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April 2002

Keep your eyes on the strikes, not the clock

NewsWire Editorial

A friend of mine began working as a baseball umpire this spring, calling balls and strikes in Austin’s Little League. Actually, Mike’s only calling strikes, the pitches that make it over the 17 inches of fair territory in front of each batter. That nuance — of watching only the good part of the plate for pitches — reminded me of what HP 3000 owners are facing this season. There’s a lot of wild stuff being served up, wild compared to what you have learned to spot with good eyes.

I’m a lifelong baseball fan. I remember hearing my dad’s portable radio — they called them transistors in those days — tuned into the Detroit Tiger games almost from the first season I could talk. Back then, watching a game was a maybe once-a-week thing, before cable TV gave us more sports than we can watch and still have a life. In the era where radio was the predominant way you consumed a game, the strikes called were obvious, because you relied on the umpire’s call, relayed by an announcer like the great Ernie Harwell at the microphone.

Now we get to judge our own calls, with the miracle of modern TV. The era of having an IT strike defined by the vendor is as gone as calling radios transistors. You watch anything for decades, like baseball, or computing, and you think you know it well. Sometimes a little insight, like an umpire’s tip, changes the way you see it.

Seeing things clearly isn’t easy these days in the 3000 world. You’re seeing a vendor try to label facts about migration as myths, simply because it can’t find any business in the facts. Others promise to help you see better down a path they’ve never traveled themselves — at least not packing 3000 nuances like SPL, VPlus, IMAGE and MPE’s file system.

My friend Mike’s a lifelong baseball fan, too. He took up umpiring when his daughter grew too old for the league. He wanted to stay involved with the game. He sure won’t get rich at $25 a night, but he takes some of his payment in being out on the field, in the middle of the action. Abby and I went out to watch his debut the other night. We sat and grinned at the eight year olds, the first time I’ve been back at a Little League field since our own son Nick pitched at age 11.

I’ve learned a bit about the game in the eight years since then, maybe like you’ve all learned about the IT game after coming from a time when computing was less complicated. It used to be VPlus, COBOL and IMAGE to make your 3000 hum. Now you need the Web, C and Java, along with every conceivable database working alongside your 3000. Given the miracle of JDBC and the like, all of those pitches work on your 3000. That’s a fact that hasn’t changed for thousands of companies still successful with your computer. The myth is that the 3000 is somehow less than it was yesterday, or last year.

Mike opened a door for me when he shared the secret to calling strikes. You narrow your field of vision, he said, to just the fair part of home plate. Assume that every pitch is headed there, and just watch that little box of space — not the unlimited space around it. As Mike says, “If you assume the ball is going to be in that box, you reduce the area to focus on. By focusing on the strike zone, and assuming that the pitch is going to be in that area, you reduce the difficulty of calling the pitch.”

So here we stand in an era where focusing seems harder than ever. Distractions abound today, like when HP itself can’t seem to get its employees and investors focused on a single plan for the company’s future. At least half of them aren’t lining up to become commodity computing supporters.

In your HP 3000 community, HP is offering Windows, Linux and HP-UX as alternatives for your 3000. It’s still a system running smoothly. About the only thing not running so smoothly is HP’s ability to sell the system to new customers. Where I come from, the failure to sell a product is a problem for marketing, not the customers. HP doesn’t seem to agree, taking its failure in your market and exploding it into distractions for its successful customers.

It’s okay. You can stand at the plate as a batter, or an umpire, and watch every pitch, assuming it’s going to be a strike. Because you know what a strike looks like. If you don’t, look over your investment in the HP 3000. See how much trouble it’s given you over these years. That’s a pitch down the middle of the plate.

Anything else you are offered has to measure up to that, or you shouldn’t swing at it. You have the time to decide, despite what you’ll hear this year. It’s like one of the joys of the game of baseball — a batter isn’t required to swing in order to score. Unless they pitch you three strikes, you can walk out onto the path to score.

Not everything new that you’re being pitched this year will fall outside of your strike zone. We’re working to call strikes for you, and get others with a lot of time umpiring IT pitches to make those calls, too. A strike, we figure, is anything that works as well and costs about the same as your HP 3000. Swing at anything else and you might find yourself out.

Baseball gives us one more distinct rule, one you can apply to your planning for your 3000’s future. The game has no clock, just like your HP 3000 ownership doesn’t have a firm end, either. You don’t have to look very hard through your community to find responsible, profitable companies using 3000 hardware that HP gave up on years ago. Versions of MPE completely unsupported by the vendor continue to drive businesses which show more focus than HP.

That group of companies is growing all the time, customers who don’t accept the artificial clock HP is trying to run on your IT game as grand as baseball. We have heard a story of a major software firm telling HP, “If we migrated one customer a week, we’d be done in 2009.” What does that do for the 2006 end-of-game HP has imposed? We think those customers will be working with the 3000 well beyond that year. If they can play without a clock, why not you?

The worst thing anybody can do about their HP 3000 future this year is hurry, unless they are heading for the exits anyway. If HP’s announcement offers you good cover to change the things you wanted to adjust anyway, consider yourself lucky to have the budget to swing away.

If you’re guarding your swings more closely, keep your eyes on the strike zone. We’ll do what we can to help you see the strikes that look like your 3000 investment. The sweetest part of the plate appears to be what you’re already using. Watch your strike zone like an umpire. If it costs more, or offers less, let the wild ones go by.

— Ron Seybold 

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