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It’s the People, Stupid

By Scott Hirsh

We System Managers tend to be so preoccupied with keeping our HP 3000s in peak operating condition that we forget how much of a people business we’re in. Yes, there is a lot of technical knowledge to keep track of, from performance to security, from third party software issues to HP patches. But as much as we would love to be left alone to care for our beloved systems, along comes a non-technical event that rocks our cubicle.

I have recently been reminded of the damage done to our technical lives by bad decision-making and bad organizational behavior. They are a reminder that worst practices don’t always originate at the command line or the console.

One World, One Sky...One Operating System?

I received a call recently from a consultant who rambled on about helping companies with their strategic technology decisions. Some of you already know what’s coming: his specialty is the Wintel platform and he’s advising a long-time HP 3000 shop to dump their HP 3000 and migrate to a distributed Windows environment. He was calling me to request some HP 3000 caretaker services during the planned migration.

This was not the first time I had received such a call. However, in this case I knew the shop (I guessed who it was by the location). I know the people responsible for the HP 3000, and I happen to know that theirs is a stable, reliable environment. So why all of a sudden does their strategic direction involve dumping the HP 3000? Because they have a new IT Director! And the new IT Director doesn’t know diddly about the HP 3000. But he does know Wintel, and probably some kind of Unix, too. Hence, what he knows is good, what he doesn’t is not.

Is ours not the only industry where masses of people believe there can be only one true choice? I cannot for the life of me think of any product line where someone is always campaigning for one product line or brand to be the sole survivor. It’s no wonder our profession is always described as analogous to religion, where there is only one Truth.

What irritated me in this instance, and what makes this a Worst Practice, is the fact that this strategy is not based on analysis. Rather, it is based on ignorance; an ignorance of the existing platform and an ignorance of how their current HP 3000 environment has and continues to meet the requirements of their business. There has been no analysis of the costs of conversion and how the new environment will recoup these costs or provide new competitive advantages via functionality that the HP 3000 does not offer.

Technology decisions should not be based on sentiment. The HP 3000 should not be retained just because we have so many fond memories together. If it’s the right tool for the job at the right cost, it should stay. If there is a need it can’t fill, it should be supplemented by other computing platforms. If the service the HP 3000 currently provides is no longer adequate and there are no acceptable alternative HP 3000-based solutions, then it’s time to move on.

But that’s not what I’ve seen. I have seen a large retail chain hire a new CIO who tried to convert his large HP 3000 shop to mainframe (!) and fail. Mainframes are purchased, staff sent to training, conversions begun. Then things start going badly: cost overruns, staff defections, missed deadlines. New CIO leaves under pressure, and those left behind must pick up the pieces. As it happens, the HP 3000 continues to do the heavy lifting in that shop (for now).

Other shops have had similar misfires attempting to convert to Unix. Again, the “strategy” is to move to a more politically correct platform. But the flaw in this strategy is (1) one platform rules, and (2) whatever we are now is “legacy.” (As Fred White pointed out years ago, “Unix is a legacy system.”) The reality is that one platform will never be adequate for all business computing needs. Not the HP 3000, not Linux, and certainly not Windows. Heterogeneous computing is yet another price we pay for living in a free society, and the HP 3000 has a place in today’s heterogeneous data center.

Pinhead analysis has done as much damage to service levels as any technical worst practice, and that poor shop in my area is in for a rough ride.

Get Your Motor Running

Another human behavior worst practice that afflicts us as System Managers is organizational gridlock. One of the reasons I think HP 3000 shops are often branded legacy environments is the way we move at the speed of molasses. That, unfortunately, is the downside of being in a long term, stable environment. We’ve had years to develop policies, procedures and conditioned behavior whose result is resistance to change.

It is possible to move quickly but not recklessly. It is possible to anticipate change and plan for it before you are dragged along kicking and screaming. It is possible to change your thinking to seek solutions to problems, instead of using every challenge as an excuse for inaction.

If the HP 3000 community is to defend itself against the hordes from other platforms, we must show ourselves to be as dynamic and vital as the platform itself. Too many of us are on cruise control. And that, as much as anything, sets us up as victims of those who would like to convert us.

Scott Hirsh, former chairman of the SIG-SYSMAN Special Interest Group, is a partner at Precision Systems Group, an authorized HP Channel Partner which consults on HP OpenView, Maestro, Sys*Admiral and other general HP 3000 and HP 9000 automation and administration practices.

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