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May 29, 2019

Wayback: HP's piggy ain't coming back, Dad

Elephants
More than 15 years ago, 3000 customers were searching for a undo. HP had recently announced the end of its road delivering and supporting the MPE/iX server. At one point after another, the customers raised hopes that this decision was a mistake HP would roll back. The reality of the finality took a while to seep in after it had stained the community.

I'm reminded of that plea for a redo after reading about email services and elephants. Ringling Bros. cut off the dates for its circus two years ago this month. Loud outcry about the lives of elephants unmanned the circus, in part because the gentle giants were so iconic to the big top experience. This month a documentary, produced by the circus, told the story of the final performance on Long Island.

A New York Times article about the last circus show for Ringling included a comment about a return to the ring. One middle aged fan said, "If it's gone for good... well, I don't want to know about that." Similar words were spoken about Hewlett-Packard's 3000 support, development, and hardware.

A tech story with a lot less heart just emerged about an undo, too. Mailchimp, which delivers plenty of email newsletters you've subscribed to and maybe forgotten, is scuttling its popular pricing in favor of a more monetarily rewarding scheme. Users of the service went into immediate outrage. It sounded a lot like what 3000 customers did in 2002, 2003, and so on, until it became plain there was no HP tomorrow for your server and its OS.

Like the 3000 folks I know well, I had to make changes to my book author outpost and my writer coaching-editing business. I was luckier than my 3000 readers. Something newer that did all I needed to stay in touch with customers was right before my eyes. In a bit of irony, I discovered my migration target through a newsletter about publishing tactics — an email delivered without Mailchimp.

The 3000 community was on the lookout for every instance where HP could relent and return MPE/iX to the vendor's futures. In one memorable wish, the change in CEO leaders for the company from Carly Fiorina to Mark Hurd led the rise in hope. Fiorina, after all, was leading HP when the company chose to cut off its 3000 prospects and customers. The HP-Compaq merger was a spark that lit the firey exit. Fiorina was said to have commanded about every HP product, "If it's not growing, it's going."

Foolish business sense for any company with customers who'd been loyal for nearly 30 years. Mistakes are often made in the computer industry. The howls of outcry become pleas and then fantasy before long. Well, it took eight years, and in some quarters a fever dream of a 3000 return has not died.

Piggy's gone
And the headline above? Another icon, The Simpsons, includes an episode where Homer's suckling BBQ pig is hurled away from his feast. Vegetarian Lisa, as intent as any HP top manager of 2001, engages her rage and pushes the grill on its wheels downhill, where it careens out onto the street, and then into the river and then sails out of a hole in the dam. It's a hilarious metaphor for customers' last-ditch hopes of getting HP to retain its legacy. Homer says while chasing after it, "It's just a little dirty. It's alright, it's alright."

As if a customer's pain and loss can ever be funny. Bart replies, "Piggy ain't coming back, Dad."

The elephants are resting in retirement in Florida. Mailchimp's subscribers are settling on the free and simple MailerLite. And those 3000 users — well, they're doing fine with the support of independent system experts, or the virtualized hardware of Charon in some places. More every month, it seems. The 3000's not gone. Piggy, that fattened beast of grow-or-else thinking at HP, isn't coming back to your market, dad.

09:27 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 27, 2019

Third parties take over HP's OS support

Aircraft-instrument panel
The above headline doesn't describe a new situation for MPE/iX. HP gave up on its 3000 support, including MPE/iX, at the end of 2010. Even allowing for a few shadow years of 3000 contract completion — the time when some support contracts were running out their course, and HP ran out the clock — it's been a long time since the 3000's creator supported a 3000 system.

That's a situation that's about to kick in for the hundreds of thousands of VMS systems out there. HP's official OpenVMS support ends in December of 2020. A third party company, VMS Systems Inc., has earned a license to support VMS using its internals knowledge and experts. The company, VSI, will also become, by July, the only outlet for an OpenVMS customer to buy OpenVMS.

The 3000 customers already know how well third party support can succeed. VMS customers in the US government are going to learn how well it works for them. The Federal business in VMS was big.

This third party stewardship and development was the spot the 3000 community could never reach. The OpenMPE movement began as a way to get a third party group the access required to advance MPE/iX with features and new patches. That ground along for more than three years until HP announced it was extending its 3000 "End of Life" in 2005. The air quotes are needed before the only life that was ending was HP's life serving 3000 owners.

