Firing shots, five years later
HP's fourth quarter blasts profit records

On Watch at the Watershed

It's taken five long years, but it looks like Hewlett-Packard has finally assembled a solution for turning away from HP 3000 systems. There are always going to be companies and customers who cannot afford much change in their environments, if any at all. But for a portion of the market which can spend to improve their IT services, the time appears to have arrived to make a move.

Five years ago, and for nearly every year afterward, we would pose a question to our readers and the HP partners: Why would you want to migrate, or move away from HP 3000s? Now that we've seen the presentations and the proposals for the first chipsets to truly trump PA-RISC, and a version of Unix that delivers economy and flexbility along with all the change it demands, we are prepared to turn our question of the past five years on its head. Now we want to know why a customer would not want to move on to something newer, faster, designed as well as the HP 3000, albeit very differently.

We can anticipate the answers to our turnabout (some might say turncoat) question. Many of the community's customers who cannot move off a system with a great history cannot afford to go anywhere. The value of the 3000, set for a 5-10 year lifecycle and with an integrated design to keep things running smooth — well, no company is offering such a computer, abreast of the latest standards and omnipresent applications. No company but IBM, anyway. So unless your company is ready to switch systems suppliers, or add more spending to your IBM budget, or enter the churning waters of the Windows experience, it looks like HP-UX and HP's new entry-level and midrange 3600 and 6600 Integrity servers are your best future bet.

I came away from the half-day of HP's Integrity Solutions road show impressed. The hardware is now inexpensive as a capital cost, though the price tags for iron and OS are now among the smallest parts of an IT investment. Power consumption and software licenses, as well as support, have far outstripped the old way of adding up what an environment costs.

(No solution is cheaper than remaining in a non-spending situation, of course. The longer you can delay the cost of change — keeping a close watch at the watershed for when the waters run against your path — the more prudent your spending appears when you must spend at last to survive.)

It's hard to express the admiration and confidence I have in the homesteading community. Although it's now being outnumbered nearly two to one by the HP shops moving, scheduling and staffing a move or already operating an HP-UX, Linux or Windows environment, the Homestead — as I coined the term five years ago this month — will never become a ghost town. As long as change remains an expense item which a company needs to debate, then the homesteader will always have company enough to maintain a working HP 3000. Some very big companies will still be pumping billions of dollars though their 3000s five years further down the way from today's watershed.

Montecito, the overdue generaton of Itanium, opened the gates of conversion for me. Itanium is complex and so very, very different from the rest of the 64-bit world, and that will keep it from becoming the household name that HP wished for its Intel partnership project. However, HP is the second biggest computer company in the world — we don't count the billions of dollars in ink and paper as computer business, sorry. And if Number Two puts its faith in Integrity, like I have now seen many HP engineers, managers and their customers do, well, who are we to say that we know for certain that ship will founder, to fall short of HP and Intel's needs.

We all know why HP needs HP-UX to succeed, and why Intel needs Itanium processors to persist. Profit, put plainly. Each represents a product the vendor considers unique, something which might command a higher margin than the rice-paper earnings from billions of pieces of photo paper and inks HP never discounts, and the millions of "Intel Inside" processors. Every Itanium 2 which Intel sells can claim to be faster than an Opteron, without dispute. You cannot settle such an argument among anyone except people who would understand how to compare these orange groves with the apple orchards. Perhaps to a little dismay from this fellow who learned about IT in the Reagan era, those people are not in charge of very many IT budgets anymore.

Over the next several weeks we will talk, in what might seem like a lot of words, about how the future proposal of change has changed since HP dealt its surprise hand in 2001. Homestead skills are always going to have an audience and a need, as well as advocates as long as those of us around and beyond 50 years of age work in this field. Transition, however, is a path which very few HP 3000 customers can avoid. "It's a matter of when, not if," we've heard the gravediggers say about the 3000 community's upcoming change.

We have a corollary to that statement, having seen HP finally make sense of its Adaptive Enterprise, deliver the virtualization promised a dozen years ago to 3000 users, and at last power up a computer that can blow the doors off the biggest 3000 at a serious discount in capital cost.

Our corollary to the diggers' when-not-if is, "It was only a matter of time before HP got the migration options right. So long as they didn't give up, or get assimilated, of course." Those options were far from right in 2001, or for several years after that. Now we don't hear only from the 3000 giants about their moves, but from little companies who see value in difference that delivers options and flexibility. We'll tell you what we've heard in rooms of less than 50 people in two HP conferences in the Houston area during the past two months, but we want to hear your story as well. The spin zone rarely sets up along a watershed — a word defined thusly at

(noun) An important point of division or transition between two phases or conditions

Bring an able hardware successor to market. Offer its operating environment with new power to offset the differences your customers must scale. Then then do all you can to swell up the value to draw customers across the divide. HP now shows all the right signs of doing this well enough to keep your career safe if you must move.

Here at The NewsWire office we will bring in our first hardware systems capable of running Windows this month, as well as our first install of a Microsoft Windows environment. Not because we don't believe in our version of the 3000 group, Apple; our steps into a the world of the common (computer) word will be under the shield of an Intel Core Duo-based MacBook Pro, a half-inch thick laptop three times as powerful as our two tower Macs combined. We're adding that element of what is common to the rest of the world to our capability toolbelt, with its differences to be used only in cases where our proven tools are not being served by the rest of the world. We think that's a sensible mantra for our time, an era in the world's lifespan when working together, across differences, is a crucial effort for the common good.