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July 29, 2011

A Full Day of Free 3000 Networking Advice

In a flurry of under 24 hours, six HP 3000 veterans chipped in advice this week to help a 3000 manager who's weathering poor network response times. All of the consulting was free, offered though the 3000's ultimate community resource, the HP3000-L mailing list and newsgroup.

Kevin Smeltzer, an IT Specialist in MPE Systems at IBM's Global Services group, said he was watching his development N-Class responses slip into unusable measurements. "Today was so bad that test programs could not stay connected to a Quick program," he reported at 4 PM yesterday. "Linkcontrol only shows an issue with Recv dropped: addr on one path. This is a known issue with some enterprise network monitoring software that sends a packet that the HP 3000 cannot handle. Even HP last year had no solutions for that issue."

Donna Hoffmeister, Craig Lalley, Mark Ranft, Tony Summers, Mark Landin and Jeff Kell all came to Smeltzer's aid in less than 24 hours. Hoffmeister, Lalley and Ranft work support and consulting businesses, but nobody wanted to collect any fee. Summers and Landin chimed in from veteran 3000 manager status. And Kell, well, he founded the 3000-L, and headed the System Manager's special interest group for years. Like the others, he's steeped in the nuances of HP 3000 networking.

So long as the 3000-L is running, no one has run out of places to ask for this kind of help. There has been a thread of 16 messages so far, back and forth emails with long dumps of NETTOOL reports, examinations of TCP timer settings (Hoffmeister wrote an article for Allegro about this on its website), and discussion of switch port settings. "Do I need to shutdown and restart JINETD or restart the network," Smeltzer asked this morning, "to have my TCP changes in NMMGR take effect?"

The point here is not the solution to Smeltzer's problem -- still developing today -- but the careful exam he was getting from fellow managers about his 3000's condition. "I still have not heard from my network admin," he said. "This will tell me if a network change happened and port/switch changed so that the HP 3000 connection is no longer set to 100BT. This is my best hope at this time."

Lalley ventured a guess after a close reading of Smeltzer's reports:

How are your gateways defined? If you change the gateway


then you could try deleting the wrong gateway and see if it helps. I think you have a router broadcasting a wrong gateway.

Hoffmeister said the problems might be in the physical layer:

Did you change NMMGR before or after the reboot? If after, you're going to want to reboot again. Your packet loss is disturbing. I'd be suspicious of a physical layer problem.

Problems in the physical layer can be addressed by replacing parts, Mark Landin advised.

Could be a bad network cable or connector. Replace them.
Could be a bad network switch port. Connect the system to another port (properly configured, of course).
Could be a bad NIC. Swap them in the 3000 and see if the problem moves with the card.

Hoffmeister pointed back to the TCP timer issues.

On PCI (A- and N-Class) systems with 100bt cards, you're more likely to see 'recv dropped: addr' counts due to the way the card handles (or not, actually) traffic routed for a different destination.

Typically these counts are nothing to be concerned about. What is concerning are the TCP statistics.  Retransmits are almost always a function of using the default (or otherwise messed up) TCP timers. Let's just say I've never seen a case where it's not.

You get the idea. Smeltzer, who's competent enough to provide all the needed reports to the 3000 community, is getting HP Support Center-grade assistance. And free. Better assistance, even, since he noted about the enterprise packet problems of 2010, "Even HP had no solutions for that issue."

This is why when our email link to 3000-L went dead for a few days (thanks, ATT) we got online to set up an alternative delivery address. More than 110 message this month devoted to HP 3000 techniques. You can sign on for the free help at 3000-L, or just read the advice, at the mailing list website: http://raven.utc.edu/cgi-bin/WA.EXE?A0=HP3000-L The NewsWire would never have gotten off the ground without 3000-L's networking with the community. Make that network one of yours, too.

08:27 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 28, 2011

File Eloquence's Conference under Reunion

Marxmeier Software has announced that it will host a North American Eloquence User Conference on Sept. 22. The event is part of the HP3000 Reunion weekend, Thursday through Saturday.

CHM Meeting This Eloquence conference is a great example of how 3000 community members can use the September Reunion as a rendezvous point for other meetings. CAMUS and Speedware are also gathering users and community members during the Sept. 22-24 event in the Computer History Museum in Mountain View.

Marxmeier will be hosting an Eloquence User Meeting for those former IMAGE users who have migrated to Eloquence, as well as for those who are considering Eloquence for their migration.

Topics covered by presentations and on-screen demos on Sept. 22 include
  • new Eloquence full text indexing functionality
  • forward logging and recovery, database auditing, database server replication
  • database server monitoring with web browser and server log and stats files
  • using fwutil library to capture ongoing database updates with custom programs
  • enhanced item level security ("item masking") and database encryption
  • enhancing your application to take advantage of Eloquence functionality

The user conference is free, but Eloquence would like users to pre-register at the Reunion's webpage.

Meeting space for such user-based meetings, or vendor tutorials and presentations, is both reasonably priced and available. The Reunion is designed to be an event whose content is shaped by attendees. If you want to do something, says sparkplug Alan Yeo, "just organize it." It all starts with a call to the Computer History Museum, a visit to its webpage, or an email.

04:33 PM in Homesteading, Migration, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 27, 2011

3000 events often meet for one last time

The HP3000 Reunion will be meeting eight weeks from tomorrow, a Thursday-Saturday gathering that looks like it's bringing in some classic members of your community. This week Vesoft's Vladimir Volokh, now working in his 70s and still visiting customers, chipped in his pre-registration. Vladimir's conference visits have not been a common occurrence lately, although he was ubiquitous in meetings early in the 3000's history.

But the 3000's "one last meeting" has frequently been scheduled. The community has a way of getting back together to trade information and history. We used to call it networking even before the mysteries of the TCP/IP stack became part of the 3000's OS.

Here's a report from a July seven years ago, at the advent of another meeting of the 3000 community.

In the meantime, this month’s conference will marshal the remains of the 3000 community one more time. Benefits of attendance have tilted toward networking for 3000 manager and vendor — even with tech sessions like a four-hour hands-on tutorial about migration to IMAGE-workalike database Eloquence on the schedule.

Eloquence training is also part of the Sept. 22 meeting day of the HP3000 reunion, coming up in eight weeks. That training session from seven years ago was at the final Interex conference, held in August of 2004. The next summer a luncheon hosted tech luminaries and everyday managers when HP World 2005 went bust. HP took over the meeting business that year, but couldn't sustain 3000 gathering at the Technology Forum. So the 3000 community has been preparing to gather for a closing ceremony ever since the World Wide Wake of 2003 that marked the end of HP's 3000 sales. That event was organized, in large part, by the sparkplug of this year's Reunion, Alan Yeo.

Yeo noted that IMAGE's co-creator Fred White is also on the potential attendee list, since White announced his intent before this event even had a name or a news blog. Why not reach for the other half of the IMAGE creation team, he wondered.

I wonder if we could get Jon Bale along as well, and get someone like [Adager's co-founder] Alfredo Rego to make a presentation to them for creating IMAGE. Have they ever received a thank you from the community?

Bale and White have never been formally thanked for creating, and championing, the database that put the HP 3000 into critical mass status in DP. The Reunion is open for moments like this one, as well as others that the community can concoct. Maybe the best thanks up to now is the growing list of attendees for this One Last Time event. You wouldn't want to miss it. But the 3000's history shows that the September Reunion isn't likely to be the one last time when people network in this most social of computer communities.

