It was somber day yesterday, looking 10 years back. But 10 years ago, less than one week off 9/11, HP also announced its plans to acquire Compaq. The merger would mix product lines from twin competitors in enterprise (Compaq's Digital unit, and HP) and in personal computing (Compaq and HP). The blending meant elimination for some enterprise products from Digital (its Alpha processors) and pruning some from HP. Two months later, the slow-growing branch of the HP 3000 got its pruning orders off of HP's futures.
Early that same year, the general manager of HP's 3000 business expressed no worries about 3000 sales running well behind HP's Unix. Winston Prather had other things to think about in January of 2001. He'd been running the group for about 14 months.
The fact that the 3000 business is a much smaller business than the 9000 portion is a fact of life. It doesn’t bug me. I understand that there are people who wish that wasn’t the case. But it just doesn’t bother me the way it bothers some people.
Customers are much less concerned about this than when I read 3000-L. That’s a whole different world. They are not representative of the majority of our customers. They’ve very vocal and adopt new technologies much faster than the rest of our customers. They are leading edge, and lead customers to new technologies. I can get highlights of issues that might come up from reading 3000-L, but those issues never seem to come up when I talk to the CIOs.
That was a January interview. By November, just beyond that merger announcement, Prather was announcing the demise of the 3000's ecosystem. His November reports included worries about that ecosystem heard from HP customers. These must have been customers Prather didn't know 10 months earlier.
Prather, who now runs one of HP's remaining in-house environment enterprises in NonStop, did admit that the first full year of his management was a sales disappointment. The problem during 2000, he figured, was that HP had better hardware models it'd been talking about all year with the customers.
I would say that the last year has not met my expectations for what the business should have done. And when I think about why, I think about the fact that there’s new products coming.
Any reader who's wondering if these quotes are out of context should have a look at the original interview. Those answers may have told resellers and software vendors that the towers of 3000 legacy were in jeopardy just months before the N-Class and A-Class servers went on sale. HP told everyone by fall of 2001 that MPE application ecosystems were in trouble. The app trouble must have dawned on Prather and his team suddenly, considering what he stated in January.
What really does matter is much more the customers, than the applications. If customers continue to invest, then the platform will be around forever. And if they don’t, it won’t. I know this isn’t palatable for a number of the extreme supporters. I work for a company that, to be honest, wants to meet the customers’ needs and it doesn’t have to be a 3000. As much as I love the 3000 platform, I’m here to meet a customer’s needs using all the products that HP has. If we meet their needs in the future with Unix or Linux, that’s success for me.
So today Prather is meeting HP customer needs with NonStop products, which are neither Unix or Linux. What he can count upon is that this September's HP no longer is distracted by striving to be Number 1 in computers, a bald-faced desire while it acquired Compaq. The merger provided a small moment of crowing when HP swallowed an old rival. But even in that September moment, we wrote that customers -- the ones Prather said held the deciding vote on 3000 futures -- were wondering how HP would sort out everything it owned.
HP now owns what remains of Digital’s technology, since Compaq acquired Digital in 1998. Digital’s war cry during that RISC delay of 1986 was “Digital has it now.” Seasoned HP 3000 observers noted that Digital win, but wondered about the work to integrate so much technology.
“I suppose the operative phrase is ‘HP has it now,’ ” quipped Michael Berkowitz, systems manager with Guess, Inc. “But let’s see: seven current operating systems, (MPE/iX, HP-UX, Linux, NT, OpenVMS, Tru64unix, Non-stop Himalaya). Yeah, it should only take about a hundred years to put this together.”
The story that started unfolding that season featured players like Berkowitz exiting from employers. "Guess went from in-house with the 3000 to a software package on January 1, 2004," he reported this summer. "On 3/19/04, my services were no longer necessary. However, they needed me back a couple of times since then to do work on the 3000 (move to new disc) and no one knew how to do an install. Needless to say, my rate for that was somewhat higher than my salary."
That's just about all Berkowitz has done with a 3000 since '04. He says he misses it, as well as COBOL programming. Today he's a software project manager on a Windows/Foxpro software package.
And those customers Prather counted upon? They have now watched HP take about 10 years to tease that merger apart. HP wants to refocus on enterprise computing and enterprise software. The sort of businesses represented by the HP 3000 of the 20th Century, and the unique design of MPE and IMAGE. They provide the lesson about the loss of vigilance -- and how leaders remain aware of which business is the foundation of succcess for both a vendor and its shareholders (now sellling $24 stock). And oh yeah, successes for its customers.