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November, 2005

Technology Forum convenes expertise at HP's expense

First HP-led show evokes HP World comparisons

The first HP Technology Forum delivered a splashy opening act inside the mammoth Orange County Convention Center in Orlando. HP’s leader of the Technology Solutions Group assured attendees that nothing was changing about HP’s strategy. But Ann Livermore delivered her keynote to an audience brimming with HP employees, one whose user group component was made up of Encompass and OpenView Forum members, rather than the familiar faces of HP 3000 community volunteers.

About 700 HP Americas presales employees attended out of a total just short of 4,000. Conference organizers said about one third of attendees were customers.

Much about the conference felt just like the Interex conferences of years past, however. An HP executive spoke after being introduced by the presidents of user groups. Breakout sessions followed immediately, including a standing-room-only talk on the futures of the HP Integrity server lineup, systems that represent the future of HP’s enterprise offerings and HP-UX platforms.

HP’s Ric Lewis delivered high-detail talks about processing power and configurations with all the unerring high-octane focus of former 3000 division marketing expert Dave Snow. HP presentations showed the vendor is utterly convinced Itanium will provide a stable platform in the marketplace in the years to come. Market adoption by other vendors has ceased to be a discussion topic, because Integrity servers now make up about one-third of HP’s server revenues. One slide in Lewis’ great presentation, delivered just on the edge of non-disclosure, came directly from Intel.

By lunchtime it was apparent that the Interex show experience had been cloned forward. But there were some differences to be noted which illustrate how close the partnership is between HP and the two user groups helping with this event.

The speaker lineup for this show was three-fourths HP employees. Huge banners across the front of the conference hall indicate that the major participants went well beyond the Encompass and OpenView Forum user groups. “HP Americas Presales” had its own banner, illustrated with its own close-up of the typical well-scrubbed 30-something model that HP employs in its advertising and PowerPoint slides. HP put its momentum behind the show to draw attendees. One top-level HP Certified Professional reported that any CP who already had a certificate could have that cert extended for one year simply by attending the show. No test was required, he said.

This conference was ripe with technical instruction, but all of it focused on HP’s products. The opportunity to learn about third-party solutions was greatest at the Technology Exchange, the conference’s show floor, for the most part, a floor with about 80 vendors including HP 3000 suppliers Speedware, Transoft, Quest Software and Genisys.

HP’s David Booth, Senior VP of the US section of the Technology Solutions Group at HP, was noted as a sponsor on a par with the user groups present. The show floor is generating revenue for the user groups, which used SmithBucklin to organize the exhibition hall — and top-dollar travel agency Martz to stand at the information booths and direct traffic around the hall. HP World might have had Interex staff doing some of that work.

HP World got invoked in a presentation by HP’s security expert and CTO Tony Redmond, when he showed slides that he said were last presented in Chicago at HP World 2004. And some things didn’t change much during the keynotes, introduced with dance club tempo music and iPod-commercial style actors on a bank of five giant screens behind the stage. After a Katrina reference admitting that “Mother Nature certainly didn’t make it any easier for any of us to get here,” Livermore told the crowd not to expect any change to HP’s course.

“Here’s the big announcement,” Livermore said, looking fit after a kidney transplant this summer. “There isn’t going to be a big announcement. We’re not going to do a fundamental shift of our strategy. You aren’t going to see us spin off any of our businesses. Frankly, we’re happy with our current strategy. Our approach is going to remain consistent. We’re going to collaborate with our customers, collaborate with our partners.”

The word partners was invoked about every two minutes in the conference. The concept of partners even was used to describe customers like the long-time OpenVMS users who gathered in the OpenVMS SIG meeting after a lunch of pork tenderloin and baked chicken served buffet-style, served on plates that must be washed rather than tossed. In that meeting room with about 60 attendees, the oldest vets of the Encompass user group planned for the future and took notes on what they could improve about their conference.

Take away the tech specifics, and an attendee could have walked into a room at an Interex SIG with grey-bearded 3000 vets talking MPE. The similarities ran right down to sullen speeches from the back of the room about how HP ought to be selling the VMS solution better.

Looking into the future is part of the user conference mission. Looking back at better times is another habit of customers who use the vendor’s most established solution. Some in the room were not worried about the vendor’s attention to OpenVMS. After all, these users already have a hobbyist’s license to use, so the technical expertise is growing in the volunteer community aside from HP labs. But a couple of customers had concerns, too.

John Donavan of Nielsen Media Research told some colleagues, “Our CEO says VMS is dead here, but we’ve got so much of it at [corporate parent] VNU it’s not going anywhere.” And Dale Lobb of the BryanLGH Medical Center said that his shop’s OpenVMS server count is dwindling, from a high of 12 down to two.

“Please tell your HP rep to stress the number of applications available for VMS,” he said. Marketing a mature solution seemed to present the same kind of challenges that HP 3000 customers saw in the years leading to HP’s announcement of discontinuance.

Migrations covered with grace

HP, its partners and customers dispensed migration advice on the last full day of the HP Tech Forum, including a forecast from HP’s David Parsons on what to expect in future versions of this conference: An appropriate level of tension between user group members and HP rather than the entertaining all-out scraps of the past.