People knew this even as they gathered eight years ago for that World Wide Wake. Despite the potential for gallows humor, those who celebrated were unwilling to bury their connection with the system. In Chesterville, Ontario, employees at MB Foster had a cookout, while the company’s founder noted that "wake" might not be the best term to describe the community’s affections.

"I think the wake was premature," said company CEO Birket Foster. "The patient’s not dead yet, but we did pass a milestone."

Why not be a part of the next milestone? Pre-registration is underway for this year's event, which is just about as free as all those Wakes around the world.

07:49 PM in History, Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 26, 2011

A Bridge to Extract, Clean, Transform & Load

By Birket Foster

The trouble with today's growing investment in IT that everything is integrated -- and this makes the HP3000 an island of data in your organization. In order to bridge between this platform and others, several things need to occur. The obvious items have to do with what data needs to be moved, when and how often. The technology stack in such a solution will need to address these issues:

  • How to connect to and select from the database
  • How to move the data across a network to a target database
  • How to add to or create the database on the target platform
  • How to deal with data type differences (precision of numbers, item name length, table name length)
  • Endian differences (the byte order for integers can differ on different platforms)
  • What to do with dates (SQL has strict rules around date and date-time fields)

For a one-time move -- perhaps a special project to get certain information on a group of customers who bought a product over the past two years -- the scope is easy and the target can just have fields that are selectively populated.
For a continuous feed of data -- perhaps to an ODS (Operational Data Store), datamart or to another application -- the problem becomes more complex. After all, the need to move data between platforms is becoming a business driver. We have customers taking advantage of our J2EE technology to integrate into a Java environment with JINI, EJB, JTS and SSL support. All of this has allowed the HP 3000 to play as an equal in the Enterprise Data Bus Architecture. But where to start your bridging sparks a good set of questions.

You can follow these questions to outline your requirements: Does there need to be a start date? What data needs to be captured, and how do we identify the data required? Is it transactional data, or updates to a file selected by timestamp? Is it synchronous data, or just an hourly, daily, weekly or monthly data sweep that is required? Once we have some candidate data, how will it be checked for integrity before it is sent to the application or database? Is there a way to make sure (via audit) that all the transactions were correctly posted to the target database and none were missed?
We have been helping customers with synching data for over 15 years and moving data for over 25 years. We have helped customers with the ECTL process (Extract, Clean, Transform and Load) as well as creating a data quality focus to clean up the data before the project is implemented. We often get to discuss the history, policy and lifecycle of the data.

We ask when and how many transactions of what kinds are produced, and how long are the full details required. We want to know when and how do summaries play in the trending and decision making process. Customers need to know what data they want to share with suppliers and customers. Who needs the data internally, and what else do they need to do their job?
Whether you plan on a project for synchronizing data, or moving it one time, or doing periodic refreshes, there is a framework required before you can start the project.

We have been evolving our solutions to help customers with these problems since we first took data from an IMAGE database and built Oracle "loader" files in 1985. Our UDA (Universal Data Access) series was built with the philosophy that we should be database- and operating system-agnostic. We have evolved to go beyond the HP 3000 to include SQLServer, DB2, Sybase, Ingres, Cache, Eloquence, PostgreSQL and MySQL, all to work with Unix, Linux, Windows, AS400 and more.

The objective is to allow “drag and drop” data transformation between any of the databases regardless of source and target platform. We typically pull or push data at the rate of 5-10 million records per hour.
We still support the HP 3000 with all of its file types – IMAGE, Allbase, KSAM and flat files. UDALink which includes ODBC, JDBC and easy to use MBFReporter capability is being used daily by thousands of users in hundreds of sites. We add new copies as customers discover that they need 64-bit clients to support ODBC access to the HP 3000

For many customers we have also been replacing ODBCLink/SE, a product we licensed to HP from 1996-2006 for bundling into MPE/iX. Now that we are five years beyond supporting that product for HP, we find that customers are moving to new versions of Windows Server or SQL Server, triggering the need for a new client to connect to the HP 3000 data source, or in the occasional case of an HP 9000 running Allbase. We continue to evolve the solution and so have added XML, XLS, and PDF as the output types of reports, CSV, and several self-describing file types.
For the past 10 years, our 3000 customers have been able to use .NET  applications with ODBC and for our RPC mechanism. The RPC mechanism makes XLs on an HP 3000 available to a Microsoft environment just like they are libraries (both .COM and .NET work). The RPC mechanism takes code compiled on the HP3000 (in COBOL, C, ,C++, Pascal, Fortran and so on) and allows the Microsoft based development environment to leverage the tried and true business logic without having to duplicate the logic. This goes beyond data to allow the 3000 more of a role in the architecture for new and current systems.
The HP 3000 may be gone from the supported platform list for HP, but there exists a small cadre of dedicated companies who know the HP 3000 and will help customers who must homestead to get the most from their systems. Over the past 10 years since HP's announcement of its plan to phase out 3000 support, MBFoster has continued to support its solutions for data access and delivery. We have added products and services that help the HP 3000 application environment. Beyond the data, MBFoster is helping customers with application support -- we have expertise to help write reports or modify business logic in COBOL, Fortran, Powerhouse, C, C++, and other legacy languages.
If customer does decide to move from an HP 3000, we have those services, too. We have helped customers moving data since 1985 and with transitioning applications since 2001. We also do a lot of work on planning the transition (contact us for our "build, buy or migrate" webinar ) as well as the decommissioning process: to transfer data to the new application, first for testing and then for production cutover -- and then finally to preserve data for historic purposes and compliance reasons.

The word legacy means treasure. And in the case of the HP 3000 the treasure is huge – a highly reliable system that rarely fails (a mean time between reboots is most often measured in years) and reliably runs millions upon millions of transactions across a wide range of industries from education through local government, healthcare, manufacturing, transportation, pharmaceuticals, and retail. At MBFoster we are striving to sustain the HP 3000, and its legacy applications and data, as assets for our customers.
Whether it is a software product, migration project, data services, or project management, MBFoster makes it easy to deliver the right information to the right person at the right time. We work with our customers to streamline IT business operations to reduce costs, improve delivery, and grow revenues for our customers. To call us with questions contact us at 800-ANSWERS (800-267-9377) See us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/MBFosterAssociates or on the Web at www.MBFoster.com.

12:31 PM in Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 25, 2011

They Call It NoSQL for a Reason

Facebook and companies who gather massive data off Web interfaces are leading the movement to NoSQL databases. These are data repositories which migrating HP 3000 sites might be hearing about as they look for a replacement for IMAGE in a new environment. Brian Edminster, the open source expert who is helping 3000 sites employ such solutions, explains that NoSQL has some things in common with IMAGE.

They're basically databases that are no-frills, high performance, can handle very large volumes of data, and are generally not SQL-compliant in one way or another. They're more aimed at data capture (usually from websites), or high speed retrieval for shared reads (again, often serving data on the Web). While most can do concurrent read/write to the same pool of data across many users (rather like IMAGE, or even KSAM), unlike IMAGE, they're really not designed to be used effectively for complex highly concurrent transaction processing database applications.

