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December 2013

Date-based deadline looms once again

Y2khqTomorrow and Thursday, we'll be taking a few days away from our 3000 reports to celebrate the New Year. We'll return with a story on Jan. 3. But 14 years ago tonight, your world was waiting for a new year of calamity. Developers, managers, even executives had spent years planning, coding, even setting aside operations while waiting for Y2K to occur. For many HP 3000 owners, the start of our current century mandated the biggest project they'd ever accomplished: preparing an entrenched set of programs to handle formats for new dates.

For one part of the classic 3000 community, it will be happening all over again. The only break these managers of healthcare billing systems will get is a one-year reprieve. And 90 days of that is already gone.

The healthcare industry is expanding its ICD diagnostic codes in the US, a government mandate that has nothing to do with the Affordable Care Act. More than 48,000 distinct codes will be required in order to be paid by the Medicare and Medicaid systems. One story from the New York Times said that getting injured by a killer whale could be one of the thousands of new codes, a part of the fine-tuning to move from ICD-9 to ICD-10.

Virtually the entire health care system — Medicare, Medicaid, private insurers, hospitals, doctors and various middlemen — will switch to a new set of computerized codes used for determining what ailments patients have and how much they and their insurers should pay for a specific treatment.

Some doctors and health care information technology specialists fear major disruptions to health care delivery if the new coding system — also heavily computer-reliant — isn’t put in place properly. They are pushing for a delay of the scheduled start date of Oct. 1, 2014 — or at least more testing beforehand. "If you don’t code properly, you don’t get paid,” said Dr. W. Jeff Terry, a urologist in Mobile, Ala., who is one of those who thinks staffs and computer systems, particularly in small medical practices, will not be ready in time. “It’s going to put a lot of doctors out of business."

ICD-10 has already had a one-year extension for its deadline. It was supposed to be supported by Oct. 1 of this year. HP 3000 managers didn't have that kind of deadline-extending option as 1999 ran out. But they've had postponing options for their migration projects, and they've used them. Migrations off MPE are probably the only thing that could outstrip the resource levels needed to succeed at Y2K.

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2013 emboldened 3000 changes for both migration and homesteading practices

As a service to readers who crave summary and broad strokes, we hearby sketch what the year 2013 meant to the 3000 community. It's too much of a cliche to say that the previous 12 months were driven by change. That's been an essential element for the community since 2001. But a dozen years has now spread changes onto the migrating community member, as well as those who have made their mission one to homestead.

The HP 3000 CHARON emulator from Stromasys showed more promise this year, but some of its impact lay in the way it held migrations in check without even being deployed. Another factor came from the economy. By year's end the markets were flying at an all-time high, but the recovery has its blind spots, according to some 3000 users. Couple the proposed savings in keeping MPE apps virtual with with an uncertain future for HP's replacement solutions, and the movement away from the 3000 slowed.

Even with that evidence, some shutdowns of systems stood out. A major installation of 3000s that had been serving the airline industry saw their work moved to .NET replacements, as Open Skies became New Skies. We also saw Hewlett-Packard closing down its own internal HP 3000 operations at long last, powering off the final four systems, just 12 years after advising its customers to do the same.

The year also offered a chance to see what remained on the field a decade after the community marked the World Wide Wake of 2003. The server got its first iPad app when a terminal emulator emerged for iOS, even as other experts found other ways to get an MPE console onto a tablet. And the exit of expertise continued throughout our 3000 world, even as some stalwart resources remained online.

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Expert's restore job INSTALLS, RELOADS

Mark Ranft, the IT manager who's been stewarding a farm of 3000s at Navitaire/Accenture for many years, recently sent what he calls a geek gift for the holidays. Ranft, who's also done service in the community under his Pro3k service company, offered a restore job for the 3000 console. The job's extra value is preserving error messages.

Here is a HP 3000 geek present for you! I used to do the first system restore interactively on the console, but would occasionally lose some important error messages as they scrolled by and I wasn't able to look back. So I came up with the following expert tip.

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A Present Under Most Trees for 2013

PresentWe've used our previous three days of blog articles to sketch a current portrait of the HP 3000 and MPE's history and future, courtesy of Allegro Consultants' Stan Sieler. While reviewing this material, taken from our latest printed 3000 Newswire issue, Sieler's even-handed replies showed a gift that's been presented to nearly every 3000 customer, past, present and future: the sparks that fly off the flint of change.

