A computer system like the HP 3000 has been changing for the past eight years, even though the vendor is tugging at its plug through this decade. HP resources are edging out of the community's picture, even while the experts running systems in companies are retiring themselves.
One link customers will need is a Web connection to HP's 3000 documentation. Once printed in countless reams of bound paper, the knowledge is stored online. The location of the links has gotten more elusive. The most comprehensive start point recently edged off the docs.hp.com main page. This connection to HP manuals for supported products and HP engineer white papers is now at docs.hp.com/en/mpeixall.html
One example of the latter retirement is Greg Bell, a developer/analyst who's leaving a 37-year IT career this month at International Paper. Bell works at the Savannah, Ga. plant, where 3000s have been working since the Series III systems of the 1970s. Even as he exits this month, a pair of 3000s continue to work for this major corporation. There's no migration plan for two key applications there; new apps will move in, or the old ones will be mothballed.
Currently we have one Series 957 in Savannah running our last legacy applications, and one at our Prattville, Alabama mill doing the same. No migration to any other platform is planned -- the applications will be retired or replaced. I and another IT person here in Savannah provide support for the one system here and assist with the system in Prattville.
Bell says the 3000s have been static at International Paper over those past eight years, and that one at Savannah needs little more than a shutdown and reboot once in awhile. HP's exits from development and support have represented changes to the community, but not at this company.
With the exception of having to replace various parts -- which we do ourselves with third-party vendors providing those we’ve run out of from scavenging pieces from the other HP 3000s -- and the standard user setups/deletes, we have not done anything as far as the OS is concerned. We shut it down and reboot it every now and then to clean it up, but otherwise it just sits there and does its thing.
Bell has been at International Paper since the year the 3000 was first introduced. In 1972 the company was an IBM shop, but the 3000 made its footprints in the 80s and 90s running International Paper's financials. "We worked our way up from the Series IIIs to the 957/987 models. At our high point we had seven HP 3000s running all of our financial applications, and DEC servers running the production applications."
Working in IT long enough to call Digital "DEC" gives a hint at the scope of Bell's career. He's moving away to more personal projects after more than three decades that included midnight-oil challenges he met on the 3000s. "I wish I could say I will miss those 8-12 hour system upgrades in the middle of the night, but I think I can "migrate" to something more challenging, like my ever-expanding honey-do list."
The departure of experts like Bell opens opportunity for third parties to serve homesteaders. But knowledge drain has been on the community's list of issues for more than six years. That HP documents link includes a white paper from Mark Bixby, a former 3000 engineer who's now part of the development team at K-12 app company QSS. Bixby's April, 2003 paper, Is Your e3000 Environment Secure? still brims with valuable expertise. Even though the homesteading advice was written before HP stopped selling 3000s, the deck of more than 100 PowerPoint slides is full of good practices. Near the end, Bixby said that retiring expertise could pose security questions.
"Employees with MPE OS and local application skills may leave to seek a different career path," he wrote. "Will the employees who are left have sufficient skills to ensure good MPE and application security? Make sure critical knowledge is written down somewhere."
HP is still hosting the MPE knowledge on its servers, and the vendor is licensing the content to third parties. Unless a retirement path like the one Bell describes is the plan for apps at homesteading sites, you should marshal the critical, tribal knowledge of your apps as part of a sustainability practice.