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July 2009

Celebrate your power to administrate

Cloud-error Today is System Administrator Appreciation Day (tip of the hat to Connect user group president Nina Buik for the notice). You might have joined the 3000 community when your job was called System Manager, or even far enough back to have "DP Manager" on your business card. In today's world of IT, the title of System Administrator covers computer management from XP to Linux, from MPE/iX to HP-UX, and more.

The world needs skills to keep a business computer system like the 3000 stable. A little extra respect today is all that the site asks. Gifts would be nice, of course.

HP has cloud computing on its mind this year, a concept that submerges the work of a system administrator under a wave of promises about simpler IT. As I noted in our Wednesday podcast, the backbone of cloud computing remains the same as any other kind of IT: a strong spine of sysadmin skills. These are the kind of duties that have protected the careers of 3000 pros and ensured smooth business operations for customers who use MPE/iX, but don't even know what those letters mean.

Today is the 10th Annual System Administrator's Appreciation Day, but this year's edition shows up while sysadmin identity seems to be fading. When you're working on an application over the Web -- writing a document on Google Docs, or posting photos to a blog -- you rely on a sysadmin. When things go awry, you might see a screen splash like the one above. As a 3000 administrator, you understand a little better what that admin up in the cloud must do to turn that splash into a harmless ripple.

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3000s immune from current virus news

A pair of virus reports from today and yesterday triggered the subject of infection of HP 3000s. It's a system that falls into a rare viral category: No record of infection over more than 30 years.

Yesterday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a priority list for people to get the swine flu antiviral this fall. Today at the Black Hat Cybersecurity Conference, a security expert demonstrated how to cripple an iPhone using a stream of SMS messages.

In order of age, we've got the human body that's been infected with viruses every year for more than 4,000 years. Then there's the HP 3000, with no known viral infections over three decades. Then there's the two-year-old iPhone, weathering the first viral hack in its short lifespan. Antivirals have serious limits; the viruses evolve to infect the human body, or the hackers keep evolving their exploits of computers.

But while there's no definitive record of a 3000 being taken over by a virus, that doesn't mean taking precautions is unnecessary. One security expert says that antivirus software is a good idea if a 3000 is using advanced software.

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Old HP face reveals newest cloud forecasts

Picture 5 The HP 3000's legacy continues to float around HP, most recently in the work of Christine Martino, the GM and Vice President of the fresh-faced Scalable Computing and Infrastructure Organization. Martino, who's been heading some of HP's Linux and open source efforts, is now general manager of Hewlett-Packard's cloud computing promises. 3000 customers and veterans will remember Martino's marketing work at the end of the vendor's 3000 futures, promising up to the last about the 3000's place at HP.

But one of the market lessons you customers taught HP might have been carried onward to steer those cloud promises. Listen to our 7-minute podcast to hear what sounds thin, what's familiar and what's still-forming in the HP cloud cover. Remember, no matter how you choose to move onward from HP's 3000 era, the vendor still only has eyes for you.

New disks refresh old HP 3000s

SeagateBarracuda An upcoming feature for next month's print edition of the 3000 NewsWire will examine older HP 3000s still running today. (If you've got a '90s-vintage 3000 still running, I'd like to talk to you soon.) More than a few of the oldest of these systems are doing duty in software support labs. Whether a support or a production system, very 3000 needs ready replacements for disk drives, but the Series 9x7 3000s reach back to the middle 1990s. Disks running more than a decade are on borrowed time, so replacements need to be available.

The community has located a resource for 9x7 disk drives. The suppliers don't advertise these as HP 3000 disk drives. But the Seagate ST318416N is an 18GB drive you can purchase for about $200 online. The drives are listed as new, but they will slip into a 9x7 because the ST318416N is an accepted device on the IODFAULT list. (Paul Edwards tells us it's the IODFAULT.PUB.SYS list.)

We heard of one site that was buying a dozen of these drives as replacement parts to keep their 9x7s fitted with internal drives. But there's no reason you cannot skip past an internal drive and use external devices instead.

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Questions, definitions expand broad scope of HP IT manager skills

HPinsight HP 3000s work across a vast scope of IT expertise. The computer was sold in the 1980s and onward to replace steel filing cabinets, according to the late 3000 advocate Wirt Atmar. The 3000 also drives  business critical computing so complex that it needs an IT expert to integrate with an enterprise. On the other hand, the casual 3000 user benefits when they better understand the jargon of the system's operating environment.

