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January 28, 2019

MPE vendors walk wooded path into futures

Forest-931706_1280
The HP 3000 world has been active long enough to see death visit the floors of its forests. Death is the great leveler in a crowded forest. Trees that go down provide rich soil for their survivors to flourish in. Software, the trees in the ecosystem of MPE/iX, has been growing and declining for decades now.

The community still ripples with products for development, for management of data, and even some off the shelf applications. There's less rippling today, of course. It's the result of the operating environment's abandonment by its creators. When you tell the world as HP did more than 17 years ago, "We're leaving this market," then products begin to retreat. So does newer and younger talent.

Such a retreat was also a natural event while HP still plied its 3000 trade. A company would shift focus away from the 3000 market, like Aldon Computing did when it embraced the AS/400. In some cases, a vendor would be acquired and the products stripped out of the new owner's list. Infor has retired many a software suite for ERP, although MANMAN has survived that fate that other Infor products have endured. In one case from the earliest days of the NewsWire's sponsors, the owner died and his widow had no succession plan in place. Cosmosoft was a casualty.

A more current event will be the retirements of small and focused companies, operated by a bare handful of experts. It's good work to be serving customers of many years. At some point, though, some of the majordomo managers of software vendors will earn their retirements. A report in Bloomberg News today says that 24 percent of all people 65 and older in the US will continue to work in 2019. Some of them will be software vendors and programmers. A lot fewer, though, than the food service or retail workers in that age group. Check the age of the experts at Home Depot if you disagree.

When a software vendor retires, without much prospect for selling its products to another software company, something's got to be done for the customers using the products. In the past this has been managed with a donation of some kind to a vendor who's friendly enough to keep answering the phones or emails on support issues. Sometimes a product can move into a free status — it's happened in the job scheduling segment, for example.

Expect to see more of this as the market matures. Make a plan, if you're one of the Double Digit MPE managers headed beyond 2027, to see what your software providers have in place. Lots of the software vendors who know MPE/iX are using a workforce in their 60s. A retirement of a key technical resource can trigger new plans for the product's future. Stay in front of this development. These engineers of enterprise are aging. Some can afford to park their products.

This aging of the 3000 marketplace has been the genuine current carrying companies toward migrations. Nothing was permanently wrong with MPE tech when HP pulled out of its futures. The years that have elapsed since then have done nothing to turn back the hands of time. Everything ages. The wetware of the wizards is not replicated easily.

07:31 PM in Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

January 23, 2019

The State of the 3000's Union, 2019

Us-capitol-477987_1280
The world is still open for business, even if parts of the US Government are not this week. Shutdown has become an ugly word by now. And to think, it was a different kind of ugly word in the world of 1999. 3000 managers would say to support, "What do mean I have to do a SHUTDOWN?" The 3000 was always online, in the minds of many of its customers. When we started the Newswire in 1995, I dubbed our website Always Online.

Those were tender young days for the Internet, but that year was a part of the mature adult life of MPE/iX. In this first month of 2019, it's worthwhile to be plainspoken about what an operating system that's more than 31 years old can still do. I'm counting from the summer of 1987, when the PA-RISC-ready MPE XL emerged. Of course, MPE goes back an extra 13 years before that. Who's counting?

You can be counting forward in 2019. There's technology and support consulting to take the 3000 into the year 2028. For a long time the computer was not supposed to keep dates accurately in that year or beyond. I recall Vladimir Volokh telling me that that the end of 2027 barrier was just something else that would be overcome. He also liked to say that the horizon is an elusive thing, because it's always in front of you. The horizon for MPE/iX is ever-forward.

In a couple of examples, Donna Hofmeister — who was once a director of an advocacy group called OpenMPE — sent me her thoughts about how ready MPE/iX still is in 2019. The state of the operating system's union is sound enough to let it be used by a surprising number of companies.

I pointed out to her that the hardware which drives MPE/iX is not in the greatest state.

There’s more obvious stuff, like the failure of tape media and tape devices, or the age of power supplies and HP gear. Seems that Charon takes care of those things. How about the security, file transfer, and compilers?
"Charon nicely deals with the hardware issues, of course," she said.
Disk drives are 'sorta' a problem. There's issues with dependable, small (4Gb) drives -- but that's rather a 'duh'. There are clear issues, imo, regarding tape drives and media. I've been encouraging our customers to seriously consider doing backups to disc. Even better, take that backup and move it to 'the cloud'. Here's what we're doing:
Image
 
This picture shows how Allegro is using 'BackBlaze' to hold all of our systems' backups. And yes, I tested this! And no, it's not a replacement for making and testing CSLTs.
Hofmeister added, "I'll suggest that some of MPE's problems are not with the machines, rather with the people running them."

