 article on XML, disagreed with the dementia label for the 3000:

First, the HP3000/MPE environment does not have an inability to easily adjust to innovation and new standards — it is simply a question of what your management is willing to spend for either in-house or third party developed solutions. Witness the posting on The 3000 NewsWire [blog] about this very issue — a company has ported their XML enabling software to the 3000. It looks like that company’s management feels there is a market worth addressing and investing time (and therefore money) in selling to that market. It also looks like [former HP 3000 GM] Winston Prather’s statement of the “eroding ecosystem” has not been proven to be true: the ecosystem just grew by yet another third party offering.

Second, far from being a very robust 80-year old (it’s a robust 30-something year old) the 3000/MPE is very, very far from the early stages of dementia. I’d suggest the only dementia the 3000/MPE is suffering from is the dementia suffered by management and other individuals at various levels in various companies with regards to extracting every bit of value possible from the dollars spent — and the 3000/MPE has excelled at this for at least the last 25 years or so.

Mark Landin offered a review of the steps to use XML on the 3000, if you've got access to Perl expertise.

XML is just a file format, similar to HTML. You can open any XML file in, say, Notepad and pretty much figure out in just a few minutes. So, to start with, there is nothing “magical” about XML. The trick to XML is that the file describes itself. Part of the XML document you are sending or receiving includes a schema of sorts. That’s the powerful part of XML. XML-enabled applications are able to read this schema and therefore understand the rest of the document!

I don’t know about any specific packages for the 3000 that do XML data interchange, but I know you certainly whip something up in Perl. Perl runs fine on the 3000s, talks to IMAGE easily, and also has many toolsets that remove a lot of the drudgery of XML. The bonus is that if the company you are dealing with has defined their XML formats (which I’m sure they have), someone even moderately skilled with Perl could probably hack together what you needed. Perhaps someone has even written Perl code to handle this specific XML format for Windows applications. Since Perl runs on so many platforms, Windows Perl code often runs on the 3000 with a minimum of effort.

Of course, for this to work, you need to understand XML documents, and know Perl. But it really shouldn’t be that hard to find a contractor with those skills if you lack them in-house.

12:57 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 03, 2006

Connecting COBOL through XML

Canam Software has released a new version of its XML Thunder software, one which works with HP 3000 COBOL applications.

"We have ported our XML enabling software to serve the HP 3000 community," said Canam director Peter Prager. "This product allows the creation and consumption of XML documents without platform moves or re-writes."

XML is getting popular as a standard format for data exchange, Canam says. The company's visual XML designer and code generator steps into the data transformation arena for the 3000 at a time when the platform's users need to improve interoperability with other systems. HP 3000s which are due for migration sometimes meet that fate because they don't share as easily as other platforms. XML Thunder is a new way to solve an old 3000 problem — making mission-critical data available to other environments.

Prager said getting XML Thunder ready for the 3000 didn't take a lot of effort. "Because of the language standards it uses it took us a relatively small effort to start supporting HP 3000," he said. "We believe that this solution can add a lot of value to users of the HP 3000 platform with the additional benefit of being able to use the very same solution when moving to another platform in the future." New to the 3000 community, Canam reports that it has an HP 3000 customer satisfied with the tool's performance.

Developers use the new Windows-based tool to create XML processing program code, called XML handlers, in a visual environment. XML Thunder lets a developer design and generate two distinct types of XML handling program code, XML Writers and XML Readers.

An XML Writer subprogram uses data passed to it to create an XML document and writes it to a data buffer. Conversely, an XML Reader subprogram parses XML data passed to it in a buffer and populates the corresponding program data structures.

Mark Wonsil of 4M Enterprises, one of the 3000 community's expert consultants on XML, said Canam's product makes 3000 data ready for XML in a different way than parsers. "This is different from most XML processing in that the programs are created to handle only one document — whereas XML parsers are designed to be extended for processing many document types," he said.

Wonsil explains that XML Thunder moves data to and from COBOL by creating standard COBOL source code in its Reader, while its Writer moves data from COBOL's definitions.

The program creates XML schemas (opposed to older Document Type Definitions or DTDs) from COBOL copybooks or a COBOL program. The COBOL levels become nested elements and the data definitions (numeric, char, etc) and repeating directives are preserved. One can also start with an XML document or an XSchema to create a COBOL reader program.

