Conference cranks up
HP CEO cuts to the questions

HP's show features different players, same agenda

The very first HP Technology Forum delivered a splashy first act inside the mammoth Orange County Convention Center here in Orlando. HP's leader of the Technology Solutions Group assured about 3,600 attendees that nothing was changing about HP's strategy. But Ann Livermore delivered her keynote to an audience brimming with HP employees, one whose user group component was made up of Encompass and OpenView Forum members rather than the familiar faces of HP 3000 community volunteers.

There has been much about this conference that feels just like the Interex conferences of years past, however. An HP executive spoke after being introduced by the presidents of user groups. Breakout sessions followed immediately, including a standing-room-only talk on the futures of the HP Integrity server lineup, systems that represent the future of HP's enterprise offerings and HP-UX platforms.

Ric Lewis delivered "feeds and speeds," as they call the high-detail talks about processing power and configurations, with all the unerring high-octane focus of former CSY marketing expert Dave Snow. HP is utterly convinced that Itanium will provide a stable platform in the marketplace in the years to come. Market adoption by other vendors has ceased to be a discussion topic, because Integrity servers now make up about one-third of HP's server revenues. One slide in Lewis' great presentation, delivered just on the edge of non-disclosure, came directly from Intel.

By lunchtime I could believe that the Interex show experience had been cloned forward, even if that user group didn't survive. But there were some differences to be noted which show how close the partnership truly is between HP and the two user groups helping with this event.

We noted yesterday that the speaker lineup for this show is three-fourths HP speakers. Huge banners across the front of the conference hall indicate that the major participants go well beyond the Encompass and OpenView Forum user groups. "HP Americas Presales" has its own banner, illustrated with its own close-up of a well-scrubbed 30-something model that HP employs in its advertising and PowerPoint slides. HP has put its momentum behind the show to draw attendees. One top-level HP Certified Professional reports that any CP who already had a certificate could have that cert extended for one year simply by attending the show. No test was required, he said.

The roots of the Technology Forum lie in the Digital user community, which has followed new parent vendors from Compaq and then on to HP to attend a training show once a year. This conference is ripe with technical instruction, but all of it is on HP's products. The opportunity to learn about third-party solutions is limited to the Technology Exchange, the conference's show floor, for the most part, a floor with about 80 vendors including HP 3000 suppliers Speedware, Transoft, Quest Software and Genisys.

Not that there's anything wrong with that HP-only focus in the talks. It's just very different from the experience of years past. HP's David Booth, Senior VP of the US section of the Technology Solutions Group at HP, was noted as a sponsor on a par with the user groups present. The show floor is generating revenue for the user groups, which have SmithBucklin to organize the exhibition hall — and top-dollar travel agency Martz to stand at the information booths and direct traffic around the hall. HP World might have had Interex staff doing some of that work.

HP World got invoked in a presentation by HP's security expert and CTO Tony Redmond, when he showed slides that he said were last presented in Chicago at HP World 2004. And some things didn't change much during the keynotes, introduced with dance club tempo music and iPod-commercial style actors on a bank of five giant screens behind the stage. After a Katrina reference admitting that "Mother Nature certainly didn't make it any easier for any of us to get here," Livermore told the crowd not to expect any change to HP's course.

"Here's the big announcement," Livermore said, looking fit after a kidney transplant this summer. "There isn't going to be a big announcement. We're not going to do a fundamental shift of our strategy. You aren't going to see us spin off any of our businesses. Frankly, we're happy with our current strategy. Our approach is going to remain consistent. We're going to collaborate with our customers, collaborate with our partners."

Partners is a term invoked about every two minutes in a meeting like this. The concept of partners even gets used to describe customers like the long-time OpenVMS users who gathered in the OpenVMS SIG meeting after a lunch of pork tenderloin and baked chicken served buffet-style on plates which must be washed rather than tossed. In that meeting room with about 60 attendees, the oldest vets of this user group planned for the future and took notes on what they could improve about their conference. Take away the tech specifics and you could have walked into a room at an Interex SIG with grey-bearded 3000 vets talking MPE. The similarities ran right down to the sullen speeches from the back of the room about how HP ought to be selling the VMS solution better.

Looking into the future is part of the user conference mission. Looking back at better times is another habit of customers who use the vendor's most established solution. Some in the room were not worried about the vendor's attention to OpenVMS. After all, these users already have a hobbyist's license to use, so the technical expertise is growing in the volunteer community aside from HP labs. But a couple of customers had concerns, too.

John Donavan of Nielsen Media Research told some colleagues, "Our CEO says VMS is dead here, but we've got so much of it at [corporate parent] VNU it's not going anywhere." And Dale Lobb of the BryanLGH Medical Center said that his shop's OpenVMS server count is dwindling, from a high of 12 down to two. "Please tell your HP rep to stress the number of applications available for VMS," he said. Marketing a mature solution seemed to present the same kind of challenges that HP 3000 customers saw in the years leading to HP's announcement of discontinuance.