Care for a Market
With a Longer Lifespan
Steve Cooper and
his business partners see growth at the tops of the computer
markets oldest trees. The president of Allegro Consultants,
Cooper steers a company with 3000 roots that reach even deeper than
RISC, the 1980s gamble that paid off to extend the life of the 3000.
Allegros founders consulted for HP when it tested MPE for RISC,
then helped to co-author Beyond RISC, the first book to detail the
architecture thats still driving more than 95 percent of 3000s
grown beyond its namesake business since those days of the late
1980s, developing products during the 1990s and now taking on
first-line support for companies like Robelle and 3000 customers who
are leaving HP support behind. Cooper has been at Allegros helm
for the entire 20 years the companys been in business, and he
counts seven more years with HP 3000 consulting experience before
that. This year is the 35th that Cooper has worked in computing, and
hes still making a splash in the market. Cooper was essential
in starting the idea for the Resource 3000 consortium, a group now
aiming to be a one-stop shop for 3000 services and products since
HPs leaving the field.
But even with
four companies joining forces, Resource 3000 is still more the size
of Allegro when compared to the size of HP. But Allegro has
substituted for HP in its past, from contract development of IMAGE
database features to destructive testing of MPE before HP
released it on RISC hardware. At one point, some in HP were calling
Allegros lab Cupertino East, an extension of 3000
development. When Allegro appeared on the Resource 3000 roster we
wanted to check in with Cooper whos always been a
realist about business prospects about how much growth remains
in the 3000 market. We spoke in late November by phone, just as
Resource 3000 was hanging out its consortium shingle.
What makes you think that four HP 3000
companies can cooperate together in a consortium?
I dont think thats unusual at all. The 3000
community has had a spirit of cooperation from the beginning.
Weve always understood strength in numbers. In the past it was
for advocacy. Now, to some degree, its for survival.
you to believe a consortium could make a difference to HP 3000
We started by looking at why people chose the 3000 in the
first place. Most of the attributes are still there: Its
reliable, secure, robust, still has rich third party tools and a
solid database management system. The only thing thats really
going away is HP support. The consortium can fill the gap thats
left by HPs exit. If that gap is filled, the 3000 can be a
viable platform for years to come.
Beyond that, what
the consortium can help do is revive the community spirit that used
to exist. Its hard to find kindred spirits at HP World meetings
these days. A lot of people probably think theyre out there on
their own; theyre not.
downsides will you have to overcome at Allegro to participate in
Allegro is not a marketing company, and we dont want to
learn or acquire that knowledge. But if you look at the other three
companies in the consortium, they are our partners already. We
developed De-frag/X that Lund markets. Ideal sells hardware and
software support, and were their software escalation center.
ORBiT markets our most successful products, Hourglass and Rosetta
We share common experiences and acquaintances, and we all
struggle with redefining ourselves after HPs 2001 announcement.
So far theres been no issues at all.
So has the 3000 market entered a new era of
cooperation to resolve those struggles?
There are a bunch of companies still in the 3000 market. The
survival of each one is essential to the survival of all of them. We
cant be viewing each other as competition. The competition is
every other platform thats out there. Working together,
convincing the customer that this is still a viable platform, is
essential to ensure all of our livelihoods.
Where do you think the customers for your
consortium are likely to come from HP, or other 3000 product
and support providers?
My guess is that HPs always had 90 percent of the
market sewn up in areas like support or backup products. Now, for the
first time ever, that 90 percent is becoming available. Their
provider is abandoning them. Rather than trying to steal each
others customers, the remaining support providers should be
looking to pick up those users left in the lurch.
Is the 3000 customer base ready to believe a
small firm can deliver 3000 and MPE support as good as HPs has
If theyre getting support from HP now, theyre
already getting support from a small firm: the small HP 3000-aware
group inside a large printer company. After all, our group has a much
higher percentage of HP 3000-knowledgeable people.
In actuality, we have an impressive client list among the
firms in the consortium; theyre already convinced of our
ability to deliver better support. I hope others will
give us a chance to convince them. I encourage people to take us for
a test drive.
How does a 3000 customer go about telling their
management that support will come from a smaller firm?
Its a matter of doing a risk-benefit analysis. If their
3000 applications are meeting their needs, theres an excellent
chance it will do so for years to come. The hardwares still
going to be there, the softwares still going to be running, and
well be there to answer the support phone.
