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February 2019

Wayback: MPE joins the land of the Internet

In a February of 23 years ago, HP brought MPE/iX into the Internet era. During that year, Sun was already running roughshod over the computer industry by selling servers built for use on the networks that were exploding around the World Wide Web. The 3000 community knew how to call the Internet the WWW, thanks to early guides like the Whole Internet User's Guide and Catalog. Modeled after the Whole Earth catalog of the 1970s, the early O'Reilly & Associates book covered basic Internet utilities like telnet and FTP, rudimentary search tools like Gopher, plus a quick reference card to remember essentials like the commands for Archie, an FTP utility. The book boasted nine pages of Internet Service Provider listings.

Five years after those ISP listings were printed, they remained in the pages of the Catalog, unaltered. Putting books onto the Internet was still out in the future, some five years away. That's not the Amazon start date, because that distributor was selling only paper books until 2004.

The O'Reilly guide was recommended to 3000 managers by David Greer of Robelle. In the pages of that February's NewsWire, Greer shared the basics of being a 3000 manager who used the WWW to "get you online and finding information that helps you manage your HP 3000." The finding was taking place via Unix or PC systems, not HP 3000s. HP had a set of CD-ROMs it sold with the electronic versions of its documentation.

In that same issue, the 3000 market learned that HP would be releasing a Web server that would run under MPE/iX. Delivery of the OpenMarket Web Server was supposed to start in July. HP had to port the third party product, working with code from an OpenMarket product already released for HP-UX systems. HP was selling such a wonder at prices starting at $1,650. While the rest of the world was working with open source Apache for Web services, HP was tier-pricing a Web server. Hopes were high among Web experts, who said "even the smallest HP 3000 can be used to handle lots of Web requests, especially since the Open Market product is about five times more efficient than freeware alternatives."

A stutter step was the best that HP could do for the Open Market introduction. By summertime the server's porting was called off, making the 3000 look even further away from Internet-ready. In a couple of years HP was using a port of open source Apache to make a secure Web server for MPE/iX. HP would be so confident of the 3000's Internet suitability that it renamed the server the e3000. That e was for e-commerce, we were told.

In the same month as the Web server news, HP announced it was putting its MPE/iX patches online. Delivering OS patches for a computer whose roots were in the minicomputer era felt splashy, even if 14K modems were doing the work.

Continue reading "Wayback: MPE joins the land of the Internet" »

Itanium, we hardly knew ye, aside from HP

Earlier this month, the computer community learned how late in life Itanium was living. The chip architecture was going to rule the world when HP and Intel first announced it in 1994 as a project called Tahoe. Intel ruled the world with x86 architecture then in the lion's share of PCs. Literally, as in the true definition of lion's share: all of it. 

It's taken 25 years, but Intel has called Time's Up for its design it co-created with HP. Intel told its customers that the final order date for Itanium 9700 series processors is January 20 of next year. The final Itanium processor shipments end on July 21, 2021.

Itanium was essential to the HP decision to stop manufacturing HP 3000s. Itanium was going to be the future of all enterprise computing, the company figured right after Y2K. There was not enough money in the R&D budget at HP to fund the redesign of MPE/iX for a new processor. VMS, sure, HP would do that for a market that was four times the size of MPE/iX.

By now HP has split in two and Itanium is nowhere but in the HP Enterprise servers, the ones running VMS and NonStop. HPE says it will support its Itanium-based Integrity servers until 2025. A superior article in the the EE Journal includes this summary.

Itanium’s developers sought a path to much faster processing. Unfortunately, the theory behind Itanium’s development was just plain wrong. While VLIW architectures do appear to work well for specialty processors running well-behaved code, particularly DSPs, they’re just not appropriate for general-purpose applications thrown willy-nilly at server processors.

And so, we remember the fallen.

It's taken awhile to understand the inertia that occupies the energy of the computer industry. HP seems to have a side of itself that learned such lessons more slowly than most enterprises. HP was late to Windows (who needed GUIs?) and got well behind the pack on the Internet (Sun crowed over HP's sluggish pace by the late 1990s.) After creating its own RISC chip in PA-RISC, HP figured that another chip developed along with the creator of the x86 was a slam dunk. 

There was a time for dictating the way forward in computing with a new architecture for chips. That time passed well before Y2K. HP hung on for more than a decade in full denial, even as it revved up the ProLiant enterprise servers using x86.

It's not easy to see a clean future in the years beyond 2025 for the companies which are invested in Integrity systems. But no one could see how the PA-RISC servers of the 3000 were going to be anything but a write-off for their users, either. The strength of the operating environment, as well as a long history of efficient computing, gave the 3000 a longer lease on life. Now's the time to see if the HP-UX and NonStop environments are going to make the jump to x86. We're also watching how well they leap and what the HP of the 2020's will say. 

