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December 31, 2012

Artisanal Computing: A Future for the 3000

ArtisalPowersYou've probably heard of the artisanal concept. That's a hand-crafted, customized product or service that never intends to compete with commodity options. It's better in ways that only the elite can value. You can buy your cheese from Kraft, or your bicycle from Trek. Or you can get a delicious wheel of Terraluna from the dairy up the road, or ride a hand-tooled bike built in that little shop outside Seattle. This might become the stature for the HP 3000 in the years to follow 2012.

Much of what remains in the homestead community is running custom-crafted code and applications. The pros managing this software and these systems are artisans. These companies are doing business with a computer that's become a re-creation of its original design. HP once stamped out 3000s at factories in Roseville, Calif. and in Boeblingen, Germany. The parts rolled out in an industrial process, and the operating system software was bolted together and tested in corporate labs.

An artisanal offering is an alternative to the processing which is usually viewed as industrial. With no more hardware being stamped out of an assembly line, the 3000 is going artisanal with its emulator -- and the OS is sitting in the cradle of Linux, an open-sourced OS of artisanal heritage. You go old-school with your 3000 computing, using tested and proven technology that is as bedrock as the sourdough bread that's baked with decades-old starters.

Brian Edminster, who's been cultivating a repository of artisanal open source software for the 3000 user, pointed us at a web essay that illustrates how artisanal is more than just a step beyond industrial. It's a step forward into something entering a new stage of life, evolving. "It seems to me," he said, "that the entire post applies just as well to our beloved HP 3000." The essay explains.

Only when a thing is made obsolete can we discover if there was some underlying value — beyond utility — that some people found compelling enough to keep alive or evolve into something new. The horses bred today for “recrea­tion” are dramatically different from the workhorses of the past, but they are still… horses.

While horses don't do the work of transport they once did, there's still a $40 billion a year recreational market in them today, more than a century after they dominated the world's transport. "What else is being made obsolete now," the essayist asked, "that might emerge from the ashes in a new, powerful form?"

Edminster offered this idea on the eve of the 42d year in which the 3000 will perform in some stage of its evolution.

Reflection on past, present, and future, is part and parcel of the end of year holiday season for me. This is an opportunity to reflect on what exactly it was that made the HP 3000, its MPE operating system, and various subsystem software such a great platform -- and what parts of that are worth keeping alive for the future.

Like Edminister, we look forward to the coming years and new stories of artisanal computing, as well as the aspect of the 3000 and its community kept alive by prospects for cloud hosting and virtualization -- all using a classic set of tools in its software. We'll take off the first day of the new 2013 to mark this passage into the 42d year of 3000 computing. I'll see you on Wednesday with more reports from the artisanal era that is emerging. 

06:43 PM in Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 28, 2012

2012 marks 3000 flights of Linux penguins

By Ron Seybold

Third in a series

The year 2012 might have been the first to signal a significant decline in the number of migration projects among the HP 3000 installed base. But for those who were making their transition, Linux was more popular than ever, in either a supporting role to protect HP 3000s, or as host environment.

LinuxAdd in the 2012 doubts about Oracle's database support for Itanium -- with the attached concern about HP-UX -- and Linux took steps forward to stand as an equal migration target to HP's Unix. In an allied story, since Oracle's technology looked doubtful for HP's Unix futures, other database solutions took a higher profile among 3000 migrators.

Marxmeier Software's Eloquence database 8.20 gained indexing features in 2012 so valuable that the 3000 community members once paid extra for them. With a decline in the availability and future of the '90s-era Omnidex indexing tech, Eloquence's creators added a fast indexing technology, one which its advocates called "like a Google search through your database" in speed. The database has been in 3000 migration toolsets since the earliest days of the transition era, in part because Eloquence applies relational database management for Linux (and HP-UX and Windows) in an IMAGE workalike design.

Migrations in total started to show some significant declines at selected service-providing vendors during 2012. Speedware became Fresche Legacy in the spring of the year, a shift that embraced IBM midrange migrations. The company's president said that the period from the start of 2011 through March of 2012 posted no new 3000 migration projects. Fresche's Chris Koppe said he didn't think the era of migration had ended for the community, while fellow Platinum Migration vendor MB Foster said it was still engaging new 3000 migration business.

The shift in the community's migrations was running down to individual companies, said the Eloquence database creator Michael Marxmeier, after ISV customers finished their transitions. "By now the majority of that migration business is over, and that's okay," said Marxmeier. "ISVs have settled in place; they've probably already moved on. At the beginning they had to come up with a solution to keep their customers successful, and quickly."

Linux, grown up from more than a decade of hobbyist work and the zeal of open source devotion, started proving its production worth in 2012. Europ Assistance launched the work to replace its MPE host with a Linux system, right down to considering a Powerhouse license re-purchase for the new environment. Linux comes at a price point for purchase and maintenance which matches MPE better than server-grade Windows or Unix environments.

Even HP had its preferences for Linux hosting over HP-UX. HP's clouds are pretty much a non-starter for existing long-time HP customers. You can't host HP-UX apps in HP's cloud.

HP's Odyssey project wants to bring "hardened" HP-UX features to RedHat Linux, since HP doesn't want to be left out of the Linux currents. While there's a clear five-year future of HP-UX, the years beyond that are less defined. Since companies like Europ Assistance are going to take multiple years to make a migration, few of them want a future shorter than a decade.

More analysts and developers spoke up in 2012 about considering Linux the next, best alternative for the customer who doesn't want to embrace a proprietary Unix. (All of the Unix environments are proprietary, starting with HP's Unix, Sun/Oracle's Solaris, as well as IBM's AIX. Code created for one OS must be revised to work in another.)

These changes, however, loom larger than the strategy of moving from a Unix to one of the Linux distros such as Ubuntu (favored for the 3000 emulator) or RedHat. Marxmeier said this kind of migration wouldn't be painful for an Itanium Unix customer.

Itanium certainly has its users, and it’s hard to tell if it will make it or not. However, this shouldn’t be a concern to the customer. But if they’d like to move to something else, the proven technology of Linux is readily available. About half of our customers are using Linux these days.

Bill Highleyman of the High Availability Journal said the HP Odyssey project, one which aims HP-UX key features at a hardened RedHat, could make Linux an easier choice than HP-UX.

"If Project Odyssey is wildly successful, it may drive a huge competitive advantage for HP," he said. "However, if HP customers embrace the move to highly reliable standard operating systems, HP-UX may be the first to go, since migrating Unix applications to Linux is a reasonable task."

06:35 PM in Homesteading, Migration, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 27, 2012

2012 top losses: Itanium's future, HPQ value

By Ron Seybold

Second in a series

ReporterNotebookDuring 2012 the recent legacy of Hewlett-Packard pulled down the company's futures and values openly for the first time. The company's 73 years of business had devolved in full. A lawsuit exposed completely the new wart of borrowing R&D dollars, over a full decade, to boost HP revenues via mergers and buy-ups. The future of competition was mortaged for commodity computing. The same lack of R&D appetite that'd left the HP 3000 out in the cold after acquiring Compaq business computing now showed HP was bereft of enterprise intellectual property. Nowhere did the cupboard look more bare than the tech choice that had dumped its MPE/iX futures: Itanium.

ExpandIt became plain that the VP of the BCS Unix-Itanium unit, Martin Fink, pushed a plan that might have grown HP-UX stronger just as 3000 sites were getting serious about investing in Unix. The decline of HP 3000 support contracts was even noted in a 2010 document, one that tried to prove that moving Unix to x86 would benefit HP -- by way of sparking new Integrity sales and stronger support revenues for the last OS developed by Hewlett-Packard, HP-UX. One that remained utterly tied to a single chip, Itanium -- until the HP Odyssey emerges from development.

Concocted as a replacement for Intel x86 chips in 1992, the processor that powers all HP Unix servers was uncovered as a product reduced to earning support profits for HP, while taking earnings out of its partner Intel's pockets since 2007. Oracle did lose its lawsuit to halt Itanium releases. But the magnum of evidence uncorked by Oracle -- hundreds of emails that spoke an astounding honesty about the final HP-built enterprise tech environment -- overflowed in the press as well as the courtroom.

