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October 2004

Deciding now about your future

NewsWire Editorial

All around my neighborhood, lawns are sprouting signs. October is one of my favorite months, because here in Texas the air is cooler above those lawns. Baseball plays out its most interesting games, ones that have riveted me and my wife Abby in front of our TV. But no October is more interesting in America than the one just before we decide who will be our President. This month is a time of decision for our future as citizens, as customers, as friends.

It’s also a time for Abby and I to celebrate. The 3000 NewsWire is now more than nine years old. It’s been a joy and a challenge to tell stories on these pages. We thank all of you for your support, encouragement, and even opposition. While everybody says they enjoy hearing good news, conflict is what drives a good story. There’s been plenty of that to report in the HP 3000 space during the last three years of Transition.

I speed past those lawn signs in the mornings on my bicycle, lifting my heart-rate while I lift my spirits. This month Abby and I will pedal in the Ride for the Roses here in Austin, Lance Armstrong’s ride to help those who live with cancer. I need my morning miles to propel my decision to ride for the roses.

When we started our news source for the HP 3000, I did not ride. I walked. Life can alter your pace with its changes, as our readers and sponsors have learned during those nine years.

During those nine years, even HP’s aspirations have had to weather some unexpected changes. In 1995, its customers heard HP detail the future of its business computer design. It has had many names, but back then we were calling it Tahoe, the HP-Intel project to conquer the markets with superior architecture.

Today it’s called Itanium, and HP’s computers which use this chip are called Integrity. The last time America decided about an incumbent President, in 1996, the Itanium design was called IA-64. HP 3000 customers, we reported, wanted to be a part of that enterprise future, which at the time looked so bright to some that HP advised us to look for our shades.

HP decided, and then decided again, about IA-64 for HP 3000s. First it said that its 3000 sites didn’t need it. Then, in relief which we spread on our front page in 1998, HP promised to deliver IA-64 on 3000 servers. Once IA-64 was ready for prime time, the 3000 would get it.

Three years later, HP told its 3000 customers that the 3000 wouldn’t ever get IA-64. People assumed at the time that the HP 3000 was no longer ready for prime time. Now it’s looking like IA-64 will not be broadcast over the industry’s prime time slots. It’s more like the afternoon baseball games I’m enjoying on the sly this week: Sent out to a niche audience that has cable TV and the chance to watch it between work projects.

This all matters to our readers and the 3000 community because they face decisions now, or very soon at the latest. It’s become time to choose your future, with migration resources about to grow scarce and HP’s support and development resources for its homesteading customers beginning to dwindle.

HP and its migration partners point to HP-UX as the most likely choice for a company moving off the platform. But HP’s Itanium story, which got a rude update last month, has a serious impact on any choice to move onto HP-UX. Let me connect the dots into what the industry and its analysts are seeing as a likely pattern. Since you ought to be making migration choices soon, you’ll want to know about your future paths, if you plan to move away from your HP 3000.

HP has no plan to put HP-UX on any processor other than its own PA-RISC and Itanium designs. With HP saying that PA-RISC will have an end of life during this decade, the future of HP-UX is inextricably wedded to Itanium. And Itanium is losing mindshare to AMD’s Opteron and Intel’s other 64-bit processor, the Xeon-based Nocona. HP’s withdrawal of its Itanium-based workstations is not isolated, as it claims, from the market forces of Itanium’s enterprise prospects.

HP’s MPE customers heard a good deal about a declining ecosystem as a reason for HP to leave that MPE/HP 3000 market. It’s only a matter of time before the Itanium decline becomes too precipitous for HP’s commodity-driven business plans.

It could be different, at another company. A vendor without the distraction of a highly-profitable camera and printer operation might be motivated to reverse such a slide in systems business. But HP, especially since CEO Carly Fiorina took the helm, is eager to let the markets decide its enterprise products’ fate. HP said it has covered all its bets by adopting a multiple-processor strategy for servers. But HP-UX runs on only one of those processors, the one that is losing mindshare.

Any bet on native-version Itanium development, placed by a software developer, will soon be limited to winning only the HP enterprise customer field. HP-UX customers have no long-term processor to purchase except for Itanium. Today’s software companies, as HP reminded MPE customers, will pursue only the best bets — the leading environments for development.

If Itanium cannot be a leader, then its fate in HP’s plans — and that of the customers who choose it — looks all too similar to the choice HP made over MPE: To be turned out of HP’s lineup once its sales fall short of a commodity computer vendor’s expectations.

Remaining on the HP-UX path is beginning to look like a choice similar to keeping an HP 3000 in service. At some point, both HP-UX and MPE will be niche solutions. The HP 3000 customers already know about HP’s decisions concerning its niches. While these customers decide which new road they want to send their investment dollars down, they need to consider where a niche path will lead.

Choosing an alternative to using the HP 3000 is a business decision for most companies. Business concerns about the market share of Itanium don’t make HP-UX appear to be a comfortable choice for the long term. Considering how many of our readers and partners seem headed down the HP Unix path, we wish this were not so. If you believe that HP could prop up the niche Itanium market with only its own HP-UX customers, along with the OpenVMS and NonStop business that it bought along with Compaq, you might feel safer making an HP-UX choice.

But if that kind of propping-up of a niche seems less likely to you, given HP’s performance with MPE and HP 3000, choosing HP-UX could feel like déjà vu for the customer turned out of a working platform. Like our interesting choices in America, there’s no easy call. It’s time to answer, at the polls if you’re an American and in the markets if you own an HP 3000. We’ll continue to bring you the facts and analysis to make your choices about your future. We count on keeping the stories coming with the help of our friends.

— Ron Seybold

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