The conference halls loom all around me here at the HP Technology Forum. Hundreds and hundreds — and hundreds — of yards in the Mandalay Bay complex spread out under my feet, the bright polished marble underneath, while the occassional casino-resort signs overhead beckon, leading along very long hallways: Events Center. North Convention Center. South Convention Center. Shark Reef.
No kidding. The Mandalay's signature attraction, other than the riches promised in the casino, is a shark exhibit. (Insert your own joke here.) The scale of the facility is vast, large enough to match the reach of the world's Number One IT supplier. The last time I walked this far between meeting rooms, however, the facility was ghastly: Detroit's Cobo Hall during the Interex 1986 show. (Back when the user group event was not tied so close as to be called HP World.) To be certain, that event — where the delay of PA-RISC was the top topic — was not organized with the military precision of the 2007 Tech Forum.
But it's been a twisty beginning to my 23rd North American HP user conference. The only way I can find the meeting room for my series of interviews is to enlist the aid of a kindly Mandalay Bay security cop. I am grateful enough to call him my guide dog. He replies with a grin that he has a doberman at home, but found the meeting room among a warren of them, hidden in a deep passage just on the other side of the staff break rooms.
Encompass president Nina Buik told me a few months ago that the user group was glad to have improved its curb appeal with a Las Vegas show. There are miles and miles of those curbs to walk along this week. The last time an HP conference for users was held in this town, the legendary Sands casino was still standing and Ronald Reagan was still president. Twenty years later a new mountain range of casino-resorts has risen in the hundred-degree town, poking up spires like so many HP business groups, built on the bedrock of the Compaq merger.
On a rack in one of the Mandalay's wide lobbies — so wide that a semi truck can pass unfettered — a stand of adhesive badges sparkles. RIBBONS, the display says. The array of small squares stamped with silver letters lays out the known future for an HP customer or prospect. From the CP of Channel Partner to the DSPP of a registered developer to the marginal marriage of "Windows on HP," each of these squares can be tacked under a name badge.
Alas, to no one's surprise, no "MPE/iX" ribbons. PA-RISC holds on, but has its days numbered, two decades after the world demanded its arrival in Detroit. This is a conference which looks to a new future with HP, instead of the past, or an ongoing tomorrow without the vendor. HP 3000 community members are coming here to make plans for something new from HP, or hear from fellow vendors and experts about how to make better use of something else from Hewlett-Packard.
A fellow does have to wonder why that ribbon rack offers both "UNIX/Linux" and "HP-UX" ribbons, especially in light of the questions HP continues to field: How long will you support HP-UX? How long will you enhance the company's most advanced enterprise operating environment? (More advanced, at least, among those HP still sells.) Is there a future in UNIX for the HP customer that doesn't include HP-UX?
Content here would suggest no. Today's pre-conference sessions include an all-day of training on HP-UX from the guru of that OS, Bill Hassell. $500 for the morning and afternoon, after which the HP CEO takes the stage for a half hour or so. Once Mark Hurd speaks, Ann Livermore follows, as she has followed another CEO, Carly Fiorina. Carly is long gone from the cast of HP players here. But assembled in such a mighty edifice as the Mandalay, Fiorina's empire never loomed larger.