Continue reading "Itanium, we hardly knew ye, aside from HP" »

Cautions of a SM broadsword for every user

NewsWire Classic

By Bob Green

Vladimir Volkh was doing MPE system and security consulting at a site. One of his regular steps is to run VESOFT’s Veaudit tool on the system. From this he learned that every user in the production account had System Manager (SM) capability.

Giving a regular user SM capability is a really bad thing. It means that the users can purge the entire system, look at any data on the system, insert nasty code into the system, etc. And this site had just passed their Sarbanes-Oxley audit.

Vladimir removed SM capability from the users and sat back to see what would happen. The first problem to occur was a job stream failure. The reason it failed was because the user did not have Read access to the STUSE group, which contained the Suprtool "Use" scripts. So, Suprtool aborted. 

Background Info

For those whose MPE security knowledge is a little rusty, or non-existent, we offer a a helpful excerpt from Vladimir’s son Eugene, from his article Burn Before Reading - HP3000 Security And You – available at


When a user tries to open a file, MPE checks the account security matrix, the group security matrix, and the file security matrix to see if the user is allowed to access the file. If he is allowed by all three, the file is opened; if at least one security matrix forbids access by this user, the open fails.

For instance, if we try to open TESTFILE.JOHN.DEV when logged on to an account other than DEV and the security matrix of the group JOHN.DEV forbids access by users of other accounts, the open will fail (even though both TESTFILE’s and DEV’s security matrices permit access by users of other accounts).

Continue reading "Cautions of a SM broadsword for every user" »

Security advice for MPE appears flameproof


Long ago, about 30 years or so, I got a contract to create an HP 3000 software manual. There was a big component of the job that involved making something called a desktop publishing file (quite novel in 1987). There was also the task of explaining the EnGarde/3000 security software to potential users. Yow, a technical writer without MPE hands-on experience, documenting MPE V software. 

Yes, it was so long ago that MPE/XL wasn't even in widespread use. Never mind MPE/iX, the 3.0 release of MPE/XL. All that didn't matter, because HP preserved the goodness of 3000 security from MPE V through XL and iX. My work was to make sense of this security as it related to privileges.

I'll admit it took yeoman help from Vicky Shoemaker at Taurus Software to get that manual correct. Afterward I found myself with an inherent understanding, however superficial, about security privileges on the HP 3000. I was far from the first to acquire this knowledge. Given another 17 years, security privileges popped up again in a NewsWire article. The article by Bob Green of Robelle chronicled the use of SM capability, pointed out by Vladimir Volokh of VEsoft.

Security is one of those things that MPE managers didn't take for granted at first, then became a little smug about once the Internet cracked open lots of business servers. Volokh's son Eugene wrote a blisteringly brilliant paper called Burn Before Reading that outlines the many ways a 3000 can be secured. For the company which is managing MPE/iX applications — even on a virtualized Charon server — this stuff is still important.

I give a hat-tip to our friends at Adager for hosting this wisdom on their website. Here's a recap of a portion of that paper's good security practices for MPE/iX look like.

Volokh’s technical advisory begins with a warning. “The user is the weakest link in the logon security system -- discourage a user from revealing passwords. Use techniques such as personal profile security or even reprimanding people who reveal passwords. Such mistakes seem innocent, but they can lose you millions."

Continue reading "Security advice for MPE appears flameproof" »

Driving a Discontinued Model with Joy

When a chariot has stopped rolling off the line, it might well be the time to buy one. That's what happened to me, unexpectedly, this weekend. I felt a kinship with HP 3000 owners of the previous decade as I weighed my purchase of a new car.

Like the HP 3000, my 2019 Chevy Volt was the ultimate model of a superior design and build. The Volt was Chevy's foundational electric vehicle when the vehicle made its debut in 2011. Back in that year it was costly (true of the 3000, even through most of the 1990s) unproven (MPE/XL 1.0 was called a career move, and not a safe one) and unfamiliar — plugging in a car inside your garage might have been as unique as shopping for applications knowing every one would work with your built-in IMAGE database.

The Volt grew up, improved (like the final generation of 3000 hardware, A-Class and N) and gained a following I've only seen in the best of designs. People love this car. There's a Facebook group for Volt owners, many of whom crow and swagger as they point out things like the intelligence of the car's computer systems or the way that an owner can train a Volt to extend its electric-only range. The latter is a matter of how often the car is charged plus a combination of a paddle on the steering wheel, a gear range, and the right driving mode. H is better sometimes.

