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An HP 3000 on Amazon: How low to go?

Amazon 979The world's leading retailer has added a posting for a higher-horsepower HP 3000. Amazon.com has a page this week where a Series 979 is on sale by IT Equipment Express for a shade under $2,000. There's four processors in the system, so it has a performance rating higher than the more recent A-Class servers, or even a lowball N-Class.

HP 3000s have shown up on eBay up to now, some at far lower prices than this near-top-end Series 900. Four years ago, even an HP reseller was giving away Series 918s with a purchase of an N-Class. But when a computer shows up on an Amazon page, it's a sign that it may have passed into commodity status.

Years ago, while the HP 3000 community was lobbying Hewlett-Packard to push 3000s into new customer sites, a system of this price was proposed. In 1997 the software vendors of longest standing, such as Adager, QSS and AICS Research, were slashing license costs to the bone for a Series 908. This 3000 model was never released by HP, but it failed to scrub the concept from some marketing documents that got leaked. In those days, a 3000's price was tied to a user limit. The 908 would have been a just a 4-user system, but 14 years ago it still could have sold in the range of $5,000 and raised interest.

In contrast, the Series 979 listed on Amazon can accomodate hundreds of users. (OpenMPE's Invent3K server is hosted on such a system.) One of these servers was priced in 2007 on the used market at $14,000, including MPE licenses. This week that same piece of hardware is available from the world's online retailer, at a price below what the mythical 908 would have cost.

HP never took the 908 seriously, thinking that it had priced the 918 low enough to attract serious business buyers. But in 1997 we reported that the 3000 community, encouraged by additions like an MPE-based Web server, started thinking that much smaller companies might employ a 3000 instead of a Windows NT PC.

Customer needs for a smaller HP 3000 system were in some evidence. Richard Gambrell, Associate Director of Xavier University's Information Technology Center, said his four-terminal cashier's application would be a good fit for a small system.

"A 908 with a one-board DTC would be just right," Gambrell said. "Without a small enough HP 3000, we'd have to do this with PC systems feeding our 967, but they must be able to operate stand alone to take care of planned downtime and loss of data communications to the site housing the cashiers."

Mark Klein, the VP of Technology for ORBiT Group International who ported the G++ compiler to the HP 3000, summed up the attraction of the 908 to the non-developer. "What if this machine could compete with and replace larger PC configurations?" he asked. "The higher availability that automatically comes with the 3000 -- and what would amount to lower operating costs than a comparable PC based solution -- could make this a real winner."