Covering new ground in a new
Winston Prather is going into a year which no other HP
3000 division manager has ever faced: the beginning of HPs
certain end of its relationship with the 3000 community. He faces a
major mission in the next few months in deciding what HP will do to
help the OpenMPE movement, at the same time taking on the task of
selling customers a technology many have avoided for several decades:
We spoke with Prather just two weeks after his division
announced the end of HP support for the system. Our 90-minute talk
ranged from the rationale behind the a decision which surprised many
in its timing, to Prathers second general manager job at HP for
the Telecommunications Systems Division (TSY), as well as exploring
the vendors future contributions to the HP 3000 community.
Its been a busy time, but you apparently have
more than one job to do now. How long have you been general manager
of TSY, and what is that divisions business mission? Is it
complementary in any way to the HP 3000?
Its been like nine months. A lot of the general
managers and above have done this at HP. Hey, when your boss asks you
to do something
[The business] is related to the telecommunications
infrastructure, so its a new area for me, but something
Ive always been interested in. At the moment Id say
its a bit stealth, because we havent announced any
products, kind of a startup inside HP. Its been around in a
small way for a year and a half, and then once the business plan
became a reality and HP was ready to put some money behind it,
thats when they asked me if Id like to get involved.
Its designed as a hardware solution that rides underneath
vertical telecommunications software.
Its not complementary to the 3000 at all. Its
complementary in the sense that its servers, a combination of
all sorts of different architectures. TSY is a vertical business
segment, as opposed to the 3000s more horizontal play. You
could run into a telecommunications customer who was using an HP
3000. These servers are outside the datacenter.
Is the 3000s marketing director Christine Martino
also at TSY?
She is the marketing manager there. Although it hasnt
taken a lot of her time, because shes been pretty busy with
Has working at TSY changed your job at CSY in terms of
time spent on each position?
I spend less time on the 3000 business now than I did
initially. Its not just the TSY thing, so its not as big
a change as you might be implying. Ive done other things as
well on top of my GM role at CSY. That kind of thing happens all the
time. Youve got your daytime job and additional HP task
Has TSY been getting an influx of CSY employees in the
past two months?
There has been some, but not really that many. I can count
the technical people on one hand. I dont anticipate it being
any more. There were a couple of people interested and I thought
theyd be a good fit technically. They applied for a job.
Do you think youre going to go from being CSY
manager to TSY manager full time?
I dont see that happening. The 3000 business still
requires quite a bit of my time. Its also what I enjoy doing
Are you going to be the last general manager of
Gosh, I dont know. Part of me wants to say I
hope so. But theres a negative sound to that, too.
Is CSYs performance now being measured on how many
of its customers migrate to HP platforms?
Whats important for CSY is that we take care of
customers, and make them successful. We do measure customer loyalty,
and whether they want to move, or whether they dont.
As hard as it for customers to understand, we didnt
make this announcement because its in our best interests. We
did it because we think its important for them to know
whats going on, and the fact that they need to be planning to
change. We just rolled the entire product line. It would have been
better for us to wait a year, sell those, and then make the
Why make this announcement now, just a few months after
all your new systems are finally shipping?
Once you conclude this is the right thing, I think you need
to tell customers as soon as you know. If you delay, where does that
put you on honesty and integrity scale? The feedback that Ive
gotten in the last couple of weeks from customers is they appreciate
A number of the larger deals that were in the process
theyre still buying them. Customers are buying because they
need it. If you needed it yesterday, you still need it today. This is
a strategic decision, not a tactical one.
Customers will choose conflicting responses to the
announcement. Some will want to Migrate, others Homestead. How does
HP handle the conflicts and help everyone?
I think theres a fine balance between letting customers
know what you recommend and enabling customers who choose to stay to
be successful. I intend to [enable them], but I dont want to do
that in a way that makes people think we still think thats a
good way to go.
Heres the bottom line: MPE will be around forever. And
we want to help that. This is in no way HP trying to kill MPE. We
will explore and look at all the different options to enable what
Id call the afterlife or at least the after-HP life,
Having said all that and I wish this wasnt true
I dont think its in a customers best
interest to count on the 3000 community and HP together to run your
business. Ive got CIOs calling me and saying I bet my
business on my platform strategy, so what should I do? I cannot
confidently beyond 2006 it will be a safe platform to be running your
business on. Because of that, all the things we do to enable the
afterlife will not change our recommendation that you move. If
its not alright now with HP backing the ecosystem, why do you
think it would be after that?
Are you then assuming the ecosystem has already had a
10-count, and cant get up off the mat?
I wouldnt say it quite that strongly. Theres no
trend that would make me think things might change. I cant
imagine anything that can turn around the application trend. The lack
is going to get worse over time. As much as
weve tried to turn that around, its just not going to
happen. Theyre very good solutions in the verticals weve
focused on, but once you get outside those, its just not in
What about 3000 tool vendors, the people needed by the
majority of the installed base?