Whether a customer needs help knowing what a "Gig" is, or would do well to know what CSLT stands for and how to use one, HP offers resources for both kinds of customers. The technical wizards who call IT a career might cringe at the simplicity of HP's "Most Baffling IT Terms," fundamental questions that every computer manager had better understand. On the other hand, the Glossary for MPE/iX 7.5 defines terms that would glaze over the eyes of an office manager who's just acquired 3000 responsibility -- and needs those definitions.

Both levels of resource are necessary for the 3000 community, since the computer was sold as a general-purpose computer solution for decades. Some low-tech everyday office workers have managed 3000s for all of that time. Some are now acquiring 3000 duties and could use that glossary to make their work easier. A few of the 3000 vets may have been out of the general computing loop and could make use of HP's baffling terms.

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Databases rise from ashes as open source

Firebird Imagine a chilly hotel meeting room 15 years ago, across the river from New York City. Databases of the day are having a showdown in there, where the communication technology is type from flimsy plastic slides, foils projected on a wall. Oracle has sent a representative, along with Sybase and Ingres -- the Big Three of databases, although a complete count would include IBM's DB2, to comprise a Big Four. But IBM isn't at this showdown. The HP 3000's IMAGE is, however, touted by Adager's Alfredo Rego.

HP didn't feel the need to attend this meeting of the Greater New York HP Users Group and represent IMAGE. Rego asks a question of all assembled: What happens if a plug is kicked out of a Big DB database server? Will the database survive? They scratch their heads and offer no answer. Built-in recovery is as much a mystery outside the 3000 world in 1994 as the price for 100 seats of Oracle. I was there in that room and heard no answers.

The amount of swagger from the Big Three in the room and in the market was palpable, thick as the icy fog outside on that day. No one could see a future where a database might be offered without a license fee and be suited for enterprise computing. IMAGE sat closest to such a proposal back then, because HP includes the database with every 3000 it sells.

Shoot the clock forward to this hot summer and a database free of fees is common as a dog at a junkyard. Earlier this week we talked of Postgres as a potential open source solution, now bolstered by add-on engineering to become commercial open source. But there's a handful of other candidates for data management that don't require any relationship with a Big Vendor. Among the now-free alternatives are Firebird (tip of the hat to Bruce Hobbs), and one of those Big DBs, Ingres. Both these open source databases collected license fees 15 years ago. Firebird was created out of the ashes of Interbase.

In the economy of today, a database never goes away, whether it's IMAGE being supported by a 3000 homestead community or a Big DB solution that now steps with a lot less swagger. Open source offers a second life for databases with closing markets.

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Vendors supply database aids for migration

Migrating HP 3000 shops often look for a new database as part of their projects. A customer who's chosen an application over any other consideration, or a reseller as the key element, cares much less about a database. But in-house applications get moved to new databases. Which one to choose sometimes depends on experience and support, from out of house.

Marxmeier Software is the leading choice for companies who want a database that adapts to IMAGE designs. The company's Eloquence has been praised for years. "Eloquence is one of the best products on the market," said 3000 and Unix consultant Craig Lalley of EchoTech. On this spring's release of Version 8.0, Lalley said "So far, I am very impressed, as usual."

But some companies migrating from 3000s want an open source solution for a replacement. Sometimes these companies seek a vendor-neutral strategy. Duane Percox, one of the founders of K-12 app vendor QSS, said his company sought out open source to replace 3000 apps because HP has made the last decision that will impact QSS like HP did when it dropped the 3000.

PostgreSQL, called Postgres by much of the developer community, has gotten high marks as an IMAGE alternative at QSS. But even though Postgres is open source, vendors have emerged to give the database commercial-grade support and consulting. Like RedHat is to Linux, Enterprise DB is to Postgres. Starting with open source code for the database, EnterpriseDB is pushing Postgres into commercial-class caliber.

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The right tool for moving jobs?

Migration projects cover a lot more ground than replacing app functionality. The effort needs to replicate the full range of services an HP 3000 offers. One basic building block is job management, included with HP 3000s and sometimes not simple to replace in a new environment such as Windows.