Nobody welcomes change very much if they're in charge of IT today. Change makes the certainty of stability a memory. But it also prompts the need to expand knowledge and skills, a demand for taking risks, and perhaps a reason for looking at life in a new way. If you haven't been reading for a few days, you can look over our interview with Sieler in Part 1, plus Part 2, as well as Part 3. Migration's prospects are considered, as well as the outlook for homesteading and history of our system and community.

As a writer -- which has always been my work, and therefore the means for my 3000 chronicles -- I can compare that flinty present to something I've received in past. I've been handed edits and reviews on my longest work, which meant that some of the years of building a novel had to scrapped or seriously revised. Such is the kind of gift that ensures we keep giving our best, even as we rue the sparks that are a-flying.

We're taking a few days off here to celebrate Christmas with our families. We wish all of our readers and supporters a happy holiday. We'll be back on Friday, December 27 to begin our annual set of year-end roundup stories -- a great way to get a big picture of what that present under our trees means.

2013 makes a new migration definition

GoldfishmigrationsIn our interview with Allegro's Stan Sieler, we asked the veteran developer what has changed about 3000 options for the future. His answer identified a significant shift in the definition of migration. He also spoke about Allegro's own season of considering an emulator project, the tech challenges that will be outside of the system's capability, and how his practice of magic has shaped his exemplary technical career. On the occasion of his 30th year with Allegro Consultants, we spoke via iPad in November, just as the US was switching to back off Daylight Saving Time.

In the first year after HP's 3000 announcement, there were a list of options of what could happen to the community over the decade to come. Is there anything new on that list?

There are the same options but with one difference. Migration means something different now. It's not migrating your app with a 3000 lookalike shell on a Unix machine. It's migrating to Stromasys. It's a variation of 3000 Forever.

We still see people coming out of the woodwork that we've never heard of, using 918s, 928s or newer machines. They have no intention of leaving because they have no funding to leave, and now they've encountered a problem and they're reaching out to the rest of the community. We see people who tend to be on bigger machines, who are either running into limitations, or they're worried about the continued maintainability of the hardware. They are looking at high-end Stromasys solutions.

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Climbing a Tech Ladder to Newer Interests

When Allegro's Stan Sieler announced he'd completed 30 years of employment at the firm, it seemed to spark our curiousity about how things have changed over that period for the creator of so much MPE software -- and parts of IMAGE/SQL, for that matter.

StanMugHe joined HP in 1977, after working on Burroughs systems. Over the years both with HP, and then later, he’s left many fingerprints on the 3000 identity. He proposed multithreading that HP finally implemented for DBPUTs and DELETEs. Wrote STORE on the Classic 3000s, plus can see various aspects of MPE/iX because of his work on the HPE operating system [the MPE/XL predecessor using an instruction set called Vision] before he left HP. A lot of the process management stuff that was his code is still running today. Sieler assisted on Large Files. IMAGE/3000 on the classic systems has intrinsic-level recovery he designed. A week after he left HP, they canceled the Vision project and ported 95 percent of his work to MPE/XL.  

Then came the Allegro work during the era when the 3000 division called the company Cupertino East: Jumbo datasets in IMAGE/SQL. Master dataset expansion. B-trees. By that time he was already in the Interex User Group Hall of Fame. We interviewed him for the Q&A in our November printed issue, and spoke via Skype. Stan used his iPad for the chat.

Second of three parts

How are you coming to terms with being really well-versed with a work that fewer people not only know about, but even use?

Yes, that’s a hard question. I know the two places I’d go if I wasn’t doing Allegro anymore. In both places I think I’d be applying knowledge I’ve learned. It may not specifically be MPE, but it’s things like being careful about maintaining data structures of filesystem and the users’ data. These are lessons we’ve learned for 34 years on the HP machine. I think as we get older, we ought to be able to go up the technical ladder. The problem is that there isn’t enough of a ladder, in most places.

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Making More than 30 Years of MPE Magic

Stan Magic

Stan Sieler is as close as our community might come to being source code for MPE and the HP 3000. He recently noted on his LinkedIn page he’s celebrating 30 years with Allegro, the company he co-founded with Steve Cooper. Three decades at a single company is a rare milestone, but Sieler goes back even farther with MPE and the 3000.

