Tending a Steady Light for
Mike Hornsby has a longer view of the 3000s
future than HP does partly because his company has a clear
look at the computers past. Hornsby heads up Beechglen, a
company dedicated to support HP 3000 customers regardless of the
vintage of their computers. Beechglen doesnt mind who calls for
support, or what version of MPE the customers got in place. Its
answer any question from anyone, anytime approach even
extends to software and hardware outside of the HP 3000 realm, a
remarkable open door approach to support that Hornsby says his
clients have respected, despite the potential for abuse.
Its also an approach that springs from
Hornsbys roots as a Hewlett-Packard systems engineer. He served
HP 3000 customers in an era when in-person support was commonplace,
and HP SEs called to see how you were doing, not just to resolve
problems. He specialized in HP 3000 networking and performance as a
Senior Systems Engineer in HPs Cincinnati, Ohio office, then
founded Beechglen with the wife Mary Jo in 1988. He said he left HP
because the customer contact he enjoyed most was being transferred to
HPs telephone Response Center. More than 13 years later
Beechglen has a group of HP experts who team-solve problems when
needed, sporting a reputation for being able to answer almost any
3000 question. The support keeps enterprise-level sites running on
software and hardware which HP has long ago given up on.
Its that last feat which brings Hornsby to our
interview space this month, more than 60 days after HPs
announcement that its leaving the 3000 business by the end of
2006. Customers who dont march in lockstep with HPs
recommendations might be wondering who can serve their support needs
beyond that date, or even now at a better value. Beechglen is just
one of many companies making that pledge, but its one of the
largest with a deep 3000 background. We asked Hornsby how much of the
3000 customer base Beechglens experts might be able to cover
now that HP is conceding the territory, and how he views the
prospects for continuing to use the 3000 and get it supported, too.
How did you get the idea to provide an alternative to
HPs support for 3000 customers?
Beechglen evolved into support services after we
partnered with Kelly Computer Systems. At the time they were the
leading sellers of non-HP add-on memory for HP 3000 systems. We would
provide performance tuning and analysis to those sites where the
additional memory alone did not provide sufficient performance gains.
We became the path of least resistance for support questions for
these customers, and we worked out an ongoing relationship enhancing
or replacing the phone in support from HP. The support philosophy was
always to take care of the customer by providing a
phone a friend for any software related issues.
How many are you helping now?
We provide assistance for the entire HP 3000
community in a number of ways. We have a direct telephone support
service, but also provide free assistance to anyone via the 3000-L
mailing list and newsgroup, other miscellaneous newsgroups, the
Interex AnswerLine, and even at HPs ITRC forum on the Web.
Are you willing to ramp up to support a lot more
We have been in an active growth state for the past
several years. Y2K conversions and testing created many support
opportunities, and since then, many more HP 3000 and HP 9000
opportunities have developed.
What do you consider to be the special experience that
Beechglen brings to this kind of work?
Our goal is to take care of the customer, as if we
were them, knowing what we know. Our motto is anyone can call
about anything anytime. From the beginning we have realized that it
is much easier to answer a question at 2:00 AM than to cleanup after
a guess at 8:00 AM. Our support is immediate, like having a
phone a friend who can answer the question or solve the
problem more than 95percent of the time on the first call.
For example: A customer calls asking how to stop his
laser printer from switching paper trays when the first tray is
empty, because the second tray is letterhead. Our consultative answer
was, here is the escape sequence to label the trays so that the
printer knows what is in each tray. But, it is also possible to print
letterhead from the HP 3000 at no additional cost using environment
files. The elimination of preprinted forms saved them the printing
cost and the operational overhead of stocking and switching the forms.
Another example was a customer who was frustrated at
having to dial in every night to check in on a credit card upload
job. We showed her how to use a freeware e-mail client from Telemon
to e-mail her pager if the job failed. The special experience is that
we take care of our customers as if they were family.
People get concerned about the availability of hardware in
the years to come. Has it been your experience that HPs parts
supply is essential to repairing systems?
Certainly parts availability and staging is key to
providing 4-hour onsite repair. Fortunately there are many excellent
third-party service providers available. In our experience they are
just as good and in many cases better than HPs service. In just
about all cases this is their main business, and they are totally
focused on parts and service. Many of our mission critical
always on customers also have hot backup systems. With
HPs 11/14 announcement this will become more feasible for many
more HP 3000 sites.
What about patches? HP probably wont be writing many
within a few years. How could you provide support for a customer who
needed some part of MPE patched to solve a problem, if HPs not
patching them anymore?
First let me say that I have always been skeptical
about patches. To paraphrase a famous coach, three things can
happen when you patch, and two of them are bad. Our approach
has always been to be more consultative and look at the problem from
a programming prospective. Most of the time people run into bugs
because they are off the beaten path, and trying to do something the
hard way. We steer them back and find a better alternative. This
approach minimizes down time and risk of introducing newer more
We have also created some of our own patches. We had
several customers who required an extended security log in prompt, so
we created LPRESET. Some good information on these types of things
can be found in an article I wrote for Interact, MPE Debug and
We keep hearing stories about how Beechglen is more
responsive than HPs support. What kinds of service response
levels do you offer, and can you compare them to HPs?
