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Graceful shutdowns slip Sharky's memory

Not only is the HP 3000 being dismissed by some for its indie futures, the computer is shedding its legacy in some quarters. Up at the Computerworld website, a story about operating computers in the data processing days included a canard about 3000 recovery.

The system's ability to reboot safely and swiftly, with no data loss, is a bedrock benefit. The powerfail protection for IMAGE data slipped away from the memories shared with "Sharky," an anonymous columnist who's spread a fish tale about a server that he never knew. And apparently, neither did the anonymous "pilot fish" telling the tale about a time he was cleaning floors and minding a 3000.

Eventually comes the fateful day when there's a power outage. And not just any outage -- something has taken out both the power and phone lines... "Fish" turns off his flashlight and waits in the dark for the return call, listening to the UPS beeping, and waiting, and listening to the HP 3000 drive heads crash... The tech from corporate determines that the NT server has lost a drive and has to be replaced, and the HP 3000 is "going to need some work."

Clever story, but unless somebody took a hacksaw and hammer to that NT-era 3000's disc pack, the novice operator doesn't remember the 3000's recovery any better than he could coldstart the system. Powerfail recoveries have always been an HP 3000 advantage, even while communicating with UPS systems didn't arrive for years -- until HP launched its own PowerTrust line of UPS units.

"That is a nonsensical story," said Pete Crosby, a veteran of the Hewlett-Packard 3000 support center. "All of the 79xx series of discs used the rotational mass of the pack to operate the motor as a generator to complete IOs and pull the heads off the packs. Winchester drives would occasionally crash, but not as a "normal" result of an extended power outage."
If battery backup survived the outage, the system would come back like nothing ever happened. If not, then you would reboot and you might lose the last few transactions, but Transaction Manager would ensure physical integrity.

"Cute story," added consultant Craig Lalley, "but it sounds like the writer did not get far from his janitorial work. I do remember the noise some of the full height drives use to make, sort of a metal on metal sound. And the 7933s used to vibrate enough to walk across the room if not secured. As for shutting down the system without passwords... well with physical console access, it would not have been required."

Why does it matter? Because like full backward-compatible program operations, powerfail was something special about the HP 3000 when HP sold it against NT servers and Unix systems.

By the 5.0 release of MPE/iX -- which may have been running the 3000 described by Pilot Fish -- HP had wired UPS communication into the operating system.

The introduction of the UPS onto HP 3000 systems is an evolutionary step in providing system protection against utility power failures. In a minimal UPS-based system, the degree of power failure protection is equivalent to that of the traditional Battery Backup method systems. This means that the HP 3000 system simply pauses for up to fifteen minutes of AC power failure, then resumes normal operation from the point of interruption when the AC power is restored

By 1999, when NT had come and then gone passe in IT, while the 3000 remained at work, the Y2K weekend drew these plans onto our pages, from George Roth of Umpqua Community College:

We will perform our standard full nightly backup on Dec. 29th (the last standard working day of the year for our college) and wait and see. We will leave power on through an APC Matrix 3000 (3000VA) UPS. Security staff will page/call/cell phone of any power issues. We will check the system on Saturday. Our biggest worries are with lots of other equipment/systems, not the HP 3000. All network and HP 3000 staff are to be in town and available during this weekend.

As for the idea that the NT server would be in better shape than an HP 3000 after a power outage, it's too foolish to address. It's most likely that NT servers didn't house the corporate database back in the days of "brick-sized" portable phones.

The best news is that the database recovery ability remains alive and well in 3000s of today. After all, a stable system also freezes what's working in its design. And that's no joke. If it's comedy you're after, the relative location of a 3000 prompted a grin from Duane Percox of K-12 vendor QSS.

Reminds me of one of our long-ago customers (I think they were in Burlington, WI) who installed their HP 3000 in what was a working water closet.

This was not the primary bathroom, as there were other facilities, but they never did disable the toilet and you could sit and operate at the same time. And it gave graphic meaning to requests from the Response Center after a system crash :-)