Few programmers have more people using their code. He’s the co-author of SPLash!, a compiler that brought the original SPL systems language from the Classic HP 3000s to PA-RISC systems. Then there’s his wide array of free software contributed to the community: things like RAMUSAGE, a tool that reports how HP 3000 RAM is being used. Sieler was honored as an outstanding contributor to the HP user group’s annual Contributed Software Library three times.

Sieler took up the practice of magic 15 years ago, which was evident as he gave a tour of the Computer History Museum at a 3000 software symposium held there in 2008.The patter of the tour was a seamless as our 90-minute talk for this interview. We spoke via his iPad, using the everday magic of Skype, just a few days before our November printed issue went to press. 

Over the years you’ve been at Allegro, what’s changed for the industry?

Everything, and nothing. We’re still bitching about changes that manufacturers do to their software. I’m still trying to do new things. A lot of the things that have changed are simply bigger, faster, more memory and more disk. In terms of software development, the biggest change is the prevalence of more GUIs, of course. But even then, we were foreshadowing that with things like block mode apps, such as VPlus. We didn’t have a mouse, but we were still interacting with screens.

Some of the good guys are gone. I don’t know if we’ve identified the new good guys yet. Some of the new good guys have come and gone; Apple, for me, is in that category, with the restrictions on iOS and the restrictions they’re trying to put on the Mac. They’re removing the fun and the power.

Continue reading "Making More than 30 Years of MPE Magic" »

Store to Disk preserves backups' attributes

By Brian Edminster

Second of two parts

Yesterday I outlined some of the powers of the Posix program pax, as well as tar, to move MPE/iX backup files offsite. Here’s a warning. There are some file types that cannot be backed up by tar/pax while also storing their attributes:  ;CIR (circular) and ;MSG (message) files (and possibly others. I haven’t tested all possible file types yet.  Also, there is an issue with tar that is a fairly well known and has been discussed on the 3000 newsgroup. Occasionally it does not un-tar correctly.  It is unclear if and when this was fixed, but I’d love to hear from anybody that might be in the know, or which specific situations to avoid.

Regardless of these limitations, I’ve found a simple way around this. Use store-to-disk to make your backup, then tar to wrap it, so as to preserve the store-to-disk files’ characteristics, before shipping the files off-system. Later, when you retrieve your tar backups and un-tar them, you’ll get your original store-to-disk files back without having to specify the proper ‘;REC= , CODE= , and DISC=’ options on an FTP ‘GET’. I’ve been doing this for several months now on several systems, and I have not had any failures.

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HP 3000 Backup Files, On the Move

By Brian Edminster 

First of two parts

Once store-to-disk backups are regularly being processed, it’s highly desirable to move them offsite — for the same reasons that it’s desirable to rotate tape media to offsite storage. You want to protect against site-wide catastrophic failures. It could be something as simple as fire, flood, or a disgruntled employee, or as unusual as earthquake or act of war.

Regardless of the most pressing reason, it really is important to keep at least some of your backups offsite, so as to facilitate rebuilding / recovering from scratch, either at your own facility, or at a backup/recovery site.

The problem comes in that the MPE/iX file system is far more structured than Unix, Windows, or any other non-MPE/iX file system-based storage mechanisms. While transferring a file off MPE/iX is easy via FTP, sftp/scp, or rsync, retrieving it is problematic, at least if you wish the retrieved files and the original store-to-disk files to be identical (i.e., with the same file characteristics: filecode, recsize, blockfactor, type, and so forth).

What would be optimal is automatic preservation of these attributes, so that a file could be moved to any offsite storage that could communicate with the MPE/iX system. Posix on MPE/iX comes to the rescue.

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XP's exiles as reluctant as MPE's refugees

XP PlansSource:

The drumbeat of Windows XP end of life got louder this month, sparked in part by the CDW PC hardware vendor. A tech talk from Spiceworks, the social network of the tech professional, focused on the practical needs of any company that plans to rely on Windows beyond Microsoft's end date. There's a deep set of forum questions being discussed on the Spiceworks site. The commentary echoed the situation that MPE/iX managers muddled through from 2006 to 2010, those grey years when HP seemed to want to exit the 3000 market, but changed its course a few times.

