Keeping HP 3000s on the
He arrived in a red two-door sedan that had been
traveling Texas roads for weeks, but Vladimir Volokh was not lost.
The founder of HP 3000 software utility provider VEsoft was wrapping
up a six-week tour of his customer sites in our home state. These
days the 63-year-old is spending weeks out on the road, visiting HP
3000 owners to educate IT managers and consult at affordable fees.
Hes probably in closer contact with more 3000 customers in the
customers offices than any single software vendor. That title
of vendor is one that Vladimir his affable Russian manner
makes it almost impossible to refer to him by anything other than his
first name carries with pride.
Hes got much to be proud of. He estimates his
company has sold 15,000 licenses for its products in the more than 20
years VEsoft has been in business. VEsoft exploited the richness of
MPEs file system to create the MPEX shell. He founded his
company in Los Angeles with his then-16-year-old prodigy of a son
Eugene, whod already worked in HPs labs in a summer job
at age 14. The Volokhs emigrated from the Soviet Union in the 1970s,
first founding one of the largest HP 3000 software companies, then
building Movieline magazine on his wife Annes business acumen
and literary skills.
Eugene remains with the company whose
name bears his first initial alongside his fathers, despite a
career in law that went from clerking for a Supreme Court Justice to
a UCLA professorship, frequent appearances on TV news and writing
articles in the likes of The Wall Street Journal. Vladimir has
never wavered from two points of focus, the HP 3000 and software. He
spends his days on the road visiting his customers to help them
better manage what they already own, and perhaps add a VEsoft product
or two, but most of his enthusiasm is for whats already
installed. Of MPEX, or Security/3000 or VEAudit, he says, These
are our babies. What parent does not want to talk about their
Vladimir dropped into our hometown unexpected but
welcome, and he took the pleasant diversion of a hearty meal at The
County Line barbeque house while we all celebrated my 45th birthday
together. (Hes more prone to enjoy grocery store rotisserie
chicken when hes dining alone, or sardines.) At the rib house
he cleaned his plate, leaving the bones stripped. He pushed the
platter forward and smiled, saying That is a plate of someone
who survived the Siege. In his World War II boyhood , Vladimir
and his family weathered 900 days of hunger and death.
Knowing his history, it felt like a state of business
like the one HP 3000 customers are surviving might not seem so dire
in comparison. Seeing Vladimir was flush with field research about
this years Transition-bound 3000 community, we asked him to
relay the feelings and condition of your fellow customers. Vladimir
has been through worse than having HP discontinue the system which
nearly all of his customers are using. We found hes remaining
optimistic while driving a modest rental car through Texas and other
states, teaching customers to keep their HP 3000s tuned up
because who knows where their road may end?
Youve been on the road showing software and training in
person. Why do you feel this is better than something like, say,
Somehow I developed this mode of operation, something
nobody else seems to do. At least HP never sent their engineers
around. I see the customers in their environments, their offices
loaded with papers and magazines never opened. I am suspicious when
once in awhile I see somebody with a clean desk.
You should talk, look at the computer, and pass
knowledge that way. See what is applicable to their machine, and fix
it while doing it. People should know their needs, but they
Classroom education is good for algebra, but not for
computers. Of a class of 10 people, in their offices they have 10
different configurations. You give them an average in the class that
does not fit anybody. They carry the information home, and whatever
they remember they are not sure of. People say they remember me from
a seminar, but when I look at their systems, nothing from the seminar
is implemented. It was a waste of their time. The best education
should be onsite, on their machine, one to one. Thats what I
think is important, and its what Im doing.
Have the people youve seen appear to be dispirited, or
ready to give up on their HP 3000s?