Damages to HP from the Oracle lawsuit may fall on the database maker, but the wreckage will not be measured by HP's greatest loss: company valuation. HP sloughed off 43 percent of its market cap during 2012, the largest US slide for the year and a loss attributed to failed mergers fueled by R&D cuts and layoffs. The evidence from HP emails and slides in 2012 made its case of losing up to $4 billion yearly in Itanium-related profits -- even while the company knew, and withheld, facts from its own sales regions about the dire futures of the chip family. The BCS unit continued its slide as of the November financial report (see p. 7 of HP's PDF).

I revisited the turning point of HP's 3000 and MPE/iX exit, but written much larger -- hundreds of thousands of servers put at risk because HP didn't control its own intellectual property for chips anymore. Intel would have to be satisfied, or paid off. In 2012 we learned the latter plan was picked by a board that was still fleeing R&D in 2010.

I wrote a host of articles during 2012 to keep driving home points about investments in HP's Unix. Most of the analysis meant to show that the customers who transitioned HP dollars from MPE to Unix were re-investing in a technology no longer growing (like HP's measure of the 3000 in 2001), one that needed hundreds of millions of HP R&D to keep moving forward.

Even the company's new transition strategy, HP Odyssey, admitted the marketplace had stopped investing in Integrity servers. The business earned profits for HP in the same way that HP collected earnings from MPE/iX. Support contracts, which HP called Technical Services (TS) monies in confidential emails and slides, had dyed Itanium ink from red to black. All was revealed in court exhibits, dumped by Oracle and catalogued by an All Things D reporter for the marketplace to see. Business Critical Systems including HP-UX continued a sales slide -- and a lack of R&D contributed to a decline of vision the markets could now see.

In the email and PowerPoint slide court exhibits listed on Scribd as Oracle Itanium Exhibits Chronological, (a dynamite browse), an urgent HP management story spilled out. Itanium was dying, Intel wasn't cutting HP's minimum purchase requirements, and the sales force and customers were being kept in the dark. In 2009 while the company was trumpeting the advent of a new Integrity system line, Business Critical Systems VP Martin Fink explained in one email that his BCS mission wasn't motivating HP salespeople to keep Itanium-Integrity growing. Not even Intel could be persuaded to help HP discount those Integrity-based systems to make attractive margins.

From the regions' viewpoint, what they see is that
• we have a non-competitive chip
• we are delayed by more than a year, and
• we get no funding relief from Intel to help with margins and keep us in deals.

In short, they're not very impressed with the BCS worldwide team's ability to drive Intel. The Itanium situation is one of our most closely guarded secrets, and we have not wanted to let the region/field know about it, since all it would do is give them another reason not to sell.

There was another way forward for Itanium and HP's Unix, a concept that required the vendor to acquire Sun's Solaris Unix.

Blackbird RationaleOr if only, Fink figured in 2010, HP could invest in an x86 Unix at a cost of $487 million. It could keep Unix revenues stable into 2018. HP considered saving its Unix business in another way in 2009; Fink exhorted its board of directors to buy struggling Sun Microsystems. Oracle acted more decisively on that buy-up, one which HP code-named "Blackbird." (See slide above from early 2009.)

Oracle swept in to snatch the HP Unix competitor. It left HP facing a reality of selling a second-tier Unix on chips that it was paying Intel $88 million a year just to keep developing -- all while the TS support profits declined, from 3000s right down to Integrity servers. (Click on 2010 slide below for details on perhaps the last HP management slide to mention the HP 3000 and its revenues.)

TS-Growth projections 2010We learned in 2012 that HP knew it had nothing left in its R&D property cupboard to help Unix. Text from the slide below showed HP knew in 2009 that x86 chips would "fulfill all aspects of RISC within 5 years."

Strategic Rationale - Current Situation

• HP-UX is on a death march due to inevitable Itanium trajectory

• Companion Technical Services attach business declines precipitously but with a longer tail than the product business
-- No replacement for 45% revenue and 60% of GM for the TS business
-- TS Value is tied to HP-UX and we do not have a go-forward

• x86 is on a credible trajectory to fulfill all aspects of RISC within 5 years

• Going forward, HP will not own the software IP stack upon which to build value -- the hardware stack gets commoditized

Fink went on to be named as the head of the storied HP Labs during 2012 -- the least technically-proven and most business-savvy leader the labs have ever had. He became a direct report to HP CEO Meg Whitman, who's been given the same kind of save-the-company assignment that Steve Jobs faced at Apple in 1996. In this Chicago Tribune article, note the junk bond status, a rating where HP's debt paper began to drift toward in the fall of 2012.

Already Apple's debt has prompted both Moody's Investors Service Inc. and Standard & Poor's to rate the company's bonds at levels so low that analysts such as Chicago-based Carol Levenson of the Gimme Credit bond industry newsletter are calling them "junk."

Obviously, a third fiscal quarter with a $500 million cash drain would take the company down to the near-zero mark and thus be catastrophic. This, you will recall, is how one goes into bankruptcy.

The Tribune article added that "the fight is far from over" at Apple. But it took a revival of innovative design, over more than a decade, to elevate Apple to a state so powerful it could release tablets which would erase HP's laptop sales growth. A proposed split of HP, to spin off enterprise computing from those laptops, came out in 2012 reports from analysts like Therese Poletti at Market Watch.

01:25 PM in Migration, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 26, 2012

A virtual 3000 leads the top stories of 2012

Analysis by Ron Seybold

First in a series

When summing up the last year of 3000 community news and developments, the story which appears the biggest covered the first 3000 which a manager could no longer see.

ReporterNotebookEmulator news from Stromasys, whether about ship dates and demonstration, adoption for production, or a free version including HP's MPE/iX, pulled the system's future into the present day. The Charon HPA/3000 became an installed reality at production sites and a free download for the widest share of the community. At the same time, HP's Unix platform shed the FUD from Oracle, thanks to the courts, and cloud hosts clambered into the server picture.

A dozen stories floated to the top of my news view during the past year, some of them related to another, others standing alone in their importance. The year didn't carry a marker like the 2010 end of all HP support for MPE, or the first-decade anniversary of the HP pullout (and subsequent HP3000 Reunion) of 2011. But 2012 marked 10 years of serious migration plans and actions, and we looked for evidence that the greatest share of migrations were ended. Whether a vendor or a customer was homesteading or making its transition, the year delivered that constant element of any IT calendar: change.

Emulator solution: from demo, to adoption, to freeware -- A virtualized MPE server, working as a 3000 emulator, made the transition from alpha test to a springtime beta demo, and finally a production and freeware reality. The last state of existence emerged as a target in mid-year when Stromasys announced new plans for a 2-user freeware version of HPA/3000. It took more than four months to create a evaluator and hobbyist version of the software. Stromasys referenced production status at an Australian company in October. A public webinar demonstration in April showed how an LDEV 1, acting like the entire HP 3000 cradled on a beefy laptop, could be virtualizated in a disk image file -- to reduce the need for further HP iron to preserve MPE/iX.

Oracle is forced to shed its HP Unix doubt-fest -- The 18 months of lawsuits and a trial between HP and its enterprise rival (and database ally) Oracle came to an end with an HP victory. Oracle was tagged for damages to HP's business in an amount still to be specified, after the database giant produced evidence that the Itanium HP Unix platform had a future in severe doubt over the past five years inside HP.

In the end, a judge in California ruled that the software vendor -- whose hardware unit is run by former HP CEO Mark Hurd -- must keep developing for Itanium hosts like the Integrity servers. The news lifted a shadow off HP's only single-vendor alternative being offered to migrating 3000 sites. Without the court victory, HP would've suffered critical wounds to the only platform for HP-UX. At the same time, HP carried its message of an Odyssey for Unix customers outward, one that could bring HP Unix growth to a standstill.