And it has some distinct similarities. Microsoft will sell Custom Support -- at about $200 per PC -- after XP's end of life. This recalls the two years of custom MPE vintage support sold by HP in 2009-10. So naturally, the XP-using community hopes this bodes well for an extension of Microsoft's XP life. From PC World:

Because Microsoft sells Custom Support agreements, it's obligated to come up with patches for critical and important vulnerabilities. And it may be required to do so for years: The company sells Custom Support for up to three years after it retires an operating system. Participants receive patches for vulnerabilities rated "critical" by Microsoft. Bugs ranked as "important," the next step down in Microsoft's four-level threat scoring system, are not automatically patched. Instead, Custom Support contract holders must pay extra for those. Flaws pegged as "moderate" or "low" are not patched at all.

Users are trading their lore and wishes on the Spiceworks site. One question that came up was "what happens on the day that Microsoft support ends?" The answer is similar to the one for the MPE world: XP will continue to operate beyond a vendor's "end of life," in this case, April, 2014. 

I'm assuming no one knows for sure what will happen to XP machines that remain in use after the EOL, but I have my guesses. I'm thinking that a week or two after the EOL, a malware or virus will be released, and since there's no OS patch for it, it will easily spread in the wild. Windows XP machines will then be either useless or very hard to use.

The situation could be more dire for the millions of companies using Windows XP, because malware is aimed at these systems constantly. One theory, however, proposed that the XP community would shrink in size and become less of a target than more current Windows releases.

If the virtual desktops have no Internet access they'll be fine. The only real issue with XP after April will be the lack of patches. If your machines aren't exposed, I don't see why you should be concerned.

There's sometimes sensible logic that can be traced through the security-via-obscurity argument. It helps if your environment was  never targeted to begin with. HP's own Unix continues to draw malware breeches every week, while the diminishing MPE installed base has had no new security problems. "Potential security vulnerabilities have been identified in Java Runtime Environment and Java Developer Kit running on HP-UX," HP reported this month. "These vulnerabilities could allow remote unauthorized access, disclosure of information, and other exploits."

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Euro 3000 allies find a foothold in meeting

Yesterday we made reference to a 2001 Q&A interview with Stan Sieler, the Allegro co-founder interviewed in our latest print issue. Across the top of that page is a 2001 web ad for an entity called Millware Corporation. It was a company whose Dave Wiseman was pushing out a web-enabled dashboard, based inside a free terminal emulator. ScreenJet's Alan Yeo was one of the Millware partners, too. And Yeo has remained a vital force in meetings in 2007, 2009, and the HP3000 Reunion of 2011.

The truth about the HP 3000 community is that remains connected. Yours has always been a social group, long before there was such a concept as social networking via Twitter, Facebook, and the others. Last week the old-style networking was afoot, thanks for Millware's old founder taking a first step.

Dave Wiseman sent the word to more than 50 HP 3000 community members in Europe to gather on December 5, and despite serious storms about Europe on meeting day, he got 10 to make the trek to London. He reports:

A huge thank you to all who made the effort to get to London last week to meet. It was great to see all our old friends and everyone clearly enjoyed the meeting. Amazing to see that apart from going grey or bad, most of us were still recognisable. As far as I am aware, everyone made it safely home, although I had to stay in London, as all trains were cancelled due to storm damage on the line.

Despite the storms in Germany and what ended up as relatively short notice, we still had around 10 of us from as far afield as Berlin, Lyons, Wurzburg, Sheffield and various other places around the UK. With a large sprinkling of beer and a few bottles of wine after, we revived many fond memories of conferences past. Alas, none of us took any photos -- which shows that we’re just not the modern generation who would have all this posted on Twitter before they’d eaten!

Our thanks must also go out to Ian Kilpatrick who generously paid for the meal and the drinks so please visit his website at WickHill

We all resolved to have another meeting in the not too distant future, and so I would ask you all to answer the following questions for me and I’ll happily organise another meeting.

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Slow down, you early-adopting laggards

We could all stand to slow down just a little bit, even as the Web and the cloud and the Internet promise to hurtle us ever-faster into the future. As different as that tomorrow will be, many things will remain ever the same. What we need more of are laggards, but a new sort of that sort of pro who’s the very last to change.

