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February 01, 2017

Wayback Wednesday: The 3000's e-Moment

SnowWithBezelIn the waning days before the Year 2000, the HP 3000 was running behind popular labels. The position was nothing new to the server and its fans. Hardly anyone outside of the MPE community knew about the computer and its legacy across the final 25 years of the 20th Century. For many years it didn't matter that the computer ran in the shadows of IBM big iron, Unix dot-com servers, and Windows PCs. The 3000 performed without problems and delivered impressive returns on investments in the HP iron.

But as far as the world outside the community could tell, the HP 3000 had little to do with the Internet. Once Y2K's survival mission was in the industry's rear-view mirror, HP decided to do something about the shadows around MPE/iX. In the prior decade MPE became MPE/iX to show the world the 3000 knew a bit about Unix. In February of 2000 HP rebranded the computer as the HPe3000, dropping that lowercase vowel in the middle of a name that hadn't changed in 27 years.

E3000Label-0002A vowel is an easy thing to add to a product. The Internet, not so. Engineers across the community, eventually those inside HP, worked between 1996 and 1999 to bolt on elements like a Web server, DNS software, Unix mainstays like bind, and more. The server was already working on the Web in spots like the e-commerce shops of Hickory Farms and Brookstone retailers. Despite the larger profile of well-known customers like M&M Mars, using the 3000 on the Internet was a secret weapon.

A new name was proposed to change that. HP Product Planning Manager for 3000s Doug Snow brought the idea to division GM Harry Sterling in 1999. By early the next year the entire server lineup had been re-branded. The new server bezels, both those for the standard cabinets as well as racked 3000s, wore a new badge. The name change story extended to our offices as well. The publisher of the NewsWire became known by a new name. Dottie Lentz became Abby Lentz to the world after I spread the news about a name as nascent as the 3000's Internet abilities.

Our publisher's name in every issue since 1995 had been Dottie Lentz. She'd earned her stripes in publishing since 1982 using that first name and never gave a thought to any other. She'd been Dottie since 1948. During those years while the 3000 was earning its Internet abilities, though, she gathered a new name. In her circles at yoga retreats she called herself Abby. She played the lead in a high school play using the name. My yoga name, she called it. I took that name change, and in an editorial alongside the news of e3000, compared hers to HP's re-naming.

Change can be a good magnet for attention, especially changing something as fundamental as a name. While watching the HP 3000 division change the name of its product, I thought of my wife and partner in the NewsWire. To the many people in the 3000 market — er, I mean the e3000 market — she’s known as Dottie Lentz. But some people know her by a different first name, one that represents new ideals and ideas.

The women in my wife’s yoga and healing community know her as Abby, a name she’s long admired. Sometime last year she decided she’d like people who know her in these personal realms to call her by this new name. She didn’t go to the courthouse and have a judge attest to her new name. She simply began to wrap it around her like so much new attire, a glad-rag that represents the changes she intends to make in her life, her heart, and her soul.

For her oldest friends, the change has been a struggle at times. This week one of them introduced her by her new first name. A few minutes later in the meeting he called her Dottie. And while my wife had brought business cards to the meeting with her old name, she had to explain why she was being called by the new one as well.

The lesson seems to be that a name change can draw attention, not only to who you are, but to who you want to become. When Dottie—er, Abby—explains her new name, she talks about goals of fitness, harmony, and creativity. Changing your name can be a sign of commitment to a new future. I expect that the 3000 division will be doing that same kind of explaining this year, especially to its oldest friends.

The complications that rose up for Abby were nothing like the 3000's Internet growing pains. Advertisers called her in those days, and after reading her re-naming story they wanted to call her by her nouveau name. Just like Snow and those who loved the 3000 wanted to call the server the e3000, she answered the phone by one name and left the calls using Abby.

That's where the stories begin to diverge. HPe3000 was the last effort to put the 3000 in a new orbit. Abby was just the beginning of my Dottie's ascent.

The HPe3000 arrived with a lineup of servers that was already running with 12-year-old base technology. The new speed champ was a Series 997 10-CPU system selling for $311,000 without discs and tape backup. One year later the ultimate-generation 3000s, using a new PCI system bus, finally gave the servers a un-numbered name. A 3000 was an A-Class or an N-Class by 2001, but on the day the e3000 made its debut, every model had at least four digits in its name.

AbbyLentz_YogaPose_300dpiAbby Lentz used her name to become a yoga pioneer, if you can forgive the viewpoint of her biggest fan. Search Google for Abby Lentz and she hogs the first three pages of Google results, right down to a credit in TV Guide. She named her concept HeavyWeight Yoga, because it was most of a decade before body-positive and curvy this-or-that became yoga brands.

Screen Shot 2017-02-02 at 6.16.46 PMDottie Lentzes are out there as well, but those Dotties don't have three DVDs produced, TV and radio and newspaper and magazine credits. Abby's a person who led overweight and obese people to yoga long before the practice was as cool as it is today.

In contrast, HP's 3000 marketing manager Christine Martino said the re-naming of the 3000 was meant to make the server less boring. Not exactly pioneer stuff, that strategy.

Martino said HP’s objective in renaming the system is “to really help people take notice of the 3000 again.” New print advertising including the new brand is being scheduled for what HP calls its “solution-based” publications, those focusing on vertical markets such as healthcare and e-commerce. The installed base will get a mailing of a special coupon book containing discounts from software partners related to the e3000’s launch. And HP came to its press briefing with new data on penetration in credit union and 911 dispatch industries which show the e3000 as a leader.

“We’re not making it a key player in the Internet space; our customers and partners are doing it already,” Martino said. “It’s all of the boring stuff behind the dot-com stuff that’s necessary to have a viable solution."

It's tempting to say that one re-name was part of a launch that's still in orbit; Abby's yoga videos are streamed via Vimeo today as well as shipped from Amazon by the thousands each year. The HPe3000 iron is shipped from one customer to another today, or via brokers, in numbers nobody can track in total. The server isn't often connected to the Internet, although from time to time we see customers who use the DNS naming and IP address improvements to better network the computer. A few customers call it e3000.

The changes HP made in its 3000 software for its e-branding have been vital in keeping the server useful for homesteaders. While the HP iron has a few advantages in those ultimate models, Intel-based virtual servers running Stromasys Charon have the edge in futures. Nobody will ever stamp out another PA-RISC chip. Boxes like ProLiant servers and ever faster iron will continue to use Charon to lift MPE/iX performance beyond HP's 2003 levels.

Could the 3000 have survived this long without its e-features? The installed base had more success with that e than HP did. Less than two years after the e-rollout, Martino was pivoting on HP's message to explain that Hewlett-Packard judged the HPe3000 had a fatally flawed ecosystem. The new vowel didn't impress enough new customers to suit HP's accountants. For the springtime that led off the 3000's fourth decade, though, it appeared that naming something old with a trending letter could help the 3000 stretch and breathe—those yoga keystones—toward a future as laudable as its past.

05:56 PM in History | Permalink

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