Retaining 3000 value, by the letter
October 29, 2008
In recent weeks the 3000 community has heard from a new user who's discovered the HP 3000. The latest system which Paul Raulerson has been raving about to the 3000 newsgroup is a Series 918, the rock-bottom of the 3000 server line still considered modern enough to run the latest MPE/iX version. (Take a click on the block diagram at left to see the 9x8 design.)
Back in the 1990s, our good friend and ally John Burke was shopping for a personal HP 3000, something to support his 3000 consulting business. We talked when he had found a couple of systems, both used. One was a Series 917, the other a Series 918. The price tags, including IMAGE and MPE/iX, were both a bargain back in the late 1990s: $1,600 for the Series 917, $2,400 for the Series 918.
That same Series 918 system now sells, about a decade later on the used market, for $1,800. You might note that this computer which HP stopped building and selling has lost only one-fourth of its used market value over a decade. Try matching that with any other business computing system.
Retaining value has been a mantra of the 3000 community ever since it formed up 34 years ago. Systems built and during the 1980s are still running and working. A 14-year-old computer like the Series 918 is a relative newcomer — and more importantly, a system which can utilize the most current version of the MPE/iX operating system and IMAGE database.
Some say that this retention of value mantra was a death knell for HP's 3000 business. Not for the server, but HP's business. How much has HP forgotten about its system? Not so much that you cannot find an HP hosting an HP Labs article from the Hewlett-Packard Journal, circa 1995, touting "A Low Cost, High Performance Multiuser Business Server System." (Go ahead, download it from HP.)
Or if someday HP removes this documentation of its achievement, you can download it from us. HP recently advised the 3000 community that it should download the documents it needs, since the HP 3000 data will be pulled from Hewlett-Packard servers.
In seven years or so.
HP called the 9x8 systems the E-Series in their HP 9000 incarnations. The Low-Cost, Higher-Performance Features introduction said "the principal reason for achieving high integration and low cost for the Series 9x8 servers was the development of the PA 7100LC processor chip, which was being developed at the same time as our servers."
LC was a designation for low-cost, since HP said its Series 9x8 priorities were short time to market, low cost, and improved performance. Make no mistake, comparing this system to anything HP sells as a business server today would not favor the 918. The system is so rock-bottom on the HP 3000 chart that its performance is the base for the "HP 3000 Performance Unit" which HP used instead of the then-industry-standard SPEC performance marks.
Put another way, the top of the line HP e3000 N-Class 750 4-processor system is 768 times faster than a 918. (Thanks go to Wirt Atmar's HP 3000 Relative Performance charts at AICS.) You can purchase either the 9x8s or a beefy N-Class on the used marketplace. But apparently the Series 918, with only about 40GB of disk, can only fall so far in value.
HP recognized that its business model for business server sales was out of date, a discovery the vendor made during the reorganization of HP following the Compaq merger. HP knew it was selling far fewer 3000s than Unix servers, but it didn't act on this knowledge while the customers remained loyal and retained servers — and more importantly, support contracts.
Come 2001, just months after the merger was unfurled, and the 3000 got its walking papers from HP. I use the colloquial phrase directly, because getting walking papers is akin to being fired. When you're fired you can still work, just someplace else. Which is precisely what this Series 918, a la E-Class, is still doing today as it's being discovered by a new user.