August 03, 2012
Win for HP-UX's Present No Proof of Future
Over at the headquarters of HP's Business Critical Systems division, the streamers and sighs of relief float in the air this week. A court of California has ruled that Oracle must continue to do business with HP just as it always did. That threat of killing off its database for use on the Itanium systems -- as therefore, HP-UX -- was an empty one if Oracle follows the law and the ruling of a judge.
The HP 3000 had a similar close call more than once in its life. During 1993 and 1994 HP was hammering away at the core of the 3000 customer base. It used R&D managers and GMs to convince leading app vendors they'd be better served by porting to HP-UX. By the spring of '94 Adager organized a Proposition 3000 movement (like the California propositions, all numbered) complete with fine embroidered t-shirts. We wore them to the Interex Computer Management Symposium and lashed at the HP managers on hand.
Soon enough, sense seemed to prevail at HP. A revival of the tech investment began that brought out a better database, moved the system into the open source and Internet world, attracted new customers through the likes of Smith-Gardner ecommerce, and generally swung the sales meter upward. In the middle of this trend we started the NewsWire to spread the word about that year's renaissance.
But HP was a vendor with its own mission. A success in rebooting HP's 3000 business was certified by new sales, right up to the year Hewlett-Packard sounded its swan song for 3000 futures. We had won the battle with HP, but the damage was done with an internal wound. And so goes the same song for Oracle and HP-UX, and probably the future of that operating system inside HP this time. Oracle backs away with this court ruling. But this week's win delivers no proof there's a healthy future for Oracle's HP relationship. You cannot force a company to do business differently, not even if there are tens of thousands of customers who desire the same kind of love they've had for decades.The story chronicled above comes from the HP Chronicle, a newsmonthly which I helped launch in 1984 to cover all things HP. By the time this story surfaced I'd left the Chronicle to "pursue other interests," as they say about anyone who departs from a company with ideas of his own. I didn't leave with an idea about the NewsWire, but it came to my wife Abby, and then to me. I was still writing a guest column for the Chronicle when the above was printed. We saw a focused information opportunity that nobody wanted, and nobody thought would break even. Plus fresh evidence -- like that HP win this week -- that the 3000 was winning respect inside HP. Enough honor to stop the internal assault on the customer base to switch to Unix. Enough admiration to teach the Unix group how to engage with the Customer First in mind.
From the outlook of HP, however, that renaissance didn't have a future. By the late '90s new IA-64 design was becoming an engineering reality instead of swell PowerPoint slides shown to the big customers running 3000s and 9000s. HP had to decide if it would spend tens of millions of dollars to make MPE/iX ready for the latest chip design. It decided no. Then it recanted. Then the inevitable happened -- inevitable if you realize a Compaq-HP merger swung the ax on the necks of some products.
While the 3000 renaissance was rolling, and even after Y2K got beaten as soundly as Oracle did this week, the future looked bright. Especially when, like Oracle's forced march into HP's Itanium, there was a promise to bring what was by then called Itanium to the 3000 world. But forces high inside HP -- indeed, as high as Larry Ellison and Mark Hurd sit at Oracle -- didn't want a 3000 business around to compete with the newly-purchased, just as devoted, and much larger VAX-VMS lineup.
The 3000 left HP's futures. Just as surely, Oracle will leave the realm of HP-UX and Itanium, and take with it many of the very customers pumping billions in profits into HP. Support profits, mostly, since there's not a lot of new Itanium winning its way into companies. What's more, there's plenty of Itanium getting turned off, so HP's BladeServers with Linux will step in. Many blades will have nothing to do with HP.
Those of you who read me regularly on the subject of HP probably know where this is headed. "Oh, HP made a mistake then. They'll make another now. Investing in HP's Unix doesn't have a lengthy upside." I still believe all that, and I'm not alone. Some vendors are glad, however, that the FUD of Oracle and Itanium is going to have to go underground. But it's not going to go away.
It's good to have customers as well as prospects who are using HP-UX and Itanium, if that's the pulse of your profits model. But do not mistake this HP legal win for a renaissance of Itanium at Oracle. There was a time when that might have happened, but that time was back when there was no Internet, when faxes were the fastest, and when the USA Dream Team was making its basketball Olympic splash. Plenty has changed since Oracle and HP could do billions in business together without so much as a signed napkin. One of the biggest changes is that HP's old CEO, given the bum's rush by the Hewlett-Packard board, is now running an operation aimed at killing off Itanium.
Mark Hurd was such a key hire for Oracle that he had a remarkable clause in his employment agreement. We've learned from reading documents that Hurd had a provision for what might happen when Oracle purchased HP in a takeover. There's no need to go all tinpot-despot while sizing up the Oracle management chiefs. But any company that figured they could buy you up while they hired your former CEO isn't going to let one judge's ruling, plus $4 billion in damages, pull them off their windmill-tilting quest.
The drive-by shooting bystander in targeting Itanium is HP-UX, just hanging out on HP's chips and still outselling Solaris. Not Linux, though. Hewlett-Packard knows the enterprise future is Linux, too. So if you're hip-deep in HP's Unix and reading the 43-page victory announcement from the judge, enjoy it. We announced an HP renaissance about the 3000 in 1995, and it lasted six years until HP had to grow up and grow out of the operating system business. It won't take Hurd and Oracle's uber-meister Larry Ellison that long to get Itanium out of the way, even as they're discovering technical problems with new Oracle database releases for Itanium.
Those are the releases that will be court-ordered to run on what HP will call game-changing Itanium designs. However, we've heard from both inside and outside of HP that this FUD campaign of Oracle's has already landed a mortal blow to the Business Critical Systems group. Not even $4 billion in damages will offset what's going unsold, or return the top tech talent that HP's cut in its latest employment purge. The HP-UX and Itanium writing is still out there, but instead of being on the wall it's now it's in legal briefs waved in appellate courtrooms.
These 43 pages from the judge won't be enough to prove anything but Oracle violated an agreement, one struck under pressure when Mark Hurd lept to a rival overnight. Gaudy mistakes like axing the 3000, or kicking a hornet's nest in firing Hurd, come from a boardroom level at HP. The little people working magic in the labs, and the customers trying to protect investments, are the ones getting stung.
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