Cloud destinations emerge for migrations -- In a blend of the stories of migration and emulation, the rise of cloud hosting took significant steps forward for 3000 owners on the move. Solutions as complex as manufacturing systems got enthusiasm and serious looks from longtime 3000 vendors. HP's own cloud solution, HP Cloud, went from beta test to SLA status during 2012, with veteran Terry Floyd also eager to make it serve as a host for the freeware emulator. HP Cloud supports Linux (and Windows, but not HP-UX) to give it the penguin cradle needed for HPA/3000. Kenandy Software pulled from the best of MANMAN designs for a 2.0 release of its social ERP solution. At the same time, cloud outages from Amazon Web Services prompted a closer look at system availability.

01:51 PM in Homesteading, Migration, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 21, 2012

A Newsworthy Gift That Keeps on Giving

Over the past two weeks, it could seem that we've written about little else than the new HP 3000 emulator. After all, there was the interview (in three parts) with Warren Dawson, who's put the software to work in his company in Australia to replace a Series 9x7 in production duty. There were the early reviews of the first edition of the freeware emulator, conducted by a couple of MPE veterans in Gavin Scott of Allegro and Alan Yeo of ScreenJet.

I believe that those two reviews represent why the emulator is so important to all of the 3000 community. Alan serves migrating HP 3000 sites, both with development services as well as the ScreenJet and TransAction software. Gavin is among the brain trust of experts at Allegro Consultants, which still provides software for MPE/iX servers, plus supports some of the sites which continue to homestead on them.

The emulator is newsworthy, but especially at this moment. It has finally become technology that anyone can afford on a hobbyist, non-commercial basis in a 2-user version. It has also earned its wings in Australia, in Ireland, and even in the US as a choice for replacing HP 3000 hardware. This is more than a proof of concept this month. It arrives in working condition at the end of a fiscal year, one where companies will be planning their 2013-15 strategies for exiting or sustaining MPE.

Even at production-grade pricing points that represent a fresh five-figure expense, this is likely to be a product that pulls revenues into a community that's been hungry for any new sales.

Playmobil_CatalogueI recognize that the adoption of a software virtualized HP 3000 server will be slow at first. But we are in the opening period of this game, and it's one that's being played for the long term. That schedule is emblematic of the emulator business. In 15 years, when MPE/iX will be facing its own Mayan end of days crisis -- and I mean that literally, since the CALENDAR function will need replacing by then -- virtualized HP 3000s might be the only servers running that could use such a replacement. That's a future that will need imagination to keep giving new stories.

But since you're reading this, you already know that we've survived 2012, despite ancient calendar predictions. Starting next week, we'll be looking back over 2012 to recap some stories which had lasting importance to your community. It's easy to put the emulator at the top of the list because of what Yeo told us more than a year ago. He came away from the September 2011 public demonstration of the Stromasys product, and then within a few months predicted the Charon HPA/3000 was going to slow down migrations, even if it didn't get many adoptions during 2012. This, he could see, was a product already infused with the power of potential.

HP delayed the technical exchange of PA-RISC information too long for this emulator to stem the tide of migrations. If an emulator had been available five years ago, a larger percentage of the community would be making plans to continue the purchase of MPE-related products and services. Of course, the 3000 population five years ago was larger in number, too.

Simply put, the emulator itself cannot forestall the end of MPE's days. Not by itself. It needs to feed on open minds and news from the front lines. We need to make room to tell the story of a creation that gives MPE/iX a place to live for decades to come. When someone says, "it seems to fail the first time you start it up," we need to check in with other testers who say, "of course. It doesn't have an HPSUSAN number on that first launch." Both of those reporters concurred, "it runs just fine on the next startup."

By the same token, we also need to keep track of the licensing hoops the emulator must leap through. Customers are going to have do the jumping there, because right now a limited number of software companies are pronouncing the emulator ready to run. However, when a MANMAN-using manufacturer shows up with a virtualized 3000 and wants to continue application support, or a Powerhouse customer like Dawson keeps up with his Quiz license while using the product, you can imagine the potential realized.

There will be other news that will keep on giving in the year to come. But much of it is likely to be related to exiting the 3000 community. That exit isn't really news; it's been in play for most of a decade. The rate of departure has stopped being newsworthy, too; the exits have been in decline for several years.

So I ask you not to mistake the heavy interest here in the emulator as a cheer for the side of homesteading -- even if I did apply that term to the "we're staying" community back in 2001. When old disc drives stop working, or power supplies become dear, or the number of N-Class CPU boards dwindles, there's another way to boot up MPE and keep companies running -- for as many years as they need until their eventual exit. In a way, the emulator makes the owning and relying on MPE/iX a "make your own adventure" kind of gift, one that needs imagination as well as gusto. That means it sounds like a Christmas present to me, and I've always been a real sucker for the holidays.

We're taking a few of those days off next week to celebrate, to finish our Christmas cards, to have Christmas Eve tamales and apple pies, and the Christmas morning pancakes with our grandson Noah after he's unwrapped gifts like a Playmobil figure set from Santa. (I love Playmobil, from my own son's dragon and castle set of the 1990s to those of today; they require imagination to deliver the joy of a toy.) We'll take time to have a big Christmas turkey with old friends -- and maybe even open a present or two for Grandpa Ron and Grandma Abby, two partners in business and love who've received great gifts from our readers, and the sponsors who keep the Newswire thriving and alive.

We'll see you back on December 26 with the first of our roundup reports -- a Newswire tradition we've kept in each holiday-break week for the past six years -- which will include peeks forward at what we expect out of 2013. If you're celebrating anytime this month, happy holidays. May these months of a fresh calendar bring imagination to your IT playrooms.

03:23 PM in Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 20, 2012

What'll you use to code in the New Year?

A few weeks back we began to ask the 3000 community about its tools for development. Companies committed to the platform need to develop, as business opportunities arise, acquisitions close, or efficiencies of scale trigger changes. The answers from the developers using MPE/iX included many well-known tools. 

But anything resembling a development environment, with change management or a workbench of testing tools, looked like an unknown in the first phase of our survey. There's code being cut and maintained, but lots of the change management is happening with the ol' noggin, as we suggested in the LinkedIn version of our poll. (Take a minute and tick a box there, to give us all even more data.)

Cortlandt Wilson, an independent consultant and contractor who's aided MANMAN customers for many years, watched the reports of Quad, Qedit, vi, Edit/3000 and more roll across the 3000-L replies. He believes there's more in the developers' toolbox that wasn't being mentioned.

"I wouldn't be surprised if others use some kind of Software Change Management or version control software on their PCs but didn't think to mention it," Wilson said. This is the kind of toolset that coders in the non-3000 worlds take on faith, because there are so many options there.

Only one respondent among those who replied on the 3000 mailing list mentioned version control (SCM).
"It's what some software engineers call zero-eth level software engineering," Wilson said. "In other words, a very basic tool. 

To give an example of life beyond MPE/iX, Wilson described his current setup.

I'm currently working on a small PC based (non-MPE/iX) project to reconstruct which Excel spreadsheets were updated -- a job that a proper SCM environment would track for us. Small software companies still repeat the same stupid mistakes even though the proper tools are much more ready to hand than they were with MPEiX. In this case, the company already uses an open-source project management system that includes SCM integration, but they won't authorize the time to hook it up.  

Wilson added that automating the compile and link process is also part of the SCM process, an element that was mentioned by several respondents.

The potential for development doesn't demand stepping away from COBOL. Micro Focus has been making the case for years that COBOL doesn't make IT antique. Or as the company says, "just because it's old doesn't mean it can't be gold."


03:30 PM in Homesteading, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 19, 2012

Teaching in legacy tech: a Fresche mission

COBOLProgrammerNotebookCOBOL is a technology essential to success with HP 3000s. While there are a handful of servers working with other languages under MPE/iX, it's safe to say nothing runs on a 3000 other than Powerhouse and smattering of Speedware 4GL and Transact, once you get away from COBOL. Fresche Legacy is taking steps to ensure the staying power of COBOL. The company which transformed itself from Speedware this year is now educating the world about COBOL.