The strongest part of the ecosystem is the tool vendors,
because theyre incredibly loyal. But even the tool vendors will
provide tools that help customers transition. They will only continue
to invest at the level that their business allows them. Customers are
moving, have been and the rate is increasing. With our announcement
its going to increase even more.
Some serious part of the 3000 community hasnt bought
much from HP in awhile. Why do you think so?
It speaks to the reliability of the solution. But it also
speaks to how strategic the  is. I assume theyre
investing in new IT stuff. Why arent they using the 3000 for
it? In general, our customers have been branching for a number of
years to the use of HP-UX, Netservers and some competitors. Those who
use competitors have left HP completely.
This data is more from the high-end customers than the small
customers. It could be related to the fact that HP has much more
touch with large customers. I have less visibility into the smaller
Computerworld printed a quote from you estimating
the 3000 installed base at several thousand. Did they get
was quite annoyed at that article. I didnt say the installed
base was that size, because I dont give numbers. I referred to
numbers I kept seeing printed in the past.
So the installed base is bigger than several
I would assume so. I wouldnt be in business if it
Another part of that Computerworld story said HP
told them the 3000 futures discussed at HP World were just
suggestions. Is that what you presented there?
I dont think weve ever talked about suggestions.
We try to be as honest as we can with the customers, and tell them
what were currently planning.
But I saw that brilliant slide you presented at HP World,
showing how NTs Blue Screen of Death wasnt a thing
youd have to suffer in the 3000 world. Now NT is being offered
as an alternative for the 3000, right?
Different customers will make different choices, depending
on how mission-critical your 3000 has been. Do I anticipate the
majority of customers will move to an NT environment? I dont.
But theres definitely a class of customer that will. I
exaggerated about NT in my pitch. Its getting better every day.
Relative to my expectations of an enterprise system, theyre not
Would you say the ecosystem includes the customers not
making much of an investment lately toward HP, but keeping up on
support agreements with HP and its partners?
Anybody who uses the 3000 or contributes to it is part of
the ecosystem. The erosion at the application level leads to erosion
at the customer level. Application providers want volume.
What happened to the plan to dominate selected key
verticals with 3000 applications?
That works for awhile, but even those application providers
continue to look outside the 3000.
How does this decision work for the smaller customer who
doesnt rely on application providers?
It lays out a timeframe for how long HP will be able to serve
them. Unfortunately there arent enough customers like them
committed to the 3000 for the longer term to put us in a position to
deliver that service. Theres a contingent of HP 3000 users who
need nothing from HP. Theyre going to live on long beyond
Youve had a couple of challenges now, with this and
Y2K in your tenure. Hows it feel?
Im glad it was me. To be honest, for a certain period
of time, when I realized what I thought Id have to do, part of
me said I dont want to be the one to do it. On the
other hand, I think its much more appropriate. The easy way
would have been to do something else, and let someone else make this
call. Im just as committed to the 3000 business now as I have
been forever. Its totally appropriate for me to be here and
make sure we do the right things from here on out. I intend to do
Would having support revenue flow directly to the division
have made a difference?
Not at all. Weve been measuring the business for years
across the entire value chain. We manage the entire business as a
whole, support and storage and services revenue. We try to manage for
the whole business through our profit objectives.
Did you decide that doing the IA-64 port would be a
did the estimate years ago. We looked at investing in a port that we
couldnt complete for a number of years. By the time wed
complete it, whats the state of the ecosystem? Which
applications and customers are going to be willing to do that
transition? We summed it up and said it didnt make sense. We
didnt do an ROI analysis of the port. The real issue is once
you have that port complete, will any ISVs port?
Well, if youd done IA-64 sooner, would the ISVs have
Some of them would have. Not all of them and we
couldnt get it done that quick. Even if we had IA-64 done today
and shipping today, it doesnt change the trend. It would make
it worse for ISVs, because theyd have to support multiple
Did large customers determine the fate of the system for
The large customers have provided more input as to where
we go. The makeup of our customer advisory council is not all large
customers. Its 50 to 60 percent large customers, and then we
populated it with lots of other types of customers.
You didnt talk about this decision specifically with
that Customer Advisory Council. Why not tell them you were
We hadnt really had an Advisory Council meeting since
we started thinking we were going into this decision. The council
doesnt work like that. I dont think it would be
appropriate to share that level of concern. Having that discussion
with the Advisory Council is irreversible. How do you have that
discussion with them, and then change your mind?
Will you remove the clock speed governor on the A-Class
systems to increase low-end sales in the final two years?
