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July 2003

Transition can fly renewal course to greater reserves

NewsWire Editorial

I just returned from a place where conflict has conserved treasures. My partner Abby and I took a few weeks away from the HP 3000’s transition to visit the Clayoquot Sound on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, another spot that’s been making changes. I found more in common than I expected between the reserves around Pacific Rim National Park and the preserve of HP 3000 customers. Pondering in our hot tub, watching the sun set at almost 10PM, we had time to consider. Maybe the passion of a place that had been saved provided the connection.

Up-island, as those down in Victoria call this paradise of seashore and cedars, has been hard at work changing its lifestyle, economy and attitudes for about a decade now. We went in search of whales, eagles, and the oldest trees in North America. As usual, I came back with a little more insight that seems to apply to our 3000 community, where the oldest computers on the planet still stand tall.

Down on the Sound, we enjoyed a 4x4 tour into the backcountry, along the Tofino Inlet and up rugged logging roads to the Clayoquot Forest. We booked our trip at Jamie’s Whaling Station, kind of an eco-tourist supermarket where outings like 4x4 trips, kayaking, and whale-watching are marked up like coffee drinks on a chalkboard menu. A fellow behind the counter advised us our trip was going to be beautiful, he knew, because he’d worked up in that forest himself. He said he’d been a re-forester, working for the timber giant MacMillan-Bloedel.

Now he toiled in the tourism trade. “It doesn’t pay nearly as good, but I like what I do a lot better now,” he said. The powers that once ran “The Clayoquot” had shed his job, he explained, because environmental protesters had stopped the clear-cut logging on Meares Island out in the Sound. He missed his timber job benefits, but resigned himself to a different life.

The viewpoint turned out to be a personal one, not shared by our hosts at the Water’s Edge Inn B&B. The Ironsides explained that the re-forester’s job was certain to be axed, so to speak, no matter who protested. The timber company was already cutting back on jobs, because its profits were falling in the lumber business. The protesters played a part in the schedule, but the end of clear-cut logging was inevitable, and that meant a lot less re-foresting jobs. Clear-cut logging ruins a forest, a point everyone agreed on 10 years after the protests, the largest act of civil disobedience in Canada’s history. (And considering how polite most Canadians are, that’s saying something.)

The logger’s tale reminded me of HP’s explanations about why its 3000 business was going to be cut down this year. We can’t forget that the vendor talked about an ecosystem going dead, and then how customers didn’t want to get caught in the woods when their computers couldn’t serve business needs anymore.

People got angry when that message poured out of HP, maybe as passionate as the protesters and townspeople got in Tofino when “M&B,” as the timber giant is called there, took their saws to 1,200-year-old cedar trees. Here in our community we heard cries of “You can’t do that to us,” and then “How are we going to make it without HP?” In Tofino logging bridges got burned, tires slashed, and neighbors were pitted against one another’s future. Conflict had moved up-island, but its end result has been a reserve of the earth’s beauty and jobs that don’t consume the lifeblood of the land.

Our 4x4 guide made the transition from M&B to a friend of the tree. Rick bought a Ford F-250 truck with a 10-cylinder engine and ample cab, and used his re-foresting knowledge to start RainCoast Adventures, when he takes tourists like us on all-day nature watches. We bounced happily on the bench seat to spot bears, eagles, and learn the names of wildflowers we’d never seen before. The water soared off the mountains everywhere in whispering riverheads down into Kennedy Lake, with no place more stunning than the 12-story Virgin Falls whose mists kissed our faces after a tailgate picnic lunch. Our guide just smiled and gave us some solitude for as long as we liked at that magic spot.

People have to make Rick’s caliber of change in their IT careers now, the transition that follows the anger and dismay that protested HP’s eco-decision. Lately we hear other stories being told about why the vendor turned away from the 3000 community — tales that suggest the platform had to be sacrificed to prove something to Compaq about the merger, or that the 3000’s customer base wasn’t growing fast enough for HP’s CEO.

The facts on HP’s decision, which will change your career or business, might be as elusive as the seals that swam just under the bull kelp around the La Croix Group of tiny islands in the Sound. The seals stayed under the water while we watched from our kayaks. The facts only matter to anyone who wants to understand the IT business well enough to plan for the future. If the computer just got too old, then you need to keep buying new ones like HP recommends, so you “can thrive on change,” its new mantra to encourage commerce. But if the 3000 got neglected, saw its maker clear-cut its resources — well, then preserving your resource is more important than counting the rings in your computer platform’s trunk.

The conflict on the Sound saved those trees, and so the rest of the land’s treasures. More bald eagles live in that area of British Columbia than anywhere else on the continent. The whales migrate through and feed on the sea life, which is fed by the waters pouring off the forests, full of diversity which no “tree farm” can duplicate. Tofino and other towns now thrive on tourists, who come to watch rather than remove the emerald bounty.

Customers still harbor conflicts with HP over its business decision, doubts sitting as deep as those seals or the California grey whales we saw dive off Vargas Island. Others have moved forward, like our guide Rick, and plan to do business in their old environment with new tools, like Itanium 2-powered servers or Unix-driven databases. HP now tells customers who remain that an Adaptive Enterprise is the “ultimate state of fitness” for a computer environment. Customers will be able to see whether HP’s vision proves to be sound advice more quickly than nature’s forests showed their harm from the clear cuts. Make a transition to a commodity computer vision and you might be able to declare success or failure in a few years’ time. The trees and the sea, and the sky bearing all those eagles, take longer to ruin or conserve.

As tourists, our sympathies lie with those who preserve resources. As publishers and storytellers we’re fond of those of you who have built up a diverse forest of specialized knowledge, skills for a unique platform and expertise around your business rules. We believe that just like those trees and tides and sea lions are all connected, you are better connected for your career — because you may have learned computing from the company business up, instead of along the IT commodity trail. That looks like a path where everything has to change so often you can’t spend much time learning the business of the company you’ve been hired to help.

On our last full day up-island, we sailed out in a 30-foot covered launch through seven-foot swells to find those whales, and our French-Canadian captain Pipot explained why the model that doesn’t thrive on change in the Clayoquot works so much better. “If we were to cover the earth in a tree farm, we would all die,” he said. With an economy of preservation and diversity, “We can keep reusing these trees forever.”

Not so long ago the HP 3000 community rallied at an Interex conference with an “MPE Forever” pin to celebrate its diversity. Customers can accomplish important things for one another with that kind of emotion, even when it distills into conflict. That forever sentiment may now seem more reasonable, especially if you consider what has really changed: HP, not your computer. Your HP 3000s stand like those trees up on the Sound, the same as they ever were. The only thing that’s shifted, like the attitudes on the Clayoquot, is how HP regards the resource.

— Ron Seybold 

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