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September 2003

Start riding in a time machine

NewsWire Editorial

Sometimes a fella has to prove he’s earned an upgrade that’s actually long overdue. I enjoyed that experience on two wheels this month, and you can have it on the floor of your HP 3000 site, too. I’m talking new machine upgrade, and you should be listening hard right now. You may not have it as easy as I did the next time you want to improve your vehicle.

Earlier this year I trained and rode in the Hill Country Ride for AIDS, a charity bicycle ride of just under 140 miles. Hard miles, some of those, up steep hills west of Austin and out into the Texas Hill Country. I did my pedaling on a 15-year-old Schwinn Sprint, a bike manufactured just a few years before the Series 9x7 HP 3000 line was designed.

I can’t fault my Schwinn for its performance, if getting to the finish line was my only goal. I finished the ride in about 11 hours of cycle time over two days. It’s just that some of those hours felt like days, especially when I was climbing. Downhill was easier, probably like the time your users spend thinking about what to type at their keyboards, or when the HP 3000 is waiting on data from the network or a distant disk.

Where you really feel the reward of an upgrade is on the climbs, though. Bicycle design has come a long way since 1988, though perhaps not as far as computer components. I can’t say for sure, but I got a good idea of how materials have improved for bikes during my upgrade process. I had the bike mechanics transfer my six-month-old cycling computer from the 15-year-old bike to my new Specialized Allez Comp 27, a featherweight steed compared to my old wheels.

“My God, Ron,” said the mechanic at Bicycle Sport Shop. “The wheels alone on this old bike weigh more than all of the new bike.”

And why not? One of the advances is stronger spokes, so you need fewer of them. The wheels themselves are lighter and thinner, another way to reduce rotational weight: the part of the bike that moves all the time. Save a few ounces on a seat and you only get a few ounces less to take up the hill. Slim down those wheels, and you multiply the savings by dozens of revolutions per minute.

That’s the result of my upgrade that’s measured easiest: speed. I can pedal at a faster RPM longer, since I’m hauling less weight around. (I’m still working on reducing the weight of the rider, something like finding a programmer who will code more efficiently.) A faster ride time means a shorter outing, or a longer range. Either one makes the ride, well, more fun. I find my grimaces have spread into smiles.

You may know somebody who’s in the same kind of saddle as I rode this spring. They are using an HP 3000 made long ago, because it’s paid for. But their company might be riding a lot longer to get answers about their business, waiting on slow disks, slower processors and an aging IO bus. The wait might even be in IT, during a backup or a data transfer that a system manager must babysit.

When you can have Ultegra shifters on the handlebars, or the PCI IO bus on your HP 3000, what kind of argument do you make about your company’s worth or your time by sticking with older technology? Something like, “We just can’t afford it right now. It’s fast enough for us.” I can almost feel the grin turning back to a grimace, and the company’s heart beating way too hard, climbing the month-end or year-end hills.

I knew after my 140 miles that I needed a new bike. But I waited another four months, adding almost 800 miles of cycling to be sure I was committed to the sport. Finally, in the worst of the Texas cycling weather — the penetrating heat of August — I broke down and bought a bike that cost more than a laptop. I expect to ride it at least four years, so I could amortize the expense over thousands of miles. And smiles.

You might argue that this quarter is the worst capital acquisition weather of the year. Sales are still down in lots of places, and budgets remain tight. But every HP 3000 shop, no matter what its future holds, must know there’s spending along their near-term path. We believe you should make the expense include a faster computer, one to get you wherever you’re headed faster, or increase the range on your 3000 investment.

Let’s be clear on one point: we’re talking about the purchase of an N-Class HP 3000, if you’re buying a new system, or a 9x9 server if you can’t move up that much. We don’t think nearly as much of the A-Class systems while HP continues to hamstring their performance through software tricks. No matter what excuse, or marketing justification, when we hear about slowing down a computer, it seems like a wasted effort. Not many businesses need less computing power in the future, and HP’s not going to sell you 3000s in about six weeks. At least most of the N-Class line doesn’t have its processor clocked down. That might feel like a new bike with its front wheel designed to spin slower the faster you pedaled. That wouldn’t make me anxious to buy a faster bike later on.

Of those two choices, a new N-Class looks like a better investment to really make heads turn. There will be fewer of these available on the used market, by most brokers’ estimations. Get one, and you might process an all-night report before the VP of Finance can get down the hall and into the elevator — and catch her with the printout in a pleasant little surprise.

“Gee, this was quick. Did we get that Unix system up and running so much faster?”

“No, we upgraded instead of replacing. We bought ourselves a lot of time.”

That is what an upgrade can do for you: act like a time machine. It can slingshot your operations like I now scurry up the hills I huffed over before. A long-delayed upgrade can change some thinking about efficiency, too. The views that are waiting at the top of the transition hill might give your management other ideas, about making an investment in the future of your HP 3000, whether for expertise on migration, or to secure homesteading support. Whether it’s rotational weight or computational wait, shedding it can deliver smiles along the miles.

— Ron Seybold 

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