User Reports

MANMAN and a 3000 in new Ohio action

Just when you thought the HP 3000 and MPE were done with new installations, along comes a manufacturer to put another system online. 

If you break it down, this kind of event needs a few elements to succeed today.

1. A license structure for software (apps and utilities) that is low-budget. Extending third party licenses, for example, rather than buying new ones.
2. In-house expertise to manage and maintain a new system -- or if not in-house, then in-organization
3. A requirement for inexpensive HP hardware for the install. Because if you're going to put something online that has an HP badge on it today, you'll want component redundancy. Think spare CPUs and CPU boards.

The 3000 install was mentioned during last week's CAMUS manufacturing RUG conference call. Measurement Specialties has been a MANMAN manufacturing app and 3000 supporter for so long that ERP Director Terry Simpkins was even used by HP to testify about the integrated 3000 solution. In print. In an ad. Remember print ads for computer systems? HP even bought a few in the 1990s.

Simpkins wasn't at his usual spot during the CAMUS call because he was in Ohio, we were told, working on another outpost in the MSI network. There's more than a dozen worldwide, with many outside of North America. There were years when Simpkins was in China for weeks on end.

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Staying on Schedule in a Move to Windows

Yesterday we reported on an airline service provider who's made the move from HP 3000s to Windows .NET systems and architecture. While there's a great advantage in development environment in such a transition -- nothing could be easier to hire than experts in Visual Studio, nee Visual Basic -- companies such as Navitaire have to arrange a new schedule. To be precise, the job handling features of MPE/iX must be replaced, and Windows won't begin to match the 3000's strengths.

Scheduler demo shotEnter a third party solution, or independent software as we like to call it here in the 21st Century. In 2010 MB Foster built a scheduler for Windows sites, and yesterday we heard a customer from the Windows world size up the MBF Scheduler tool. This was an IT shop where a HP 3000 has never booted up. But NaturMed, a supplier of supplements and health education, is a user of the JDA Direct Commerce (formerly Ecometry-Escalate Retail) software on its Windows servers. The company's never seen an MPE colon prompt, but it needs that level of functionality to manage its jobs.

"We've helped Ecometry with the move of many customers off the 3000 and onto Windows," said CEO Birket Foster. "If senior management has simply decided that Windows was the place to be, we could help automate the business processes -- by managing batch jobs in the regular day and month-end close, as well as handling Ecometry jobs and SQL Server jobs." Automating jobs makes a Windows IT shop manager more productive, like creating another set of hands to help team members out. For a 3000 shop making a transition, something like an independent job handler means they'll be able to stay on schedule with productivity.

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Open Skies flies to a .NET transition

Visual StudioMark Ranft has been reporting on choices being made by his Pro 3k consultancy to move airline transaction processor Navitaire off a farm of 35 HP 3000s, carefully and with precision. The application -- which began its life as IMAGE-MPE software in the 1990s -- has become New Skies, a shift from its Open Skies roots. Windows .NET is the platform of the future. 

What remains of the 3000 farm is going up for sale, he noted in a posting at the HP 3000 Community of LinkedIn. Asked why Windows and its .NET architecture is a suitable replacement for the MPE/iX operations that served major airlines, Ranft said that Windows, like MPE or Linux or HP-UX, is just a tool.

"The enterprise architect must understand the strengths and the weaknesses of the platform and design the application around them, Ranft told us when the migration was underway, some five years ago. "Sometimes this may mean you have large pools of mid-tier systems/application servers to make up for the lack of resiliency in the operating system. This could be compared to using the RAID concept for disk arrays. However, I fear that most enterprises will find the licenses, care and feeding of the numerous mid-term systems needed is far from being inexpensive. Keep in mind that MPE was never exactly cheap."

.NET has been popular for years, a way to apply the Windows environment with more complete application architecture for enterprises. But some of the latest advice about .NET seems to factor in the slowing speed of the Microsoft juggernaut. One writer has even called .NET a failed Microsoft business line, but IT managers who use the product say it's a good choice for Windows implementations.

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Marking Moments on Wake Anniversary Eve

AfterlifeT-shirtIn about six hours or so, the HP 3000 community might pause to commemorate one of its last collective acts. Ten years ago the World Wide Wake, organized by event ringleader Alan Yeo, invited members in dozens of locations throughout the world to lift a glass and salute the end of HP's manufacturing of the HP 3000 computer. MPE/iX would be recrafted and revised for another five years, but Oct. 31, 2003 was the last day customers could order a new HP-badged 3000.

At the time we invited a director of the Interex User Group, Denys Beauchemin, to offer a confirmation about the success of the system and record the aftermath of HP's departure. He did so in our Open Mike column in the November printed issue of the NewsWire. (It would be almost two years before we'd start up this blog.) It's fun to track the predictions in that column. Beauchemin, heading up a group that itself would remain open just another 20 months, collected sentiments from community notables including the late, great Wirt Atmar, who would pass away a little more than five years later.

Wirt outlived HP's 3000 business, right down to the closing of its MPE labs at the end of 2008. Unless you're reading this from the blazing-fast Google Fiber of the afterlife, you've also outlived the end of HP's 3000 saga. For HP computer users whose systems are facing an end of manufacture, the following is educational. It's memorable for migrators to revisit that time of reflection, too, and see if anything resonates in today's platform ownership.

Please leave a comment below to share your own story of the 10 years that have followed this anniversary. Or email one to me to tell your tale of what has followed the Wake.

By Denys Beauchemin

On All Hallows Eve of the year 2003, an historic event took place without fanfare and virtually ignored by the vast population at large. Only the cognoscenti will mourn the passing into computer history of the HP e3000, née HP 3000. This magnificent machine, which would be marking its thirty-first year of existence next month, is instead disappearing from the list of HP computer products. End of Sales for the HP 3000 is now upon us.

I was first introduced to the HP 3000 in 1977 somewhere in New Hampshire. At that time I was working in Montreal on an HP 21MX designing and programming applications in a timesharing bureau. I immediately took a liking to the HP 3000, transitioned jobs to be able to work on one and joined the users group for the first time. Over the years wherever I worked, there was always an HP 3000 in my environment. The HP 3000 has been part of my career almost from the beginning. Its passing fills me with melancholy, and whilst I had not been doing as much with it these last several years, I could always count on it being there, adding new capabilities along the way. This is true no more.

I asked a few luminaries of this long-lived computing environment to reflect on the machine, its passing and perhaps to shed some light on this event and what its effect might be.

“A great IT platform: reliable, affordable, flexible, easy to operate, and easy to program. And every release compatible with the previous for over 30 years. Perhaps some future OS team will adopt these same goals.” — Bob Green, Robelle

Continue reading "Marking Moments on Wake Anniversary Eve" »


3000 stays above water at manufacturer

Ed. Note: The HP 3000's ability to remain running over more than 25 years has kept it in service at MacLean-Fogg. IT Director Mark Mojonnier updated us on the current status and future plans for their MPE/iX server. At times, the computer simply needed to keep its (disk) head above water.

We've been running HP 3000 systems since 1983. The company was originally part of Reliance Electric out of Cleveland years ago. In 1986, Reliance sold a piece of that business to MacLean-Fogg company in Mundelein, IL. The new company, Reliable Power Products, bought its first HP 3000 Series 48 in 1987. We had a flood in the building later that year and had to buy another one. The disk drives were high enough out of the water to survive, so when the new one arrived, we warm-booted it (with the old disk packs) and it picked up right where it left off.

At the time we bought our first HP 3000, there was a single manufacturing location to support. Now, there are 11 manufacturing facilities in North America we support. The business has grown from $25 million to about 10-15 times that now. Same base software -- just a lot more functional these days. It evolves constantly.

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Cars and cigars continue to rely on 3000

Thompson CigarMacLean-Fogg is a corporation of almost a billion dollars with operations on five continents. But on one of those, North America, an HP 3000 continues to serve the company. We recently heard from Mark Mojonnier there, whose job title reads, IT Director, Legacy Systems.

The headquarters operation in Mundelein, IL is Mojonnier's charge. This is a manufacturer, one whose corporate message is that if you've been inside a car, the company's parts have been important to the drive. "We form things and we make things," and the processes and expertise at its plants includes hot and cold forming of aluminum and steel, molding of silicon and carbon fiber, secondary injection and insert molding, CNC machining, plus product assembly. The organization even uses what it calls “exotic fastener materials” in something called warm forming.

