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A Flock of 3000s
Donna Garverick administers 3000s with faith. The chair of the Interex SIGSYSMAN special interest group calls on belief in the systems inbred advantages, as well as faith in her fellow managers while shepherding systems for Longs 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 Armys 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 Armys 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 Longs,
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. Shes 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
Youre managing hundreds of 3000s at Longs. How do you stay on top of whats happening operationally at that many sites?
If it werent for our Remote Store Operations, it would be impossible. Theres a wealth of HP expertise here at Longs. I dont think Longs would be where they are today if it werent 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.
Theres a system set up for sending stuff out to the stores, whether data or software, and that system brings stuff back as well. Its part of RSOs job to check and see whats 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 Im managing 400 HP 3000s. Its a lot, but after two or three its 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. Its their job to watch the 3000s at the stores, monitor them and do a health check. Theyre very good at solving problems, but if they run into a problem they cant solve, they get in touch with me. By the time it gets to me its 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 dont have a lot of turnover with our operators. I havent heard that weve 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. Weve not had any luck finding somebody who can do admin and knows how to program.
What were running into is that programmers want to stay programmers. In small shops youll have programmers who have to do admin. What Im running into is that a lot of them just dont enjoy it. Theyd rather be programming
To me, I find admin more challenging that programming. Im sure there are people who would recoil from such a heretical statement. The challenges of admin dont cease for me. I still get to code, but I do more than that. Its 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 whats 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, Longs 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 Longs network is Classic 3000s. What are your plans for keeping them running past the millennium?
At least 300 of them are Classics. Were 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 theyve had Series 900s for some time.
Part of what were doing is replacing the old Series 42s with Series 900s. The 42s are so old theyre being really troublesome for maintenance. The Micro3000 GX and XE will stay for as long as we can manage. Were 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. Were going through the Year 2000 conversion thing with our contractor to make the software compliant. I think well 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 theyre 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. Theres 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?
Its an issue, but we think were going to be okay with it. For a lot of our Classics, weve 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 its nice to be Longs if we were to run into a problem, HP is going to be able to help us. Its 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 youre 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. Theyd beat a path to our door all day long. After awhile, it seemed like we did nothing but charts.
Youve 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 Longs I was with a company where I was the entire MIS staff. I was lucky there with the 3000 its so reliable that it wasnt a real disadvantage that HP was a remote entity. I didnt have a sales representative whod 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 Ill run into folks with 3000 shops who arent on the list at all, but thats 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
We almost have what we need when 6.0 comes out. Well have the basics we need to do networked computing. We already have the operating system and the database, and weve had that forever. But now were going to have supported software coming from HP with Netscapes 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 its freeware. When youre relying on your 3000 to run your business, theres 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? Whats 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 youre 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
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?
Id be real inclined to stick them
over in Posix right away, especially
if theyve got any kind of Unix
background. Theyre going to feel
really comfortable there. Then Id
introduce them to the rest
of the operating system as they grew
professionally. I think thats
where were going to find new
programmers out of the Unix world.
Most of the wonderful stuff thats
happened to MPE has been in
Posix. If you take a Unix person and stick
them in Posix, theyre
going to have higher productivity straight
off the bat.
I think the MOVER situation is kind of a
mess. What, weve got
three MOVERs now? Part of me would prefer
to stick with MOVER,
because Im 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.
When I get to do anything fun with the
3000, Im over in Posix-land.
Posix doesnt bother me, but I know
for a lot of people its intimidating.
I wish we had something more to help ease
long-time MPE people
into Posix. The computer based training
thats available on the
system just scratches the surface.
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 Ill 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, Id 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 weve 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.
Thats a lot of the reason why
were moving off it. Everybody
at Longs has an HP Desk mailbox
even new employees. Were in
the process of moving off of Desk to
Internet-style mail. Most
everybody still uses the terminal
interface, although theres
a handful of people using the clients.
Were going to Netscape,
and were looking for integrated
messaging and information systems.
Were experiencing some trouble with
Desk because of all of the
network traffic it generates.
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 its going to be really challenging to tell people to clean up their filing cabinets. Theyre comfortable with Desk. Their whole mindset of how mail works is built around the model that HP Desk presents.
As far as less familiar, thats an
advantage that Longs 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. Im
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
youre moving people from
an old application to a new one.
I believe its 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
Ive dug into Desk,
the more Ive 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
really a robust piece of software.
Its a shame it couldnt be
updated by somebody, not necessarily by HP.
Not for the 3000. It doesnt do resource sharing well its 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 youre trying to run Java off the 3000, I think youd bring the machine to its knees.
As Java matures on the 3000, thats
going to be a different story.
Once JDBC is available, Ive got an
application in mind already
that Im going to make a lot of noise
about having our programmers
look into. I think theyll see better
performance through Java
than through ODBC. I think its
critical to the rebirth of the
3000. Its 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,
were going to have to be able to do
just like every other platform,
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 systems going to be there, going to work, and its not going to give you a lot of headaches. You just cant say that for a lot of other computers out there. It can beat just about any machine out there hands down.
Im out there in my little Bible-bathrobe looking coat, like John the Baptist saying Ive 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. Its traumatic, if nothing else.
Copyright 1998, The 3000 NewsWire. All rights reserved.
Copyright 1998 The 3000 NewsWire. All rights reserved