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July 2004

Be independent to take a role in the 3000 scene

NewsWire Editorial

We observed Independence Day a few days early in Austin, when my wife and draft-aged son watched the movie Fahrenheit 9/11 with me. If you’re one of the half-dozen people who haven’t heard of the movie yet, you will soon. It draws a portrait of an America thoroughly divided over our country’s future. Fear and war, or faith and peace, appeared to be the choices we face. If that sounds familiar, I believe that’s because the picture show that this veteran and his family watched felt like a picture of the HP 3000 community — a group now taking steps away from common ground, because neither side can see what’s got the other all worked up.

The movie’s director is known as a muckraker, something I’ve been called on occasion in my 20 years of reporting about the HP 3000. Muckrakers can get things changed, sometimes, although that is not the objective they must excel at. A muckraker must raise awareness, a quality that is essential to quality of life. Dead babies and legless vets will make any moviegoer aware of the cost of fear. I was lucky to serve without loss of limb, or life of a family member. My uncle Nick, my son’s namesake, died at the Battle of the Bulge. But while I served, I had the same question in the face of East German armor that some customers might pose this month: Just what is there to fear, really?

Some are afraid of being able to buy HP 3000s, now that HP has stopped assembling them. This was not a computer that was ever the most popular item in HP’s inventory, and at the end, there were more than enough to go around. Some customers want the latest HP 3000s, to give themselves a long time to change their mind about their computing future. So now HP will, for a very few select customers, turn Unix-booting HP servers into MPE-booting HP servers. The 9000-to-3000 conversion, requested by customers for more than five years, has finally gotten a dim green light from HP. You can’t convert your own 9000, but one you buy through HP might be eligible.

The interesting part of the HP announcement came in its Frequently Asked Questions document. HP expects few customers to use its conversion services. Like our muckraking movie, this information begs more than one conclusion. Are HP’s expectations low because few customers can convince HP to switch 9000s into 3000s? Or will few do the switch because they won’t need HP’s help? If no HP help is needed, is that because nobody wants a 3000 anymore? Or perhaps there’s an ample supply of systems for a small customer base, and the system prices are only getting better.

The day before we watched an American soldier’s mom sob bitterly over her son’s death — only to be chided by a bystander not to curse US politicians, but al Qaeda’s henchmen — I heard a similar tale of conflict. Now that HP has stopped making the 3000s, one ISV joked, the system is finally more affordable. A Series 989 with an unlimited MPE license sells for less than $70,000 this month. That was a $300,000 system at its introduction in 1999. And lest you think a five-year-old server is past its sell-by date, remember that the 989/650 has a 43.5 performance rating. HP has shipped out 10 models of its newer N-Class and A-Class servers that are not as fast as a 989.

How can this be? I asked the same question when I saw in the movie how all those bin Laden family members were allowed to leave the US, without questioning, just after 9/11. You might ask a similar kind of question: How can it be that a computer which was always a good value for stability and serenity at the IT desk got better so fast? Weren’t we all being warned that 9x7 system parts were going to get expensive? Weren’t we being told that Itanium processors were the best future for HP servers, and since the 3000 wasn’t going to get Itanium, the writing was on the wall about the server’s future?

Yes, we were told all those things. The movie told us that many bin Ladens wriggled through US immigration in that terrible week, when not even Ricky Martin could fly. I was baffled. When things don’t seem to make any sense — like HP leaving the 3000 market, and things getting more affordable; like the Itanium architecture now becoming a computing niche, a word HP plastered onto the 3000 market, instead of the world dominator HP promised Itanium would be; or that 9x7 parts are now cheaper than ever, and you can get used systems for the cost of shipping — well, you might start to question your level of awareness.

Asking questions is a good way to raise your level of awareness. Speaking up so others can hear your questions, and the answers, is essential to maintaining a community’s voice. Right now the greatest risks to the 3000 customers — both those who intend to leave sooner than later, and those who will leave only as a last resort — are isolation and silence. Like the American enterprise, your enterprise of adaptation demands your participation. To read up someplace, either online or on these pages, about what’s going on, how you can play a role in your future. To speak up — in a message board, in an interview, to your colleagues — about the challenges you face and what you believe.

This Independence Day can be a celebration for independent thinking. Lots of resources offer help that is independent of a single vendor’s view. Many of you 3000 customers are still undecided about your future, like many voters across America. Whether voter or customer, gather your own facts and make your own conclusions. Don’t forget to take action, instead of just fading to black.

— Ron Seybold 

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