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Hardware Cherished, Hardware Valued

HP's 3000 hardware has been taking a free fall in market value for several years by now, a slide that's drawn even the biggest of servers into the low five-figures of price. This is the way of the world for every computer ever built. But it happens more slowly to the computers which are cherished, instead of just used.

CherishA few messages out on the 3000 newsgroup highlighted that fact of our life in 2013. Tom Lang was forced to sell his Series 918RX, because he doesn't have room to use it in his new working space. He announced it was on offer at the end of February. Over "many weeks," as he reported, many enquirers asked lots of questions about the server. In mid-May, he reduced the price of the system to $1,100.

There are a lot of extras in Lang's package. These bonus parts don't show up in a lot of Series 918s. And the system has probably the best feature of all: a valid MPE/iX license. HP doesn't make those any longer, and nobody can emulate that element, either.

However, Lang heard from other 3000 owners and managers that four figures were at least one figure too many to sell a server that HP used as the 1.0 rating benchmark -- back when HP used to rate 3000 performance. For the record, the fastest 3000 ever produced, and sold for well over six figures at the time, ran at 49 times the power of a 918.

In ancient times, HP used a Series 37 Mighty Mouse as its 1.0 rating. The Series 37 did not outlast HP's MPE licensing business, however. Lang was told on the group that two Series 918s went directly to the scrap heap at one UK business. At another site, one manager said the price that seemed reasonable for a server that included a license was $200.

Until HP relents and begins to sell MPE/iX licenses to go with its Reseller Agreement for the Stromasys Charon 3000 emulator, $200 seems pretty low.

The operating system is the most durable part of a 3000, when you include its database in the valuation. If a customer has got their eyes on adding an emulated 3000 to their IT datacenter, these old servers are just the right piece for an audit-proof installation.

Some of the advice on the value of a 3000 was of a more gentle nature. "A rock solid machine," said Michael Anderson of J3K Solutions, "but sadly, not much of a market for it anymore."

Anderson knows of a company that paid about $8,000 for a 918 in 2003. It included a disc-array, DLT, DDS-3, 512 MB of RAM, and about 50Gb of disc. "They sent it to auction in 2007, and I got great deal on it, mostly because nobody at the auction knew what it was," Anderson explained. "It's been running for 5-plus years without any problems, during the same time period I've gone through three PCs. Apparently, now-a-days, it's not a good idea to manufacture products that keep working."

The HP 3000 was always sold at a premium compared to more popular systems. HP insisted that it protect the value (that means "pricing") of the servers sold earlier in the business life of HP's 3000. But the vendor didn't do much to protect the brand of MPE or the 3000 or IMAGE.

So the HP hardware's future and value is riding on the nature of being cherished, instead of its still-indelible durability that Anderson has chronicled. Not so long ago, a strategic analyst on the 3000 web-paths said that "people pay about twice as much for Apple systems as for others," and that Apple just put those extra dollars in its pockets. But being a brand which is cherished is one kind of asset, and being a brand that's cherished out loud by the industry's greatest marketing organization is quite another thing.

Never mind that you cannot find the jackalope of a Windows system priced at half of an Apple system, which will do the same work with equivalent components. Unless you can twist a Torx wrench, or know how to wear a static strap, whatever costs half as much will do less. I went to look for a new $575 SSD-based 11-inch laptop, built to Apple's Macbook Air standards and with the same horsepower. I gave up after about a half-hour. You can hunt for a jackalope a long time.

But the equation works in the other direction, if someone like Anderson is doing the shopping. A $500 Series 918 does so much more than any $1,000 PC, if your applications are already in MPEiX and use IMAGE. Stromasys can't sell MPE/iX licenses to make a copy of Charon HPA/3000 legal. Only HP can do that.

SkinhorseIt will be worth watching to see if Hewlett-Packard can see its way to selling what will make an emulator truly legal. Before too much longer, HP is going to have to do that for HP-UX customers who'll use an emulator -- one that replaces an Itanium server. The natural state of every computer system is virtualization. Being cherished, that's something you cannot virtualize. Like the Skin Horse in The Velveteen Rabbit, only the love of an owner can make software that Becomes Real. Maybe it's that way for MPE -- like the Skin Horse said about being Real, "it takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept."