System freeze stalls upgrade releases
Lockdown for stability slows general release of patches
HPs engineers would like to keep busy improving the HP 3000. But without a clear source of test-ready customer systems, the vendor appears to be losing its drive to give MPE development experts a reason to log more 3000 hours.
The HP 3000 lab experts in HP rarely work full-time on MPE matters these days. When the vendor reorganized its enterprise business in 2003, the deal brokered by outgoing GM Winston Prather put HPs development engineers into a technical support group with a broad mandate: all HP business critical systems. Engineers and managers work on projects for HPs Unix systems along with their 3000 duties.
Some express concerns about staying active on HP 3000 projects. The customer community developed a lengthy wish list this spring on very short notice, a hearty collection of work to keep the engineers coding through this year and the next before HP retires from the 3000 market.
But HPs outreach toward its 3000 customers is still falling short this summer. The gaps are caused by customers cautions about changing their 3000 configurations. Many systems are in lockdown this year, a classic way for the MPE customer to assure stability. Since HP has been warning customers about the end of its 3000 support, the installed base has become loath to install improvements at the risk of de-stabilizing a business-critical server.
Dave Powell, a 3000 manager at components maker MMFab, wanted to deploy a command interface (CI) enhancement this spring, a pair of patches to enable a user function to call another script or UDC as a function that would return a value using an enhanced CI RETURN command. But like 28 other 3000 enhancements to MPE/iX 7.5, MPEMXP9A and MPEMXQ0A are stalled, waiting for customers to test them.
The patch and its corresponding error catalog patch were completed last summer. One of those part-time MPE engineers, HPs Jeff Vance, asked customers back then to test the work. Please, if you voted for this SIB item and you are on 7.5, request these patches, he said.
Powell wanted to put the patches on his system, but asked for encouragement from the 3000 newsgroup in the absence of a general release. I am interested in the user function patches, but we only have one 3000, no separate crash-and-burn box, he said. How safe does HP think those patches are? Can anyone at least promise they wont crash the system?
Vance replied immediately to say he believes the patches are sound. We didnt find a single regression problem in our testing of the enhancement, he said. But based on limited internal HP tests, the software could cause a system abort. If you run the CI with a NM stack size with little room for expansion, and you use recursive user functions, you can run into CI stack overflow, he said. HP didnt find stack overflows in testing.
The beta-test logjam became apparent this spring, when HP gave users three Web pages with the list of untested enhancements. HP hoped to encourage tests by raising the patches visibility.
Increasing the number of test systems will do more than unlock 3000 enhancements. One SIG leader said that successful enhancement projects keep HP engaged in the system, a move that can preserve 3000-related engineer hours.
Whatever scraps of work we can get authorized keeps MPE engineers employed, and at least stalls the brain drain, said Burke Consulting president John Burke, co-chair of SIG-MPE.
Some of the beta test logjam might be cleared quicker if the vendor would enable later MPE/iX releases to boot on older systems. The 7.0 release ran on 9x7 hardware throughout the pre-release period for 7.0. When HP finally shipped the release, HP revoked 7.0s boot-up capabilities on 9x7s. Burke added that the SIG wants to see the vendor normalize the feature sets of MPEs releases, just in case HP agrees to license its MPE/iX source.
If MPE/iX is ever licensed, we want to see the feature sets for 6.5, 7.0 and 7.5 be as similar as possible, he said.
Engineers like Vance want to see the vendors work move into customers hands. Requests from last year that got HPs green light will be ready for beta testing by this fall. We have an internal schedule which gets us to September for the SIB 04 items, Vance said. I am hoping to speed up a few of the items so we have some good news for HP World.