Do you believe the 3000 market is in that
bottom-right part of a bell curve?
I believe thats where we are on the curve, but Im
not sure the shape is so bell-like. Weve got a few customers
that still have Classic 3000s out there. They are incredibly
successful applications for those companies. For one reason or
another theyve been unable to migrate to PA-RISC [3000s]. They
live on, and I think thats going to be true for a lot of 3000
sites as well. Hardware is an expense, but software is an investment.
You want to be able to protect your investment and have it produce
fruit as long as possible.
How much of a commitment in years is Allegro
making to the 3000 as of today, and why?
Shortly after the HP announcement in 2001, both Allegro and
Ideal came out and said were supporting our customers until
Dec. 31, 2011. We figured 10 years would be enough time for our
customers to take the next step. Believe it or not, a few companies
have approached us and asked if that 2011 date is fixed, or if
wed consider supporting beyond that. 2012 is a long way off.
Im not sure Im willing to commit beyond that, at the
Do you believe that moving away from the 3000
is an eventuality for everybody using the platform?
At some point in the future the last 3000 will be turned off.
Everyone will want to replace their systems or power them off. But
people ought to be able to do that on their own time schedule, not
one dictated by another company.
Does the 3000 market have to begin to grow
again in order to survive?
Actually, no. Ive always been a believer that small is
beautiful. Allegro is a good example of that. Theres been
plenty of opportunities for us to get much larger. Large companies
abandon marketplaces when theyre only generating a
million dollars a year. That doesnt have to be the case when
your market is small.
It appears to us that not-so-bell-shaped curve is leveling
off. The number of companies remaining on the platform will be enough
for us to maintain the infrastructure.
What makes you think the curve is leveling
Just looking at customer lists and support renewals from the
consortium companies. We certainly saw a trend develop which
accelerated once HP made its announcement in 2001. Companies were
getting off the 3000 because it wasnt the operating system of
the month. Were not seeing them drop off anymore. To some
degree, those who are going to leave have left. Those who are left
are either in it for the long run, or for the time being, and are
patiently replacing their systems with something new.
Should some team be getting started next year
on taking over MPE/iX source, if HP will release it?
We dont think its essential that anybody
gets the source. Were prepared to meet our commitments even
without the source code. That said, I would love to see the release,
and the sooner the better, to see HP announce some decisions that
theyve had under consideration since the end of 2001.
To a large degree, that doesnt much matter anymore. HP
has become more and more irrelevant to the 3000 community as time
goes on. People are adapting to the lack of information from HP.
How are they adapting?
We see a growth business for the first time in many years.
Customers are coming to us for support, saying theyre not going
to be off the platform by HPs deadline. They need support at
the end of 2006 anyway, so they start developing a rapport with a
support organization now, and not wait until then.
How long has it been since youd seen
growth in the 3000 business?
Since Y2K. It was a godsend to the computer industry. If I
knew how to switch the millennium again, Id do it. I have to
assume theres not that many new 3000 customers. They must be
coming from somewhere. They must be coming from HP.
getting new support customers who havent been HP support
customers in a long time, the self-maintainers?
Were seeing some of everything, but mostly were
seeing people leaving HP support.
Can the 3000 market survive with a frozen
MPE/iX, or will it need to be enhanced in a few years?
It can survive with MPE frozen, if it needs to. Just look at
how many sites have not upgraded to MPE/iX 7.0 or 7.5. In many cases
people have stable applications. They have no interest in seeing
anything change from underneath them right now.
What is the one thing the 3000 market has which
alternative markets do not?
The first thing that comes to mind is stability. I started in
1977 with the HP 3000. If you take a program compiled back then,
object code from a Series II, and you put it on the latest and
greatest HP 3000 N-Class today, that program will run. Its an
incredible story of compatibility. No other platform can make a
statement like that. Companies have come to depend on that. If
youre going to spend a lot of money to develop a system, you
want to be sure youll get your return on investment, and
sometimes thats five or 10 years or longer.
So the five years that HP felt was generous for
migrations is short to some companies in this market?
Yes. We get to work in a lot of different industries. In the
chip business, products sold today can be totally obsolete nine
months from now. Thats true of the motion picture business, a
place where weve got clients as well. Movies dont have a
long shelf life. Compare that to the forest products industry
where people are planting trees and doing experiments that no
ones going to know the results of for 70 or 80 years. Each
company needs to follow its own timeline, not one dictated by