Yes, it's as complex as any intrinsic set tuned for a bundled database. The Volt's efficiency rivals the best aspects of a 3000 at the start of the millennium. GM, much like HP, decided the future of the car would not include manufacturing it. Just as I was poised to purchase, after healthy research, I learned its sales had been ended. 

The Facebook group mourned, and one owner said the car would be a collector's item someday. That's when I thought of my 3000 bretheren and signed up for six years of Volt car payments. I had the full faith of two governments behind me, however. Both the US and Texas wanted to reward me for buying something so efficient. That's how this story diverges from the HP decision about the 3000. It was the resellers, as a private group, that made those last 3000s such a great deal.

I remember when the HP cancelation was announced, Pivital Solutions was still in its first 24 months of reselling the 3000. The company remained in the business of shipping new hardware as long as HP would build new systems. Ever since that day in 2003, Pivital has supported the hardware and backstopped the software. Pivital is one of the Source Code Seven, those companies which have licenses to carry MPE/iX into the future.

Pivital and a few others in the community sealed the deal on 3000 ownership in the post-manufacturing era of the computer. No matter how long you decided to own a 3000, you could get a support contract on hardware and software. GM is promising the same to me, for the next 10 years. After that, I'm in the wilds of great fandom and aftermarket service. Your community showed great confidence in that kind of era from 2004 onward.

Continue reading "Driving a Discontinued Model with Joy" »

Scripting a Better UPS link to MPE/iX

In another article we talked about how HP dropped the ball on getting better communication between UPS units and the HP 3000. It was a promise that arrived at about the same time as HP's step-away from the 3000. The software upgrade to MPE/iX didn't make it out of the labs.
That didn’t stop Donna Hofmeister. About that time she was en route to a director's spot on OpenMPE. Later on she joined Allegro. We checked in to see if better links between Uninterrupted Power Supplies via MPE/iX was possible. Oh yes, provided you were adept at scripting and job stream creation. She was.
"I wrote a series of jobs and scripts that interrogate an APC UPS that is fully-connected to the network — meaning it has an IP address and can respond to  SNMP," she said. "These are the more expensive devices, for what it's worth."
"It worked beautifully when a hurricane hit Hawaii and my 3000 nicely shut itself down when power got low on the UPS. Sadly, the HP-UX systems went belly-up and were rather a pain to get running again."

Why a UPS FAIL let down a 3000's shield

Previously, when a pair of HP 3000s were felled in the aftermath of a windstorm which clipped out the power at Alan Yeo's shop, his Uninterrupted Power Supply in the mix failed as well. After a couple of glasses of merlot, our intrepid developer and founder of ScreenJet continued to reach for answers to his HP 3000 datacenter dilemma. Why did that UPS that was supposed to be protecting his 3000s and Windows servers FAIL once the power died? 

By Alan Yeo
Second in a series

Feeling mellower and with nothing I really wanted to watch on the TV, I decided to take a prod at the servers and see what the problems are. I decided I'd need input to diagnose the Windows Server problem, so that could wait until the morning. Power-cycled the 917 to watched the self-test cycle and got the error, did it again. (Well sometimes these things fix themselves, don't they?) Nope, it was dead! 

Google turned up nothing on the error. Nothing on the 3000-L newsgroup archives, either. I'd tell you the 3000 error code, but I've thrown away the piece of paper I had with all the scribbles from that weekend.

Where's a guru
when you want one?

I really wanted to get my 917 back up and running over the weekend, as it had all our Transact test software on it. Dave Dummer (the original author of Transact) was doing some enhancements to TransAction (our any-platform replacement for Transact) and we had planned to get some testing done for early the following week, to help a major customer.  

So it's 11:30 PM UK time, but it's only 3:30 PM PDT. I wonder who's still around at Allegro? A quick Skype gets hold of Steve Cooper, who with the other Allegroids diagnose within five minutes that the 3000 has got a memory error. The last digit of the error indicates which memory bank slot has the problem.

Okay, I'm not going to start climbing around the back of the rack at this time of night. I leave it until the morning, but at least I know what the problem is.

Continue reading "Why a UPS FAIL let down a 3000's shield" »

Making a UPS Light Up a 3000

Lightning_bolt_power_stripEditor's note: A recent message thread on the 3000-L mailing list and newsgroup reported on attaching an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) to a 3000. The question came up when an MPE/iX manager asked about hooking up a UPS to an emulated 3000. While that is proof enough that the Charon emulator is working in the field, the question still covered HP's MPE hardware. More than five years ago Alan Yeo covered this ground for us in a lively and informative two-part feature.