SQL has been something of a common aspect in specifying databases, so the NoSQL entries are creating a new category of database. Even IMAGE gained a SQL interface by the middle 1990s. Databases like Cassandra, CouchDB, MongoDB, Redis, Riak, Neo4J, and FlockDB have broken away from the Cadillac budget (Oracle), Windows acolytes (SQL Server) or under-budgeted shops (using MySQL or Postgres). Infoworld offered a great roundup of these seven NoSQL databases.

Choosing a database is as much a platform decision as picking any operating system. NoSQL may be an appropriate choice for the apps that don't need concurrent processing of transactions.

Edminster, founder of Applied Technologies, adds that he "hasn't heard of anyone using these to facilitate a move from a 3000 to Linux, but I can't claim to have heard all stores of that sort of move. But some of these don't even have a SQL interface, and have to be accessed via APIs (like IMAGE, until you install the limited SQL interface layer)."

Eloquence includes an SQL interface and retains a familiarity of the IMAGE's intrinsic constructs, which is why it's been a popular choice for the 3000 customers headed to Linux, Unix or Windows.

In contrast to all of the above, Edminster points the more technical reader to the current working definition of NoSQL:

Next Generation Databases mostly addressing some of these points: being non-relational, distributed, open-source and horizontally scalable. The original intention has been modern web-scale databases. The movement began early 2009 and is growing rapidly. Often more characteristics apply as: schema-free, easy replication support, simple API, eventually consistent / BASE (not ACID), a huge data amount, and more. So the misleading term "nosql" (the community now translates it mostly with "not only sql") should be seen as an alias to something like the definition above.

For reference, the difference between BASE and ACID:

ACID (Atomicity, Consistency, Isolation, Durability); most all SQL databases fall under this model.

BASE (Basically Available, Soft state, Eventual consistency). Most NoSQL databases fall under this model.

07:12 PM in Migration, Web Resources | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 22, 2011

It's time to change your 3000 timers

Allegro Web logo Allegro Consultants has offered a new white paper that deals with an old and common issue of 3000 management: TCP timers. The support company's Donna Hoffmeister, who has posted a passel of tips about 3000 administration on the 3000 newsgroup, wrote A Discussion of MPE TCP Timers. These timers are a management subject every 3000 owner should discuss with their admin folks. They establish how quickly your system responds to network traffic calls.

These values control how a 3000 reacts in the event it needs to re-send (retransmit) a packet ("chunk") of data over a TCP/IP network. These values were established at least in the MPE V days (and possibly before that) – back when only big, important computers were trying to talk to each other. (Unlike today, when even your refrigerator thinks it needs to "yack it up" over the Internet!)

The important thing to understand about these values is that they are perfectly fine and do not need changing because they are never (or rarely) used on an optimally-performing network.  However, given that

1. These days, networks rarely perform optimally, and
2. HP Network Engineers described the above values as "way out of whack"

you should change your TCP values.

Hoffmeister's paper sets out the recommended values for the modern era. HP 3000s have been useful for so many decades that it's easy to overlook some of the fundamental assumptions at the heart of the MPE environment.

Allegro's president Steve Cooper reminded us that the new White Paper from his company is part of a collection of MPE and HP 3000 help at the firm's Papers and Books web page. Advice there includes repairs for aborts and hangs on HP3000s, and even a paper on HP-UX system panics. The company is committed to providing support for 3000s through at least 2016.

01:29 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading, Web Resources | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 21, 2011

Education post-migration: Web resources

Migration is a serious project for HP 3000 managers. But the after-effects of changing your environment can be significant as well. There are often questions about operations or architecture that arise once an HP 3000 is finally shut down.

HP is addressing migration education online, but there have been no recent additions of web resources for migrating away from a 3000. Instead, the HP training and tool briefs cover migrations of HP 9000 applications. Hewlett-Packard has devoted a website and new tools for moving onto the Integrity line of HP-UX servers. For the customers who "prefer to protect their investments in applications deployed on HP 9000 systems," HP offers the new HP Containers, software that employs the HP ARIES translation system.

It transparently executes HP 9000 applications on Integrity systems and, therefore, saves considerable time, effort and costs for HP customers by avoiding costly recompilation and porting. Move your entire HP 9000 application ecosystem to HP-UX 11i Integrity system and execute it in a Secure Resource Partition compartment under ARIES. Avoids the need to know the application dependencies or rediscover it manually.

HPUX Gems HP also has posted a series of 3-5-minute "HP-UX Gems" from its technical experts; one of the speakers is billed as an HP Distinguished Technologist. These are summaries for the IT architect who needs to prove that Unix is the right choice for a business enterprise. Lately, HP's been getting more questions about whether HP-UX or Oracle should be the bedrock of IT services. For the Oracle bedrock shops, the road often leads to Windows. There's Web-based help for that destination, too, according to a former 3000 system manager.

Tony Tibbenham reports that the Spiceworks.com website has been of great help to him. Tibbenham is among the OpenMPE volunteers who remain with that group, in a unique position: an IT manager at a company that relegated its 3000 to historical lookups. He's spent the bulk of his 26-year career using systems other than the 3000, most notably HP-UX. But this year he's looking after a Windows-based network.

Spiceworks.com has been a good resource for him. It's important, because the HP-UX newsgroup comp.sys.hp.unix shut down this year. "Spiceworks is brilliant in my main job -- looking after a Windows-based LAN," he said. "The community is helpful and the posted answers usually accurate."

01:32 PM in Migration, News Outta HP, Web Resources | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 20, 2011

Pre-registrations pile in for Reunion

Members of the HP 3000 community are getting more serious about meeting at this fall's HP3000 Reunion. The event's blog logged had more than 60 subscribers last week. Now the pre-registration tally has started to mount for the Sept. 22-24 gathering at the Computer History Museum in the Bay Area.

If you're reading this on the Reunion's blog and haven't pre-registered yet, it will help the organizers to know which parts of the event you'd like to attend. The three days are just about free, with the exception of a nominal charge for the Saturday evening party. If you haven't signed on at either the blog or the pre-reg webpage, follow this link to learn more about the Reunion and to pre-register (look for a pre-reg link on the Reunion blog's right column).

A good chunk of the 50 members who've pre-registered call Silicon Valley home, so travel's not an issue for them. But there are overseas trips being scheduled for the party, migration training, the CAMUS meeting and more. Some pre-registrants are coming from Hewlett-Packard, too. The HP company ID makes up the largest single group of pre-registrants.

Loree's Epicenter Grief Considering how close the 3000 rests to the Hewlett-Packard's business computer roots, the intentions of HP staff are not surprising. The decision to stop creating and selling HP 3000s happened far above the divisional level. Long after the HP exit plan was announced, staff inside the vendor's labs continued to work for the customers who were remaining, either for the long term or until a migration could be completed. In the photo above taken during 2003's World Wide Wake, HP's engineers gather at the "Epicenter of HP3000 Grief" at Loree's Little Shack in Roseville -- a town that was home to the 3000's manufacturing and a haven for its labbies.

Harper_thorpe Many of the best stories of the 3000's creation reside in the memory of these engineers and its early executives. At the Computer History Museum three years ago, former HP executive Harper Thorpe (at left) told about the earliest days of turning a general purpose HP 3000 into a business success.

