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February 27, 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.

HP was bringing its 3000 patch distribution process up to par with HP's Unix systems.

If you can get online to the Internet, you can take delivery of the latest patches from HP's World Wide Web server (the address of the Web site is http://us.external.hp.com), The online services also include proactive notification of patch availability through e-mail to your site, plus access to information about the patches. If you don't have World Wide Web access, you can get what you need through e-mail. HP says you can send a message to us.external.hp.com to get more infor mation. In the body of the message type: send guide. Then on a separate line type: send mpeguide. No subject is required. The easiest way may be to use the Internet Express or America Online WWW browsers to travel to the above Web address. 

Jeff Kell, curator of the HP 3000 Internet mailing list, said that "while it beats nothing, it isn't exactly pretty—but it's a promising start to a great resource." In 1996, most 3000s online patches were accessed over dialup lines, so file size had a big impact on how useful managers found the service. Kell went on to say "if the online patches follow the same format as patches have in the past, HP should supply common files as part of the MPE/iX FOS, so they won't have to take up so much space in the patch trucks."

"The online patch delivery era is already under scrutiny for improvement," we wrote in a FlashPaper article, "a signal that it can be of immediate use to HP 3000 sites. If nothing else, it can be the leverage you need to get your HP 3000 connected to the Internet." That direct connection to the WWW would be rare in the years going forward, especially for delivering Web services. Wiring MPE/iX into telnet and fitting it with domain services was far more useful.

02:12 PM in History, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 25, 2019

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. 

You can expect HPE won't say the Itanium ecosystem is in trouble and that the company is predicting 80 percent migration in two years' time. The 3000 community heard that from HP in 2002. Ten years later MPE/iX had a home on — wait for it — x86. Charon made that a reality, giving everyone who'd tramped away from PA-RISC and MPE/iX a moment of regret. You mean we didn't have to adopt Itanium and retool our environment into Windows, or HP-UX?

Not so long ago, in the months before HP had to do its split-up, the company announced a project to create a computer with a clean slate. It was simply called The Machine, an echo of the hubris from the era that built Itanium after a too-long construction period.

No customer who cleaned house of their MPE/iX investment will feel much vindication at the news of the Itanium demise. Industry wags started to call the architecture the Itanic when the chip fell well short of expectations right off the bat. The lifeboats are out in the water now for the latest survivors of the great HP business server purge. The torpedos were first launched in 2001. VMS futures are now in third party hands. World domination turned out to be a very long shot for the Very Long Instruction Words of Itanium. Investing such faith in a single vendor's vision feels foolish now. During the 1990s, sailing on the Itanic looked like a smart berth indeed.

09:46 PM in History, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 22, 2019

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 www.adager.com/VeSoft/SecurityAndYou.html


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).

Each security matrix describes which of the following classes can READ, WRITE, EXECUTE, APPEND to, and LOCK the file:

• CR - File’s creator

• GU - Any user logged on to the same group as the file is in

• GL - User logged on to the same group as the file is in and having Group Librarian (GL) capability

• AC - Any user logged on to the same account as the file is in

• AL - User logged on to the same account as the file is in and having Account Librarian (AL) capability

• ANY - any user

• Any combination of the above (including none of the above)


Whenever any group is created, access to all its files is restricted to GU (group users only).


As Eugene points out above, account users do not have Read access by default to a new group in their account. This was the source of the problem at the site Vladimir was visiting. When the jobs could not read the files in the new STUSE group, the system manager then wielded the MPE equivalent of the medieval broadsword: give all the users SM capability.


This did solve the problem, since it certainly allowed them to read the STUSE files, but it also allowed them to read or purge any file on the system, in any account.

What he should have done was an Altgroup command immediately after the Newgroup command:

ALTGROUP stuse; access=(R:any;a,w,x,l: gu)

or specified the correct access when the group was built:

NEWGROUP stuse;access=(r:any;a,w,x,l:gu)

Since the HP 3000 runs in a corner virtually unattended (except for feeding the occasional backup tape), we often forget many of the options on the commands that are used sparingly. Neil Armstrong, my cohort in our Labs, often does a Help commandname to remind himself of some of the pitfalls and options on the lesser-used commands, NEWGROUP being one of them.

