News Outta HP

Upstart startup leads off with 3000 news

Good every day
Do you remember the day your first 3000 logon banner rolled across a terminal or a PC? That heady feel of stepping into something new with a promise of permanent promotions? You knew about MPE, a little, or just slid into an office chair and began to plug away at COBOL apps that tapped IMAGE data for the first time.

Starting the NewsWire, 25 years ago today, was not like that. My partner Abby and I arrived at the first issue with 22 years of publishing experience. Between us, we'd managed and launched operations for 18 news publications in the tech industry. Abby was already a publisher at four different magazines.

What was different about the NewsWire startup was its ownership. Just us, along with 10,000 or so owners of HP 3000s. Our audience owned our future. A few told us we were making something that would turn out to make us nothing. A subscription was "Not even worth $10 a year," said one 3000 veteran who'd written features at the HP Chronicle, my previous 3000 outpost. He came on to write for the NewsWire in our October 1995 issue, Volume 1 Number 1, as we say in publications.

That first technical feature, written by someone who doubted we'd sell subscriptions, was "PatchManager/iX: Maintenance Simplified." It toured the new software from HP for patching MPE/iX 5.5. That release was only forthcoming, as they call books that are promised but not yet released. In particular, one staging tool in PatchManager would improve patching. "Welcome to the 21st Century," the feature read. "MPE will go one better than most Unix systems with the StageMan/iX."

The software resolved a crying need. "Backing out a patch in today's MPE/iX environment can rival the agony of abdominal surgery—without the benefit of amnesia," Guy Smith wrote.

HP had been working on PatchManager/iX for more than a year by October of 1995. In publishing the NewsWire 25 years ago, we were picking up the trail of a business server getting a restart from its vendor. PatchManager was "created strictly to address customer issues with the patching process, not as a cost-saving measure," HP said.

Early technology

Like our readers, we were more cautious about new technology from the commodity sector. One report said "HP 3000 managers press Win95 into service—slowly" while the 3000-ready app Netmail/3000 was releasing DeskLink. The module of Netmail connected HP Deskmanager mail nodes to the outside world. "Until DeskLink came along, HP had been recommending the HP Deskmanager sites set up a Unix system to give their Desk users Internet access." The fall of 1995 was so different that email systems were thriving that didn't use the Internet—we always capitalized the word Internet that year.

We counted on those subscribers for our first revenues, but it was the advertisers and vendors who showed up first. At one point over the last 25 years, we had more than a thousand paid readers. That point arrived years after ads from sponsors—we borrowed the term from TV advertising—carried the NewsWire's fortunes. A publisher, my partner Abby stared down the daunting first months with just a few advertisers. WRQ, the biggest software company serving the 3000 other than HP itself, shook our hands on the Toronto Interex 95 floor for a full-page spread. Those pages 12 and 13, plus HP's ad on the inside front cover and Adager's ad on the back cover, were among our bedrock supporters. Full pages from MB Foster and the Support Group were also part of the starting lineup of our startup. All are serving the 3000 today. Well, not HP.

Creating the graphics files for printing was also Abby's job, tied so closely to the artwork for the ads. I came in during her first issue work to find our Macintosh LC struggling through refreshing pages. We ordered a Power Macintosh 8500 that day, but the chugger of the LC was going to have to get us through our first printing. 1995 was not a great year for Apple. In a few more months, Bill Gates would advise Apple to sell itself to Microsoft.

HP assured our readers they wanted open systems computing. The 3000 was putting on the clothing of an open system, an ill-defined term that usually meant Unix. Open was certainly not the truth about any system vendor's Unix, operating systems usually handcrafted from the standard Berkley Unix to exploit vendor hardware. Unix was open in the sense that software vendors always supported it in general. On the ground, vendor to vendor, the OS had as much support in apps as MPE/iX. If your app was having a problem, you called a vendor support line and logged your problem.

Taking our shot

If MPE/iX enjoyed the popularity of Unix in 1995, we might not have taken our shot with the NewsWire. The 3000 world was a forgotten backwater of IT. Our modest venture of two publishing pros in two back bedrooms, tapping experience and a deep list of contacts and experts, never would have had much chance against the likes of publishing giants like IDC, CMP, Ziff Davis, or even Datamation. I'd written freelance for Datamation two years before our NewsWire upstart startup. In the year before we launched the NewsWire we'd both worked on contract for Interex, writing and managing subscription campaigns. One of the hardest talks we faced in that fall was telling Interex executive director Chuck Piercey we were going to sail our own ship into the rest of 1995.

Always the former sports editor at heart, I wrote an editorial for that issue that compared the 3000 to baseball legend Cal Ripken. That year, Ripken broke the record for consecutive games played without a day off. Choosing to use the 3000 represented that same pursuit of reliability. 

"All around MPE environments, other systems go down, fail, and struggle to stay online. The HP 3000 takes the field every day. If computers were baseball players, the HP 3000 would be the Cal Ripken of the league. Cal recently broke Lou Gehrigs' Major League record for most consecutive games played." The numbers matched up. Ripken had played in 99 percent of the innings across the 2,131 games in a row. "Cal is steady, productive, and not flashy—but respected by those who watch baseball closely. Those are the traits of the HP 3000."

We started up in October, a time that leads up to the World Series. In the summer of 1994, I'd toured ballparks with my 11-year-old Little Leaguer for a road trip. The journey and its fatherhood roots would become Stealing Home, after 25 years of conception, revision and writing, then publishing. Baseball felt like a natural fit for the NewsWire and our 3000 focus. Willie Mays was a baseball legend and a star. He knew it was an every day, all the time job. "It isn't hard to be good from time to time in sports. What's tough is being good every day," he said. That was the 3000 and its community and its major league of vendors: good every day.

Not without fears

We had our panic and fears during those earliest days. 3000 owners might have experienced some on the day they learned HP wasn't going to continue selling the servers. They could do little to change that. We had to ride out the fallow times in the first year, those months when some vendors wanted to wait to see who'd support the upstart news outlet.

When we traveled to our first Interex show with a full issue, in Anaheim's HP World of 1996, HP was waiting with a warning. Frankly, the state of the 3000 market was not going to earn an HP recommendation of the 3000 to the large corporations. Glenn Osaka had been in charge of the 3000 group and then moved up to managing the business server group. Hearing that HP's heart wasn't in its 3000 work sent a bolt of panic into us. Two people with ad contracts to serve and plenty of ink, paper, and postage to buy—we didn't want to hear how little the upper HP brass thought of the 3000. It was a legacy business, after all. Show some respect.

Little of that first hard summer of 1996 matched the wonder of dreaming up the NewsWire in the spring of the previous year. In March of 1995, we talked about a newsletter that would do the work of a magazine, produced on a tight budget. We'd worked for a publisher together whose purse strings were always drawn tight. We didn't need four-color printing. We'd learned to do good with two colors: black, and a fire engine red. We had to educate many a vendor on how to create artwork that required only two colors.

Then we printed the first issue and got the newsletters delivered two weeks late, produced on too-heavy paper that busted our postage budget. A new printer took us to press the very next month. Abby had to hunt down a graphics company to replace the in-house work the old printer performed.

Y2K and the rising tide of tomorrows

Like many people in our community, the approach of the Year 2000 lifted our ship. Advertising swelled as software companies added products and customers. The legacy applications and systems were going to need more attention to get them through the narrow part of the calendar, that Dec. 31 when the first two digits of the year were going to turn over for the first time in computing history.

The 3000 business seemed to be soaring by the end of 1999, a period when we posted some of our highest page counts. Interex conferences carried extra ad dollars and gave us chances to sign on new subscribers. The web site was popular enough to carry a paywall tied to subscriptions. For the first three full years, an HP 3000 hosted our web pages. Our webmaster Chris Bartram created a random passcode generator on a 3000 which assigned login passwords for subscribers. After more than three full years, another website, 3kworld.com, paid to license our content. We walked away from further subscription growth to get our stories into a wider world. 

More than two years later, HP's managers looked at the prospects for selling these servers in a post-2000 world. Maybe legacy computing became more vulnerable after the classic apps cleared the Y2K hurdle. We'd only been publishing for about six years when the fateful November 2001 news arrived. I developed the Homesteading label for the thousands of customers who'd be going nowhere soon. I was in Europe vacationing with my son when the call from Abby arrived. In a burst of hubris and desperate hope, I rewrote a front page of the Flash Paper that handed the shutdown news from HP to a readership stunned at the prospects of fewer tomorrows.

For some of our readers, HP's intentions of almost 19 years ago mattered little. Their companies were always going to follow their own counsel and were devoted to a full return on their 3000 investment. Many more had careers derailed or sidetracked, saw fortunes dwindle, made plans for different tomorrows.

The NewsWire was never built to become a massive operation with offices, staff, and benefits. Things were lean enough in the Nineties that no one here carried health insurance. Organizing for a small footprint—though not so small that healthcare didn't ever arrive here—gave us a plan for survival long term. Here at the end of 25 years of publishing, 20 of those years have unfurled in the shadow of HP's certain departure from 3000 life.

Those earliest months when we could believe in HP's 3000 faith were still tinged with wry, sometimes dark comedy. Citizen Kane is a favorite film here, and we'd often quote one of its lines at each other when times got tough. Kane is replying to his trust manager when he's asked why he'd want to buy the New York Examiner. "I think it would be fun to run a newspaper," Kane said.

It's been fun. We look forward to more, bolstered by support from companies with a long-term view of 3000 usefulness, like Pivital Solutions. We have enjoyed support from readers and owners and veterans of the 3000 world, too. Here's to a fresh quarter-century, however it looks. The Tampa Bay Rays are looking like a good prospect to get into the World Series, winning on a pittance of a payroll. Little things that are built smart can surprise you with their ability to be good every day.

 


Where HP sells legacy OS's, and why it did

Spacex-rocket
Apple soared through a $500 per share mark yesterday. The market confidence comes from assessing the outlook for Apple's business model. The computers and devices Apple sells are powered by proprietary chips, either today, for phones and tablets, or next year for the rest of the company's line.

The operating systems for these devices are also Apple's specialized OS's. Software created for iOS or for MacOS will not operate on other devices. Soon, the Apple-branded chips will demand rewrites of applications.

Does this sound familiar? It should for customers who recall the state of HP's Year 2000 business plans. Proprietary operating systems all around for MPE, VMS, HP's Unix, and NonStop. HP-only chips powering all of those servers. Software rewrites needed as newer HP-proprietary chips entered to replace PA-RISC.

In a tale of two companies, HP's valuation at $70 a share in 2000 could be compared to Apple's $3.68 per share. Then there was a 3:1 split for Apple, and now there's a 4:1 split coming next week.

Making its own hardware and OS has been a good business play for Apple. HP turned away from this model to embrace commodity computing. Today only NonStop and HP-UX operating systems are sold by HP.

OpenVMS has been licensed by VMS Software Inc. MPE/iX licensing ended in 2010. Hewlett-Packard has a split over those two decades, indeed; the company is now halved into Enterprise and Inc. The size of its wide-ranging mission was too inefficient to maintain as a single entity. Commodity couldn't carry HP into a higher orbit.

Legacy strategy has often been powered by vendor-specific technology. Many factors apply to this year's soaring valuations. Apple became the first company ever valued at $2 trillion this month.

There's still value in legacy enterprise. The HP-UX and NonStop environments can be purchased from HP Enterprise today. Tru64, the Unix built by Compaq before HP bought the firm, is sold through indie outlets like Island Computing.

The last two decades seem to have proven there's no harm in engineering proprietary hardware and software environments. The crucial element is innovation and market reach. The invention within OpenVMS and MPE/iX keeps working for corporations that invested in legacy designs. Apple is releasing its 16th version of MacOS this year. Version number 14 of iOS rolled out this summer.

HP was able to create about 14 major releases of MPE/iX over the 20 years it sold the OS. It just hasn't been able to sustain growth using its own designs. That's a mission its legacy customers have accomplished.

Photo by SpaceX on Unsplash


25 Years: Ready to paint the 3000's future

Paintbrushes
In this week of 2006, HP was readying its first updates on how to manage the forced 2006 migration date for MPE/iX. The president of the only remaining international user group, Chris Koppe at Encompass, had picked the key sessions from the upcoming HP Technology Forum.

The 2006 Forum would be HP's first trade technical show for its enterprise customers to make its appearance as scheduled. The previous year's Tech Forum was bounced out of New Orleans when Katrina blasted in. August is a dicey time to schedule anything in the Gulf. This week we hear that the Gulf will host two hurricanes at once next week.

In '06, customers could come to an HP conference in Houston to hear

HP e3000 Transition and Migration Customer Panel
Successful Migrations: Making Them Happen
HP e3000 Business Update
OpenMPE: A Current Status
HP e3000 Peripheral and High Availability Environment

HP would cover a lot of ground in the 75 minutes that Dave Wilde would speak along with Jennie Hou, who became the 3000's final Business Manager. They'd cover

A high-level summary of developments in the HP e3000 business during the past year, recent news, and a review of what customers and partners can expect from HP during the next couple of years.

How HP was helping customers and partners transition to other HP platforms

How HP is supporting companies’ business-critical environments as they transition

There would be some frank discussion for the 3000 customer who was not well-along on a migration path, or even considering that road:

Address the concerns of companies that may continue to depend on the HP e3000 to meet some business needs beyond HP’s end-of-support date.

2006's show marked the last time the HP 3000 got so much airtime at a conference.

Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay


On This Day: Sailing toward new reunions

DougMechamBoat-05Aug
Interex founding director Doug Meacham

Fifteen years ago today, the 3000 community was on a quest. Where a conference was supposed to take place, San Francisco, there was nothing but unpaid bills for exhibit halls and meeting rooms. No HP World 2005 would start up, gathering the MPE/iX community for the annual North American meeting as it had for 30 years. 

A luncheon was arranged, though, to serve community members who had nonrefundable tickets to the canceled conference. The Interex user group didn't host it, of course. The group was belly-up dead. The effort emerged from the minds of Alan Yeo and Mike Marxmeier, software vendors who faced the prospect of time in the Bay Area and a hunger to meet 3000 folk.