Fresche Legacy has been working with the IBM AS/400 customer base to extend its business with legacy computing users. Using the IBM Series i servers in its datacenter, Fresche is providing the students and staff of Champlain Regional College with hands-on instruction in legacy technology.

"To a certain extent," said the company's CEO Andy Kulakowski, "Fresche thinks of itself as the retirement home for COBOL and RPG. Our ultimate goal is to help customers modernize, but that can take time."

Here's a surprise to the graduating workers in IT. "We also need graduates with the skills to help our customers with their current legacy technology," Kulakowski said. "And students with legacy IT skills can often count on higher salaries and more opportunities when they graduate." COBOL skills, as it turns out, are much more rare than Java or .NET training.

Fresche's Maria Anzini, the VP of HR and Support at the company, notes that Champlain students will have a distinct advantage when they enter the workforce. "They will find that older technology is still very much present and needs to work tightly with more modern technology," she said. 

It’s all about training people so that they are fully knowledgeable about the legacy technology that they are certain to encounter in the real world. With Champlain College, we are investing in today’s youth to safeguard and extend the lifecycle of our customers’ applications as well as ensure that those applications can ultimately be transformed to reduce costs and improve business performance.

The company sees part of its modernization mission as bridging the gap between legacy tech like COBOL and the more prevalent languages. Fresche wants to support MPE/iX sites which need contract help to administer and maintain COBOL-based 3000 applications, too.

"We manage and support the HP 3000 as much, if not more, than modernize these days," said the company's VP of Sales and Marketing Jennifer Fisher, adding that these engagements can combine legacy support as well as modernizations. Fresche notes that legacy technology is still used to run most mission-critical systems in business, government and educational institutions.

The Saint-Lambert campus, on Montreal's south shore, offers pre-university and full career programs in a wide variety of disciplines, including Computer Science and Mathematics. Champlain is offering a fully accredited legacy management course to students. "Program instructor Robert Bierman recognizes the business challenges that companies face," Fresche said in a release, "and encourages and fosters programs where graduates will be best positioned for employment because of the added knowledge they bring."

08:54 PM in Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 18, 2012

Freeware MPE/iX systems get first tries

Stromasys put its freeware edition of the HPA/3000 emulator on the Web yesterday, giving the 3000 community its first taste of a free HP 3000 server, complete with a pre-installed 2-user instance of MPE/iX 7.5. Using the software requires a valid HPSUSAN number to activate it, a string of characters which users type in themselves. Stromasys download procedures require a user to tick a box "yes" to make a promise about only using a valid HPSUSAN.

Stromasys reports that the very first time the freeware starts up, no HPSUSAN is defined, "and so the emulator is designed to stop, after displaying a helpful error message," said product manager Paul Taffel. "After the user specifies an HPSUSAN number, it should then start up with no problem."

John Stephens of Take Care of IT was curious about whether any HPSUSAN would do the job. The independent support consultant, like some early testers, wants to look over the size of his desktop or laptop PC for the best trial performance. Stromasys instructions say that an i5 Intel processor -- much more common in the marketplace -- will run HPA/3000.

"I have to verify if any of my collection of computers has the correct CPU," Stevens said, "I know I have an i5, but I don't think if have an i7." Martin Gorfinkel, who worked with OpenMPE while that volunteer group was negotiating transition needs with HP, also said he's making his list and checking it twice for a PC.

"I need to get a new PC to load it," Gorfinkel said, "and that will likely take me a few weeks. The newest PC I have is now about 5 years old."

The head of OpenMPE Birket Foster mentioned the prospect of talking to HP about licensing subsystem software -- currently not a part of the bundled MPE/iX install on the freeware. Foster's company is among several vendors which are testing the emulator against complete MPE installations, as well as its own MPE/iX products.

Foster's company is testing a complete production-grade version of the emulator. He's been trading notes with Stromasys product manager Paul Taffel.

"We're serious about it," he said of the testing that's taking place in the development team at MB Foster. "There's some assembly required. We're going to do some work over the next two weeks. At the end of the day I believe it will be a business decision" about using HPA/3000 to replace a production system. Foster's lab had 5TB of disk storage available on its desktop box. "We know customers who don't want to pay $5,000 a month to keep their HP 3000 hardware running."

"Stromasys in general has done a good job with this," he added, while he noted that "there are a lot of pieces and parts" in the solution.

Minisoft's lead developer Neal Kazmi used the freeware edition of the emulator to test connectivity and ODBC links yesterday, after the bundled package came online. He shared his first impressions, including tests of the company's Javelin, Secure92 and middleware software.

The core middleware (ODBC/JDBC/OLEDB) servers have been installed and tested. Looks like an MPE box to me.

The Javelin jar file will drop into the Fedora VM as shipped and run. Connecting to port 30002 on localhost as TELNET works well to run VPlus, etc.

Secure92 works with NSVT+SSH to tunnel into the MPE system using the shipped SSHd server in Fedora for anyone wanting only encrypted connections on their network. The next release of Secure92 adds the SSH tunnel to TELNET to access the console from a PC.

Yet another OpenMPE veteran, John Burke, looked on the freeware release as the start of an entertaining era. "Sounds like fun times are ahead for many of us," he tweeted to the Newswire.

Stromasys says it's glad to explain details of HPSUSAN licensing for the emulator, including freeware editions, to users who have questions about them one-on-one. The company prefers to talk to users directly to handle the nuances of licensing in detail. Contact Stromasys support channels at [email protected].

Send us your message, via our @3000newswire account on Twitter, or by regular email, about how the freeware is working for you now -- or your plans for it in the near future.

12:45 PM in Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 17, 2012

Freeware 3000 Emulator gets download link

DownloadLinkAfter a mid-November teaser, Stromasys has made a 2-user, freeware version of its Charon HPA/3000 emulator available for downloading once again. The software that lets an Intel-based Core i7 PC, Linux system or Mac work like an HP 3000 has a new link, live from the Stromasys website in Geneva:


The webpage prompts downloaders for their name, phone number and email address, then asks them to affirm two licensing questions: agreeing to enter only a valid HPSUSAN number to identify their virtual HP 3000; and limiting the Freeware to be used only by individuals, for personal, non-commercial use, with no time restriction, or by companies for evaluation purposes only, for up to 60 days following the initial download. 

Stromasys notes that the freeware emulator may not be used in commercial production environments. After submitting simple "yes" answers and contact data, Stromasys emails a download link and a link to a 2-page PDF Read Me file. Each emulator link remains good for only 24 hours. The download file is currently 1 GB, a collection of files which automatically works with VMware's Workstation or Player products on Windows or Linux systems, or using VMware Fusion on the Mac. It includes a 1GB LDEV 1 disc image.

"We've set everything up so that it's as simple as possible," said product manager Paul Taffel. "You don't need to know anything about Linux to actually run the emulator, although of course some knowledge will always be useful. VMware is an amazing product, and allows us to send the whole environment out, completely pre-configured."

The Freeware Edition emulator is a reduced-capability version of the company's commercial A-Class A400 emulator. The performance has been artificially limited to "approximately 2 EPUs, roughly 2/3 that of an HP 3000 A-Class A400 system (when run on a 3.4 GHz CPU) This A202 model is made available as a VMware virtual machine image of a Linux system, in which the HP 3000 emulator has already been installed and configured."

To run the emulator you just need to run the virtual machine using VMware on a Windows, Mac, or Linux-based system. When you start the virtual machine it boots into Linux, and the included HP3000 emulator then starts up automatically.

The CHARON-HPA/3000 emulator functions exactly as a "real" HP 3000 – you can load any HP, third-party, or user software onto the system, and it will run exactly the same as if you were running on HP hardware. It has no expiration date.

The 2-page instruction sheet also gives info on the Freeware Edition hardware requirements and installation process.  After installation, the VMware Linux system places the Read Me file on the desktop.

