Indie resets of 3000 system IDs still available
Discover the New World of 2011: HP Maybe

Independent support plumbs 3000 internals

HP will remain in the 3000 support business during 2011, but only in a limited role. Aside from the under-the-radar contracts that independent support vendors are reporting, there's a Time & Materials option for critical services like setting CPU name and HPSUSAN numbers on replacement or upgraded 3000 boards.

But is Time & Materials response -- which has no guarantee of any deadline or an established price list -- the only avenue for this work? We're getting reports from indie support providers that HP has engineered back doors into configuring 3000 PA-RISC hardware. There's been ample research around the world to document PA-RISC system use with Linux. Stromasys, working on the Zelus 3000 emulator for release next year, piloted the product by booting a PA-RISC emulator with Linux.

The indie reports indicate a better understanding of the 3000 server hardware's internals than you might expect. As one example, a dual-port SCSI card is part of the IO board on HP's A-Class servers. HP's own documentation details that, so a third party might leverage the information to introduce older SCSI to the later models of the 3000. HP, for the record, doesn't support this SCSI card in the newer models. But as 3000 vets like to say, SCSI is SCSI. The blend of newer server and older IO is one element in upgrading to later model servers.

That expense of going to the A-Class or N-Class servers from 9x9 systems can be justified. Aside from power savings, the ultimate generation of 3000s is younger than 9x9 or 9x8 predecessors, and some support companies say it's easier to find replacement parts for the newer models. HP has made parts that work in both HP 9000 (the rp line of servers) and HP 3000 systems. Other than a CPU name change introduced at boot-up, the systems are identical. Many parts on the market for the tens of thousands of HP 9000s will do the job inside the newest HP 3000s.

What's more, there's value in the range of performance available on the N- and A-Class servers. You need a expert support source, comfortable with experimenting on PA-RISC, to get to greater speeds or eight-processor HP 3000s. But it can be done. And the task apparently doesn't conflict with HP attempts to block 3000 internals configuration.

The companies who will offer an alternative to HP Time & Materials try to keep a low profile on the work. Nobody wants a demand letter from HP to halt a business offering, something that competing with HP's support might trigger. So they're coy about identifying themselves, either using an alias like "Captain GREB" in public messages from Immediate Recovery Systems, or keeping their company name out of reports. But in two separate interviews within hours of a single day, we've heard 3000 veterans say they believe HP doesn't care any longer about such services. HP seems only to sell this kind of support on demand, and only to customers who view HP branding as crucial.

There was a time not long ago when configuring HP CPU boards was considered HP's exclusive business, even by people who knew how to deliver that service. Hewlett-Packard's 3000 unit even modified its license interpretation -- not actual licenses signed by customers -- to proscribe modifying the 3000's stable storage. If you did this, you were outside of HP's license terms and couldn't even place a Time & Materials call.

HP's language was broad enough to try to cover engineering for the back door configurations. It's all hung on a Right To Use (RTU) license, little-used by the community.

Running MPE/iX OS on any hardware under the following conditions without explicit HP approval would likely violate the existing MPE/iX RTU:

Genuine HP e3000 systems with allowed hardware configurations but with modifications to cause the reporting of system attributes which are not equal to those actually present or configured on the system. For example, the number and type of CPUs present, System Model String or HPSUSAN by any method including binary patching, insertion of a system library or modification of stable storage values.

Notice the "likely" violation language. There's two reasons to make these modifications. The first is to replace a failed board, or write an HPSUSAN number onto new CPU boards so existing software will continue to run -- when the software vendor is out of business and can't reissue a release to match a new HPSUSAN number. Those HP 2007 and 2008 warnings might not matter, even in a legal sense. The latest reports reveal that 3000 configurations are being altered without changes to stable storage. A back door into the 3000's memory space gets the job done which HP will only do on T&M next year.

We hear a healthy share of off-the-record reports about these back-door successes. They arrive with enough technical detail to make us believe the independent support community can match anything HP will cut back on offering after Dec. 31, the work it will push into its T&M outskirts. "That doesn't work; best of luck," customers say they hear from HP's support about some configuration challenges. This work keeps 3000s running even while migrations are in play -- the budget dance that funds migrations while 3000s run at their superior price performance marks. Customers are asking indie support providers to step in with solutions where HP is reluctant to work during 2011.