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August 2017

Wayback Wed: The Big Wet soaks HP's show

Sam-Houston-flood-HarveyDuring this week of 2005, a natural disaster the size of Hurricane Harvey sank the launch site of HP's conference debut. Hurricane Katrina socked New Orleans two weeks before the first HP Technology Forum & Expo was to make its appearance on the HP 3000 show calendar. Katrina's loss of life was staggering compared to Harvey's toll. In some way, though, the disruption for that conference devoted to HP business computing felt fated. HP's computer group bore down a storm of change on the Interex user group's shoreline that year, cooking up the Technology Forum all during 2005. The HP-led show was roping in exhibitor dollars which had kept the Interex user group afloat each year.

Houston-flood-totalsAs of this writing, HP Enterprise has not reported damages to the HP facilities in the Highway 249 corridor where the Compaq and HP facilities are located. The reported rainfall totals are staggering, however, and the hurricane is being declared the worst rainfall disaster in US history. HPE-Houston-Facilities

The company had its history with hurricanes and the Gulf Coast before this week, though. HP got close to Houston because of its Compaq acquisition in 2002. In 2005, Interex canceled its HP World show when the user group folded with millions in unpaid hotel deposits still on the books. At the time, HP said anyone who'd paid to attend the Interex show could shift their registration to the first-ever HP Tech Forum. The event was to be held in New Orleans in the thick of hurricane season. Katrina wrecked the city so badly that HP had to move its new show to Orlando.

The 2005 hurricane rescheduled an HP show that was not aimed to replace Interex's annual tentpole event. The scheduling might as well have been targeted at the user group, though. Interex got notice in 2004 it could collaborate with the DEC-driven Encompass user group on a 2005 conference, But the HP user group launched by HP 3000 customers was 30 years old by 2004. Interex had to go its own way to retain enough revenue from the event. User group leaders averred that the deciding factor was HP's insistence on steering the content and tone of the new event. In particular, the tone was cited by an HP liaison David Parsons. The Interex members had a history of going toe-to-toe with HP's executives in the legendary Management Roundtables.

As they often do, the storms triggered disaster recovery reporting. Before Katrina swept its broom of destruction in 2005, we ran a pair of articles about disaster recovery strategies. Our columnist Scott Hirsh has also weighed in with best practices on DR in hisWorst Practices column written in the wake of 9/11. Gulf Coast weather didn't sink Interex, but the tradition of an August-September schedule for North American HP trade shows was scattered for good by the storm. HP CEOs had a tradition of being in hurricane paths.

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VMware ties virtualization to Amazon's tail

Comet-tailStromasys is a regular presence at the annual VMware conference. This year's event kicked off yesterday with an announcement that ties VMware to Amazon's Web Services. Businesses that want to run some VMware workloads on AWS can do so at Amazon's Oregon cloud datacenters.

VMware is also a regular in the Charon configurations for HP 3000 virtualization. Cloud-based offerings around Charon have been in the Stromasys lineup for several years. The opportunity to be the first 3000 site to operate from the cloud is still out there, but Stromasys is ready.

Charon's HPA product manager Doug Smith says VMware is by no means essential to eliminating a physical 3000. A lot of companies have VMware installed, though, and when they're spent that kind of money they're often interested in how to leverage their datacenter resource. Creating a virtualized Linux server to cradle the virtualization of PA-RISC demands a lot. Some companies have VMware on very powerful servers, so that can help.

Most of the Charon customers are on physical platforms. If VMware is available it can be used unless there's a customer requirement for direct access to a physical device like a tape drive.

Cloud promised a lot for a long time, but it has had costs to calculate, too. This is where the AWS partnership is likely to make a difference. Stromasys product manager Dave Clements said at the start of 2016, "A pretty good-sized virtualized server in the cloud costs about $1,000 a month. We don't discourage it, though."