So any takeover of MPE/iX internals for extension and future customers' needs was out. So it then fell to the community to ask for enough access to do deep repairs and issue patches. Ultimately that license was created, sort of. Not the kind of access that VSI got for VMS. Just enough, for the seven special companies with an MPE/iX source license, to repair things for existing support clients.

It amounted to a CD with the millions of lines of internal MPE/iX code. The documentation was limited to what was inside the source file, according to some who saw the CD. One report said it was a $10,000 license.

That MPE/iX source goes above workarounds. Lots of the potential from extra source access has not been tapped after all of these years. But good customer-specific fixes have been built.

This is so much less than what the VMS community — which was in the final analysis what helped end HP's 3000 life — is getting now and in the years to come. Lots of years, because like the 3000, the VMS systems have Stromasys virtualization.

Because the VMS community was so much larger than the MPE community during 2001, and VMS had extensive government installations including Department of Defense sites, VMS won out. VMS got the engineering to support Integrity-Itanium servers. In the long run, we can all see how that mattered. Intel announced the final Itanium build this year. Some wags call the architecture the Itanic.

Many, many VMS sites remain. Everyone estimates, but it's easily a group bigger than the 3000 community ever was. Third party support is all that the OS will have in about a year and a half. That support resource, from independents like Pivital Solutions, been good enough for the 3000 for more than eight years since HP's support reached its end of life.

05:08 PM in History, Homesteading, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 24, 2019

Get a job, won't you?

Resume Monster
Listening to the radio silence of a job hunt can be chilling. Experts whose lives have focused on the HP 3000 have faced declining options for the past 15 years, of course. The companies' need to upgrade and develop disappears. Then the installed 3000 systems, still serving their owners, don't seem to need professional service. At least not in the opinion of IT management, or in some cases, top management.

So DIY maintenance rules the day, and so the administrative tasks might fall to staff better-trained about websites than IMAGE database schemas, or the means to recover STDLISTs from jobs sent to printers.

The installed applications care about those things, unless they're simply installed for archival purposes. An MPE server should never be on autopilot and mission critical duty at the same time. If the archive breaks down, you can hire somebody to get it running.

That task might be an opportunity for MPE experts. Will Maintain Archival 3000s. Not exactly a new offer. The remaining support suppliers are doing just that, and sometimes more. Archive Support could turn out to be a thing.

Tim O'Neill, whose pondering and good questions have sparked several articles, asked a good question this month. "Can you speak to where the jobs might be and who the talent searchers are?"

The jobs are at the companies still managing 3000 activity on the behalf of 3000 owners. Few of the owners seem to be hiring now. Freshe Legacy was running a big bench for 3000 talent, but it is a back bench. An expert like O'Neill can contact the support companies. Few jobs, though, with actual employment. Lots of contracts, and maybe that's what Tim meant.

Who are the talent searchers? At first, the machines search. The workflow above shows how Monster processes its applicants. Acquaintances and contacts, friends, partners, people who you're hired and now have moved up. Stay in touch at the HP 3000 Community Group on LinkedIn. People who need 3000 help are up there. There's more than 700 in that group. There's a good jobs service there, too. Well worth the $29 a month for the Premium subscription.

The truth is that there's a genuine limit on how much work remains to cover the care of HP's MPE hardware. People will pay for it. The question becomes — is the pay enough to avoid needing to build other IT skills up?

07:17 PM in Homesteading, Newsmakers, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 20, 2019

Charon's orbit around our blog's pages

Pluto and its moons
Illustration by Melanie Demmer

With more than 3,200 stories across 14 years of writing, the Newswire blog brims with useful reports. It's big enough that important things can get overlooked. Charon, the Stromasys virtualization software, is just about the most important software product to emerge since HP announced its end-date for its MPE and PA-RISC operations. Here's a recap of the just the essentials we've reported over the last five years.

Taking a Stab at the Size of Your World

The Stromasys software will soon include a Unix PA-RISC edition of the Charon emulator, too. It's designed to bring the same kind of longer future to companies running Unix on the classic RISC systems that HP released alongside HP's 3000 iron. Any additional connection to HP business servers, no matter what the OS, will be good for the future of Charon — and by extension, the lifespan of MPE/iX. That's PA-RISC being emulated there, regardless of 3000 or 9000 designations.