I wrote about how reunions are a part of family life. The 3000 still has a family, even while many of its members are retired. The gatherings are all virtual now in our lives. Such a thing was nearly impossible 15 years ago. My mom is just as departed as Interex by today, gone but well remembered. We love things that leave us, which is a good reason to grasp onto one another until the departures.

NewsWire Editorial

Even though we work with machines to compute, we crave the spark of personal contact. I felt that contact this month in the heat of Las Vegas with my brothers and sister. We met in Mom’s hometown to move her. She went down Jones Boulevard just one mile, a significant journey when your next birthday, like Mom’s, will be Number 80.

Our days were filled with strapping tape, corrugated cardboard, and sweat in the desert heat. But the nights and the early mornings carried our laughter and the looks that passed between three adult children remembering the bumpy roads of our youth together. It was a summer reunion, a rich consolation for me in this first season without an HP World after 20 years of meeting old HP friends at Interex shows across North America.

I sat in the airport with my brother Bob and told him the story of the Interex demise, then rattled off the array of cities that have been my summertime stops. Most often, we met in San Francisco. And yes, even Las Vegas once. The Interex show never visited Texas during my summertimes in the market, just like my brother John never has visited me here. That’s why we Seybolds needed a reunion, to fill our cups with the memory of the looks on family faces.

Face time, we call it in business, something to savor and prepare for. The longer we all have stayed in the 3000 community, the better each summer’s reunion became. We could tell stories, gaze into eyes under brows growing gray, recall and dismiss. I would come back from the summer trip full of flint to strike for stories, leads I could track and then transform into news you could use.

So in a summer where I now feel adrift without an HP World reunion, I also give thanks — for the fortune that turned Mom’s apartment complex into condos, forcing a move that rounded up the Seybold kids for the first time in five years. We kids are well connected, here in the early bit of the new century. I don’t mean that we’re movers and shakers, but that we use e-mail, websites, cell phones, and blogs to keep up with our family news. All those links pale compared to that contact, the feel of the firm grip of a handshake or grasp of a heartfelt hug.

We Seybolds have another reunion on our horizon, and there will be one more on the HP 3000 community’s calendar, too. I’m not talking about the meeting next month when HP will host its first Technical Forum, the New Orleans show that contributed to the Interex demise. That won’t have the feel of mom’s 80th birthday this December. We’ll plan and anticipate that event with as much ardor as 3000 veterans, the folks who helped Interex grow for more than a decade.

Instead of New Orleans-bound meetings, the news broke early this month that the 3000 family will have a luncheon as its 2005 reunion. Mike Marxmeier and Alan Yeo made the best of non-refundable tickets to San Francisco and hosted a lunch gathering. A few days later the OpenMPE user group — just about the only one left, now — held a meeting at an HP facility. We’re all wondering how large that OpenMPE family might grow up to be, now that Interex has passed away.

The meeting at the HP campus reminded me of the gentle tug between vendor mother-ship and user tender-craft. Before Interex began to called itself by that name, the group was the HP 3000 Users Group, operated with an eye toward collaboration with the vendor rather than combat. Maybe it’s time to remember, during this month of the Interex flame-out, how that relationship operates when it serves both vendor and user.

My friend Duane Percox at QSS explained it well. The HP 3000 members of Interex — those who founded the group — got more radical and active through the 1990s as their HP options grew slim. The scuffles were fun for a while, but also something a vendor won’t brook endlessly. When HP got the nerve to squash Interex with a competing show, the market's more nimble marketers didn’t hesitate.

Percox said that give-and-take between vendor and users lets both sides save face. Marketing wants a great spin on customer experiences, while the customers want the truth. You must claim to be independent from your very first day — if you want the truth to be your main mission.

“You can’t begrudge marketing for wanting the best spin on things,” he said, “just like you can’t begrudge the users for wanting the truth.” The long-term formula to mix these elements has always been collaboration, something Interex’s founder Doug Mecham recalls in his Q&A interview.

At that 3000 luncheon we got a few hours of face-time with one another — so the 3000 customers and partners might feel like I did right after my family reunion in Las Vegas. All of us went home in the afterglow from a handful of days of hard work, marinated in laughter and yes, some sadness over days past. Toss in that OpenMPE meet, and mid-August felt a bit like the typical Interex week. In Vegas and in the Bay Area, I was getting to know a town better and a hotel or two — like the way we Seybold kids learned the short cuts around the sprawl of Las Vegas Boulevard, or finding the back steps up to the room at the Tropicana.

Because I’ve had my stand-in reunion as well as my family gathering, I’ll miss the Interex show a little less this month. I could count on the family of brilliant, funny, and fulsome people like the 3000’s founders and fans to engineer a replacement reunion.

Face time can give you a chance to hear significant answers. In our last hour together in Vegas, Mom read us questions off a newsletter from her new apartment — good ones like “What event in history would you like to have experienced?” or “If you wrote your autobiography, what would its title be?”

We kids shared many lessons learned in spite of ourselves, something I wish for any group of people who consider themselves family. I hope for other reunions in my future among 3000 folk. You’re a group that can teach lessons about collaborating.


25 Years: Surviving beyond HP's wishes

Pontiac survivor plate
As the 3000 NewsWire closes in on its first 25 years, our 25 Years series tells stories from selected days in history for the 3000
.

In 2002, an emulator to enable an open MPE was fresh on the 3000's table. A group of the same name, OpenMPE, took its first mission as taking hold of the 3000's OS futures. HP's Dave Wilde met with Jon Diercks shortly after HP's "we're quitting" news surfaced. Diercks launched the idea of a group to promote an open-source MPE/iX. With Linux soaring, open source would lift all ships.

Even the ones that were drifting along at the end of three decades of success.

The emulator question rose when the community appraised its options to keep its legacy choices alive. Millions of lines of proprietary HP code couldn't stand a chance of becoming open-sourced. Quickly, OpenMPE's mission became saving the HP hardware that could run MPE. In 2002, HP drew a firm line that no emulator could ever mimic the PA-RISC chips unless the hosting hardware wore an HP badge.

During the summer that led to the first Interex conference where HP had to face angry customers, the HP-only mandate stuck in the community's craw. Patrick Santucci, working with systems at Cornerstone Brands, shared his frustration on Sept. 27. "HP still seems to be saying, 'Die, MPE, Die!' Why not let the company writing the emulator decide what hardware they will support it on? After all, they're the ones doing the work."

From that conference during that week in Los Angeles, I reported, "HP gave customers the first ledges of opportunity to continue their climb with their HP 3000s, announcing it will allow a 3000 hardware emulator project to continue as well as creating new MPE licenses."

Nothing changed about HP’s beliefs about the proper future for HP 3000 owners, however. HP’s leader of its 3000 operations, Dave Wilde, still believes that every customer must begin planning for a transition of some sort. But the company’s HP World announcements represented its first realization that staying on the computer platform is the best course for some companies.

HP won’t let a [licensed] version of MPE be used with a hardware emulator before the 2003 end of sales date, although that kind of timing of releasing an emulator would be a remote possibility anyway, according to Allegro’s Scott. Another company, SRI, has said it considers creating such an emulator to be a less lengthy project. SRI sells an emulator for the Digital VAX hardware.

Almost 18 years later, that SRI emulator is Stromasys' Charon, which boasts an HP 3000 PA-RISC version. Charon began serving 3000 owners about a decade after that HP move to permit emulators. From the very first months, HP's PCs did not power the 3000 emulator.

Image by rjlutz from Pixabay


Logon advice launches new 3000 admin crop

Row of Lettuce
By George Stachnik

There's a new crop of people taking over management of these machines. Many of the people who have managed and championed HP 3000s in the past have moved on. Today's HP 3000 system manager is now more likely to be young and have little HP 3000-specific experience, knowledge, or training. New HP 3000 system managers have been successful managing environments that include Unix, and Windows. Now they've been given responsibility for an HP 3000, a machine about which they know little or nothing.

If you fit in this category, take heart; I think I have some understanding of what you're going through. When I encountered my first HP 3000 in 1983, all of my experience had been with IBM machines. I was glad to hear that the HP 3000 is comparatively simple and elegant to use (at least compared to a mainframe), but I was still expecting a long learning curve.

For many customers, information about the HP 3000 — especially beginners' information — can be hard to come by.

Logging on

In Lewis Carroll'sThrough the Looking Glass, Alice is encouraged to "Begin at the beginning." This always seemed like good advice to me, and that's what I'll do now. Let's begin by exploring how one logs on to an HP 3000. We'll also see how to explore your system, and find the programs, files, and information that are available to you. We may even learn a few other things along the way.

You're likely to have a PC or workstation sitting on your desktop. In that case, you need two things: a physical connection between your desktop and the HP 3000, and a piece of software that lets your desktop computer act as if it were an HP terminal--a terminal emulator.

The desktop-to-3000 connection can use the same RS-232 protocol used by terminals. But a network connection using standard IEEE 802.3 or Ethernet is preferable. All you need to know is that the HP 3000 supports industry-standard telnet services, and you can use them to log on to an HP 3000 from your desktop computer.

If you're using a Windows PC on your desktop, a number of HP terminal emulators are available. Among the best are WRQ's Reflection series from Attachmate, and Secure92 from Minisoft. PC-based terminal emulators support industry-standard telnet services to connect to hosts like the HP 3000. Reflection and MS92 also support the NS/VT proprietary protocols.

Regardless of what kind of terminal or terminal emulator you've connected to the HP 3000, pressing the RETURN key (on a PC, it's usually labeled the ENTER key) will cause the HP 3000 to transmit the string "MPE/iX:" back to you. This is a prompt from the HP 3000 inviting you to log on. It's analogous to Unix's "login" prompt.

Incidentally, if something other than "MPE/iX" appears on your screen, don't panic. The system prompt is configurable and your system manager may have changed it. Regardless of the prompt that appears, the command you'll use to log on is always the same. It's called the "Hello" command. (Didn't I tell you that the 3000 is a friendly little machine?)

The HELLO command you enter will typically include two parameters separated by a period. These two words identify you to the system. The first one is your user name, and the second one is your account name. When you log on, at a minimum you must specify a user name and an account name. If there are passwords associated with your user and account (and there should be!), you will be prompted for them.

Continue reading "Logon advice launches new 3000 admin crop" »


This blog turns 15, logs a half-million views

Screen Shot 2020-06-16 at 2.16.21 PM
Earlier today, this blog served up pageview number 500,000. That's a half-million times that some business computer expert needed to learn about, repair, or plan for using MPE/iX or the HP 3000. Content at this web address still serves a community.

The straight-up math tells us that the total amounts to 33,333 page views a year on average. These days, the pageviews are closer to 16,000 per year. None of those pageviews are included among those off the website at the original 3000newswire.com. It's the repository for the 1996-2005 Newswire, the Online Extra newsletters, plus a record of 122 monthly FlashPaper supplements. That site goes back 24 years.

A half-million blog page views, all since the year before HP's original support shutdown, shows remarkable devotion. Not even necessarily to the NewsWire; that half-million illustrates how long a server can remain vital and useful. We've been telling the 3000's stories for more than 18 years since HP started to quit on it. We reported for six years while the product was still a part of HP's futures.

Although the news from that 2005 monthly roundup might seem like history, it reinforces the choices 3000 managers face today. Solutions not tied to a single vendor continue to face a steep decline. Going independent of a system vendor is the default move.

The 2005 news reports showed an HP trying to find relevance in a changing IT landscape. June was the summertime after CEO Carly Fiorina left HP. She departed after throwing the vendor's weight behind high growth, low-margin computing. PCs, laptops, and printers were ascendant in the HP of 2005. HP was finding new enterprise business elusive, unless the new systems ran Windows. Unix served some 3000 sites that migrated from MPE/iX. Many more of the departed had migrated to Windows. Some were taking a chance on Linux.

The 2005 customers were moving away quickly from the OS at the heart of their companies. By mid-year, only 43 months had ticked away since HP's exit announcement. There were not a lot of customers already exited by the month the blog opened for business. We surveyed customers to discover that a close to half were replacing a 3000 with Windows 2003 Server.

That was not HP's plan at all, figuring enterprise features of HP-UX were going to snare the ex-3000 sites.

This blog gave us the avenue to report survey updates immediately. One of the first five blog articles that kicked off the page view deluge updated our migration target survey with fresher results.

Customers expressed reluctance to put mission-critical computing onto Windows. But Windows’ familiarity won it many converts. This made HP's exclusive tech advantages less popular. “We are moving to a Windows 2003 Server environment," said programmer supervisor E. Martin Gilliam of the Wise County, Va. data processing department, "because it is the easiest to manage compared to Unix or Linux.” 

Hewlett-Packard was casting about for a plan to keep growing. In 2005 HP announced it would separate its printer units from PC segments. HP's 1990s management assumed everything was supposed to thrive on the business model that drove its laser printer success. A smaller direct sales channel, with less room for different and superior engineering, was the result of chasing commodity computing sales. HP was reorganizing, back toward a business plan that acknowledged not all products can use the same strategy.

Printers and PCs got their own leadership. At the time I looked into the future and saw that the HP 3000 customers were forced to leave might see another spinoff. A separate enterprise computing business. "An HP with non-Windows servers running HP-UX and OpenVMS could be just around the corner."

Nine years later, HP decided to break up the brand. Enterprise servers split off from the low-margin products. It didn't make HP more relevant to business IT. By 2014 even OpenVMS was flagging — and it remains the product line with the biggest number of customers not using Windows or Linux.

Our first month of blog reports included more tactical advisories. Some remain useful today. Keven Miller, who still supports 3000s and gathers MPE resources for the community, updated his 3000 firmware without the aid of HP's support engineers. It's the unusual site which doesn't need outside support help. After all, Miller's 3K Ranger firm serves 3000 customers. But the how-to about changing Processor Dependent Code is still on this blog's site, ready to serve its goodness through another page view. You will need patches, where the independent support firms can make them available.

