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August 2004

HP World stands at brink of changes

Conference woos 3000 users with donated stand; group sails toward more independence from HP

Interex, the HP user group built on a mission of advocacy, is advocating attendance of the HP 3000 community this month at the group’s signature, sustaining event. But this year’s HP World will mark the last soiree where the systems vendor and its oldest user group will dance cheek to cheek.

HP announced in late July that it will mount a new technical user conference in September, 2005, reaching out to members of Interex, Tandem, OpenView and Encompass user groups. The Interex board of directors then voted on August 3 to pursue an independent path, sticking to its plans to exclusively produce the next HP World in August, 2005.

The two conferences will vie for exhibit space sales, speakers and sponsorships, the first time Interex has faced a serious challenge to its user conference business. HP already produces an Americas Field Sales Conference each year including a partner expo area.

HP’s David Parsons, VP of enterprise segment marketing for the Americas, said HP wants to create a training event for its employees and partners, one which includes an invitation to user group members. The HP conference strives to tie together platform training just like Parsons said its customers are integrating disparate HP platforms.

“We’ve approached each of the user groups in a cooperative dynamic,” he said. “User group communities are very platform-centric. They’re very passionate folks. Probably some of the most passionate ones are the HP 3000 folks, the Tandem folks, the OpenVMS folks. But they recognize that their systems need to interconnect with others. I don’t think this [conference] compromises any of their interests.”

But after this month, HP World must draw attendees and exhibitors who will consider the new HP show as another opportunity to be purchased. “We want to invite our customers to enjoy the same deep, rich technical training that we provide to our partners and customers,” Parsons said.

The fact that Interex has now chosen to continue with its own conference in 2005 — the same decision was made by the Tandem and OpenView users groups — won’t change HP’s plans.

“If the charter of the groups is to create technical training, we’re going to try to create an event that will allow them to do that,” Parons said. Encompass, the Compaq/Digital user group, voted to hold its 2005 event inside HP’s event.

“We respect Interex’s decision,” Parsons added. “We will continue to support them to some level. It won’t change our plans. We still have a huge requirement to train employees and partners.”

Parsons said HP will look to any co-producing user groups — so far, just Encompass — to drive the Expo portion of its conference. These user groups will share revenues from the Expo “to support and sustain those organizations. The user groups’ charters are not to drive revenue and profit, but to train end-users in a way that the groups can recover costs.”

Much migration

The fate of HP World has more impact on the 3000 customers who are leaving the platform than those who are staying to homestead, according to exhibitors and community leaders who helped found the user group.

“It’s all focused on migration,” said Terry Floyd, founder of ERP support solutions company the Support Group, inc. “I expect that a lot of the 3000 people at HP World will be looking for HP 9000 solutions. We’re sending someone to talk to partners on the Unix and Integrity side.”

Paul Edwards, a former Interex board member, chairman of the MPE Forum and an independent HP 3000 consultant, said the user group’s focus has drifted from its founding 3000 members.

“Interex has not focused on the MPE customers at all in the last few years,” Edwards said. “That’s understandable, based on sales of other products and HP’s picking up the Compaq customer base. HP World is just not relevant to the MPE customers anymore. HP’s not really doing the response to the 3000 advocacy they used to do.”

Even while the community’s homesteading constituency plans to pass up the meeting, Interex has reached out a little further to welcome 3000 users. This year’s show includes the first “HP e3000 Community Networking Lounge,” a double-booth of expo hall space and Internet access donated by the user group and sponsored by a handful of 3000 vendors. HP 3000 business manager Dave Wilde and R&D director Ross McDonald were among those scheduled for lounge appearances.

But MPE-related sessions at HP World now number fewer than 30 out of a total that’s close to 600. Over the last two full conference days, the 3000 sessions are on a single track, augmented by just five meetings of Special Interest Groups (SIGs), which once numbered more than 20. All but a handful of the MPE meetings at the show will detail migration advice, while the list of 3000 advocates in attendance will be missing some notable names.

During the 30 years that HP sold the 3000, HP World provided advocacy engagements for 3000 customers. Community advocates said that HP’s dwindling attention to the server will mean less advocacy attention at HP World.

“The customers are feeling like there’s nothing there for them to talk to HP about,” Edwards said. “Most of the SIGs were 3000-based, and the volunteers were 3000-based.”

For example, the IMAGE database SIG will not meet at the annual show for the first time in 14 years — even though SIG-IMAGE/SQL chair Ken Sletten acknowledges that engineering IMAGE/SQL for the SQL99 standards remains an unresolved issue. Sletten passed on attending HP World 2004, after leading enhancement requests for many years.