HP 3000s once broke the ground for Computer Integrated Manufacturing in plants like Mundelein, a village in Lake County with about 30,000 residents. Manufacturing computers usually work in small villages and cities, in part to capitalize on lowered costs of resources. The company just opened a hot forming plant in Savanna, IL this year.

MacLean-Fogg"May our HP 3000 live forever," Mojonnier said as he tended to keeping his subscription with us on target. There's not much reason the system running his application won't, considering that it now has a virtualization future when the company is ready to part ways with HP-built iron, if needed. As for 3000's MPE heart, that is still lighting a fire at the Thompson Cigar Company, too.

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Dairy co-op skims cream of MPE off 3000s

More than three decades of HP 3000 servers have booted and remained online at Dairylea Cooperative. Now the collective of New York dairy farmers will put its next generation of MPE apps onto Intel iron, running the Stromasys Charon emulator.

Jeff Elmer, the IT director for the co-op, said the HP 3000 has a long history, even longer than his tenure there -- and that's work for him that stretches back to 1985 for the organization. It's a modest operation, and the collective is on its way to using SAP for the long term. In the meantime, though, a virtualized MPE/iX server is going to handle the information flow for these milk producers.

"The company has a long term commitment to switch to SAP," he said, "but MPE will be powering our producer payroll and milk laboratory systems for at least a couple more years in the comfort and safety of the emulator on new hardware, to say nothing of enjoying the various advantages of virtualization. After SAP, the emulator still has a future as an historical repository."

So while HP's 3000 hardware is headed for a shutdown at Dairylea, it's MPE that becomes the cream to be skimmed off Hewlett-Packard computers that stretch back to the early 1980s.

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MPE's Skies app flies from Open to New

A healthy clutch of HP 3000 N-Class servers is going onto the used market soon, the result of a migration off of MPE. These computers represent a couple of futures, one dreamed of in 1998, and another, the reality of some 2013 computing for MPE.

SwaclayThe servers have been running the Open Skies application almost since the N-Class was released. Open Skies in its first incarnation was a software company with an application by the same name. Southwest Airlines put Open Skies, with its reservation breakthroughs, into everyday use. The application only ran on MPE/iX. In time, in a move characteristic of another Hewlett-Packard, the vendor purchased the Open Skies software company. The deal was designed to show markets of 1998 what could be done with an HP 3000 and cloud-based apps. At the time, HP was calling the strategy Apps on Tap.

Here in the waning days of summer 2013, what remains of Open Skies has been migrated to Windows .NET by Accenture and its Navitaire division. Industry-standard environments are easy choices for companies like Accenture, a consulting company that grew out of the '90s-era Anderson Consulting. The migrated app is called New Skies and now takes over for Open Skies completely. Airlines around the world used Open Skies to perform revenue accounting on online ticket sales. But at one time, even the fundamental concept of online ticket sales was a novelty. It was led into the world by MPE servers.

Mark Ranft has been managing the transition from the Skies which were Open to the Skies that are New. The work has been performed for Navitaire, a company Accenture created when HP sold off Open Skies at the end of 2000. Of course, less than a year later, that generation of Hewlett-Packard, led by its revenue growth queen Carly Fiorina, ended 3000 futures at the vendor.

Ranft says that of the 35 N-Class servers which did revenue accounting for airline customers, about six are still installed and will be sold now that the migration is complete. The final customer relying on Open Skies, rather than the New Skies .NET replacement, switched off the 3000 this year. Open Skies founder Dave Evans wrote an eulogy and history for the software that put HP into the airline business.

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iPad emulation shows off app's fine-tuning

TTerm Pro appAn IT director whose 3000 application runs on fine-tuned screens has sparked an upgrade in the iPad terminal emulator TTerm Pro. Jeff Elmer reports that his specially-coded VPlus fields have made the transition to the iPad application. All it took was an enhancement request, he says.

At Dairylea Cooperative, a group of milk producers based in New York State, the company has employed HP 3000s for more than three decades. The application uses the ability to map colors to fields -- a feature of WRQ's Reflection -- to guide users through inquiries, deletes, changes and adds.

Historically we used the enhancement characteristics of the fields in our VPlus screens in conjunction with Reflection’s color configuration to color code our program screens. That is, in “Inquiry” mode the fields were a light purple. In “Add” mode the fields were white. In “Change” mode the fields were yellow. In “Delete” mode the fields were red.

These visual cues were very effective in helping our users know exactly what they were doing to the record without having to think (and we all know that thinking is not popular). However, when it came time to test HP 3000 access via TTerm Pro on company iPads, we quickly discovered that several of those fields were constantly blinking and made an otherwise perfect solution unpopular. 

In fairness to TTerm, of course those fields should be blinking, since the blink attribute was on in the forms file and TTerm doesn’t map to colors in the same way as Reflection. I sent an e-mail to Turbosoft's support asking if anything could be done. They responded quickly.

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Buy wee HP discs? Small payoff, big price

Minions USBIt's probably a habit you could break easier than you think. If you're keeping a 3000 online, either in homesteading or pre-migration mode, you could quit buying something as antique as 18GB disk drives. Taking a minute to consider the payoff might help adjust this habit.

We spoke to an IT manager at a California school district who was heading for a Linux replacement, somewhere down the road, for his HP 3000. One reason for the migration was the price of hardware. Yes, even in the year when HP hasn't built a 3000 for 10 years, original equipment disc is selling. Our IT manager reported his 18GB device had doubled in price.

That's original HP-branded disc, certified to run on an HP 3000. Sounds good, but it doesn't mean much in 2013. If that disk doesn't boot a 3000, or it becomes lost in the 3000 IO configuration -- LDEVs fall off -- who will you complain to? The seller of the disk, perhaps. But there's no HP anymore that knows or cares about the HP 3000 and its discs. So much for vendor warranty or certification.

Your third-party indie support company will do the certification -- let's just call it a check -- on the suitability of a model of drive. Seriously, we can't see why managers would buy system discs that have less storage than a USB flash drive crafted to look like a Despicable Me minion. Buying these is a habit, and one you can break with many SCSI discs out there, selling for under $100.

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Open source enables MPE enhancements

Earlier this week we looked at the prospects for creating an OpenSSH server component for HP 3000s. Some veteran developers have spent a bit of time on the engineering and learning the undocumented behavior of parts of MPE/iX. As such, this is work that could benefit from the knowledge in source code. Source was licensed to seven companies by HP.

We also wondered if enabling the server aspect of OpenSSH would be considered an MPE/iX enhancement by Hewlett-Packard -- or just a repair of a bug report. That would mean it was a workaround for anybody who'd like the complete OpenSSH on their MPE system.

The source code was provided to help repair problems and perform workarounds for homesteading HP 3000 customers. HP didn't want anybody creating new features for MPE/iX. But enabling the full range of SSH services doesn't constitute a new feature -- at least not from Brian Edminster's viewpoint. He runs a repository of open source software for HP 3000 users. 

If OpenSSH gets better on MPE/iX, Edminster suggests it won't improve simply by way of MPE internals information.

I'd argue that because OpenSSH is not an HP product -- and if making modifications to allow it to use existing features (even undocumented ones) within MPE/iX can allow it to work -- HP would not have grounds to complain. MPE/iX would not be modified in the process. They may not be happy about it, if such a modification extends the useful life of the remaining systems. But I don't believe they'd have legal standing to object. 

I'm not a lawyer, and I don't play one on TV, the 3000 NewsWire, or the 3000-L. What I'm saying is not legal advice, just my own opinion of the situation. If someone is potentially at risk from HP by acting on the above advice, they should first get advice from competent contract and intellectual property counsel.

However, I'd go so far as to suggest that even if enabling OpenSSH required a binary patch to an existing MPE/iX routine which might not be behaving properly, HP still wouldn't be able to complain.

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Community experts explore Opening SSH

A little way back in July, we reported that the OpenSSH software on the HP 3000 was still somewhat short of full open source functionality. It could be completed, with some extra help from community experts and some testing. Brian Edminster of Applied Technologies looked into what was needed to create a OpenSSH interactive client that would run under MPE/iX.

For anybody new to OpenSSH, it supplies services for encrypted communication sessions. Secure file transfers are the prize here. This would be one way to use the 3000 as an SFTP server, not just a client.

Edminster said, "The fact remains that SSH cannot connect to a remote system and execute commands that produce any output. Ken Hirsch did the original port, but he only really needed the SFTP client -- so the issue with ssh wasn't addressed."

Hirsch had asked years ago "if anybody knows a way to actually write to a terminal while there is a read pending, then I could use OpenSSH as a server on the HP 3000. Apparently there are undocumented MPE/iX sendio() and rendezvousio() calls. There are also tread()/twrite() routines in libbsd.a that I think are intended for this, but there's no documentation for these, either." 