02:36 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 20, 2019

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."

His bullet points from the heyday of MPE still make good sense to follow, if you're managing a system in our homesteading and archiving era.
  • Passwords embedded in job streams are easy to see and virtually impossible to change -- avoid them.

  • Some forms of access are inherently suspect (and thus require extra passwords) or are inherently security violations. Thus, access to certain user IDs at certain times of day, on certain days of the week, should be specially restricted.

  • Many security violations can be averted by monitoring the warnings of unsuccessful violation attempts that often precede a successful attempt. If possible, change the usual MPE console messages so they will be more visible.

  • Leaving a terminal logged on and unattended is just as much a security violation as revealing the logon password. Use some kind of timeout facility to ensure that terminals don't remain inactive for long; set up all your dial-in terminals with subtype 1.

  • A useful approach to securing your system is to set up a logon menu which allows the user to choose one of several options rather than to let the user access MPE and all its power directly.

  • Blocking out MPE commands via UDCs with the same name will usually fail unless the command is SETCATALOG or SHOWCATALOG, or if you also forbid access to many HP subsystems and HP-supplied programs. This severely limits the usefulness of this method.

  • Remember that RELEASE-ing a file leaves it wide open for any kind of access; RELEASE files cautiously, and re-secure them as soon as possible.

  • Try to make it as easy as possible for people to allow their files to be accessed by others without having to RELEASE them. Thus, build all accounts with (r,w,x,a,l:any) so that allowing access to a group will be easier.

  • If a group is composed mostly of files that should be accessible by all users in the system or by all account users, build it that way. This will also reduce RELEASEs.

  • The ALTSEC command is useful for restricting access to files in a group to which access is normally less restricted.
  • Lockwords aren't all they're cracked up to be. Other approaches should be preferred.

  • You should only give OP capability to users who you trust as much as you would a system manager; to users who have no access to magnetic tapes or serial disks; or to users who have a logon UDC that drops them into a menu which forbids them from doing STOREs or RESTOREs.

  • You should give PM capability only to users who you trust as much as you would a system manager.

  • If any user has SAVE access to a group with PM capability, or write and execute access to any program file that resides in a group with PM capability, he can write and run privileged code.

  • Never RELEASE a program file that resides in a group which has PM capability.

  • Privileged programs must never call DEBUG unless their user is privileged, and must never dynamically load and call procedures from a user's group or account SL unless the user is privileged.

  • IMAGE/SQL security is not particularly useful except for protecting databases against unauthorized QUERY access. In fact, some degree of protection against unauthorized QUERY access can be given by using the DBUTIL "set subsystem" command to disallow any QUERY access or QUERY modification of a database.

02:23 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 18, 2019

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.

Companies did not dump their 3000s. HP miscalculated how long that migration would take to begin, let alone finish. Once HP stopped selling the servers, the ultimate models were prized and resold for more than a decade. The value of the investment of the sound hardware build — that remained constant. You got your money's worth buying HP's iron, for a good long while.

Then the moving parts began to wear out in a few places and people worried. That was the situation that sparked my first new car purchase in 11 years. The Dodge minivan wouldn't start one day. Later that afternoon, while getting recall service done, I learned that the components in the IC unit were no longer being manufactured. One dealer wouldn't even diagnose the trouble. AAA got me rolling and I took the car, post-recall work, to the Chevy dealer for a trade-in.

Knowing everything, the dealer still could find several thousand dollars of value in that minivan. The deal there mirrored 3000 purchases, too. A few thousand will get you an A-Class, with an N-Class selling for a few thousand more. Why would people buy something no longer being built? Some are not quite ready yet to go virtual with their MPE/iX hardware. Charon and Stromasys are waiting for that day. There will continue to be 3000 sales until then, even though the hardware will be more than 15 years old at best.