We said at the time that "Miller's experience represents the level of admin skill a 3000 owner is going to have to call upon once HP's support leaves the field. If you're uncomfortable with this kind of admin, but need to keep your 3000s in service, there's a good lineup of 3000 service providers who can help you, all in the third-party market." There is still a healthy group of service companies working 15 years later.

Onward to the next half-million page views. It ought to happen around 2051, if we can keep up the current pace. I'll only be 94, while the 3000 will be 77. I hope to age as well as MPE.


SSD devices head for certain failures

Western Digital SanDisk
A solid-state storage device is not usually a component of HP 3000 configurations. However, with the onset of virtualizing MPE servers, those drives that do not move, but still store? They are heading for absolute failures. HP is warning customers.

The problem is surfacing in HP storage units. It's not limited to HP-brand gear, though. SanDisk devices cause these failures. One fix lies in HP Enterprise firmware updates.

HP Enterprise disk drives face a failure date of October 2020, unless administrators apply a crucial firmware patch. Notices from HP Enterprise warn the owners of some disks about failures not earlier than October. Other Solid State Drive (SSD) disks are already in danger of dying.

Some SanDisk SSD drives have already rolled past a failure date of last fall, for those that have operated constantly since late 2015. The failure of the drives is being called a data death bug.

For some, HPD7 firmware is a critical fix. HPE says that Western Digital told the vendor about failures in certain Serial Attached Storage (SAS) models inside HPE server and storage products. Some SAS SSD drives can use external connections to HPE's VMS Itanium servers.

The drives can be inside HPE's ProLiant, Synergy, and Apollo 4200 servers. Some of these units could serve as hardware hosts for virtualized 3000 systems. The SSD problem also exists in HP's Synergy Storage Modules, D3000 Storage Enclosure, and StoreEasy 1000 Storage. If the disks have a firmware version prior to HPD7, they will fail at 40,000 hours of operation (i.e., 4 years, 206 days, 16 hours). Another, even larger group of HP devices will fail at 3 years, 270 days 8 hours after power-on, a total of 32,768 hours.

The numbers mean that the failures might have started as early as September of last year. The first affected drives shipped in late 2015. HP estimates the earliest date of failure based on when it first shipped the drives. Another batch of HP drives shipped in 2017. They are also at risk. These are the drives looking at an October 2020 failure date without a firmware update.

Beyond HP gear

The devices are Western Digital's SanDisk units, according to a report on the website The Register. Dell has a similar support warning for its enterprise customers. Dell lists the SanDisk model numbers:

LT0200MO
LT0400MO
LT0800MO
LT1600MO
LT0200WM
LT0400WM
LT0800WM
LT0800RO
LT1600RO

RAID failures will occur if there is no fault tolerance, such as RAID 0. Drives will fail even in a fault tolerance RAID mode "if more SSDs fail than are supported by the fault tolerance of the RAID mode on the logical drive. Example: RAID 5 logical drive with two failed SSDs."

Adding to the complexity of the SSD failures, firmware to fix the issue has two different numbers. HPD7 repairs the 40,000-hour drives. HPD8 repairs a bigger list of devices. Leaving the HPD7 firmware inside drives among the larger list of disks — which have a death date that may arrive very soon this year — will ensure the failures.

Full details from HP's bulletins for the 40,000-hour and for the 32,768-hour drives are at the HPE website. There are also instructions on how to use HP's Smart Storage Administrator to discover uptime, plus a script for VMware, Unix, and Linux. These scripts "perform an SSD drive firmware check for the 32,768 power-on-hours failure issue on certain HPE SAS SSD drives."

A list of 20 HPE disk units falls under the 32,768-hour deadline. Four other HPE devices are in the separate 40,000-hour support bulletin.


Wayback: 3000s showed a Spectrum of hope

BeyondRisc
Thirty-six years ago this month, HP put a reboot of its business future into orbit. The project called Spectrum was the entry of PA-RISC (originally called "HP High Precision Architecture") when publicly announced in the HP Journal in 1985. HP brought the future into the light by killing its Vision project at the 1984 Interex user conference.

Stan Sieler, one of the founders of Allegro, was working at HP in the years before the HP announcement of what the company called High Performance Precision Architecture RISC. "A year or so later, when it was simply called PA-RISC (or HP PA-RISC), I asked Joel Birnbaum what happened to the "High" and I was ignored. Along with Bill Worley, these were the fathers of RISC inside HP. Birnbaum had been recruited from IBM's RISC project."

Digital was famous for raining on HP's Reduced Instruction Set Computing, as well as Unix, during the time PA-RISC rose up. Ken Olsen, DEC's founder, pulled the plug in 1989 on Prism, Digital's RISC computer design. HP struggled to get its business servers onto PA-RISC, managing to put its Unix onto the new architecture first. Digital tried to make inroads by touting its 32-bit VAX processors versus the 16-bit HP 3000 classic servers. "Digital has it now," the ads in the trade weeklies proclaimed.

Sieler says that several other companies were incensed at HP having a product called Spectrum, including Chevrolet. "I remember hearing reports of some legal actions against HP, which were reportedly dropped after HP promised to never use that term externally. That is apparently why we titled our book about PA-RISC Beyond RISC instead of Beyond Spectrum. We were told HP wouldn't buy any copies if we had "Spectrum" on the cover. But we did sneak it in: the spectrum is the photo."

RISC was designed to consolidate the development of peripheral interfaces for all all three of its computer lines: HP 3000, HP 9000s, and its real-time systems the HP 1000s. About late 1986, the real time version of HP-UX on PA-RISC —  demonstrated at the 1986 Madrid Interex conference on an HP 9000/840 — was quietly dropped. "We used to have an HP publication about real time support for HP-UX, but I think it went to the Living Computer Museum in Seattle when we gave them our manuals about two years ago," Sieler said.


Chicken, egg: First the 3000's OS, then chips

Rooster
Editor's Note: A technical paper from the DEC world asserted that VMS was the first operating system designed before the chipset that it ran upon. MPE's earliest designs were just as innovative. We asked Stan Sieler for some history.

By Stan Sieler

I'd assume that the 16-bit Classic instruction set architecture and the original MPE were designed at about the same time — probably with the architecture being mostly ready/running (real or simulated/emulated) before the software was ready. Once MPE was up and running, some years later there were arguably one to three architectures designed for it (exclusively or not).    

FOCUS

A group of about 12 of us (labs, chip people, me for the OS lab) designed a 32-bit architecture for the next generation HP 3000.        

The architecture was an evolution of an earlier FOCUS used by Ft. Collins for some HP 9000s (after the 68000 models, before the PA-RISC models), and it (the earlier) was either used by the Amigo (HP 300) and/or was inspired by the Classic 3000 architecture. The project got dropped in favor of the VISION architecture.

VISION        

This was the object-oriented architecture (with 64-bit virtual addressing) that was going to be the next-gen HP 3000, running what was going to be called HPE. We had HP 3000/4x computers with rewritten firmware emulating it, and there were a couple of hand-made real CPU boards beginning to run when I left HP in September 1983 to start Allegro. 

At that time, I had a crude command interpreter running on it under my process management code (I was in charge of process management). VISION was very very interesting.  If I had access rights to an object (say, a record from an IMAGE database with an employee name, a date-of-hire, and other information), I could send another process a "descriptor" (virtual address) that would give them access to precisely the subset I wished (e.g., read access to date-of-hire field of the record). But, that concept is gone now.  No one can do that :(        

VISION was dropped in favor of PA-RISC about a month or so after I left. I commented to Joel Birnbaum that it was dropped because I'd left HP. His reply was, "If I knew that, I'd have gotten rid of you sooner."    

About 1982-1983 I began to hear about an architecture that HP Labs was working on that would allow you to run MPE, RTE, and maybe even HP-UX simultaneously.  It was code-named "Rainbow." I think Rainbow turned out to be PA-RISC.

PA-RISC

In the 1980s, RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computer) was all the rage. People thought it meant quicker execution due to less complex instructions. I am still dubious. I think they underestimated the types of computations and instruction/memory interactions needed — and, indeed, you can see people throwing more and more and more cache towards RISC in an effort to address the speed imbalance between the CPU and memory.

HPE, essentially an extended version of MPE, was designed to run on PA-RISC. To the extent that the virtual memory (and IO) was quite different, that part of the OS was designed for the architecture.

Most of HPE, later MPE XL, then MPE/iX, doesn't care what the architecture is, any more than  Linux/Unix/Windows cares what the architecture is. I seem to recall that a few aspects of the memory protection mechanism (including the Protection ID registers) may have been influenced by HPE's needs.  

Of course, at the same time, HP-UX was being ported from 68000 / FOCUS to PA-RISC, so there may have been interactions there, as well. Note, however, that HP-UX never fully utilized the PA-RISC architecture — particularly the memory addressability, where HPE / MPE XL / MPE/iX had it beaten by far. I don't think HPE, HP-UX, or Netware (which was on PA-RISC briefly, circa 1993) used all the capabilities, including the ability to, in controlled circumstances, let user code directly access some IO instructions.

Itanium (IPF)  

I think I heard that a basic MPE/iX kernel of sorts had been successfully ported to Itanium before the HP 3000 was killed. Obviously, HP-UX was also ported to IPF.   The primary influence MPE/iX and HP-UX probably had was the Itanium ability to run in either little-endian mode (Intel X86 style for Windows) or big-endian (Class, and PA-RISC style, for MPE/iX and HP-UX).

Other operating systems running on Itanium — which have been released in some cases, not released in others — include Windows, Netware, Solaris, OpenVMS, and Tru64 Unix. This list of systems tends to imply that the architecture was not specifically oriented towards one particular operating system.

In short, I think most operating systems exist (perhaps in an earlier form) prior to the chip architecture, but that most architectures are mostly independent of the operating system design/features. The memory addressability mechanism almost always affects major aspects of the internals of the operating system (as it would with VISION).

Photo by Ashes Sitoula on Unsplash


When the HP Way Led the 3000 Astray

Winding road forest

Editor's Note: Being a legacy system expert has its frustrating days. If experts of today ever wonder why they got into the lifespan of Hewlett Packard and MPE, they can look back to the start and the promise of the 3000. Bill Foster was a part of the HP team that created the system, before he went on to found Status Computing. the story below shows the an HP which had to remake MPE.

All the Foster you want, in an HP history worthy of being a book, is at his website.

By Bill Foster

If there ever was a company that always seemed to do the right thing, it was HP back in the 70’s. We had a term called The HP Way. There was no written definition — it was something you felt. When something good happened it was part of The HP Way. When you had the inclination to do something bad — cut corners on a project, treat a customer badly, turn in an inflated expense account, fire a really bad employee — these things didn’t happen. They were not The HP Way. It’s like we walked around with little halos over our heads.

Of course, if this was the only place you worked, you assumed all companies were like HP. You had to leave Hewlett Packard to become a part of the real world. So, we shipped HP 3000 serial #1 to the Lawrence Hall of Science in nearby Berkeley. A couple of weeks later they shipped it back. That 3000 could support at most two or three users on a good day -- nowhere near 16 or 32 or whatever they promised.  And MPE was crashing three or four times a day.

A few months and a couple of machines later HP punted and withdrew the 3000 from the marketplace. They gave free 2116 computers to the customers in hopes of appeasement — The HP Way. Bill and Dave were fuming -- this had been by far the most expensive project in the company’s history, and Hewlett Packard was being inundated with bad press — something that had never happened in the entire history of the company.

In fairly quick succession Paul Ely came down to save things and a few months later my boss Steve Vallender left. I don’t think Steve was fired — HP never fired anyone back then, they just promoted them into oblivion. But Steve was somewhat un-promotable — he lacked a college degree and HP was pretty snobbish about that.

Dick Hackborn asked me if I wanted Steve's old job. Are you kidding? Sure! Hurt me! I was looking to move up the ladder — this was a fantastic break. My guess was they chose me over my hardware counterpart because management finally figured it was better to put a software guy in charge of computer projects. No matter -- here I was, not even 30 years old, running all the hardware and software development for HP's computer business.

My first and most important job was to come up with a plan for the hockey pucks.  A year earlier, Dick Hackborn had hired a couple of smooth-talking marketing bozos out of IBM. Hackborn created a group called Product Marketing within his Engineering group to compete with the real Marketing group at the other end of the building.

This was very out of character for HP — to hire senior people from the outside. One of their first actions was to give mementos of a project to the engineers who had developed it — something tangible to remember their efforts. Apparently this was done all the time at IBM. The IBM marketing bozos came up with the idea of a brass paperweight about the size of a hockey puck, but about half the thickness. Stamped on each one were three overlapping circles signifying batch, realtime, and timesharing — things that the 3000 was supposed to do.  And each individual’s name was engraved on the back.

These were supposed to be handed out months earlier, but with all the problems, Vallender had hidden them away in a file cabinet. My first command move was to sneak in one weekend, lug them out to my car, and take them home to my garage.  The last thing I wanted was for anyone to get wind of them. The next step was to try to get some kind of usefulness out of the 3000 machine, and that meant fixing MPE.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay


Seeking forgiveness as a support plan

So sorry chalkboard
ERP software becomes wired in deeply at corporations. Now that MANMAN has seen the end date coming for its manufacturer support, customers who rely on the ERP suite are looking for a 2020 plan to keep using it.

One aspect is a ruling about whether a product or a vendor is dead, but the intentions for its product lives on. It's an aspect of law called droit moral in France. Droit moral is not recognized in the US. Intentions are preserved in droit moral.

Some HP 3000 owners considered HP a dead entity after 2008, when no more patches were being built. HP's intellectual rights to MPE and the HP 3000 remain in effect. But there are those moral rights, too. This computer would not have become the keystone at places like aircraft makers and airline ticket agencies without customers' contributions, work that started many years ago. In fact, HP once recognized this kind of help in the market with the e3000 Contributor of the Year Award.

Contributors earn rights when measured in terms of ethics. Droit moral preserves ethics.