At the museum's Minicomputer Software workshop, moderator Burt Grad asked two dozen HP 3000 veterans whether it was a conscious decision on HP's part to go into the commercial business. "We were brought into it by some of our partners who actually saw the opportunity based on what we were bringing to market," Thorpe explained."

Although there was an opportunity relative to what the 3000's competition was offering -- DEC and DG were moving into the applications world -- Thorpe said HP's partners provided the spark for the apps to evolve the 3000 from iron-plus-OS into a business system.

I think to a great degree our partners helped us go there, because they had their [customer] experiences. They knew those opportunities existed and we went hand-in-hand. You couldn't have called HP, at that point in time, a solutions provider. You'd show up in front of a customer and say, "Would you like to buy a computer?" And they'd say, "What?"

That same community -- customers, partners and HP -- are heading to the HP3000 Reunion in about two months.

04:49 PM in History, Homesteading, News Outta HP, Web Resources | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 19, 2011

Ask: Should I Stay, or Should I Go?

The question above has been on the minds of 3000 owners and managers ever since 2002. While many have resolved it with a migration, it's not been an easy question to answer. Tomorrow you can ask it during an 11 AM PDT Wednesday webinar with yes, MB Foster, who's been offering these advisories at mid-week all during 2011.

ArrivaCal Sometimes the question can be answered more than once. At Arriva London, the question was first answered in 2004 when the London Transport system decided to go to Windows, .NET and IBM's Intel-based servers. Transoft did the work at the time. "The HP 3000 will cease to be supported by HP from 2006," said Alan Ricot, IT manager at the time. "Migration has reduced not only the cost of ongoing maintenance of the legacy system, but also the business risk of being reliant on a platform nearing end-of-life."

However, now comes word that Transport for London (TfL) has signed on to use Software as a Service from Asite to manage contracts. "TfL staff as well as their entire construction supply chain will use Asite's Contract Administration applications to manage contract change and to provide real-time visibility of their actual schedule and cost position against budget," said the SaaS provider this week. Some of those migrated servers have been kicked off the job.

MB Foster's CEO Birket Foster said these kinds of choices -- to skip a migration and just let service providers offer the IT -- were on the horizon, years ago. "We're in the middle of convergence, but it's not going to take 30 years," he said at a conference about the time Arriva was going to .NET. "Small to medium-sized businesses can't afford traditional IT infrastructure."

Of course, Arriva isn't an SMB. The webinar tomorrow will include "stay" or "go" answers. But for some of those going, the question will be how far away do you go today, and how far later on?

The shiny red HP 3000 account was called London Buses by Hewlett-Packard for years while the vendor quoted wins for the platform. But by the time the vendor told its 3000 customers that support would cease in 2006, some of its larger companies were ready to go. The organization which became Arriva London might have been able save some money with the extra four years which HP needed to finally end support.

Going sooner can cost more than going later. So when you go is at least as important as if you're going. It might be a good question to ask tomorrow after the webinar's briefing. MB Foster says it will outline an application migration framework.

Attendees will hear about proven, risk mitigation strategies that will help you get started and deliver a thought provoking synopsis to internal decision makers with an eye towards a flexible long term enterprise infrastructure that will match the application to the business’ vision, goals and growth expectations. Bring your CFO, CEO, or General Manager to help educate the whole team in this free webinar.

03:50 PM in History, Migration, Web Resources | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 18, 2011

Spicy Remembrances of a Curious OS

We got a bite on one of our hooks in the Web's stream today when Google alerted us to a question on Spiceworks.com. Up on this developer and IT pro forum, a member asked if anyone remembered the HP3000. The question indicated that this member knew the history and current status of the server.

It ran a curious operating system called MPE and had an in-built database called IMAGE. It is the only server I have seen boot after a 20+ foot fall onto concrete (the video is on YouTube) and featured legendary reliability: 10+ years without a reboot, provided you kept the power on.

I inherited one of the oldest and smallest HP3000 servers when I took on this role. It still runs MPE/iX 6.5.

It's not very unusual to see MPE/iX 6.5 running a production HP 3000. Any Series 9x7 server would be frozen on that release. HP prevented 7.0 and later from booting on the 9x7s. That hardware can be had for the price of shipping these days. The support of those systems is a budget item, or should be. The OS might be locked down, but any issues with administration which arise need an escalation chain for that "legendary reliability."

The Spiceworks member "mrTibbs2010" went on to summarize a homesteader's position. He even placed credit for the HP source code licenses in the correct place -- OpenMPE's advocates jawboning for years with HP.

HP stopped supporting these boxes at the end of 2010. Some resellers still support them. There is even an organisation, called OpenMPE, who persuaded HP to release most of the source code for MPE, IMAGE et al to a few respected vendors in order that they could help anyone who is "homesteading' i.e. planning to stay on the 3000 forever.

Homesteading is a valid decision when migration is a multi-million dollar project. These servers have been in-place so long, embedded in the business processes.

It's always good to see the label we concocted for the remaining 3000 users, "homesteader," carried forward. Just like it's great to find a new Web resource hooked on one of our Google Alert lines. That video of the fall onto concrete is at our YouTube channel, among other spots on the Web.

Answering questions on the Spiceworks forum lifts a member's rating based on a score of spiciness. We're only at Pimento level because we just joined today. Check out the Spiceworks HP group at community.spiceworks.com/group/show/29-hp. And if you're looking for that YouTube video, check out our NewsWire channel video on the event from the 1990s.

03:13 PM in History, Homesteading, Web Resources | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 15, 2011

Retiring software no easier for Microsoft

The world's most widely installed computer environment, Windows XP, is getting its death notice this week. But Microsoft has been learning how slowly software expires in enterprises. Especially software that's not broken and is working in mission-critical operations.

We'd like to be forgiven while we include mission-critical and Windows in the same sentence. The truth of the matter is that Windows XP is running in about 60 percent of the world's enterprises, by some accounting. About half of all of the world's Windows computers run XP. This is an operating system that was released about the same time HP began trying to retire MPE/iX. Hewlett-Packard was doing it the same way as Microsoft -- announcing an end of support date for MPE/iX security software patches. Like Microsoft, HP extended its end date a few times.

But now Microsoft has announced in its blog that the end of XP is less than 1,000 days away. "Windows XP had an amazing run and millions of PC users are grateful for it," said Stephen Rose, IT community manager for the Windows commerical team. "But it's time to move on."

This week Microsoft stopped shipping security fixes for the oldest service pack of XP. HP stopped shipping these kinds of fixes for MPE/iX at the end of 2008. And yet here we are more than two years later, watching publishers and manufacturers and healthcare allies continue to use their 3000s. Security patches do prod some retirements, and Microsoft's customers have it easier than 3000 users. At least there's a relatively-similar transition platform for XP applications that is available from the vendor. There's a price attached to that migration, too. To leave XP, PC hardware needs to be replaced along with software.

But Microsoft's transition platform has been for sale since Windows Vista, and then Windows 7, hit the price lists more than four years ago. Offering the next generation of OS hasn't changed the cost proposition for migrating those hundreds of millions of XP computers. In the spring of 2015, the last of the XP security patches will ship out. But if 3000 enterprise managers -- many of whom oversee XP systems -- are any indicator, XP is going to have a lifespan that will run through the end of its second decade. Software dies more slowly than anything except perhaps our drought-stressed trees here in Texas.

