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September 19, 2019

Making a place for retired 3000s

Owners of HP 3000s are facing the end for their HP hardware. The MPE/iX software has a longer lifespan than the components that have carried it. Even in places where the apps will live on, the hardware is deteriorating. What to do with the aging iron is a question coming up more often.

The HP hardware isn't disposed of easily. It's got the same kind of environmental hazards as every other computer: rare minerals are the prize in there, but there's lots of the weight of a 3000 system that's just going to be classified as scrap.

In any conversation with an owner of a 3000, the solutions to this issue revolve around a reseller-broker. These third party companies have made a business of moving 3000s in and out of datacenters. Lately the movement has been almost exclusively outward.

In the reports from the field we've heard, used hardware often has little value unless it's from the latest generation of 3000s. There are individual items that still will return some dollars to the sellers. K-Class MFIO boards have become rare, and since those components prop up the older 9x9 servers, the boards can carry value that might be equal to a complete system of the A and N-Class generation. 

Used hardware has always been a marketplace with great malleability in its value. It's been a lot like being a coin collector for 3000 owners. The valuations might say your 969 should be worth $500, but you'll only get that from a buyer who can sell your coin for more — or one who needs the hardware enough to deliver that price.

07:22 PM in Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 12, 2019

What was done to HP 3000s for good in 1990

Frozen-waterfallPhoto by Vincent Guth on Unsplash

One week when two of the 3000 community's greatest icons connected with me, it drew my attention back to the start of the 1990s. To say that decade was a very different time for the HP 3000 simplifies a much richer story. What's more, there are parts of that decade's accomplishments that continue to serve the community to this day, for those customers who rely on the frozen nature of MPE/iX.

The year 1990 was galvanizing for the 3000 community. I was reminded about the year when Adager's Alfredo Rego asked on the HP 3000 newsgroup, "What were you doing in 1990?" In a brief message, he noted that 1990 was the launch date for the world's first Internet browser, created by Tim Berners-Lee on a NeXT workstation. Rego pointed at a history page from 1990 about the start of the browser era. Then Rego noted

Enjoy it (typos and all).  Be sure to click on the links to the screen shots. Ah... Memories. Fortunately, the NeXT ideas have survived (and thrived).  Just as MPE ideas have (not). Sigh.

But 1990 was a high-water mark in HP 3000 advocacy, a habit which works today to survive those three decades. The HP 3000 users formed a community in way no other computer can claim, led by Wirt Atmar, founder of report solution provider AICS Research, creators of QueryCalc as well as QCReports and the free QCTerm.

Atmar knew better than most about advocacy, for in the fall of 1990 he helped spark a charge that changed HP's business practices about the 3000 — changes which you might argue lasted until the vendor stepped away for good. Especially for the MPE users who have changed little about their HP 3000 stable environment.

In 1990, Atmar wrote an open letter to HP published in The HP Chronicle, the monthly news magazine I was editing at the time. In his letter Atmar chastized HP for the way it was relegating IMAGE to minor status among the 3000's futures and features, as well as the general treatment of a loyal customer base. Word was building in the community that HP had plans to separate the IMAGE database from the purchase of any 3000. The database had been included with the 3000 since 1976, a radical move at the time that sparked the creation of untold numbers of utilities and applications.

A programmer or development company could create an application or software for the 3000 community using IMAGE as the database, knowing that every 3000 out there would be able to make use of the creation. 3000=IMAGE was a formula close to being broken. The community reared up on its hind legs and castigated its supplier, using the Interex 1990 user group meeting as the forum for its dismay. SIG-IMAGE, a Special Interest Group of users gone dormant at the time, re-formed to organized the complaints and demand remedies.

In community lore, the protests around the meeting are known as "The Boston Tea Party," in part because they changed HP's course of conduct about customers. Adager's Fred White was the most scathing critic of HP's myopia of the time, but a row of customers also lined up behind and in front of him at the public microphones in a Boston meeting hall.

This was a time when the HP Roundtable was the highlight of the conference, a chance to quiz the top executives of the company, right out in the open, about shortcoming and problems. The national IT press of Datamation, Computerworld and Information Week, all with the HQs just up the road, were on hand that year to report on the rebellion. HP looked chagrined and embarrassed fielding customer complaints — during a time when customer communities had a different impact on their vendors.

Atmar contacted me to update a few links about him just days before Rego's message. The convergence felt profound to me at the time. Atmar mentioned he couldn't help me in my search for back issues of the Chronicle, because he had only one left on his shelves: The issue with his open letter, "which basically caused the [1990] Boston riot." (My search remains open for any Chronicle issues before 1992. Email me if you've got the good old stuff.)