The migration counsel rolled out early on Wednesday, when an 8 AM session delivered user reports from a quartet of customers about migrations in play or completed. Summit Information Systems VP Dick Drollinger gave a report on the vendor’s move of 52 HP 3000 sites (so far) to an HP-UX version of its Spectrum credit union application.

Another 3000 ISV, Softvoyage, told about its transfer of much of its customer base to HP-UX. The company’s Christian Scott said that his travel agency customers’ IT shops have been advised to use Taricon’s Xi-Batch and Xi-Text to reproduce the 3000’s batch and scripting capabilities on Unix.

Batch represents the biggest challenge in migrations, according to MB Foster’s Birket Foster. VESoft’s Streamx functionality, the job scheduling part of Security/3000, has been recovered by AMXW, a Speedware tool which was invoked often during the day’s migration advisories.

Speedware’s Chris Koppe said his company provides his migration customers with scripts written for AMXW which mimic some of the StreamX job scheduling abilities. John MacLerran, an IT systems analyst from Idaho State University, was looking for a replacement for the Streamx job stream programming language as the university moves off its Powerhouse-based applications by the end of next year.

MacLerran, whose university just approved hardware and software purchases to begin its migration, wanted assurance that AMXW handles Unix commands gracefully.

The question of graceful handling came up later in the day, when Parsons talked in an interview about the prospects of the Technology Forum being able to handle the high-tension kind of exchanges between HP and users which marked many Interex conferences of the past. Parsons said HP didn’t have any contention with the Interex user base, but didn’t see eye-to-eye with the group’s for-profit management model.

As for the emotional speeches delivered at microphones to HP managers on panels, Parsons, the VP of Enterprise Marketing for HP Americas, said he wants the conference to air less gloves-off combat.

“You have some people who loved coming to the Interex shows like going to a hockey game,” Parsons said. “They go because they love to see the fights. It’s just not a hockey game. For those people who want to go see a hockey game and see the fight, that’s not what we’re going to be about. People who want to see a hockey game minus the extra-curricular stuff are going to have a good experience.”

Parsons said HP wants the Technical Forum to include feedback to HP, but in a tone more appropriate to business. “There’s a constructive way to raise issues. We’re going to create many opportunities for our customers to continue to have a dialog to raise issues in a civil way. Not that it was uncivil before. If people feel a need to get more negative and vocal about it, that just means we’ve failed somewhere else, because we haven’t provided a channel. It’s not unlike the balance of power in government,” he said. “As long as we maintain that equilibrium, we think it’s a great partnership.”

The heavy share of HP speakers at the conference may not need adjustment, Parsons added. It will depend on the reviews of the conference content by attendees. HP, he said, did its best to encourage the 3000 speakers set for HP World to bring their talks to Orlando and HP’s event.

“There was a lot of work done to completely open the invitation to the Interex folks,” he said. “I’d be shocked to find out there was anybody who had a legitimate topic, which wasn’t already covered, who weren’t given the opportunity to speak.”

Migration speakers at this year’s conference ran close to the company’s list of partners. While speakers were candid about problems during migrations, Drollinger, Thompson, Koppe and Foster all have partnerships with the vendor, Thompson’s as an ISV linked to Speedware’s 4GL and migration products.

Bob Lewandowski of ASAP Software stepped in to fill a slot on the migration user panel, and said that 3000 apps which are built to retrieve data record by record from IMAGE databases have to be re-engineered when choosing a SQL Server solution. “You can’t really get there in a port,” he said. “You definitely have to do some engineering.” Speakers like Drollinger, who used Marxmeier’s Eloquence database instead, simply converted databases without revising their apps’ data access.

Advice which emerged from the migration audience — about 35 attended the morning and afternoon sessions — sometimes flowed from the ISV community, too. John Shick, a developer from healthcare ISV Amisys, said that he trains himself on Unix by reading the HP-UX man documentation pages, “and Google,” he offered during the morning session.

Shick added that the difficulty so far in his company’s migration has been “getting used to Oracle” and learning the new HP-UX environment,” rather than adjustments to a new programming language. Amisys used the HP-UX versions of Powerhouse in its first version of Amisys Advance.

“It was all fairly smooth,” he said. “It was just a matter of making sure we successfully converted millions of lines of code from the 3000 to the 9000 environment.”

But the humor and candor were never far from the surface of the day’s advice. When MacLerran asked the migration panel how they communicated the change away from the 3000 to their users, Drollinger was ready with a joke. “We just blamed HP for everything,” he said, sparking a outburst of laughter. HP’s timing on its discontinuance announcement happened just after Summit had met with its customers. “Six more months would have been just right for us,” he said, since the company had begun to create an HP-UX version of their app in 1999 for credit unions which had mandates to be on “open systems, when they didn’t really understand what an open system was.”

Summit is making its customers migrate away from their application by the end of June, 2007, “or they’ll be on their own,” Drollinger added. He expects about 20 to 30 of the company’s customers will “be struggling on giving up the pacifier,” not migrated as HP’s end of 2006 deadline expires.

The coming months should bring a major upswing in migration activity, according to HP’s Migration Center manager Alvina Nishimoto.

“The majority have some sort of plan by now,” she said. “It’s going to be a little bit of a panic now, as people start to wake up the fact. The ones that are waiting the longest are the packaged app folks, because they do think it’s going to be faster [to move to a packaged app]. It’s faster, but they still have all their surround code, and they don’t necessarily think of the implications of the surround code.”


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