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A Flock of 3000s
With Zeal

Donna Garverick administers 3000s with faith. The chair of the Interex SIGSYSMAN special interest group calls on belief in the system’s inbred advantages, as well as faith in her fellow managers while shepherding systems for Long’s Drug, one of several varied stops in her HP 3000 career. Garverick took on the SIG chair duties within a few months of joining the omnipresent drug retailer this year, positions she elevated herself toward after years of MPE experience.

She was baptized into the fold in college, learning the 3000 in DP classes at a small Ohio school where MPE was taught in the early 1980s. In 1984 she joined the Army’s effort in computing, working with a 3000 at the Materiel Readiness Support Activities center in Lexington, Ky. Garverick was on civilian duty in the months that led to the Gulf War, making the Army’s top HP 3000 step lively as it snapped vast columns of statistics to the attention of Army chiefs readying for Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

After a brief stay with an Alabama-based manufacturer, she stepped up to one of the largest HP 3000 networks in the world at Long’s, one of the more ubiquitous points of commerce in the Western US. Each of the 360 stores still sports an HP 3000, and the toughest problems bubble up to her. She’s also going to help migrate a massive HPDesk mail network away from the 3000,the kind of application shift that is common in the current 3000 community.
Garverick specializes in administration, the inglorious but essential skills of problem solving that take up many of our readers’ days. We were impressed with her communication with HP managers at the recent IPROF conference, watching her explain the reality of 3000 administration challenges. We think Garverick stood up as an average system manager with above-average experience, and wanted to check in with her after taking over the chair duties of SIGSYSMAN. Like many with a long 3000 history, she has two articles of faith: the wealth of knowledge in the 3000 community and the simple reliability of MPE.

You’re managing hundreds of 3000s at Long’s. How do you stay on top of what’s happening operationally at that many sites?

If it weren’t for our Remote Store Operations, it would be impossible. There’s a wealth of HP expertise here at Long’s. I don’t think Long’s would be where they are today if it weren’t for the quality of folks who support the 3000 here. And a lot of where the 3000s are today is due to what happened with them here long ago. They were the ones who really pushed the envelope on network software in particular.

There’s a system set up for sending stuff out to the stores, whether data or software, and that system brings stuff back as well. It’s part of RSO’s job to check and see what’s going on in each store. All the jobs have a messaging facility built into them, so if they fail they send a message that comes back in the transport system for RSO to pick up.

I guess in a global sense I’m managing 400 HP 3000s. It’s a lot, but after two or three it’s not much different. The nice thing about being here is that we have an infrastructure built in to help manage all these computers. We have a really terrific group of people in RSO. It’s their job to watch the 3000s at the stores, monitor them and do a health check. They’re very good at solving problems, but if they run into a problem they can’t solve, they get in touch with me. By the time it gets to me it’s a matter of figuring out really obscure problems. The HP 3000 [Internet] mailing list is a really important resource to me for that.

Are you in an environment now where finding operations staff is a challenge for your 3000s? Large sites like 3M and Southwest are scratching for these kinds of professionals.

We don’t have a lot of turnover with our operators. I haven’t heard that we’ve had any trouble trying to hire them. Most of our operators can operate the 3000 and they can operate the mainframes. Trying to hire somebody at my level has proved to be nearly impossible.

How would you describe that skill set?

We need somebody with a strong admin background, so they know about updating the operating system and configuring devices. What a lot of shops roll off onto the operations staff we have isolated onto a fairly unique position. This person also needs to know how to program in COBOL, C and a little SPL. We’ve not had any luck finding somebody who can do admin and knows how to program.

What we’re running into is that programmers want to stay programmers. In small shops you’ll have programmers who have to do admin. What I’m running into is that a lot of them just don’t enjoy it. They’d rather be programming

To me, I find admin more challenging that programming. I’m sure there are people who would recoil from such a heretical statement. The challenges of admin don’t cease for me. I still get to code, but I do more than that. It’s the challenge of the problem solving that intrigues me.

What can HP give you to make that problem solving easier for the 3000s?

I wish we had more of a management tool set, because they have that notion on NT. You have a system monitoring tool set that lets you go from all sorts of different angles to see what’s going on with the system. Right now you have tools on the 3000 that are not aware of each other in general. It would be nice if it was one big bundled package. There may be something in a third-party solution that will do that. For stuff that deals with the systems in particular, Long’s tends to rely on HP to provide solutions. It comes from the days when the expertise on the 3000 really was concentrated inside Hewlett-Packard.

A large part of the Long’s network is Classic 3000s. What are your plans for keeping them running past the millennium?

At least 300 of them are Classics. We’re rolling out PA-RISC systems out right now, due to Year 2000 issues. Some stores are large enough to require a more powerful computer than a Classic, so they’ve had Series 900s for some time.

Part of what we’re doing is replacing the old Series 42s with Series 900s. The 42s are so old they’re being really troublesome for maintenance. The Micro3000 GX and XE will stay for as long as we can manage. We’re in the process of updating the operating system on all those remaining Classics to 3P, which is the Year 2000 compliant version of MPE V. We’re going through the Year 2000 conversion thing with our contractor to make the software compliant. I think we’ll be okay.