"We have been slowly converting and migrating off our HP 3000," said IT manager Gordon Montgomery of Living Scriptures, Inc. "One of the many things I will miss about the HP is the way it handles jobs. Has anyone found an equivalant to the HP's job environment in the Windows world? You know, like nice job listings of what really goes on, etc. We've been trying to make do with plain batch files, and redirecting the output to a log file, but it is just not the same. And sometimes the batch file just quits and disappears for no apparent reason."

Making Windows batch files perform as elegantly as MPE's job controls is not simple, but it can be done. A familiar face to the 3000 community, Advant's "Captain Greb," posted a few notes on using the Windows scheduler to let batch files log themselves. But there are engineered third party solutions to do this and many more MPE replacements.

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Four years on, dust of Interex demise suggests virtual meetings

Interex Four years ago this week, the Interex HP user group slammed its doors shut in a stunning implosion. The organization that grew out of the HP3000 Users Group in the 3000's earliest days declared bankruptcy after 31 years. The anniversary of the demise is a reminder that no amount of legacy or laurels can permit any institution to rest comfortably.

When Interex went down it didn't close up like HP 3000 customer Circuit City, lingering and selling off assets in months of public auction. Instead, in mid-July of '05 it was as if someone kicked out the user group's power cord. A Web site went dark overnight, millions in conference sponsor deposits vanished, and thousands of members learned their conference fees were worthless.

This teardown of a portion of the 3000 community is more than a history lesson, however. Four years ago one suggestion for a virtual conference got a few days of consideration, and it's worth reviewing in the light of 2009's better networking bandwidth and tighter travel budgets.

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Mooning Over Legendary Tech Marvels

Cronkite_in_training_harness You can see the markers of moon memories everywhere today, from the news remembrances alongside Walter Cronkite's death -- the ace newsman lionized NASA with reports like trying out weightlessness testing, above  -- to a special "moon movie" lineup on Turner Classic Movies, all in celebration of the lunar landing 40 years ago. That Apollo 11 mission is a marvel in light of its technology caliber, crude by today's measure.

But 33 years ago, technology emerged to launch the HP 3000 into orbit for good, the Series II systems that now act as museum pieces for avid collectors of tech. HP-IB, the peripheral interface that served HP 3000s for three decades, was created at the same time as the Apollo lunar landers. The oldest 3000s are as beloved to the leaders of the 3000 community as any moon command capsule. The HP 3000 has maintained its orbit over four decades, as much as the base of the first lunar lander that is still circling the Earth from the moon's Sea of Tranquility.

BillDave Those Apollo missions were made possible by men dressed the same as HP engineers of the era, fellows in wide ties, white shirts and dark trousers. The design aim was the same as well. From the start of the 3000's mission, the goal was to create a system reliable enough to send on a long-range space mission, far removed from the need for repair or replacement. Adager's founders created their database tools "as if they would be used on a remote satellite," said co-founder Alfredo Rego.

Back in the mid-1990s, Adager celebrated the confluence of such thinking by highlighting the Apollo career of James Lovell, American astronaut. Rego interviewed Lovell, who was the backup commander for Apollo 11, to emphasize the similarities between the legendary NASA and today's 3000. "They have a lot in common," Adager's Web page still says. "Reliability, resilience, a tremendous amount of attention to detail, and a superb team of people behind them whose motto is 'Failure is not an option.' "

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Make copies of crucial 3000 tapes

HP provided a utility in MPE/iX for copying HP's factory-generated System Load Tapes (SLTs), but that utility is falling into neglect. In an era when the 3000 lab at HP has been closed, the tool has fallen even farther away from reliability. This essential program to copy a 3000 boot tape isn't likely to get any more HP attention.

Since copying SLTs is a significant maintenance requirement for 3000 administrators, a long-term solution for the copying is essential to homesteaders. Allegro Consultants offers X-OVER to do the job. What's more, if a homesteading site has a single-reel SLT, Allegro's got a free tool to accomplish that kind of copy.

"Our X-OVER product can handle multi-reel SLT input tapes," Allegro VP Stan Sieler reported online, "although it looks like it doesn’t handle multi-reel SLT output tapes. By 'multi-reel' I mean an SLT where the SLT section -- not the optional STORE section -- crosses a reel boundary. This would normally be seen only on 9-track tapes. X-Over handles multi-reel STORE tapes, or STORE sections of SLT/STORE combo tapes."