Can you count on using XP in your enterprise alongside HP 3000 servers? Each of these operating systems got their last serious technology refresh at about the same time. Plenty of today's long-term 3000 operations rely on Windows XP as client systems. Windows 7, the replacement OS that finally started to displace XP, has only been adopted by about one-fourth of the world's Windows computer users.

Estimates by the Forrester Group show that Windows 7 won't even surpass XP installations until sometime next year. Forrester is confident that enterprise sites will be away from XP by Microsoft's 2014 deadline.

HP was confident its business customers would be off the HP 3000 before the 2006 deadline, too. The call to retirement HP used in 2002 was the inevitability of entropy -- the universal march to failure, chaos and decline in any system. But Adager's Alfredo Rego long ago wrote that entropy, in particular in an IMAGE database, could be delayed. From Database Therapy: A Practioner's Experiences (via the OpenMPE servers and the 1981 Interex technical papers)

You can delay your database’s inevitable failure and decline. You can keep your database in a good state of repair, efficiency, validity and effectiveness. But you must be willing to invest in Preventative Maintenance. Otherwise, you and your database are doomed.

Your problem, as a manager (of the whole universe, of a country, of a company, of a department, of a computer system, of a program, of even one bit), is always this: You must first choose, out of an unlimited collection of possible objectives, the one goal that you want to reach; and then you must also choose, out of a very limited collection of resources, those few resources that will help you reach your goal in a finite time.

All around the world, in places as small as a lone financial services company and as large as Fortune 100 corporations -- yes, even at HP -- computer managers have chosen a goal of preventative maintenance in the face of the resource demands of migrations. This doesn't mean that XP or the 3000 has a limitless career. But just like a gold watch no longer signals the end of employment and the start of a pension, a vendor's date retire an OS is an option, not an event rock-certain to occur in a finite amount of time.

03:55 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 14, 2011

Community considers upgrading essentials

Secure transfers of HP 3000 files, as well as the ability to compress and decompress them, remain projects in need of technical help. A Secure FTP functionality (SFTP) is still short of production-grade release by some managers. Using ZIP to squeeze and unsqueeze 3000 data requires a 14-year-old piece of software.

On the FTP front, a decent set of files and documents once was available on the Invent3K server which HP operated until 2008. Ken Hirsh did that work on OpenSSH, which is essential to making SFTP more useful on a 3000. But Invent3K operations and contents were transferred to OpenMPE recently. Hirsh doesn't have an active account on the new version of the server.

ZIP needs help as well. The current version of the industry default for compression has had several updates since 1997, but none have been ported to the HP 3000. Some managers at multi-3000 sites still use ZIP daily, and an upgrade (which by now would really be a port) will help compress and decompress files bigger than 2GB. That's how old the 3000's ZIP is today; IMAGE jumbo datasets to go beyond 4GB arrived in 1995.

System managers of the 3000s report they are willing to develop -- or pay an outside party -- to bring these industry standards in line with more modern verions. Independent developers, or the originators of the older ports, are available in the community to help, too.

ZIP was last ported to the 3000 by Neil Harvey & Associates, one of the seven holders of MPE/iX source code licenses. The most current version managers are seeking for ZIP is 3.2.2.

FTP issues are more complex, but there is also more on the table to use for the security that can satisfy auditors. Brian Edminster, the community's specialist in open source software for the 3000, said "SFTP clients are available for MPE/iX, and work fine on v7.5. You can contact me if you’d like to discuss how to get a copy of your own. I’ve had extensive experience with the SFTP client, and some with the SCP [network file transfer] client. Both work remarkably well, although there are some quirks it helps to be aware of."

Today's limitation on securing file transfers is that the 3000 must originate the transaction. Edminster explains that "This can make for some process redesigns if your existing applications are used to your 3000 being the server. And no, jinetd doesn’t need to be running for SCP or SFTP to work."

SCP needs OpenSSH on MPE/iX to perform its transfers, but only an initial port was done by Hirsh, who was doing the work for free. Edminster says the ported software runs on MPE/iX 7.0 and 7.5. The port included the ssh command line client, but it had very limited functionality, he added.

It also included the client components SFTP and SCP, as well as a random number generator written in Perl. This last piece is necessary because the random number functions under MPE/iX aren’t very random. At least, not as far as serious cryptography is concerned. This Perl script (modified by Ken to run on MPE) was originally written by others to get round not having a kernel based entropy source for their systems either. Poor quality random number generation is not just a MPE/iX issue.

The 'server' components (sshd, sftpd, and scpd) were never ported for reasons that Ken could possibly explain. It might have been something as simple as he didn’t need them. From my perspective, I’m thankful that Ken did the port in the first place. I have installed his OpenSSH port many times, and even tightly integrated it with legacy applications. SFTP is still in use many times a day with those applications, and since first installed several years go -- has safely and securely transferred terabytes of data, with no clear end-date for this application’s life.

Hewlett-Packard opened the door for this kind of community porting when it included much of the software required for creating an installable version of things like OpenSSH in MPE/iX. It should also be available from non-HP sources by now. That's an issue for OpenMPE to take up. At the moment these volunteers are hosting contributed 3000 software (the CSL) and charging access for development accounts on Invent3K. Locating and hosting the open source work is a mission the community could embrace.

03:26 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (1)

July 13, 2011

The Charms of Pretty Computer History

This fall's HP3000 Reunion is meeting at the Computer History Museum, a building where the roots of your industry are on display. The HP 3000 doesn't stand in any major sector of the Museum, but one of the system's best historians also volunteers a a docent at the Museum. Stan Sieler's tour for a group of 3000 veterans in 2008 illustrates what treasures await anyone who attends the Sept. 24 Reunion.

  743000AdIt's surprising to learn how many 3000 vets have never visited the Museum. About 35 who participated in a day-long 3000 software symposium got Sieler's tour that evening in June. (At left, one of the first ads for the system that in 1974 sold for $170,000, "about one third less than the cost of comparable systems." Click to read that nascent marketing pitch.) That tour 34 years later was a remarkable hour-plus in which the tour group not only appreciated nearly all of Sieler's references -- think of high-grade magic patter and you get the tone -- but the tourists could contribute stories of their own.

That's what's awaiting the Reunion's attendees. Organizer Alan Yeo reported yesterday that the meeting has not only has attracted close to 60 subscribers to the event's blog, but a surprising number have pre-registered, more than two months away from the Reunion's weekend. The meeting, which now has Friday and Saturday socials for CAMUS and 3000 users, is nearly free. Sieler will become part of the festivities, since he lives and works in the Bay Area, a region that includes the Mountain View site of the museum.

Cray1 To give you a taste of what a computer devotee delivers who's got humor and history on his side, listen to this 2-minute segment of that 2008 tour. Sieler explains why the Cray-2 supercomputers, which included seats around the main processor, was the "prettiest computer ever built." It's all about the bubbles, he explained.

The system used a non-conductive liquid, fluorinert, to cool the computer. The fluorinert generated bubbles in the visible tubes during the process, which had the byproduct of impressing donors and directors of organizations like the Lawrence Livermore Labs (which bought one of the first HP 3000s).