Intrepid veteran developer Yeo of ScreenJet in the UK had a pair of HP 3000s felled, despite his sound strategy of using an Uninterrupted Power Supply in his IT mix (or "kit," as it's called in England). Here is Yeo's first installment of the rescue of the 3000s which logic said were UPS-protected. As Yeo said in offering the article, "We're pretty experienced here, and even we learned things through this about UPS." We hope you will as well.

New UPS, sir! or "Would you like fries with that?"

By Alan Yeo
First of a two parts

"Smart UPS" now has a new meaning to me. "You're going to smart, if you're dumb enough to buy one" I guess this is one of those stories where if you don't laugh you'd cry, so on with the laughs.

By the end of this tale, you should know why your UPS may be a pile of junk that should be thrown in the trash. And what you should replace it with.

A Friday in early June and it was incredibly windy. Apparently we were getting the fag end of a large storm that had traversed the Atlantic after hitting the US the week before. Sort of reverse of the saying "America sneezes, and Europe catches a cold." This time we were getting the last snorts of the storm.

Anyway, with our offices being rurally located, strong winds normally mean that we are going to get a few power problems. The odd power blip and the very occasional outage as trees gently tap the overhead power lines. Always worst in the summer, as the trees are heavily laden with leaf and drooping closer to the lines than they are in the winter, when they come round and check them.

So this situation is not normally something we worry about. We are fairly well-protected (or so we thought) with a number of APC UPS units to keep our servers and comms kit safe from the blips and surges. The UPS units are big enough so that if the power does go out, we can keep running long enough for either the power to come back -- or if we find out from the power company that its likely to be a while, for us to shut down the servers.

We keep all the comms kit, routers, switches, firewalls and so forth on a separate UPS. This UPS will keep them running nearly all day, so that way we still have Internet access, Web, email and more, so can keep functioning, as long as the laptop batteries hold out.

Continue reading "Making a UPS Light Up a 3000" »

What can a 3000 do to talk to a modern UPS?

Michel Adam asks, "How can I install and configure a reasonably modern UPS with a 3000? I'd like to use something like an APC SmartUPS or BackUPS, for example. What type of signaling connection would be the easiest, network or serial?"

Jim Maher says

First you need to find out what model 3000. Listed on the back will be the power rating. Some of the older ones use 220V. Then you can match that with a proper UPS.

Michel Adam explains in reply

This HP 3000 is an emulator, i.e. a 9x8 equivalent or A-Class. I guess a regular "emulated" RS-232, or actual ethernet port would be the most likely type of connection. In that sense, the actual voltage is of no consequence; I only need to understand the means of communicating from the UPS to the virtual 3000.

Tracy Johnson reports

While we have three "modern" APC units each with battery racks four high, they also serve the rest of the racks in our computer room. Our HP 3000 is just a bigger server in one of those racks. Each APC services only one of the three power outlets on that N-Class. Their purpose is not to keep the servers "up" for extended periods, but to cover for the few seconds lapse before our building generator kicks in in case of a complete power loss.

As far as the UPS talking to our HP 3000 serial port, we didn't bother. Our APC units are on the network so they have more important things to do, like send emails to some triage guy in Mumbai should they kick in.

Enhanced, or not?

In the history department, Hewlett-Packard had its labbie heart in the right place just weeks before the vendor canceled its 3000 plans. We reported the following in October of 2001

HP 3000s will say more to UPS units

HP's 3000 labs will be enhancing the platform to better communicate with Uninterrupted Power Supply systems in the coming months. HP's Jeff Vance reports that the system will gain the ability to know the remaining time on the UPS, so system managers can know that the UPS will last long enough to shut down my applications and databases and let the system crash. Vance said that HP has scheduled to begin its work on this improvement—voted Number 8 on the last System Improvement Ballot—in late fall.

Late fall of 2001 was not a great time to be managing future enhancements for the 3000 and MPE/iX. The shortfall of hardware improvements and availability has been bridged by Charon. Adjustments to MPE/iX for UPS communication have not been confirmed.

Wayback: MPE's Computer Scientist Expires

Kick Butt Poster

Wirt Atmar conceived and lead The World's Largest Poster Project (shown above) with the help of hundreds of volunteers on a Southern California football field.

Ten years ago this week the 3000 community was reminded of its mortality. Wirt Atmar, founder of AICS Research and the greatest scientist to practice MPE development, died in his New Mexico home. Wirt was only 63 and demonstrated enough experience in the 3000's life to seem like he'd been alive much longer.