The download link delivers a tar archive HPA-A202.tar.bz2, a file which when expanded provides the various files that make up the VMware virtual machine The tar archive is compressed using the bzip2 file compressor. it can be decompressed on Windows using the freeware 7-Zip utility, or by using the shareware WinRAR utility, as well as others. Stromasys reports that Mac and Linux users can expand the tar archive from the command line.

Stromasys says it will support the Freeware Edition on a best-effort basis. "However the emulator is supplied with no guarantees to its correct operation or performance. If you have technical questions, please email us at: [email protected]"

Hosting requirements for the emulator are a 64-bit Windows, Mac OS or Linux system, driven by Intel x64 architecture (Core 2 Duo, i5, i7, or Xeon) with SSE 4.1 instruction extensions, at least 2 cores, and a clock speed of at least 2 GHz. "We believe (but have not confirmed) that current AMD FX processors (starting in 2011 with Bulldozer codename systems) also implement SSE 4.1," Taffel said.

The Linux Virtual Machine is configured to use up to 3 GB. With VMware's overhead, you should be able to run Charon-HPA/3000 comfortably on Windows systems with 6 GB memory, and possibly less. The decompressed VMware virtual machine takes about 10 GB of disc, including the included LDEV 1 disc image.

When the Freeware Edition is run on a Windows box, you can connect to it using Reflection (or any other emulator) running on the Windows host. I don't know what your options are for terminal emulators that run on Mac OS.

You can also, in theory, connect to the virtual 3000 running inside VMware from other Windows systems on the same network, but it's considerably more complex to configure, and I'm still trying to work out the details.

Taffel added that the emulator's Freeware edition makes use of VMware's ability to define multiple virtual ethernet ports, so downloaders can run it on a qualifying machine with a single ethernet port.

"The regular full-blown Stromasys emulator is not (for performance reasons) officially supported inside VMware Workstation or Player, and Stromasys recommend two physical ports for all production purposes," he said.

08:53 AM in Homesteading, Web Resources | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 14, 2012

3000s get healthy admin tool for iPhones

Allegro Consultants has followed through on its promise to bring an iPhone-iPad admin tool to 3000 users. The company's iAdmin software, coupled with a $9.99 a month subscription service, This week got an MPE/iX version for management of HP 3000 servers.

IAdminScreensA free 30-day demo of the service for iAdmin is available for one server. OS Software Support customers of Allegro receive free subscriptions for all of their servers under Allegro support. Others may pay a small monthly charge per server.

The mobile app available is a free download from the Apple App Store, one which requires that back-end subscription based service. The utility for iPhones and iPads provides visibility into the most important datacenter servers. For example, the app identifies CPU loads for systems.

Using the iAdmin graphical interface, a system manager logged in to the service can explore server information as an aid to understanding a 3000's health. Allegro's Steve Cooper notes that "iAdmin displays a server's disk space usage using treemaps, in which files and directories appear as proportionally sized colored boxes allowing users to see at a glance how a system's space is being used."

Earlier releases of iAdmin supported platforms running HP-UX, Solaris, Linux, and Mac OS X.  The app and its service now supports all four operating environments, including MPE/iX.

For more information, screen shots, and instructions on how to view some real-world sample data within iAdmin, managers can visit the iAdmin web site. Questions may be directed to [email protected], or call Cooper at 408-252-2330.

10:44 AM in Homesteading, Web Resources | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 13, 2012

HPQ fights its way back, but riding Icahn?

HPQ Nov-DecHewlett-Packard stock prices made their way out of the $11 range and back into the $14.50 territory this week. The backing for the vendor which makes the migration target environment HP-UX saw a rally of 26 percent over the last 15 trading sessions. That's the period since HP last made a comment or a report on its Autonomy debacle, or the second straight quarter of red ink overall.

Carl_icahnLooksupAfter trading 154 million shares during that rock-bottom November 20, HP's fortunes have risen. But for what reason, the analysts are asking. Not on the strength of the HP Discover announcements in Germany last week. HP didn't push above $14 a share until Monday. Its appointment of new EVP Mike Nefkens to lead HP Enterprise Services emerged a week earlier. Its beefed-up Converged Cloud Portfolio made its debut December 4. No seemingly plausible connection there, either.

HP announced its bedrock quarterly dividend of $.13.2 a share as usual, payable to stockholders of record as of Dec. 12. That would have helped get the cart out of the trading ditch this week. But another rumor about the maker of Integrity-Itanium servers emerged over the last few days. Takeover king Carl Icahn might be purchasing HP stock.

Or not, since the 5 percent purchase of outstanding shares threshhold hasn't been triggered yet. Once a stock gets a buyer at that rate, SEC rules kick in and the curtain is pulled away. Nobody knows if Icahn could make a difference to a company whose printer business has stopped growing and whose PCs are now running behind Lenovo's. And some are asking if the legendary activist investor even wants to shake up HP's board.

Insider Monkey's Marshall Hargrave thinks that the outstanding HP shares, even at $14, are too big of a bite for even Icahn's tastes. Icahn would have to purchase $1.4 billion of HP stock to set off the 5 percent report.

Although the initiatives and far reach of HP makes it a compelling long-term value play, it does appear to be a bit out of Icahn’s scope and size. While it might not be likely that Icahn is backing HP, we believe that investors can buy in at a relatively reasonable price. HP trades at the cheapest forward P/E (4.1x) compared to Dell (6.2x), Microsoft (8.4x) and Apple (9.3x). Assuming HP can initiate key savings, it very well could trade in line with Dell on a P/E basis given its market share dominance.

Therese Poletti at Market Watch notes that some investors would like to see pressure to spin off HP's server business, including that Itanium line that HP 3000 customers follow -- at times -- when they turn off their MPE servers.

An outside investor like Icahn -- or someone else -- could argue that the corporate business, which includes services, servers, and software, does not need to be attached to PCs and printers. Other have argued, however, that the company gets more purchasing power when buying for all the hardware businesses at once. 

HP has argued that "we sell more servers when we sell everything" over the last two years, while its fortunes skidded. Post-Mark Hurd, the value of such a consolidated HP has fallen 70 percent.

It's encouraging to see Hewlett-Packard rally itself, if only to protect the futures of its technology from a takeover sell-off. One of the last things HP divested itself of, tech-wise, was the WebOS environment for tablets. HP-UX is unlikely to ever suffer such a fate as being declared open software. If HP couldn't do it for MPE/iX, just imagine how a product serving big customers will fare.

06:35 PM in Migration, News Outta HP, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 12, 2012

Testing and waiting: Top 2 emulator tasks

Testing-robotAt least every other day, a 3000 user calls or emails us to ask about the arrival of the Stromasys emulator's freeware version. To recap just a little, this 2-user version of the HPA/3000 would be free to run on any Intel Core i7 or faster PC. The freeware user would input their own HPSUSAN number to get third party software running.

I have to say would because for the last 30 days the freeware has been stuck in the Stromasys development and approval cycle. It surfaced as briefly as a salmon on a summer stream on November 9-10. Then the too-bountiful bundle that included HP's subsystem products was taken off the Stromasys FTP site. The full-scale emulator is being tested, however, by some customers as well as vendors.

MB Foster's CEO Birket Foster just reported today that "We are still testing it, and just added the disc to get ready for throughput testing." Like the managers at some of the other beta test sites, Foster posted a command line stream that showed DISCFREE operating by way of the emulator. His company which sells and supports software for the 3000 community is looking at how extra disc space would impact the use of the product.

There are also other sites in the community which are doing their own beta tests, probably of the full product. Frank Gribbin of the law firm Potter Anderson & Corroon said he's been doing some limited development. He's impressed with the speed.

I am still using BASIC, some FORTRAN and a little SPL. I like the interpreter for rapid development. The compiled code is fast, even faster on the Stromasys emulator.

Gribbin has been on the trailblazing path with the 3000 before this breakthrough. His company was among the first to put Java/iX to work in its production software. Now the emulator software is looking for a foothold, but the delay in releasing that freeware code might be costing the HPA/3000 some early adopters. The holidays are only a week or so away.

What does the onset of the Christmas-New Year week have to do with embracing the Stromasys product? As one developer told me this week, "I'm getting to the part of the year where I have extra time. If I had a chance to look at the emulator, it would be easiest now."