One that that won’t change is testing, as un-sexy a subject as anything that ever unreeled off an episode of Lost in Space. Developers dislike it, designers hate it, users outwait it. Only the auditor loves testing, as it lets him assure his masters that all is as to be as it ever was. Testing must now embrace emulation, or virtualization, or whatever phrase you want to use for making one computer behave like it’s using another’s personality.

These doppelgangers of data delivery are now afoot in the world of the HP 3000. Some day they will be in the cloud, a concept we all hooted at from our 1990s office chairs sitting in early 2000s cubicles, hoping we’d be employed after the economy’s crash dust started to settle in the early Teens. The cloud: now it will save our budgets with computers that run anywhere, at least anyplace except the office space of our organization — real estate the corporation would like to reduce, if it could, along with headcounts.

However, the heads of 3000 managers has been wrapped around servers right down the hall or across the plaza or at least in the same city. Now these servers can be racked someplace in a hosting farm and the everyday province of another company. We can see the badge Dell, or Acer, or even IBM, and know that inside beats the heart of MPE. The Stromasys CHARON software makes that kind of magic happen, the sort that makes possible, as our Q&A subject Stan Sieler said in our November print issue, MPE Forever.

But not so fast; remember we are a community made of many laggards by today, even as oracles and wizards like Sieler work in our world.

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In a slowing market, things can shift quickly

Whoa-stopOur November printed edition of The 3000 Newswire carried a headline about the success that the Stromasys CHARON emulator is experiencing in your community. However, one of the green lights we noted in that article turned red during the time between writing and delivery into postal mailboxes.

Ray Legault has checked in to report that the project to virtualize HP 3000s closing down in a soon-to-be-closed disaster recovery site has been called off. The close-out doesn't appear to reflect any shortfall in the value of the CHARON element. But carrying forward applications has proved to be complicated.

Page 1 Nov 13In particular, the costs for license upgrades of third-party software came in for special mention. This isn't standalone application software, like an Ecometry or MANMAN or even an Amisys. That sort of app isn't in wide use in 3000 customer sites, and to be honest, off the shelf solutions never were. The software license that needed a transfer wasn't from HP, either. MPE/iX has a ready, $432 transfer fee to move it to an industry-standard Intel system. No, this well-known development and reporting tool was going to cost more than $100,000 to move to a virtualized HP 3000.

"Our project was cancelled due to other reasons not related to the emulator," Legault said. "Maybe next year things will change. The apps not having a clear migration path seemed to be the issue."

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Google's doodle touts COBOL's relevance

Google COBOL DoodleYesterday was the 107th anniversary of the birth for Dr. Grace Hopper, inventor of the world's most widely distributed business language. That's COBOL, which might puzzle Millennials who manage the world's IT. COBOL's historic ranking won't surprise anyone who earned IT stripes in MPE, of course.

DrGraceHopper worked in the US military before her years developing what we call Common Business-Oriented Language. The US Department of Defense provided shelter for researching what we now call the Internet, another technology that's going to have a lifespan longer than its creators'. Dr. Hopper died on New Year's Day 1992, by which time 30 universities had presented her with honorary degrees.  From 1959 to 1961, Hopper led the team that invented COBOL at Remington Rand, a company that swelled in size while it built 45-caliber pistols during WW II.

The last COBOL compiler ever developed for the HP 3000 didn't come from its system creator Hewlett-Packard and its language labs. Acucorp created a version of its AcuCOBOL in 2001 that understood MPE/iX and IMAGE nuances. Bad timing, of course, given the business-oriented decision HP made about the 3000 later that year. But while Acucorp eventually became a cog in the Micro Focus COBOL machine, there are still Acucorp voices out there in the IT market. And they speak a business argot that's being celebrated now in this holiday season.

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Long run of 3000 unreels beyond the dark

Newswire Editorial

By Ron Seybold

DarktheatreThis is the time of the year when movie critics everywhere assemble their retrospectives of 2013 films. The HP 3000 has been having something of a revival, as they call the movie's screening of old classics, because of the Stromasys emulator. Such an invention never would have gotten traction without HP's mistakes made after November, 2001. People stood by their servers, in part because they got messages from HP that the computer's run would be extended.

While they remained in their seats, CHARON's MPE-on-Intel debut was spooled up on the next projector.