Down the road, all the 3000s at the stores are going to be replaced. This was a fight that was done long before I got here. They decided to replace the 3000s in the stores with different computers, so they’re installing those. None of the stores have had their 3000s removed yet. Some of the stores have a 3000, an NT box and an HP Unix server – each doing different things. Here at the general office, the 3000s are here to stay. There’s too much work happening on our 995/300 to be able to turn it off.

Is the cutoff date for official hardware support of MPE V systems this fall going to be an issue for you?

It’s an issue, but we think we’re going to be okay with it. For a lot of our Classics, we’ve done our own hardware support for a long time. My co-workers and I were talking about the Classics, and nobody could remember the last time we had to make an MPE V call to the Response Center. This is also a time when it’s nice to be Long’s – if we were to run into a problem, HP is going to be able to help us. It’s nice to be a big account.

How did the 3000 perform for the Army during Desert Shield and Desert Storm?

We processed readiness information for every unit in Army. For all the days in a month, units would tell us how many days their mission-critical equipment, like their tanks, were available. We measured downtime in terms of supply or maintenance. They would send information to us, which we would mash, for lack of a better word, and churn out management level reports on a Series 70. This information was also considered classified by the Army, so it positioned us well once the trouble over in the Gulf started up.

The real test came during Desert Shield, the preparatory phase before Desert Storm. We went into 24-hour-a-day operation, and literally had people coming into the system at three in the morning to get information off the 3000. It was interesting to see after all the years of work we had put into the system, molding it and fine-tuning the reporting, to see it being really useful. It was a high-visibility system to begin with, but at the point where we were gearing up for war it shot through the roof.

People were coming onto that system asking, “Who are your best tank companies?” and “Where are they located?” They were doing a lot of hand picking, and in many cases very interested in Reserve and National Guard units – determining if they really knew what they were doing.

It made us all feel good to know we had an information system that was accessible and reliable enough that the Army used it when they got ready to go to war. We were all given civilian service medals at the end of it.

Were the applications you were using all home-grown?

Yes. The original software system was very old, well into the 1960s. By the time I left, we had 10 years of data for analysis, and that was where a lot of our value showed through. We had an incredible amount of data available, but you’re not going to want to wade through the data line by line. We were able to consolidate the data to give a reliable picture fast. That was something the information system had never been able to do prior to our moving it onto the 3000.

The system had always been this massive, ugly beast. We were able to exploit the capabilities of the 3000 to make the data meaningful. It spoke well of our programmers. We discovered that people loved to see our data charted out, because it was all statistics. They’d beat a path to our door all day long. After awhile, it seemed like we did nothing but charts.

You’ve managed 3000s at several different kinds of sites – massive organization, small customer, large customer. What can you say about the relationships with HP at one kind of site versus another – the difference between relying on a reseller versus having a dedicated HP rep versus whatever the arrangement was at the Army?

Before Long’s I was with a company where I was the entire MIS staff. I was lucky there with the 3000 – it’s so reliable that it wasn’t a real disadvantage that HP was a remote entity. I didn’t have a sales representative who’d come and visit like in the old days. A lot of what made my job easier was the 3000 mailing list. I am amazed that I’ll run into folks with 3000 shops who aren’t on the list at all, but that’s my own bias.

When I was with the Army, that was the good old days, where we had a local sales office and a sales representative and CEs used to come out and do monthly maintenance. It was a different world then.

Do you think HP is providing enough in MPE to change the way 3000s are used, from a direct connection server to one that can perform in networks?

We almost have what we need when 6.0 comes out. We’ll have the basics we need to do networked computing. We already have the operating system and the database, and we’ve had that forever. But now we’re going to have supported software coming from HP with Netscape’s Web server and Samba. At that point people are going to feel more comfortable about moving forward. Right now, doing anything with Samba and Apache has a certain amount of risk, because it’s freeware. When you’re relying on your 3000 to run your business, there’s some discomfort with running freeware at a production level.

What do you think HP should do to increase the level of HP 3000 administration skills available in the market? What’s your opinion on the state of self-paced tools and training available for MPE/iX?

If they can make Netscape run out of the box in the new release of MPE/iX, then you’re all set to go with that as a vehicle for distributing training materials. They can put all the HTML files in a Posix directory, tell people to fire up Netscape, and away they’d go.
Every couple of months we see a message on the list that goes ‘I just got drafted into this job and I don’t know what to do.’ For a lot of people, being sent to class just is not an option. They can’t be away from the job that long, or the cost of the class itself or the cost of the travel and the lodging just makes it impossible. Computer-based training is a good alternative. Having a certification for system managers is a good idea, too, although it’s a little more problematic. How do you maintain it? When an new version of NT comes out, if you’re already NT certified, you have to redo all the certification. It would be nice to update your certification on what’s new. I’d love to see HP to pick this up.

If HP wants to pursue very large companies for 3000 sites, I think those sites in particular will want system administrators to be certified. If a company could look at a resume and see at the top the candidate was certified for MPE or as a system manager, it would be really helpful.

The 3000 community is small in number compared to those who know Unix or NT. What would you tell somebody just getting into IT about how to get started with the 3000?