Charon carries Boeing in new 3000 orbit

Charon is a moon of Pluto, so big that Charon is in tidal lock, as one scientist explains it. That moon reminds me of the Charon software that powers those apps at Boeing. Its emulation of the 3000 keeps it in lock with the PA-RISC chips that continued the orbit of MPE/iX at the world's largest aircraft maker.

Northeastern cooperative plugs in Charon

A leading milk and dairy product collective, a century-plus old, is drawing on the Stromasys emulator’s opportunity. A $1.2 billion milk marketing cooperative — established for more than 100 years and offering services to farmers including lending, insurance, and risk management — has become an early example of how to replace Hewlett-Packard’s 3000 and retain MPE software while boosting reliability.

One Alternative to $1 Million of 3000 Costs

Stromasys made its case for how shutting down HP's 3000 hardware can reduce an IT budget. Using data from Gartner analysts and other sources, the company estimates that downtime can cost companies $1 million per year on average.

Newest Charon version brings fresh features

The market is hungry for a forthcoming performance lift from the virtualizer. At Veritiv Corporation, Randy Stanfield will need the fastest version of Charon that Stromasys can provide.

Archival presents prospects for Charon

We're hearing from 3000 sites which are in archival mode with their 3000s, and several such customers have been installing and evaluating the Stomasys emulator

3000 Cloud Doings: Are, Might, and Never

The company selling the Charon virtualizer (many think of it as an emulator) announced a new bundled offer as well as announcing that any public cloud can run Charon. Sites that employ the Oracle Cloud to host their virtualization systems get un-metered cloud services as part of that deal with Stromasys.

Overview compares emulation strategies

There are many ways customers can re-host HP 3000 applications. Virtualization, using the Charon HPA solution from Stromasys, is the ultimate solution discussed in 45 minutes of presentation from MB Foster as it toured rehosting choices.

Making Plans for a 3000's Futures

There are always good reasons to move along to something newer, different, or improved. Emulating a 3000 in software seems to deliver a lot of those, as well as options for backup that are novel.

New DL325 serves fresh emulation muscle

When the Proliant DL325 shipped in July, it was  a newer and more powerful model of the DL380 server — one suitable for powering a virtualized HP 3000 driven by the Stromasys Charon HPA system.

09:16 PM in Homesteading, Newsmakers, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 13, 2019

Linux distro not an issue for Charon installs

Linux KVMHP 3000 manager James Byrne has wondered about the kind of Linux used as a platform for Charon on the 3000. His heart's desire has been preserving the ongoing lifespan of MPE apps. For 3000 managers who haven't much budget left for their legacy server, though, here's a matter of spending additional money on a proprietary part of a virtualization solution, no matter how stable it is.

That's not an issue that will hold up Charon from doing its work to preserve applications, according to our Stromasys contact there.

There's an alliance between Linux and MPE as a result of Charon. It also says something about MPE/iX and its continuing value. Stromasys believes as much, investing in R&D that not even HP could get budgeted so it might give MPE/iX a way to boot on Intel's hardware. Extend the value of your apps with fresh hardware, the vendor says about Charon. To this day, even HP-UX won't jumpstart on Intel systems—unless they're Itanium servers. X86-Xeon won't work with HP's Unix. Now there's word of an impending PA-RISC emulation coming for HP-UX for Charon.

There's another issue worth considering in Byrne's organization, Hart & Lyne. The Canadian logistics company has Linux wired extensively into its datacenter. Already having been burned with an HP pullout from MPE, the solutions that go forward at Hart & Lyne must meet strict open source requirements to run in the datacenter. Nobody wants to be caught in a vendor-controlled blind alley again.

Byrne has resisted using something called KVM, and how genuine open source Linux needs to adhere to that product. Byrne described KVM as a Linux-kernel-based virtualization system, and as such it is therefore open source software.

Doug Smith, the HP 3000 Director of Business Development at Stromasys, said KVM isn't a part of the Charon installation set. "KVM is part of the Linux kernel, the part that allows Linux within itself to create virtual machines—kind of like a hypervisor. This is not utilized by our software."

