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December 20, 2017

Replacement hardware archives key context

Wayback Wednesday

The replacement hardware arrived in a box that fit inside my mailbox. We bought a jumbo-sized mailbox in 1993, one big enough to let the industry trade journals lie flat on its floor. In those days our community relied on big tabloid publications to keep abreast of the future. Today the pages are digital and needing paper for news is fading fast.

MD RecorderThe Minidisc MZ-R50 showed up in great working order, a replacement for the recorder that logged my interviews in the rowdy and roiling days of the 3000's Transition Era. The Minidisc is late '90s tech that can arrive by way of US Mail. A Series 929 wouldn't fit in any cardboard box with padding. That server is 104 pounds of a 2-foot by 18-inch unit that's 22 inches high. UPS could pull it off a truck, though.

My 1997 MZ-R50 has the same age as a Series 997, and like the 3000 server, the hardware has unlocked access to archival information. You buy these things to replace failed hardware, or sometimes for parts. Only the battery had failed on the R50. That's a component likely to be dead on old 3000s, too.

I plucked a Minidisc at random to test my new unit and found an interview about how Interex decided to put distance between itself and Hewlett-Packard. I wrote about the change in the relationship in 2004, but just a fraction of the interview made it into the NewsWire.

The thing about archival data is it can grow more valuable over time. Context is something that evolves as history rolls on. In the late summer of 2004 it wasn't obvious that Interex was overplaying its hand, reaching for a risk to sell the value of a vendor-specific user group. HP told the group's board of directors that user group support was going to be very different in 2005. The reaction to the news sealed the fate of the group. It began with a survey, shifted to a staff recommendation, and ended up as a board decision.

The recorded 2004 interview now puts those views and choices in context. You'll care about this if you ever need a user group, wonder how your enterprise vendor will support customers' desires, or hope to understand how corporate resources influence partnerships.

The key interview quote that made its way into our "HP World stands at brink of changes" report was a line from then-board president Denys Beauchemin. “We’re not competing with HP,” Beauchemin said about HP World 2005. “HP’s going to be there next year. HP will scale back drastically.” The scaling back was a correct assessment. The competition turned out to change everything.

The demise of a 31-year-old user group might seem like an inevitability from a 2017 perspective. Connect is the user group serving anyone in the HP Enterprise market today. It's joined by the small CAMUS user society, the same one that discussed and uncovered the strategy to get beyond the year 2027 with MPE/iX. Membership in both groups is free. Back in 2004 those were $99 memberships, with thousands to count on.

The rescued recording from that chat with Beauchemin gave me context a-plenty to absorb.

What HP said is they have four user group events to go to next year. They're trying to cut back. They're trying to do an HP-produced show and invited user groups to attend.

HP aimed to replace its spending on user group-run HP shows with one event. Cutting back was always going to happen in the plan. Interex got notice a year before it collapsed that HP's spending was going to drop.

If we decide to do our own thing, then HP will be at HP World in San Francisco — but it would not be with the same presence they had in the past. No huge booth. They will scale back drastically. They would sponsor and endorse HP World. It's not like they're yanking the rug out from under us, not at all.

There was no rug-pulling. The deck of the Good Ship User Expo Floor was tilting hard, though. HP said it was going to do enough of a show to let user groups will share revenues from an HP Expo “to support and sustain those organizations," adding that "The user groups’ charters are not to drive revenue and profit, but to train end-users in a way that the groups can recover costs.”

The revenue and profit was the charter of any Interex show. An organization with teeth needs to be fed. Now Interex had a competitor: the vendor at its own heart. Customers and vendors had a choice to make about conferences.

They respect the independence of Interex. They really like the advocacy survey and all of the other stuff we do— which is very much in keeping with our screaming at HP, but in a nice way.

The screaming was customer communication that dated back to the 1980s. A management roundtable was a publicity and customer relations minefield starting in the 1990s. Interex considered itself an advocacy group first. The engine of its enterprises, though, was booth sales for its annual expo.

If we were to go with HP in their mega-event, the impact would be in terms of the independence of third party folks we could have at the show. 

The archival recording off my replacement hardware took note of the kinds of vendors who'd never make it onto an HP-run expo floor. Competitors in systems, in storage, in services. Interex needed those prospects to fill up a healthy show floor.

To his credit, Beauchemin and the board recognized HP was essential to the conference's survival. 

If HP were to say it wasn’t interested in going to San Francisco in 2005, then we would have an issue. They haven't said they'd do that. HP is trying to cut back on the number of events they go to — especially the ones that are not in their control.

The group used this decision process about control: First, survey members about moving closer to HP and giving up independence—and learning that 55 percent favored that move. Then the user group staff got a shot at developing a recommendation about staying independent or ceding control of the conference to HP. Finally, the board took a vote based on that recommendation. There was a short timeframe to decide.

HP World 2004 is fast approaching. We need a story to tell about HP World 2005.

It's easy to see, in the context of 2017, that a user group staff would recommend staying on a course to keep projects and jobs in group control. It's hard to see how a board would vote to oppose any recommendation of joining with HP. So there was an approval to stay at a distance from HP. Cutting across the desires of any organization's managers is tough. What turned out to be just as hard was finding enough revenue to keep the organization alive.

The exhibitors and community leaders who helped found the group already saw a show that focused elsewhere. The fate of HP World had more impact on the 3000 customers who are leaving the platform than those who staying to homestead.

“It’s all focused on migration,” said Terry Floyd of the ERP support company the Support Group. “I expect that a lot of the 3000 people at HP World will be looking for HP 9000 solutions. We’re sending someone to talk to partners on the Unix and Integrity side.”

Pursuing a bigger relationship with partners who competed with HP had a huge cost. It was a risk that the group couldn't afford by the next year. One of the most senior members of the 3000 community said the end was in sight for Interex.

“HP would rather not spend another dime on something that has no future with them,” Olav Kappert said. “It will first be SIG-IMAGE, then other HP 3000 SIGs will follow. Somewhere in between, maybe even Interex will disappear.”

10:40 PM in Homesteading, Migration, News Outta HP, Newsmakers | Permalink

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