The free Allegro tool is TAPECOPY, which when run with the "TT" option will copy an SLT that fits on a single reel. This tool will warns if it sees any records that might be too large for it to handle.

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HP imagines computing matrix future

C7000 Hewlett-Packard says its customers don't care what resources are inside a piece of its BladeSystem server arrays. At the recent HP Technology Forum, the vendor showed off a management console connected to an array of blades on the expo floor. HP Marketing Communications Manager Jason Newton said in an HP blog posting that the customers are more impressed at how much manipulation the vendor offered in the Matrix Orchestration Environment for a blade array like the c7000 above.

At the Matrix booth, I was curious what customers saw.  No one wanted to see inside the server, the enclosure, the switch. It didn't matter. That's just the pool of resources. The "WOW" came from how easy it was to design the architecture, do capacity planning, combine virtual and physical, set up disaster recovery and automate provisioning of complex infrastructure. Configuring and provisioning the network, storage, and compute "just happen" within the Matrix. Right on! One infrastructure, any workload, on the fly. That's the future the private cloud delivers to your data center.

A "private cloud" might remind HP 3000 customers of a virtual private network. But it seems a stretch to imagine 3000 community members who have always shouldered server responsibility thinking that a system doesn't matter. Accepting the promise of cloud computing might demand such refocusing of responsibility, though. Teaching a 20-year IT vet that hardware doesn't matter is a tough lesson.

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Poke into clouds with HP Labs paper

HPLabs HP Tech Forum attendees were doused with cloud computing references this year. There's a certain level of buzz that might compel an IT manager or 3000 owner to know answers to basic cloud questions when the queries surface from top management. Within the rich confines of HP Labs Technical Reports, a good Cloud 101 primer is available for download.

This paper released this year is titled Outsourcing Business to Cloud Computing Services: Opportunities and Challenges. The writing in this PDF document is as straightforward as the title; the paper is only 17 pages long and explains differences between Infrastructure as a Service, Platform as a Service, Database as a Service, and Software as a Service.

As it turns out, the paper's only table shows that only Software as a Service (SaaS) has any direct use for managers, business owners or business users. The PaaS, IaaS and DaaS are tools for the IT administrator or developer. However, the HP technical writers assert that the time is near for computer owners to be able to access most of their processing needs from the clouds.

Advances in service oriented architecture (SOA) have brought us close to the once-imaginary vision of establishing and running a virtual business, a business in which most or all of its business functions are outsourced to online services.

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Unix conversions can include forms

Most migrations present a wide array of tasks and challenges, from finding a new facility for job handling to the more mundane replacement of 3000 forms. A few ideas have surfaced on the 3000 newsgroup to replace HP 3000-specialized forms solutions such as Fantasia.

While Fantasia does have a product which moves the forms solution to Unix, there's also a cross-platform option that's been proven at Minisoft. This vendor of printing, middleware and connectivity solutions has served the 3000 community for more than two decades. Its lineup includes eFORMz, a forms and document management suite written in Java that runs on the HP 3000, HP 9000, Unix, Linux, and Windows. The eFORMz solution recently added RTF document support in its 7.0 version.

"This is a product that many Fantasia users have migrated to over the years," said Minisoft founder Doug Greenup. The 3000 community has also used Minisoft's ODBC, OLE DB, and JDBC middleware products that support IMAGE, Eloqence and Oracle.

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Community argues value of legacy savvy

Job postings for mainframe experts are up 15 percent over the last 18 months, despite a stall in the sales of systems such as the IBM Z Series. Companies that invested millions of dollars on large systems find themselves needing experts who are no longer employed by the company. The alternative is to find them on the open job market.

This is the kind of development that HP 3000 managers believe has a forthcoming echo in your community.

Under the heading "HP3000 Workers Chances Improving?" Tracy Johnson noted a story in tech Web site slashdot, reporting on the short term folly of companies releasing experts who knew stable, reliable, but aging systems.

Chris O’Malley, CA’s mainframe business executive VP, says that mainframe workers were let go because ‘it had no immediate effect and the organizations didn’t expect to keep mainframes around.’ But businesses have kept mainframes around and now they are struggling to find engineers.