VMware tried to launch its own cloud services and failed, so now their Amazon ally "gives us a strategic and long-term partnership." It's called VMware Cloud for AWS. The VMware show also included an introduction of a new Kingston SSD device, the NVMe SSD, to eliminate data bottlenecks. SSD is one of the hidden advantages of taking a 3000 host into virtualized Charon territory.

SSDs: Not a long-shot to work with MPE/iX

Hewlett-Packard Enterprise is not entirely sure if it's leaving the support forum it once devoted to the HP e3000. (After so many years, "e3000" is still the go-to keyword while looking at the HPE resources that remain online.) To test if the forum was still alive, or entirely in archive stasis, I posed a question. Could an IDE SSD drive get a hookup to a 3000 using an SCSI converter?

Is there enough bus connectivity in the e3000 to install an SSD on the server? There are SSD drives that can link up via IDE and I've found a SCSI to IDE converter.

One reply bounced back on the forum. "Torsten" said, "If this is really an HP3000 server, this sounds like the most crazy tuning idea."

Not so crazy, we've seen. In 2015, after one 3000-L newsgroup user compared putting SSDs in 3000s to a McLaren racing engine in an SUV, a more plausible solution emerged: using SSDs to support a virtualized 3000 running on an Intel-based PC. "You could house your 3000 in a Stromasys emulator running on a Linux box with VMware," said Gilles Schipper of GSA, "employing as many SATA SSD disks as you want on your host."

But there was a time in another May when SSDs running native in HP's 3000 hardware was a possibility worth investigating. It was also a necessity, because it was the only way.

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Wayback Wed: Lights Out for 3000 Classics

Series 70 with Disk FarmDuring this month 20 years ago, HP sent its death notice out about the original systems it built to run MPE. All computers running CISC technology, systems the community learned to call Classic 3000s, got their end of support notice in August of 1997. Hewlett-Packard officially labeled them and the software built for MPE V as "vintage software and systems."

As continues to be the case for HP's end of life plans, the finale for the 3000's original chip design arrived more than a few years beyond the EOL of September 1998. Series 70s were still in use when the original notice went out, at least a decade beyond their final shipping date. HP created the Series 70 when the RISC Spectrum project looked certain not to rescue the highest-end HP 3000 users in time. Series 68 users were running out of horsepower, and HP's final CISC server filled the gap for awhile.

HP was consolidating its support resources with the announcement. Even though 20,000 HP 3000s shipped between system introduction and the arrival of the RISC-based systems, the newer, lower-priced MPE/iX servers became popular replacements for Classic 3000s. By 1997 the software vendors had made a complete embrace of the new OS. But 3000 customers, ever a thrifty bunch, retained what continued to serve them well enough. Customers noted that the approaching Y2K deadline was not going to hamper the vintage software or its hardware.

Although the announcement sparked a 3000 hardware sales bump and hastened the journey of the two-digit systems like the Series 42 to the scrap heap, the old compilers remained under support. A community advocate then asked HP to free up Basic/V to the community, along with the original Systems Programming Language (SPL). The request pre-dated the idea of open source by more than a few years. HP's response was no different than the one it held to when it stopped supporting MPE/iX. Once an HP product, always an HP product.

Wirt Atmar of AICS noted that "If HP has abandoned Basic, it would be an extraordinary gift to the MPE user community to make it and SPL legal freeware. Basic still remains the easiest language to build complex, easy string-manipulating software that must interact with IMAGE databases."

Another community leader, Chris Bartram, made direct reference to freeware in seconding the move to give Basic/V to the customers. Bartram's 3k Associates already hosted a website of shareware for the HP 3000. He said donating the MPE V versions of Basic and SPL fit with HP's new policy of relying on shareware for its HP 3000 customers.

"It certainly doesn't hurt anything at this point to make it freeware," he said, "and fits in well with the wealth of other freeware programs that are becoming available on the platform -- almost all without "official" support or significant investments from HP." Old hardware, on the other hand, suffered from the same issues as HP's aging iron of our current day. Parts became a showstopper at some sites.

Continue reading "Wayback Wed: Lights Out for 3000 Classics" »

The Next Totality: Will it be our last?