How we do it is irrelevant. All the customers should care
about is how much they pay for how much performance. We intend to
enhance the A-Class. Well be adding performance at the low end
and the high end. Compared to the 9x7s, the A-Class is a compelling
story today. And were selling a lot of them. Well bring
the PA-8700 to both those lines.
Did the lack of business growth after Y2K help you
recognize you werent going to be able to reverse the 3000
Y2K caused a bump in business, and it slowed down after
than more than I thought it would.
How much impact did not having the N-Class ready until
2001, but announcing it in 2000, make in that lack of pickup? Can you
see why people might not have purchased, waiting for the newer
Yes. Anytime we pre-announce were doing something it
slows down sales. We built that in before we announced it. You always
want to wait for the latest. This is something marketing people plan
all the time. I dont think it affected the trend. Its not
a decision about how many sales were making.
How about the loss of revenues to CSY as a result of the
illegal broker activities? Serious impact, or not?
I have a feeling it accelerated the decline in our revenues.
That doesnt affect the ecosystem as much as it affects HP. The
customers still bought stuff they just got it at a hot
People are talking about a hobbyists license for MPE
source code. Is this a good first step for an OpenMPE?
have no problem showing our source code to people from a hobbyist
perspective. Ive always been an advocate for sharing source
Would sharing source code hurt HP in any way?
Its not obvious to me. I tend to think not. I tend to
think that HP would not consider that harmful to us. Those customers
who would stay beyond 2006 dont buy anything from us anyway.
Is HP willing to allow MPE to move beyond the HP
HP is willing to allow MPE to live on. I dont know
anyone whos said differently.
People use Microsoft operating systems with HP hardware
today. Do you think an OpenMPE, from a third-party entity, could keep
people buying HP hardware?
Would people stay on and eventually buy some HP systems?
Probably. Is it material, financially? I dont think so. Would
we invest to make that happen? Probably not. I dont want to
stop MPE from living beyond HP, but the return on investment
wouldnt be worth it for us.
How soon do you think have to make a decision about
licensing MPE to parties outside HP?
I dont feel the need to hurry, other than I know in the
chat rooms theres a lot of discussion about it. It comes back
to my feeling that, yes, I want to enable afterlife. But it
doesnt change my recommendation. If I think the majority of my
major accounts and maybe some medium and small accounts
need to do something different than [use HP 3000s], then whats
the hurry? Whats the difference between announcing this type of
enablement in January versus waiting six months?
Because every day you delay, HPs infrastructure to
assist an OpenMPE movement decays. Engineers are leaving. One them in
your division has said the decision needed to be made soon. What
You have to make sure everything that you need to do
before turning over MPE has been done. I have no problem with that
kind of urgency. Were talking about the difference between
making the decision a week from now versus six months from now.
dont feel theres that much difference. I dont think
its a two-year effort to do what wed need to do to
implement some form of Open Source. But were still learning
what that takes.
I want to make sure we do the right thing, and we do it
right. Making a snap decision to do something has historically never
worked out to be a good thing for me. I dont want to say
something that makes a customer think they dont need to
Im trying to do whats right, not satisfy a few
people posting in the chat rooms. Maybe what they want us to say is
the right thing. But until were confident of that, I dont
think its the right thing to do.
Are you ready to take the needs of much smaller customers
into account on this decision?
Absolutely. But if youre the customer who wants the
one neck to choke, the huge corporation behind you, I think
youll think twice about running your business on a platform not
backed by a major vendor. Most of our big customers are in that camp.
Huge corporations are not about to go with it.
the other hand there are customers who dont buy support at all.
That end of the spectrum are the ones that would benefit most.
What about goodwill HP derives from helping them? Some say
they will drop HP altogether because HP walked away from the
I think thats a very emotional reaction. Id like
to think that because weve helped them over all these years,
that means something. Id also like to think a company
thats trying to be honest means something. I know we have to
keep earning it. I dont think our competition would be as
Some of the emotional reaction that has happened has bothered
me. I hope once they spend a little time thinking about it, they
realize were not abandoning them. Its true, the platform
wont be around forever, at least not from us.
Can the 3000 community survive without HPs
participation? Will there be a 3000 community beyond HP?
Yes, absolutely. Its all a matter of what you mean by
survive. Will people use the HP 3000 beyond 2006? Absolutely. Look at
MPE V and other proprietary platforms. I need mission-critical
customers to understand my recommendation, even if they dont
end up on an HP platform. I owe to the companies using this platform
to make sure their businesses are safe in the long run.
There will be some community that exists. Its a matter
of how the 3000 will be used, what level of mission criticality. I
dont think theres anything HP could do to kill it, and we
would never want to. From my perspective personally, gosh, I would
never do anything to do that. I think I would make sure HP
didnt, either. HP would have no motivation to do that. We think
the opposite: we want to do everything we can to help customers, even
if its a small subset of them.