When a thing is confirmed as a superior choice, it gains a status a lot like the Skin Horse in The Velveteen Rabbit. That children’s book is old and has lessons for the very young. And not so young, because one essential part of the story comes from the Skin Horse. As one of the oldest toys in the nursery he’s a pillar of wisdom for new toys like the Rabbit. Becoming real is the dream of the Rabbit. In the early part of the story, the Rabbit asks the Skin Horse, “Then I suppose you are real?” Immediately he thinks it’s a awkward question. The Skin Horse is unperturbed and explains how it happened to him. “Real doesn’t happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Once you are real you can’t be become unreal again. It lasts for always.”

The HP 3000 might well last for always, given the virtualization it will enjoy from Charon. Until the day the last model of computer built in the HP Way era is sold, the hardware will make us feel clever and thrifty and efficient. The way it drives is what matters to its fans.

07:40 PM in Homesteading, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 15, 2019

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."

12:47 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 13, 2019

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.

False Dawn

Pulling the 3000's memory card is no problem. Working out which of the five banks is bad takes a bit more work, but a bit of plug engineering and a couple of reboots shows that we have 64MB (2x32) of bad memory. No problem, plenty left, so remove it and reboot. Great, get to the ISL prompt, do a START NORECOVERY and go get a cup of coffee and a cigarette, and I’ll soon have this system back up.


SYSHALT 7,$0267


Oh, hell.  

Long Story Short (or another one bites the dust)

Okay, it's about time we cut this story short — although I am certain you want to read about someone else's trials and tribulations, even as I suspect you’re only reading to find out why your UPS is useless. Suffice it to say that the 3000's LDEV 2 had also been fried, which we replaced, then the DAT drive was dead, which was replaced, but was still dead.

So in the end, we decided our fastest recovery solution was to scrap the 917 and merge its data with a 918 that had a clone in the shop. It’s a choice which makes DR recovery a lot simpler, also one less piece of kit burning electricity, that should help save the ice caps!

So what got Fried? HP 3000, Dell Intel Server, one modem, one DTC 16 -- and of course the two APC UPS's that were supposed to be protecting everything.

Why? Given that the APC “Smart” UPS's had done such a wonderful job of protecting everything, the conundrum was why they hadn't protected everything. It was time to do some research on UPS's.  

It turns out there is a little bit of a clue in the three letter acronymn. The “U” stands for “Uninterruptible” not “Clean.”  I discover that there are two main types of UPS: the normal Line-Interactive. Everyone makes them, everyone's got one UPS like the APC Smart UPS. Then there’s the “On-line” ones. The major difference is that standard “Smart” UPS's (most of the time) feed a mains supply out to everything plugged into it. In contrast, the  on-line versions feed everything from an inverter 100 percent of the time.

But I hear you say (and as I thought) “My APC UPC filters the power, chopping down over voltage, boosting under voltage, and supplying power if the mains fails.”  Well the answer in classic 3000-L mode is, “Yes, but it depends.”  Now I'm no electrical expert, but I’ve worked up a layman's interpretation.

There’s something in the mix called Dirty Transfers.

Line Interactive UPS's do AVR, Automatic Voltage Regulation. Instead of going to battery during low or high input voltages, this sort of unit will use an Autotransformer to increase or reduce the voltage to a safe operating range without running on the battery. Within their stated tolerances, they can run almost indefinitely doing a number of things.

  • AVR Boost, where the UPS is compensating for a low utility voltage;
  • AVR Trim, when it is compensating for a high utility voltage.
  • If the voltage fluctuates outside a set range, or on some of them if the rate of change of the voltage exceeds a given threshold, then they will Transfer, using the battery power via an inverter. The UPS then monitors the AC supply and when it deems it is back within tolerance it transfers back to the mains supply.  

It is this Transfer Time (TT) that can cause some problems. Such as those at our shop.

05:29 PM in Homesteading, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 11, 2019

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.

The wind picked up during the morning and we had the expected a flick of the lights, and the odd bong, ping, and beep from the computer room as the UPS's responded to the odd voltage fluctuations and the momentary outages. Around 12:30 we had a quick sequence of power blips, followed by a couple of minutes of power gone, at which point the UPS's started bleeping loudly as they took the load. This is normally the trigger for me to wander in there and just do a visual glance at battery levels. I was stood in there as the power came back and was watching as the server's UPS came back normally. Then the comm's UPS flashed all its lights, beeped and went dead!