Source code rights might belong to customers once a product goes into permanent hibernation at the manufacturer. In 2008, I wrote that I believed that in order to honor droit moral for the 3000 community, HP's increasingly restrictive statements of licensing needed to stop. The vendor's support group needed to move on to other profitable HP markets. The vendor needed to leave owners and customers to continue using their computer, without any extra licensing payments to HP.

Droit moral lived in the hearts of some of the 3000 advocates within HP. While I visited HP's 3000 group one afternoon, the former business manager Dave Wilde and I walked across the wooded HP campus to lunch. That entire campus site is now the location of Apple Park, Apple's worldwide HQ, so things have changed a lot. At the time, through, Wilde said the 3000 group wanted to give the system "the ending that it deserves." It sounded warm and genuine.

Infor, the owners of MANMAN, are not as warm and genuine, even though they have enough sense about branding to sponsor the NBA Brooklyn Nets with an Infor logo on Nets uniforms. At the moment there's no coordinated effort from the remaining MANMAN customers to establish whether MANMAN truly belongs to customers after the exit of its creator. The customers are unsure who might even respond to such ownership questions.

Continue reading "Seeking forgiveness as a support plan" »


Does orphaned source code belong to you?

Orphan with bike
Not many application vendors still have shingles hung out for business in the MPE market. It's also been awhile since any vendors made an exit from the MPE marketplace. Now that Infor, makers of MANMAN, will depart this coming June, its ERP customers are talking about what source code is rightfully theirs.

During a conference call, about a dozen customers and another dozen independent support vendors kicked around the idea. Every customer on the call had signed a MANMAN license agreement, way back in the 1980s or 1990s. It was generally accepted that you never own a piece of software unless your organization wrote it.

To put it more plainly, the use of a vendor's product is always governed by an agreement. Everybody agrees on the rules for ownership and use.

Then conditions change.

The vendor folds up a product line, or goes out of business altogether. It happened with MPE/iX, to note one instance of the former fate. 3000 users can scarcely take a few steps before they stumble on a software vendor who's closed down all business. That's what happens over time after a vendor has built the bulk of its business around a server that's no longer sold or supported by the manufacturer.

The new condition gets managers asking about why any license should apply to an orphaned product. Permission to own the code that's only been licensed — that's a matter for the courts, or at least lawyers represening both sides.

The hard place the managers encounter is the language that keeps software in a vendor's IP locker. In cases like these, IP not only means Intellectual Property. It means, "in perpetuity." If anyone has a digital copy of their contract, searching for that phrase will certainly bring up a hit.

Eleven years ago, the 3000 community talked this through while Hewlett-Packard considered the new licensing of MPE/iX source code. Customers wanted their intention of owning a 3000 — to run a business in perpetuity — to match the intentions of HP's product licensing. We invoked French law to give voice to our wishes for that outcome.

There is an aspect of French law which does not exist in US law. It's called "droit moral," meant to protect the moral rights of ownership of a work of art. Even more than HP's support group, the 3000 community considered MPE/iX to be a work of art.

One story about using droit moral in the movie business:

Droit moral is an intellectual right of an artist to protect his work. When an artist dies, the droit moral goes to his heirs, unless he appoints someone else. For example, a John Huston movie was colorized in the US, and the movie was shown this way in the States, despite the opposition of the Huston heirs who were trying to honor their father's artistic wishes. But in France, where the Huston heirs argued their father didn't want his film to be in color, the colorized film can't be shown because of droit moral.

The argument, one which might be tested in court, is that the intention of investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in a product is to use it in perpetuity. Ownership of source hasn't been much tested in US law. The places where cases have appeared before a judge are courtrooms where things went better for the customers than the manufacturers.

Image by Isa KARAKUS from Pixabay


Wayback: HP FAQ captured its OS visions

Canary close up
It's only available through the Internet Wayback Machine, but a record of HP's intent for its enterprise operating systems still exists. For reference we traveled to LegacyOS, a website devoted to the legacies of Sun and HP's enterprise products. The promised land, as HP imagined it 17 years ago, was getting its operating systems to the Itanium Processor Family.

HP's decision to keep MPE/iX away from IPF servers was the canary in the coal mine for the company's business intentions for HP 3000s. Such a canary roosted in mines while work proceeded. If the quality of the air turned poisonous, the canary died and the miners evacuated.

At the time there were only two models of Itanium processors in working servers from HP, so calling it a family was marketing optimism. Nevertheless, moving to the nascent IPF, as well as a new OS in HP-UX, was HP's vision of end-of-life. The life ending turned out to be at HP's MPE/iX labs eight years later, rather than any useful lifespan for MPE/iX.

There is a current-day lesson in any review of the HP 3000 plans of 2002. HP noted at the time the vendor created a Business Critical Systems group. That group, HP's cheerful-but-inaccurate 3000 plans, and HP itself in its classic makeup don't exist anymore. Users can count on their community, rather than the vendor, to see the conditions for any end of life canary.

Q: What is HP’s strategy moving forward with HP e3000 servers?

A: Our commitment to HP e3000 and MPE/iX operating system is to continue delivering on the roadmap we have already communicated, delivering the planned performance and functionality, with future MPE/iX releases in the 2002-2003 timeframe. Moving forward, we are focused on moving HP e3000 customers to IPF-based HP servers that deliver more benefits to the customer, using aggressive and innovative migration programs.

Q: Does HP plan to port MPE/iX to IPF-based platforms?

A: No. MPE/iX will not be ported to Itanium-based servers. The communicated HP e3000 roadmap includes PA-RISC based servers that deliver the performance and functionality customers need in the 2002-2003 timeframe. After that, HP e3000 customers benefit more by moving to HP Unix Servers using Itanium technologies and best-in-class migration programs, and taking advantage of the industry leading performance, functionality, and lasting value that Itanium and HP-UX will deliver.

Q: Should HP e3000 customers who need to stay longer on the platform than 2004 be concerned?

A: Absolutely not. HP will support the servers at least until the end of 2006. During this time, HP is committed not only to provide full support for the servers, but also to make available the aggressive and innovative migration programs, to help customers successfully move into Itanium-based HP-UX servers on their own pace.

To recap, the end of 2006 became the end of 2010, in part because HP's aggressive and innovative migration programs were undermatched to the needs of the customer. The Itanium technologies became an also-ran, lapped by Intel's modernization of x86 processors. Intel announced its departure from Itanium futures in 2015. Now commodity hardware rules the roost in today's mines.

Photo by David Clode on Unsplash


HP still keeps MPE data behind a paywall

Payphone
Photo by John-Paul Henry on Unsplash

It can be surprising to see how much value remains in an operating system that's not been altered in almost a decade. Hewlett Packard Enterprise has 3000 documentation on its website that is still behind a paywall of sorts. Users access this info by validating their HP Passport credentials — the ones that indentify the user as being current on a support contract.

The HPE website has plenty of advice and instruction available without a validation. If you ask, for example, "Can the HP 3000 and GSP LAN configuration be on different subnets?" HPE reports

There are two server platforms (A-CLASS [A400/A500] and N-CLASS [N4000]) that can run MPE, which uses the GSP (Guardian Service Processor) console for offline hardware operations like startup and shutdown of the system, access hardware console or system logs, etc.

It is possible for management purposes to place the GSP operation on a different subnet from the MPE server LAN, thus isolating or protecting either environment from one another. One reason for that can be to prevent normal users from telneting or in other ways accessing the GSP console or the other way around.

Or, another morsel that's useful in the era of declining hardware know-how: A-Class IO path memory configuration guidelines. Useful for the manager who's trying to set up memory cards in one of those $5,000 replacement 3000s.

However, if you'd like to read the most current documents, a support contract stands in the way. An updated NMMAINT listing is behind the paywall. HPE created the document in August of 2019. There's no available support to be purchased from HP for MPE/iX.

The documents that survive can be extensively redacted. A HP3000 License Transfer Process document references a web address no longer in service. The address licensing.hp.com no longer answers to requests.

Some information on MPE/iX at HPE's website is among the 4,386 documents at the site. Having the confidence that it will remain in that place is the next step in learning to rely on HPE resources. Independent MPE/iX resources have been more reliable, although the web pages for MM Support went dark this year.


Xerox HP fight copies 3000's exit saga

Copier user
Xerox has been trying to buy the part of HP left over after the vendor's split up in 2015. The latest $33.5 billion offer, rebuffed by the HP Inc. board, is going to get pushed out to the HP Inc. shareholders. "It's a better deal that you're getting now" is the message to the thousands of HPQ stock managers. Voting shares for or against a merger has a spot in the 3000's legacy.

This is also the outcome that helped cement HP's exit from the 3000 world. In 2002, HP's acquisition of Compaq got pushed out to a proxy battle. Xerox says HP is defying logic by refusing to be acquired. That's the kind of resistance HP loyalists — the HP blue, they were called — tried to muster around Bill Hewlett's son, who was an HP board member.

Without that successful buyout, HP would've had no Digital VMS customer base to court and invest in to feed a business-focused Itanium operating system. HP-UX was a lock for Integrity, to be sure. The 3000 and MPE/iX were there, ready, but just too small for HP's designs on being Number 1 in all of computing. The Compaq PCs were going to make that a reality.

However, about three years after HP rammed through the Compaq merger through a proxy battle, the spark of that deal Carly Fiorina was forced to resign as HP CEO and chairman. PC growth had not contributed to significant HP market dominance. At the same time, the health of its enterprise business began to slip ever so slightly.

Another CEO pumped up HP's sales, even while its ability to sell OpenVMS and HP-UX faltered. Enterprise computing with HP-built operating systems was in decline. HP became an all-Windows enterprise supplier when full business server sales were measured.

The juicy fruit that HP's board dangled in front of uncommitted shareholders was Compaq's roaring PC business. A combined company would be No. 1 in market share almost immediately. That was promised, anyway. The fortunes of OpenVMS seemed secure, heading into the portfolio of a technology giant that had enterprise legacy to match Digital's.

By 2016, OpenVMS was in the chute toward ex-product status at HP. The coup de gras took place this year when VMS support customers were told the future was in the hands of VMS Software, Inc. OpenVMS users, as well as the MPE customers who were the casualty in that 2002 merger, can look at Xerox and watch the conflict knowing it won't change their fates.

Those were set in motion by the last proxy battle. The juicy fruit that HP's board dangled in front of uncommitted shareholders was Compaq's roaring PC business. The fortunes of OpenVMS seemed secure, heading into the portfolio of a technology giant that had enterprise legacy to match Digital's.

MPE customers were sent down the path where Tru64, another Digital creation, sits today. Formal support ended for them. However, MPE/iX was more than a new edition of Unix. It built a community around vendors. There was no other choice once that proxy war was lost.

Mergers are a good way to see where the soul of a company resides — if there's an open fight. Of course, there wouldn't be a shadow of the old HP to fight over — printer-PC HP Inc. — if the Compaq acquisition had failed. HP might be in the position of seeing itself absorbed and erased. A new afterlife seems unlikely for a company founded on something as common as Windows and printers.


Welcome to Year 19 of the Afterlife

Cheated Death on printer
You remember where you were, perhaps, on the day you learned Hewlett-Packard was done with MPE/iX. You might have been in a meeting, or checked your email before heading home. You might have been installing something a 3000 needed to keep serving your company, or even ready to order a new server to replace the old 9x8 box. Some unlucky vendors were holding orders for new systems.

People did all of that and more on the day HP revealed its 3000 era was on its way to a finish. By 2003 the community was calling the new era The Afterlife. The lifespan of building new HP 3000 hardware was ended when a box rolled off the line at the Roseville plant in early November that year.

Afterlife shirt

And so, on November 14 of 2001, the afterlife of Hewlett-Packard's lifetime started with dismay, anger, and then resignation. The five stages of death proceeded through discussions in a lively 3000 newsgroup. Taking a cue from the horrors of 9/11 in that season, programmers and vendors howled about the relatively unimportant death in their lives.

Doug Greenup was leading Minisoft in that November week. The CEO of a software company whose products were on thousands of systems, he became aware of the HP pullout with just one day's notice.

Alvina Nishimoto from HP called me. She was in charge of third parties with HP at the time. She asked me to sign a non-disclosure which she'd just faxed me. She said she had important news. I signed it and faxed it right back. She called to tell me HP was announcing they were discontinuing the HP e3000, and that HP-UX was their future direction.

HP might have been worried the story was going to get into the world without its influence. The news had been roiling through the 3000 community for more than a week before I learned about it. I'd been away on a vacation in Europe when I got the call from my partner Abby. HP wanted to brief me. Wirt Atmar, the founder of AICS and a 3000 stalwart, threw off the lid 10 days earlier about the pullout by posting to a developers' mailing list.

I spoke to two of our oldest, most trusted customers yesterday, one a ten-year customer and the other 15 years, about this upcoming announcement. Their first reactions were that it simply sucked their breath away. When I told them about HP's proposed plans of migrating their applications to HP-UX — which as an option has all of the practicality to them of trying to establish a penguin colony in Death Valley — their second reaction was "the hell with HP. If we move, it will be to anything but HP." I think that that's going to be the general reaction.

HP learned a great deal about ending a product line with the lessons that began 18 years ago. Earlier this year the company made a graceful transfer of responsibility for OpenVMS, sending the software as well as support opportunities to an independent firm, VMS Software Inc. HP won't sell any more OpenVMS licenses, although it continues to build Itanium servers that will run the apps created for that OS.

This was a vision that the HP 3000 community took to heart during the first of the 18 years that followed. A similar group of OS experts, organized and led by Adager, wanted HP to transfer the future of MPE/iX to new, independent stewards. HP didn't know how to do this in 2001 or in 2002. The offer took another form in the OpenMPE advocate organization, but eight more years had to slip past before HP's source code made its way into independent software labs.

A new history began 18 years ago today, a chronicle of a group of customers who kept their own counsel about walking away from a corporate computing asset. The next two years or so will show HP Enterprise customers what might have been possible had MPE/iX found a third party home. VSI is predicting that it will have production-grade OpenVMS ready for a late 2021 release on Intel hardware.