By now that Cray can be outperformed by any commonplace PC server. It's possible that HP's rock-bottom Windows-Linux server, the $329 ProLiant MicroServer, will outpace a multi-million dollar system which in its day sparked a bidding war between two government agencies to purchase the first unit Cray shipped.

Reunion attendees will bring their own stories and history to the two-day event -- which is preceded by Thursday training in Eloquence database skills and a migration seminar presented by Speedware. But while these computer pros of your generation will supply the memories, the event is also a way to reconnect with kindred spirits from the start of the modern IT era.

03:38 PM in History, Homesteading, Podcasts | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 12, 2011

Data synch seminar teaches extending reach

MB Foster is giving the next in its series of webinars on Wednesday, July 13. The latest covers a task that's grown more crucial in a multi-hosted world: synchronization of data. You can get this feature in either batch or real-time on today's 3000 marketplace. Managers report that real-time synch is much more useful; secondary data warehouses run reports all day, and users want these reports as up-to-date as they can get them.

The MB Foster product that illustrates the synch ability of the 3000 is UDASynch. The software "supplies high performance and minimal system load synchronization services from server to server, server to website, and to operational data stores within your enterprise," MB Foster reports.

Minimal load means less than a 2 percent drain on your main 3000, whose apps are supplying the data to be synchonized. The seminar begins at 11 AM Pacific, 2 PM Eastern US. You can sign up for the 45-minute briefing on how to extend the utility of your 3000 to other environment at the MB Foster webpage for the seminar. It's free, and the content of these talks is as much strategy as it is presentation of software features.

The MB Foster product uses an intermediate Windows-based server to collect the 3000's data. This information then can be passed on to servers running the Unix, Windows or Linux environments.

Birket Foster, the founder of the company and a man who's led many seminars over the 30-plus years he's been in the community, often leads these webinars. It can be 45 minutes well spent, and the meeting includes the chance to ask questions after the presentation. These webinars are another way to keep in touch with your community, too.

06:01 PM in Homesteading, Web Resources | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 11, 2011

Sustaining support can maintain migration

More than a few 3000 sites are making a lengthy transition to a different platform. But the story from Viad Corp. shows that dropping 3000 savvy too soon can add expense to any change of environment.

GES Frank Surina reports that he's managing the task of making the company's 3000 data reliable once more. The mission has been complicated by the company's interim 3000 choices. Support for the system's backup software got dropped more than five years ago. Now the 3000's internals are jumbled so badly that a LISTF request for names of files spits out escape sequences along with the filenames.

Surina, who started working at the company in 1989 on the 3000 and returned after a hiatus, has been tasked to sort out the problems. He said its third party support firm hasn't been able to clear up the issues. It's an unusual implementation among 3000 profiles: the IT architecture uses all KSAM files. But unique 3000 software choices have been a part of this shop since the era in the 1990s when one of its groups was called Greyhound Exhibition Services, serving the trade show vendor base. Cerina was part of a team during that time that wrote an in-house Pascal to C converter -- not a typical in-house project.

Viad, an S&P SmallCap 600 firm which now includes a travel group managing Glacier Park tourism as well as the trade show marketing, appears to have lost its 3000 management for too long on the way to a migration. Surina said that Oracle Financials are now nearly complete in serving the company. But one last application that generates job numbers resides on a 3000. The server hasn't completed a full backup since last August, and a hot backup system has had the same data confusion problems exhibited by the main server. Not even the STORE command is working as expected.

Although there's a narrow group of support firms which have broad enough experience to solve the problems at Viad, Surina is pursuing the expertise he needs to repair the 3000 before his migration can complete. This final piece of the transition may have been less costly, if support contracts (for the backup software) and 3000 administration skills remained in place.

Staying in contact remains important to keeping a 3000 stable. The server is legendary for its low-maintenance status. But a problem with file structures, which leads to incomplete backups, is an issue that can be solved more quickly with a call to file system and backup experts. Support gets dropped on 3000s still making their way out of an IT architecture. That's a gamble. If a company's 3000 expertise is pared back to developers and system architects -- and nobody else -- operational snarls can turn into barriers. In many cases, admin skills are not developer skills.

On the other hand, contacting a company where you're dropped support -- only to learn it must charge a back-support fee before reinstating you -- can be a show-stopper. (Considering how hard it's become to generate 3000 revenue at software vendors, this kind of reparation seems short-sighted, however logical.)

Since the 3000 support resource Viad is using was unable to solve the problem, that's a cue to escalate to better support. Surina called our offices hoping to find a lead to a fresh support firm, and we suggested a pair of companies. We also recommended that he post his tech issues to the 3000 mailing list's readers. Tech issues get solved there often, usually by independent support experts who stay in touch with the community via an old-school listserv. It's no substitute for complex troubleshooting, but it's a start.

We like to think of ourselves as a community signpost and a data bank of resources. But the NewsWire represents one window into the 3000 community. If you're having trouble and need a lead, do give us a call or send an email. Keep your own hook in those expertise waters, too -- so you can catch a solution before a problem escalates fast enough to outflank that greyhound of a 3000, the one still running any bit of your business.

11:17 AM in Migration, User Reports, Web Resources | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 08, 2011

3000 work still impresses at Master Print

HP 3000 expertise can be hard to hawk these days, but some companies are finding it hard to locate, too. Not long ago a Northern Virginia company took to Craigslist to find some HP3000 savvy.

Master Print is one of the largest commercial printers in its area (which includes Washington DC), and the company has used HP 3000s since the Series 9x8 era, prior to the N-Class. Even back while HP was busy cutting back its 3000 business, Master Print was doing more than $30 million per year selling printing. In many ways it's a typical HP 3000 shop, manufacturing at a run rate of under $100 million per year.

Last month Master Print was prowling for an HP 3000 expert, a person who wasn't being asked to help lead a migration away from the 3000. The company has always used Windows in its operations, but the skills sought in the Craigslist ad were classic: COBOL, IMAGE, even KSAM. Minisoft's ODBC middleware, some database management. More than 100 people work at Master Print, a company that's done business since the time the HP 3000 was first introduced.

The HP 3000 cranked up at Master Print just as HP was unleashing the PA-RISC versions of the system, in 1987. The company runs a small IT shop but serves 105 users with its data processing.

This is not a 3000 site with its head stuck in the technology sands. There's Visual Basic 6, Windows 7 and XP, Windows 2003 Server and 2008 Server working at the company. The in-house applications use Javascript. Like many successful HP 3000 homesteaders, the company is deploying technology that's proven, not jumping into less certain pools of tech until they're needed. Its listing for a Senior Programmer Analyst read

Located in Northern Virginia, we are a secure company that has been serving the Metro Area for over 40 years. We are in need of an HP 3000 Senior Programmer/Analyst. This is a wonderful, full-time opportunity for energetic, dependable, motivated person.

There's no mention of leaving its computing platform, but rather, an earnest search for new talent to carry its investment further into the 21st Century. People on other enteprise platforms, such as the IBM Series i, complain of no jobs listed on the likes of Dice.com job boards. But the work is out there, for firms like Master Print and others. The 3000's success continues to make an impression at this kind of independent company.

12:15 PM in Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 07, 2011

Oracle alternatives gain a newer HP-UX entry

EnterpriseDB-UX Any HP 3000 IT manager headed for Unix might see Oracle's no-Integrity ultimatum as a problem while considering HP-UX. These technology pros often want to host their database on the same environment as apps. HP 3000s, built with reliable enterprise attributes, always hosted TurboIMAGE, often on the very same server.