I’d be real inclined to stick them over in Posix right away, especially if they’ve got any kind of Unix background. They’re going to feel really comfortable there. Then I’d introduce them to the rest of the operating system as they grew professionally. I think that’s where we’re going to find new programmers – out of the Unix world. Most of the wonderful stuff that’s happened to MPE has been in Posix. If you take a Unix person and stick them in Posix, they’re going to have higher productivity straight off the bat.

What should CSY do to ship its updates for MPE/iX -- go with tar and its derivatives, or stay on the MOVER path?

I think the MOVER situation is kind of a mess. What, we’ve got three MOVERs now? Part of me would prefer to stick with MOVER, because I’m a 3000 bigot. Part of me says “well tar is there…”, and I wonder if from an economic point of view at HP if it would be better to use tar.

Do you use the Posix utilities much in MPE/iX?

When I get to do anything fun with the 3000, I’m over in Posix-land. Posix doesn’t bother me, but I know for a lot of people it’s intimidating. I wish we had something more to help ease long-time MPE people into Posix. The computer based training that’s available on the system just scratches the surface.

What about the state of NMMGR? Do you think it’s time that a tool so vital to 3000 management got an interface that’s better organized?

When we open a new store, we have a couple of jobs that broadcast the IP to all the stores. But the machines at our general office have to have IP addresses entered by hand. Invariably I’ll put in a typo when I do that. I could use the command line interface to write up a job that would do it, but in a perfect world, I’d like the 3000 to rely on DNS more than it is. That way it can figure out what the IP is for some site and take care of it that way.

Since we’ve moved onto 5.5 the machines are better about figuring out an IP. Some of the problem is that not all the software on the system knows how to use DNS; HP DeskManager in particular is at the top of that list.

What are your plans for Open DeskManager, given HP’s ambivalence about upgrading it?

That’s a lot of the reason why we’re moving off it. Everybody at Long’s has an HP Desk mailbox – even new employees. We’re in the process of moving off of Desk to Internet-style mail. Most everybody still uses the terminal interface, although there’s a handful of people using the clients. We’re going to Netscape, and we’re looking for integrated messaging and information systems. We’re experiencing some trouble with Desk because of all of the network traffic it generates.

You’re moving mail service to an application less familiar than one on the HP 3000. How do you plan to handle that?

It is going to be difficult to migrate everybody off of Desk and onto Netscape. Desk has been used here since they dug the foundation for the general office, and it’s going to be really challenging to tell people to clean up their filing cabinets. They’re comfortable with Desk. Their whole mindset of how mail works is built around the model that HP Desk presents.

As far as less familiar, that’s an advantage that Long’s presents. We have a built-in infrastructure to handle that, a whole collection of help desk people and people who do user training. They can write up instructions on how to use Netscape, for example. I’m hoping we can do a “potayto-potahto” thing: if you did “that” in HP Desk, “this” is what you do in Netscape. You have to build mental bridges. That always helps when you’re moving people from an old application to a new one.

Why do you think Desk has outlived its ability to improve the information flow at Long’s?

I believe it’s a combination of two things. One was the decline the 3000s went into, where the technology hit a standstill. It was part of what was happening at HP: Desk could go only so far with what we could do on the 3000. Second, HP was pushing Unix and the other software was there. The more I’ve dug into Desk, the more I’ve said ‘This is a wonderful piece of software.’ The things you can do to Desk are really amazing considering its age. Desk is used here for more than e-mail. We send out forms, use it as a transport mechanism for some of the applications – it’s really a robust piece of software. It’s a shame it couldn’t be updated by somebody, not necessarily by HP.

Will you be picking up any Java over the next year?

Not for the 3000. It doesn’t do resource sharing well – it’s not like you get a global Java control block when you fire it up. If you had a 3000 connected to the Internet that the world was beating a path to, and you’re trying to run Java off the 3000, I think you’d bring the machine to its knees.

As Java matures on the 3000, that’s going to be a different story. Once JDBC is available, I’ve got an application in mind already that I’m going to make a lot of noise about having our programmers look into. I think they’ll see better performance through Java than through ODBC. I think it’s critical to the rebirth of the 3000. It’s part of the computing environment that people are expecting. The Internet has revolutionized how we use these computers, and the Web in particular. In order for the 3000 to remain viable, we’re going to have to be able to do just like every other platform, except better.

What’s the integral advantage of a 3000 that other environments will take a long time to match?

I wish I could say something other than the reliability of the operating system and the database management system. You just learn to expect this out of a 3000: the system’s going to be there, going to work, and it’s not going to give you a lot of headaches. You just can’t say that for a lot of other computers out there. It can beat just about any machine out there hands down.

I’m out there in my little Bible-bathrobe looking coat, like John the Baptist saying “I’ve seen the light.” It really is a religious relationship – to say to a computer professional I want you to change operating systems is like asking somebody to convert from Baptist to Episcopalian or something. It’s traumatic, if nothing else.

Donna Garverick


Copyright 1998, The 3000 NewsWire. All rights reserved.

Copyright 1998 The 3000 NewsWire. All rights reserved