As of this week, the community is looking into connecting these dots and producing documentation.

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Tools trace patterns of IMAGE databases

Is there any program that will show the network of a TurboIMAGE database? I want to output the relationships among sets and items.

CFAWireframeIn 2011, Connie Sellitto researched the above question, a query posed again just today on the HP 3000 newsgroup. Sellitto was aiding new programmers who were charged with moving a pet organization's operations to a non-MPE system. Understanding the design of the database was important to this team. Sellitto mentioned a popular tool for PCs, but one not as essential as an IT pro's explanations.

You might try Microsoft's Visio, and you may need to have an ODBC connection to your IMAGE database as well. This produces a graphical view with search paths shown, and so on. However, there is still nothing like a detailed verbal description provided by someone who actually knows the interaction between datasets.

To sum up from 2011, we'll refer to ScreenJet founder's Alan Yeo's testing of that Visio-IMAGE interplay

Taking a reasonably well-formed database into Visio and reverse engineering, you do get the tables and items. It will show you what the indexes in the tables are, but as far as I can see it doesn't show that a detail is linked to a particular master. Automasters are missing anyway, as they are really only for IMAGE.

My conclusion: if you have done all the work to load the databases in the SQL/DBE and done all the data type mappings, then importing in Visio might be a reasonable start to documenting the databases, as all you would have to do is add the linkages between the sets.

If you don't have everything in the SQL/DBE, then I would say we are back where we started.

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Staff's expertise sparks 3000's replacement

One of the more entrenched MPE advocates in the 3000 community has seen his server move into archive status. John Wolff, who was formerly the Vice Chairman of the OpenMPE group, reports that the Series 928 that drove the self-storage provider has been replaced with a Windows application. However, the MPE architecture and the health of the 3000 did not drive this replacement.

This was actually done for an interesting reason. My programmer was 72 years old and an expert at Transact, and I am 67 years old.  Looking at the future it would be very difficult to find replacements for us given the "ecosystem" for the HP 3000 at this point.  I think the hardware could be kept going for another 10 years, but the personnel could not.

So the programmer retired, and the computer operations were moved to a Windows application. It's less efficient than the 3000 -- so much so that LAACO has hired two additional staffers to do processes manually with the Windows app that MPE and Transact did completely automatically, Wolff said.

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A New Opening for Old 3000 Skills

Sometimes we've noted the opening of a contract or consulting opportunity that requires HP 3000 experience. We're usually following the initial posting. In December we broke the ice on an East Coast position for 3000 work, offered at a contractor level. This time we're helping a reader who's ready to hire someone, looking for "the elusive COBOL programmer" to employ.

The 3000 Newswire is happy to make this kind of news a part of our daily feed. If you have an opening, be sure to contact us. For candidates, other avenues exist while looking for a place to deploy your senior skills. The HP 3000 Community on LinkedIn has a Jobs section of its discussions, for example.

Today, the opportunity rests in an Ecometry-centric shop. It's either full-time, or long-term contract, and telecommuting is an option, too.

A leading ecommerce/direct-to-consumer service company is seeking a COBOL programmer with Ecometry and HP 3000 programming experience. They will be involved in every phase of the development lifecycle. He/she must be able to attend requirements meetings, translate the requirements into design documents, code from a design document, create test scenarios/cases/scripts, perform and support various testing cycles, create implementation plans and implement the change. Telecommuting is an option, so all qualified candidates are encouraged to apply regardless of location.

For any community member who'd like to apply, they can send an email to [email protected], using the subject, "Cobol/Ecometry/HP3000 Programmer." You'll want to include a cover letter, resume and salary history and expectations.

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What Kind of UPS Best Protects Your 3000

Editor's Note: ScreenJet's founder Alan Yeo wraps up his investigation of UPS units, having had a pair fail and then take two HP 3000s offline recently. Here he explains what sort of UPS to buy to avoid a failure that knocked solid 3000s offline, by way of dirty transfers during the all-important Transfer Time (TT) window.

By Alan Yeo
Last in a series

First off, the answer to the problem: Double Conversion UPS units are what you want. They are more expensive than Line Interactive ones, but it is claimed they are cheaper in the long run, due to increased battery life.  I’ll let you know in a few years. The HP 3000

DualConversionWhilst a Line Interactive UPS claims that attached equipment shouldn't be at risk during the TT window, as far as I can read it can be before it is disconnected from the mains.  APC for example have a compensation scheme which wouldn't be required if this wasn't possible. Note: It's interesting that APC only offer this protection policy on 120V products, for those of us using 220/240V supplies the risk is obviously deemed to be too great to cover. The fine print:

If your electronic equipment is damaged by power line transients on an AC power line (120 volt) while directly and properly connected to a standard APC 120 volt product covered by the Equipment Protection Policy (EPP), you can file a claim with APC for compensation of your damages. Coverage of damages is determined by the limits of the EPP.

TT seems to be related to the Sensitivity Level: High, Medium or Low.  And the Sensitivity Levels can be altered by how you configure the UPS, for example on many UPS's you can adjust at what upper and lower input voltages it should transfer to/from battery. On 120V UPS's this range is typically 127-136 at the upper end, and 97-106 at the lower end.  In High Sensitivity mode the TT is something like 2 milliseconds and if set Low around 10 milliseconds.  Switching to/from battery frequently is bad for battery life, as is protracted running from the battery on a Line Interactive UPS.  So the compromise is between High Sensitivity with possibly frequent but low TT, and Low Sensitivity with less frequent but longer TT.

Theoretically during the TT there is no power going to the connected equipment, so long TT's may be a problem for some equipment, also if transfers are frequent equipment may see a pulsed power supply.

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UPS Redux: Finding Gurus and a False Dawn

Editor’s note: Previously, when a pair of HP 3000s were felled in the aftermath of a windstorm that clipped out the power, a sound strategy of using an Uninterrupted Power Supply in the IT mix failed, too. After a couple of glasses of merlot, our intrepid IT manager Alan Yeo at ScreenJet continues to reach out for answers to his HP 3000 datacenter dilemma — why that UPS that was supposed to be protecting his 3000s and Windows servers went down with the winds' shift. 

By Alan Yeo
Second in a series

Feeling mellower, with nothing I really want to watch on the TV, I decide to take a prod at the servers and see what the problems are. 

Decide that I'll need input to diagnose the Windows problem, so that can wait until the morning. Power-cycle the 917 to watch the self-test cycle and get the error, do it again. (Well sometimes these things fix themselves, don't they?) Nope, it’s dead! 

“Take out my long spoon and sup with the devil,” as they say, with a Web search. Nope, Google turns up nothing on the error, apart from a couple of old HP-UX workstation threads, where the advice seems to be “time to call your HP support engineer.”  Nothing on the 3000-L newsgroup archives, either. (I'd tell you the 3000 error code, but I've thrown away the piece of paper I had with all the scribbles from that weekend).

Where's a guru
when you want one?

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

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

Continue reading "UPS Redux: Finding Gurus and a False Dawn" »


Would You Like Fries With That 3000?

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

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

By Alan Yeo
First of a series

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading "Would You Like Fries With That 3000?" »


As legacy iron ebbs, virtual servers swell

Business must the good in the HP server replacement industry. Stromays sent its customers and allies a notice the firm is moving into larger headquarters in North Carolina. 

Since opening our region in 2008, the Stromasys North Carolina office has experienced great success, thanks to the support of our partners and valued customers. Due to our continued expansion and planned growth, we are moving to a larger office space.

PlugPhotoThe new address (2840 Plaza Place, Suite 450, Raleigh NC 27612) certainly doesn't need to accomodate more servers built upon HP's PA-RISC or DEC Alpha and VAX designs. Everything Stromasys sells rolls out in virtual software mode, except for the USB keys that contain the official HP 3000 HPSUSAN ID numbers. (CTO Robert Boers told us last year that those keys cost $50 each to create, so they aren't your Fry's Electronics models.)

The company continues to investigate how to get a virtualized 3000, running on Intel hardware, up into the cloud. Even the HP Cloud, which can accept applications running on Linux -- but not HP-UX. The Stromasys virtualized HP 3000 is cradled in Linux, after all.

With a tip of the hat of congratulations to this partner in MPE's future, we also take note of another physical 3000 going offline. But the HP Series 987 (at a customer who wants to remain unnamed) is being replaced with the final model of Hewlett-Packard branded entry-level 3000 iron.

