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TBT: The Day that HP's 3000 Division Died

On a day in May 13 years ago, Hewlett-Packard took the designation of "division" out of its HP 3000 business. And so that summer started the first era in 36 years when the 3000 and MPE had no dedicated company unit or general manager to call its own. Its final GM believed selling 3000s was not his exclusive focus.

Winston2002-JanOnly six months before the 3000 left the org chart, the vendor announced the term of its swan song for the system. But through the early months of 2002, there was still a Commercial Systems Division -- CSY in the HP naming conventions -- to issue software, business decisions, and pronouncements about the future. General Manager Winston Prather ended that era as he stepped away from the GM post. (The photo at left comes from the Chicago HP World, where HP told customers nothing about a 3000 pullout announced 90 days later.) 

As 2002 began, we asked Prather what he saw in the future for CSY as an HP unit and MPE as a computing environment. Asked if he'd be the last 3000 division manager, Prather said, "Gosh, I don’t know. Part of me wants to say ‘I hope so.’ But there’s a negative sound to that, too." He sounded positive that MPE users would outlast the vendor's lifespan, unless HP planned to be around longer than forever.

Here’s the bottom line: MPE will be around forever. And we want to help that. This is in no way HP trying to kill MPE. We will explore and look at all the different options to enable what I’d call the afterlife — or at least the after-HP life, beyond 2006.

Winston My DecisionPrather was stepping away from a 3000 whose futures he claimed to have curtailed with a personal decision. "It was my decision," he told a user group publication, adding that the server had stopped being strategic to its owners and users. He told us that as GM it wasn't his job to sell 3000s -- just to deliver the right server to the customer from HP's many choices. Later that year he ended HP's 3000 life. He'd been doubling as a GM for another HP division for more than a year by the time HP took CSY off its org chart. And so the community began an eight-year period of referring to a Virtual CSY, and the vCSY nickname earned a place in user group communications.

Prather's vision of 2006 was something that would change, too. 2006 was the first of five more years with a virtual CSY that was impacting real customers. The division folded up without a dedicated marketing manager, after Christine Martino left for a "carrier-grade Linux division" being called TSY. In the clearer focus we have 13 years later, a few things are certain.

1. Prather was a GM of that TSY while HP was deciding the fate of his HP 3000.

2. Martino left to be GM of that TSY after she announced the plans to cut HP's 3000 operations off.

3. HP's High Performance Computing unit then became Prather's next GM post. He vacated a job that Martino took over, while HP ended the need for a 3000 general manager. The term general manager didn't sit well with Prather when asking him about job titles in 2002.

"Just think of us as heads of our organizations, for now," he said, reflecting a bit of work still to be done on HP's internal reorganization. He said Dave Wilde is "the go-to guy" for the 3000 community from here on, making the decisions on things like HP's licensing policies beyond 2003 and when HP will start working with OpenMPE to make a hardware emulator MPE license possible. Wilde had been leading the lengthy HP investigations on OpenMPE development, including meetings with the OpenMPE board members at the recent Solutions Symposium.

As for the employees in CSY, Prather said that "not one employee is doing anything different" as of mid-May, with 3000 offices still in place in California and Bangalore, India and no head count reductions underway. Prather couldn't promise that 3000 staff in HP wouldn't become part of the expected 15,000 layoffs resulting from the Compaq merger. He didn't think that CSY has ceased to exist, except in the sense that it's no longer an HP division.

"As far as a group of people dedicated to the 3000, it has not ceased to exist," Prather said. The reorganization "is a focus on employees, and trying to do the right thing by them to ensure their long-term career path. It sets us up to meet customers' needs in the long run. We needed our marketing teams and R&D teams to stick around for many years. Having them in a silo-ed organization, where they continued to be concerned about not being needed, caused retention problems."

Despite some bonuses to stay, tech staff with 15-25 years of experience departed CSY during the first year there was no more so-named division. Those layoffs had some impact on a small, veteran unit. Recently there's been some reexamination of what date these executives in HP were certain there would be no more releases of 3000s and software. The review is tied to the perception left in customers' minds and hearts after that Chicago show of 2001. Things were going to be okay -- and then they were not.

But the expiration date of the 3000's division is not in doubt. Prather and Wilde have now both retired from HP. Martino now works at Intuit. Her LinkedIn profile has a work history that only begins after she left the 3000 division. The date of ending that effort is less certain.