"I presume the hidden cost of letting HP 3000 workers go, way back, may also apply here," Johnson said. A few others with success at selling their 3000 savvy have agreed.

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HP software assists in app management

ITPA This is the time of year when HP rolls out its ideals for IT. The vendor who's carrying many HP 3000 enterprises forward on another platform has been preaching the benefits of ITIL best practices in IT for more than two years now, messages rolled out in summertime meetings at the HP Technology Forum and HP Software Universe among other places.

This summer HP exhibited a new tool to collect and analyze ITIL-based metrics. HP DecisionCenter is software that includes the HP Financial Planning and Analysis (HP FP&A). HP bills this software as a tool to help "CIOs take action to reduce variances between planned and actual spending, optimize underutilized assets and accurately allocate IT costs to the consumers of IT services."

When an enterprise grows beyond midrange size, these kinds of issues become as important to a company's top management as reliable backups are to the datacenter manager. The FP&A software links combines a financial planning and analysis capability to a financial data model. It consolidates financial information from project, asset and configuration management systems, as well as ERP software.

This kind of analysis might be familiar to an HP 3000 owner who plumbed the depths of data processing to track performance of a system. ITIL concepts such as Application Portfolio Management can be tracked using a dashboard like the one above that HP says helps "tackle the traditionally high cost of IT."

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Command file tests dates for holidays

Community contributor Dave Powell has improved upon a command file created by Tracy Pierce to deliver a streamlined way to tell an HP 3000 about upcoming holidays. Datetest tells whether a day is a holiday. "I finally needed something like that," Powell says, "but I wanted the following main changes:

1:  Boolean function syntax, so I could say :if  holiday()  then instead of
:xeq datetest
:if WhichVariableName = DontRememberWhatValue then

and also because I just think user-functions are cool."

"2. Much easier to add or disable specific holidays according to site-specific policies or even other countries’ rules. (Then disable Veterans Day, Presidents Day and MLK Day, because my company doesn’t take them.)

"3. Make it easy to add special one-off holidays like the day before/after Christmas at the last minute when the company announces them.

"Along the way, I also added midnight-protection and partial input date-checking, and made it more readable, at least to me."

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34 summers ago, HP first Communicated

Communicator-Iss1 Working in the 3000 community to tell stories gets to be a richer job every year. People I've known since I was a young reporter sometimes pass on relics from the 3000's past. Last month I got such a gift from Steve Hammond, a 3000 veteran who's moved on with his employer to other systems but pursues history as his avocation. A modest white envelope that he gave me contained a piece of history: HP's first Communicator.

The document was HP's first shot into an open sky of communications to HP 3000 users of 1975. June of that year might have been the first summer that HP wanted to share updates about the HP 3000, since the computer had passed through the end of '74 and gotten into summer of '75 with consistent reports of reliability. Issue 1 of the Computer Systems Communicator included a section on the HP 2000 systems as well as the HP 9600 Measurement and Control systems. HP considered the three computers a complete solution to data processing needs of the middle '70s.

Only one of these computer systems has survived into this century, and HP identifies some of the credit for the 3000's longevity in this Communicator's contents: user groups, the first Communicator's theme. A HP 3000 user group was introduced with a board of directors and a mandate for meetings: "The meetings, open to all group members, afford an excellent forum for the exchange new techniques and ideas."

This Communicator also advised 3000 users about "Steps to Produce a Core Dump Tape" as well as an update to a bedrock program still used by every HP 3000 database today, FCOPY.

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3000 keeping its beat at daily newspaper

PioneerPress Even in the face of last month's layoffs in the newsroom of the St. Paul, Minn. Pioneer Press, an HP 3000 installed there keeps on reporting on revenues.

Although the newspaper business is embroiled in change this year, a leading daily paper for the Twin Cities is still using software developed for the HP 3000. An advertising system which was sold off-the-shelf by Collier-Jackson continues to track the paper's subscriptions and newsstand sales.

Linda Roatch, a former HP user group director, checked in and reported on the 3000's status. "We do have a 3000 in house that still runs our circulation system," Roatch said. "I'm the Advertising Systems Manager. I'm not involved with the 3000, but I believe it's the Collier-Jackson circulation system from long ago, one that we've highly customized and haven't upgraded in years."