Continue reading "As legacy iron ebbs, virtual servers swell" »


Will MPE spell its end date in 2028?

CalendarPage9thWe've covered this topic about a year ago on our blog, complete with a thorough examination from VEsoft's Vladimir Volokh. But a couple of recent reports about the future of MPE deserve some air time. The premise has always been that the calendar handling of the 3000's OS will be kaput in about 14 years' time, owing to some 20th Century-style thinking about the CALENDAR intrinsic.

But CALENDAR won't make a 3000 stop working. Jeff Kell, the networking wizard whose employer the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga still has 3000s on the premises, offered this opinion.

Well, by 2027, we may be used to mm/dd/yy with a 27 on the end, and you could always go back to 1927 :)

And the programs that only did "two digit" years would be all set (did you convert all of 'em for Y2K?  Did you keep the old source?)

Our major Y2K-issue was dealing with a "semester" which was YY01 for fall, yy02 for spring, etc.  We converted that over to go from 9901 (Fall 1999) to A001 (Fall 2000) so we're good for another 259 years on that part :)  Real calendar dates used 4-digit years (32-bit integers yyyymmdd).

Continue reading "Will MPE spell its end date in 2028?" »


Backing up proves an emulator just works

TapebackupProving the concept of emulation for MPE operations is becoming popular this year. To offer evidence, longtime managers of 3000 servers check out the mundane as well as the specific tasks that drive their companies. Backup is a backbone of real IT -- and one evaluator shared his pleasure in watching the Stromasys CHARON HPA/3000 product improve on such an essential mission.

The process is somewhat different than on a physical HP 3000. First off, you can do backups while people are still on the 3000, if you have backup software to support that. When you configure the emulator, you specify a virtual tape drive, similar to the way you specify the virtual disc drives, with each virtual device pointing to a file in the Linux environment. Then, when you run MPE's STORE command, CHARON puts the data in the file associated with that virtual tape drive. When the backup is done, you can copy that file (using standard Linux commands) to some other backup media for archival. 

One very nice thing I found is that CHARON doesn't ever run out of 'tape' on a backup. It just keeps growing the file as needed. When I configured our emulator environment, I configured the tape drive at 8GB, thinking that would be enough. However, when I finished the software install and had copied our test data, I had about 10GB worth. When I did the full system store, Charon successfully backed up everything and expanded the virtual tape drive size to be 10GB.

Later, when I did just a SYSGEN to the virtual tape drive, the file was only 5GB. No more having to worry about what tape density you're using -- and no more getting the 'please insert next tape' message on a backup. 

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Hiring developers who are old is new again

Migration is the same as legacy modernization when it comes to its end result. That's change, even if the applications in the 3000 world still look and act just as they did on an HP 3000. Migration sounds more drastic because it describes the transition of apps from one platform to another. Modernization -- especially in the hands of services companies -- takes smaller steps but still wants to shift operations toward something more popular, current, and easier to hire for.

However, that ease can become a disappointment if the only goal is to hire newer and younger programmers who work cheaper. A recent study showed that the old programmer is not only a better value, but now in shorter supply.

Bruce Hobbs, a veteran 3000 developer, pointed out the article in IT World which said, "Like a fine wine, programmers get better with age."

Researchers from the computer science department at North Carolina State University have released a study in which they examined whether programming knowledge gets better with age. Specifically, they used data on over 84,000 members of the Stack Overflow website community: the questions they ask and answer in that forum, and the site reputations for each user as proxies for the general population of programmers and their level of programming knowledge. 

Does age have a positive effect on programming knowledge?
Do older programmers possess a wider variety of technologies and skills?
To what degree do older programmers learn new technologies?

3000 managers who are planning for the future know it's not easy to find a senior programmer. "I'll be looking for a couple of experienced HP 3000 MPE resources very soon," said one IT director recently, "and I know they won't be easy to find. Been there and done that." 

At the Stack Overflow site, younger programmers demonstrated a shorter range of knowledge, asked and answered questions about a narrower set of topics, and even scored lower than programmers in their 30s about nouveau topics such as iOS and Windows Phone 7.

Based on all this, one can conclude that as programmers get older, they get better; they know more about more programming topics, and they learn new technologies just as well if not better, than their younger counterparts. Take that, whippersnappers!

This is a development, so to speak, that runs counter to one of the driving mantras of migration and modernization: older technical choices, and the human resources that understand them, are more costly, because these programmers are harder to find. As it turns out, the value in a programmer is correlated with knowledge rather than age. But the gurus at places like Gartner are delivering a different message.

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Operations and applications get watched and tracked in emulation efforts

While explaining what a virtualized 3000 does with its MPE bootup volume disk image, questions come to mind. A systems manager will be asking about the following, since they're probably unfamiliar with tapping an MPE system instance which is part of a Linux environment. Here's a set of queries from a prospect who was working though proof of concept this spring. He is preparing to use the Charon emulator as a migration stopgap.

How do we do backups and restores with the emulator? Its architecture is that each HP 3000 LDEV is a separate Linux file, so identifying where MPE files are for backup and restore looks more difficult. For example, I have configured an 18-GB virtual disk drive as LDEV 32, so in the Linux directory where the emulator resides is an 18-gig file named 'LDEV32.DSK'. All of the MPE files stored on LDEV 32 are in that file. If I need to restore a file to pub.admin (one of our production accounts), how do I identify which Linux backup it is on, and how do I then mount that virtual disk to do an MPE restore?

This is an HP 3000 administrator with some applications which have already been moved to other host environments. Not a pro who's unfamiliar with Unix or Linux. He allows that there are "lots of questions that I'll have to work through, operationally." It's such operational questions that define the legend of building a datacenter around a general-purpose computer like the HP 3000 -- one designed to operate as if it had to be reliable enough to be installed in a satellite.

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How infrastructure survives heated times

Over the past 24 hours I feel like I've been living the work life of a 3000 IT manager. We've had telecomm outages here, the kind that can mean lost business if it were not for backup strategies. Unlike the best of you, we don't have a formal plan to pass along in a disaster. Today's not really a disaster, unless you count the after-hours pleasure we hope to savor from Spurs basketball.

The FinalsIn a lock-down IT design, writing captures what to do when a telecomm service winks out dark. Our broadband provider is ATT, with an 800-number repair line to call. We poked at that twice today for one of our landlines, now without a dial tone since yesterday afternoon. There's a different repair number for the Uverse Internet service -- and also the world of IP everything else, since our downed data line means not only no fast Web, but no San Antonio Spurs NBA Finals basketball in about 2 hours or so.

Consolidation to a single provider promises savings, but also a single point of failure. Coordinating service between two arms of the same company? Well, that's not an automatic thing anymore. Meanwhile, the cloud-based IT promised by HP and others just pulls all of this recovery farther away from your affected IT shop.

Genesys-Meeting-Center-8About 10 days ago, MB Foster gave a thorough primer on the issues any company faces in keeping its disaster recovery process up to date. There's old tech (phone trees to spread the word on outages) as well as new elements like measuring the Mean Time To Recovery of Operations. MRRTO can help you decide where to put the effort first in a downtime event. Foster can help you ready for the calamity with a thorough inventory of what's running, something that CEO Birket Foster says too many companies just don't have up to date.

"You look at the different processes in your company and figure what's critical to keeping the business alive," Foster said in a June 5 Wednesday Webinar. "It comes down to understanding if there's a cluster of applications which work together, so you have to bring them all up together at the same time," he said. A DR plan must identify key users -- old tech, like keeping up to date with user cell phone numbers, so they can be notified.

"Hardware is usually not the problem here," Foster said. "That said, there was a vendor in the HP 3000 community who had a board go bad on their 3000. It took them 13 days to get the other board in and back up, and then into recovery. It was mostly about sourcing the right part. They didn't have good connections in that area." Then there was also the matter of getting competent resources to install the board.

Tomorrow MB Foster offers another Webinar, since it's a Wednesday. Gods of Data Quality examines Master Data Management (register for free), the MDM that "ensures your company does not use multiple – or potentially inconsistent - versions of data in different parts of its operations; understanding the concept of 'one version of the truth.' "

Each one of these Webinars gives me plenty to think about and try to plan for.

Continue reading "How infrastructure survives heated times" »


Socializing can lead to contained footprints

BeerflowersOur friend and columnist Scott Hirsh just called to confirm he'll be at tonight's Stromasys HP 3000 Social at the Tied House. I took the walk over there today, because it's just down the street from the Caltrain Station as well as the terminal for the San Jose light rail. Buffalo burger is today's special.

