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March 01, 2017

Wayback Wed: Customers' Proposition 3000

Computerworld April 22


During the month of March 21 years ago, the 3000 community tried to raise a ruckus. The object of Proposition 3000 was to prod HP into making the 3000 a full citizen of the future of business computing. After only a couple of years of introduction, the new processor HP was developing with Intel looked like it would pass by the world of MPE/iX. HP and Intel dubbed the IA-64 technology the future of computing. HP had backed away from plans to make the 3000's OS run on the new chip it was calling "Tahoe."

"The company appears to be making a fundamental but flawed assumption that MPE migrations will be channeled directly into HP-UX or NT-on-HP hardware." This was enough of a crisis that application vendors were standing up at an Interex Programmer's Forum to report HP asked them to rewrite their apps for HP-UX. We launched the NewsWire with a fanfare of it promoting the HP 3000 Renaissance. Not so fast, HP's top management was saying. We set down the challenge to HP and its customers in our FlashPaper (which you can read here to recall the outrage of the moment.) In this era, NT was the name of what would become Windows Server.

Customers want these systems, and vendors believe in their superiority. But those kinds of business blessings apparently clash with HP's profit motives; that's the only reason we can fathom for threatening to force an entire installed base to migrate to HP-UX or NT. You can decide for yourself how that kind of a productivity hit will impact your company's profits.

FlashPaper headline Mar 1996This was the canary in the mine shaft, the HP debate about whether to include MPE/iX in the future of business computing systems. In 1996 the IT world was allowing HP and Intel to call Tahoe the future, because the joint project was only a couple of years old. Tahoe had not yet become Merced, and then Itanium, all the while slipping release dates and getting lapped Intel's own by x86 generation enhancements. In 1996 the future looked to be slipping away. The most alarming development was HP asking vendors to rewrite for Unix. Soon enough, a few of them did, most notably the software company that put the 3000 into the world of the Web: Ecometry.

At the meeting we learned the problem wasn't really profit at HP. At the time of the Proposition, HP was earning $600 million a year in profit on sales of $1.2 billion. The 3000 division needed more engineering hands to move MPE/iX forward, resources the company would not provide.

The protest was staged at a Bay Area Interex meeting, a setting similar to the ruckus 3000 users raised in Boston at an Interex show six years earlier. But IPROF was not the annual show attended by thousands. The Proposition 3000 name and the movement were so-named because it was the new era of California's state propositions. HP's Tony Engberg replied that he would work to get the 3000 advocates an audience with top HP officials. The hearing felt desperately needed after Ecometry's Alan Gardner laid out the future HP presented him.

“I’ve got two visions of the HP 3000,” Gardner said. “One’s a nightmare, and the other is a fantasy. The nightmare is that the 3000 is going away, while the fantasy is that HP will begin to promote the HP 3000 as the operating system choice of the world."

The March movement arose in the face of HP's slow pace of advancing the 3000. At the time the servers were on an older release of the PA-RISC designs HP first rolled out in the late 1980s. The HP 9000 was farther ahead. 3000 General Manager Harry Sterling, still new to his job, explained that rolling forward MPE/iX was taking longer than expected.

“We do not have a firm commitment yet that we can talk about in terms of an implementation on the new [Tahoe] architecture,” Sterling said. “Last year I was hoping we would, but our roll-forward has become even more complex than it was at that time. We have the current focus of getting to the PA-8000. The next thing after that is what we might do to take advantage of 64-bit architecture on that chip. Beyond that would be the use of the new Intel architecture.”

The next year HP assured 3000 customers that the architecture, being called IA-64, was on the 3000's distant horizon. Computer Systems chief Dick Watts, computer chief Rick Belluzzo and CEO Lew Platt moved out of HP's computer orbit within a few years. The items within the Proposition became a list of desires HP would not fulfill.

  • 64-bit chip commitment for the HP 3000. We heard last night they would look into it,” Kell said. “Last year we heard that they would do it.”
  • Available platforms for MPE. “One new precedent that was somewhat disturbing was when the D-class servers were introduced, they said MPE wouldn’t available for it. This is the first time a PA-RISC platform has not been available across both systems.”
  • Lead time on critical products for MPE/iX. “We’re still waiting on 32-bit ODBC drivers, and we’ve waited a long time for telnet server. DCE is still in an intermediate stage, but largely it’s still lagging behind.”
  • MPE and HP-UX cooperation. “It’s what we’re really missing. They co-exist; that was the buzzword a couple of years ago. Dogs and cats can co-exist given enough management supervision, but they won’t necessarily co-operate.”
  • Common hardware across both HP 3000s and HP 9000s, from an Open Systems Division, with MPE/iX or HP-UX as an option, both servers with robust APIs to make ISV porting of applications to MPE/iX “as trivial as any other Unix platform.”
  •  Stressing the strengths of MPE/iX, “and not its weaknesses. We don’t have to be told anymore what the 3000 can’t do, because a lot of the things we were told it can’t do it now can.

HP plans of 1997 had to be reset by a Hewlett-Packard that was acquiring Digital during 2001. Product overlap meant the larger of the two systems — VMS instead of MPE/iX — would get its road cleared to Itanium. Things had changed enough in HP's management to make the displeasure of vendors and programmers a lesser concern than product consolidation needs. Computerworld's Jai Vijayan called the Proposition "rumbling in the ranks of the old faithful." The majority of the customers didn't want to look at a proposition of no 3000s in HP's future.

 

02:15 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink

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