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November 18, 2011

Last Words from First Users on HP's Pullout

All this week we've been marking a tenth anniversary of HP's ill-fated decision to pull out of the 3000 community. There have been other things happening besides the remembrances. But there's little happening in the community today that has not been altered -- for better or worse -- by the Hewlett-Packard choice. We also have a package of pullout stories coming in our November print issue, along with photos from the community's first HP3000 Reunion. But we'll wrap up our Pullout Week with stories from two key community members. Jeff Kell started and maintains the HP3000-L mailing list at utc.edu, where 3000 discussions and tech tips started in the early 90s -- and remain online today. Kell was also a SIG leader while volunteering for the Interex user group.

Then there's John Wolff, an initial board member of OpenMPE who first joined HP in 1968, and then became an HP customer in 1974, and started using the 3000 in the system's Classic days -- and so has felt some of the deepest disappointment. But he still watches the company for signs of hope.

Jeff Kell: As of the mid-1990s, essentially all of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's business applications were all legacy applications on the HP 3000, having evolved from the initial roots of the student/admissions/grades/records system developed in the mid-to-late 1970s. One was a third-party Library application added in the 1980s, but still HP 3000-based. At our peak, we hosted five production HP 3000s in our server room covering administrative, academic, and library services.

Academic usage migrated first to IBM, and later Sun-Solaris/Unix, but business applications remained intact. Traditional "internet" applications (e-mail, file transfers, Gopher and later WWW, etc) grew on Solaris and later Linux.

An initial investigation into a third-party student system led to an attempted "migration" in 1997, based on a large-ish HP-9000 quad-processor system with a sizeable disk array. Dissatisfaction with the software (relative to the 3000 legacy applications) led to a delay in implementation of all but the student financial aid and accounts receivable systems. At that time we began to "fortify the foundation" of the long-term viability of the 3000 platform. We were well into MPE/iX and the Posix environment, and there appeared to be some real solidarity given these capabilities (the lack of "Internet readiness" was often used to criticize the platform).

The 2001 announcement was a knife in the back of our long-term planning and objectives, from which we never fully recovered. The original Library application (3000-based) was moved to Linux/Oracle (where it remains to date). The partial third-party student implementation on the HP 9000 was moved to Linux/Oracle -- where it too remains to date.

The remainder of the third-party student implementation was restarted anew in 2008, with additional funding/staffing/support, but implemented on Linux/Oracle (where it remains to date). Other subsidiary university business applications have been moved to Linux or Windows environments, or outsourced to hosted or cloud services, where they remain to date.

Parts of our identity management system, as well as some percentage of student records which did not survive the automated migration, remain on our HP3000; but the system is essentially running "read-only" as of this year.

We do still have a number of HP's printers. But we have never since seriously considered them as a business, instructional, or even personal computing platform anymore. Caveat emptor.

John Wolff: My HP Systems Engineer at Laaco, Ltd. was visiting us a couple of weeks before the official announcement and gave some strong hints about what was coming. So the actual announcement was not so much a shock, but rather a validation of a great disappointment.

In my opinion, 2001 was a watershed year for HP, as it began a lost decade of bad management and poor decisions. The company is still struggling with a bad Board of Directors and the seemingly endless consequences that flow from that. The agonizing studies and public review of strategic questions over a period of months, like the Personal Systems Group spin-off and the TouchPad/webOS debacle, illustrate this far better than anything I could ever say. There is nothing more destructive to a business model for employees, customers and suppliers than failures of decisiveness, of commitment and exectuion.

I began my career with HP straight out of college in 1968, when HP was widely recognized as one of the best managed companies in America. Imagine how it was to transition from a proud six-year employee into a satisfied customer for 30 years. I felt like I knew a secret: That HP was a terrific vendor with great products and strong support that was making my efforts on behalf of our company a success.

My company was primarily in the business of owning and operating private clubs when I started with Laaco in 1974. We developed a custom club system on HP 9830s, which we used until 1986.  Beginning in 1982 we started developing a new system on a Classic HP 3000/44 and started using it for production some 25 years ago. Our custom application continued to grow with continuous enhancements over the years, while the hardware was upgraded seamlessly to a Series 48, Series 58, Series 70 and finally to a PA-RISC Series 928.

Meanwhile, we reduced our exposure in the club industry from four clubs down to two as the company began moving into a different industry, self storage. Although we still have the two remaining clubs, there is little growth in that business, so we did not have to expand to faster hardware. But we did continue with our custom development, which is primarily written in Transact. I believe we hold the record (by far) for the longest use of the same platform in the private club industry, where it is typical to switch to a new system every five years, if not sooner.

Now, as I mark 37 years with our company and assess our club system strategically in relation to our corporate direction and a dominant role in the self storage sector, I find that it is time to make plans for the future. My programmer is almost 72 years old and has been with us for 29 years (another record). It does not seem realistic to go looking for another Transact programmer within the shrinking HP 3000 ecosystem. Consequently and with reluctance, we have begun evaluating a replacement system from the traditional club software offerings that run on Windows. This conversion will probably take place next summer and demote the HP 3000 to archival duty.

Finally, with the benefit of hindsight, I must say that selecting the HP 3000 30 years ago was a great decision that paid off as both a development and production platform, in spite of recent HP mistakes. I have no regrets regarding the decisions that I had control over; I can only wish that those decisions beyond my control could have been otherwise.

In 2001, I began to watch this once-great company start a decline over a period of 10 years into one of the worst-managed companies in America. I am left to wonder when HP will hit bottom and recover its sense of identity and direction. We all continue to watch hopefully.

10:16 AM in History, Homesteading, Migration, News Outta HP, User Reports | Permalink

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