But what's more special is the range of 3000 sites who'd be Charon HPA/3000 prospects, if only they knew how to focus on fitting into a new server paradigm. One site that Scott visited out in Union City, Calif. was discussing available IT datacenter floor space. "How are you fixed for that?" says Scott.

"Well, we've got this big system in the back of the datacenter we have to keep running," the IT manager says, explaining the server keeps significant parts of the company running. Even though Scott is out there in Union City to help the manager with Dell solutions, he's curious about what this box is.

"We're pretty sure it's an old HP 3000," the manager says. Scott's invited him tonight for some beverages and heavy appetizers, but there's been no RSVP yet from Union City. If you're in the area, come by tonight, or tomorrow at the Computer History Museum. You might find a way to free up floor space while you don't have to throw your critical MPE applications overboard.

Hope to see you tonight over a pint. You never know what opportunity might bloom, like those curbside flowers growing out of a beer cask on Villa Street at the Tied House.


Emulator's days are not so early after all

"It's early days," say more than a few community vendors about the lifespan of the Charon HPA/3000 emulator. They point to a lack of reference accounts. Some note that no third parties are engaged to teach and train and support the virtualization solution. Even the vendor acknowledges the performance of this 3000-on-Intel magic needs to surpass the power of a 4-way N-Class system.

BerraBut it's not early according to Adager's CEO Rene Woc. We tried out the accepted wisdom and found him pushing back on the popular view. It's misguided, by the reports he's getting from customers small, medium and very large. He reached out for a Yogi Berra quote to guide his outlook. "The future ain't what it used to be," Yogi said. That's especially apt when customers are gathering license data for your software, to be used on Charon. Or when they share their intentions, which is to keep MPE software running well into that future. How different it is than it used to be.

These are customers getting information about Adager's license transfer plan. "It's just another MPE machine," Woc reported. "We are treating the emulator just like HP3000 hardware."

As has been well-chronicled by now, there's no technical issues in this complete emulation. "Our customers didn't come across any issues," Woc said. Given the reputation of the Adager labs -- a tight-knit group that uncovered the last, corruptive bug in IMAGE and alerted HP to spark a repair -- "no problems" means Charon runs as expected.

Adager charges a $975 license transfer fee to move software from one HPSUSAN number to another. The software does not cross check with an HPCPUNAME, so moving the HPSUSAN to the emulated server, plus that transfer fee, covers the extent of Adager's operations. This is one vendor that 3000 users don't have to work out a license with. One of many (like Minisoft) who see continuing business coming out of emulated 3000s.

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Program for legacy with a legacy dev tool

Good tools don't always survive bad times. When HP pulled its plug from the 3000 dynamo, popular development tools began to slide. One of our favorite COBOL legends and 3000 consultants, Bruce Hobbs, was looking for ways to connect to the legacy community for such a dev tool, Programmer Studio.

"I have a vague recollection that you published something awhile back regarding the demise of Whisper Technology, and the situation for anyone now interested in using the Programmer Studio product," Hobbs said. "Could you please point me in the right direction?"

Ad1993_HP3000The genesis of Programmer Studio comes from the days when HP was still buying print ads for the HP 3000 in the general computer industry trade press. Ads that astounded the installed base -- like the one at left -- because they were so rare, and resonated so well with the established consumers. The 3000 had giant corporations using it, something HP had to admit from time to time while it labored to create a business computing market for Unix. Whisper popped up often when we surveyed the legacy developer community in December. This is unsupported software, but it's still in use at the occassional programmer's bench, such as the one that Michael Anderson operates at J3K Solutions.

I was never much for purchasing tools for development. However, since the late '90s onward, I used Programmer Studio from Whisper Technologies as a "character based" editor. In the latter years of working on MPE, the languages I used also included Java, Perl, and SQL.

To date I still use Programmer Studio to develop software on the HP 3000, HP 9000, and flavors of Unix including Linux. Now that I am using languages like JavaScript with HTML and CSS, Programmer Studio knows these, as well as COBOL, Suprtool and Quiz.

(In a bit of circular technology, the Robelle programming tool for the HP 3000, Qedit for Windows, also knows a lot about Suprtool -- since Supertool is also a Robelle product.)

"But today I don't use the HP 3000 much any more, nor Windows," Anderson added. "For years Programmer Studio kept me tethered to Windows as my favored editor. Recently I've started using JEDIT on Linux. JEDIT doesn't know how to access the HP3000, so for that I still use Windows along with Programmer Studio."

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Where Everybody Knows Your CPUNAME

CheersThe iconic TV show Cheers splashed a theme song about the fictional Boston tavern every Thursday, way back in the 1980s. It was a drinking outpost "where everybody knows your name, and they're all so glad you came." If attendance works out well for Stromasys at its HP 3000 Social -- four weeks away -- they're likely to have the same sort of turnout. The Tied House will be a place where everybody knows your name because so many will be familiar to each other. That's what more than three decades of community gives you.

This week the blue and white postcards arrived in mailboxes announcing the combination of Social and Training May 9-10. We found one in our mailbox, but word of the event is spreading beyond the reach of the US post. Vladimir Volokh of VEsoft called to report he'll be at the Tied House. Neil Armstrong, developer and curator of Suprtool, has also been tracking the event closely.

These VIPs of your community will be joined by people experienced in 3000 matters who seek a way around aging HP hardware for MPE. And there will be some stopping by to see the names that they know and meet new ones with something in common. Everybody there will be listening for news about licensing. Right now this is a rare brew that prospects are thirsting for if they want to emulate a production machine.

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CAMUS schedules Spring webinar for April

The ERP and manufacturing user group CAMUS will host its every-springtime user group event on April 17, including discussion about the future of MANMAN led by community advocate and 3000 veteran Terry Floyd of the Support Group.

Camus_logo-r (1)Terri Glendon Lanza, the founder of the Ask Terri ERP and manufacturing consultancy, has announced the call-in and PowerPoint meeting, which will begin at 10:30 Central US time. After an hour of talk and questions about the upcoming years for one of the oldest MPE applications -- still running in several hundred companies -- 3000 homesteading advice starts at 11:45.

Steve Suraci, owner of support and systems provider Pivital Solutions, talks first about Resources for Homesteading. Tom Bollenbeck of Ideal Computer follows up, on the same topic, at 12:05.

The user group's traditional and lively Talk Soup puts a signature on the meeting, which is free. An open discussion is scheduled to start at 12:25. You sign up at the Sign Up Genius website.

Up for discussion: MANMAN Modifications, and a possible CAMUS give-away. "Help us outline contents, actions, or a submission list for modifications with financial assistance from CAMUS," Lanza said in her April 2 announcement. "We could talk about the emulator during the open discussion if you want. Everyone is welcome."

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Hope floats today for a 3000 resurrection

As a former Catholic altar boy, I learned a lot about resurrection during Springs in the 1960s. But the headline above isn't early April Fool's blasphemy. Some 3000 users -- more than a dozen, like disciples -- believe that an emulator in their market is a reason to believe in the server's revival.

RolledrockThey're somewhat correct, but how accurate is a revival of MPE/iX, versus the hardware to host it? Stromasys has accomplished the latter miracle with Charon HPA/3000. Servers as common as bottled water are running MPE/iX today, in production environments or proving the concept that PA-RISC systems have come back from a state of doom. Some are even succeeding with untested chips from AMD, somehow, rather than the approved Intel processors.

We've just approved a comment here on our blog that invests the emulator with these regenerative powers. HP would need a revival of its spirit to start to sell proprietary servers again, but at least there's powerful spirit among a few customers. None of them are paying HP any longer for the 3000. We'll get to that in a minute, and how it affects the salvation of critical MPE/iX applications. But to that prayer:

I say that with the advent of Stromasys and the interest from application developers who wrote for the HP 3000, there is now the opportunity for the community to form a company to begin marketing MPE/iX. The world is ready for a stable, secure, alternative to the out-of-control Linuxes and the costly well-known operating systems.

This manager doesn't want his name or company mentioned, but I assure you he's real and in charge of several HP 3000s. Third parties provide MPE and 3000 support at his site, and he runs HP's final low-end model of 3000, an A-Class. Although this is the season of miracles for hundreds of millions, marketing MPE/iX would demand a change of ownership at Hewlett-Packard. To kick-start it, people like our manager above would have to become customers of HP once more. The company took a conservative view of "customer" and "owner" five years ago this month. Nothing's changed there yet.

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Searching for help in all the right places

Today a long-time 3000 site in the candy business called to find out if anybody was available to help with a little contract work. Maybe about two or three years' worth, because that's how long it would take this 3000 stalwart to pull out of their existing 3000 applications.