This is more than a shift away from the HP Enterprise resources. VSI is carrying OpenVMS to a new chipset, a commodity home. In 2001, Atmar told HP's business manager for 3000 operations, Winston Prather, such a move was what the 3000 customers deserved.

Opening MPE up and migrating it to an Intel platform offers at least some real hope for a continued and bright future for MPE. More than that, it keeps a promise that most customers believe HP has made to them, and that is very much the nub of the moral and ethical question that faces you now, Winston.

Migrating MPE to Intel hardware would have permitted MPE to run on inexpensive but high-quality servers. Earlier this month, VSI announced a timeline for such a thing to happen with OpenVMS. A different HP paved the way to that decision—a vendor perhaps chastened by the past—than the corporation that launched the 3000's afterlife.

In the beginning, the launch of this server took place during this month. The slogan at the HP 3000 lab in 1972 was "November is a Happening." Nothing can change what happened nearly 30 years later. But the VSI transfer shows the decisions over what to do with a loyal enterprise customer base have changed in the years since 2001's happenings.


HP's tech lures Xerox offer to buy

HP printer tech
Photo by Dario Seretin on Unsplash

Plenty of writers and customers get confused about the HP of 2019. Back in 2014, the corporation split into two units, operations that align on devices and datacenters. Hewlett-Packard Enterprise now sells datacenter products and services. It's the arm that created HP 3000s in the 1970s. HP Inc., the part of the company that makes printing, imaging, and PC products, received an offer this week to be purchased by Xerox.

HP Inc. acquired 55 patents from Samsung for business printing not long ago. Now the corporation is being courted by a suitor whose printing legacy is wired deep into the DNA of Hewlett-Packard's spinoff. Patents for LaserJet tech, the engineering that in 1984 took HP into the realm of resellers farther removed from HP than any 3000 VAR, are part of what Xerox is bidding for.

The offer, which HP Inc. confirmed it has received, would sign up Xerox for more than $20 billion in debt, financed by Citigroup. The appetites of the HP which created the 3000 and then cut down the vendor's future in the MPE/iX market helped to spark that 2014 split. HP was striving for an overall Number One status as a technology supplier in the years just before it announced its takedown of its 3000 business.

Management at the vendor aligned on growing sectors of business. While the 3000 had enjoyed a nice revenue increase for several years leading up to Y2K, HP saw the unit as one whose growth had a limited future. "If it's not growing, it's going," one 3000 vendor said he'd heard in reports about HP's future.

This was in the era when PCs were soaring on the HP balance sheets and printer products were being sold in groceries. The corporation had just acquired Compaq and Compaq's Digital group, so while there was a future for OpenVMS and its growth, cutting back on enterprise products became essential in HP's strategy.

Xerox developed the first viable graphical interface technology in its Star systems. The Palo Alto Research Center's tour for a young Steve Jobs at Apple led to the mouse interface becoming an essential part of the Macintosh release. 

In a move that proves there's always value in technology that outlasts its creators, there's now a deal in the market to return some of HP business technology to a corporation that's been a part of business computing history since the 1980s. It can be hard to tell what's going to survive in computing and where it will land. HP Inc. recently announced it will be cutting 9,000 more jobs. Betting on good management is at least as important as betting on good technology. As 3000 owners know, technology like MPE/iX is able to outlive the interests of its creators.


Wayback Wed: Leaving a Wake on an exit

Chris Gauthier  Jackie at Wake
Simpkins  Nizzardini  Johnson Wake redux
Above, a 2019 commemorative lunch today at Tide Mill Café in Hampton, VA with Terry Simpkins, Al Nizzardini and Tracy Johnson, all 3000 experts and veterans of MPE. 3000s are in use at their company, TE Connectivity. At top, a 2003 World Wide Wake picture with Chris Gauthier and his co-worker Jackie Mitchell, both supporting 3000 customers as contractors to Terix.

Today we're marking the 16th anniversary of the World Wide Wake. The event was a marker of the end of HP’s 3000 manufacturing on Oct. 31, 2003. Alan Yeo, who passed away recently, organized the Wake and posted photos contributed from attendees onto what we were still calling the World Wide Web. A Web gallery for 3000 people was groundbreaking at the time.

Yeo said back in 2004, a few months after the event that drew more than 400 devotees to meetings in 15 countries, “We have created a simple single Web page that by country just lists the venues and who attended, and also has a link to any pictures for that venue," Yeo said. “The information will be condensed into a single Web page, linked to a directory of about 75 images. We have had several offers to host the information, so rather than try and pick a single host, we thought that allowing any interested attendee to host it would be best.”

Thanks to good Web hunting from Keven Miller, the Wayback Machine link to the original Web page tells the tale of who attended, and where, along with some of the photos.

Our own archive of the photos, sans captions, is here on the blog.

The photos from that day look like party pictures, even though nobody in them was celebrating anything except Halloween. The memories were on the minds of everyone in the frame, though. The future without any more new 3000s didn't seem to scare anyone on that day, at least not for the cameras. It was a coincidence that the building of new computers, as well as the licenses for the MPE/iX that made the boxes genuine 3000s, stopped on the spooky holiday. HP's fiscal year ends every year on October 31.

The Wake gatherings were all across the globe. New Zealand was the furthest away from the Epicenter of Grief, as the 3000 faithful had dubbed Lori's Little Shack in Roseville, the town where HP's 3000 factory was ending its birth of the servers. 

Loree's Epicenter Grief

Continue reading "Wayback Wed: Leaving a Wake on an exit" »


Who's to blame when the lights go out?

Power-lines-towers
Photo by Peddi Sai hrithik on Unsplash

Yesterday the lights didn't come on in Northern California. Everywhere, it seems, because the Pacific Gas & Electric corporation didn't want to be sued for windstorm damages to its power lines. They cut the juice to prevent lawsuits. Tesla owners got a dashboard warning.

The surprise about the outage was as complete as the shock over Interex dowsing its lights overnight in 2005. Except the cynics could see the PG&E blackout coming.

Solar panel-owning residents of California and electric car owners were most surprised. I went to a 3000 tech mailing list to look for people worried about topping up their Teslas, because some people who picked 3000s are pioneers, so Teslas are well represented among MPE veterans. Like the usual chaff on a mailing list, there were turds of political opinion floating there about who's to blame for California's darkness.

So I wasn't surprised to see more attacks on the state of California. "A third world country" is the shorthand smear, although you can say lots of the US isn't a first world country any longer. In the exchange on the mailing list, it was apparently too much trouble to keep a state’s government separate from talk about Pacific Gas & Electric’s corporate moves. Once PG&E goes bankrupt, then the private corporation’s demise will be blamed on California voters, using that logic. It’s easier than keeping commerce and government separate, I suppose. 

Blaming the tough regulations about state rate hikes for the disaster that is PG&E business is having it both ways: Government is crucial, and government is ridiculous. On and on it goes, until we are supposed to trust a government that lets PG&E do whatever it wants, so long as profits stay high. 
 
Because every corporation with ample profits has always taken care of its customers in every need. 
 
Some people on that mailing list sure have a short memory about such nonsense. We are all survivors of a meltdown of a business model where corporate profits were ensured — because revenue growth was the only thing that mattered — while legacy technology got scrapped. Millions of dollars of investments, the fate of hundreds of vendors, and thousands of careers were lost.
 
The mailing list name still has the numerals 3000 in it. You’d think people would remember what brought us into each others' lives, along with the lesson we learned the hard way together. Oversight is important. The problem which hit the Hewlett-Packard 3000 customers was a lack of oversight from top-level management and the board of directors. It's sometimes hard to know what to do while things are changing (the computer business) and ambitions are high (make HP bigger than anybody, so it will win every deal).
 
A good rule to follow, though, is like a physician. First, do no harm. The 3000 community got treated by HP like a limb that had gone gangrenous. Old history that'll never be changed, yes. Also, a lesson for managers on how to treat older bodies like an operating system and software that's not new but is still performing well.  
 
Complaining about oversight, when you'd rather have none at all, is what got HP into the state it's in today. Two corporations, neither growing, both unable to honor the promises of forever-computing that drove companies to buy its products. HP's cut itself loose from the future of OpenVMS, and the thousands of companies that rely on that legacy OS need to trust VMS Software Inc., new owners of the OS's future.
 
It's a better deal than the one HP gave its 3000 customers. Private money would've taken over MPE futures in 2002. HP wouldn't sell or license it, but again, that's just history. Now that the lights aren't going on for the 3000 at HP anymore — so many of HP's 3000 web pages are dead or buried alive — it evokes the powerless situation in California.

Continue reading "Who's to blame when the lights go out?" »


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."


Two very tough days for 3000 customers

Punch-to-jaw
July 18-19 isn't a date that lives in infamy like November 14. The latter is the date HP announced it was leaving the 3000 customers to find their own futures. The former is a pair of days in 2005 when a 31-year-old user group died, followed by HP's announcement of a layoff of 10 percent of its workforce.

That's a one-two that rocked 3000 shops still trying to concoct a transition plan toward their next computer platform. First, the storied resource of 3000 know-how switches off the lights without warning, freezing up things like a Contributed Software Library. Then 15,000 HP staff including some one-of-a-kind experts in MPE, got their termination orders.

By this July week of 2005 HP had done good work for the 3000 customer, in the form of promises, intentions, and plans, much of it by people in what was called Virtual CSY.  The layoffs didn't help any of those intentions, or reinforce the business decisions that could still make a difference to a 3000 customer.

HP's layoffs happened so long ago the vendor made the announcement before the stock market opened. That would be a post-trading news item today.

Interex, on the other hand, made an announcement that sounded like it was written standing over a terminal before someone cut out the power to the office.

Dear members:

It is with great sadness, that after 31 years, we have found it financially necessary to close the doors at Interex. Unfortunately our publications, newsletters, services, and conference (HPWorld 2005) will be terminated immediately. We are grateful to the 100,000 members and volunteers of Interex for their contributions, advocacy, and support. We dearly wish that we could have continued supporting your needs but it was unavoidable.

Interex

Your community reacted with resignation and invention. There was no panic or an accelerated drumbeat of exiting the 3000. In fact, just a few months later HP announced it was extending its exit date— and adjustment in plans triggered by the fact that customers had no intention of being done with MPE/iX by 2006.

In San Francisco, where many an airline ticket was already booked with no chance of a refund, the 3000 team decided to hold a last supper for user group conferences.

Continue reading "Two very tough days for 3000 customers" »


Wayback: Security boosts as enhancements

Booster-seat
They weren't called enhancements at the time, but 13 years ago this month some security patches to MPE represented internal improvements that no company except HP could deliver to 3000s. Not at that time, anyway. This was the era when the 3000 community knew it needed lab-level work, but its independent support providers had no access to source code.

Just bringing FTP capability up to speed was a little evidence the vendor would continue to work on MPE/iX. For the next few years, at least; HP had halted OpenMPE's dreams to staff up a source code lab by delaying end of support until 2008. The vendor announced a couple more years of its support to 3000 customers.

In doing that, though, HP made an assignment for itself with the support extension, the first of two given to the 3000 before the MPE lab went dark in 2010. That assignment was just like the one facing today's remaining HP 3000 customers: figure out how to extend the lifespan of MPE expertise in a company.

FTP subsequently worked better in 2006 than it had in the years leading up to it. It's not an arbitrary subject. FTP was the focus of a wide-ranging online chat in May. Did you know, for example, that FTP has a timeout command on MPE/iX?

The connection time-out value indicates how long to wait for a message from the remote FTP server before giving up. The allowable range is 0 to 3000. A value from 1 to 3000 indicates a time-out value in seconds. A value of 0 means no time-out (i.e., wait forever). If num-secs is not specified, the current time-out value will be displayed. Otherwise, this command sets the connection time-out to num-secs seconds.

When an FTP job gets stuck, using timeout can help.

MPE/iX engineers and systems managers were working more often in 2006 than they do today. When anybody who uses MPE/iX finds a 3000 expert still available, they need to get in line for available work time. It remains one good reason to have a support resource on contract. A company relying on a 3000 shouldn't be thinking a mailing list or a Slack channel represents a genuine support asset. Even if that FTP tip did arrive via the 3000-L.

The resource of good answers for crucial questions gets ever more rare. The 3000-L mailing list has rarely been so quiet. There are information points out there, but gathering them and starting a discussion is more challenging than ever. File Transfer Protocol is pretty antique technology for data exchange. It turns out to be one of the most current standards the 3000 supports.

Continue reading "Wayback: Security boosts as enhancements" »


Compromises throw doubts about clouds

Thunder-cloud-3554670_1920

Cloud services show some promise for companies which are dropping their on-premise IT hardware to get costs down and put maintenance in the hands of service companies.

As the HP hardware ages, its reliability becomes a weak point. There’s a risk to using clouds, though, one that the 3000 community knows well and holds dear.

Outside services can be vulnerable to security attack. When the attack takes place outside a datacenter, the responsibility falls to the manager who selects the service.

A hacking campaign known as Cloud Hopper has been the subject of a US indictment, one that accused Chinese nationals of identity theft and fraud. Prosecutors described an operation that victimized multiple Western companies. A Reuters report at the time identified two: IBM and Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

Cloud Hopper ensnared at least six more major technology firms, touching five of the world’s 10 biggest tech service providers. Reuters also found compromises through Fujitsu, Tata Consultancy Services, NTT Data, Dimension Data, and Computer Sciences Corporation.

Another compromise pathway was DXC Technology. HPE spun-off its services arm in a merger with Computer Sciences Corporation in 2017 to create DXC. HP's Enterprise group represents one-fourth of all the known compromised Cloud Hopper attack points.

Assurances that a cloud is secure come with references, but the degree of safety remains largely in the eyes of the beholder. There’s not much in the way of audits and certifications from independent reviewers. MPE cloud computing is still on the horizon. Reports about unsafe clouds are helping to keep it that way.


