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October 2002

What’s to Hide?

HP tells Interex to bar press from 3000 Roundtable; meeting covers prospects to extend HP’s support of system

[Publisher’s Note: We have many social and business contracts that we observe automatically every day: what side of the road we drive on, stopping at red lights, hours of business operation. With our readers, we agree each month to deliver information that concerns the 3000 both as a product and as a community. In return, we expect you to read our publication, pay your invoice and mention us to Sponsors that you may contact. Well outside of our contract was to have some of you stand up for us at HP World in LA.

Reporting news is our job, not being news — but when Interex staff barred all press from attending the e3000 Roundtable, it was you, our readers, that made the difference and enabled our editor to stay in the room. While Interex staff had a moveable mountain of a security guard instructed outside the door to “remove that man,” many of you were inside standing up for freedom of the press. You deemed the flow of honest, independent news more important then continuing with your questions to the HP panel.

Members in the meeting spoke out in protest and support, and the right thing was done: the press was admitted and allowed to stay to do its job. Readers stood up representing all of you who could not be there, so that you can read the following independent report on the e3000 Roundtable.

Our thanks to you all. More than ever, we appreciate your readership.]

Inside HP’s e3000 Management Roundtable, the vendor acknowledged it will work to provide support for the HP 3000 beyond 2006 to customers in the US on an exception basis. HP also explained why it turned down offers to sell off the 3000 business last fall.

The support statement from Bob Floyd of HP Services Americas Customer Support was one of the few eye-openers in a meeting scheduled for 8 o’clock on the morning after HP World’s hospitality suite parties. In addition to Floyd, general manager of Service Delivery Operations, the panel included HP e3000 business manager Dave Wilde, Jim Calton of HP’s Enterprise Systems Operations to address migration issues, Loretta Li Sevilla from the 3000’s marketing team, and 3000 R&D manager Ross MacDonald. Birket Foster of Platinum Migration partner MB Foster served as moderator.

Floyd responded to a query from Duane Percox, one of the founders of QSS, which sells and supports an HP 3000 K-12 administration package for US school systems. Percox, whose 3000 app supplier was one of 19 which HP had noted the day before as planning to move to other HP platforms, said there’s a category of customers who won’t be able to migrate by 2006 because of their business decisions.

“They just can’t marshal the forces to make the actual migration,” Percox said. “In discussions with other ISVs, we think it could be as long as two additional years. There really is a need to extend that support under an HP-managed program.”

Floyd said that the more extensive HP support resources inside the US make extension of support for the 3000 a possibility.

“We understand that, and we will not support it globally because we don’t have a presence in all countries,” he said. “However, in the US we do have critical mass, and we can do some things we can’t do in other countries. We can make some exceptions to that — and we can do some things on an exception basis to extend the support life of the product, but not on a broad basis.”

Floyd added that HP needs to consider the availability of technical expertise in deciding on the exceptions.

“I don’t see any reason why we couldn’t probably extend that,” he said. But HP Support “makes a one-time buy of parts to support that product” once HP sets a date to end its support. “Today we have enough parts, based on the history of the product and the failure rate, to last us through 2006.” Consuming all these parts by 2006 means HP won’t have the parts to provide extended support.

One additional, expanding source of parts will be the 3000s retired by customers as they move up to newer models, or shift to other computers. For customers to get extra years of support, “There are exceptions we will entertain,” Floyd said.

Wilde, as leader of HP’s business operations, said the extension of support shows “we’d like to work towards addressing these needs. It’s a matter of what we commit to, versus what we try to do. I hope that our comments up here, and the announcements we’ve made, speak to what has up to now been a fair amount of frustration.”

HP announced the day before the roundtable that it will enable licensing of MPE for an Intel-based 3000 hardware emulator, including the creation of new MPE licenses. Other OpenMPE initiatives which HP is supporting include distributing patches for certain releases of MPE/iX beyond 2006 and making HP documentation available outside HP Web sites, if needed. HP is also investigating the role that one or more third-party partners might play in providing HP 3000 support beyond 2006.

HP’s intentions and efforts

A customer asked the panel when he could expect HP to make promises more firm than those “subject to change” announcements made at the prior day’s OpenMPE meeting. Wilde replied that HP needs to move forward with less formal promises to provide the extra resources which its homesteading customers and lengthy migrators need.

