iSeries alternative: Coulda been the 3000?
When timing tells as much as the news

Mainstream press speaks: Money makes vendors listen

Money talks, and marketing walks. (If you've heard that phrase worded a little differently, well, sometimes we pull our punches in the interest of civility.) Money talks in the computer world when it comes to defining what's obsolete. The subject came up this week in Computerworld when the magazine took a glance in print at HP's choice to add two years of basic support to its MPE/3000 business. Its columnist Frank Hayes drew good conclusions, ones that are worth translating for the 3000 experience.

On page 52 of this week's Computerworld print edition, a column examined  what obsolesence means to vendors, IT and your users. (Not everything makes it into Computerworld's print; we take that as a sign that this is important.) We were glad to see HP's extension of 3000 support  offered up as a recent example of how obsolete can change its meaning. (Frankly, we're glad to see the HP decision mentioned at all in a wide-circulation periodical. That news surfaced just days before Christmas, a time when lots of IT managers are not even in the office. More on that in our podcast Monday.)

Hayes pointed out that it's not exactly news that vendors determine obsolesence on the basis of revenues. Plainly put, if a platform is not selling as expected, it's not performing the vendor's mission: generate sales revenues and profits for shareholders. No matter what else you hear about any vendor's mission, even the old HP Way had profits and sales as the Number 1 objective for HP. That's something to remember while you estimate how much useful life your 3000 has left. Utility is your Number 1 object, not how much profit the 3000 earns for HP.

Hayes said in his column:

Vendors call something obsolete when they can no longer make money selling it. IT shops say the same thing isn't obsolete until we can no longer make money using it -- or maybe just until it no longer fits into our corporate IT architectures.

And end users, the people at their desks? Many of them believe a familiar IT system isn't obsolete until the pain involved in getting it to do what's needed is a lot greater than the pain of migrating to something new.

Still profitable, still useful, still bearable. Whose definition of obsolete is right? All of them.

So our translation: HP decided it could still make money off the 3000, for at least another couple of years, by selling support that turns a handsome profit, expenditure-wise. One rumor we heard recently had numbers of $30 million per year in support contracts, at the present rate, with only $8 million in salaries and parts to deliver HP 3000 services.

Service is the last revenue stream HP will enjoy off the 3000, and as it turns out, the HP support extension will be a good thing for the customers. There's still serious repair to be done on the systems' database, IMAGE/SQL. The LargeFiles that were created four years ago in MPE/iX 7.5 have never worked correctly, without the potential for corruption. Now there's two more years to get that fixed, although some are now asking if HP should bother. Customers just aren't using LargeFiles, perhaps because the feature didn't work.

HP makes profit off the 3000, so its service arm extends the profit side of the 3000 business. As for IT's obsolesence, many 3000 customers now face an erosion or elimination of corporate support for the server. That's not about the ecosystem, as HP told us in 2001. It's about the biggest animal in the forest: HP, and its exit from your community.

And those users? No news at all there, as Hayes said in his column. Many of the migrations underway just replicate the features and functionality of the MPE/iX applications. Many sites believe that's only a first step in the general improvement of their users' computing experience. These customers developed the will to spend their way through a migration. Improving the users' experience and the company's IT prowess will demand another shot of budgetary willpower.

Obsolesence is indeed in the eye of the beholder. Hayes advises that IT listen for the pain of the users to get a better handle on when something's obsolete. Listening is what HP tells the 3000 marketplace it's doing, too. Frankly, we would like to hear more talking from HP, especially about its plans for the 3000's source code and who will help the vendor meet its support and licensing commitments. The future for the 3000 customer is about who's staying in the ecosystem, unless you're leaving on the back of the biggest animal in your forest. Anything else you hear is just marketing.