06:52 PM in Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

January 14, 2019

How far behind is MPE/iX, really? One look...

Start-finish-banners
Ten years ago a system admin who used a 3000 explained why emulation seemed to be a bad idea. In the era of 2009 there was no software to emulate PA-RISC processing on an Intel system. The problem really didn't need repairing, said James Byrne of Harte & Lyne, because "The world has moved on considerably, since 2001, while MPE/iX has not."

At the time his firm was still using two 918LX systems, a primary and a hot spare at an off-site location. Many a 3000's life has been extended because one key application was working with no need to invest in it. There were other things to be said about the suitability of MPE/iX now, as well as 10 years ago. There are things to be said in reply, too, because in life and IT, few things are as straightforward as they seem.

One expert who's supported HP 3000s and MPE is Donna Hofmeister. In 2009 as well as now she supports companies at Allegro. Byrne's problems with MPE/iX in 2009 as well as today didn't seem quite as serious when she examined them. Caution is required while using an operating system that was last patched a decade ago. As in traffic signals, caution does not mean stop.

Even in the year 2009, when I pointed out that seven-plus years of no emulator didn't mean "no emulator, ever," Byrne kept to his course. "It does seem to me the prudent way to bet nonetheless," he wrote me. Whether you believe in an emulator's promise or not, MPE/iX is the deal-breaker here in 2019. It doesn't have as many fundamental shortcomings as it seemed a decade ago. I asked Donna about it, saying "Here we are in 2019, still caring about the 3000 and its OS. You could’ve won a good bet about that one."

Nobody is doubting that the world has moved on since the end of 2001, but "there are still plenty of companies running MPE." Hofmeister adds that "MPE is not as up-to-date as other OSes. There are ways, however, of dealing with that."

In 2009 Byrne said that "Basic FTP and Telnet are inherently insecure and increasingly discarded methods of data transfer. SSL with SHA2 or SHA512 encryption is a de facto, and in many instances a de jure, requirement for business data communication between hosts and even for inter-process communication on unsealed servers."

As far as Hofmeister knows, there is no solution for the Telnet issue. "But for FTP there is SFTP -- freely available from Allegro's website. Yes, it's old but it works and addresses the 'no plain text' issue."

Languages for development looked like a problem 10 years ago.

Compiler-driven languages are all but completely replaced in new business application development by interpretive, and processor intensive, virtual machines (IVM) such as Java, PHP, Python, Ruby and so forth.
"There's absolutely no reason that an MPE system can't fit into the above pardigm (oooo, I just used that word!). Rather than depend on a human or batch, applications can be 'revised' to respond to external request. Yes, it takes work but "good hard work never hurt anyone", right?
 
Mombi
"Mombi is one of our MPE systems. The list on the right is all the things that our Nagios server is monitoring on Mombi. Yeah, the 'Industry Standard In IT Infrastructure Monitoring' is happily watching the 'health' of an MPE system. Did it take rocket science to make this work? No...just a wee bit of coding, some design specs and a lot of testing.

08:14 PM in Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

January 11, 2019

Fine-tune: how to reinstate config files

Reinstate logo
I’m replacing my old Model 10 with a Model 20 on MPEXL_SYSTEM_VOLUME_SET. This will of course require a re-INSTALL. What’s the best way to reinstate my network config files? Just restore NMCONFIG and NPCONFIG? Can I use my old CSLT to re-add all my old non-Nike drives and mod the product IDs in Sysgen, or do I have to add them manually after using the Factory SLT?


Gilles Schipper replies:

Do the following steps:
- using your CSLT to install onto LDEV 1
- modify your i/o to reflect new/changed config.
- reboot
- use volutil to add non-LDEV1 volumes appropriately
- restore directory or directories from backup
- preform system reload from full backup - using the keep, create, olddate, partdb,show=offline options in the restore command
- reboot again
No need for separate restores of specific files.

We had another hard drive fail this weekend. It was in an enclosure of old 2GB drives that we really did not need, so I just unplugged them and rebuilt my volumes without them. However, when I boot up I get error messages that path 10/4/0.20-26 can’t be mounted. How do I get rid of these messages?

Gilles Schipper replies:
You can safely ignore the messages, but if you want them not to reappear, simply remove those devices from your IO configuration via SYSGEN, keep the new configuration to config.sys and reboot with a start norecovery. When you’re back up again, you should create a new slt tape.

