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How many 3000s, how long: why care?

I have answered one question over and over during the 24 years I've covered the HP 3000 marketplace: How many HP 3000s are out there? The answer has varied from decade to decade, but the query has also changed, too. The tone of the question has gone from proud (the 80s) to curious (the 90s), to dismissive (2002-2004) and more recently, hopeful.

David Evans Jr., Chief Systems Security Officer at the San Bernadino schools' Superintendent's Office, asked the question again last week, and with good reason from a 3000 shop making its migration. I answered,

Steve Cooper of Allegro, who's been in the biz forever, said at this summer's Computer History Museum symposium that he thought a minimum of 10,000 systems are now in use, perhaps up to 20,000. At its peak, the installed base was at least 100,000 — that point being before Windows had released a truly-working version.

I agree with both of his numbers and defer to his perspective, since I've only been in the market since 1984. Steve pre-dates me by 10 years.

Evans was researching the question to get data on the support viability of the HP 3000 in the years beyond 2010. HP's already said it will shut down its lab operations in 14 weeks from now. Evans explained

We know HP has posted the December, 2010 date. [Our organization] doesn’t think our migration from the HP3000 to a .NET application is going to be done by then. Our application is a home grown financial/HR and there really is no off the shelf solution that will work for a County Office of Education’s needs. Off the shelf would get us maybe 70 percent, and we’d still have to write the other 30 and make it integrate. Plus the cost factor.

So my boss was asking how many HP 3000s are still in use. Ideal is our hardware support vendor and they are saying they can support our hardware until 2015. I would think that their source of replacement parts is going to be surplus HP3000s. So how many more are their left, and at what rate will they be consumed, is the concern. And I would think the other HP 3000 support vendors, are scouring the landscape to find HP 3000s to acquire for their needs.

Shops like the ones where Evans works are commonplace, not rare holdovers. Much of this 3000 community has in-house apps doing the work of IT, and moving to off the shelf is a disappointing choice for a migration shop. Moving an app takes time to do it right, whether it's a Windows migration like the one at the San Bernadino schools or a Unix target. The HP 3000 will hold its value for these companies even as they invest in the tools and expertise to leave the platform.

At this point there's no clue about whether HP's 2010 exit deadline will be moved. But if shops like this California customer are still out there, it's easy to predict that HP will continue to write contracts which are very private in nature. These same circumstances — keeping customers mum with Confidential Disclosure Agreements while extending support beyond deadlines — were used by HP during 2005.