An Extra Helping of MPE
Steve Suraci hungers for a place at the table where the
3000s future is being dished out. The president of Pivital
Solutions, Suraci led his company into a new spot during 2003 as an
authorized HP 3000 reseller. The effort came less than a year before
HP ended its sales of the computer. Pivital was taking advantage of
an opening in the 3000s sales channel, but the company was also
eyeing opportunity in the support market while it sold some of the
last of HPs new 3000s.
Pivital sold those 3000s from a heritage of providing
ERP and manufacturing solutions to the community, starting as
GrowthPower application consultants and then becoming a support
resource for the ERP customer. The company took on its 3000 resale
mission as a means to become a nationally-focused firm. Suraci and
Pivital showed an appetite for the 3000s future over the past
year, a moxie that seemed to suggest the systems useful life is
not as fettered as some believe.
It may have been such promise that prompted Suraci to
run for an OpenMPE board seat this spring. When the votes were
counted hed joined the group of directors which hopes to
steward MPE/iX in the years after HP leaves the 3000 market. Suraci
founded Pivital in 1991 and made the company his full-time venture in
1995, but his HP 3000 career goes back far enough to begin with
managing applications on a Series 42 Classic HP 3000. We wanted to
know what this newest OpenMPE board member thinks the organization
can aspire to, what the end game of new 3000 sales looked like, and
what the prospects for third parties might become. We spoke in the
weeks just before the OpenMPE election.
Why did you run for the board of OpenMPE?
OpenMPE is the best chance were going to get at a
real homesteading solution, one that will last. As much as wed
like to say that OpenMPE wasnt being honest with the users, and
HP isnt working quick enough, you have to admit that HP holds
all the cards. Were the ones trying to get something out of
them that they dont want to give up.
Do you think the non-disclosure agreement OpenMPE has
signed with HP is in the best interests of the negotiations over MPE
source code release?
The reality is that the NDA is critical. HP is making some
very high-level decisions, and theyve got a lot of legal issues
to address. If they do give in on this, its still a major win
for OpenMPE. OpenMPE has got nothing if it doesnt have the
rights to MPE. If the NDA is part of the terms HP is dictating at
this point, OpenMPE has to live within those terms.
Can the clock run out for OpenMPEs
OpenMPEs time will come for those who wait. There is
no doubt in my mind that HP will let the product go on completely
unmanaged. The fact remains that the threat of litigation will
eventually outweigh the profitability of the product. Then OpenMPE
will be in the drivers seat. HP will need to hand off the
product to just such an organization to avoid the inevitable
HP is telling customers that risks will build by staying
on the 3000. Do you think the risks will escalate for customers who
rely on an HP thats cutting back on 3000 staffing?
Its hard to say from an HP standpoint what their
direction is going to be regarding staffing. It appears as if more of
the feet on the street for HP have limited MPE knowledge. Some of
them dont even know what an MPE system is. That would be a
major concern to a customer.
Over time, if the trend thats going on right now
continues with HP support, HP customers are going to move off the
platform. For the customer that stays over time, I think theres
going to be dwindling commitment on HPs part. Theyll be
staffing fewer and fewer people.
How has the support business changed for Pivital in the
Our organization has grown into one that really is the
primary gist of our business. We only do 3000 stuff now. Were
still supporting the GrowthPower application on the 3000 side, and
some stuff with MANMAN. But that portion of our business hasnt
grown much in the last few years. Its about 30 percent of our
business, and the 70 percent is from 3000-generic services and
intend to be there for customers. As long as theres 3000
customers, well be there supporting them. The support business
has been going along very well for us in the last several months,
once we got through the last exceptions that had been made for the
last 3000 sales.
Did being an HP authorized reseller in 2003 help you
ramp up a 3000 support business?
really made us focus as a national company. When we got the reseller
agreement we took heart that we could be a national company. There
was no reason why we couldnt take the service people we were
using regionally and add to that team to become a national
organization. Last year we were well-represented at events like the
Solutions Symposiums, CAMUS, and Ecometrys user conference. We
tried to get the word out and advertise that we were a national
player. Two or three years ago if youd asked someone who
Pivital Solutions was, theyd have no idea, unless they were in
the GrowthPower or MANMAN space.
What was the end of HP authorized 3000 sales like for
sold five or six servers in the end run, during the last month or so.
From a dollar revenue standpoint it proved valuable to have continued
as a reseller. But at the end there was a lot more competition, and
competition from HP itself.
Have you encountered situations where youre now
competing with HP for support business?
percent of the time when we have opportunities to sell support, our
primary competitor is HP. Thats not a knock on anybody else out
there trying to sell support. The reality is we rarely run into each
Frankly, the customers were dealing with at this
point arent calling us for no reason. Theyve got some
preconceived notion about why theyd go third party. We are
still a much higher risk than sticking with HP, but the customers
have made a decision before picking up the phone: cost-wise, or
service level-wise, they are dissatisfied with HP.
Why do you think youre a higher risk than HP right
Well, its not just us, or anybody else in the third
party support field. We all have great engineers that can probably
solve any problem. But we still dont have access to MPE source
code. As a result, we absolutely are a much bigger risk. Can we find
workarounds? Almost always. We havent run into a situation yet
where we havent been able to get a customer back up and
From a customers view, if Im doing a couple
billion dollars a year through my HP 3000, and I walk into my
CEOs office and tell him, Pivital is on the job,
theyll say, Who? When he hears HP is on the
job, he doesnt have that same perception. When he thinks
of HP, its in a much different light than the guy in the IT
department whos probably dissatisfied with the level of
Its not a liability in that we cant provide the
same level of service; we do, and in a lot of cases we probably do a
better job at it. Because all that we do is the HP 3000.
How much business in support has become available?
saw a lot of hesitation from customers before end of sales. They
werent sold on the fact that they werent going to have
the HP safety net available to them. Look at how much 9x7 support HP
is doing even now. Getting the customers to make the first commitment
was the hard part. Now, a lot of the hesitation is starting to go
Why is that?
HPs finished with most of its system shipments,
although Im sure they havent finished filling the State
Farm order they got at the end of sales. Rumor had it that State
Farms order was about 140 servers. But to 3000 customers, HP
seems more determined to leave the 3000 market.
Did HPs extension of its support for 6.5 make a
difference to your business or the marketplace?
They did us a huge favor with that announcement. They said
theyre not fixing problems with 6.5, but theyll keep
charging customers for support. If theres a problem,
theyll have the customers go out and get MPE/iX 7.0. From our
standpoint, we give that letter to our customers. Its a selling
point for us. They just leveled the playing field for the vast
majority of customers.