They've already pulled out of some. Oracle Financials now takes the place of an MPE/iX app, for example. But while Oracle is more popular with the market's experts, the in-house software that it replaced performed better.

The search for 3000 expertise led us to recommend a couple of favorite webpages. The OpenMPE contractor-consultant page has added new consultants in the last few weeks. Over at LinkedIn, the HP 3000 Community is fast approaching 600 members. And while LinkedIn would like the employer prospects such as our candy company -- and its Call Center, Order Entry, Order Fulfillment and Sales Audit apps, all running on N-Class servers -- to pay $295 to list a job opening, it's not needed. You can start a discussion in several places for free about an available job.

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Emulator connects to terminals, POC efforts

What was restarted as a pilot project more than four years ago at Stromasys is now a full-fledged product. The CHARON-HPA/3000 operations inside Stromasys are receiving continued investment, according to company officials. The emulator is a proof of concept project at several companies who've contacted us, but it's a full-fledged software solution at the vendor which created it. 

The software's starting to caper through springtime on laptops and low-cost desktops across North America and elsewhere. One manager who briefed us about the POC work at his site said he put up the A-202 Freeware edition on an HP desktop with an i3 Core Intel chip. The desktop came off eBay with a $150 price tag. The demonstration yielded "a sigh of relief I could hear across the room." Top IT managers are happy to see a way for MPE applications to run onward into the future, independent of HP-built servers. 

Installing the emulator software and setting it into service requires an ability to know how to put an IP address into a terminal emulator, in order to connect over a network. Any A-202 freeware users who have limited networking skills are presenting special support needs to Stromasys. The company says it's working in a couple of directions to find a method to help such users in a cost-effective manner.  

Stromasys has two versions of the HPA/3000 documentation, one for the A202 Freeware Edition and one for the Demo-to-Production Edition.  The company is restructuring these documents to turn them into User Guides, an upgrade from the comprehensive collection of notes available at the moment. Fortunately there are very few issues that only concern Freeware users, so having to spend time supporting freeware users — with advice and instruction that doesn't benefit the vast majority of its customers and prospects — has not been an issue. 

Product manager Paul Taffel is at the nexus of this springtime growth. "The momentum is certainly building," he said, "and it really is fulfilling to talk to users who had no hope of finding a solution like CHARON, and to be able to show them such a high-quality product." 

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Enterprise Failure: Selling to the Consumer

FAILCOBOL expert and 3000 veteran Bruce Hobbs shared a story with me this week about selling straight to a product's users. That's the way HP 3000s moved into tens of thousands of companies during the 1980s. Back in those simpler sales days IT directors -- we called 'em DP managers in the day -- did the selecting and purchasing of corporate computer assets.

The sale happened in the office of the head computer honcho. This person was the consumer, if you will, of the product being offered. More than anything, they wanted something that would work and be a joy to use. (Joy being a relative term, considering it was the 1980s and ENQ/ACK was still a big part of what we called datacomm. Not networking, which was an even deeper black art.)

The story Mr. Hobbs shared was from the world of Apple, where a blogger took note of Why Nobody Can Copy Apple. In summary, Apple wants to sell directly to the user of its computing solutions. The mobile arm of this vendor now has a large footprint in corporations because of this. People are Bringing their Own Devices to the office. It's enough of a phenomenon to trigger a recent webinar on the topic from MB Foster.

However, current enterprise computing sales -- the kind that displaced the 3000 -- take place in an office outside of DP Departments (as we used to call them in the '80s). Corporate Purchasing began to buy systems, or the perhaps the selection happened in the Office of CFO. These officers were accountable to the cost of what they purchased, more so than how reliable or flexible or value-driven systems behaved. This is what put Intel PCs and Windows onto so many desks, long after the users curtailed all manner of love for these affordable choices.

This is the kind of technology selection that's gotten developers and IT administrators removed from decisions. Now IT must present its applications as a portfolio of assets, just to win a place at the boardroom table. No vendor cares less about enterprise-driven sales than Apple. And yet somehow the company has made itself a permanent resident in the plans of corporate IT. BYOD proves that consumer sales work.

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Emulator earns exam for test databases

Print-ExclusiveAn HP 3000 manager is exploring the option of using the Stromasys emulator to host archived test databases as well as an inventory of vehicles and parts. If Stromasys could supply its software, the system could emulate an A500 server installed recently to replace a vintage Series 996.

The 32-year veteran of 3000 programming and management said he'd consider it "a rise in my personal stock if I could go to management and say the emulator could replace TurboIMAGE, VPlus and Pascal programs onto Intel hardware and mass storage.

"If that were true, and we could make it happen for $25,000, we might become a Stromasys customer," he said.

Their app tracks reliability and maintainability of vehicles. Reports have been created using Query and a few dozen customized Pascal programs. One portion of the application is still live: several parts and equipment databases for a warehouse operation. "They still have parts coming in and going out," the manager said.

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Modern COBOL awaits in migrations

Tipped-scaleMigrating 3000 sites, as well as prospects, can expect one element to remain the same: COBOL. Unless a company is buying an off-the-shelf application to replace their 3000 suite, COBOL will remain in control even on a platform as novel as Linux. We haven't heard many reports of 3000 sites rewriting from COBOL to anything else, simply to maintain their mission-critical in-house apps. (Ruby, an object oriented programming language, has been stepping in for COBOL at QSS, the K-12 application provider with 3000 customers.) What tips the scales in favor of sticking with COBOL is more than a developer's comfort with the language. Relaxed formatting and structure are hallmarks of any modern COBOL.

Is sticking with COBOL in 2013 a sound choice? To be sure, many 3000 users wouldn't choose COBOL for a brand-new app. Many are developing in other environments (Visual Studio) on what we call surround platforms. The key data remains on a 3000 for now, feeding those other-apps.

But COBOL has changed a great deal, and for the better, if you decide to move away from HP's COBOL II. The language once had a reputation of being verbose. Okay, that hasn't changed. But COBOL in updated flavors has dropped all the fixed A/B margin formatting, uppercase-only text and rigid division-section structure that was still in place when HP left the languages business.

COBOL supporters in your community still like to talk about how readable and maintainable COBOL still is, even in the face of the brace-and-bracket languages world. George Willis of investment house Fayez Sarofim migrated the MPE applications using AMXW, "so that we could 'lift and shift' our COBOL and Powerhouse code with somewhat minimal changes." The company chose HP's Unix as its platform last year, but AMXW works with Windows and Linux, too.

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Some version management required

Like the old saying of "some assembly required," the more current demands of application development will require version management, at the least, for 3000-bred apps. They are mission-critical programs, and we've not heard terrific reports about off the shelf replacements for 3000s during a migration. It's possible and has been accomplished, but many more stories are in our files concerning existing code, working on a new platform.

If you're moving code away from a 3000 to another platform, some version management is the minimum you will require. More likely, the solution will integrate a compiler suite with Windows Studio tools. There's something on the market called COBOL Studio from ATX II Tecnologias de Software, S.A. More familiar targets would include the Visual COBOL for Visual Studio, from Micro Focus.

What does it look like when a 3000 is doing more beyond a good programmer's editor? Perhaps like the story that Walter Murray -- who moved from HP's languages lab to a job managing 3000s for the California Corrections System -- shared with us.

For version management, I use HP SRC. I have one master library and one person responsible for keeping it in sync with what's in production.  We archive not only the source, but also the compiler listing, object file, and executable, each time a new version is migrated to production.  We also archive job streams, UDCs, tables, and so on. We have separate libraries for personal use and projects.

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All Star year may be on horizon for 3000s

This is the story of two Tims, one who you may know and one you probably don't. But they have something in common. Tim Duncan and Tim O'Neill have enjoyed success over long careers with underrated groups. They're both seeking additional years providing their fundamentals at a great value. And they're both optimistic about unsung but praiseworthy futures.

Tim Duncan is a man with fans. The two-time MVP for the San Antonio Spurs is called the Big Fundamental in his basketball career. This Tim can be easy to overlook at awards time in the NBA, because his game is based on superior execution of the fundamentals. Passing. Blocking shots. Rebounding. Scoring. All without flash to call attention to his efforts. He makes success, selflessly.

Tim O'Neill makes his first appearance in public in this month's printed Newswire. He's been managing HP 3000s since the system was only seven years old. He came to his work by way of a career in math and statistics. He is reaching out for more years for his 3000 by way of the new emulator. His organization, a test facility for the US military, has sustained itself using only the fundamentals: IMAGE, VPlus, Query, plus some HP Pascal.

