HP flashes UX futures on freshest roadmap
Years remain until latest MPE date concern

Series 42, from '80s, heads for 2010's net

HP built its 3000 servers well in the 20th Century, a fact that a former HP division engineer is proving from his California garage. HP's first products came out of a famed Palo Alto garage, of course. But Lee Courtney isn't trying to make a living with his 1980s server -- he's just putting a past tool onto today's technology.

Courtney has been working with a Series 42 HP 3000, a server first sold in the 1980s. The 42 was the 3000's middle of the road workhorse before HP turned to RISC chip designs in the late 80s. They called them Classic 3000s, once the PA-RISC servers went on sale. I toured HP's US disk drive assembly plant in 1988 -- when the vendor was still building indestructible disks, and making them in North America. I saw a rack of 42s in the Boise, Idaho factory's test bay, hard at work. HP was doing burn-in testing with the servers for its brand of drives, more than 20 years ago.

Even in that summer, the 42s seemed like relics. Imagine how refreshing it will look if Courtney can get his system onto the Internet. He's just one network card away from doing it, he believes. If you've got a LANIC for one of these, a system built before the Internet can make an appearance, you can help. It might also prove something about 3000 hardware supplies.

Courtney might be lucky to locate the Local Area Network board in someone else's garage in California, Ohio or Washington. It's a lot easier to sell and swap things today than in the 80s, when faxed price sheets and phone calls, plus hardware ads in printed newsletters like The Processor, were among the best ways to find parts. Courtney, who worked in the 3000 division and its labs for years, formed his own company to sell security software for the 3000 once he left HP late in the '80s -- after 13 years of HP service.

Courtney wrapped up his HP time introducing the replacements for Classic 3000s, the PA-RISC line. He said his current work schedule has given him time to refurbish the Series 42.

"I decided to work on the some of the projects in my computer collection," he reported. "I have three Series 42s, peripherals, a couple sets of spare boards from my Monterey Software days; trying to get a Classic 3000 up and running. Having some problems with old mag tapes and a balky tape drive. But have a SPU that runs fine. If I had a LANIC (for both a 42 and 37XE) I'd love to put the system on the net. Can you think of any sources for parts (or software) for a Classic system?"

We can think of some resources for HP 3000 parts, but a 25-year-old LAN board might be outside of the inventory of a modern 3000 hardware provider. On the other hand, this may be the acid test for availability of parts in your community. If you've got this missing part, you can contact him by email. His address is through the Association for Computing Machinery, one of the chief historical resources for your industry.

Bringing an '80s-era 42 online for 2010 net use is something of a parlor trick. It's not clear what a Classic 3000 like this would do online except maybe host an interactive game -- and prove a point. There's always talk about how systems must be disappearing, either from production use or into the scrap heap. 3000s have been headed to scrap since the 42 was a workhorse. But that trail of iron and silicon is still being maintained, even if its oldest servers are becoming parkland trails instead of Internet superhighways.