HP runs ahead and behind, then and now
HP to cut 27,000 jobs, reports 24% profit dip

A 3000 plucked barren of IMAGE never flew

"Options offering a lower-priced version of the Series 920 server, without database software, are available on the July HP price list."

With those words, HP went to war on the wings of a bundled database. IMAGE was not only the heart of the 3000's value. IMAGE had become the rocket fuel of the 3000, a constant in a formula that produced better transaction values than anything offered by Hewlett-Packard. Or elsewhere in the industry.

PluckedBut HP didn't know how to sell it. You can read as much at hpmuseum.net, where a July Channels newsletter about the "confusion" over 3000 pricing was being cleared up. Sort of. "Our objective is to price the HP 3000 systems at a price/performance advantage for transaction processing over our HP 9000 family." Fair enough. But then "We anticipate that much of the confusion regarding price/performance may have been caused by the higher prices of the HP 3000 version of a PA-RISC processor."

Except there was no such version. The same chip was used in both 3000 and 9000 server. HP had just locked the 3000's software to the higher prices. There was a version of prices that was higher, to be sure. So HP looked around for what it could clip from the 3000 value. It tried IMAGE for a month or so, until its partners and customers revolted in public, in the lap of the industry press.

Unbundling databases became the norm for the classic business computing vendors, even through the HP 250 Business minicomputer included a version of IMAGE when HP brought it out in 1979. A good thing, too, for current business computer users who are planning or deploying a move away from the 3000. The HP 250 gave wings to Michael Marxmeier and his Eloquence database, starting in 1987. It's the only drop-in replacement for the 3000's IMAGE, using its TurboIMAGE compatibility mode. Eloquence is also getting a turbocharged full-text search ability this summer. The open beta test program for 8.20 just started; full release is in July.

In a summer more than 20 years ago, one thing that seemed fast to IMAGE users was HP's move to strip it out of the 3000's value. By August of 1990 IMAGE had been part of every HP 3000 sale for 14 years. This was the period that built the MPE application base. Companies invested in applications that used IMAGE underneath, or they bought tools that relied on IMAGE to roll their own apps. Languages like COBOL, Speedware and Powerhouse called IMAGE directly through intrinsics. Or developers used software that improved upon this common coin of a database, such as Suprtool and Adager.

In spite of customer devotion, at the Boston Interex show of 1990 HP felt heat beyond the summertime swelter of New England. Vendors and consultants and members of Special Interest Groups organized passionate meetings at the show around the HP unbundling scheme. They rose up to lash HP in a public forum, complaining bitterly in front of a host of reporters from national IT weeklies like Computerworld and InformationWeek.

HP lost face at the meeting while its top enterprise management tried to defend the business re-arrangement. IMAGE remained an included part of the 3000. A bonus from this revolt -- some called it the Boston Tea Party -- was extra investment in the SQL interface for IMAGE. The database went from being called TurboIMAGE to IMAGE/SQL over the next two years. That SQL capability delivered opportunity for Open DataBase Connectivity middleware between IMAGE and outside tools on desktops and elsewhere. MB Foster's ODBCLink became part of the 3000's bundle in an simplified SE version.

This year Foster is hosting a three-day conference on the newest querying tool for Eloquence. July 25-27 will deliver training for developers and application architects on the latest enhancements for the database that's more than two decades mature and still improving. Even though HP won't be making IMAGE any better, there's 25 years of development on Eloquence so far. Marxmeier has shipped upgrades to Eloquence every year since before HP shuttered its MPE labs. He made a sound case for flying toward technology advances on Linux, Windows and even HP-UX -- the places that Eloquence operates.

Eloquence keeps evolving. Even for 3000 emulator users, there’s a good question to be answered. There might be some workarounds to implement some of the technology changes like PCI and encryption -- but does it make sense? Can you afford to miss all those changes that the outside world might be demanding from your business and your application?

We want to show the value that makes sense for applications. What’s important about this full text indexing in Eloquence 8.20 is that it will look like Google, where you it gets you a million results within a fraction of a millisecond. Eloquence was always designed to support IMAGE applications. Our original customers used IMAGE, too. Eloquence is a second- or third-generation IMAGE, I believe.