Both Tims are looking for extra years in what they do well. Making memorable minutes on the court. Making MPE do its work quietly, providing the best value. 

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Where You Can Check for 6 and 7.x

All 3000 customers have MPE/iX installed, but the operating environment comes in three flavors. In the homesteading world of 2013, two of those three will need to be served up by your community's comrades.

Last week 3000 manager John Watson -- one who says he worked for HP for awhile -- asked around to see who had a copy of MPE/iX. He was after a version 6.x or 7.x. If that request was for a 7.5 release, it's easy to obtain. In fact, the Stromasys freeware HPA/3000 emulator can be downloaded with a 7.5 MPE/iX included. No subsystem software, of course.

But the earlier MPE/iX versions? Ask your neighbors, because there's no official way to get that software. Pivital Solutions' Steve Suraci, whose company was among the very last to be an official HP 3000 reseller, confirmed the comrade-swap situation. Pivital continues to support 3000 sites, as its primary business. But that won't make the earlier MPEs any more available, by the book.

"HP has made no provisions for this situation that I am aware of," he said. "My guess is that this customer will easily come across what he is looking for. But we would not be able to legally provide it to him."

Resolving this problem is not as simple as moving up to 7.5 from other releases, for reasons that anyone managing a 3000 would know well.

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3000 pro uses open source version control

We've been polling the 3000 community about its choices for development tools, but the range runs wider than QUAD or versions of Notepad. One enterprising veteran has tapped the free, open source toolset git to create a batch transfer system for EDI.

GitThe git solution is one of those software choices that seems to defy the traditional structures for care and feeding of software. Like the Joomla Content Management System, git is supported by a vast range of users, comes free of charge for any Windows, Unix or Linux-based workstation or server, and is used by very large companies as well as untold thousands of smaller ones.

One 3000 IT pro, James Byrne of the trading specialist and freight forwarder Harte & Lyne Ltd., checked in to report how git is helping him manage the development of new modules which connect to newer enterprise environments. The git techology supports Behavior Driven Developments. BDD provides developers and business analysts with shared tools and a shared process to collaborate on software development.

Last year I had to create an EDI batch transfer system from one of our suppliers into our billing system hosted on the HP 3000 and written in PowerHouse. For that project I created a git repository for the HP on our source archives' Linux host, and then transferred over all of our source code, job files, udc and cmd files -- and anything else I believed to be locally developed source -- into the git repository using the HP 3000s HFS layout.

I then checked out the specific directories and files into a working directory on my Linux workstation, wrote the new stuff and edited the old stuff in GVim, and checked everything back into the remote repository. 

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Five years after, which environments died?

Five years ago this month, the OpenMPE volunteer group was running another slate of directors for its election. Micro Focus had assimilated Acucorp in its mission to become all things COBOL to all platforms' users. The Greater Houston RUG was releasing details for its 2008 conference, one that would feature Alfredo Rego as keynote speaker. At HP, its 3000 lab savants were starting up their final year of development of patches.

Meanwhile, Windows XP users were lobbying Microsoft to save their OS from extinction. An InfoWorld article reported that a group of users had launched a petition.

With Microsoft saying it will stop both OEM and shrink-wrapped sales of the OS come June 30, the clock is ticking. But we know lots of you want to keep XP alive, to not be forced to upgrade to the less-than-stellar Vista. Millions of us have grown comfortable with XP and don't see a need to change to Vista. It's like having a comfortable apartment, one that you've enjoyed coming home to for years, only to get an eviction notice.

XP Market ShareWindows XP just dropped below a 40 percent market share last month, according to Net Applications. That firm uses signatures from Web browsers to calculate these figures. Windows XP patches are still available for free. So are patches for MPE/iX. XP has not changed any more than the 3000's OS during these five years — so they have that in common, too.

But obtaining your free MPE/iX patches might take quite a bit of waiting on hold with the HP Response Center now, five years after HP stopped creating the patches. In a bit of special handling, MPE/iX users got a free pass, literally, on patching, a savings that users of HP's Unix, VMS and NonStop do not get. It's just that acquiring the patches means explaining you want a patch to an enterprise server, not an HP printer.

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Raise your stock, maybe, with emulation

StocktickerYou might not have any COBOL running at your 3000 installation. We just heard from a customer who was in this unique position, this week. He is also a candidate to let the Stromasys emulator take over for his 3000 iron -- even at the regular production-grade emulator price of $25,000.

We haven't seen much of this yet. Most of the inquiries are "will it run?" or "how can I get it for less?" or "what promise do I have my software can be licensed on it?" That last one is the least predictable, unless you have your own application in-house, and use only MPE utilities from third parties. No problems there.

Apparently in that in-house situation, a Maryland IT manager asked me if it's feasible to let the emulator make him a hero, by raising his stock in his career at his company.

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Developer tools for 3000 redux, not re-dos

We asked 3000 veterans what they're using while they do development in the MPE environment. Several steady and stable solutions emerged, over and over. Like a lot of life in the 3000 world, there's a lack of surprises that contributes to higher productivity. Just because there are more elaborate developer tools on migration platforms doesn't mean that the MPE tools don't serve 3000-caliber needs.

For example, Tracy Johnson of Measurement Specialties uses three editors to maintain and develop on the 3000.

I'll use whatever editor suits my need for the moment. Qedit lets me edit a file that someone else may want to open at the same time. (I only need single user access when I need to do a KEEP.) Especially those pesky SECURCON or STREAMX config files that something else may open for less than a second. Saves me the extra step of having to make a copy then edit the copy. Then their full screen feature lets me use the arrow keys.

Quad has those convenient WHITEN and DEBLANK commands. The faux full screen seems easier for one-key page flipping than Qedit's real full screen.

EDITOR has LENGTH and RIGHT commands if I need to change the record width. Also, it is my editor of choice for mass changes with MPEX's hooked EDITCHG command.

Consultant Roy Brown of Kelmscott Ltd, describing himself as a hired gun, says "I'll use whatever the client possesses. Basic FOS tools, at a pinch -- Query, FCOPY, KSAMUTIL, etc." But he recognizes the better, third party favorites and wants to use them whenever possible.

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Bridges to Cross Before Useful Emulation

It's been a month since the community got its hands on a freeware version of the Stromasys emulator. Some reports from these freeware testers have emerged. But the next installment of this saga comes from more installations and software license agreements. An MPE license is in place, but the subsystems such as COBOL II are not covered. More bridges lie ahead for this software to bring some homestead systems back to the future.

BridgesOne example reported to me came from a manager of healthcare 3000s, all doing work with customized code in a healthy-sized datacenter. The company hears the clock ticking on the life of their MPE commitment. The veteran manager there, already experienced in the consulting world, says some more time needs to elapse with success stories and production testing before his employer would consider HPA/3000 as a new path toward some extra years on the 3000.

He approached the freeware release with gusto. I heard from him more than two weeks before the pre-Christmas unveiling of the A-202 version, crafted to two users only and licensed for non-commercial use -- unless you're evaluating it for production purchase. "I downloaded the emulator as fast as I could the Monday that it became available," he said two weeks ago.

I've been playing with it since, and am currently looking for a new (to me) computer to host it.  My current computer is an Intel i3 Core with 6GB of memory. The emulator runs fine on it, but I'd like to find a computer that I can dedicate to the emulator, so that I can have my desktop PC back.  

So far I'm happy with what I've seen and have run into only one issue. That being, accessing a remote tape drive.  I'll get back to that issue later and gather more info, because I'm not sure of the cause.

I hope to get a copy for my customer so that we can demo it, and hopefully get them to buy a license. But we've got a ways to go before that happens.

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Could migrations be sparked by fresher development environments?

In a recent poll I conducted about the tools of the 3000 developer, I found a lot of classics. Finding classics at work is common among the 3000 community. And just because technology is steeped in legacy doesn't make it a fool's tool. Micro Focus likes to tell customers who are using its COBOL and development environment software, "Just because it's old doesn't mean it's not gold."

FreshSolutionsHowever, nearly all of the three dozen veteran coders -- architects, designers, maintainers and more -- use something first released in 1980s. And only one who replied to our December poll mentioned any change management or version control software as part of coding and creating for MPE. Perhaps everybody works with code they created, on a small team --perhaps as slim as just themselves.