In the fall of that year, the users not only stalled the separation of IMAGE from the 3000, but triggered a "Customer First" strategy HP used to retain its 3000 customers — a strategy which HP modeled in its other enterprise computer operations at the time. Glory indeed, even if it arrived at the end of a pointed stick of sharp criticism and some disgust. But as Atmar pointed out, "it was a glorious moment, yes, but as the Roman slaves told the Roman generals, 'All fame is fleeting.' "

Customer First became a mantra in a new generation of HP 3000 division managers, the idea of customer delight: unexpected features, beyond commonplace requests. But at the same time HP became serious about creating a steady stream of HP-UX customers, using the HP 3000 installed base as an easy supply of converts. At the time of the Boston uprising, Atmar noted, HP was easy to take advantage of, because the vendor was afraid of negative publicity.

One lasting benefit of the 1990 uprising was that Customer First ideal. Many vendors have excised computer systems from their lineups. Few indeed, though, are making a business model for future cancellations. When HP's virtual CSY managers said in the middle 2000s, "We need to give the system the ending that it deserves," that's a result of Customer First, the vendor's finish to the 336 months it has sold and supported your server.

Keeping HP accountable became so much more difficult in the 21st century than the 20th, however. Impossible, indeed, under the provisions of a confidential exchange with the vendor that OpenMPE had to observe while it negotiated the future of the OS. We might've seen more about OpenMPE's success with that Cone of Silence removed. I sighed along with Rego at that removal's prospect, given the leverage HP retains to this day with its stewardship of MPE/iX.

But as I said at the top of this story, the 1990s were a different time for your community. In the era when the computer was increasing its customer base and celebrating 25 years of success, I asked Atmar what the birthday meant to the customers.

Maturity: If you were a business owner or manager, I can't think of a single word that you would want to seek out and celebrate more than a mature solution, one that can easily demonstrate that it can do what it says it does. Immature solutions, on the other hand, are going to cost you an awful lot of money — and a growing segment of the business community is beginning to understand that. You can only be lead down the garden path so many times before it begins to dawn on you what it's truly costing you.

02:36 PM in History | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 10, 2019

Relative performance online as 3000 history

Snapshot of partial HP relative performance
As the HP hardware to run MPE/iX ages, it's on the recycling and scrapping block for companies that still have an HP 3000 box on-premise. Now hardware is so cheap you can throw 3000 gear away.

The slow, old, and heavy boxes go first, of course. I remember taking a trip with Stan Sieler in the Bay Area where he took me to a scrap facility. There, shrink wrapped on the outside of a pallette, were HP 2645 terminals, right alongside Compaq boxes.

Relative performance charts can be our friend as we triage our older HP gear. There's an adequate one available online at bitsavers.org as part of a breezy page covering the history of the 3000. 

We've got The One Chart to Rule Them All you can download to use while you have HP's gear on the chopping block. There's a section for A-Class comparisons, and another compares HP's boxes in the N-Class line to older system performance.

Such numbers are relative in more ways than just the comparison between servers. HP actually massaged the numbers themselves back in the late 1990s. Our story in 1998 reported that 

HP is “restating” the performance rankings for much of its hardware, starting with this month’s rollout of the Series 989 systems. The new rating is an HP 3000 Performance Unit, not based on Series 918 performance. And the new numbers are between 29 and 52 percent higher for all systems except HP’s largest ones, the Series 996 and 997 units.

As I observed, while looking askance at the new figures, "HP wants you to think of HP 3000s as faster than ever, but its new rating measurements don’t really make existing systems any faster. They just sport higher numbers than they did last month."

There was some technical logic to the HP adjustment. The 3000 hardware from HP had just acquired some newer and faster cousins.

Dave Snow, product manager for the 3000, said "the measuring techniques for our midrange and high-end platforms were producing results that were not consistent with each other. You had a 918 performance for the midrange and a different relative performance for the high end, but the two relative performance numbers weren’t the same.”

The discrepancy was a big deal, he added, “but it was a big deal we could sort of live with, so long as the 9x9 and 99x performances were dramatically different from each other,” Snow said. “As we added performance to the 9x9 platform, it is approaching the 99x. That’s caused us to have this quandary. In some sense we’ve had two different sets of 918 numbers. We had to bite the bullet and reconcile the numbers."

01:47 PM in Homesteading, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 05, 2019

TBT: The Flying HP 3000

3000 Crash Test
Twenty-two years ago this month, HP thought enough of the 3000 to send it flying off a three-story rooftop. It was called the HP 3000 Crash Test. The demonstration was more like the tests conducted with safety dummies than anything from a software lab.

HP spent some of that year celebrating the 25th Birthday of the 3000 with fun stunts like this. The rooftop trip was called a skydiving event. Alas, no parachute.