Olav Kappert, whose IOMIT International firm has served 3000 sites for nearly 30 years, said HP looks eager to stop spending on 3000-related user group events.

“HP would rather not spend another dime on something that has no future with them,” he said. “It will first be SIG-IMAGE, then other HP 3000 SIGs will follow. Somewhere in-between, maybe even Interex will disappear.”

HP’s consolidation quest

The 2005 conference picture plays a major part in deciding the user group’s fate. HP wanted to consolidate its outlay for user conferences, according to Interex board chairman Denys Beauchemin, one element that led to the announcement of HP’s new technical conference. Beauchemin said the group doesn’t believe its 2005 show will battle for conference resources with HP’s own event.

“We’re not competing with HP,” Beauchemin said of HP World 2005. “HP’s going to be there next year.” He said HP will “scale back drastically” its involvement in the show. Beauchemin estimated that HP spending makes up about 10 percent of HP World revenues.

Last month the user group polled part of its membership on what Interex should do about its 2005 conference. In its poll, Interex offered two choices to the members: To become less independent of HP and benefit from strong investment from the vendor, or assert more independence in its conference and rely less on HP’s participation.

Interex was already contracted for 2005 conference space at San Francisco’s Moscone Center. The group has announced in a statement that its 2005 conference “will offer a diverse line-up of membership driven solutions-oriented sessions and content tracks,” and that the user group will “work closely with partners and HP to plan the content.” It also noted that pre-registration of 2004’s full conference attendees is up 10 percent over last year’s show.

Such future HP World participation has been a popular topic in the 3000 community this summer. HP told the user group that its customers wanted a single user group show to attend, rather than meetings for Interex, Tandem, Compaq/Digital and OpenView.

Beauchemin said HP told Interex that it wants to invest less in independent user conferences. Beauchemin sees HP’s involvement as essential to the conference’s survival.

“If HP were to say it wasn’t interested in going to San Francisco in 2005, then we would have an issue,” he said. “They said they have four user group conferences to attend after their merger. HP is trying to cut back on the number of events they try to go to — especially the ones that are not in their control.”

Fewer familiar faces

HP World and Interex meetings offered a forum for customers to air complaints and learn about HP 3000 future plans. But with the vendor’s 3000 life-cycle set to expire in December, 2006, customer advocates are dropping their talking sticks. Some of the strongest 3000 supporters say this year’s show will be their last.

Jeanette Nutsford, who’s chaired the SIG-COBOL group for more than 15 years, told members in July she won’t be attending next year’s show. Seasoned 3000 experts like Robelle and Adager, which provide first-call MPE support as a courtesy to their customers, won’t appear on the expo floor or give talks. Budget cutbacks at Interex and elsewhere have forced some regulars to drop the show.

“This will be the first conference I’ve missed in 22 years,” Edwards said. Interex paid travel expenses for leading volunteers such as Edwards, but the organization had to cut back its volunteers’ budget this year.

Budget issues prompted the Interex choice of an independent conference, according to some in the 3000 community. Joining an “HP mega-show,” as one board member called the new HP technical conference, would mean sharing revenue that is essential to Interex’s viability.

“I know from being on the board that Interex’s main income is from the conference,” ex-board member Edwards said. “Interex could have continued with HP running the conference, but they’d be in danger of HP dropping them like a hot rock. They also would have lost their worth as a user group: Pushing HP a little bit on issues.”

In the meantime, this month’s conference will marshal the remains of the 3000 community one more time. Benefits of attendance have tilted toward networking for 3000 manager and vendor — even with tech sessions like a four-hour hands-on tutorial about migration to IMAGE-workalike database Eloquence on the schedule.

Such sustained speaker spots have become rare opportunities. Chris Wong, who’s presented at many years of Interex events, said this year’s crowded schedule is changing the value of HP World. When she submitted a proposal for a two-hour SSH talk, Wong was asked to cut it short.

“Conferences like HP World can only continue to exist for non-technicals or for techies who are looking for general information that isn’t too detailed,” she said. “It’s hard to get too technical when you’ve only got an hour. There are much better places to go to learn about anything technical.”

But that networking will draw at least one 3000 manager to see his first HP World. Mike Baker, a 3000 manager at employee benefits firm AMG who’s got 20 years of MPE experience, will make his first trip to the conference, even though his company is migrating off its HP 3000.

“I’ve never been to one of these, and my friend [Michael Liska] who retired in June asked me if I could pal around with him when he goes,” he said. Baker lives near Chicago and plans to attend for a single day at his own expense. AMG’s migration will take longer than HP’s planned support life, “and there’s got to be other people there who are taking steps to keep their boxes running.”


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