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June 06, 2014

A Long Time in Passing

TimpassingIt's very late spring here at my house, and that means our basketball ardor is at its zenith. This year my beloved San Antonio Spurs are already playing in the championship round. The NBA calls this The Finals. But for the last seven years, there's been nothing final about the Spurs' work to win a title. Each year the organization, as they like to call the coaches, managers and players that comprise the team, seems to make a serious Drive for Five after four previous championships. Their last championship was in 2007 -- or in the middle of HP's first "wait a minute" two-year extension of its 3000 business.

Over the past three years, though, analysts in the sports community have tried to write off the Spurs as too old to compete at the highest level. Tim Duncan, Spurs superstar and Hall of Famer in waiting, is about as old as a Series II HP 3000. Unlike that CISC model of server, Tim's gotten better with age, more crafty with the minutes he plays in what's clearly the last act of his career. The former monster scorer has become a passer.

By his side on the court, two other stars play, to make up the Spurs' Big Three. Everybody's got a Big Three now in basketball, from the Celtics to the Miami Heat. The Spurs were the first. Their other stars are as old as a Series III (Manu Ginobilli) and Tony Parker, a younger man, but as old as a Series 68.

One of my first assignments in journalism was as sports editor. I covered five prep school districts and wrote a lot of stories about boys and girls who were 13-18 years old. There was plenty of drama and heroics. What I learned back then was that age didn't matter, if you had the right coach and you were focused enough to learn how your skills could shape each game. Del Coryover was a star at 15 in Leander, carrying the football for a couple of touchdowns a night. Nobody told him he was not the right age to fly past bigger defenders.

So it seems, sometimes, for HP 3000 installations begun in the 1980s. Like those Spurs stars, these servers and the pros who manage them just keep coming back for more work. On the ABC network, they've taken to calling the Big Three and their legendary coach Gregg Popovich "The Same 'Ol Spurs," with affection by now. Their continued championship relevance, over a stretch of time that goes back to before there were A-Class and N-Class servers, has earned them respect. They are not flashy. Nobody pounds their chest and screams to the rafters after a monster dunk, or a back-door cut, or dropped-bomb three-pointer, or the blocked shot -- although they perform all of these nightly.

 

Last night they played badly, under brutal conditions. The AC failed in their homecourt at the ATT Center, and in that 90-degree indoor swelter they failed to pass crisply. Miami stole the basketball like bloodhounds after loose pork chops. But the Spurs play their bench men often, and in crunch time, too. It's a full-team approach, instead of superstars like cloud servers and Oracle databases. They survived on reliability last night, counting on the fact that fresh players make better plays. What makes the 3000 great is what makes the Spurs great: consistency, the clockwork-like execution that happens from hundreds of hours of practice, all laid down upon a bedrock of team-first strategy. They practice passing "from good shot to great shot."

As one example of delicious good to great dependability, consider something called the outlet pass in basketball. You probably never heard of it because it's fundamental. Tim has been re-coached by Coach Pop, as he's called, to use stunning talent to make these offense-sparking plays perfect and extraordinary. At their best, they can be the long-bomb touchdowns of basketball. For the basketball geek, the YouTube video embedded here gives you a taste of these Duncan veggies, whizzing the ball down-court to make the sizzle happen at the other end.

How is it possible that the outlet pass -- or a bank shot, one of Tim's mainstay plays -- still works wonders in the modern NBA? He does these things as a trademark that's earned him an un-flashy nickname: The Big Fundamental. When sports analysts are agog at the success of a bank shot -- first performed in the 1950s -- I think of the consultant who observed companies using the equivalent of the bank shot, PowerHouse.

"I am amazed to know that Powerhouse is still running on any platform," Bob Kaminski said, after Unicom bought the product and worked to revive it. As a young employee with the vendor he said, "I started with Quiz, Quick and QTP in 1983-84. Sold it, until I left Cognos in 1989. It was great then, and I assume is still a great tool."

But this passing year means more for the Spurs, and perhaps more for the 3000, than many others before. This season is one of redemption for the team, having seen that Fifth title slip away last year with 28 seconds left to play. It was a gut-punch few other teams could recover from, losing like that. The team responded by leading the league in wins during the next regular season, and now returning to The Finals to gain their revenge -- as well as their respect. Tim Duncan is in the twilight of his career, just like HP's hardware that runs MPE/iX is running out of time.

There's a future for the operating system, the brand of computing that's as extraordinary as the selfless, ball-sharing approach Coach Pop teaches. In the Spurs locker room there's a hungry young star named Kawahi Leonard, gifted with speed and wingspan and intelligence that make him the next generation of The Big Fundamental.

And in your HP 3000 community there is CHARON, the HPA/3000 emulator that will sail higher and faster than any iron HP could ever design. Kawahi needs a coach of the caliber of Pop. CHARON needs coaching that should remind people of Harry Sterling, the last HP general manager who practiced the fundamentals of computer product management. Push the technology to something better like N-Class servers. Be selfless about your own HP future, because the customers matter more than your career. 

When there's a Kawahi around, a Coach Pop tends to emerge. It might take awhile for them to find one another, and in the meantime there are pronouncements about how the star will never amount to championship material. Or a product won't make a mark on the market.

It's a long season for host-based servers, though. While IBM sells off its low-end server business, while Dell crawls into the services space and downplays its iron, the concept of managing an MPE machine yourself is still alive out there. It's pounding the ball up and down the court and looking for its leader, the one who will take a revitalized MPE platform and score. Not so that a lot of people will see and notice. But for a group of companies who are as small as any TV marketplace in San Antonio, it matters because it's history, carried out every day. 

The Big Three and Coach Pop and the Spurs are passing -- both in the sense that they share the ball in their 10-man community of players, and they are working toward that final act of their careers. But it's been a long time in passing, their retirements. Some here in Texas say that even at advanced ages, the Big Three could hang around for another season, challenge for another title. Anything in life that hangs on longer than predicted, and remains productive and relevant and unique while it does, should be applauded and cheered. Those are the sounds coming from my living room this month, while we watch a legend extend days and nights of excellence.

And if it takes any team even longer than expected to make its passing -- while it remains essential -- what a gift, for those of us who love the fundamentals.

08:23 PM in History, Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink

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