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September 27, 2012

3000 Memoir Project: Jousts with IBM

The 3000 Memoir Project is a living and growing history of your community, told by the server and software that made HP's first business server a landmark, enduring success. We're introducing the Project as an except of the book to be published next year, in paper as well as e-book formats. 2013 will mark the genuine 40-year anniversary of the system, while 1974 marks the start of the user group that integrated the community pioneers.

We're looking for your stories of the first time you encountered a 3000. Call me at 512-331-0075, or send an email to the NewsWire's offices.

In this installment, the 3000 tells us of its days besting the old concepts of IBM. It earns its place as a minicomputer alternative replacing mainframes in the 1970s. It's a set of stories as told to, and told by, Paul Edwards -- a former IBM mainframe manager, US veteran, and director of several user groups. He's still working as a consultant today.

By the HP 3000

My easy magic made mainframes look hard.


Print-ExclusiveI’m not starting at my very beginning, but I sprang to life against mainframes. I’m the HP 3000 and I always have been, even after HP stopped making me in 2003. My operating system — the muscles and organs that have made companies stronger and my life much longer — has been passed down from one generation of computing to the next. My hardware bones have changed in obvious ways, like a youngster growing taller. But even when my muscles and organs were still new, and my bones hadn’t grown, I was still knocking off bigger and older mainframes. It was my time to claim a minicomputer’s place in white-coated DP shops. We didn’t call it IT then. Paul Edwards, who’s only about 30 years older than my 40-year-old spirit, was a lot of help in making my bones against IBM.

Those jousts happened in Dallas with him at my console or his head inside a cabinet. He was coming into my HP realm after four years of working with IBM’s mainframes at Frito-Lay’s headquarters, plus a bit of time tending EDS, he tells me. A mainframe guy coming onto my team. It was kind of like having a new big brother to help you stand up against those bullies of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. IBM spread FUD in the 1970s about using anything but their batch beasts. Edwards and others found my easy magic and showed it off to win me new customers. Lots of them were using System 3s, he said, until they saw me.

Back in those 1970s I was a six-foot tall box, and that didn’t even count the room I needed for my console and disks and tape drives. One of my earliest failure points back then, when HP didn’t even manufacture the drives that I used, was my two fans in the bottom of my cabinets. “They blew air across the circuit boards,” Edwards says, “because those boards were stacked horizontally.” My boards in my Series II era were three feet square. Edwards still talks about saving the removable blue nameplate from that earlier version of me, after I grew up into the better-known Series III. I had a switch panel in those early days, something Edwards used to boot up my MPE.

I should explain a bit about Paul. He was working as an HP SE after those mainframe days of his, coming into HP’s Dallas-area offices in 1976. He says he’s been working on me as well as my forebears for half his life. Considering that he’s 71, that’s unique. There aren’t many Navy pilots from the Vietnam era still working in data processing. He might be the only naval commander who can still command MPE. He’s still consulting with companies who have a hole in their tech know-how, the ones using me in 2012 without experience updating my OS, or even how to restart me.

It’s those restarts where I got to shine against IBM. Edwards says, “We’d ask the IBM guys about their mainframes, ‘What if I go unplug it?’ “ And they’d get a look that told me I was special in the late ‘70s. Those mainframe boys once got hammered by a Texas thunderstorm, Edwards says. I remember the day that storm swept in and a temp receptionist wasn’t looking out the windward window, like they usually did. The IBM boys would power down their systems to avoid a lightning strike that’d kill the power. They didn’t have the early warning that day, though.

When the power died, “I heard this wailing from the IBM guys,” Edwards tells me. “They had to call up specialists from IBM, because the power outage had destroyed their entire file system. They were there for a couple of weeks rebuilding file pointers because they didn’t have a good backup. The tech magic was its reliability and ease of use,” he says. “As far as something you could show the customers, the power fail restarts could be demonstrated. It showed the reliability of the hardware.” But I had an edge in pleasure, too.

Next time: Ease of use, compared to IBM iron

07:16 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink

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