I would call them lost. It seems to me they
dont know what to do. They cannot abandon it right now; their
whole business is running on it. Small HP shops have one or two
people, and they cannot do any conversion on their own. They have no
experience or manpower. They are continuing with the 3000. I am 100
percent busy on the road, in Florida, Pennsylvania, Texas, in
Most of them are using packaged software, so they
wait on what their vendor will do. Vendors should take real thought
on what to do. They use software from Summit, Amisys, MANMAN,
Some customers have used customization options to the
degree that theyre not users of those vendors anymore. Either
they will abandon customization and go back to a plain vanilla
package, or who knows what? I would suspect a reasonable thing for
them to do is find another package for another machine ready to use
of course it will not be on HP-UX and go for it. After
all, their loyalty should be to the company and themselves, not to HP.
Why not on HP-UX?
The [replacement] packages already running and
already debugged are probably not running on UX. IBM has inertia
working for them, and they never abandoned their proprietary systems.
We still wonder why HP did that.
Have you seen that people believe they dont have to do
much more with their HP 3000, since HPs announced its end of
support for the product?
Yes. I tell them not to take this HP announcement as
an excuse for not doing correct system management. I like the message
on the NewsWires back page from Alfredo Rego: There are
mighty forces at play in the HP e3000 world, but what we can
concentrate on is the realm were in, and make it right.
We dont know what will happen, or whether it
will happen. In the meantime you are responsible for your system,
yesterday, today and tomorrow.
I am surprised when a seasoned manager tells me,
We will probably convert the 3000 in two years. I say two
years is a long time. What are you doing today? You have to live to
see two years. If you run out of disk space, and the system builds
log files every day, you dont know they are there. Many
customers dont know these files exist. The system works
independently of what you know, or what you dont know. On a
recent visit a customer had one percent of system disk left, and they
didnt even know. Five percent of other space left, and
its not contiguous space it was split into the smallest
What can be worse than running on vapors? Not knowing
youre running on vapors. Two or three MPEX commands brought
them up to 30 percent space.
Do customers you see immediately understand having so little
space on their systems is bad?
Yes, when you tell them. Very often they dont
know what utility to use to look at it.
Well, Ive heard the former GM of the 3000 division say
that opening up boot drive space on the new 7.5 release was really no
big deal. He said, Disk is cheap now.
This is a typical consideration of a person who sells
things. You have to consider the whole disk issue. You have to hook
it up. And even if a disk has a mean time between failures of 10
years, owning 10 disks makes the failure just one year. You back it
up, and you incur more difficulties. Its not good to buy extra
hardware. Its better to manage it. I see a lot of
mis-management, not MIS management.
Why do you suppose some 3000 managers dont know about
They are overworked. I do hundreds of visits a year.
Whatever has wire in it, Ive seen, is their responsibility.
Telephone systems, Internet, HP 3000s. As a result they never have
time to read any of the manuals. I suspect they have the minimum
knowledge of Windows, NT, HP-UX. Its all just loaded on them.
In my mind, this overworking is an excuse to get
outside help. Experts on Internet, knowing the LAN. As the old saying
goes, education is not expensive. Ignorance is expensive.
Is there a customer base of HP 3000 owners which HP knows
nothing about anymore?
Im sure of it. And some vendors are so
protective of their customers they dont let other vendors know
they also have their customers. Many customers dont work with
HP at all. What is more upsetting is that I see customers who pay HP
for Predictive Support, and everyday HP logs in and only checks
logfiles for hardware errors. Customers who have one percent left
dont get told by HP. A computer is talking to a computer, and
we dont see any live person involved.
Do customers seem to get the education on the 3000 that they
need from HP?
HP isnt interested in teaching about using
things like VOLUTIL, or SYSGEN. Education is very important. Eugene
wrote that many years ago that in colleges they teach you the
answers. They should teach you the questions. Every HP class gives
answers, and they dont tell you what you should ask.