Being there now, right where we expect him

Birket-Chamber
Where Are They Now
?

Fifteen years ago, Birket Foster had an opening line for a history of the 3000 world. "It was a marketplace of names." Birket's is one of a group of well-known first-only names, along with Alfredo and Vladimir and Eugene. Earlier this spring he commemorated 42 years in the market. Every one has included a week of business serving HP's business server community.

In a few days he'll be doing what he's done, and in the same places, as he's done for years. There's a webinar that covers the promises and practices of application modernization and synchronization. Systems that look and behave like they're old are made new again. You can register for the June 12 event, to be held at 2 PM Eastern.

Right at the heart of the MB Foster business, though, pulses UDACentral. "We have completed its shakedown cruise at the Government of Canada in a BCIP program, and of course are moving another group of databases for customers that contract MBFoster to do the work using UDACentral."

Moving and managing data has always been at the center of MB Foster's competency. "We have been adding databases to the mix: Aurora (for AWS) and MongoDB are now part of what we are serving. We even did a paid Proof of Concept for UDASynch taking MongoDB back to Oracle."

The company's core team has been steady, but what's ahead is pushing UDACentral's wide array of improvements "to change them from a project to a product. That process will need additional sales talent and trainers, as well as more support and programming talent, so my hobby is expanding again." That's a hobby of assembling resources for new ideas.

In the meantime there is family life for Birket, the pleasures of two daughters and a son already old enough to be expanding and embracing lives in medicine and business, as well as building families of their own. Fishing the Ottawa River's massive muskies remains a passion, one he's pursuing this summer with HP 3000 tech guru Mark Ranft. Birket often has a hook in the water.


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.


Itanium, we hardly knew ye, aside from HP

Titanic
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" »


Driving a Discontinued Model with Joy

Volt
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" »


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.


Source code for MPE/iX: Security, by now

Blanket-Ad
Ten years ago this week the 3000 community was in a state of anticipation about MPE/iX. HP had an offer it was preparing that would give select vendors the right to use the operating system code. The vendors would have a reference-use-only license agreement for MPE/iX. No one knew whether the source would have any value, said Adager CEO Rene Woc.

Adager, the company whose 3000 products are so omnipresent they held a spot on the Hewlett-Packard corporate price list, believed there was potential for independent support and development vendors. What was far less certain was how far HP would let source go to solve problems for the 3000 community.

"Source code is important whenever these kinds of [vendors] have support from HP, which most of them do," he said in that month of 2008. But HP engineers can look at source, just as third parties will do, "and the answers won't come instantaneously. In the meantime, you have to get your business back on track, and I think that's what the customer is eventually interested in. It will be nice to have that additional [source code] resource — especially in the sense that it will not be lost to the community."

There was a chance that HP's source licensing terms would be too restrictive, "to the point where you say that you are better off not knowing, because then we're free to use all the methods we've worked with while we didn't have source." After getting a license to source, Woc added, "you might have to prove that you got your knowledge through a difference source than HP's source code. We will see."

That sort of proof has never been required. Not in a public display, at least. Source code, held by vendors such as Pivital Solutions and others, has been a useful component in workarounds and fixes. HP never gave the community the right to modify MPE/iX. This turned out to be a good thing, as it kept the 3000s stable and made support a manageable business for application vendors.

There was also the wisdom that the resource of HP's code would have to prove itself. At least it held a chance for rescue and repair.

The source code "is probably a security blanket," Woc said in 2008. "In that respect, it's good that it will be available, that they're starting to offer some things. We'll have to see what kind of conditions HP will offer in their license agreements." 

Having source access though a license did not automatically make license holders better providers of products and services, he added. "You cannot assume, even with good source code readers, that the solutions will pop up," he said. "A lot of the problems we see these days are due to interactions between products. So the benefit for the customer would be based more on the troubleshooting skills that an organization can provide."

"The basic resources [of source] won't make things better by themselves," Woc said. "It's a matter of troubleshooting." 


HP 3000 dream tracks close to virtualization

Railroad switches
An HP 9000 HP-UX virtualization product is in development. In that kind of design, a single Intel server with enough computing power (concurrent threads) could host both HP 3000 and HP 9000 virtualizations. HP had the same objective almost 20 years ago for its largest enterprise platforms.

Early in 1999 HP's Harry Sterling spoke at an all-day user meeting in the UK hosted by Riva Systems. Sterling, who'd retire before the end of that year, said a multi-OS server was within HP's vision for the 3000 and 9000 customers.

Sterling’s mentioned the possibility of running MPE, NT and Unix concurrently on the HP 3000 "sometime in the future." There was even the possibility of a “hot-swap” version of MPE alongside the production system. John Dunlop reported for us at the time.

The passing mention indicated that separate processors in one box would be able to run different operating systems. Sterling did suggest that a hot-swap version of MPE might be a valid use, so that there would be some redundancy with the live operating system.

This seemed to lead to the subject of more uptime. From these comments, it’s possible that HP is looking at allowing online changes to a hot-swap system and then just switching it over to achieve the so-called “magic weekend.” This is a system upgrade that occurs seamlessly and transparently to both the users and management.

That would be a dream not realized. Hot-swap didn't make it any further into the customer base than architect discussions. Sterling noted that in 1997 customers expressed concern about the future of the 3000. To counter that feeling and give the customers more confidence, he outlined in 1999 a five-year roadmap for the 3000.

Marketing was on board as well in that year that led to Y2K. It would take another 13 years before a multiple OS host for MPE/iX would emerge.

Continue reading "HP 3000 dream tracks close to virtualization" »


HP show offers something to Discover

HP Discover Madrid
Early this morning the new-ish HP, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, was connecting with its customers in an old-school way. The HPE Discover conference has been unreeling since Monday and today was the final day of three in Madrid. These kinds of events were once so remote it took a week or more to learn what was said. Now there's a live-streamed component the vendor mounts on browsers and over phones anywhere.

Whether there's anything worth a live stream depends on the C-level of the viewer. How to Tame Your Hybrid Cloud and The Future and Ethics of AI might be best absorbed by a CTO or some other CxO. On-the-ground solutions don't show up much in HP's livestreams. The most practical lessons usually came during sessions of the 1980s and '90s held in rooms where indie software vendors delivered chalk talks. Down on the expo floor the instruction was even more focused. A manager could get advisories on their specific situations.

That's part of what Stromasys is doing at Madrid this week. An application demo isn't a novel experience most of the time. Making commonplace hardware behave like proprietary systems can still be a revelation. Over in Hall 9 this morning, managers at Discover will see demos of a Charon solution that's got more than 7,000 installed sites, according to Stomasys.

More of those 7,000 sites are MPE/iX emulations than ever. The demos will operate on both on-premise servers as well as from the cloud. Stromasys likes to remind the world that its Charon emulates VAX, Alpha, and SPARC systems as well as the HP 3000. The vendor does this reminding in person at conferences in places like Madrid, like the Middle East, and it demonstrates its virtualization at VM World in the US, too.

Conferences like HPE Discover were once run by user organizations and funded by booth sales. It was a personal business in those days before the Web gave us everything everywhere. Today the personalization arrives at vendor booths with demonstrations for those who've traveled to ask questions. Having an expert on hand to answer them shows a committment to keeping new solutions on display.


It's always a red letter day today

You can use shorthand and say "November 2001." Or you can say the day that HP's 3000 music died. November 14 still marks the start of the post-HP era for MPE/iX as well as the 3000 hardware HP sold. It took another two years to stop selling the PA-RISC servers the company had just revamped with new models months before the exit-the-market announcement. PCI-based N-Class and A-Class, the market hardly knew ye before you were branded as legacy technology.

For a few years I stopped telling this story on the anniversary, but 12 years ago I cut a podcast about the history of this enterprise misstep. (Listen by clicking the graphic above) HP lost its faith in 2001 but the customers hadn't lost theirs and the system did not lose its life. Not after November 14 and even not today. Not a single server has been manufactured since late 2003, and even that lack of new iron hasn't killed MPE/iX. The Stromasys emulator Charon will keep the OS running in production even beyond the January 2028 date MPE/iX is supposed to stop keeping accurate dates. 

Red Letter Days were so coined because they appeared on church calendars in red. They marked the dates set aside for saints. In 1549 the first Book of Common Prayer included a calendar with holy days marked in red ink; for example, Annunciation (Lady Day), 25th March. These were high holy days and holidays. The HP 3000 came into HP's product line on a November in 1972. November is a Happening read the banners in the HP Data Systems Division. No day of that month was specified, but you might imagine it was November 14, 1972. That was a Tuesday, while the 2001 date fell on a Wednesday. A total of 1,508 weeks of HP interest.

Something important happened in that other November of 29 years later. Hewlett-Packard sent its customers into independent mode. Those who remained faithful have had a day to mark each year, logging the number of years they've created their own future. It's 17 and counting as of today.


Wayback: A month to download 3000 Jazz

Jazz-announcement
Ten years ago this month HP was advising its customers to get free software while it was still online. HP said that its Jazz web server was going dark because its 3000 labs would end operations on Dec. 31. Maintained by HP's lab staff, Jazz was being unplugged after 12 years. The software played an essential role in getting the 3000 into the Internet age. Eventually HP learned to market the server as the e3000.

Bootstrapping development fundamentals such as the GNU Tools, the open source gcc compiler, and utilities ported by independent developer Mark Klein had a home on Jazz for a decade. More than 80 other programs were hosted on the server, some with HP support and others ported and created by HP but unsupported by the vendor.

The software is still online 10 years later. Fresche Solutions, which began as Speedware, continues to host Jazz programs and papers at hpmigrations.com/HPe3000_resources. HP was clear in 2008 that customers had better grab what they needed before Jazz went unplugged. HP wasn't going to move the downloadable programs onto the IT Resource Center servers to doc.hp.com.

"Anything that people will need they should download before Dec. 31, 2008," said business manager Jennie Hou. "That's our recommendation."

The list of programs online is long and worth a visit for a 3000 manager looking for help to keep MPE/iX well connected to their datacenter. HP created more than a dozen open source programs which it even supported as of 2008. The list is significant.

• Apache
• BIND
• Many command files
• dnscheck
• Porting Scanner
• Porting Wrappers
• Samba
• The System Inventory Utility
• Syslog
• WebWise

Continue reading "Wayback: A month to download 3000 Jazz" »


Another If-Only Salvation, this time Linux

John Young Lulu
This man launched Red Hat out of a sewing closet, a firm that just sold for $34 billion. HP had a shot at buying Red Hat, too.

IBM announced it's buying Red Hat, paying an all-cash price of $34 billion to help make Big Blue relevant in cloud computing. While investors hated on the deal in the markets, others like Robert Cringley said it makes sense for Big Blue to own Red Hat. It's a color wheel that's spinning around IBM's enterprises. The ones that are the oldest might be those that stand to gain the most. It's the word "most" that reminds us how HP might have salvaged the future of MPE, if only with a deal to bring open source to enterprise customers.

One of my favorite readers, Tim O'Neill, sent along a message about RedHat + IBM. He said that this acquisition could have been done long ago—so long, in fact, that Hewlett-Packard could have executed it before the company stopped believing in MPE/iX. That would have been in the late 1990s, happening to a company that was deeply invested in two technologies just about played out today: Itanium and HP-UX. HP had faith enough in Itanium to stake its enterprise future for its biggest customers on the chips.

As for HP-UX, the OS that HP set out to devour 3000 opportunities, it remains to this day an environment that runs only on HP's architecture. HP used to snicker at Linux and open source options in those late 1990s. One presentation that sticks in my memory has an HP manager presenting a slide of a cartoon drawing of an open source support expert. He's a guy in a goatee slouching in a bean bag chair, mouthing "Dude" in a cartoon balloon.

HP meant to tell the audience that getting Linux support from HP was much more professional. Another message the cartoon sent was that Linux really was something dominated by open source nerds. Just about 20 years later the Revenge of the Nerds moment has arrived with a $34 billion payday. For some reference on that number, recall that HP gave up about $25 billion to purchase Compaq, a company with factories as well as labs.

HP used to have a slogan in the 1980s for advertising its PCs: What If? The IBM acquisition triggers the what-if thinking about Linux as in, "What if HP might have purchased the leading distro for Linux and used it to improve its proprietary environments' futures?" Would it have helped in any way to have a true open source platform, rather than just environments that were called "open systems?" The difference between an open source and an open system matters the most to developers and vendors, not to system makers. If Red Hat Linux might have helped MPE/iX look more open, at a source level, who knows how the 3000's prospects might have changed.

The melding and overlay of operating environments as different as Linux and MPE/iX had been tried before at HP, more than eight years before the company made its way away from the enterprise computing HP Way. In 1993 the project was HP MOST, one where I did some writing for Hewlett-Packard about a world where everybody could live together. Cats and dogs, Unix and MPE XL, all working together.

Continue reading "Another If-Only Salvation, this time Linux" »


Wed Wayback: India rises, California rests

HP-3000-lab-Bangalore-1995

As we rolled out the NewsWire 23 years ago this month we tracked a new element in the HP engineering lineup. Resources  Sterlingwere being added from India. By the time a couple of Octobers rolled past in 1997 we published our first Q&A interview with Harry Sterling. He'd just assumed the leadership of the 3000 division at HP, bringing an R&D lab leader into the general manager's post for the first time. Sterling was the best GM the 3000 ever had because his habits flowed from customer contact. The labs developed a routine with customer councils and visits as a major part.

SartainThat Indian element was integrating in earnest by 1997. MPE/iX development was a serious part of HP's work in Bangalore, India. It was becoming common to see India engineers giving technical talks at user group meetings. IMAGE lab manager Jim Sartain, who worked for Sterling, was essential in adding Indian engineering to keep the 3000's lab headcount abreast of customer needs.

Bangalore is more than twelve hours ahead of the time zone in California, the state where the 3000 labs were working in 1997. We asked Sterling about how he was integrating the Indian workers with his Cupertino CSY labs.

So the actual head count in CSY's California labs doesn't matter?