Paul Edwards adds:
Use SYSGEN with DOIONOW or IOCONFIG to delete them. No reboot is required.

08:14 PM in Hidden Value | Permalink | Comments (0)

January 09, 2019

Wayback: 2009's emulator hopes, proven

PA-RISC-clock

In 2009 in this month we made a case for why the time was ripe for a product to emulate HP's aging hardware for MPE/iX. Time has only reinforced those talking points. It's worthwhile to review them while figuring what your plan is going forward. If you're among the managers in the double-digit futures club -- those planning for 10 years and more of MPE -- consider what was true then, and just as true now.

Early in the transition era the homesteading advocates in the community pumped up the ideal of an emulator, hardware that would make up for the 3000s which HP would be stripping out of its product lineup. The market learned that the final generation of 3000s was better connected and faster, but few in number. HP's late delivery of N-Class and A-Class systems hampered production. If you needed a faster 3000 than the top-end 900 Series, you hunted for N-Class servers that the customers were returning once they migrated.

• Staying with MPE/iX solutions means a customer needs to keep planning for more connectivity and speed. An emulator can leverage the latest Intel chip designs, rather than stay native on the familiar PA-RISC architectures of HP.

• There's nothing built upon PA-RISC that can network and integrate like an Intel-based server. The irony of that reality is not lost on the 3000 customer, who saw the Intel+MPE generation first promised, then denied to the community.

• Emulator vendors need MPE/iX expertise to make a product of any use to the 3000 market. There's exactly one that's got it, and they've had it now for at least eight years. We've seen more hopes become realities since then.

The idea at the time in 2009 was that MPE/iX would somehow need to be modified. "The paradigm must be the PA-RISC machine’s HP 3000 Compatibility Mode," said one veteran, "which lets users of Classic systems port applications at the binary level and with the absolute minimum of change, often none, to PA-RISC." No revision of MPE/iX has been needed to create fresh hosts for the OS.

Here's a better reason, one that's been fulfilled. "For an emulator to attract existing HP 3000 business users, it must aspire to that level of compatibility. Even if the underlying processes handle things quite differently, the goal must be that every invocation of an openly documented MPE process is accepted, and produces effectively the same results as it would have on a real HP 3000." Exactly done, and the reason the market never lost all hope for an emulator.

We predicted part of the future back in that January of 2009. "First, the product must boot up a Linux distro to demonstrate its capabilities. Then a seasoned MPE/iX development team must test the hardware design with MPE/iX tasks to give it HP 3000 capabilities."

We knew that HP would take no further steps to link advanced storage devices and networking protocols to HP 3000s. Few customers ever reported using the SCSI Pass Through driver, one of the last lab projects finished for the 3000, in order to connect bigger and faster drives to the HP iron. We saw a future where the vendor holding the hardware would be "The Intel Marketplace."

A honking-big Intel-based server which already has those connections ready can deliver more than horsepower to a 3000 homesteader. That kind of emulator delivers the future.

2009's economy was in a stall and migration plans stretched out in some places. Selling an emulator to extend a 3000's life looked like a better offer than it did seven years ago. The passage of a decade has made that choice easier.

08:41 PM in History | Permalink | Comments (0)

January 07, 2019

Virtualization: only as good as its legacy lore

MPE:iX Search Priority
(Hat-tip to 3kRanger's website)

Getting rid of HP's hardware will be a more popular choice during this year. For some companies that might mean shedding MPE/iX. The Hewlett-Packard iron worries some 3000 sites. But not enough to drop MPE/iX, for other customers.

So they adopt a virtualization plan and put their 3000 onto Intel hardware. Charon is the way forward for their MPE/iX applications. There's a lot to be said for the magic of an emulator when it made its debut. The greater miracle is running a legacy OS in a world of modern options. Linux as the bedrock, SSD as storage, cloud servers waiting for any MPE/iX customer brave enough to need them. (Using a cloud with Charon? We'd like to hear from you.)

There's always a legacy chord running through the virtualized sonata. It's been important, since 2012, to have someone in the mix who's got a foot planted in both worlds: virtualized datacenter guru as well as the world of running STORE and RESTORE on MPE/iX. A person who's got background in how IMAGE/SQL datasets are accessed by applications, as well as the MPE/iX practices for jobstreams to keep workflows running smoothly.

Doug Smith has been that person with a foot in both worlds for Stromasys. He arrived with MANMAN experience, using ERP know-how to smooth Charon into companies. Before him it was Paul Taffel, taking his experience from Orbit Software and using it to plant the emulator into fresh fields.