21stCenturyNorthAmericanEclipsesA wide swath of North America sparkled with zeal for the sun today. The total eclipse cut across the US from left to right coasts, scattering visions many viewers never knew before in person. We had a partial here in Austin and built a binocular viewer. On TV a stadium full of astronomy enthusiasts saw the clouds dash all but 11 seconds of totality hopes in Carbondale, Ill. Not far to the west, the Stonehenge knockoff Carhenge had clear skies and a stunning swing of darkness for about two minutes.

The talk today began to turn to whether this would be the last total eclipse in our North American lifetimes. The answer is easy enough for things younger than 70: this won't be the last, because less than seven years from now a top-to-bottom totality will swing through North America. Austin is in the path of 100 percent this time. We have to decide if we'll be renting out the NewsWire offices for viewing parties in 2024.

Next EclipseThe question that's harder to answer with certainty is whether this is the last totality for the HP 3000. For many years by now we've heard sites talking about plans to work in the 2020's. Ametek Chandler Engineering has a plan to take them into 2023. Earlier this month, the 3000 manager at MagicAire shared the news that he's deciding if clearing the 2028 CALENDAR roadblock is worthwhile for his operation.

The number of companies who'll rely on the 3000 may be zero in less than six years, but I wouldn't bet on it. Series 70 machines were running in the Dallas area more than 15 years after they were taken off HP's 3000 lineup. The odds of zero MPE/iX apps running in less than six years are probably nil. Virtualized PA-RISC systems from Stromasys will be cradling what we call 3000 apps in 2024.

Not-BrightOur community of experts and customers might take up their circa-2017 eyewear once again when I'm turning 67. If back in 1979 — when the last total eclipse sailed through a bit of the US — someone figured nobody would need to be wearing glasses to watch a total eclipse in 2017, they'd be wrong about that. Old tech has a way of hanging on once it's proved itself. The last total eclipse I'm likely to see is in 2045. I'll only be 88, and MPE will be just a tender 63 years old. Anything first created in 1954 and still in use is 63 years old today. That would be nuclear submarines and M&Ms. Think the latter (alluring, durable) while considering MPE's lifespan. There's also that song about the future, brightness, and shades. As we saw today, stranger things have already happened.

Fine-tune Friday: SCSI codes, and clean-ups for UDCs and 3000 power supplies

Cleanup-siteI need to clean up COMMAND.PUB.SYS on my 3000. There's a problem with BULDACCT. Is there a utility to help manage the UDC catalog?

Stan Sieler replies:

One option is "PURGE," which ships on all MPE systems :) Of course, that means you have to rebuild the UDC catalog. We recently encountered a site where, somehow, an HFS filename had gotten into COMMAND.PUB.SYS. You can't delete UDC entries with HFS filenames, nor can you add them. I had to edit the file with Debug to change the name into something that could be deleted.

Keven Miller adds:

I believe you want the utility UDCSORT from the CSL, the UDC sorting and reorganization program.

There are so many SCSI types. It's got to be the most confusing four letter acronym. Is there a guide?

Steve Dirickson offers this primer:

SE (single-ended): TTL-level signals referenced to ground; speeds from 5 Mhz to 20 MHz

Differential (HVD): something around +/-12V signals on paired wires (old-timers think “EIA 20mA current loop”); same speeds as SE

LVD (Ultra2): TTL-level differential; 40 MHz clock

Ultra160: same as LVD, but data signals double-clocked, i.e. transfers on both clock transitions like DDR DRAM. LVD and Ultra160 can co-exist on the same bus with SE devices, but will operate in SE mode. HVD doesn’t co-exist with anything else.

Upon arrival this morning my console had locked up. I re-started the unit, but the SCSI drives do not seem to be powering up. The green lights flash for a second after the power is applied, but that is it. The cooling fan does not turn either. The  fan that is built into the supply was making noise last week. I can’t believe the amount of dust inside.

