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November 2002

Considering latest 3000 improvements

Homestead Advisor offers analysis and advice from experienced consultants on how to keep your 3000s running as long as you want. These columns will be devoted to developing an living infrastructure for your MPE-IMAGE systems, a future designed to grow and expand independent of HP’s plans. Send questions for our Homestead Advisors to editor@3000newswire.com.

By Ron Horner

To upgrade or not to upgrade? That is the question. Not long ago, this was an easy decision to make. After last year’s 3000 end of support announcement from HP, such decisions require more thought. Let us take a look at the offerings from HP. HP would like to sell you new hardware, as well as hardware upgrades. There’s also a software upgrade available for free if you’re on a current HP support contract.

From the hardware standpoint, stepping up to the most modern version of HP 3000s — the 150MHz and 200MHz A-Class systems, and the 380-750MHz N-Class boxes — offers an advantage the homesteader can leverage longer than migrating customers can. You’ll be using these systems for at least five years, and probably more — the typical, cost-effective lifespan of HP 3000 models you’ve enjoyed in the past. Migrating customers may have to justify buying new A-Class and N-Class systems that will serve over a much shorter period of time. That’s what they have to endure if they choose to follow their application providers onto another platform.

HP’s selling these new systems at a much better price than its last offering of A-Class and N-Class systems. A lot of the value lies in the MPE software. Because the 3000 is a bundled solution, a purchase of a new 3000 is a way to preserve the value of your license for MPE/iX, an asset that may have increasing value over the coming years. After all, HP doesn’t plan to create any more MPE/iX licenses in the period between next October and whenever the first Intel-based 3000 hardware emulators are released by Allegro and SRI. With a fresh HP bill of sale in hand, transferring that MPE/iX license when selling off the HP 3000 becomes easier, and perhaps cheaper: you won’t need to stay on HP support to prove your chain of ownership, and that can save you money right away.

HP would also like to convert your PA-8500 and PA-8600 RISC processors to the PA-8700, the last CPU generation for the 3000s that HP will offer. These new 3000 upgrade packages for sale from HP let you step up to the very latest PA-RISC processors, as well as enable Fibre Channel connections. But for those of you playing homesteader, HP’s upgrades only work with the A- and N-Class servers it sold over the last year. If you have an HP 3000 class older than the A- and N-Class servers, this hardware processor upgrade means nothing to you.

Now if you do have these servers, taking advantage of the upgrade offer may be the right thing to do. Remember homesteaders, you have to plan for the long haul. Looking for additional processing power now may save you in the future. Your HP 3000 should continue to grow as your business grows. Knowing that this latest HP generation of 3000 hardware may become harder to find in the future, take time now to plan your system requirements. Look to purchasing items like disk drives, memory, or processors. When a budget opportunity arises, jump at the chance to strengthen your HP 3000 infrastructure.

As you are increasing your processing power, you will need to increase the size of your mailbox. The amount of mail about migrating to UNIX will skyrocket. At the same time it offers this upgrade, HP reminds you that you can receive its free MPE to HP-UX conversion kit. The conversion kit is a dubious value: first you’ve paid for the MPE license (many thousands of dollars extra over the cost of the hardware alone), an expense you can’t recover when you trade it away for a basic-level HP-UX license. Once you do that conversion swap, you lose your database, adding thousands more in expense to replace it. A homesteader wouldn’t want to squander such a resource.

Then there’s the 7.5 software upgrade, which looks better and can benefit many customers. The MPE/iX 7.5 upgrade can be loaded on all but the oldest of HP 3000 servers: A- and N-Class, 9x8s, 9x9s and 99x systems can run 7.5. Only the A- and N-Class servers, loaded up with the 8700 top-end chips, can really take advantage of the performance gains that are promised with this OS release.

Beyond performance, MPE/iX 7.5 acts as a final bow to the faithful HP 3000 customers. If HP had not made its “End of the Line” announcement, you might think that HP was trying to position its MPE line to become a developer’s dream. With the bundled, secure version of the open source Apache Web server, your HP 3000 can deliver information right out onto the Internet. Or use it to create the intranet of your professional dreams. Your MPE box can also now be an e-mail server just by running the new and fully supported Sendmail. Your applications can send updates to your customers, as well as alert you to impending problems.

You say you need a bigger file server? Samba comes to the rescue. Running a newly-updated version of Samba allows you to access flat files right from your Windows desktop. No, I’m not talking emulation. I’m talking about using Windows Notepad to edit 3000 files on the fly. The 32-bit ODBC driver will allow your desktop applications written in languages such as Visual Basic, C++ and many more to update your IMAGE databases.

MPE/iX 7.5 has updated functions for developers. There are more drivers included, to allow you to add more devices. This OS also supports the idea that bigger is better by increasing limits. The greatest example of this is by eliminating the 4Gb limitation on LDEV 1. It is just too bad that this is the last of the HP-supported versions.

So are these improvements for the homesteader? The newest systems are much faster and in many cases are cheaper to maintain on support, HP’s or the fine third-party options. I think that the hardware upgrades are nice. But of course, only if you have “A” or “N” class boxes can you use them.

If you have the money to spend, upgrading your hardware is a good idea for the long haul, and will provide good short term returns in performance and access to faster, newer peripherals. For companies that don’t have the money to spend, don’t worry too much about it. Your HP 3000 servers will get the job done as well as they always have; no announcement from HP will change that.

On the software side, this is a must-have upgrade. Even though only the larger MPE/iX servers can take advantage of the better performance, there are many areas of 7.5 that will keep you running well past 2006.

Ron Horner, owner of Horner Consulting (horner.horner.home.mindspring.com), has 15 years of MPE experience. Starting in 1988, Ron learned the ins and outs of the HP 3000. At present Ron is part of the OpenMPE movement and a strong advocate of homesteading.

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