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February 14, 2018

Wayback Wednesday: An Armload of Value

Snow with A-ClassOn a February afternoon in a Silicon Valley of 2001, the HP 3000 realized its highest order of invention. The PA-RISC processors had been powering the server for more than 13 years, and HP was working on the next generation of systems. Y2K was already one year into the rear view mirror and the lineup needed a refresh. HP responded by giving the customers a server they could carry under their arms.

The first A-Class model of what HP called the e3000 came into the meeting room of the Interex Solutions Symposium under Dave Snow's arm. The audience was developers, software company owners, and the most ardent of 3000 customers. The box was the realization of a low-cost dream about the 3000s. The installed base had been hoping for hardware that could keep the 3000 even with the Intel-based hardware powering the Windows business alternatives.

Snow was a little out of breath as he came to the front of the meeting room in the Sunnyvale hotel. He set the 3.5-inch-high server down and caught the eyes of people in the crowd, lusting for the computer. "No," he said, "this one is already spoken for in the labs." Like in the older days of Hewlett-Packard, the company created a tool its own engineers wanted to use. He said the computer was the result of a challenge from a customer the year before: "bring a 3000 into the Chicago HP World show you could carry under your arm. It's a portable computer, although it does weigh a bit."

A-ClassCPUsThe A-Class systems cost thousands less per year to support than the Series 9x8 and 9x7s they replaced. HP told resellers A-Class support would be $415-$621 a month for systems running up to 65 percent faster than the older models. But HP also horsepower-throttled the servers in a move to preserve value for the most costly servers already in the market. The HP-UX version of the A-Class was more than twice as fast.

Snow borrowed one of the few that were testing-ready from HP's MPE/iX labs on that day. In a movie of 5 minutes, Snow leads a tour of the advantages the new design offered over the 9x9 and 99x 3000s. HP pulled the covers and cabinet doors off to show internal hardware design.

HP introduced the speedier N-Class systems just a few months later, and so the market had its ultimate generation of Hewlett-Packard hardware for MPE/iX. The 2001 introduction of the A-Class—a computer that sells today for under $1,500 in some price lists—was part of the reason for the whiplash when HP called off its 3000 futures just 9 months after that February day. When the Chicago HP World closed in that summer, it was the last expo where HP's slides showed a future of more innovations.

These 14-year-old systems have been eclipsed by the Intel hardware, but running a virtualization system. The Stromasys Charon HPA is running MPE/iX production applications on servers even smaller than that A-Class. HP had the idea of making its computers smaller. It was up to the virtualization concept to make them both smaller and faster.

07:16 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink

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