He also asked, like others have, if we could prevail on Stromasys to kick loose that rare software bundle that flashed out of the water a month ago. Believe it or not, there are still some 3000 customers who haven't kept up with how far the full product has traveled. It's been a journey with some happy endings.

We've reported a couple of data points on the emulator; three actually, including one from the field. We have reports from testers Alan Yeo of ScreenJet and Gavin Scott of Allegro, both of whom put the freeware version through its paces in November. These testers had two distinct backgrounds.

Yeo admitted that the emulator will be disruptive to his migration business, but he found the software to be fast and reliable. Scott supports HP server sites including those which use MPE/iX, as well as Linux and HP-UX installations. He found it zippy and even got it to run in under 6GB of RAM.

We also reported on an IT manager in Australia who has installed the emulator to replace an aging 3000 and drive a customized in-house app suite, all now in production. Stromasys provided us with that reference, and I did an hour-long Skype interview with Warren Dawson.

We continue to be promised by Stromasys that the freeware edition will be out any day now in full public release. Even though it's only a 2-user license, it has been reported faster than a 918 by a factor of up to 4, so long as you have 8GB of RAM on a i7 core Linux system for hosting it. The speedup of the emulated 3000 is likely to be removing the PA-RISC hobbling which HP introduced in its HP 3000 hardware. If nothing else, the PA-RISC "chips" emulated in the Stromasys product can be used at the full speed of the PA-8800 processor.

However, more deliberate speed of release would quicken this product's chances of catching on in places where word of mouth and references could lift its profile. Vendors and licensing departments seem to be welcoming it, so long as a customer arrives with the emulator in hand and wants to continue support of their MPE/iX products. Even though a consultant or a small support shop will be able to work inside the freeware's 2-user limits nicely, many of them have clients who'd consider a full commercial license. They just need someone who can reference this new tool.

You might even consider the freeware release to be a holiday gift. We're just trying to be encouraging here.

08:30 PM in Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 11, 2012

Robelle adds to history with its horse tale

Robelle Solutions, mostly known as Robelle in our community, has started to unbridle its Suprtool prowess this fall. The company is offering a Suprtool scripting service for the first time. It's a creation and maintenance service which, for $999 for 10 hours of work, helps "extend the life of your current system and keep it in tune with your company's current needs."

Although a lot of Suprtool is running on MPE/iX servers, this is a data extraction and manipulation tool also performs under Linux and HP-UX. These are favored environments for the IMAGE workalike database Eloquence. The most recent HP-UX version of Suprtool, 5.5, now supports 268 fields in an Eloquence database. The company was the first to integrate Eloquence into its product, "opening up new migration options for TurboIMAGE users. The same Suprtool commands that clients are familiar with on MPE now work on HP-UX, so porting of Suprtool tasks are very little work."

RobelleLogosBut there's a good deal of ardor left at Robelle for the use of HP 3000s in a production environment. It's a company which took off at the start of the 1980s, when many of today's biggest MPE vendors were establishing a customer base. The company's founder Bob Green recently talked about the humble beginnings of Robelle. In case you're in possession of one of the older conference giveaways, like the Las Vegas splash towels or a simple desktop document clip, Green's latest story explains a little about why that cartoon horse carries the Qedit logo.

Robelle grew up on a horse farm, Green says, a place where it raised software alongside rural creatures great and small.

Once Robelle started adding employees, it needed a real office, but its first one big enough for a staff opened up in an uncommon place, Green says.

FortLangleyRobelle’s first real office, when we started having employees, was in a rural town of British Columbia called Fort Langley (named for an outpost of the Hudson Bay Company which is now a tourist destination). It wasn’t your traditional business office, as it was located on a horse farm. The farm was on a ridge overlooking the Fraser River and the Golden Ears Provincial Park in the distance.

Robelle Farm 1The office consisted of a tiny chalet with loft and a porch that had the best view on the property. The main house was attached, and built later. As our business grew, we added an HP 3000 server and desks in every possible location, including one in the kitchenette! Because it was on a horse farm, there was always a dog on the porch and a cat warming itself on the top of one of the monitors.

We worked closely together with a lot of energy. Business was growing rapidly, which included lots of travel to users group meetings all over the world.

In the earliest days of the 3000 community's social era, the user group meeting and conference was the greatest place to learn about system management and examine new software and hardware products. As a vendor like Robelle, you'd arrive at these meetings and conferences with giveaways. The Qedit horse and the Suprtool cat carried a lot of the helpful tone of the company in that era.

In spite of that deep MPE-era heritage, Robelle continues to stand with a foot in each field of computer environments. Its website suggests that if migrating your applications doesn't make sense you, the homesteading strategy is a good one. However, Green's also got a paper he delivered at the start of the migration era which advises about transforming TurboIMAGE data for Eloquence, Oracle and other database.

It's a long trail from the Silicon Valley heartlands of the 3000 to a horse farm in rural British Columbia. Green and his company continue to make tracks away from the early 1970s.

"From the age of 19, I had worked at Hewlett-Packard in California in the computer division," Green wrote this year, as the company celebrated 35 years in the community. "HP's computer division was very new and small. The software lab had less than 10 people. I did many interesting jobs as the division grew, including programmer, tech writer, training instructor, and software tech support."

But after more than a decade of programming, Green was a 30-year old programmer working for an HP 3000 site.

It was time to make my move. I had an idea for a very fast text editor designed for HP 3000 programmers, which I called Qedit (for Quick Edit). A year later I got the idea for Suprtool, a very fast extract and sort tool for databases and files. 

That first office was in my apartment. In those days, there was no easily available Internet (and even if there had been, you could not easily connect to an HP 3000 via Internet). But the 3000 did have serial modem ports, so I bought a portable computer terminal (actually just a small box with a keyboard and an acoustic coupler to hold the phone handset, and a connection for a TV monitor.) Connection speed was a blazing 28 characters per second.

07:04 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 10, 2012

HP 3000 contracting experience, all for hire

HelpwantedkeysAn HP 3000 site which wants to go unnamed was interested in a 3000 contractor website. A place that lists available help, I suppose, with information about what experienced MPE pros still do. I posted a simple request without much background information, midday Saturday on the 3000-L mailing list, to try to find someone interested in helping.

Within 48 hours I had the contact names for 22 companies and consultants, all ready to do business with this HP 3000 shop. It's a pretty good-sized system, and the IT manager expected some real effort in finding somebody. After all, HP 3000 expertise is supposed to be hard to find.

"I'll be looking for a couple of experienced HP 3000 MPE resources very soon, and I know they won't be easy to find," he said. "Been there and done that." He didn't want his company name, or his own, used in any report. Some companies are buttoned down like that; we can respect it.

It's a 750Mhz N-Class with four processors that's working at that company. Even their backup system is an N-Class, a 500Mhz 4-way. This recently-installed N-Class 3000 is not going away anytime soon, and about two dozen 3000 citizens would like to come along for the ride. Yes, even in 2012.

Ever since HP announced its "end of life" for the 3000, the warnings about a lack of MPE expertise have hung thick in the air over the last decade. They hang around in this decade, too, seemingly more true with every passing week. It's been a continuing concern that is invoked during migration assessments. Sure, you can make that HP 3000 work longer. "But how much longer can you work?" say the companies which own HP 3000s.

I'd call our seeking-the-guru experience exceptional, but I only posted a three-line request on a weekend afternoon. The response was immediate. Responses continued to trickle in today. It wasn't even posted on the LinkedIn HP 3000 Community site. There are over 550 members there, although plenty of them don't contract. Some have retired from that business.

Not everybody is going to qualify for this work. The prospects range in size from companies booking several millions of dollars in business to individuals who aren't sure how much longer their employer will be using the HP 3000. There's also a range of experience, from before the PA-RISC days, to people whose first 3000 work was on a Series 9x8. That's still more than 15 years on the low end. One prospect said, "Whatever runs on the HP 3000, we know it. Qedit, Quad, Cognos, COBOL, Query, in-depth operations and repairs of hardware, HP987, etc., etc."