No. Our solution teams are made of engineers in Bangalore and in Cupertino. It's a virtual team. It's not like Bangalore does this set of solutions and we do that set of solutions. We don't carve it up that way because we have mirror images of the different projects.

Why is the Bangalore connection working as well as it is?

We've created an environment where our engineers have been able to establish personal relationships with the engineers at Bangalore. For example, they've often been there. One time or another over the last 18 months most of the engineers from Bangalore, at least certainly all of the leads, have been to Cupertino for some period of time. We have pictures of their whole organization in our hallways so we know who they are. We know what they look like. We know, in many cases, we know about their families and it's like another HP employee just happens to be on the other side of the world.

They're real people to us, a part of the team. And that's what's made it work for us. We don't just treat them like we've subcontracted some of our work to a team in India. There are some HP organizations that treat them that way, but we've had a much greater success. They are so proud to be a part of CSY. They have a big sign that says CSY Bangalore.

Continue reading "Wed Wayback: India rises, California rests" »


Wayback: HP's prop-up in a meltdown week

TradersTen years ago this week the HP shareholder community got a slender boost amid a storm of financial crisis around the world. While the US economy was in a meltdown, Hewlett-Packard -- still a single company -- made a fresh promise to buy back its stock for $8 billion. Companies of HP's size were being labelled Too Big to Fail. The snarl of the banking collapse would be a turning point for a Presidential election. A Wall Street Journal article on the buybacks called HP's move a display of strength. HP wanted to ensure its market capitalization wouldn't take a pounding.

HP was electing to pump a smaller buyback into its shares compared to a competitor's effort. Microsoft was announcing a $40 billion buyback in the same week. At the time, the two companies were trading at about the same share price. Hewlett-Packard was working through its final season with a 3000 lab, tying a bow on the final PowerPatch of the MPE era. One customer recently called that last 2008 release "MPE/iX 7.5.5."

The company was looking to get into a new operating system business in September of 2008, though. HP would be developing a server of its own built upon a core OS of Linux. HP closed down its Nashua, New Hampshire facility just a few months earlier. The offices where VMS was being revived were going dark. At least HP was still selling hardware and growing. We took note of the contrast between selling goods and shuffling financial paper.

Not all of the US economy is in tatters, despite what trouble is being trumpeted today. HP and Microsoft and Nike still run operations which supply product that the world still demands, product which can't be easily swapped in some shadowy back-door schemes like debt paper or mortgage hedges.

A decade later, much has changed and yet not enough to help HP's enterprise OS customers. VMS development has been sold off to a third party firm, OpenVMS Inc. That move into Linux has created a low-cost business server line for HP which doesn't even mention an OS. Meanwhile, Microsoft's stock is trading above $120 a share and HP's split-up parts sell for between $15 and $27 a share, covering the HP Enterprise and PC siblings.

Last week Microsoft announced an impressive AI acquisition, Lobe. For its part, HP Enterprise announced it was refinancing its debt "to fund the repayment of the $1.05 billion outstanding principal amount of its 2.85% notes due 2018, the repayment of the $250 million outstanding principal amount of its floating rate notes due 2018, and for general corporate purposes." A decade ago financial headwinds were in every corporate face. By this year the markets have sorted out the followers from the leaders. HP stepped away from OS software and has created a firm where sales of its Enterprise unit has gone flat. 

Stock buybacks offer a mixed bag of results. Sometimes the company doing the buyback simply doesn't have the strength and bright enough future to hope to reap some benefit—for the company. Shareholders love them, though. The customers are a secondary concern at times.

The $8 billion probably seemed like a good idea at the time, considering it was in the Leo Apotheker era and its misguided acquistions. (A deal for 3Par comes to mind, where a storage service vendor recently noted that it was Dell that drove up the 3Par acquistion price by pretending to bid for it.) The trouble with stock buybacks is just about nobody can stop them. Shareholders are always happy to have shares rise, either on the news of the buyback or the upswing over the next quarter.


Wayback: DX cuts new 3000 price to $7,077

Field-of-dreams
The Series 918DX was going to deliver the 3000's Field of Dreams

If only the HP 3000 were less costly. The price of the system and software was a sticking point for most of its life in the open systems era, that period when Unix and Windows NT battled MPE/iX. HP's own Unix servers were less costly to buy than the 3000s using the same chipset. Twenty-one years ago this season, the cost of a 3000 became a problem HP wanted to solve.

Cheaper 3000s would be a field of dreams. If a developer could build an app, the customers would come.

Now, Hewlett-Packard was not going to cut the cost of buying every HP 3000 in 1997. When developers of applications and utilities made their case about costs, the HP 3000 division at last created a program where creators would get a hardware break. The Series 918DX was going to help sell more 3000s. It would be the only model of 3000 HP ever sold new for under $10,000. A less costly workbench would attract more application vendors.

The list price of the DX was $7,077. Still more than a Unix workstation or a Windows PC of 1997. The thinking of the time came from a new team at the 3000 division, where marketing manager Roy Breslawski worked for new GM Harry Sterling. Removing a cost barrier for small, startup developers was going to open the doors for new applications.

HP simply adjusted its pricing for hardware and software on a current 3000 model to create the DX. The product was a Series 918/LX with 64 MB of memory, a 4GB disk, a DDS tape drive, a UPS, and a system console.

HP included all of its software in the bundle, such as compilers for C, COBOL, FORTRAN, BASIC, Pascal and even RPG. It was all pre-loaded on that 4GB drive: a Posix Developers Kit, ARPA Services, Workload Manager, Glance Plus, TurboStore, Allbase/SQL. No 3000 would be complete without IMAGE/SQL. The harvest was rich for the small development ventures.

The size of the bundled HP software created one of the drags on the DX. HP automatically billed for the support on every program. When developers started to evaluate the offer, the $7,000 hardware came with $14,000 worth of support commitments.

HP leasing wasn't an HP option for such an inexpensive server, however. Rental costs would amount to buying it more than once. The vendors who were sensitive to hardware pricing didn't have strong sales and marketing resources. They could build it, but who would come?

Continue reading "Wayback: DX cuts new 3000 price to $7,077 " »


Wayback: 3000s boot mainframes out of HP

Heart Story 1996
In the summer months of 1996, HP was plugging 3000s in where mainframes were serving. Jim Murphy, program manager for the mainframe replacement project, told the 3000 community that IBM mainframes from 30 years earlier were getting the boot because HP was building servers better than the Big Blue iron.

The company was finally using 3000s to do the work they were built to do. An order fulfillment system called Heart was driving every sales fulfillment. Payroll for HP in North America was also performed using MPE/iX.

1996 was a hard year for the 3000 in some places. The spots where HP's reps felt that only a Unix solution — mistakenly called an open system — would win a sale were no-3000 zones. As a separate division, GSY's 9000 group never wanted to give any ground to HP's commercial computer line. At times, 3000 sites would be encouraged to get a open computer from HP. Plenty of the mainframe replacement in HP involved HP-UX systems.

By the time the August 1996 conference gathered in Anaheim, California, Murphy had a paper in the Interex '96 proceedings. HP IT Program to Eliminate Mainframes explained to a conference full of 3000 owners and managers that it was all HP systems inside the corporate data center by May 17, 1996. The 3000 was a key element in HP's modernization.

The role of the HP 3000 in HP's mainframe elimination process is important from two perspectives. First, as the number of data centers within HP rose, the reliance on IBM-style mainframes did not: the HP 3000s carried a fair amount of the increasing processing loads. Second, as IT began rewriting IBM-based COBOL applications for the 3000 platform, many of the re-writes included moving to client/server architectures. This meant HP IT was becoming familiar with client/server as early as the late 1980s.

The paper is archived at the OpenMPE website.

The Anaheim conference was notable for another big announcement. The World's Largest Poster was unfurled in the winds of a nearby high school's football field. "MPE Kicks Butt" was the slogan on those acres of paper. Inside the HP IT datacenter, the 3000 had kicked sand into the face of some of the company's most critical mainframe systems.

PosterProject


Meet shows veterans never too old to learn

2018 3000 Reunion

The number of people in the pub was not noteworthy. The weekend's HP 3000 Reunion added up to something more than a body count, though, a remarkable and lively turnout for a computer whose vendor declared it dead more than seven years ago.

IMG_3840The veterans of MPE and the 3000 showed a spark of curiosity during the afternoon-to-evening gathering at the Duke of Edinburgh pub and Apple Park in Cupertino. In the late afternoon they held iPads to see a virtual reality view at Apple's Visitor Center, peering at the insides of the Apple HQ building. Earlier, a support talk about the care and feeding of the 3000 sites with aging hardware prompted questions and opinions about homesteading. That strategy was the only one that remained for the men and women crowding a cozy pub room flocked with red and gold paper.

The gold matched the sponsorship banner from CAMUS International. The group sent $200 to cover bar and lunch expenses, showing that manufacturing interest still surrounds companies using a 3000. Terri Lanza, who arranged the banner and the contribution, wished she could attend. Like dozens more, she has to rely on her colleagues who made the trip.

IMG_3841
They came from as far away as England and Toronto, and some from five minutes' drive away. Orly Larson tooled over from his house on a quiet Cupertino street. Dave Wiseman came from England and Gilles Schipper crossed the continent from Toronto.

Tom McNeal, one of the engineers who helped create the memory manager in MPE/XL, attended to represent the Hewlett-Packard 3000 lab. He left HP after Y2K to join a Linux startup. While that was fun, he said, the energy didn't outlast the funding. He came to reconnect and even to see a lineup of hardware for MPE XL that prompted him to observe where multiprocessing came into the product line.

IMG_3832

Vicky Shoemaker, Dave Wiseman, Gilles Schipper, Stan Sieler and Harry Sterling giggle at a video of George Stachnik's 12 Days of Christmas parody. The video from an HP party hailed from the late 1980s, when the struggles of building an MPE for PA-RISC were finally overcome.

People learned at the meeting, more about one another and their 3000 afterlife than something to use in 2018. McNeal was joined by ex-HP stalwarts Harry Sterling, the final GM of the division, and Larson. They made up almost 20 percent of attendees. There was hearty laughter coming from them and the rest of the crowd while everyone watched a video from another 3000 notable. George Stachnik was singing a 12 Days of Christmas parody on a recording from the middle 1980s, when Sterling was running the 3000 labs.

When Stachnik's parody came to the five golden rings line, he'd changed it to Rich Sevcik giving him "every engineer." Sterling chuckled. "It was just about that many," he said.

Continue reading "Meet shows veterans never too old to learn" »


New DL325 serves fresh emulation muscle

DL385-Whiteboard
Hewlett-Packard Enterprise has reintroduced its ProLiant workhorse, talking up the server in connection with next week's HP Discover conference in Las Vegas. The DL325, when it ships in July, will be 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. The DL325 is a single socket system, a design that's disrupting the server marketplace.

HP has posted one of its whiteboard walk-throughs on YouTube to cover some of the DL325 advantages. There's also a performance comparison for the system, ranked against a Lenovo alternative as well as an energy efficiency measure against a server from Dell. 3000s never got such industry benchmarks for performance.

But HP 3000s once got this kind of spec treatment from Hewlett-Packard. The 3000 division's product manager Dave Snow gave such product talks, holding a microphone with a long cord that he would coil and uncoil as he spoke. With his pleasant Texas drawl, Snow sounded like he was corralling the future of the hardware. He spoke in that era when "feeds and speeds" sometimes could lure an audience "into the weeds." Breakdowns like the one below once lauded the new PCI-based 3000 hardware.

DL385-Chassis-Overview
The ProLiant line has long had the capability to put Linux into the datacenter. Linux is the cradle that holds the Charon software to put MPE/iX into hardware like the 325. The DL325 (click above for a larger view) is a single-processor model in the company's Gen10 line, adding horsepower for an application that's always hungry for more CPU: virtualization. The DL325 gets its zip from the EPYC chip, AMD's processor built to the x86 standards. EPYC designs mean the chip only needs to run at 2.3 GHz, because the system's got 32 cores per processor.

"This server should deliver great price performance for virtualized infrastructure while driving down costs," wrote analyst Matt Kimball in Forbes.

Continue reading "New DL325 serves fresh emulation muscle" »


Wayback: HP's 3000 Conference Sign-off

HP's June months have been populated by nationwide conferences for more than a decade. Ten years ago in June marked the last known appearance of Hewlett-Packard's 3000 experts at the HP Technology Forum show in Las Vegas. It was an era marked by the soaring expectations from CEO Mark Hurd and the soon-to-plummet economy crashing around the American lending and banking markets. HP was emptying its tech wallet at a show that would soon be called HP Discover instead of a Technology Forum.

HP had a meeting for 3000 customers at that 2008 show, the final expression of support for the owners who launched HP's enterprise business computing prowess. Jennie Hou was in the final year of managing the 3000 group at HP. The vendor had a history of awarding one community member — people like Alfredo Rego, or Stan Sieler — with a Contributor of the Year Award. The 2008 award was renamed a Certificate of Appreciation and given to the full 3000 community. Being thanked, as HP retired the customers, was a sign of HP's final sign-off.

Appreciation certificate
The 2008 edition was the last public event where HP presented news about the platform. It was the last year when the server owners could employ the services of HP's labs. HP's Alvina Nishimoto, who'd been leading the information parade for third party tools and migration success stories, gave an outstanding contributor award of sorts at an e3000 roadmap meeting. The award shown in the slide above had a commemorative tone about it, like a fond farewell to the days when something new was part of the HP message to 3000 attendees.

In that June, the new Right to Use licenses were proving more popular than HP first imagined. The licensing product placed on the price list for 2007 let customers upgrade their license level on used systems. Of course, it only applied to the 3000s designed before 2001. It says something when servers almost a decade old could be a popular upgrade item in datacenter.

Just two HP speakers addressed the 3000 at the conference — Nishimoto and Jim Hawkins, the latter of whom spoke for five minutes at the end of the OpenMPE update. The Tech Forum had become a great place to learn about technology that HP would never put into a 3000.