Atmar died of a heart attack in his hometown in Las Cruces, NM. It was a place where he invited everyone to enjoy a free enchilada dinner when they visited him there. He once quipped that it was interesting to live in a state where the omnipresent question was about sauce: "Green or red?" He gravitated to new ideas and concepts and products quickly. Less than a month after Apple introduced the iPhone, he bought and tested one, praising its promise even as he exposed its failures from the unripened state of its software to the cell signal unavailability.

If I go outside and stand under one specific tree, I can talk to anyone I want. In only one week, I have felt on multiple occasions like just heaving the phone as far as I could throw it -- if it weren’t so damnably expensive. The iPhone currently resembles the most beautiful cruise liner you’ve ever seen. It’s only that they haven’t yet installed the bed or the toilet in your stateroom, and you have to go outside to use the “facilities” — and that’s irritating even if the rest of the ship is beautiful. But you can certainly see the promise of what it could become.

He was not alone in predicting how the iPhone would change things, but being a scientist, he was also waiting on proof. The postings on the 3000-L mailing list were funny and insightful, cut sharp with honesty, and complete in needed details. A cruise through his postings on the 3000 newsgroup stands as an extraordinary epitaph of his passions, from space exploration to environmental science to politics to evolution and so much more. He was a mensch and a brilliant polymath, an extraordinary combination in any human.

Less than 24 hours before he died, Wirt posted an lively report on migration performance gains he recorded after moving an MPE/iX program to faster hardware running Linux. It was an factual observation only he could have presented so well, an example of the scientific practice the community loses with his passing.

One of the 3000 founders who was best known by his first name, Wirt was respected in the community for his honest and pragmatic vision of the 3000's history and potential, expressed in his countless e-mails and postings to the 3000 newsgroup. But alongside that calculating drive he carried an ardor for the platform.

Wirt was essential in sparking HP's inclusion of SQL in IMAGE, a feature so integrated that HP renamed the database IMAGE/SQL. In 1996 he led an inspired publicity effort that brimmed with a passion for possibility, conceiving and leading The World's Largest Poster Project (shown above) with the help of hundreds of volunteers on a Southern California football field. He quipped that after printing the hundreds of four-foot rolls of paper needed for the poster, loading them into a van for the trip to California represented "the summer corporate fitness program for AICS Research."

Long-time MPE licensees leave dates in dust

Date book
I went to a birthday celebration for Terry Floyd yesterday as part of a Super Bowl party. You may begrudge them the kudos, but congrats to the Pats, who once again executed like the MPE applications still running this week in businesses around the world. Not flashy, like MPE, but every day brings no surprises. That's a very good thing for enterprise computing, and always has been.

Floyd's turned 70 -- he’s the guy who started The Support Group here in Austin to serve MANMAN 3000 customers. One of those customers was in town to celebrate. Ed Stein spent years managing MANMAN at MagicAire, a Carrier subsidiary.

That corporation is still using MPE, even after Ed has gone. He’s moved into the interesting fields of independent support and consulting on MPE. He mentioned he's available to the community's 3000 owners looking for MPE talent. Along the way he's developed his experience on the prospects for keeping dates nine years from now in MPE.

It was Stein's intentions for prepare for the 2027 date keeping changes that led several companies to spin up services and strategies for date-keeping in 2028 and beyond. What was mumbled about in private became more public offerings and strategies. During a conference call among MANMAN managers late in 2017, Floyd and others talked about how much work it will be to keep dates straight in an era HP never planned for.

Stein says that in his travels though the community he’s still running into many a 3000 user who’s got no idea their OS will stop making accurate dates in less than nine years. He also made reference to Beechglen and its 2028 patch service. Like everyone else who's using HP's MPE source code licenses, Beechglen cannot sell a product to patch MPE/iX. HP was never going to sell permission to create patched versions of MPE/iX.

Seven companies paid HP $10,000 each to become the source code licensees about nine years ago. At the time, the 3000's operating environment felt like a long shot to feel its age and forget its date-keeping skills. The server was 18 years away from a date that no working MPE server would ever see, right?

Don't look now, but 2027 is gaining on the community. Floyd was one of several developers who identified the scope of the work to make an app like MANMAN ready for the year 2028.

Some customers will get readiness for 2028 by becoming 3000 support customers. Any support company using the MPE source must package the repairs and improvements they develop as support offerings. There are a half-dozen more companies with source capabilities for MPE/iX. Getting a relationship in place with them will be on some to-do lists for 2019. Even the companies without a clue about date keeping will eventually catch on to where the correct tomorrows are going to come from: solutions off the support bench.