Tom Emerson responded:

This sounds very familiar. I’d say the power supply on the drive cabinet is either going or gone [does the fan ‘not spin’ due to being gunked up with dust and grease, or just ‘no power’?] I’m thinking that the power supply is detecting a problem and shutting down moments after powering up [hence why you see a ‘momentary flicker’].

Continue reading "Fine-tune Friday: SCSI codes, and clean-ups for UDCs and 3000 power supplies" »

How Free Lunch Can Cost You The Future

Blue-plate-special-free-lunchStaying put with 3000 homesteading has been a sure road to spending less. That's in the short term, or maybe for intermediate planning. A longer-term strategy for MPE/iX application lifespans, especially the apps serving ERP and manufacturing, includes a migration and less free lunch. Those times are ending in some places.

"Life was really easy for the last 25 years, with no upgrades and no new releases," Terry Floyd of TSG says of the second era of ERP on the 3000s. MANMAN customers looking into that past could track to 1992, and then the versions of MANMAN owned by Computer Associates. MPE/iX was in the 5.0 era, so there have been many revisions of the 3000's OS since then. The hardware was stable, while it was not so aged. It's not unheard of to find a company that hasn't upgraded their 3000 iron since the 1990s. Yes, Series 928 systems work today in production.

"There is just nothing cheaper than running a stable ERP on a stable platform like MPE," Floyd adds. He also notes that migrating a MANMAN site out of the 3000 Free Lunch Cafe is made possible by the latest Social ERP app suite. "If Kenandy was less flexible," he says, "it would be a lot harder in some instances."

Free Lunch, as described above with devotion to existing, well-customized apps, is quite the lure. It can cost a company its future, making the years to come more turbulent with change and creating a gap when a free lunch won't satisfy IT needs. Pulling existing apps into a virtual host with Stromasys Charon can pay for part of the lunch and provide one step into the future.

Migration to a subscription model of application, instead of migrating PA-RISC hardware to an Intel host, makes a company pay for more of the future. The payments are measured, though. If the payoff is in enhancements, the future can brim with value like a golden era of application software.

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Increasing Challenges of 3000 DIY Support

Beer-fridge-supportDo It Yourself efforts sometimes emerge from ingenuity. Enthusiasts build mashups of products like a beer cooler melded with an old fridge. DIY desktop PC builds were once the rage, but most datacenters' efforts today are Build To Orders. The challenges of DIY support for production-class servers is also starting to become a tall order. The increased efforts are being found in HP's Unix environments, too.

"DIY is increasingly hard to do," says Donna Hofmeister of Allegro, "mostly due to aging hardware. Often, those left in charge of MPE systems have little knowledge of the system. We get called when things are in a real mess. This applies to a lot of HP-UX shops now as well."

The oldest of hardware has its challenges on both sides of the PA-RISC aisle, both HP 3000 and HP 9000s. As an example, last week Larry Simonsen came upon DTC manuals in his cleanup pile. "I have some old manuals I do not find on the Internet using Google," he said. "Where do I upload my scans before I destroy these?" The aged gems cover support for the DTC 16TN Telnet Terminal Server, DTC 16iX Lan Multiplexer and DTC 16MX Communications server. The installation guide is HP part 5961-6412

Destroying old paper is environmentally friendly once the information is captured in some way. The capture gives the community ways to share, too. Keven Miller, a support pro who's stockpiled HP's manuals on the 3000 and MPE/iX, said those DTC manuals are only in his library as versions for HP-UX documentation. Like a good support provider always does in 2017, he got serious about capturing this tech data about the 3000.

"If you happen to choose to scan, send copies my way to include in my collection," Miller said. "Or if that's not going to happen, drop them off or I'll come get them and scan (at some future date) myself."

Parts have driven working HP 3000s into migration scenarios. A depot-based support operation assures a customer they'll never come of short of a crucial component. Pivital's Steve Suraci, whose company specializes in 3000s, pointed out that a weak Service Level Agreement (SLA) has a bigger problem than just not being able to get a replacement HP part.