A dazzling disco evening played out in Stuttgart during the same month as the Crash Test. The Europarty was held not far from the Hewlett-Packard manufacturing facility in Boeblingen. That soiree featured a saxophone player riding on a zip-line. Different times then — but maybe the 3000 was ahead of its time with a zip-line at a party.

The Crash Test was similar in its mission to make us smile. It also proved a point about the hardware that people can't seem to get rid of by now -- the boxes were built to withstand remarkable abuse. For example, Joe Dolliver told us about another Lazurus-like performance of HP's gear.

Back at Amisys in a previous life, Bud Williams sent an HP3000/957 to the Amisys Dubuque programmer office back in September of 1999. The system was there for Y2K issues testing for the staff in Dubuque. It was sent via North American Van Lines.

As the story goes, the system got crushed by another heavy skid of material and the 3000 looked like Gumby with broken sides and smashed connectors. Another 3000 expert, John Schick, got the box in place and the system ran fine. Yet another story of the HP 3000 taking a licking and still ticking.

The last line is a reference to a TV ad for Timex watches, a reference too obscure for anyone who's in charge of a datacenter today. The Crash Test lives on as a movie on the Newswire's YouTube page. When we started all of this, just about 24 years ago, YouTube was just a magic act in the mind of some wizard working for what would become Google. Instead, HP distributed the movie via VHS cassettes: perhaps another reference too old for the junior programmers on staff now, working on their virtual servers in the Amazon AWS cloud.

George Stachnik of HP narrates this video, produced in the era when HP was still marketing the server as a more reliable and mature choice than HP's Windows and Unix servers. Well, the vendor never really did make that much of a direct comparison, even though its sales force and customers were doing just such a compare.

If you've never seen this, we won't spoil the ending. But HP 3000 customers know that the hardware which makes up their system was built far beyond the survival specs of, say, a Windows 2003 server. How many servers you feel like tossing off the roof of a building is an exercise we'll leave to our readers. It's impossible toss an AWS cloud server off the roof. Those boxes, cranking away in a server farm somewhere, are in a one-story building.

01:00 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (1)

September 03, 2019

ERP Tips: Using work orders to backflush

Pipe-and-plumbingPhoto by Samuel Sianipar on Unsplash

MANMAN still runs operations at companies around the world. Not a lot of companies, of course. It's 2019 and everything is smaller in size, not just your hearing aids. The MANMAN managers are still looking for tips. Here's one generated from a question out of the Altra Industrial Motion Corp. from senior systems analyst James English.

We are on MANMAN version 9.1 on an HP 3000. We have all MANMAN modules, including MANMAN/Repetitive. Is it possible to backflush work orders without using Repetitive? Our one manufacturing location is looking at simplifying work order transactions. They are manually transacting each operation on their work orders, even though they don’t collect actual hours.

Short question: How can they use work orders instead of using Repetitive?

When a work order has been received into stock, it comes to the scheduler-planner to push the times through each sequence, since the operation no longer does time cards. Once that time-pushing is done, the work orders are closed for material and labor. Once a work order is received into FG, instead of pushing the time through each operation, could we just back flush?

Alice West of Aware Consulting says

You can set all the components on your bill as “consumable” and then when you complete the WO the system will consume all the materials.  We always called this feature “poor man’s Repetitive.” 

However, it sounds like you are trying to simplify the labor portion of the transaction.  For that, you can look at your COMIN variable settings. Here is a chart I put together to show how 3 different variables work together.

MANMAN backflush

So to combine the operation movements with the movement to stores, you probably want to set your COMIN variables as follows:

93 to 0

121 to 1

177 to 1

You can also put all the hours on the routing onto the last operation and then only transact that one sequence.  In order to earn the correct labor cost you only need to transact the sequences that have standard labor hours.  One reason users transact every step is to get an operation status, but since you’re transacting the movements after the fact you clearly don’t need that.

Terry Floyd of The Support Group also says

I wrote a mod years ago that is/was installed at several MANMAN/MPE sites.  I called it TR 3-eightly-thru (because it was originally from TR302 and does a “move-thru”).  It’s a bunch of code down inside subroutines under GENTRS; when it prompts Next Sequence and you enter the last Operation Sequence (or any Operation Sequence out of order) it prompts “Move Thru?” and if you answer YES, it performs all of the moves through the subsequent sequences as if you had done them one at a time.

So, instead of changing all of your routings (that might be a lot of work), you could use this version of TR302, do a lot less data entry, and still earn standard labor dollars.  I still have this code for Releases 9 and 11, Jim, but it’s not a Standalone and requires re-linking all of SYSMAN.  I could probably turn it into a Standalone and make it a lot easier to install.

10:52 AM in Hidden Value, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)