Oracle's got competition on the HP-UX platform, however. The first such database offered to migrating customers was Eloquence, from Marxmeier Software. Creator Michael Marxmeier once said some sites might move from IMAGE to Eloquence as an intermediate step away from the 3000. Oracle -- which knows very little about IMAGE database structures, unlike Eloquence -- could be their likely final destination on some migrations.

Nearly 10 years later after Marxmeier's talk, it's not Eloquence looking like an interim Unix choice, it's Oracle -- which now vows that Integrity and HP-UX will be dropped from future development, HP lawsuits be damned. So this week there's another Oracle alternative being billed as tooled for HP-UX. EnterpriseDB announced a Version 9.0 that's dubbed Postgres Plus Advanced Server. The graphic above from the EnterpriseDB HP-UX webpage (click the graphic for detail) shows HP-UX as blue and Oracle as red and advises against the red route. Postgres is the open source database now being supported by some 3000-savvy tool vendors such as MB Foster. But MB Foster is also a distributor of the Eloquence database, the Oracle alternative that also works well with Foster's UDA suite of tools.

Migrating companies have more than one way to look at database replacements hosted on HP's Unix. They can select the database which will interoperate closely with existing 3000 database application logic, Eloquence. Or the migrators can choose a "commercial open source" database whose leading feature is behaving like Oracle. The latter choice supports the customer who wants to replace their off-the-shelf apps with Oracle-ready programs -- at the same time they change environments.

If that sounds like a lot of change at once, it is for many 3000 customers. Speedware's migration center advises many sites that moving from the HP 3000 is most successful on a lift-and-shift plan. That design first takes a proven application and re-hosts it on a new platform such as HP-UX. There's little training needed for users. In a later phase, application replacement or rewriting takes place to deliver new functionality.

EnterpriseDB says that its open source solution "is in its seventh generation of Oracle compatibility, Postgres Plus Advanced Server 9.0, further decreases the amount of manual effort needed to move from Oracle with additional Oracle enhancements, including support for Oracle Pro*C applications." There's still manual effort in there because Oracle wasn't built for open source software. Oracle has an open source database, MySQL, but there's now costly support tied to that choice. Postgres is gaining ground.

Brian Edminster, whose Applied Technologies firm assists companies in choosing open source if their 3000 designs can use it, says EnterpriseDB's latest release has potential for sites fleeing Oracle.

"They're careful to note that it's not guaranteed 100 percent compatible, but claim that it's a close fit, and that many of their customers have migrated from Oracle," Edminster said. "I'm curious if any packages that use Oracle underneath them have successfully used this database yet." What Edminster is noting: the applications built explicitly for Oracle don't have any Postgres Plus Advanced Server 9.0 references today.

There was a time when Oracle seemed as secure a destination as HP-UX for migrators. Some sites considered Oracle their platform, while others still viewed the server's OS as the bedrock of IT architecture. EnterpriseDB isn't new to this database alternative campaign, but its HP-UX entry is too new to show any success stories yet.

That's a very different profile than the Eloquence track record in 3000 migrations. Early in the 3000 diaspora, HP's IMAGE engineers testified that Eloquence was the best choice to preserve the database logic of a 3000 installation. Companies forced to leave 3000 operations have had the quickest and most complete success lifting and shifting to Eloquence. Now the era of a lift and shift from Oracle to Postgres on HP-UX is underway. It will be interesting to see if some applications that have migrated from the 3000 like Ecometry -- built around Oracle on HP-UX versions -- take a look at replacing Oracle.

We've heard reports this year of HP 3000 companies migrating to Oracle environments, firms which want to keep some of their 3000 data for archive purposes and occasional lookup. In this scheme, IMAGE data gets transferred to an Oracle database on a new system and a 3000 is retired. But moving to Oracle is a process that has left behind lessons like "they got their pockets picked" -- not surprising for an IMAGE/SQL alternative that's neither scaled and affordable like Eloquence (unlimited IMAGE-friendly licenses for under $16,000, and far less for 2-64-user configurations) or open source priced like that from EnterpriseDB.

Advanced Server, like many commercial open source products, is sold by yearly subscription. It can add up; The Advanced Server isn't even quoted at the company's site, but we've seen a report that it starts at $4,000 per year. You're encouraged to call or email to learn how much the cost will be per socket; a less-capable version (Plus Standard Server, sans the Oracle savvy) is about $3,000 a year per CPU before adding support costs.

Whether the EnterpriseDB or Marxmeier's Eloquence is the database migration target, it seems clear that Oracle's got competition for the 3000 site moving away from TurboIMAGE. EnterpriseDB is very new to HP-UX. Eloquence development is thick with improvements and revisions which go back well into the last decade.

06:31 PM in History, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 06, 2011

3000 Reunion gains pre-reg site, momentum

The Sept. 22-24 HP3000 Reunion is gaining momentum this week, as organizers are counting on a new pre-registration site and counting up the subscribers to the event's official blog.

HP3000reunion.com now has 50 subscribers to its updates on the event, still more than two months away from kicking off at the Computer History Museum in the Bay Area. Easy subscription for these notices, delivered via email, is available at the site. Today the Reunion opened up its pre-registration website. 3000 veterans, alumni of HP's 3000 division, advocates and developers and longtime users from the US and Europe are showing interest.

Organizer and volunteer Alan Yeo's company has put up what it calls an "I Think I'm Coming" website. The site takes a user's name, company and email address, plus it records which of the Reunion's events the visitor hopes to attend. As a result, "Who's coming" can be viewed from the pre-reg site. Another poll of how many are interested or coming is available at the Reunion's blog.

The HP3000 Reunion is mostly free at the moment. The event is built around a Sept. 24 party at the Museum, one which Yeo and other organizers and sponsors have said will carry only a nominal charge to cover the bar and food. Notables in the community have signed on for the Reunion blog updates, including some Hewlett-Packard friends and champions of the computer from the past. Former GM Harry Sterling reports he was hoping to be there, but alas, a prior travel engagement will keep him away.

HarryYoyo Sterling, of course, stands out as the last HP 3000 General Manager who accomplished serious growth in the 3000's installed base and technical abilities -- and didn't swing the axe on the system's future at HP before retiring in 1999, a few months after HP chose Carly Fiorina as the first outside CEO. At one State of the 3000 speech during an HP World conference, Sterling appeared onstage in tuxedo and tails, sporting a yo-yo and ardor about HP's most mature business environment. Only a European trip will keep away Sterling, the last GM fully dedicated to improving the 3000's place in the market and inside HP.

When I first saw an email about the reunion, I immediately said I am going. But then I saw the Sept. 24 date and was quickly disappointed. I will will be gone for a month in Europe.  But please do tell everyone that they and all of the HP3000 family still hold a special spot in my heart with fond memories. Hope you all have a wonderful celebration for a truly remarkable product, and the people who made it possible throughout the years.

The UK will be represented by more than ScreenJet's Alan Yeo and Marxmeier Software Michael Marxmeier (both sponsors of the event). Vanessa Williamson signed on to subscribe to those blog updates with a note.

I was a HP3000 systems op from 1983 to 1991, with a bit of Cobol and would love to come to the reunion. I haven't had a holiday for several years and this could be the best reason ever to take one! Oh, and I'll be coming over from the UK.