Once there is a data-definition (XSchema) one can alter the mapping of the COBOL elements to the appropriate XML elements. The program can create COBOL source code for an XML Reader, XML Writer and a test program.

The XML Reader will read XML data into a Cobol Data Definition. The writer moves data from a COBOL definition to an XML document. The test program is a simple program that confirms the data movement to and from COBOL.

Since it is always creating standard COBOL source code, one should be able to compile and run on the HP3000. I don’t think one would be able to retrieve XML documents from a network source since that would be different for each platform.

07:45 AM in Homesteading, Migration, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 02, 2006

HP offers a new view of retention rate

In a story published by the Web site IT Jungle, HP's Rich Marcello is quoted about the retention rate of the company's enterprise server customers. HP, according to the article based on a press conference in Asia, believes it's retained 95 percent of the top 1,000 accounts among the AlphaServer, HP 9000 and HP 3000 customer base.

The comment came during a briefing about the future of the Integrity line at HP. No, the vendor's not announcing an Integrity end-of-life; far from it. But the matter of what to put in the next generation of Integrity servers? Of course, it's Intel's Itanium, the dual-core Montecito version that's been delayed to at least the middle of 2006. (That's a date less than two months away, so we expect a later delivery than that, which pushes the Integrity server refresh out to September. Pretty much a year from when the HP sales force said their top accounts were ready to take delivery.)

While discussing the new chipsets for these new entry-midrange and high-end Integrity boxes — sets being called "Titan" and "Arches," to accomodate the final PA-RISC generation and Montecito — Marcello explained that HP has retained 950 of its enterprise customer accounts by using "high-touch." We see a couple of important footnotes to his claim.

Marcello drew his retention set around three systems — Alpha, HP 9000 and HP 3000. HP could have retained nearly all of the HP 9000 systems without much "touch," HP code for doing a deal with extra incentives and attention. (Of course, if you're one of the lucky 1,000, you probably expect more touch already than other customers get.) Point is, so few HP 3000 sites represent HP's top 1,000 accounts that the 95 percent number has little to do with the retention rate of the 3000 community as a whole.

The other footnote: That's a retention in HP's line, meaning that PA-RISC customers become Itanium users instead of IBM or Dell customers. It's almost a "no-duh" if you're shifting from an HP 3000 to an HP 9000: buying a PA-RISC based box may not be the first choice. PA-RISC has a limited lifespan at HP; as we reported last fall, the company's new virtualization technology needs an Itanium box to deliver all its capabilities. That's only the first of  several "advantages" HP will touch its customers with to retain them. Itanium, for all of the negative press around its delays and disappointments, is pretty much the only choice while staying with HP's Unix servers.

Yes, there are plenty of PA-RISC HP 9000s available in the resale market. (Used HP 3000s are available in good supply, too). But a migrating customer who's sticking with HP, to minimize change and maybe cash in on "a lot of high-touch," as Marcello was quoted? Itanium is really the only choice. After all, it's the only processor HP plans to support for HP-UX for the long term.

12:17 PM in Migration, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 01, 2006

HP looks at extending beta testing

HP's Jeff Vance reports that the vendor is addressing the prospect of letting non-support customers test beta-class patches to MPE/iX. HP's got more than 80 patches waiting for complete testing results before they can be released to the community. Vance, who communicates from HP's 3000 labs to the community, said "we are addressing all of the questions in our Roadmap teams."

Expediting the beta testing will deliver new functionality and repair bugs in the 3000's operating environment. This is work to upgrade the HP 3000 which third parties have been unable to do, up to now, because HP still holds the MPE source code. (This is the kind of work that OpenMPE wants to do with its virtual lab program, once HP leaves the business behind.)

Vance explained HP's beta test release process for the HP 3000:

All beta-test patches on the Jazz [Web] pages are still in beta-test as of the past 24 hours. This info is automatically updated nightly. Our WTEC support engineers check out each beta-test patch periodically — by contacting customers who have requested the patch — to get an update on its usage at the customer site.

It is a judgment call as to when a beta-test patch is moved to general release. The patch has to have sufficient customer exposure. The last thing we want to do is destabilize a Powerpatch build, so the beta-test patches need to be exercised in real-world environments.

Vance said HP is talking about how to expand the testing community for the patches stuck in beta status. "At this time only HP support customers can request beta-test patches, since HP needs to track the status of the patch at the customer site. We are currently discussing this point."

07:43 AM in Homesteading, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)