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Sept. 2001

What history buys 3000 customers — and what it costs

NewsWire Editorial

We sat in seats four generations old, peering around poles at the pitcher and batter. A matter of miles away, the seats at another Chicago ballpark were newer, wider, and the views of the field were unobstructed. So why was Wrigley Field sold out for the doubleheader on the first day of HP World, while on the South Side of Chicago the other team can’t fill up a more modern ballpark?

You might as well ask why some companies are buying low-end e3000s, when the Unix version of the A-Class systems runs so much faster. It looks like the answers are pretty similar. They find it more valuable to invest in history.

I didn’t hesitate for a moment about buying tickets to the Cubs games at Wrigley for our writers, an outing to thank them for their contributions of the last year. I had been to Wrigley Field seven years earlier, and I knew what to expect: less than the modern major league baseball experience, in some ways. In so many others, I knew we’d get much more. The history of the ballpark, built in the year World War I began, was included in our ticket prices. The history of the 3000 is included in the A-Class.

My first Wrigley experience came during a pair of weekend games I savored with my son. He was all of 11 in that summer, and we toured seven major league parks in a rented convertible on a two-week road trip. He was a Cubs fan in that year, and we both knew the afternoon games at “The Friendly Confines,” as the ballpark is known, were a high point of our tour.

But I had never experienced nighttime Wrigley, the glow of the lights that were installed less than 20 years ago. Night games are rare there, as uncommon as conversions from HP-UX systems to MPE/iX. But even those happen, and I wanted to be part of a night game.

We reached for the evening game, and got an unexpected bonus: an afternoon makeup game. If there’s anything more rare than a night game at Wrigley Field these days, it’s a doubleheader. We’d get all the baseball we wanted, just by showing up at 4 in the afternoon.

Like purchasing a new e3000 on the low end of the line, I held some expectations in check about the afternoon. The A-Class systems have their clock speeds scaled back. At Wrigley the scoreboard is limited to three lines of information about the batter. The Jumbo-tron display has never been considered at Wrigley, so you have to pay closer attention to what’s going on down on the field. You won’t get video replays on the scoreboard, just a historic structure that people work inside, putting up numbers by hand.

Then there’s the view. Architecture of the early 20th Century demanded plenty of posts to hold up a second tier of seats. While they can get in the way of the action, they also remind you of the heritage of the building. I thought of getting IMAGE/SQL with every A-Class system. Things have gotten modern enough that IT can now use a 3000 without IMAGE — in Web service, for example. But because HP includes the database with every A-Class, it sells for more than its HP 9000 counterpart. IMAGE is as essential to the 3000 as those Wrigley posts. Now, some people see the database as getting in the way of a less costly offering.

Then there’s the food at the Friendly Confines. I’ve been to 26 major league ballparks in my life, and I’ve never had food worse than at Wrigley. The modern ballpark experience includes things like sushi, crab cakes, gourmet pizza and draft beers from around the world. At a Cubs game you order the Wrigley Pig Sandwich if you’re really adventuresome, or deep dish pizza that might have been baked during the prior home stand. After a few trips to the concession stands, it became apparent that Wrigley’s food experience is meant to be secondary to the baseball. The heritage food — peanuts tossed to your seat, and hot dogs passed down the row — were as good as anything else (though our columnist John Burke did recommend the bratwurst).

Some very experienced customers have found it just as easy to find fault in the A-Class e3000 lineup, comparing prices unfavorably to the HP 9000 A-Class or Sun’s new Blade servers. Yet somehow HP is selling A500s, just like those Wrigley seats remained full. (A 10-2 blowout of the home team in the night game emptied them a good bit — but that was after 15 innings of baseball had already been offered up.)

As any fan of Wrigley will tell you, you get more in those seats than an obvious comparison reveals. The Cubs offered Sammy Sosa, a classic hitter in the Babe Ruth mold, whose statistics match the Sultan of Swat. Sammy delivered a homer in both games. The noise after the first dinger, sailing over the ivy-covered left field wall, was louder than anything I’d heard in 26 ballparks. That might have been because of the second deck overhang, which traps every cheer and rattles it around the other fans.

For those who studied a little baseball history, we knew Sammy was swinging in the same spot where Ruth hit his “Called Shot” home run, the one he predicted in a World Series. Little had changed since that day inside Wrigley — except we were sitting where some of our grandfathers did when they watched Ruth.

That kind of continuity is priceless in a world so overwhelmed with change. Like taking applications first created in the 1980s and watching them speed along on hardware of a new generation. Most A-Class owners, some of whom don’t have much extra budget these days, seem as happy as we did, holding our curious Wrigley Pigs and grinning at the Cubs rally. A weak-hitting shortstop slapped a triple into the ivied wall, and the winning runs scored on the hit. That’s as improbable as thinking you could buy one system in 1992, and another in 2002, and spend less than $100,000 between them and run a multi-million dollar business on that kind of investment. Without paying to rewrite anything. The shortstop made up for lack of power with drive to win.

If speed was everything in buying computer systems, the low end of the e3000 line wouldn’t need to exist. Everybody would be buying the N-Class systems. In that world, people wouldn’t find much value in stepping off the stairs from the El train and being carried along by the throng of fans the one block to the Wrigley entrance. Neighborhood ballparks served by cheap public transit — as rare as profits in HP’s server business this year.

History, of the kind preserved by Wrigley Field and the A-Class, brings the security of continuity. Of having the same rich experience as those who came before you. But it has a cost as well. The new MPE value proposition of the low-end is going to disappoint some people. We think they’ll buy higher, like we could have had pricey seats without the posts. HP is making decisions about processor speeds on business metrics, made by people who study marketing like we scrutinized our scorecards.

Wrigley has made some concessions to the modern era. The seats include cup holders now, something you won’t find even in the new Houston Astros ballpark. The A-Class supports Java, and will include a secure Web server before long. We see its slower speed as a concession to all the history it carries. To some, that might be as meaningless as the ivy on the Wrigley walls. But that game-winning hit got caught up in that ivy. It’s hard to measure the full value of history, until you need to come up a winner.

— Ron Seybold 


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