In 2005, after all, there was the rude surprise to the vendors who became ardent partners of migration off the 3000. The deadline of 2006 became 2008, and then finally 2010. One such vendor said it was a disservice to partners who were ready to pick up the pieces. At HP’s support business lair, the company's lifespan of the 3000 was measured in how many months of payments might arrive from large customers. It had nothing to do with the quality of the server’s ecosystem, and everything to do with the quantity of the revenues it created. 

But as the karma police often do, they’ve caught up with the company which made raw business growth its mantra, instead of Next Bench design and Management by Walking Around. Old collegial business got eaten alive by tigers from the PC vendor Compaq, unleashed by the first CEO plucked from outside HP. So when Carly’s proxy fight took HP out of the hands of its family, and then spying and sexual harassment and then being fleeced on acquisitions followed, our friends in this market took bitter solace in seeing karma catch up. The water was still cold out in the sea around that scuttled ship. But at least the captains of the line were getting soaked. Three of every four 3000 owners never bought another HP enterprise server.

But that bitterness, the shaking of our fists at fate, it doesn’t make swimming in the current easier. Better to flatten our hands and stretch our arms into the bracing water and survive, see how it changes our lives. That’s the story we really want to tell, the one that we don’t know how we’ll live though. Only that we know that we will indeed live through it. Just wait. The last reel might be the sweetest.

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Waiting in line to see a story of survival

Newswire Editorial

By Ron Seybold

I whiled away hours on the streets of Austin a few weeks ago, waiting to take a place in the dark. The Austin Film Festival was rolling, celebrating its 20th Anniversary with nine days of movies. Anniversaries usually prompt memories. We tell stories of how things used to be in our lives, partly to mark how far we’ve travelled, along with how far we’ve grown.

Film festival ParamountWe don’t like to think about growing older. Not most of us, not when we have to lace on our shoes with extra thick soles like I did to stand on a Congress Avenue concrete sidewalk, waiting for the newest Coen Brothers film to unreel at the gaudy, throwback Paramount Theatre. I stood beside a woman who’d been setting sound stages with props for several decades. She talked for more than an hour about how Bruce Willis loved the tacky statue she chose for Armageddon, loved it so much he bought it after the movie wrapped. I heard that story four times in about 90 minutes.

Some of our readers might feel the same way about the annual November Nightmare story I write, recalling the tacky HP business deke on 3000 owners. It changed all of our lives, though, so it merits its testimony. But as I’ve promised in my last paragraph of this year’s edition of the Nightmare, this year is the last time I’ll tell that story. Everybody knows the Titanic goes down at the end of that North Atlantic voyage. The story we don’t know is how the survivors’ lives went on. Most of all, we want to know what they did next. How did the disaster affect them?

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3000 vet votes for his IMAGE replacement

Sieler Q&A pageIn the 3000 Newswire's printed edition that's nearly in every subscriber's mailbox, we interviewed Stan Sieler on the occasion of his 30-year anniversary at Allegro Consultants. He co-founded the company with his partner Steve Cooper in the early 1980s, when IMAGE was simply IMAGE/3000, sans Turbo or even SQL in its name.

Sieler and Allegro have written significant parts of the database for HP in those ensuing decades. We figured it would be a fun question to ask him what the best substitute is for IMAGE -- for the 3000 customer who's making a migration. Or the customer who already has migrated, but is finding the obvious Oracle answer doesn't work optimally with lifted-and-shifted code.

Sieler's did the interview with us from his iPad, over Skype, and he's a big fan of Apple products including the Mac Pro. His answer on replacing IMAGE didn't surprise us much, but it's the first time we asked an IMAGE co-creator to weigh in on a replacement.

I really like Eloquence. Michael [Marxmeier] has done amazing things with it. Tech support from him is immediate and reliable. He doesn’t have problems with you publishing benchmarks. Eloquence has a lot of nice features in it. It has more features than any other SQL database — plus the IMAGE compatibility. It’s a win-win situation, it seems like. The only thing that kind of bothers me is that he doesn’t have a version for the Mac.

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A-Class servers bid to retain some value

When HP released the A-Class HP 3000 models, the computers represented a new entry point for MPE servers. This lowest-end machine, including an MPE/iX license and the IMAGE/SQL database, sold at retail for $15,900. It ran about 70 percent faster than the 3000's previous low end unit, the Series 918. The customer base was hungry for something this small. HP product manager Dave Snow walked the first one down the aisle at the SIGPROF user meeting.

