July 2005

Let the sun rise
on some changes
during HP’s summer

NewsWire Editorial

This month I live in a state that recalls Lawrence of Arabia. We languish in a torrid summer, so I feel like Omar Sharif and Peter O’Toole as they cross the Devil’s Anvil. They have to get out of the morning’s sun over that wasteland or risk being fried. We rise in Texas this July knowing we’ve only got four good hours before it’s time to avoid triple-digit heat indexes.

This couldn’t change fast enough for me, a fellow reared in Ohio where triple digits were an event, not everyday weather. There are changes we avoid — most of them, in fact. But we also have things we feel are overdue to change. Cyclists, basketball players, IT pros using 3000s: Everybody can be eager for some kind of change.

July mornings carry a sweet rhythm to them in our house. We get up early to ride our bikes, then switch on TV to see our fellow Texan Lance Armstrong and his team defending the yellow jersey in the Tour de France. But there are scores of riders who are ready for a change of guard. The German cyclist Jan Ullrich has finished second five times while riding against Lance.

Overdue change for 3000 owners? I would nominate the Series 9x7 limitations on operating systems. These systems, the equivalent of the Ford F-150 pickups, stand idle or lightly used in many places. They make a perfect test system for the patches HP’s been building. But the 9x7 only boots a 6.5 or earlier version of MPE. Those are releases in wide use, but far from HP’s to-do list for enhancements.

It was not always so for these pickups. The 9x7 didn’t do anything to lose its modern OS privileges except be an older generation of 3000. Before 7.0 MPE/iX rolled out to customers, it ran just fine on these older 3000s during the vendor test period. HP yanked the 9x7’s boot privileges to keep the servers looking old and sell the more modern 9x9 servers.

These marketing tricks had their place in HP’s past. In truth, we’d all be looking at a different future for the system if there had been more tricks up HP’s sleeve, at least as many as IBM has used to keep the AS400 and iSeries systems alive. But that ship has sailed along with HP’s 3000s sales.

Treating one 3000 different than another for any reason but a technical limitation doesn’t serve the 3000 customer.

These customers might feel like NBA stars Charles Barkley or Reggie Miller. Both had great game, but the bad timing to play in the Michael Jordan era. Jordan won six championships over eight years — Charles and Reggie won zero. Change in that old story felt overdue to them, too.

Miller, a lock for a Hall of Fame spot, said after retiring this season that everything he’d ever accomplished was diminished because he’d gotten no championship ring. That’s being overdue for change.

The Tour de France has 180 riders who’d like to see a change in the man leading the Tour this year. Here in Austin we’re of a different mind. The cancer survivor deserves whatever he can accomplish this month, because like Jordan, there will never be another like him in sports.

Your HP 3000 has that kind of bittersweet air about it this summer, at least for some customers. They talk about how great it was to use a system built to last a long time, run software written in prior decades, of an HP that didn’t seem to need to spark so much change. Lots of these customers know they have a move in their future, but that date for their changes might be a long way off.

They probably don’t want to feel like Barkley or Ullrich, cut off from a good finish just because they stuck with a good value of a system. When you add up the reasons HP might possibly want to keep 7.0 off 9x7s — and so bog down enhancement patches through a shorter list of customers to test them — well, what’s on Hewlett-Packard blackboard so far just doesn’t compute.

Conspiracy buffs want to believe that HP still needs to keep the 3000 pushed down, so an HP-UX alternative looks good. I doubt that as much as I disbelieve NBA powers changed the rules to keep Jordan winning titles. There’s something to it, perhaps, but the real reason the 9x7s are still turned out of test beds is simpler. HP just isn’t changing its mind fast enough for its 3000 customers, at least not about outdated systems policies. There’s a clock running here.

There’s a bit of irony in that. Changes we yearn for serve to get us accustomed to change in our life. The impermanent nature of everything gives this newsletter its life, because we track changes and write stories about what’s aging and what’s new.

The Texas heat this month is old news among those of us who count lots of years in the state. Every four years or so we really catch it in a summer, and then it’s time for two showers a day and swimming pools with 90-degree water in them.

We wait out summer, because we know it’s coming. But 3000 customers need even more patience and faith this summer, because HP has been so quiet about its intentions for the near future. We’re nearly entering the final yearly course of HP’s 3000 business, even if we’ve heard the vendor is renewing support contracts beyond 2006. Development support time at HP is falling away as surely as Lance’s competitors will fall away in the mountains over the next week. Instead of a six-time marvel of nature escaping the pack, though, it’s the sweep of time slipping out of HP’s support schedule.

Leaving the 3000’s 7.0 and 7.5 patches untested and unreleased seems as wasteful as, well, not watering a newly planted tree because it’s gotten too hot outside. HP put these 3000 enhancements on the road as surely as the Tour riders took to the 2,300-mile course, hoping to finish. They just didn’t expect the customers to lock down production systems for stability.

It’s time for another kind of change in the 3000 customers’ future. And when we’re through booting up the 9x7s, let’s move on to unlocking the hamstrung horsepower in those N-Class and A-Class systems. The sun should be setting on these marketing feints and dodges for this platform. The customers who are enduring changes need a reason to believe in some HP change, especially the kind that makes them appreciate a vendor’s value.

— Ron Seybold

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