So when these experts said their software toolset runs to Qedit, QUAD, EDITOR/3000, MPEX, Suprtool -- or in one gruesome report, the bare-bones vi -- we assume they're using what they grew up getting adept with. Success breeds habits, and then practices. It's a good strategy for decades if nothing much changes. But when a corporation acquires other companies and IT environments, it eventually gets a datacenter architecture too big for a few favorite tools and nothing else. These kinds of companies and corporations are on the path to migrations away from the 3000. What they'll use to create systems on the new boxes will be designed to embrace change while it feeds multiple-platform developer teams.

The question is, can these advanced and high-productivity tools ever push a maybe-migrator across to engaged status? Put another way, can the likes of Visual Studio, Eclipse, or InDesign sell a company on Windows PCs, Linux enterprise servers or networks of iMacs? Can a toolset lead a company to modernize its enterprise environment? Perhaps it can, when you consider what IDEs yield: application software, the element that's supposed to trigger all enteprise platform decisions.

There's a nifty IDE primer online at the Mashable website, but it's more of a way of understanding what types of IDEs are out there. It admits it's only a sampler of everything available for enterprise developers.

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What If: Fault lay not in the 3000, but in HP?

In the early years of my HP reporting career, the company tried to sell PCs against IBM. It had innovative technology in touchscreen HP 150s with strong links to enterprise office software via those PCs. HP's ad slogan began with an invitation to a customer to imagine something more connected to the customer than IBM: "What If?"

ReporterNotebookIt's a good question today, nearly 30 years later, especially when used to evaluate HP 3000s. HP lopped off its futures with the server in 2001, less than a year before it attacked the PC market by purchasing Compaq. Some products had to go, if HP hoped to convince institutional shareholders that a $25 billion acquisition was good business.

Touchscreen 150So the 3000 was derided and deprecated by HP. The server had a failing ecosystem. Customers wanted other HP products, like PCs for businesses, running Windows. Over a few more years, HP acquired even more love of outside products. It changed itself as a company, while it fled from the challenge of asking customers what if about its unique technology like the HP 150. Now there are calls for HP to return to the company that it was before it became a consumer-obsessed, low-touch customer service juggernaut that's careened into a financial ditch.

What if the fault lay not in the HP 3000's starry design, but in HP's leaders themselves? When Steve Jobs takes a walk through the neighborhood of Palo Alto to counsel an ousted CEO of HP, you can be pretty sure that a great deal had changed for HP, and none of it for the better. And that walk took place more than two years ago. Jobs believed that Mark Hurd should've never left HP.

That's how completely Hewlett-Packard had faulted from its enterprise line. A leader who slashed R&D, and rubber-stamped even more pell-mell pursuit of the consumerist strategy, was now the bulwark. Proof enough HP had changed completely, and offered in a story this week from the Apple community.

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Panel producer pursues PDF processes

NorbordNorbord, an international producer of wood-based panels, runs some of its operations on an HP 3000. This $1 billion company with 13 operating sites around the world needed to create PDFs on its 3000, a task assigned to John Pickering of the company. He went to the 3000 newsgroup for advice on how to do this, working to discover free, online resources already stocked away by indie support companies.

Pickering began by pursuing shareware, which is can sometimes be the budget choice for 3000 shops. (There's a superior and tested PDF-creating solution from Hillary Software, byRequest, which does this for 3000s as well as other enterprise systems.) But if a site wanted to bale together shareware like the txt2pdf software, a manager like Pickering needs Perl to run.

I'd be happy to use the shareware txt2pdf, but I don't know where to begin. The Sanface web site indicates that Perl is required, but that isn't on this 3000, either.

Allegro Consultants, supporting 3000s and crafting MPE software even in 2012, ponied up the Perl that Pickering needed to run txt2pdf.

You can get perl from Allegro," said veteran 3000 expert Donna Hofmeister at the company. "You'll want to get a copy of our SFTP PDF whitepaper as well, since it discusses how to install perl."

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2012 marks 3000 flights of Linux penguins

By Ron Seybold

Third in a series

The year 2012 might have been the first to signal a significant decline in the number of migration projects among the HP 3000 installed base. But for those who were making their transition, Linux was more popular than ever, in either a supporting role to protect HP 3000s, or as host environment.

LinuxAdd in the 2012 doubts about Oracle's database support for Itanium -- with the attached concern about HP-UX -- and Linux took steps forward to stand as an equal migration target to HP's Unix. In an allied story, since Oracle's technology looked doubtful for HP's Unix futures, other database solutions took a higher profile among 3000 migrators.

Marxmeier Software's Eloquence database 8.20 gained indexing features in 2012 so valuable that the 3000 community members once paid extra for them. With a decline in the availability and future of the '90s-era Omnidex indexing tech, Eloquence's creators added a fast indexing technology, one which its advocates called "like a Google search through your database" in speed. The database has been in 3000 migration toolsets since the earliest days of the transition era, in part because Eloquence applies relational database management for Linux (and HP-UX and Windows) in an IMAGE workalike design.

Migrations in total started to show some significant declines at selected service-providing vendors during 2012. Speedware became Fresche Legacy in the spring of the year, a shift that embraced IBM midrange migrations. The company's president said that the period from the start of 2011 through March of 2012 posted no new 3000 migration projects. Fresche's Chris Koppe said he didn't think the era of migration had ended for the community, while fellow Platinum Migration vendor MB Foster said it was still engaging new 3000 migration business.

The shift in the community's migrations was running down to individual companies, said the Eloquence database creator Michael Marxmeier, after ISV customers finished their transitions. "By now the majority of that migration business is over, and that's okay," said Marxmeier. "ISVs have settled in place; they've probably already moved on. At the beginning they had to come up with a solution to keep their customers successful, and quickly."

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What'll you use to code in the New Year?

A few weeks back we began to ask the 3000 community about its tools for development. Companies committed to the platform need to develop, as business opportunities arise, acquisitions close, or efficiencies of scale trigger changes. The answers from the developers using MPE/iX included many well-known tools. 

But anything resembling a development environment, with change management or a workbench of testing tools, looked like an unknown in the first phase of our survey. There's code being cut and maintained, but lots of the change management is happening with the ol' noggin, as we suggested in the LinkedIn version of our poll. (Take a minute and tick a box there, to give us all even more data.)

Cortlandt Wilson, an independent consultant and contractor who's aided MANMAN customers for many years, watched the reports of Quad, Qedit, vi, Edit/3000 and more roll across the 3000-L replies. He believes there's more in the developers' toolbox that wasn't being mentioned.

"I wouldn't be surprised if others use some kind of Software Change Management or version control software on their PCs but didn't think to mention it," Wilson said. This is the kind of toolset that coders in the non-3000 worlds take on faith, because there are so many options there.

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Attempt at migration preceded emulation

At the newest HPA/3000 Charon emulation site, IT manager Warren Dawson said the decision to keep MPE/iX running was not the first choice for his company in Australia. Migration was a prospective strategy at the organization, but it didn’t pan out for the application.

Print-Exclusive“We were rewriting our software in a VB and .NET version, but in the end it turned out to be taking too long and being too costly,” Dawson said. “In the meantime we’d tied down the migration of the databases into SQL databases, so that was already running smoothly. Now they use those databases for other applications. We’ve done that migration, but our main system is still the TurboIMAGE/SQL system." A nightly extract through Minisoft's ODBC drivers creates a mirrored version of the database in SQL Server.

Even while the company has eliminated the risk of hardware failures, the challenge of finding replacements for its 3000-savvy talents remains the same. “COBOL programmers here are few and far between,” Dawson said. “In terms of my own job security, it’s cemented that somewhat — great for me, but from the company’s point of view it’s an issue. It will be an issue to get someone to replace the skills in COBOL, because that’s what we mainly use."

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Software allies smooth path onto emulator

Customers of the HPA/3000 emulator will be watching to see which software companies want to collaborate with Stromasys, to make sure this source of modern, updated MPE/iX servers on Linux iron gets into 3000 shops.

The first HP 3000 manager to take an emulator into production moved the services of very old iron onto a very new MPE/iX platform. IS Manager Warren Dawson’s company was using a Series 947 server which was more than 20 years old to take care of mission-critical operations.

Print-ExclusiveNearly all of Dawson's third party vendors have come on board and made efforts to ensure their software works. “One was a little slow in doing so, so we made a workaround," he said, "and I made it a permanent workaround. I didn’t know when they would come on board. They came on just before we went live, and we’d already decided to move away from their product.” 

In the case of the switch in backup processes, Dawson’s procedures now back up twice as much data, using HP’s standard STORE and RESTORE programs — in less than than when the backup was done using the third party software on the 3000 box.

The change from using HP’s native iron to emulation has also reinvigorated some of Dawson’s MPE software vendors.

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