That was more than 12 years ago. The A-Class was built upon PA-RISC processors, chips that are several generations behind HP's latest Itanium-class CPUs. You might expect that the A-Class boxes could be worth less than one tenth of what they sold for during the year that HP curtailed its 3000 plans.

Cypress Technology has got three of these A-Class servers available via eBay, selling them for $3,400 each. They've been out on the auction website for awhile now -- more than 10 days -- but the Buy It Now price hasn't come down. So far, the sellers are still arranging for a transferrable license for these boxes. That's something that runs up the price of a used 3000. But then, so can the extras.

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When MPE's Experts Vied at Trivial Pursuit

Pursuit1As the range of expertise on MPE and the 3000 continues to wane, it's fun to revisit a time when knowing commands could make you a leader in a community. The archives of the Newswire run rich into an era before MPE's RISC version, when MPE V was the common coin of data commerce. In those times, regional user group members gathered in person once a year. One such group, the Southern California Regional User Group (SCRUG) mounted a conference so elaborate that it hosted its own Trivial Pursuit version for MPE. Six months before anybody could boot up a PA-RISC 3000, I reported on a showdown between the leading lights in March, 1987 -- a contest moderated by Eugene Volokh in his heartland of SoCal.

PASADENA, Calif. -- It took 10 of the sharpest wits in the HP world to provide it, but entertainment at the SCRUG conference here became a trivial matter for an hour. The prizes were limited to bragging rights, laughter from insiders, and a useless bit of plastic which everybody had and nobody needed.

PursuitwriteringsVesoft's Eugene Volokh moderated the first all-star HP Trivial Pursuit at the conference, as nine top programmers matched wits with each other and Volokh's list of questions. Correct answers drew a small, round reward: mag tape write rings. "Because," said Volokh, "there is no other use for them."

Pursuit 2Competing on four different teams were some of the better-known names from HP's history. Adager's Fred White and Robelle's Bob Green were on hand; local developer Bruce Toback of OPT and Bradmark's David Merit represented the Southern California contingent; Fastran's Nick Demos was on hand from the East Coast, along with Vesoft's Vladimir Volokh adding his Russian wit; and SPLash savants Stan Sieler, Steve Cooper and Jason Goertz made a prominent showing from Allegro and Software Research Northwest.

The questions, like all good trivia, covered HP's most arcane and obscure knowledge of the 3000's OS. Several stumped the teams. For example, "What's the highest alphabetical MPE command, with A as the lowest and Z as the highest?" Green offered VINIT as an answer, but he was told WELCOME was correct.

"No fair," Green said in protest. "They didn't have that one when I started on the 3000."

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While you were away, what HP put into play

Healthcare.govWe're back after a 4-day holiday. The Thanksgiving holiday period can be interesting times for watchers of Hewlett-Packard. We count ourselves among that group, even though the company has little to do with the lives of homesteading 3000 users. (But not nothing at all -- we heard last week that HP Support contracts for 3000-connected HP peripherals have been altered. End-of-support-life dates have been adjusted, according to our source. Check your contract; indie providers are available as an alternative.) HP announced the Odyssey program to give a Linux future path for Unix customers during the week. Of course, the 3000 exit notice took place just a week before Thanksgiving in 2001.

However, much broader items than tactical details of contracts surfaced over this holiday weekend. The most splashy was the news that Hewlett-Packard is now the company providing infrastructure for the US website. That's the site that turned away about 80 percent of users during October because of technical and bandwidth problems.

HP signed a $38 million contract with the US Health and Human Services agency this summer, but Terraform (a subsidiary of Verizon) had built out the website hosting that blocked many an attempt to use it. Over the weekend, doubled its bandwidth and can now reportedly serve 50,000 users simultaneously. That sounds like a lot, but about 800,000 citizens tried to open an account. (Just as a note, as of 2 PM today, we registered an account and shopped for the first time online.)

The largest simultaneous user count we've ever heard reported for a single HP 3000 server was 2,200. Consider that was a single server, built with PA-RISC (two generation-old chips) using SCSI IO. Redundancy has been an essential high-volume aspect of 3000s since Quest Software built its NetBase/Shareplex replication solution in the 1980s. Quest, now a division of Dell, still supports HP 3000 sites using the product, according to John Saylor there.

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