KVM users have strong feelings about following hard-line open source licensing. Byrne's issue is that VMware's software—which isn't required for every Charon install, by the way—looks like it might be operating outside the General Public License utilized by many open source solutions. Managers like Byrne only feel safe inside the bounds of GPL. This hasn't troubled untold thousands of VMware customers.

Byrne says that "Charon-HPA runs on ESXi vmkernel, which VMware claims is not derived from Linux." Then he explains why that's a problem for his company's adoption of Charon.

VMware has been sued by Linux developers for violations of the GPLv2 with respect to the Linux kernel. It was alleged that VMware is in fact using GPL code but are not providing the source for their derived vmkernel, as is required by the terms of the GPLv2.

VMware is thus attempting to benefit from Open Source projects through misappropriation of public goods for private profit, and attempting to assert proprietary rights over the work of others. In short, they are not a company we wish to deal with, either directly or by proxy.

(Below, VMware's overview of the architecture of VMware's ESXi architecture.)

VMware ESXi architectureRegardless of what happens between VMware and those Linux developers, VMware doesn't have to be deployed as part of Charon HPA. VMware is a commonly used component, but it's not mandatory.

This alliance of Linux and MPE was well beyond a dream back in the days when the HP lab for MPE was closing. A fully open sourced OS acting as a cradle for a legacy OS that was first created in the proprietary era? Cats and dogs living together. It says something nice about the flexibility of Linux, a trait that's a byproduct of its open source development community.

The enduring value of MPE and the 3000's architecture is something Byrne sees clearly after decades of managing 3000s. "The real problem with the HP 3000 is that it just works," he said, "and so every other issue gets precedence above migration." Hardware keeps aging, though, an issue that can spark a change in how MPE gets hosted.

08:39 PM in Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 05, 2019

Making Old Skills Do New Work

New-tricks
Michael Anderson was connecting with an old resource when he called today. It was the NewsWire and me that he phoned up on a Sunday afternoon, running down his leads to keep working among the new IT generation. Anderson started up his support consultancy J3K Solutions in 2007, shortly after the Spring Independent School District started pulling back on its 3000 plans.

His experience in IT goes back into the 1980s, hands-on work at Compaq and then designs more complex for an oil and energy corporation in his native Houston region. He's pulled disk drive units from AutoRAID 12H assemblies and written display code in COBOL. Of late, it feels to him like much of the IT world has moved in other directions.

He's moved there too. Almost ten years ago, while J3K was helping with migrations and homesteading, he told our readers in an article that looking into newer technology was the only way to preserve any career that spans the era from COBOL display code to mobile UX work. While it seemed easy to say "get better trained on Microsoft solutions," it was obvious even then that Microsoft was only part of a smarter future.

"I honestly would not count on Microsoft owning the majority of the market twenty years from now," said Anderson. "Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Learn how virtualization improves the efficiency and availability of IT resources and applications. Run multiple operating systems and learn new concepts, look into cloud computing and open source."

He's also making the transition into new technology with old skills: the ability to service businesses with professional systems analysis, applying lessons learned in the 1990s to engagements of today. It can be a challenge, prowling the likes of Upwork.com to find customer engagements. It takes a pro, though, to reach out and make a call to connect. Social media is so certified as a means to link up that it makes even LinkedIn look long in the tooth.

In a world where everything seems to have changed, having the pluck to connect is an old skill that can be employed to learn new tricks.

Before cloud servers were everywhere, Anderson advised us all to look into platform-independent technologies. He has also preserved his MPE maintenance skills for a single HP 3000 client, nearly a decade after that advice. A Series 969 supports a logistics firm in the Houston area and the server's health still puts Anderson on the front line.

The migration business has run its course for 3000 users, he says, and we'd agree. The logistics company that continues to rely on its 3000 might not be migrating code when it changes its IT strategy. Data is the migration passenger now, something that needs less specialized tools than a million-line code transfer.

In the same way that I get asked how many 3000s are in service today, we get calls about where job opportunities might exist for MPE specialists. Sometimes the calls begin the way they did today: Are you still open for business? Until there's no more electricity to power the web servers and no time to keep up contacts, we'll be hosting what we know here. My old skills of editing and writing now do new work on novels, memoirs, and author coaching. I still know how to answer a phone on a Sunday and try to connect a former RUG vice chair like Anderson with someone who needs his expertise -- and his moxie.

 

 

 

07:50 PM in Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)