Editorial: Great Grades for the 3000

Great Grades
for the 3000

NewsWire Editorial, October 1997

One year ago I celebrated the first year of the 3000 NewsWire in this space. The freshman year in any publication's life is the harshest, like that first year of high school where the small, skinny kids try to avoid getting incarcerated in their lockers and learn there are no drinking fountain passes. My son Nick just finished the first month of his sophomore year, and he's building on what he learned and survived during his freshman term. The NewsWire and the HP 3000 have been having a similar year in what we like to call the sophomore year of the Renaissance. Lessons of that survival year are the foundation for successes during this second year.

This fall HP is starting to ace its exams for the 3000. It's future isn't certain -- in the lightning-change landscape of the 90s, nothing ever is. Ask the Unix fans. Last month they met in the first IT Expo conference. While that might sound like a new show, just one year ago it was called Unix Expo. It now includes Windows NT solutions. The Unix market once roared so loud it had both a spring show (Uniforum) and the fall's Unix Expo devoted to it.

This has been a better year for the HP 3000, in part because it lost no ground it had held the year before. Our freshman year was the one when HP began to push back the tide of doubt about the system's future, those nagging comments that managers in the HP 3000 (CSY) division tire of hearing and answering. If you'll allow us to measure the HP 3000's lifespan roughly from one fall to the next -- the system was born on a November day 25 years ago -- then this year that's just ending is doing so with a big bang.

That bang is the salute to applications that CSY is sending out next month, the low-cost, loaded-for-bear Series 918DX. We said in last October's State of the 3000 editorial that applications "were the one place where the HP 3000 can hope for the most improvement -- application availability needs a rally." One serious roadblock has been lifted with the 918DX, so the wizards with fledgling companies can get a 3000 for under $250 a month lease, software support included.

On the whole, the HP 3000 used a good year to create a better one, and applications weren't the only advance for your MPE investment. Here's an update on how we see the 3000 Renaissance developing in its sophomore year:

MANAGEMENT: Serious shifts in HP's corporate computing management put CSY's general manager Harry Sterling closer to computer czar Rick Belluzzo, the number two manager in HP. Eliminating a layer of management might be more important in a company that operates with top-down mandates. But HP's only top-down strategy is profitability, so the upshot of less management is the 3000's successes will be seen more clearly at the top of the company. So long as Sterling meets his objectives he'll be given the latitude to innovate. We were sorry to see Cathy Fitzgerald leave the division, largely because of her good humor and grace in a challenging position as marketing manager. But Sterling has hand-picked a forthright, undaunted and energetic successor in Roy Breslawski, somebody to shake up the old-boy networks of HP's sales force. Given that the HP 3000 is posting better profitability than other HP product lines, we expect Breslawski and Sterling will continue to change perceptions about the 3000 inside HP -- once the most serious roadblock to the system's Renaissance. So long as customers are willing to pay just a little more for HP's most mature and robust solution, the 3000 management team is poised for another quota-busting year. And as you'll see in our Q&A interview, Sterling has great empathy with his customers. For the second year in row he gave a speech at the HP World conference that showed the division is resonating with the sounds of success the customers are making.

DEVELOPMENT: It has been a year of quiet, behind-the-scenes work in CSY's labs, as the engineers on staff do the "tamping down" of ideas and projects proposed many months ago. The delay in the Express 3 release of MPE/iX 5.5 still probably won't prevent CSY from shipping the bounty of b-trees, ODBCLink/SE and the Java JIT compiler by the close of October. The most exciting development has been CSY's willingness to work with outside engineering resources -- wizards and workhorses like Mark Bixby and Lars Appel -- to get solutions running on the 3000. The days of measuring tech muscle by headcount are over in CSY, but thinking outside the box is getting the work done. We'd like to see more zeal for overdue date/time datatypes in IMAGE/SQL, but understand that Jon Bale's crew in the database labs has a lot to fix and finish right now. HP 3000 customers want it right the first time, in keeping with the system's heritage -- or is that legacy?

HP's 3000 PLANS: Things may not be moving as fast as some customers would like, but we're learning that "not yet" does not mean "not ever." The shift in thinking over the past 12 months on MPE's 64-bit question has been profound. Sterling went from being sure the advance wouldn't sell more 3000s to finding his high-end customers considered it important for the long-range capability of the 3000. Now we see signs that HP is genuinely serious about leveraging the work of its HP 9000 brethren in getting 64-bit functionality into MPE/iX. With files greater than 4Gb and an extended memory space, the basics of 64-bit computing will be met. How HP will straddle the divide it worried about -- with 32-bit customers on one side and the 64-bit eager beavers on the other -- remains to be seen. Merced support is still on a list of potential HP 3000 technologies, a position that makes perfect business sense given the size of HP's investment in the project. Seeing the new chips on other systems first is the price 3000 customers pay for being so satisfied and successful with their current systems.

APPLICATIONS: As everybody knows, applications are the lifeblood of any business server's future. Look at the 400,000 AS/400 systems installed and you'll see thousands of programs available off the shelf. It's no coincidence. People buy solutions, not systems, and it's gratifying to know the 3000 has begun to win new business in some surprising places with solutions. In the months to come we'll be looking at where the new business buttons are for the 3000, up in the sky with airlines and down in the pit with American orchestras, as well as the world's biggest banks. The applications come from modest companies with marketing departments for smaller than Rhode Island, but they're successful because they work without much fuss. We can't wait to see where more of those clever developers, empowered by the 918DX, will give the 3000 a seat at the head of the class.

Here at the NewsWire we're having a great time riding this wave of optimism. We're as proud of what the 3000 has accomplished as I am of my son Nick getting his first bylines this month as a film writer on his high school paper. Seeing potential realized is one of life's greatest blessings. We feel blessed to have played our small part in the 3000's success, and luckier still for our relationships and associations that have helped our own success. You may notice that this newsletter is just a little bigger now. It's a growth we think reflects the future of your investment -- both in us and the HP 3000. We think that HP is ready to make the grade with the HP 3000, a solution that's complete upper-class, man.

-- Ron Seybold

Copyright 1997, The 3000 NewsWire. All rights reserved.