How many HP 3000 shops are relying on support providers that are incompetent and/or inept? A provider is willing to take this company's money, without even being able to provide reasonable assurance that they had replacement parts in a depot somewhere in the event of failure. There are still reputable support providers out there. Your provider should not be afraid to answer tough questions about their ability to deliver on an SLA.

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Friday Fine-Tune: A Diagnostics Tour

Newswire Classic
From Stan Sieler

There are two kinds of diagnostics: online and offline.

The online come in two flavors:

1. Older releases of MPE/iX have online diagnostics accessed via SYSDIAG.PUB.SYS (which is a script that runs DUI.DIAG.SYS). (MPE/iX 6.0 and earlier, possibly MPE/iX 6.5 (I'm not sure))

2. Newer releases of MPE/iX have online diagnostics accessed via CSTM.PUB.SYS (which is a script that runs /usr/sbin/stm/ui/bin/stmc).

Both are, well, difficult to use. (HP-UX also switched from sysdiag to stm.) Both have some modules that require passwords, and some that don't.

The offline diagnostics are on a bootable CD or tape. The lastest offline diagnostics CD (for PA-RISC) that I could find was labelled "2004."

That CD has seven diagnostics/utilities. I tried running all of them on an A-Class system. The "ODE" one is special; it's a program that itself hosts a number of diagnostics/utilities (some of which require passwords).

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Parts become hair triggers for some sites

Ordering parts for HP 3000s used to be painless. HP's Partsurfer website showed the way, letting a manager search by serial number, and even showing pictures in a full listing of components. Click to Buy was a column in the webpage.

PartsurferThat's a 3000 option that's gone from the HP Enterprise Partsurfer website, but there are options still available outside of HP. Resellers and support vendors stock parts — the good vendors guarantee them once they assume responsibility for a server or a 3000-specific device. Consider how many parts go into a 3000. These guarantees are being serviced by spare systems.

Parts have become the hair trigger that eliminates 3000s still serving in 2017. "Availability of parts is triggering migrations by now," said Eric Mintz, head of the 3000 operations at Fresche Solutions.

Homesteading to preserve MPE/iX is different and simpler matter. Virtualized systems to run 3000 apps have been serving for close to five years in the marketplace. That's Charon, which will never have a faded Partserver website problem. No hardware lasts forever, but finding a Proliant or Dell replacement part is a trivial matter by comparison. A full spare replacement is one way to backstop a Charon-hosted MPE/iX system, because they run on Intel servers.

"Some customers do want to stay on as long as possible," Mintz said. Application support helps them do this. So do depot-based support services: the ones where needed parts are on a shelf in a warehouse space, waiting.

Continue reading "Parts become hair triggers for some sites" »

Support firms vet, curate online 3000 advice

French-CuratorsJust a few weeks ago, we reported on the presumed disappearance of the HP 3000 Jazz lore and software. The resource of papers and programs written for the MPE/iX manager turned up at a new address at Fresche Solutions' website. Fresche was once Speedware, a company that licensed use of all the Jazz contents—help first compiled by HP in the 1990s.

Now it looks like HP's ready to flip off the switch for its Community Forum. These have been less-trafficked webpages where advice lived for 3000s and MPE. Donna Hofmeister, a former director of the OpenMPE advocacy group, noted that an HP Enterprise moderator said those forums would be shut down with immediate effect.

I discovered this little bit of unhappiness:
7/31 - Forum: Operating Systems - MPE/iX

Information to all members, that we will retire the Operating Systems - MPE/iX forum and all boards end of business today.

As far as I can tell, all MPE information is no longer accessible! :-( I'm not happy that no public announcement was made <sigh> If you can demonstrate differently, that would be great!

But a brief bout of searching this morning revealed at least some archived questions and answers at the HPE website about the 3000. For example, there's a Community post about advice for using the DAT 24x6e Autoloader with MPE/iX. It's useful to have an HP Passport account login (still free) to be able to read such things. The amount of information has been aging, and nothing seems to be new since 2011. It wasn't always this way; HP used to post articles on MPE/iX administration with procedural examples.