The only type of support service we provide is
24x7x365, so that anyone can call about anything anytime.
Our pricing is still significantly less expensive than HPs 8-5
HPs phone in support is limited to very
specific, fairly closed-ended questions, related only to HP products,
and was conceived and designed at a time when the average system
manager was more of a specialist on the HP 3000. Today, the average
system manager is more of a Jack or Jill of all trades,
part time system administrator, part time network administrator, and
part time PC help center. They have many items in their to do
today list and most of them are numbered 1.
We help to offload some of those tasks, take the ball
and run with it, reporting back on the results. This is especially
effective for the kinds of tasks that are only done once in a great
while, like adding a network printer or disc array. It might take a
system administrator several hours to complete this task, whereas we
can access the system remotely, and accomplish the same task in
Is there really any further reason for a 9x7 owner to be
paying for HPs software support on their HP 3000 systems, now
that 6.0 is being removed from HPs support in October?
No, for several reasons that may also apply to other
HP 3000 models. First, software support is so expensive, so that for
many models you could buy an entire matching system with a current
license for less than one year of software support service.
Second, at this point it would be a mistake to take a
system that is working and update it for the sake of HPs
version support timetable. I would strongly recommend a strategy of
postponing updates until a specific business need requires it.
Finally, 6.5 and 7.0 have features which extend the high-end of the
HP 3000 at the cost of degraded performance for the low-end systems.
HP wants to portray the 3000 customer base choosing to
Homestead as less strategic about the way they use their 3000s. Is
that your experience among your customer base that the 3000s
arent the most important in those IT shops?
If I understand your question as: HP wants the HP
3000 base to move to other HP platforms ASAP, and those that
dont share this view are somehow strategically defective? Then
I have to disagree with that. We support both HP 3000 and HP 9000
systems and I personally made over 10,000 calls to these system
administrators in the past year. I would estimate that less than 5
percent of the remaining HP 3000 installed base would even consider
another HP platform.
Another way of saying this is: If you had a
10-year-old car that was paid for and was extremely reliable, would
you trade it in just because that model was no longer going to be
sold new? No, because the new car cant be more reliable
and for the expense you wont get any marginal benefits.
Reading strategically between the lines of HPs
11/14 announcement, one item seems very significant. Hewlett-Packard
has basically admitted that they could not justify the effort to
convert MPE/iX, IMAGE/SQL, and various subsystems to run on IA-64.
This does not bode well for other complex operating systems, DBMS,
and application packages, attempting the same migration.
My recommendation is to ride out the wave of the
coming 64-bit storm, and see where the chips eventually fall.
Meanwhile, your current HP 3000 investment will continue to pay
reliable dividends. Otherwise, customers could be faced with an
expensive initial parallel investment, immediately followed by an
equally expensive 64-bit upgrade. Another way of putting it would be
that it would be a shame to jump out of the frying pan into the fire.
Would you say that HPs continued support for IMAGE is
more essential than its 3000 support in general? Or would you
recommend that customers start looking at moving their IMAGE data
into other databases? How can third-parties step into support for the
The secret to the success of the HP 3000 has been
that IMAGE and MPE were integrated together. This provided the
ability to obtain the reliability and performance standards the HP
3000 attained. So in my view the two are inseparable.
I think youll see the remaining installed base
split into six categories:
1) Those with application packages that have
financial resources to switch to a different package: These will
switch gradually through 2006 and the switch will take a relatively
2) Those that have complex custom code that have
financial resources to switch to an application package: These will
switch to application packages through 2006 and the switch may take
3-5 years. Many HP 3000 sites are already in this phase.
3) Those that have simple custom code and budget to
convert to different platform: These will wait as long as possible
for a stable alternative.
4) Those that have no budget: These will also wait as
long as possible to choose one of the three alternatives above.
5) Those that have extremely complex applications
that were evolved over 20 years in many different generations of
programming languages: These will take years just to document what
the existing system does, and at least another 10 years to accomplish
a complete migration.
6) Those already in archival mode. The HP 3000 is for
lookup and reference purposes due to statute or policy regulations.
Overlooked is the fact that many HP 3000 applications will by law be
running well past the end of 2006.
If you could only get one more significant IMAGE enhancement
out the CSY labs, what would you hope they would do?
I would like to see many improvements to IMAGE; unfortunately
there is not enough time till December of 2003 for any enhancements
to make it into a release, then to be installed on enough systems, to
get enough patches to make the enhancements recommendable for a
production system. Keep in mind that 12/31/2003 is now closer in the
future than 12/31/2000 was in the past.
Whats your outlook on the prospects of a company
running home-grown applications on a 3000 to keep their apps on MPE,
given the Nov. 14 announcements? Is there enough help out there in
the 3000 community to let them stay successful with the 3000?
Definitely. I think youll see a major
percentage of the current HP 3000 base still in production usage well
after 2012. We still have several customers running MPE/V on a wide
variety of those models, some that have been off of HP support for
more than 10 years.