The tapes are stacked neatly in a row here at my desk, the notes piled high. After four days of reporting from the HP World show in Anaheim, I came away with a new view of the 3000's future. I heard HP managers confirm what its customers know -- that the HP 3000 is a healthy element in computing plans far into the next decade.
HP did not for a minute stop promoting its other solutions. Every time someone stopped long enough to listen, HP could be heard spouting the glory of the Internet, the promise of NT, the sales success of Unix. Customers at the show knew about these things -- the weekly trade rags are in charge of buzzwords and futures -- but many customers don't expect much from those NewCrew solutions. They do expect a lot from their HP 3000s, and they expect HP to continue to support them.
The NewCrew items were on HP's lips throughout the conference, perhaps no more plainly than during the Lew Platt/Rick Belluzzo keynote that started the show. HP's CEO and his heir-apparent shared an hour of time with their most loyal customers. And there were some Unix and NT users there, too.
While the 3000 faithful waited, HP's top two computer managers talked of the Internet, home-based businesses, information appliances and other things that motivate sales and power the engines of HP's enterprise. A few comments about the HP 3000 and Unix later, we were all left wanting for affection. It was up to the leader of the 3000 unit to deliver, later that same day.
I've been a witness to 11 previous versions of what was once called The State of the HP 3000 speeches. A few of them were exciting because HP had great new product news to deliver -- the long-awaited Spectrum systems, for example, or new low-cost 3000s. But I can't remember any speech that was designed to change minds more than Harry Sterling's presentation on that first day of the conference.
It was, in my opinion, a show-starting performance -- because it started off the hope of something more for the HP 3000. Sterling stepped up to the podium like a batter stepping into the box in the bottom of the ninth, with men on base and two outs. His customers' satisfaction had been assailed by Computerworld, then they were wooed by IBM. They sat waiting for a good reason to believe the future would be different. The customers wanted Sterling to hit one out.
He got behind in the count, sticking with early material that his customers had seen before. But in the last 20 minutes, he came through with a clean hit, statements of assurance that had to clear the fences of doubt for most of the customers on hand: Here's when we'll tell you about the Intel deal. Here's what we think we can do for 64-bit MPE/iX. Here's an ODBC solution that's ready for your Win95 needs. Here's Java, running on a 3000.
I have listened to a lot of management marketspeak over the years from HP, and Sterling's remarks were anything but that. The clear emotion came through because Harry Sterling was speaking his truth, something he believed. Sterling understood his mission was to help his customers first, and HP second.
What was remarkable about his comments was the way he drove to the heart of the matter for HP's customers. Sterling knows the 3000 is popular with the faithful, but that popularity hasn't registered with managers above him until recently. He gave the crowd a "not on my watch" assurance that the 3000 isn't fading away, and then let us know what his job really is -- keeping HP interested in the future of a system that customers already love.
"When you spend money on a 3000, you consider it an investment," Sterling said, "and we believe it is our job to protect that investment -- against changes in the marketplace, and even against changes in HP." With that statement, Sterling cast his lot with his customers.
He invited them to see IBM's HP World party, but wanted them to ask IBM questions about its ability to support business-critical systems "like they delivered information during the Olympics." This was the HP 3000 division of days past -- making sport of competitors' pitches that sail wide of the plate.
If Sterling's address was the only bright spot in the HP World week, I wouldn't have come back to this desk with a changed opinion. But up the management chain, just short of the lofty Lew & Rick show, others expressed their admiration for the 3000 and gratitude for the faithful's business. Directly above Sterling, Glenn Osaka outlined a 15-year period when the HP 3000 would be competitive. (See our Q&A in this issue for more details.) Over in the high-tech factory of processor design, Rich Sevcik pointed out that the 3000 would be due for a compiler overhaul when the PA-8000 processors were available for the system. And by the way, it would appear that the top of the PA-8000 line is going to be about three times faster than the current high end HP 3000.
What could you do with a system that's three times faster? HP has lots of ideas, based around the Internet, Java and client-server computing. But you might be a little shy about building something swell around a system without higher-level management support than the 3000 has seen in the last year. That's why having Computer Systems Organization chief Dick Watts at the management roundtable saying good things about the HP 3000 made the most difference. (Look for the Watts Q&A in our next issue, or up on the Always Online web site later this month.)
There are three components to continuing the 3000's successful run well beyond its silver anniversary next year: support from HP, technical capability and the initiative of customers. They play together like hitting, pitching and defense. I like to think that the 3000's future is a lot like the baseball diamond created in the movie "Field of Dreams." Accepted wisdom told that farmer not to build a diamond in his cornfield, but he built it and realized a dream.
Despite what you may hear, or not hear, from the trade rag weeklies or the top of HP's management, building your company's systems around the HP 3000 is the same kind of diamond. If you build those systems, HP will come around. Because in the late innings it's emotion that overcomes logic, as people reach for computer solutions that justify their faith. So long as HP continues to recognize that faith as a valuable asset, then you -- and the applications you build -- are the future of the 3000.
-- Ron Seybold