Several wanted to know where the work would be performed, and some were modest about their focused skills. Others have called, including one programmer-system manager who'd heard about the opportunity "and wanted to jump on this," because he wanted to leave the non-computer job which he's taken instead of 3000 work. That work was at a site which imposed an end-of-life on its 3000, but not on the veterans who maintained it. I got more than one resume emailed to me. It all has been forwarded to that IT manager who wants to remain out of the public eye.

This community may be on the cusp of an imminent shortage of 3000 contract help. Perhaps it's a little early to be considering a lack of MPE talent while sustaining a 3000 installation, however. Either that, or during this weekend everybody was done holiday shopping, or had finished up their last 2012 engagement.

There's a list of MPE contactors and consultants available at the OpenMPE News website, a free outpost where I'm still the nominal curator. Maybe that's the website where our IT manager should have a look. We'll do our best to include the names which are new to that list, as well as any who have refreshed their interest, in a special section there.

06:53 PM in Homesteading, Web Resources | Permalink | Comments (1)

December 07, 2012

Attempt at migration preceded emulation

At the newest HPA/3000 Charon emulation site, IT manager Warren Dawson said the decision to keep MPE/iX running was not the first choice for his company in Australia. Migration was a prospective strategy at the organization, but it didn’t pan out for the application.

Print-Exclusive“We were rewriting our software in a VB and .NET version, but in the end it turned out to be taking too long and being too costly,” Dawson said. “In the meantime we’d tied down the migration of the databases into SQL databases, so that was already running smoothly. Now they use those databases for other applications. We’ve done that migration, but our main system is still the TurboIMAGE/SQL system." A nightly extract through Minisoft's ODBC drivers creates a mirrored version of the database in SQL Server.

Even while the company has eliminated the risk of hardware failures, the challenge of finding replacements for its 3000-savvy talents remains the same. “COBOL programmers here are few and far between,” Dawson said. “In terms of my own job security, it’s cemented that somewhat — great for me, but from the company’s point of view it’s an issue. It will be an issue to get someone to replace the skills in COBOL, because that’s what we mainly use."

The parent company of Dawson’s firm has been talking about an adoption of the corporate system, “but that’s at least five years away. So even with a 947 with failing hardware, it was still well worth going with the emulator.”

By making the HPA/3000 solution a keystone in the company, Dawson feels like he’s retained the best part of the 3000 computing experience. “I’ve found that it’s not the hardware that I liked, it’s the operating system.” 

Crucial to the process was the support from the creators of the Charon HPA/3000. “I’ve been very pleased with Stromasys themselves, because any issue I raised, they fixed it as fast as they could,” he said. “I was unaware that any of my issues had already been raised, because the way they treated me was that anything I said was important to them, even if they’d heard it before. Not saying they’d already heard it, but saying, 'Tell me about this, and let’s go through it.' ”

"The biggest issue I had which I was asking them about was the security key that’s got to be connected into the host PC. We were planning disaster recovery, but we didn’t have a key to replace that one. They said they’d give us a temporary key we could use for a number of hours. So they’d already addressed that possibility." 

Support issues with timezone differences haven’t presented a problem. One key Stromasys engineer bridges the gap between Australia’s workday and the one in the US headquaters, Dawson said. The Stromasys labs include operations in Moscow as well as North Carolina.

10:20 AM in Homesteading, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 06, 2012

Software allies smooth path onto emulator

Customers of the HPA/3000 emulator will be watching to see which software companies want to collaborate with Stromasys, to make sure this source of modern, updated MPE/iX servers on Linux iron gets into 3000 shops.

The first HP 3000 manager to take an emulator into production moved the services of very old iron onto a very new MPE/iX platform. IS Manager Warren Dawson’s company was using a Series 947 server which was more than 20 years old to take care of mission-critical operations.

Print-ExclusiveNearly all of Dawson's third party vendors have come on board and made efforts to ensure their software works. “One was a little slow in doing so, so we made a workaround," he said, "and I made it a permanent workaround. I didn’t know when they would come on board. They came on just before we went live, and we’d already decided to move away from their product.” 

In the case of the switch in backup processes, Dawson’s procedures now back up twice as much data, using HP’s standard STORE and RESTORE programs — in less than than when the backup was done using the third party software on the 3000 box.

The change from using HP’s native iron to emulation has also reinvigorated some of Dawson’s MPE software vendors.

“I’ve even gotten better support from some of our vendors now that we’re emulating. They see that there’s an extended life in the system, and so a couple of them have made efforts in that regard. We’ve been paying support for years, and for some software we’d hadn’t asked for support in 10 years. They’ve come back to our requests to help us and been very good about it.

One backup software solution didn’t make the transition from 3000 hardware and storage devices to the emulated system. DAT tapes presented an extra effort. Dawson used a utility to copy the tapes to disk, “and for some reason when I did that, it didn’t work properly in the backup software. There was some sort of SCSI issue which was at Stromasys’s end, and they’ve since resolved that issue. But the backup vendor said initially they weren’t supporting the emulator, so we worked something else out.

The Quiz reporting tool from Cognos is part of the software set that’s made the step onto the emulator. The company buys and maintains its Cognos licenses through a reseller, and that partner has handed the relicensing of Quiz onto the emulator. “I haven’t dealt directly with Cognos for a long time,” Dawson said.

Minisoft’s ODBC drivers run on the emulated system, since part of the application’s project is to extract data. Since the databases and the application have been emulated, Dawson’s remains able to use Visual Basic programs, using the ODBC drivers, to do reports as well as updates. However, the complexity of moving toward Windows 7 has raised issues that Minisoft has been helping to solve. Dawson singled out the company as taking extra time to help make the emulation succeed.

“Minisoft’s been the most helpful, because that reporting system started out being the most troublesome.  We’ve been having a VB 6 program issue, where those programs ran under Windows XP but are an issue under Windows 7. These programs were written 10 years ago, and the people who wrote them are long since gone. They explained how I could run their software in different ways, with the old driver under VB 6 on XP versus a new driver for .NET on Windows 7.”

Crucial to the process was the support from the creators of the Charon HPA/3000. “I’ve been very pleased with Stromasys themselves, because any issue I raised, they fixed it as fast as they could,” he said. “I was unaware that any of my issues had already been raise, because they way they treated me was that anything I said was important to them, even if they’d heard it before. Not saying they’d already heard it, but saying, “Tell me about this, and let’s go through it.”

The biggest issue I had which I was asking them about was the security key that’s got to be connected into the host PC. We were planning disaster recovery, but we didn’t have a key to replace that one. They said they’d give us a temporary key we could use for a number of hours. They’d already addressed that possibility.” 

Support issues with timezone differences haven’t presented a problem. One key Stromasys engineer bridges the gap between Australia’s workday and the one in the US headquaters, Dawson said. The Stromasys labs include operations in Moscow as well as North Carolina.

Next: The attempt at migration that preceded emulation

01:14 PM in Homesteading, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 05, 2012

First production emulator wins IT's respect

The first HP 3000 manager to take an emulator into production moved the services of very old iron onto a very new MPE/iX platform. IS Manager Warren Dawson’s company was using a Series 947 server which was more than 20 years old to take care of mission-critical operations. That 3000 had 112 MB of memory. Now it’s working on the HPA/3000 Charon emulator with 2 GB of memory. “We’ve really increased our speed, our memory and our disk,” Dawson said. 

WarrenMug“I was testing the emulator over the last 10 months, and I was most impressed with the speed gains,” he said. The gains on month-end processes on the emulated 3000 system slashed the time from almost 10 hours to 65 minutes. “That was phenomenal, and it was on the main database. The guys at Stromasys were very pleased to hear some of the statistics I was churning out. They could emulate, but couldn’t have someone hit it every day, and hit it hard.”

Print-Exclusive“The users are very happy. They’ve notice their reports are coming up a lot quicker. Instead of 15-20 minutes, in a few minutes it’s done. Performance gains are bigger in some areas than others. The lowest performance gain I’ve found is in backup itself.”