By today the exposure to the virtualized 3000 has become more commonplace. Support experts with decades of MPE/iX background are getting used to working on PA-RISC 3000s that no longer use HP's hardware. A virtualized system is no better than the expertise about its legacy, though. It's the lore like the illustration above that companies must preserve to keep using MPE/iX here in its fourth decade.

08:07 PM in Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

January 04, 2019

Fine-tune: Validating interleaved backups

DLT cartridge

Experts on 3000 practices are advising customers to get away from using tape devices. You may have no other choice while tending to an achival system, though. An interleaved backup requires special handling.

Backup errors on STORE tapes can occur when you try to restore on the exact same drive the backup tape was made on. There's a tape restore issue to manage with interleaved DLT tapes. For example, a DLT7000 must be on a different device adapter if tapes are to be used at the same time when backing up in interleave option. Interleaving provides a higher disk data rate. It is accomplished by reading from several disk drives (files) simultaneously. The file data is blocked together and then stored to the specified devices. The effect is to accelerate the STORE process.

The workarounds are to not use tapes on same device adapter for interleave restores, or put the DLT7000 devices on different device adapters.

It's not recommended to validate any tape after writing a backup onto it. "You always want to validate on a different different tape drive,” says Allegro's Stan Sieler. For example, on Intuit’s HP 3000s, “they happily validated the tapes for months. Then the tape drive was replaced, and no backups would validate on the new drive—or on any other drive.”

Finally, verifying a backup with validation can be done automatically right after the backup overnight, if you put the tape drive back online with the ONLINE utility. You can download ONLINE from Allegro’s website. 

10:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

January 02, 2019

New year gives MPE a ride on a Raspberry

Raspberry Pi
Robert Mills has a plan to put an HP 3000 in his pocket. The UK programmer reported this week that he's got the MPE V version of an HP 3000, the Series III Simulator, running on a Dell Inspiron desktop. The Simulator gives Intel-based servers the ability to mimic HP's Classic 3000 hardware -- in the same style as the Stromasys Charon virtualizing software lets HP's PA-RISC processing be hosted on Intel systems.

Mills says he's working his way backwards in time for 3000 computing. Once his simulated HP disk drives can be replicated, he'll have a 3000 circa 1983 running on his Dell system.

The simulator on my main computer (Dell Inspiron 3668 running Linux Mint 18.3 with Cinnamon Desktop) has two HP7925 (120Mb) disc drives, two HP7970E tape drives, and 1024K words of memory. The simulator reports that it is executing machine instructions approx 95 times faster than a real Series III. With a little bit of work I could increase the number of HP7925s to eight. This would give me a system that equals, except for the processing speed, a system I worked on during 1981-83.

It's fun to note that the simulated Classic 3000 runs 95 times faster than the original HP hardware. This echoes the upgrade potential of a system virtualizer like Charon. Host the emulated 3000 on faster Intel hardware and see performance increase. The size of the 3000 itself is decreasing for Mills in his plans.

"The next thing I plan to do is try and install the simulator on my Raspberry PI 2B, which has a 2Tb Seagate Expansion Drive," Mills said. "If it works, I'll have an HP 3000 that I can carry in my pocket." The Raspberry is the hardware that helped drive the Rover on the surface of Mars. It's a wonderful story of how a community has lifted a processor into such demanding jobs.

The Raspberry Pi was introduced in 2012 as a teaching tool in the UK. It became far more popular than anticipated, selling outside its target market for uses such as robotics. NASA launched the JPL Open Source Rover Project, which is a scaled down Curiosity rover and uses a Raspberry Pi as the control module, to encourage students and hobbyists to get involved in mechanical, software, electronics, and robotics engineering.

The Raspberry Pi is a device about 3 inches by 4 inches including connectors, so it fits easily in a shirt pocket. The pocket reference invokes memories of the HP engineering mantra from the era when the 3000 was born. Engineers practiced "next bench" designs: products were created for the engineer at the next bench in HP's labs. The lore from those HP Way days says that the first HP calculators were built to the size they employed because they fit into a shirt pocket.

The Raspberry Pi has a long list of operating systems it can run, including nine that are not based on Linux. MPE V appears ready to join the list, since the Simulation Project includes the OS.

It runs the MPE V/R version E.01.00 operating system," Mills said of the Simulator. "The languages pre-installed are: BASIC (interpreter and compiler), COBOL 68, COBOL 74/85, FORTRAN 66, Pascal, RPG  (including the RISE Editor), and SPL."

If a computer that was driven by SPL can be simulated onto hardware that fits in a shirt pocket, anything is technically possibile.

06:39 PM in Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (1)