Not to worry. The established 3000 support providers have been curating HP's 3000 information like this for many years. No matter what HP takes down, it lives on elsewhere. "We gathered a lot of the Jazz and other HP 3000 related content years ago to cover our needs," said Steve Suraci of Pivital. "While I don’t think we got everything, I do think we have most of what we might need these days." Up to date web locations for such information should be at your support partner. Best of all, they'll have curated those answers.

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Friday Fine-Tune: HP 3000 DLT vs. DDS

Dlt Backing up enterprise-grade 3000s presents interesting choices. Back in the 1990s when the 3000 being built and sold by HP, DDS at first had only two generations, neither of which were reliable. A DDS tape used to be the common coin for OS updates and software upgrades. The media has advanced beyond a DDS-4 generation to DAT-360, but Digital Linear Tape (DLT) has a higher capacity and more reliability than DDS.

When a DDS tape backup runs slower than DLT, however, something is amiss. DLT is supposed to supply a native transfer rate of 15 MBps in the SureStore line of tape libraries. You can look at an HP PDF datasheet on the Ultrium SureStore devices certified by HP for MPE/iX at this link.

HP 3000 community partners such as Pivital Solutions offer these DLTs, At an estimated cost of about $1,300 or more per device, you'll expect them to beat the DDS-3 transfers of 5 MBps.

When Ray Shahan didn't see the speed he expected after moving to DLT and asked the 3000 newsgroup community what might be wrong. Advice ranged from TurboStore commands, to channels where the drives are installed, to the 3000's bandwidth and CPU power to deliver data to the DLT. Even the lifespan of the DLT tape can be a factor. HP's MPE/iX IO expert Jim Hawkins weighed in among the answers, while users and third-party support providers gave advice on how to get the speed which you pay extra for from DLT.

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Long-term value rests in short-life servers

Buried-treasureIt's a summer afternoon in Virginia when a 3000 expert takes inventory. He's got a declining number of billable hours this month, enough of a problem to reach for resources to liquidate. His pair of big 9x9 systems in offsite storage have been offline for all of this year, and all of last year, too. There's gold in them there chassis, he figures. They've got to be worth something.

Then the expert has a look at last week's 3000-L newsgroup traffic. The messages have dwindled to a couple of dozen even in the good months, but one hardware reseller posts messages monthly. Old 3000s are for sale at an asking price that doesn't exceed $5,000 for even the biggest server. HP only built one N-Class bigger than the 4-way 550 N-Class that tops the list. The 9x9s in the message? About $1,000-$1,200 apiece, even for a 989. Selling servers like that to a broker might net maybe half that to our expert.

Even though the servers are in great shape, stored in temperature-controlled storage units, and sport some nice peripherals, the resale value of the boxes isn't surprising. They're short-life assets, because eventually they'll break down. There's something in them that might be more valuable than $500 per system, though. The MPE/iX licenses for these systems could be worth something, even if the hardware isn't exactly golden.

Series 989A historical note or two: The Series 989 models sold for as little as $175,617 when HP launched them 18 years ago. MPE/iX 6.0 was the first OS to power them. Like everything else HP built for MPE/iX, the servers stopped being sold in 2003

How much such licenses would fetch is an unknown this year. A low-cost server in the used market usually has MPE/iX loaded on its disks. A clear chain of ownership, though, might not be a part of that discount price. Who'd care about such a thing? Our expert thinks of the one company more devoted to the everlasting future of MPE/iX than anybody: Stromasys.

Any 3000 customer with enough dedication to using MPE/iX in an emulated environment may very well want good MPE/iX licenses. HP promised to deliver an emulator-only MPE/iX license to the community, but the vendor stopped issuing licenses before Stromasys Charon got into the market. A license for a 3000 is the one element of the MPE/iX environment in shortest supply. For now, nobody has started to list server licenses as a product that can be purchased.

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