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What Size Is Your 3000 Community?

We fielded a question from HP 3000 customer Connie Sellitto yesterday, a query she was passing on to us from her manager at the US Cat Fanciers' Association. The CFA is the top cat when it comes to pedigrees of cats in the US. Sellitto's crew uses Macs to produce a fine online mews-letter (sorry, couldn't help it) called The Fanc-e-Mews. The head of CFA's IT operations was asking Sellitto, his enterprise systems manager, "What's a ballpark estimate for the number of 3000 installations worldwide?"

What a great question, I thought. I've thought so every year for the last 20-plus, as the size of the 3000 installed base gets prodded and guessed at by end users, vendors. Maybe even HP wonders. Hewlett-Packard doesn't have any numbers about how many 3000s it ever saw in use at any time. It could track its own support customers, but that was only a share of the community. Somewhere at 3000 Hanover Street in Palo Alto there's a figure of how many 3000s HP ever shipped out. It's easy to imagine that number at over 100,000. It's been a 35-year lifespan for devices called an HP 3000, after all, 35 years and counting for a business computer that first booted with under 1 MB of storage and now can see half a terabyte.

But at no point can we recall HP seeing an installed base that numbered above 50,000 servers, even in the system's heyday of the middle to late 1980s. By 2002, the analyst house IDC's Jean Bozeman thought there were 23,000 systems running. A year later they cut their estimate to 12,000-16,000 servers. That was more than six years ago, of course. Remember, though, Sellitto was asking about installations. If we interpret that as sites, instead of customers, then a few sources think there's 1,000 customers that make up the installed base -- and about four times as many systems.

But everybody admits they don't have a complete picture of the size of your community, even if people like Steve Cooper of Allegro Consultants concurs, as he did today, with a 4,000-server estimate.

Speedware's Chris Koppe, now the president of the Connect HP User Group, said last fall that his company did surveys of its customer lists, including the companies no longer buying support for the Speedware development environment software. "Someplace between 500 to 1,000 customers" was on his presentation slide at the latest e3000 Community Meet.

Birket Foster of MB Foster, also in the migration management and tools business like Speedware, thinks the 4,000 number is reasonable for an installed base count. Of systems, we'd assume. Everyone, even HP, can be surprised at encounters with customers who appear out of nowhere.

"We still miss some," Koppe said the Meet. "We've done these surveys and all of a sudden we get a call from somebody who says that they have this 3000 problem -- and we've never seen them before. For sure, they keep popping out of the woodwork." Speedware searched its support lists "from practically two decades ago," trying to reach out to installations no longer on support. "It's hard to keep track of everybody, for sure."

HP's Alvina Nishimoto, whose job has been to find the installed base and spread the news about HP's migration offers, said at the same Meet last fall that HP was also hearing from a few customers they never knew about. Cooper summed up the census uncertainty in his answer to Sellitto and to us.

"My guess was 1,000 companies still with production HP 3000s, and perhaps 4,000 systems still in use," he said. "We're all guessing here, from the tidbits of data we have, but together, we may have a fairly good picture."

Users who want to answer with a good number -- and what is good, anyway? -- should remember that there are an untold number of 3000s running that are not production 3000s. These are test and development servers, for example, inside companies with production servers. A "crash and burn" box was common in a 3000 installation. We also hear of another common 3000 system, the "archive server" of our Transition Era. That's a 3000 kept around and online for historical data searches, or the need to satisfy auditors or governmental regulations. Also very tough to find would be military-use 3000s, given armed forces security. Hobbyist boxes, more than a few, won't be a production 3000, either.

The census question is asked for a few reasons. In Sellitto's case, it's a way to learn, "How many of us are left in the community, to push along resource availability like parts, service, bug fixes, even product development?" The last event is not unheard of today, however rare. A few PCI DSS credit card security solutions emerged last year from small vendors.

The other reason to ask the question comes from the software, services, system and part vendors. This is the ecosystem, to use HP's 2001 term, that sustains the 3000 customer. The vendor's hidden question is often, "How large is the field of prospects for any commerce?" An archive system may only need the occasional replacement disk drive. A development server might need just an ongoing software support payment. Everything but a hobbyist's box should have a support contract from someone -- and after the end of this year that contract can only come from an independent, third party firm like Pivital, Allegro or Beechglen in the US, along with other providers worldwide.

When HP tacked on its next-to-last support extension for the server, we estimated four years ago the installed base was at least 8,000 strong. After 48 months there may have been a reduction of 4,000 systems in production use. Not so small for a server nobody's built since 2003 but continues to be sold every week, now at the best prices you could ever imagine -- especially if you've been fielding questions for a more than a decade about how big you imagine the 3000 installed base remains.