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Powerhouse future spurs 3000 adjustments

Oracle's legal jousts missing Media's marks

MediaGeneralLogoHP and Oracle have been squaring off in court over the future of the database on HP's Unix servers, jousting since the first week of the month. But after a break on Wednesday to attempt to settle the battle out of court, these two companies were back at it after talks crashed. Oracle's got HP's database futures in its hands, and testimony from its executives asserts those hands have crimping sales of HP's Itanium Business Critical Servers.

But that's just not enough to keep the attention of some Itanium owners. One migrator is already heading away from HP's Unix and onto Oracle's Unix. But the death-knell that Oracle wants to spread about the HP-UX platform isn't spooking Greg Barnes.

Barnes has an 3000 background that dates back to MPE III, but his company took its time getting away from 3000s. Media General, which agreed to sell off nearly all of it newspapers to a Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary, was using publishing software from Collier-Jackson until the late 1990s, when the shift started off 3000s. Barnes said the Oracle jabs didn't rattle him a bit in HP Unix management.

"I'm not aware that the snipe-fest had any effect whatsoever," he said, while reporting on the company's in-house migration to the Itanium servers. "Like much of the death knells I’ve read over the years, I have better things to ponder." Among his new interests are Oracle's direct competitor to HP-UX, Solaris. Media General is now phasing out the five HP-UX systems left in its datacenter. It's also focusing on its TV business, post-newspapers.

In a shop that runs "an awful lot of Oracle," migrating away from those CJ applications led Media General to Solaris. Peoplesoft HR and FIS, as well as DSI Circulation, either required or recommended Solaris platforms. HP has said for months that Oracle's been attacking the Unix business with success, spreading doubts. But the FUD from Oracle, and its pointing at a sketchy future for the only processors that run HP-UX, was not clouding Media General decisions. Replacing the likes of Collier-Jackson's AIM -- the last of the 3000 apps to go -- determined the OS platform. It was the apps, not how long the chips would be enhanced or supported, that steered every decision.

"At 15 years [of migration], it was very gradual," Barnes said about a shift that started in 1997. "CJ AIM was the last to go, and the new app Mactive also required Solaris."

We originally ran CJ Payroll and AIM.  The Circulation and FIS systems were home-grown. They all had their limitations, and management were looking for more features and less programmers.

Payroll was the first to go and that went to PeopleSoft using Oracle.  That transition was a major zoo. Next went FIS to the same PeopleSoft/Oracle arena, and that was slightly better. Then AIM to Mactive.  Circulation went from the HP 3000 to HP-UX  using DSI. We are still migrating it from HP-UX to Solaris.

I was the last man standing to manage MPE:  Two 969KS-320s running MPE 6.0. Now I'm the last man standing managing both HP-UX and Solaris, plus Solaris x86 OS.

Barnes reports he was working on HP 3000s just four years after the systems had their true 1974 release. While he jokes that he thinks he's getting entirely too old for this kind of churn, he does have four major operating systems in his resume. "Try managing both Unix and MPE systems, remembering the commands, and not messing up anything if you want a challenge," he says.

Oracle's been meeting challenges of its own since it purchased all of Sun, both software and servers. The latter have seen large sales dips since the 2011 acquisition closed. Selling Unix to new sites has become a trial for HP as well. It's that Oracle database that's got a comfortable spot in places like Media General.

What's slipping away are owned operating profits of more than $2 billion a year off HP's Itanium business that relies on Oracle. A memo from HP's enterprise server chief Dave Donatelli in 2010 said these servers were more profitable than HP's massive PC business. According to an article from All Things D's Arik Hesseldahl, HP's been drawing about 15 percent of its earnings from Itanium business.

HP’s Business Criticial Server business combined with its Technology Services business, which includes the support and services associated with the Integrity line of servers that uses the Intel-made Itanium chip, was at that time larger on a revenue basis than HP’s personal computer business.

And even if HP prevails in its suit, Whitmore isn’t seeing much benefit: “Regardless of the outcome of this particular suit, we expect HP-UX customers to continue fleeing what is increasingly looking like a dead platform — creating a major headwind for HP’s medium-term earnings.” Ouch.