It's not dead, its just
sleeping after a long squawk!

Humm… First I thought it must be the overload switch, so disconnected all the load, grovelled around behind it and pressed the reset switch. Nothing. So I disconnect from the mains, reset, power it back on, nothing. Check the fuse in the plug, all okay, its still dead. Dig out the APC manual, whose symptoms say "don't use, return to your supplier for service." 

At this point the power goes completely for 10 minutes, and as I can see that the server UPS batteries are already half empty (or half-full if you're an optimist). "They must have been taking more of a load during the morning than I thought," I say to myself. I decided it was time for a controlled shutdown of the servers, which I did. Now I was going to have to rejig the power cables, so that we could feed power to the comm's kit (which was now on a dead UPS) from the server's UPS. A couple of minutes of work commenced, to move their supplies to spare outlets on the APC Switched Rack PDU that is fed by the UPS. The PDU is a network-addressable Power Distribution Unit, one that can power up/down individual power outlets, and thus we can remotely shutdown or reset the servers if needs be. 

So at this point the power comes back, and I power up the comm's kit, leaving the servers off. Decide I'll go for lunch, let the batteries recharge a bit, and make sure that the power is staying on before I restart the Servers.

Lunch passes, with a glass of Merlot. 

Now the power seems to be stable, so it's back to the computer room to bring up just the essential servers. Our main HP 3000 test server. A Windows mailserver, and a Windows file server that also handles our VPN connections (because everyone works remotely now). 

I'm in the middle of this when the power goes out again. I look at the PDU which tells me that we are drawing 3 amps (240v * 3 = 720 watts) = about 10 minutes worth on a half-charged 2200VA UPS.  Not worth it, so I shut the servers down (but I don't throw their power switches).


At this point the power comes back and stays on for about five minutes. There's me standing there trying to decide what to do, when the power goes off again, and then comes back. At which point the sole remaining UPS goes BANG! It flashes its lights a bit whilst beeping manically, and then goes dead. The room fills with the smell of over-heated insulation, so I pull the UPS power plug.

Okay, "Sod this for a bunch of Soldiers," thinks I. Was going to finish early that day to help some friends set up for a weekend Charity Clay Shoot. "I'll go now and come back later -- when hopefully the wind has died down and the power is back to normal -- and then pick up the pieces."

Back in the datacentre at 8 p.m. and the wind is gone, with power back to normal. Okay, should just have time to get everything working before dinner. Play with the UPS for 10 minutes, but it's dead. So we are going to have to "walk the tight rope without safety harness or net" and run everything direct from the mains. 

Not exactly completely unprotected computing, because when we had had the new office wired 18 months ago, we installed surge protection on the mains supply. Its like a couple of cartridges that sit next to the distribution panel that absorb a surge, decaying in the process, until the point they need replacing. They have a status indicator on them telling you if they need changing, but they were showing green, so I thought I'd risk it for a few days, until we could source a new UPS. 

Why do these things always hit at a weekend?

Comms come back okay, although I noticed that an old dial up modem was dead that was still hooked up for dire emergency remote access if Internet access failed. Okay, now for the servers: power up the Series 917 and let it start its self test check (which takes ages, and lots of memory); power up the Series 918 (it does its memory tests much quicker); power up the Windows 2008 file server and a Windows mail database server. Plus, an older Windows 2003 server that still ran the SMTP software, which should have been moved to the 2008 server, but hadn't because we had never got around to it.

The HP 3000 918 comes up clean, the Windows 2008 server comes up, the Windows mail database server comes up. But HP 3000 917 is downed with an FLT error, the Windows 2003 Server is looping around boot start-up into Windows launch, then straight back to boot start-up. Wonderful! Sod it, go and have dinner and decide if I'm coming back later.

08:33 PM in Homesteading, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 08, 2019

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.

05:53 PM in Hidden Value, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 06, 2019

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."

09:25 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 04, 2019

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 MAMAN 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.

09:45 AM in Homesteading, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)