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HP offers partly cloudy futures

PODLookover You can be forgiven if you feel like clouds of computing are rolling past you. Cloud computing, where a remote datacenter's storage and compute power takes the duty of local servers and services, is driving a lot of HP's efforts to attract enterprise business. The concept is defined in so many ways that one analyst offers advice for "cloud sourcing strategists."

At the recent HP Technology Forum & Expo, HP worked to demonstrate how the cloud concept has been assimilated into HP's enterprise offerings. The means range from developing the knowledge to adopt this new strategy through company-maintained, redundant and adaptive servers, to letting HP do it all for you with services. HP's VP of Marketing for its EDS unit has been quoted this quarter as saying "
Cloud means a lot of things to different people. Right now the objective, particularly for large enterprises, is to experiment to understand what the implications are."

There's more than one level of experimenting going on here. HP's trying to see what might stick to your budget. Cloud computing is a new term, one being applied to the yeoman work during this tough year's IT sales missions. But cloud computing might be an alternative to HP 3000 ownership if 1. Applications can be found in the cloud to enable a customer's services to its business centers. 2. These applications can be customized to fit company business processes, and 3. The whole solution is as reliable as maintaining your own datacenter.

Reliability is a key to replicating the 3000 value. The HPTF attendee above isn't looking into the clouds for an enterprise solution. He's looking over the ceiling of an HP product that's as non-cloudy as anything can be, but built by the vendor to deliver "Cloud Assurance."

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Practice independence in your community

Here in the US we're observing our Independence Day this weekend, a celebration that echoes my hopes of independence for HP 3000 community members. Those who are homesteading on the system beyond HP's schedule have already chosen an independent path. They depend on new partners for support. Some community members have chosen the independence of Linux and open source, too, to supplement their 3000 computing power.

I also believe that independence is essential to those members staying with HP. Those companies migrating need to speak out freely about their experiences. As a journalist for almost 30 years, I've seen a decline in the independence of speaking on the record. I'd love to start a revolution in that regard and roll back the calendar, but anonymous sources have become a bulwark in reporting. The journalism community represented at the Washington, DC Newseum — a fine stop for any citizen-tourist in that town — has grave doubts about anonymous sources. We reporters trade credibility for trust when we need to use these sources.

I'd use fewer of these with more customers going on the record. Public meetings, open to both users and the press, are becoming rare indeed. It's up to 3000 community members to speak out online, where the speaker has more control of what's being reported.

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Pros build a life beyond the 3000

3000 veterans have been facing a job shortfall for some time now, but some are finding enough work to stay busy, even in a down economy. We heard yesterday that Applied Technologies' Brian Edminster is "staying busier than you'd believe, given the current economy," working engagements with companies that need his HP 3000 and open source skills.

That's a combination often cited as a safe path into a future where HP won't even support the 3000. While it seems easy to say "get better trained on Microsoft solutions," Michael Anderson of J3K Solutions says MS is only part of a smart future.

"I honestly would not count on Microsoft owning the majority of the market twenty years from now," says Anderson, who left an HP 3000 job to start his own enterprise. "Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Learn how virtualization improves the efficiency and availability of IT resources and applications. Run multiple operating systems and learn new concepts, look into cloud computing and open source."

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Open source community grows opportunity

Open source software is taking a fresh step into territory more comfortable to commercial users. The HP 3000 world is closer than most to embracing open source as a validated solution, in part because your world has employed user-created software for 3000 sites since the 1970s.

Of late, that kind of help has emerged from stewards around the world updating Samba, Apache, or the latest extension to the power of Linux. But another category is emerging with fresh opportunity: the commercial open source software organization. Openbravo, an ERP app being introduced to 3000 migration candidates by Entsgo, is among the best-organized of these solutions. Its community gathers and creates the Community Edition using a Wiki for free, but Openbravo also offers an Openbravo Network implementation including an annual professional support subscription service.

Openbravo is so complete that the software includes tools available for non-developers to modify the app suite. While this might sound like a risky move, many 3000 owners have little in the way of traditional development staff. The 3000 was offered to the non-DP kind of customer. That's Data Processing, for anyone searching for IT or MIS as a label for the technologists in the community.

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