Justifying the cost of the emulator became simpler because the HP 3000’s disks kept failing on a regular basis. The HPA/3000 eliminated the difficulty of replacing that type of hardware. 

“Because you’re not dealing with physical devices, it’s now made it a lot easier to consider even expanding what we have," Dawson said. "We had a failure of the HP 3000 box every one or two years, and it’s been really hard to source parts here in Australia. The last failure we had was an LDEV 2 disk, and so that became a SCSI disk with an adapter.”

In another instance, an internal cable for a tape drive failed. Parts supply remains an issue throughout the country, Dawson said, since there are few 3000s still running there. But he added that the company searched around the world for that cable. “The best we could get was a two-week wait for it, and we could not wait two weeks for something as critical as that.”

Over the years of moving drives in and out, the cable was pinched and then broken, and “we could not source another cable. We ended up making our own.”

The company has turned off its HP 3000 production machine. “In the end, we had the confidence to do that,” Dawson said. We’ve gone to modern hardware we can get at the drop of a hat, We can almost go into the shop and and saying that one and that one, and one in blue. It removes the need for having specialized spare parts.”

Emulation created a new range of storage space. The company had a project to split its database, due to legal requirements. To do the split, they needed to duplicate the database, and “we wouldn’t have had the space to do that on the Series 947’s disks.”

VMware hosts the virtualized partition where the HP 3000’s emulation resides. “We’ve taken the Stromasys software and moved it to its own VMware environment. It’s by itself, so nothing will impact it there. It’s running really smooth.”

Next: Software allies smooth the path to production use

03:36 PM in Homesteading, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 04, 2012

Freeware emulator rates zippy in early test

Print-ExclusiveStromays product manager Paul Taffel updated us today on the freeware HPA/3000 emulator project. Company officials have said that "very soon" they will share a link on the FTP servers which, over one November weekend, were serving up files ranging from 2GB to less than 500MB, depending on configurations.

The full commercial emulator is not only available and fully tested, but installed at a reference customer site in Australia. We'll have an interview with the manager at the customer site on our website tomorrow.

The personal freeware edition had some bumps during its first rollout to the 3000 community. Limited to 2 users, that download included an MPE/iX disk image along with files to run in a VMware Player to enable an unzip-and-load experience.

Taffel said that earliest peek at the freeware included some MPE/iX ancillary software such as TurboStore and COBOL II, subsytems which are not covered in the blanket freeware's licensing. After releasing the download addresses for publication by the NewsWire, Stromasys moved quickly to turn off the FTP addresses while it works on creating a download file that would remain within licensing restrictions.

But during the few hours when the freeware was alive, it impressed a pair of development veterans of the 3000 community. Gavin Scott of Allegro was the first to report on the speed and functionality of the freeware. He compared its speed to a much more advanced rate than the promised Series 918.

“I was able to get networking working, and I can now upload and download files to do things like performance tests.” Scott said. “The performance of the emulator appears to be similar to that of an original HP A-Class running MPE/iX, which is quite impressive.”

Scott said that his download in November was “indeed a Charon virtual disk with MPE 7.5. Those two files require that a user have a supported Linux environment (virtual or otherwise). Then you need to install and configure the emulator and associate the disk file with it. The 2GB download has all of this done for you via a virtual machine image that contains Fedora 16, plus the installed and configured emulator which starts up when the virtual machine boots — to the ISL> prompt, where you just need to type START).

Stromasys tech manager Peter Ljungberg passed along hardware requirements for using the freeware.

• Intel i7/i5 or Xeon CPU with SSE4.1 support; 2 GHz minimum, 3GHz or above recommended.
• 8 GB RAM minimum.
• 0.1 TB + disk space required to keep HP 3000 disk images. 20 GB is the minimum requirement for the freeware package.
• Two Ethernet ports.

Despite the 8 GB spec, Scott tested the freeware on a PC with 6GB of RAM. He said he was using a Dell T-7500 Precision Workstation with two quad core hyperthreaded CPUs from 2-3 years ago. “It’s pretty beefy, but probably not even as fast as a modern inexpensive single CPU Quad core would be for this application,” Scott said.

“I was a bit worried about their minimum specs, but it turns our their VM is only configured for 4GB of RAM, so my 6GB system was able to launch it without any problems,” Scott said. “I opened it in VMWare Workstation 8.0.3. You could also use the free VMWare player, according to their instructions.

“With the VM up and the virtual 3000 booted up completely, my system is still only using a total of 5.11GB of RAM for everything I have running. So their hardware requirements are quite conservative, I think. 

“It booted up pretty speedily,” Scott added, “and seems to be quite zippy. You might get the VM to run on a 4GB machine, though it would probably take over most of the machine and performance might not be as good especially if you’re running other programs simultaneously. But a 6GB machine seems fine, and the host disk space is only around 11GB for the full VM (even though it’s got a virtual 20GB disk).”

ScreenJet’s Alan Yeo also was able to download and install the freeware edition, but wondered how the users of non-7.5 subsystems like TurboStore would be able to work with the included MPE/iX disk image.

“I think most people who may be interested won’t be on 7.5,” he said. “They are more likely to be on 6.0 or 6.5. So I have a licensed HP 3000 running 6.5 and I want to try the emulator, and they ship a bare-bones 7.5 MPE, the more interesting question is — how do they think I can use or move my 6.5 subsystem software onto a 7.5-qualified emulator?”

Yeo performed the install but learned that he “had to shut everything down and reboot before it would work.” He was connected to the emulator via Attachmate/WRQ’s Reflection.

“The freeware ships with an HPUSERLIMIT = 2,” he added, “and as that’s a read-only variable, it can’t be changed. But they have done exactly what I think is required for HP to ignore what they have or haven’t included in the freeware version — which I think is quite a lot.”

04:15 PM in Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (2)

December 03, 2012

HP Cloud adds SLA as prices drop on Amazon's, Google's cloud services

HP customers who have been patient with the vendor's ramp-up of cloud services are being rewarded one last time this month. The HP Cloud service is moving from a beta period that started in May to a full Service Level Agreement (SLA) version, starting on January 1.

Host ItTerry Floyd of the MANMAN services company The Support Group said he received a notice over the weekend that HP is "particularly grateful for your business and feedback as we build HP Cloud Services' portfolio and service offerings. In appreciation of your engagement through the Beta period, we continue to offer the service at a 50% discount off the list price through December 31, 2012. The full list prices shall apply starting January 1, 2013."

Cloud Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Floyd said, might be a logical place to host an instance of the HP 3000 emulator, or experiment with the forthcoming freeware version. (We're still listening for news of when that freeware will be an available download.) On the other hand, a cloud instance could be a useful place for a test environment of a new platform for migrating customers. Migration partners such as MB Foster see a future where it will be the rare small- to medium-sized business that hosts its own hardware.

But even while HP muscles up to a 99.95 percent uptime SLA, its competition is racing to a lower bottom line. These aren't small competitors, either: Amazon and Google have been in the cloud longer than HP. Amazon is finishing up its sixth year offering virtual infrastructure.

Using the HP Cloud with that SLA will still keep you offline no more than 30 minutes per month. A Medium (4GB RAM, 2 vCPUs, 120GB disk) install costs $116.80/month starting in January, after the discount ends; a Large (8GB RAM, 4 vCPUs, 240GB disk) costs $233.60/month for a Linux installation. Stromasys HPA/3000 runs under Linux. Windows installs cost about 50 percent more. HP-UX isn't supported in the HP Cloud.

Google's cloud IaaS, Google Compute Engine, already costs about 2 cents less with hour compared to HP's rates. Google adjusted its prices downward by 5 percent last month; it will also offer a cloud service with no SLA for 30 percent less.

Amazon cut its AWS cloud pricing for the 21st time as of last month, keeping just below Google's prices with a $0.13/hour rate. AWS is the leader in the cloud field in both customers as well as longevity of its solution, which launched in 2006.

07:42 PM in Homesteading, Migration, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)