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March 19, 2015

TBT: First 3000 priced at one million dollars

922-980The highest price for any HP 3000 rolled into your community 25 years ago this month. HP announced its biggest system ever, a computer with designs of competing with IBM mainframes. Not many technical details were available in the New York City rollout, but one had everybody looking skyward. Here on a Throwback Thursday, we chronicle the Series 980 with two processors that would cost $1,090,000.

Big Ticket 3000HP could have priced the system at $100,000 less, but why bother? A million dollars was part of the point. Its target was not really the 3000 customer who'd built their IT operations on servers that cost less than half of the 980/200. Hewlett-Packard hoped the fastest PA-RISC system that it'd ever designed could displace some of the multi-million-dollar systems IBM had been selling for more than a decade, probably even 20 years.

One-million-dollarsOh, there was mention of upgrading to the big box from the Series 950 systems, the first computers from HP's MPE/XL RISC era that were actually fast enough to power through a very green operating system's overhead. No upgrade pricing was available at the 980's announcement, though. The specifications of the biggest server seem quaint compared the computing of today. You could put a full gigabtye — yes, 1 GB — into a million-dollar HP 3000. And storage? Wow, a full 85 GB, using the newest Fiber Optic linked drives. 

The drives would be extra, and so that full-bore storage would top out at about the capacity of three thumb drives of today. Yes, a whole $67.40 worth at Walmart. HP had another deal, VPlus Windows for PC-based application screen services, and NewWave System Services, at no extra charge. Programmers had to translate their existing application forms file into a PC forms file for use on the PC. A PC running the mostly-stable Windows 3.0.

There was genuine and durable innovation coming out of HP in that month of March. The world's first DAT tape drives were being shipped. Backup would never be the same. "The tapes, the size of a credit card, are intended to adopt the middle ground between quarter-inch tape and nine-track tape drives."

Far below the stratosphere of that million-dollar 3000, HP was actually shipping -- instead of just announcing -- the Series 922 for $35,000 for a 24-user box. The 922 could be configured to support almost three times as many users, without a significant increase in performance, at double the pricing.

Twenty-five years ago this month, the era of user-based pricing cleanups began for the 3000, as its creators pressed the pedal to the metal trying to scrape all available dollars off the table. Unix systems were being sold without user license controls, at least at the operating system level. Database makers like Oracle were cleaning up on user licenses, but at least the suppliers of the systems were not reaching that deep.

In due time -- well, perhaps 7 more years -- Windows-based servers became alternatives with business-caliber reliability, sold without user license limits. The 3000 labored under such pricing schemes while its competition did not. It was old-school strategy to make an operating environment more costly whenever it was used by more employees at a customer site. The user-based strategy permitted HP to publish its entry-level prices for a 3000 at a new low, while the top end cost 31 times more.

With the more than nine months delay of a delivery date for its million-dollar 3000, HP was introducing your community to the legendary lag that DEC and IBM customers already knew well. "Indeed," I wrote in my editorial that month, "there's a joke which tells that an IBM salesman can be easily identified on his wedding night; he's the one who sits at the edge of the bed and tells his bride how memorable the evening will be, rather than making those memories with her."

08:06 PM in History | Permalink

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