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HP is doing better without some customers

HP Q2 Revenues 2018
Hewlett-Packard Enterprise released an earnings report last week. The release covered the first full quarter since Antonio Neri took over as CEO, assuming command from retiring Meg Whitman. The numbers looked good to investors. The customers HPE's achieved are helping to lift the ship, even while some of you left the HP fold long ago.

It's easy to ignore HP now, if you're homesteading on 3000 iron either virtual or physical. The vendor wasn't able to deliver patches to support companies like Allegro at the start of this year, so the last remaining deliverable for MPE/iX has dropped off the product offerings. The patches were free, unlike enterprise patches for HP's Unix, NonStop, and VMS systems. Failing to deliver HP 3000 products long ago ceased to impact HP's quarterly revenues and earnings.

We care, however, about how Hewlett-Packard Enterprise fares — for the sake of the readers who still use HP's other enterprise gear. The IT managers who run multi-platform shops care about things like HP Next, or at least HPE hopes so. HP Next is "our company-wide initiative to re-architect HPE to deliver on our strategy and drive a new wave of shareholder value," Neri said when the numbers appeared in the evening of May 22. "It is all about simplification, execution and innovation."

Many things have changed about enterprise computing since HP last sold a 3000 in 2003. One big change is the dissapearance of hardware and operating system bedrock. In the 3000's heyday, things were defined by OS and iron. It's all too virtual to see those markers now. HP seems to be doing better without some of you because you didn't want to buy what's sold as enterprise computing. 

Better? Revenue of $7.5 billion in Q2, up 10 percent from the same quarter of 2017. Earnings were better, 34 cents a share in a market "beat," above the outlook range of 29-33 cents a share. The company calls its computing business Hybrid IT now, and the business was up 6 percent over the same quarter of 2017.

Not so many years ago, when HP wasn't doing this well, you could drill into its presentations for the quarters and find server sales. Not anymore. Now the news is about Cape Networks and buying Cape "to expand AI-powered networking capabilities with a sensor-based network assurance solution that improves network performance, reduces disruptions and significantly simplifies IT management for our customers." That out of a CEO's statement about new business, so it's supposed to be opaque.

Hearing things like "composable infrastructure offerings" might make a 300 homesteader roll their eyes, not to mention the experts who still support a 3000. My spell checker thinks composable isn't even a word, let alone a product attribute.

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Second generation of migration begins

Synergy for DummiesHP advertised the transition off of 3000s as a migration in 2002. The changes and replacements took place throughout the rest of that decade, culminating around the time HP was closing off its support operations for MPE/iX in 2011. That was generation number one for migration at 3000 shops. The second shift is underway.

Promedica is the largest employer in Toledo, Ohio, a non-profit corporation which used 3000s to manage provider operations running the Amisys software. Tom Gerken is still an analyst at the organization, after many years of managing the production HP 3000s. Now the healthcare firm is shifting off of its Unix version of Amisys, after taking its 3000 computing and migrating it to HP's Unix.

"We did continue using Amisys," he says. "We moved to HP-UX in the second half of 2006. The data transfer to the Oracle database went smoothly. It was really sad seeing the HP 3000s go away."

At Promedica the changes are leading into another generation of migration. "We most likely aren't staying with Amisys much longer," he said. "We have begun the search for a replacement system. I think Amisys is still in the running officially, but I hear it's a long shot to make it into the finals."

Out at the City of Sparks, Nevada, another longtime 3000 manager is shifting into a fresh generation of computing resource. What was once MPE/iX, and then became a virtualized Windows datacenter, is becoming even more virtual.

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HP's Enterprise reports a rising Q1 tide

HPE Hybrid IT Q1 2017
Source: HPE reports. Click for details.

As her parting gift to incoming CEO Antonio Neri, HP Enterprise leader Meg Whitman left him with one of the best quarters HPE has posted in years. While the company that makes systems to replace the HP 3000 posted 34 cents a share in profits, its revenue from server sales rose by 11 percent, along with gains in storage revenues (up 24 percent) and datacenter networking gear (up 27 percent).

The increase in server sales has been a difficult number to deliver ever since HP stopped supporting the HP 3000. The gains came in the computer lines driven by Intel's chips, not HP's Itanium processors.

An analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy was quoted in the Bay Area's Mercury News as saying "If this is what HPE will look like under new CEO Antonio Neri, investors, customers, partners and employees will be pleased.”

The results came from the final quarter of Whitman's leadership, though. The company is raising its quarterly dividends to almost 12 cents a share, a 50 percent increase, to return money to shareholders. HPE will be buying back its stock throughout 2018 as well. The stock price rose to $18.35 on the report, which beat analysts' estimates of 22 cents a share in profits and $7.1 billion in revenue. HPE's Q1 2018 revenues were $7.7 billion.

Industry Standard Servers—the type of computer system that can drive the Stromasys Charon virtualized MPE/iX environment—came in for specific mention in HP's conference call with analysts. ISS contributed to the overall growth in servers, according to Neri. 

He also commented on the change in US tax laws benefiting HPE ("we have more flexibility in using our overseas cash") and then explained how his HPE Next is going to shift the culture of the corporation that was once ruled by the HP Way.

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Locating patches is now a personal search

PatchworkTen years ago the threads between MPE/iX patches and Hewlett-Packard were intact. The vendor stopped developing the fixes and additions to a 3000's abilities. But owners were assured that the software would be ready for download. A call to HP's Response Center would continue to connect customers and patches.

None of those facts are true by now. Some support providers say there's not enough HP left in Hewlett-Packard Enterprise support to even know what a 3000 does. The 3000 experts who still track such things concur. Donna Hofmeister, former OpenMPE director, said "No one can get MPE patches from HPE now. There's simply no organization left to handle such a request."

In 2008 one significant patch issue involved beta release software. HP was clinging to its established testing practice, one that limited beta tests to current HP support customers. OpenMPE wanted to close that gap and become a force for good to get 3000s patched.

CEO Rene Woc of Adager proposed that OpenMPE administer the beta testing of patches caught in HP's logjam. The HP support customers were not taking a bite of the new bytes. Meanwhile, OpenMPE had pan-community service in its essential charter. Hofmeister said OpenMPE could speak for the thousands of sites which couldn't access beta patches for tests.

If it weren’t for OpenMPE, all the companies coming individually to HP for support beyond end-of-life wouldn’t have a collective voice. It’s OpenMPE that’s uniting these voices.

Spin the world forward 10 years and HP has indeed stopped issuing all patches. The software is available from other sources, however. Devoted owners and consultants are breaking the rules by sharing their patches—but only because HP broke a promise. HP tried for awhile to clear out beta patches. This week we heard some went into general release "because they had at least one customer who installed them without ill effect."

Even after more than a decade, there's still a forum where a customer can ask about patches: the 3000 mailing list. The transactions happen in private. Responsible support companies cannot say they'll distribute HP software.

Ask around, Hofmeister said, to find out who has HP's patches. There's a more reliable way to get repairs, though.


HPE's latest-to-exit CEO leaves for phone TV

Whitman-smartphoneMeg Whitman, who led HP from an acquisition-hungry behemoth to a company split in two, is heading to work making short television. Good Morning Silicon Valley reports that she's going to lead NewTV — a name is considered to be tentative— with Jeffrey Katzenberg of the movie and TV production world. Both served on the board of Disney. The story sounds like Whitman wants a job changing the cultural landscape, or at least screens on smartphones.

NewTV has some pretty ambitious thoughts on the video industry, the kinds of which you would expect to hear from a startup backed by some industry bigwigs who are used to getting things done their way.

According to a report from Variety, Whitman will lead a company that “aims to revolutionize entertainment with short-form premium content customized for mobile consumption.” The basic idea of NewTV is create video programming like 10-minute-long shows that are produced with techniques, and money, that usually go into traditional broadcast programs.

How NewTV will do this, and with what kinds of partners will it work, remain to be seen. Whitman is said to be planning on getting into more fundraising efforts for the company. According to Variety, Whitman said, "We’re going to be recruiting the very best talent, and in a few more months we’ll have to more to say on this.”

Whitman leaves her HPE job, and chairmanship of the board, at the end of next week. It's not her fault the company went from being able to send an MPE patch in 2011 to being an enterprise without contact to 3000s in any material way—is it?

In 2012 she said that HP would be locked out of a huge segment of the population in many countries if it didn't have a smartphone by 2017. She was correct about that. Investments in mobile entertainment are so much more fun than operating enterprise IT. Whitman says the new job is a return to her startup roots, referring to eBay. She was different than the three CEOs who came before her, according to CBS News. "It hired director Meg Whitman as a CEO replacement for fired Leo Apotheker, a main scapegoat originally hired to replace fired Mark Hurd, who was hired to replace fired Carly Fiorina."

And so Whitman is the first HP CEO to resign peacefully in this century. Lew Platt left the company on his own terms in 1999 after almost doubling the company's revenues during his seven-year tenure.

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Emulation or iron meets Classic 3000 needs

A few weeks ago the 3000 community was polled for a legendary box. One of the most senior editions of Classic 3000s, a Series 42, came up on the Cypress Technology Wanted to Buy list. The 42 was the first 3000 to be adopted in widespread swaths of the business world. It's not easy to imagine what a serious computing manager would need from a Series 42, considering the server was introduced 35 years ago.

Series 42 setupThese Classic 3000s, the pre-RISC generation, sparked enough business to lead HP to create the Precision RISC architecture that was first realized with its Unix server. The HP 9000 hit the Hewlett-Packard customer base and 3000 owners more than a year before the 3000's RISC servers shipped. Without the success of the Classic 3000s, though, nobody could have bought such a replacement Unix server for MPE V. Applications drive platform decisions, and creating RISC had a sting embedded for the less-popular MPE. Unix apps and databases had more vendors.

That need for a Series 42 seems specific, as if there's a component inside that can fulfill a requirement. But if it's a need for an MPE V system, an emulator for the Classic 3000s continues to rise. Last week the volunteers who've created an MPE V simulator announced a new version. The seventh release of the HP 3000 Series III simulator is now available from the Computer History Simulation Project (SIMH) site.

The SIMH software will not replace a production HP 3000 that's still serving in the field, or even be able to step in for an archival 3000. That's a job for the Stromasys Charon HPA virtualized server. But the SIMH software includes a preconfigured MPE-V/R disc image. MPE V isn't a license-protected product like MPE/iX.

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Replacement hardware archives key context

Wayback Wednesday

The replacement hardware arrived in a box that fit inside my mailbox. We bought a jumbo-sized mailbox in 1993, one big enough to let the industry trade journals lie flat on its floor. In those days our community relied on big tabloid publications to keep abreast of the future. Today the pages are digital and needing paper for news is fading fast.

MD RecorderThe Minidisc MZ-R50 showed up in great working order, a replacement for the recorder that logged my interviews in the rowdy and roiling days of the 3000's Transition Era. The Minidisc is late '90s tech that can arrive by way of US Mail. A Series 929 wouldn't fit in any cardboard box with padding. That server is 104 pounds of a 2-foot by 18-inch unit that's 22 inches high. UPS could pull it off a truck, though.

My 1997 MZ-R50 has the same age as a Series 997, and like the 3000 server, the hardware has unlocked access to archival information. You buy these things to replace failed hardware, or sometimes for parts. Only the battery had failed on the R50. That's a component likely to be dead on old 3000s, too.

I plucked a Minidisc at random to test my new unit and found an interview about how Interex decided to put distance between itself and Hewlett-Packard. I wrote about the change in the relationship in 2004, but just a fraction of the interview made it into the NewsWire.

The thing about archival data is it can grow more valuable over time. Context is something that evolves as history rolls on. In the late summer of 2004 it wasn't obvious that Interex was overplaying its hand, reaching for a risk to sell the value of a vendor-specific user group. HP told the group's board of directors that user group support was going to be very different in 2005. The reaction to the news sealed the fate of the group. It began with a survey, shifted to a staff recommendation, and ended up as a board decision.

The recorded 2004 interview now puts those views and choices in context. You'll care about this if you ever need a user group, wonder how your enterprise vendor will support customers' desires, or hope to understand how corporate resources influence partnerships.

The key interview quote that made its way into our "HP World stands at brink of changes" report was a line from then-board president Denys Beauchemin. “We’re not competing with HP,” Beauchemin said about HP World 2005. “HP’s going to be there next year. HP will scale back drastically.” The scaling back was a correct assessment. The competition turned out to change everything.

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Wayback Wed: MPE gets its last millicode fix

Drywall-patchTen years ago this month HP's labs delivered its final fix for MPE/iX millicode. The patch demonstrated the last critical repair of the OS by the HP development labs. It had been 16 years since HP had to do a fix for the 3000's millicode. The 2007 millicode patch was crucial whenever a customer's applications accessed mapped files and utilized Large Files, those which are 4GB or greater in size

HP introduced the Large Files feature in 2000, just after the community had cleared Y2K challenges. The corruption could occur if any one of five out of the last six bytes of a Large File failed to transfer correctly. Corruption introduced by MPE/iX is so uncommon that the patch became essential—and a way to gauge how much the community might lose when HP's labs would close up.

The labs were ready in a way the customers rarely saw. HP announced the bug with repairs and white papers already available.

OpenMPE sought an opportunity to take a role in the repairs. OpenMPE advocates showed concern that binary repairs like this one would present a challenge to application developers who need to integrate them into MPE/iX in the future. OpenMPE wanted to do this work. The advocacy group never got its opportunity to participate in the development work for 3000 sites.

HP's repair rolled out four years to the day after the company ended sales of the 3000. The development of this type of patch, a binary-level repair, remained available throughout 2009 and 2010. At the time of the repair, HP had not yet licensed its source code for MPE/iX. Delivery of that source code wouldn't take place until 2011. HP's binary patches for the corruption were not done in source code.

Large Files was a feature gone sour, by HP's own reckoning. The vendor was trying to remove the code from customers' 3000s. A 2006 patch was designed to turn off Large Files and get those files on the system converted to Jumbo files, which are much better engineered.

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