“The more we have to say things in terms of legal agreements, the harder it’s going to be for us to do those things,” Wilde said. “There’s a tradeoff between trying to signal intent so we can move forward, and the other extreme of a legal agreement. That’s going to make it harder to move forward on those things.”

“If you start getting into signing things, you have to have all the details worked out,” he explained. “That’s the tradeoff we face. It’s not to be wishy-washy, or to leave ourselves an out. It’s to make forward progress faster, and do it in a way that doesn’t leave us or you in an awkward spot.”

Wilde also addressed HP’s decision to decline the business offers of last fall to buy the 3000 operations outright. “I wouldn’t say the discussions got to the point where there were very concrete proposals,” he said. “People made a high-level case about why their organization might be interested.

“We concluded that was a direction we were not interested in pursuing at that time. We felt and we feel very committed to continuing to stay in the product business, continuing to execute our roadmap. We’re very interested in moving forward with our partners to involve them in various parts of the business. Looking out here I see Michael [Marxmeier, owner of the Eloquence database], as well as Client Systems and Phoenix Systems in terms of the remarketed systems area.”

Wilde admitted that people feel the right thing for HP to do would be to sell the business and have somebody pick it up, “and there are some segments of the business where that would be the right answer. But with our business priorities of working hard to retain customers, [selling the business] wasn’t something that would be a good use of our time.”

Floyd added that HP feels from a support perspective “we have more capabilities than any of our partners, from an overall standpoint and an escalation standpoint. We will have that in place as we get closer to 2006.”

Wilde said that HP talked about the issue with its partners and ISVs and large enterprise accounts. “We got a lot of feedback that HP should stay in the business for the next several years, and not selling off the business,” he said.

Bar the door

The Interex attempt to bar the press from the meeting was a result of a direct request from HP, according to the user group’s Executive Director Ron Evans. “We did this for HP in exchange for a favor they did for us,” he said the day before the management roundtable. “I can’t get my editors in there, either.”

Ken Sletten, an Interex leader of a Special Interest Group and this year’s co-winner of HP’s e3000 Contributor Award, said the no-press policy needs to go.

“We need to nip this in the bud,” he said. “It shows a total lack of awareness of the sense of the MPE community by whatever current ‘senior HP manager’ it was that came up with this ‘brilliant’ back-room plan. Any of us could have quickly educated them on what an astoundingly dumb move this was — both on HP’s part for asking in the first place, and on Interex’s part for agreeing.”

Another Interex member at the conference said HP’s no-press requests might hurt the user group’s conference. “Keeping the press out of the meetings interferes with the flow of information,” said John Clogg, a system manager at Coldwater Creek. “Now that HP is in the business of killing products, maybe it has decided to kill HP World as well.”

HP’s Wilde said that the model of full access for the press “has worked well in years past.”

At press time, Interex posted a letter to its members admitting that “the press was regrettably excluded from three roundtable meetings out of 250 sessions at the request of HP’s PR organization.” The letter didn’t identify the HP PR staffers making the request, or clarify why Interex changed its access policy of more than 25 years.

The user group defended its actions at HP World by saying that full transcripts of the roundtables have been available in prior years. “Interex’s advocacy organization records, transcribes and communicates verbatim proceedings from all such roundtables to all Interex members as a matter of course, Interex felt that agreeing to HP’s request would not keep members from learning what took place.”

The user group’s board chair Bob Combs said the organization would be drafting a resolution that would admit the press to all meetings, but will require a non-disclosure agreement — preventing any reporting on the meeting — for “confidential sessions hosted by HP and/or other speakers.” Several members said such a non-disclosure agreement wouldn’t be enforceable.

Because the Interex letter was first distributed over the Internet, comment on the organization’s response was swift. Wirt Atmar, president of 3000 software supplier AICS Research and an MPE and IMAGE advocate for many years, said it’s a sign the user group is weakening its advocacy.

“This is clearly indicative of what has been a fundamental failing in Interex for the last 10-12 years,” Atmar said. “Interex is no longer a user-representative organization. Rather, it has become nothing more than a sycophant for HP.” Atmar pointed out the trademark “HP World,” used by the user group for both its show and its publication, is owned by HP.

Other user group members said the press exclusion policy appears to be flowing from the Compaq side of the new HP. Former Interex board member Greg Cagle invited readers on the Internet to look over “next week’s ETS conference, which is sponsored by the pre-merger Compaq folks. They have lots of NDA sessions — which may be why this has come up now that we are merged.”


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