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November 10, 2008

3000 goes in an open direction

More than 11 years ago, HP was teaching HP 3000 skills to the world. George Stachnik, an HP employee who communicated 3000 advantages to customers, wrote a series of articles for HP 3000 newbies. In an early part of his series that started in 1997, he summed up HP's view of the system's future (Where's the HP 3000 Going?) as the company saw it back then.

The evolution of the HP 3000 has been driven by the open systems revolution that swept across the IS industry beginning in the 1990s. By 1990, most new computer applications and technologies were being developed on (and for) Unix computers. This trend threatened to leave proprietary architectures like the HP 3000 out in the cold.

In response, HP began bringing industry standard interfaces from the HP 9000 to the HP 3000, focusing first on functions that were standardized by IEEE’s Posix committees. Version 4.0 of MPE XL was renamed to“MPE/iX” (the iX stands for “Integrated PosiX”). The Posix functionality made it easier than it had been to port software from Unix to the HP 3000. Other industry standards (BSD Sockets, SQL, ODBC, Java) have been brought to the 3000 by HP in subsequent OS releases. All this open systems functionality has continued to be enhanced on subsequent releases.

Of course, that Posix functionality remains in MPE after seven successive releases. HP has not eliminated much from the 3000's feature set after more than 30 years of development. Posix makes the HP 3000 behave like Unix systems. HP was betting in 1997 that this similarity could preserve the system. Even though HP shifted its bets four years later about the 3000, using the Posix shell is a way to get an IT staffer introduced to the 3000 from a Unix perspective.

Consider that this weekend starts the eighth year of 3000 survival after HP changed its bet. Adding Posix may not have had the effect HP intended for the vendor's 3000 business. But it edged the system into open source, which could be a key to surviving another seven years.

It's good to remember how much hope HP projected, as well as how much effort the supplier made, here at the end of the seventh year of The Transition. Keeping the system in growth mode was a challenge too complex for Hewlett-Packard to meet. HP had failures in the past with the 3000, like the abortive System 3000 introduction in 1972.

Stachnik explained how Posix would change interfacing with a 3000 in his article. But he underlined the design choices that make this computer a lasting value for those who are staying with it, as well as those taking longer than expected to leave it.

Many computer vendors say that their systems software is “tuned for transaction processing” but in the case of the HP 3000, this is no idle claim. A tremendous amount of R&D work was done at HP to understand exactly what kinds of stresses are placed on computer systems by commercial transaction processing workloads. And the payoff from this R&D was an HP 3000 that was tuned for the best possible performance.

HP got its payoff in open source applications not long after Stachnik's article, earnings that continue to deliver today in DNS services harder to hack than any "industry standard" system, Samba file sharing and more. It all began with an integration of Unix into the HP 3000, differences Stachnik explained in an accompanying article. Have a look at what he wrote, one of the "3000 for Dummies" lessons which continues to teach, here at the end of the seventh year of migrations. HP was directing this system out of the cold in the 1990s. It's still warm to the touch today.

05:57 AM in Hidden Value, History, Homesteading | Permalink

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