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August 2000

Pack perception for a safe hike

NewsWire Editorial

In the comforting cool of New Mexico mornings, my son and I shuffled about our Ruidoso cabin, getting ready for our day’s hike in the White Mountain Wilderness. The act of filling our backpacks reminds me of the dilemma HP’s e3000 division (CSY) finds itself it today, as it tries to take long time customers up the new century’s IT trail.

In those mountains at the southernmost end of the Rockies, Nick and I spent a glorious boys-only week, refugees from the roasting that Texas applies in July to all. I had discovered the mountains by way of a backpacking magazine, so I’ve always hiked on my retreats there. And with each trip came a little more experience on how to prepare for the Crest Trail, a bounding, ridgeline hike that hugs the top of 10,000-foot mountains. The rewards of the hikes, with my 17-year-old trotting up trails as I toiled on steep grades after him, cannot fit into even a panoramic-size viewfinder. Mountaintop wind washes all scent of struggle from your brow, replacing it with the pine-laden smell of accomplishment and wonder at the vista below.

But summers along the Crest bring rain every day, clouds that appear out of iris-blue skies. This means that even though the start of our hikes up Telephone Canyon and Nogal Canyon bore cloudless skies, we carried rain gear. The gear was one of several precautions we bore on our backs, items whose need was not obvious. A lot like technology not yet fitted for the HP 3000, this rain gear, first aid and extra water took extra effort to carry. We were no more enthusiastic about taking it than CSY managers appear to be about developing things like Oracle 8 or e-speak for your system. Hiking along our trail or your IT path, none of us can be sure if we’ll use what we’re packing.

At the trailhead, we’d cast our eyes at the sky and wonder how the rain could possibly appear. Within our first mile, though, the clouds would roll up from the flats along Roswell, scooting through pinion pines to the Sacramento Mountains’ foothills. Cloudtops climbed toward the sun’s heat as their bottoms waxed heavy with rain. Then thunder would herald, and our steps quickened. To climb mountains in the summer, you aim to be up by 12, and down by 2 — or risk being in the lightning storm starting each afternoon. Mountain lightning kills more hikers than anything on the ground, and there’s no safe place to be except inside.

At the new century’s trailhead, CSY’s managers eye the broad sky of technology possibilities and know there’s no way to provide them all for the 3000. This is a division well-steeped in profitability, unlike some other server businesses in the HP fold. That means any technology carried but unused by many customers is viewed today as excess baggage. A reasonable amount of this kind of investment prudence is admirable, even part of the 3000’s legend.

I wonder if the current level of CSY prudence is reasonable. On the days when the mountain rain fell elsewhere, our jackets, hats and gaiters seemed foolish and excessive. When the splashy drops began to fall along the Rio Bonito trail, though — with miles to go before one hike’s end — every bit of gear seemed a savvy choice.

For more than two years now, CSY has eyed the Oracle juggernaut and hunted for its fans among customers. It’s the kind of gaze we’d cast at the sky when we hit the trail, looking for signs of rain to justify our gear. We were not tempted to leave anything behind, but the 3000 division has travelled those years down the IT trail with only an aging Version 7 of Oracle in its knapsack. Admittedly it’s been little used by its customers. Porting Oracle 8 has been put off time and again for lack of “customer requests,” the key that opens today’s vault of 3000 development resource.

But now the clouds that will wash out all Oracle support for the 3000 are plain in the sky. Oracle will step away from its Version 7 by year’s end; only limited support will be available after that. And there’s no chance any longer of CSY developing a port to Oracle 8; Oracle has sealed off that prospect. So some prospective customers may now see a another demerit on the report card of a computer that’s been wrongly accused of being old technology. CSY doesn’t believe it’s a bellwether move for the platform, since it says that Oracle is cutting other platforms, too.

Oracle has come up short on value for the 3000 customers, to be sure. IMAGE/SQL powers more than nine out of every 10 HP 3000s running today, for reasons both technical and financial. Neither Oracle or CSY could manufacture a groundswell of support for the product, and neither has been eager to invest resources in an Oracle 8 for the platform. The value Oracle has for your community lies in its ability portray the 3000 among platforms perceived as modern and Internet-ready. Millions of dollars of TV commercials and magazine ads have placed this Oracle-Internet notion in companies’ minds, however technically wanting the perception may be.

But some companies who don’t own a 3000 yet look for Oracle support, especially those already using Oracle on another computer. As we’ve said before, these new sales are important to existing 3000 customers, keeping other solution suppliers healthy. Now they’ll be more difficult, in some cases. CSY ties the difficulty to their ISVs involvement with Oracle. In the competitive situations those application ISVs face, selling the 3000 after the application is introduced can be the deal maker — or breaker, depending on perceptions spread by solutions running on other platforms.

Early this year CSY General Manager Winston Prather told customers the number one challenge for the 3000 is to overcome perceptions that the technology is old. Revving up Internet capabilities like secure Web servers, Java and networking have been essential to the installed base, whose needs should always come first. But tying almost every CSY technology investment to customer requests is as short sighted as leaving rain gear at the trailhead because there’s not a cloud in the sky, or starting a hike too late in the day.

The Oracle finale makes us consider why HP’s corporate keepers of e-speak, the keystone to HP’s e-services mantra, appear to be waffling on supporting e-speak on your computer. To include the 3000 in any HP corporate-level services drumbeating, e-speak had better run on the system, even if there’s no plain need for it immediately. If HP cannot put this language on its own computers, why should its competitors have faith in it?

Faith is chief among the reasons your 3000 division has carried its customers along a path longer than any other computer owners have enjoyed. And the division has demonstrated that faith in some other industry groundswells in the past, creating Java/iX long before customer need was apparent. Today, scarcely a sales opportunity goes by without mention of Java/iX as proof the 3000 is modern. Although it may not be the same league technically as Java, e-speak can offer even fresher proof — and erase any Oracle demerits.

Investments in technology before customers demand them are acts of faith. Many of you know faith from your companies’ resolve to keep 3000s online through the storms of doubt in the mid-1990s. The weather in the new century is even less predictable, riding on the rising heat of e-commerce. Preparing perception with a well-packed technology knapsack is an important step along the 3000’s trail to the future. And like our steps in the Wilderness, starting early enough can keep CSY out of any storms of doubt.

— Ron Seybold 


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