Pre-registration, to help encourage other community members who are on the fence and assist planners of reunion events, is online today. The process involves choosing a password for your registration. A complete registration page will be available in the future.

11:42 AM in History, Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 05, 2011

HP Support Center bumps out into the open

June was a month of transition for the HP IT Response Center. But with July already into its 5th day, it looks like the online support database for HP's server products is still offering a bumpy ride.

The good news is that the new HP Support Center has transferred accounts to the HP Passport sign-in system. Our old account was recognized by the new website this morning. But today's trouble lies beyond user ID recognition. As of noon PDT today, information from the HP Knowledge Base "product selection is currently unavailable, please try again later." The search engine based on product selections is not working today.

HP 3000 questions and answers are located in the "General" category of the "Servers" group for the Support Center's Forum. HP9000 and Integrity and Itanium servers have their own listed categories. The fastest way to locate answers to 3000 issues seems to be to type "HP3000" (note the no-spaces naming of the 3000) plus the subject you're researching.

It seems a bit less than obvious to look for HP "e3000" technical help under the "HP9000" category, but there it is: http://h30499.www3.hp.com/t5/HP-e3000/bd-p/itrc-190. Still other references can be found in the main part of the "General" category, like discussions about HP 700-Series terminals for the HP 3000 and HP 9000.

These forums are still being used, sporadically, by HP 3000 managers. Olav Kappert, a 3000 consultant, asked about finding the full escape character sequences for the HP2392 or HP700/92 terminals. Two weeks ago Dennis Handly replied

See the PDF attachment in this thread:

The new link is:


Of course, moving to such links might provide spotty results. That first URL doesn't lead to any help; you want to follow any "new link" references. (To save you a few clicks, the four scanned pages of escape sequences, a PDF file, is on HP's Forum site here.) HP migrated its Forum postings at the beginning of last week. Searching via Google for, say, Dennis Handly's posts on the forum returns links that dump onto a rerouting page -- without technical answers.

On June 26th, the HP IT Resource Center forums were migrated to the HP Enterprise Business Community.  This migration coincided with the release of the new HP Support Center, and the retirement of the legacy ITRC support portal.  As part of the transition, we have migrated all ~2.5 million posts and ~712k users from the ITRC forums into the new community site.

As a result of this transition, all links/bookmarks/search results that attempt to load an ITRC forum page will redirect to this announcement page. Search results will update automatically over time, as search engines index the new community site and remove references to the legacy ITRC forums.

A very useful webpage: HP's mapping of old ITRC groups to the new website, the New Forum Locations by ITRC Tree.

12:52 PM in Homesteading, Migration, News Outta HP, Web Resources | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 01, 2011

New platforms need great user experience

TouchPad July 11 Today HP started selling its first new computer in many years. The HP TouchPad tablet is a $499 mobile device that wants a share of the booming tablet marketplace. Hewlett-Packard is finding the initial reviews tough on its tablet, but it has an longer-term advantage which HP 3000 customers will recognize. The vendor controls both the hardware and software, just like Apple does with the iPad. HP's even got its own App Store ready to supply WebOS apps for the computer. The vendor has the tools to control the total user experience. Windows and Android separate their hardware from the OS, in contrast.

Brian Edminster -- whose Applied Technologies firm specializes in open source solutions for 3000s and other HP computers -- sees this total user experience as crucial. Edminster advises on using Linux in enterprises including 3000 shops. Linux, we just heard from MB Foster's CEO Birket Foster, is becoming a serious choice for companies making migrations from the platform.

Edminster said that Linux solutions are still competing for the title of best User Interface, since there's a handful to choose among.

In spite of being an open source advocate, I agree about the issues with "user experience," especially those that a vendor without control of a system can cause. The Linux folks are still battling it out between several different GUI systems -- which of course, are not completely compatible, both from a programming interface perspective -- as well as from a user experience perspective. The die-hard open source guys say "survival of the fittest!" and they may well be right. But that doesn't make it any easier in the meantime on system users who aren't technically adept.

To celebrate the independence of the US from former owners -- much like the 3000 community has become independent of HP -- we're taking July 4th off. We'll resume our reports on Tuesday, July 5. But first, read more on independence affecting user experience, here after the break.

The HP 3000s were designed to be used by businesses that are not technically adept. In fact, many of the remaining systems are operated by companies which have no administrator or system manager who knows MPE/iX. Even companies with more than 20 years of 3000 use fall into this group today. We heard from one this week that had built its own Pascal-to-C converter back in the 1990s. But by this week there's MPE admin problems only independent support experts can solve, and only one developer left at the company to work through to a solution. Some companies don't even have that kind of IT pro. Foster has called this situation "flight attendants flying the planes."

A great user experience can make that kind of aerial act possible, so long as there's good support available when the less-adept user gets in trouble. Apple solves this problem with the Genius Bar at an empire of retail stores, along with superior support for its revenue-generating groups like the iTunes store. I got five extensive emails from a support tech named "Lisa" to solve my problem about renaming my Store account. Stunning, considering how hard to impossible this help can be to gather.

The alternative to bundles like HP-UX+Itanium, or WebOS+TouchPad, is the licensed OS model. That's Microsoft and Google's offering, and HP is rumored to be looking for partners who will license WebOS for non-HP tablets. It's almost a crucial move at this point in the tablet contest, because WebOS is far behind the app inventory from Google and Apple. But splitting up the user experience with an OS tied to other vendors' hardware has not delivered user experience that sparks ardor. (See Windows, or the honest experience of less-tech-adept Android users.) Edminster sees this in the WebOS future.

I hope that any others who may license WebOS can keep to the vision of the product line, so they can maintain compatibility with devices that have the HP logo on them. Unfortunately, in porting software to different platforms, several things can happen that can compromise the integration and compatibility goal. The first, and most difficult to overcome would be missing hardware features, causing compromises in functionality.

The second difficulty is the licensee attempting to differentiate their product by enhancing the software (often with an add-on, or just loosely integrated functionality), or to take advantage of unique hardware features. This happened in the early PalmOS PDA market; the Sony CLIE NR70 family of devices included a built-in MP3 player, larger and higher resolution color screens.  I had one, and loved it, but... The trouble was that it it was difficult to create new software for the Sony that would take advantage of the better screen, but could still degrade gracefully (feature-wise) to run on other, less capable hardware.

Phone integration needs drove Edminster off his NR70, "and with all the other smartphones on the market, it got left behind from a app development standpoint." HP still has to solve this dilemma in its enterprise lineup, where HP-UX and OpenVMS are getting left behind on applications and databases. Licensing an OS might seem like a sensible way to get app numbers and market share moving upward. But the choice has its cost in user experience. We've heard rumors that HP-UX could be moving to Xeon Intel chips in the years to come. That could lead to non-HP vendors making Unix boxes that run HP-UX.

As it introduces its first new computer in more than a decade, HP is big enough to avoid the mistake that the other tablet makers have made: Under-funding new tablet operations because there's no corporate faith that settles onto the bottom line. The company can look to the loyalty and ardor of the 3000 market to recall that faith -- even while its mistake of 2001 continues to drive 3000 customers off their integrated hardware-software treasure.

07:48 PM in Migration, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)