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Donna Garverick
OpenMPE board member
SIG-Migrate co-chair


November 2003

Taking Steps at MPE’s Fork in the Road

Donna Garverick stands with a foot planted in two futures for the HP 3000. On one side she has worked as an HP 3000 Special Interest Group (SIG) leader for many years, first in charge of the System Managers’ SIG and then later as co-chair of SIG-MPE. She also took a spot this year on the board of directors of OpenMPE, the advocacy group HP has been talking with about the 3000’s future after 2006.

In the other future, Garverick follows a different path. This summer she joined the executive committee of the SIG-Migration group. For years, this MPE veteran has studied the Posix interface of MPE/iX, preparing to ministering to Unix systems at her employer’s business. Long’s Drug was once notable for running more than 430 HP 3000s in its network of retail stores. Garverick took care of that network during the 1990s, but now the company serves part of the needs of hundreds of stores with a single HP 3000.

The consolidation of such a vast network of 3000s into a single box shows the way of the future for Long’s, and Garverick is taking steps to be ready for change. At the same time she serves a group which wants HP to prepare for a longer lifespan for homesteading HP 3000 users.

Garverick’s background might account for her desire to prepare for all outcomes. After all, she’s spent her career managing HP 3000s, computers known for covering every eventuality. She trained for IT at an Ohio two-year college, the kind of institution that has graduated many an HP 3000 system manager. HP 3000s ran in the school’s classrooms, and she worked toward getting a job operating the computer.

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 1991 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.

Garverick specializes in administration, the inglorious but essential skills of problem solving that take up many of our readers’ days. These days she’s learning new skills while defending the 3000 customers’ right to practice more mature processes. We asked her to look out over the near future and tell us what an MPE veteran with pragmatic vision might want to focus upon. We spoke one week before HP’s end of sales deadline for the platform.

What do you believe the HP 3000 sites who are homesteading should be doing now?
Planning, planning, planning. I just can’t emphasize it enough. These people are making such poor business decisions. There’s no such thing as running a business computer for free. It’s a risky decision to try to go long-term on a box like a Series 927 with a 2Gb drive without having spares or backup machines.

For example, you know there are shops out there still using DDS-1 tape drives — could be the original drive that was delivered with the 3000. They’re thinking they get a backup almost every night, never looking at $STDLISTs of their jobs and never realizing they haven’t had a successful backup in years.
You can mitigate the risk by planning. I’ve got a tender spot in my heart for those little, lost MPE shops out there. If I were running my company on MPE, I’d come out of the woodwork and let other folks know I was there. People have dropped support with all their vendors, and are patting themselves on the back. They think they’re running their computer without spending a cent, and they’re out on a limb.

What are the hidden talents that 3000 managers will be able to carry to their next assignment, outside the MPE community?
I want to point out that these are not the people I’ve just been talking about. These people know how to run a datacenter, know what it takes to put a job schedule together, with different requirements out of different applications. They know to buy new tapes every so often. They’re used to dealing with operators. They have personnel skills, to manage teams they work with.

More than anything else, they know what it takes to have a smooth-running application. Things about testing, to put a tool on a test box before putting it into production. Things about hardware, like running a server with a UPS, or not putting the wiring across the floor. These are some of the thousand little things that you’re not necessarily going to find in a 20-something or 30-something Unix admin. They just don’t have enough years notched on their belts. It’s 25 years of having done this that makes a difference to a wise employer.

The timing of this 3000 transition couldn’t be worse. How many of us MPE users are 40-somethings now — which guarantees there are little people living in our houses and the demands on our time are considerable? You have to make a tough decision. Check out your local community college and see what they are offering that could update your skills.

Did the 3000 give you any start on learning Unix-related skills?
Eight years ago I getting into the Posix shell and learning to navigate, to address files backwards from MPE’s namespace. I am comfortable on a Unix box as a result of this. It doesn’t mean I can go toe-to-toe with our Unix admins, but you’ve got find ways to get this knowledge into your head. Go get the Unix certification book, because it’s very much for beginners.

Rank these homesteader goals: build emulator for 3000 hardware; secure rights for MPE beyond 2006; ensure diagnostics get un-password-protected.
Number one is definitely the source code for MPE. Number two is the emulator, and number three is the documentation. For the homesteaders, knowing there’s someone out there with the ability to get into the source code for bugs, and OpenMPE can repair it, is very important. You know the requirements for FTP are going to change as time goes on, for example. Just to keep you in business so you can talk to whatever Microsoft comes up with.

The emulator is less important because it’s static. If one comes out that’s good, because the hardware supply will be reduced over time. But there’s no way to effect a repair of MPE with an emulator.

Documentation is always a wonderful thing. I can understand some of the hesitancy on HP’s part to open up those diagnostics to the masses. They are saying ‘proceed with caution’ with good reason. I am completely in favor of having certain select third parties who have earned their reputation be given access to these tools: Beechglen, Ideal, the hardware people who have the expertise.

What’s the good of having negotiations with HP as an OpenMPE member when you cannot share those talks with customers still deciding about transition?
This is my opinion, and not necessarily as a board member. The NDA is something HP needs, to know they can talk to the OpenMPE board safely. Right now it’s enormously frustrating for the community. I’d call what popped up on the OpenMPE mailing list last week anger. I don’t disagree with that frustration, but I was disheartened.

If the nay-sayers are successful in destroying the dream of OpenMPE, I don’t see anybody else stepping up to do it. It’s such an enormous task, to see what it’s going to take to take over MPE and run it as a business whose job it is to support MPE. I don’t think there’s going to be an MPE in the future without OpenMPE.

You signed on as a co-chair of SIG-Migrate this summer. What do you hope to accomplish in that volunteer role?
They needed someone in there who knew the ropes of what it means to be an Interex SIG. Nick Fortin, the chairman, has some good ideas of the role the SIG can play. Most of the people in the HP World SIG meeting were vendors. Having customer influence in the SIG was necessary. SIG-Migrate is challenged, like some of the other SIGs, to find what it is that it’s trying to advocate.

Speaking of advocacy, should HP unlock the processor power in the A-Class and smaller N-Class servers?
If the folks at HP had it all to do over again, I think they would have made other choices, because hindsight is a marvelous thing. I know there’s a lot of people who would love it. I can see HP’s point. They said “what do we do with the vendors?” If you have an agreement with your vendor about your software running on one HP 3000, and now it’s running on a faster 3000, do these vendors have the right to come back and re-license your software.

Has any non-HP platform piqued your interest in the months leading away from November, 2001?
Linux. I’ve got one sitting on my desk. I agree with people out there who feel gun-shy about what HP is going to do in the future.

How do you balance the need for security in using stable products with the personal growth of learning new skills and environments?
sure hope I am. I worry nearly every day if I’m doing enough that if Long’s were to say “hasta la vista” if I could find a job. I’ve got a family, and that’s a pretty big motivator. I can only say thank you to Long’s for the opportunity to learn Unix slowly. They are encouraging me to get as much Unix training as I can, so when the day comes and we finally switch off our last MPE box, I can still be employed by Long’s.

Frost or Wordsworth: which poet represents a better view of the future for HP 3000 customers?
Wordsworth’s “There were none to praise, and very few to love it” really describes MPE. But if we are at the fork in the road here with MPE, thinking that one path is a future with no MPE in it at all, and hoping the other fork is a future with OpenMPE, I like what Frost said:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

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