Whats the background you find most common among 3000
Everybody, even myself and [Robelle founder] Bob
Green, was hired to do an application. Nobody would hire somebody to
do system management. Most people remain in applications, and only
some of them go beyond the call of duty. Maybe its an old man
talking, but those youngsters dont go beyond the call of
Of course, some questions people ask show they
dont read the manuals or use HPs help system. HELP
isnt really good enough. You type HELP and the command, but you
have to know the command name. HP is inching in the right direction,
so you can say HELP FUNCTIONS, for example.
In MPEX, you can say HELP DISK, with either a C or K.
We provide a contributed library with our products, VECSL, full of
helpful hints, command files and an EBOOK group.
With people not trained as systems managers, and responsible
for everything with wire in their shops, where can they find the
benefit in making their 3000s more efficient? Do they complain about
not having enough time?
They tell me this all the time. My answer is,
How can we help you? My method is to get somebody to
help, and thats how I make my own consulting, of four parts:
show, tell, do and undo. I tell them they should involve other
experts in other areas, like databases.
If you know MPE, you will know its limitations. Then
you can look around and find a way to overcome them, with solutions
from people like Bradmark, Adager, Robelle and us.
Youre associated with a rather rare resource in the
3000 world: a person expert in MPE under age 35, your son Eugene. Is
he still active at VEsoft?
He is the E in VEsoft. I am famous for
being Eugenes father. He is forever our vice-president of
research and development.
Why has he stayed for 20-plus years? He might be the only
university law professor whos also a software company R&D
HP made it easy for this kind of person to stay,
people like Alfredo Rego, Brad Tashenberg, Bob Green. [The 3000
market] is a size not too big or too small, very sophisticated and
yet not perfect. People stay with it and they put in a lot of
intellectual energy, and theres no way we can measure that. A
lot of smart, able people stayed with HP for so long, and made it
what it is today. If you think about it, every piece of HPs
3000 software was improved upon over the years, except for the
Do you think this intellectual energy resource was taken into
account when HP made its 3000 business decision last fall?
No. If HP would have supported the vendors like MCBA
and ASK, that would be creating an ecosystem. It was ruined, and now
they complain about it. So it seems that big companies make big
Do you think theres any chance of reversing the decline
of that ecosystem?
In the deep of my heart I have this feeling: that
maybe, just maybe, they might reverse it, seeing the loyalty of the
customers. When HP was delaying the RISC architecture, people risked
their resumes and careers to stay with HP. HP made the wrong decision
to unbundle IMAGE, and again they didnt understand that without
IMAGE, HP is not HP. Luckily, HP listened, and its improved
IMAGE, large IMAGE, not only TurboIMAGE, but as [IMAGE creator] Fred
White says, CargoIMAGE. Its big, fast and does everything. All
this should be used, not abandoned.
In my business, I wouldnt even think of making
new models of computers and in the same year abandon them. The lab
continues to improve HP, while the marketing tells us we should not
use it anymore.
Do you have an opinion about whether an emulator could
successfully run MPE on non-HP hardware?
It depends on how it is written. Inherently it would
create a lot of overhead, if it simulates everything. If the able
people in Allegro would be doing it, that would be a plus. Of the
licensing issues and the copyright issues, it seems that HP should
Theres free market beliefs at the heart of what
youve done with your company. It seems like a big part of why
you came to the US from the Soviet Union. How does it look to you
when HP hesitates to free up MPE?
Not too many people understand that [free market] is
a freedom to succeed or to fail. I spent the big part of my life in
the Soviet Union at the time when it was the Soviet Union. American
corporations now somehow resemble the Soviet Union. Central planning,
committee decision making, and thinking that they know best, and
nobody else should say anything to that effect. HP and other American
corporations are like that. They even use the Soviet phrase
five-year plan. To me it is very funny, because I grew up
when the Soviet Union was using five-year plans. The results of that
were disastrous, and thats why the Soviet Union is not around
Looking at this example, we shouldnt let it
happen to certain parts of our economy. Thats what were
talking about. HP seems unwilling to let people choose an
alternative, and maybe to win where HP lost. They hide behind market
forces and make one decision, and then they dont allow the
market to take over.
Is there anything good you carry from your Soviet experience
into the 3000 world?
I continue my teaching as I did 50 years ago in the
Soviet school system. In that system, good students teach bad
students. One advantage is that while explaining, good students will
learn even better. You should at least scan the manual, and better to
read it and learn the manual.
Have you discovered in your travels that 3000 managers have
more security problems than five years ago?
You dont know if youre insecure. People
feel performance, or they call you if its bad. If security is
bad, you never know until something happens. They do their best [to
be secure], and they dont think their best might not be good.
Its especially amazing in the health industry.
Managers are not diligent, and now there is legislation to protect
health information privacy. Many managers will tell me the
[legislation] deadline comes in two years, so were okay
now. Seasoned managers act like schoolchildren, like learning
the algebra only for the teacher. How about your responsibility to
the customers buying insurance?
I told one of these managers in Texas I
wouldnt buy your health plan. My information would not be
Do you think that new connectivity offered through the
Internet makes HP 3000 shops more vulnerable?
I dont think so. Eighty percent of the
violations happen in-house. The outside violation is more
spectacular, newsworthy. It can happen in every shop. In personal
life, people are very diligent. When it comes to security, I hear
this every day my users are so ignorant. My first thought is
that this manager is ignorant, if they think their users are
People think the application vendor is going to make
their system secure because of HIPAA legislation. But the way to the
system is through the hundred other accounts other than the
application. Nobody ever counts how many user accounts, and its
always in the hundreds. Youre responsible for the whole system.
I ask, how many SM users do you have? I have yet to
see anyone who guesses right. Usually they are optimists they
say two, while it is really five.
Youve built a very successful company by creating a
product that improves on the 3000s operating system. Is HP
catching up in the 22 years since MPEX came out?
They are inching forward. After 25 years they have a
PURGE command for filesets. However, it still does not purge the
databases. And it still cannot select the files to purge. We vendors,
we play this game better than HP. All this richness of the file
system is there, and we make use of it.
To defend HP, they have this legendary compatibility
to take care of, which is very important to preserve their market.
Its more important to them than a new feature, which might
cause a failure in New Zealand, for example. Not everybody realizes
that if you have good features that are compatible, not so good
features are also compatible. They probably chose correctly not to
improve the little things, and keep it compatible. And after all,
they sold you the box already, so there is no money in making a new
feature that HP cannot sell.
Whats remarkable is that with the changes in HP
management over the years, somehow this line was always there to let
the vendors improve upon. We should admit that one of the hands of HP
has been doing it right, up until now.
People suggest that maintaining the compatibility has kept HP
from being responsive to changes for the 3000. Do you think so?
This is the price that you pay. MPE is a very complex
system, millions of lines of code written over the years by smart
cookies. Its hard to maintain software written by smart cookies
who hate documentation. And yet they do it, and thats why I
think outside development of MPE is difficult to accomplish.
Thats why Open Source for MPE would be very difficult.
Whats likely to happen to the average size of HP
3000-using companies does the community become a group of
I am afraid so. Big companies have money to scrap
everything, recreate or buy something. They take the loss and go on.
So how does ownership change, based on what you see on the
Us Americans I say us, because I have been
here since 1975, and I am a citizen now understand the
language of cars. To make a point, I say that when I see one percent
left, youre running on empty. But then they say,
maybe well be converting, we dont need you to
rebuild the engine.
I am just offering to add water and oil, until you
reach the spot of converting. They argue, but it works. I
say, so you run your car in second gear, and nobody told you to
shift. So you change it more often than you should, and its not
as fast, and you buy more oil. Lets do little things
non-intrusive optimization. Lets balance your disks, watch your
database capacity, not back up your garbage files. Youll
survive to see what will happen in two years. Lets run
our cars in the right gear, and add water and oil regularly, before