A 3000 Family Member to Turn Out the Lights
March 9, 2011
David Floyd ensures that somebody in the 3000’s family tends to the lights. Perhaps the youngest member of a community which started in the early 1970s, the 34-year-old is president of The Support Group, the firm that caters to needs of manufacturers using HP 3000s and MANMAN. He’s leading a company his dad Terry founded in the 1990s. (The elder Floyd's 3000 experience goes back to the beginnings of the system.)
David can say he was at the console in those early years, even though he wasn’t born until the Series III was shipping and ASK was enhancing MANMAN. He first used an HP 3000 at the age of the age of five, in 1981. He says he would “connect our kitchen phone to a 300-baud acoustic coupler modem to dial a terminal into one of the ASK 3000s. There I could play Mystery Mansion, Adventure, Dungeon, and other games.” He started doing paid work on one in 1991, at the age of 15. His first project was creating a MANMAN report called the LSR/3000 (Labor Summary Report). He continued working summers in high school programming and providing MANMAN support, got a job at Belvac Production Machinery in 1995 as a MANMAN programmer, and became a consultant in 1996.
He’s worked his way up through the ranks of The Support Group until he took over as president in 2007. The Support Group partners with BlueLine Services for overall 3000 support contracts. Together the companies have offered enough service to supplant HP and give MANMAN more years of productivity. The question, in this first year without HP support, is how many years?
Your dad’s started the ball rolling on your family’s MPE experience, and you believe there's another decade left for MANMAN users. What would another 10 years of MANMAN mean to your family?
My dad timed it so [the 3000] will be the entirety of his career. He had an HP 1000 right out of college, and within five years he had an HP 3000. If we manage to get another 10 years out of this, which it looks like we will, that’s his entire career on MPE and HP systems. He’s thrilled about that.
That puts me at a point that if we get 10 more years out of this, I’ll be in my mid-40s, and I’ll have to find that next thing. I’m excited about that, and it’ll be a second career for me. It won’t be Unix or Linux, more than likely.
In the HP 3000 marketplace? No, I’m it. I get to turn off the lights, in a very respectful way and a memorable way. I have a relationship with the Computer History Museum as a donor, but I’ve never visited.
But we’ve got more than 10 years until we get to that point, and we’ll get to rewrite that story many times before that day, whenever it comes.
What difference do you believe MPE source will make in the community?
To the current base of homesteaders, and people who haven’t migrated, I don’t know that it will. They feel confident in the stability of the platform where it is. When they need the additional functionality of technological innovations, they get it elsewhere. They find ways to interface the 3000 to other systems. We’re talking like NAS or SAN storage, so they find ways to connect their 3000 to other servers.
I think having the source code in the community will be of benefit, but not required. There’s always the possibility that something unexpected is going to pop up with MPE. I think our community has identified all the date restrictions that are going to happen in the future. What if one of them popped up that we didn’t know about, and Stan [Sieler] or Gavin [Scott, both of Allegro] haven’t explored yet? Having the source code available through seven companies is going to be nice.
What’s been your experience in locating HP 3000 customers? Are you finding some that haven’t been on anybody’s radar?
We have a database of our customer list, and we think we have a pretty good one. We have primarily a MANMAN customer list. Every few years we like to go back and touch base with everybody that’s been on a 3000 within the last several years.
On one customer, we’d called in every couple of years. At first we were told they didn’t need any additional 3000 resources, and eventually, after more than three calls, they claimed they didn’t have a 3000 at all. It turned out there was an HP 3000 there. We were able to identify it by telling them what to look for in the computer room that they never went into anymore.
Their computer room consisted of the patch panel, a UPS, and an HP 3000. It was essentially a closet with the lights turned off. When we told them what their 928 physically looked like, they said, “Oh yeah, we’ve got one of those.” It had never had any tapes changed. It had never been power cycled in at least five years.
They hadn’t backed up this system that was running inventory control, their corporate financials on it. The system just ran. They didn’t have an IT department. Once we identified it, they got on board that they needed a little extra help with that. The company has more than $50 million a year in revenues.
Is there still a recession going on for companies of that size, the typical 3000 shop?
I think so. The recession has been happening for North American manufacturers a lot longer than since 2008 — the better part of that decade, for sure. Our customer base has been hit by manufacturing moves to lower-labor-cost areas, overseas and south of the border. It’s been hard for the smaller companies, and their locations in small towns in middle America, like Oak Hill, West Virginia.
Does The Support Group go outside of the manufacturing sector to offer application support?
No, we like MANMAN because it fits our strengths. The mix of our skill sets is MPE Fortran and manufacturing distribution on the other. Where those two meet is MRP and ERP applications. We combine our skills so we can meet a problem like making a German or Japanese manufacturing process fit in MPS, or if it’s a code problem when the 25-year history of MANMAN pops up because of the way they’ve set those common variable switches. We believe MANMAN is a business model that can keep a small number of people in business for another 10 years.