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While you were away, what HP put into play

Healthcare.govWe're back after a 4-day holiday. The Thanksgiving holiday period can be interesting times for watchers of Hewlett-Packard. We count ourselves among that group, even though the company has little to do with the lives of homesteading 3000 users. (But not nothing at all -- we heard last week that HP Support contracts for 3000-connected HP peripherals have been altered. End-of-support-life dates have been adjusted, according to our source. Check your contract; indie providers are available as an alternative.) HP announced the Odyssey program to give a Linux future path for Unix customers during the week. Of course, the 3000 exit notice took place just a week before Thanksgiving in 2001.

However, much broader items than tactical details of contracts surfaced over this holiday weekend. The most splashy was the news that Hewlett-Packard is now the company providing infrastructure for the US Healthcare.gov website. That's the site that turned away about 80 percent of users during October because of technical and bandwidth problems.

HP signed a $38 million contract with the US Health and Human Services agency this summer, but Terraform (a subsidiary of Verizon) had built out the website hosting that blocked many an attempt to use it. Over the weekend, healthcare.gov doubled its bandwidth and can now reportedly serve 50,000 users simultaneously. That sounds like a lot, but about 800,000 citizens tried to open an account. (Just as a note, as of 2 PM today, we registered an account and shopped for the first time online.)

The largest simultaneous user count we've ever heard reported for a single HP 3000 server was 2,200. Consider that was a single server, built with PA-RISC (two generation-old chips) using SCSI IO. Redundancy has been an essential high-volume aspect of 3000s since Quest Software built its NetBase/Shareplex replication solution in the 1980s. Quest, now a division of Dell, still supports HP 3000 sites using the product, according to John Saylor there.

The problem at healthcare.gov has been its architecture, rather than the horsepower of the iron. HP seems to have little to lose in taking over this contract. By the accounting at the Wall Street Journal, 36 states rely on application through healthcare.gov and just under 27,000 people were able to enroll in a plan during the first month. The 14 state exchanges enrolled 79,391 people during the same period.

The Journal article says the government has been aware of "certain problems with the Terremark hosting service since late 2010." HHS moved its Medicare and Medicaid service centers to Terremark during a two-year hosting contract. These service centers oversee Healthcare.gov.

The details in the WSJ report include an oversight, which if true, would be laughable in a standard HP 3000 environment: "Its design didn't include a full backup version of the site in a different data center. Healthcare.gov is still housed with a single data center." The HP 3000s which Hewlett-Packard unplugged from its own datacenter in October had backups in Austin. HP also got a $4 million contract in September for healthcare.gov DR services.

On the company valuation trail, HP played out a Q4 2013 report that Buys Time, Not Triumph according to a WSJ analysis. "Tech Giant Arrested Its Slide in Some Key Areas, but Pressures Will Intensify. One good quarter doesn't equal a turnaround." But the numbers which included dreary figures for HP's Unix operations still managed to push HP's stock to a two-year high as of this morning.

The markets were not spooked by the prospect of business critical server sales dipping once more.

HP also opened up access to its board of directors in a vote during the Thanksgiving week. A vote by a simple majority of shareholders will be enough to change HP rules governing the nomination of directors or the size of the board. Previously, a two-thirds supermajority was required. "The change doesn't immediately let activists storm the boardroom, but could lower the gates that keep them out," said a Journal article.

HP got its current board chairman, Ralph Whitworth, when its rules changed in 2011 to admit that principal at "an activist hedge fund Relational Investors LLC."

Right now, you've got to own at least 3 percent of HP's stock for three years to nominate a director. The Journal said only three people have owned that much sstock since the end of 2012. This makes nomination of new directors an insider affair today.