Editorial: These are the 3000's Dog Days

These are
the 3000's
Dog Days

3000 NewsWire Editorial

Here in Texas it's hot. It seems hotter -- and stickier with our well-reported rains -- than anyplace else this month. We're in the dog days, as they were called in the Farmer's Almanac we bought at The Andersons farm supply store in my native Ohio. That's the part of the summer where the heat is relentless and never-ending, weeks without serious breeze or cooling thundershower to bring relief.

We suffered through the dog days as kids, until we were lucky enough to have a pool in a friend's backyard or one in the neighborhood. By the time I was 13, the city had built a swell pool about 10 minutes away. The dog days became summertime, with the promise of bikini tans and whispered puppy-love crushes.

The HP 3000 is now enduring dog days of its own. The summer's doldrums have settled onto the MPE market. Those days feel hotter down here at the NewsWire, now that we've learned the 3000 market is losing the Web server that HP's 3000 division (CSY) so proudly called its own.

Intranets promised new 1997 value to HP 3000 customers. HP knew it too. It cooked up a promotion that delivered a free Open Market Web Server with every new HP 3000 sold. Along with Posix-based advances in Java, Samba and Apache freeware from hard-working engineers both inside HP and out, activity on intranets was a hot prospect for the 3000.

Now HP admits its deal with Open Market, the Massachusetts firm that supplied a Web server which HP supports on the 3000, has gone dry. That modest company told the 3000 division it will drop sales of its Web servers real soon. Sure, Open Market will support what's already installed -- though we've heard support is spotty at best -- but enhancements are no more. CSY handicapped the move as a death knell for the Open Market solution. It began to call 3000 customers who've been waiting four months to take delivery on Open Market's Secure Web Server and tell them to cancel their orders.

CSY is still working on its reaction to having the rug pulled out from its Internet plans, but some of its early comments aren't encouraging. The same dispirited dogma is surfacing. We're hearing the "right solution for the customer" is what the division wants, regardless of which platform runs it. One of the first thoughts this division had about losing its Web server solution amounted to "we can always let NT do it using the 3000's data."

That idea deserves to fall out from heatstroke, and quickly. Here at the NewsWire we can't sit by in the dog days, watching another 3000 opportunity wither just because HP sells other systems. In this issue, the director of CSY's customer communications tells us "I don't think our customers are expecting that MPE is going to be there as the first supported environment on HP's latest and greatest hardware technologies."

That kind of nonsense gets me hotter than a black vinyl bucket seat in the Mueller Airport parking lot at 5 p.m. There are lots of customers who want the latest and greatest technologies on their HP 3000s. CSY has to start finding them and selling to them. (We hear that HP wants e-commerce to make its order rate healthy again. How about some effort from the HP 3000 division toward that corporate objective?)

Revenues will flow for HP 3000 Web server systems when there's more compelling and complete HP solutions for hot prospects like intranets. Excuse-me offers of leveraging other platforms don't help CSY's future -- and that doesn't help CSY's customers much, does it? Selling problematic integration into Unix or NT solutions won't help those managers, accustomed to MPE's simplicity, sleep better on these hot nights.

I might be dazed from the heat, but in these dog days the application growth efforts inside CSY look like a mirage. We asked general manager Harry Sterling what he thinks his division can do to generate new applications for the HP 3000. He didn't waste a lot of our ink with his answer: "Literally nothing." Filling this new Web server hole will take more than nothing, literally or otherwise. Watching HP's initial take on the Web server surprise, I'm afraid one of the best chances for application growth in the 3000 market -- intranets -- will get the old Supplement shuffle. Instead of cooking up ways to make the 3000 more useful, it appears the division is ready to let its intranet prospects pan out. That will make the 3000 even more dependent on other systems. Not good.

Instead of digging up data to support its assumptions about preferences for Web servers, CSY would do better to look for customers who bought HP 3000s and received that free Open Market software. HP ran the promotion until the end of May. There's customers in that group who care about using the 3000 as a Web Server. Ask them if they want to host Web services on another platform that takes a wizard to manage, or still another one full of security holes and scalability problems. Go ahead, put it to them that way. It's the truth. Let the HP 9000 and Netserver divisions make their own promises on this solution, just this once.

HP says it wants to do the right thing by its customers. Here's the right thing: hire some CSY engineers to maintain intranet solutions for the HP 3000. You had them not long ago, until they moved into other parts of HP or companies like Netscape. No deal with that kind of third-party vendor will be immune from the kind of vanishing act Open Market is pulling. Secure intranets are too strategic to trust to third parties altogether.

Keeping a computer cool enough to remain ready for mission-critical work isn't easy when you do it for 25 years. It's not cheap either, at least not on the days when you invest in its future. But the artificial profits which CSY now shows -- because its head count is affordably low -- are too short-sighted for a computer with such a long and successful history. We'd like to see a vision for CSY beyond this year's annual report.

HP is throwing a birthday party this fall for the HP 3000. I'd like to suggest that CSY bring a crucial 25th birthday gift for the system and its customers -- you know, the people who built the rest of HP's RISC-y business into a success. Give them a handful of CSY engineers working on secure intranets. Create a resource working for a company that won't decide Web server business isn't lucrative enough. We hope that company is HP. Secure web servers can be important at first, and lucrative later.

I'm looking forward to the breezes in the Windy City, at HP World, for cooling confirmation that MPE/iX intranets are too hot to leave withering in these 3000 dog days. The end of August isn't too late to turn those days into summertime and make a splash.

-- Ron Seybold

Copyright 1997, The 3000 NewsWire. All rights reserved.