One day ago Computerworld asked me whether I thought Hewlett-Packard had done the right thing about HP 3000 futures. The deed that changed most of the lives in the 3000 community happened long ago, but those 13-plus years have been put in current focus by the candidacy of the CEO at the time of the 3000 exit plan. Carly Fiorina wants to be America's next president. Computerworld's Patrick Thibodeau, having covered 3000 events for close to two decades, knew there would be some permanent marks here from that dark decision of 2001.
But there are people who have come to accept and even embrace the change forced upon customers and suppliers. These are sharp and savvy people who've made changes themselves in the wake of the end of HP's 3000 business. Most of them have extended their skills or product line or service offerings. All of that came at a cost, the risk that entrepreneurs take in business.
Migrations made business in this market too, just like the Y2K deadline lifted a lot of COBOL experts' revenue reports for 1996-2000. There's one insidious angle to that "new business from HP changes" strategy, though. It's the idea that the HP 3000 was easier to replace than other enterprise systems because it was general purpose and transaction-based.
That's a label that also fits the Digital VMS line as well as IBM's Series i (AS/400). IBM had the good sense not to walk away from its midrange servers, and HP decided to protect a larger customer base in the VMS systems (larger than the MPE base by a factor of 10). But the 3000 was not targeted because of any ease of replacement. "VMS and MPE were general purpose, transaction systems that were much more easily replaceable," the assertion goes, more easy than replacing something like the NonStop fault-tolerant environment.
Using that line of thinking, HP's Unix is up for the next cut, now that VMS has been ushered out of HP's long-term enterprise futures. Nobody who's invested in VMS, MPE, or HP-UX wants to hear that their general purpose computer would lead to a costly long-term choice. It was never about a customer's choice. This was always all about business and HP's hard choices — and so that's why Computerworld wanted to know how your community was adding up the cost, now that Carly's will begin taxing political credibility.
As proof of that complexity, consider all of those migrations still being assisted by 3000 experts. Because nothing of the nature of MPE is easily replaceable. Thibodeau wrote as much.
Another place for clues to Fiorina's leadership could be the decisions around the HP e3000, a mid-range system that was widely regarded for its durability and reliability. To the shock of users, HP in 2001 announced that the HP e3000 was being discontinued.
It was not the right decision, said Ron Seybold, who heads The 3000 Newswire. "'If it isn't growing, then it's going' were her marching orders after buying Compaq," said Seybold. He argued that the system was small, but profitable. In his mind, that decision proved "she wasn't looking any farther ahead than tomorrow's earnings reports."
No, it's not a direct line between the departure of 3000 futures and the lingering malaise of HP's fortunes. But the 3000 represented a trend away from R&D and HP inventions, even while Fiorina ironically installed the word "invent" under a new HP logo. Fiorina made her HP mission about the short-term, not long-term strengths.
The demise of invention resulted in a massive percentage of the 3000 base leaving for non-HP products. That kind of migration eliminated HP's messy problem of taking care of so many enterprise businesses. About a decade or so after 3000s stopped rolling off the HP assembly lines, HP is splitting off the mess that Carly cobbled together and focusing on -- wait for it -- enterprise computing.
It's important to note that Fiorina didn't sign the 3000 death notice. There's a good chance that until her political operatives read that Computerworld story, she didn't even know the 3000 made an HP exit. The last time she was seen acknowledging the 3000, she'd taped a promise to preserve it in HP's plans. The video got its only airing at an Interex meeting in the year 2000. The Compaq deal was already in play by then.
For those who didn't follow, the genuine ax-swinger of the 3000's demise was Winston Prather -- who moved to HP NonStop division in fairly short order after he opened the scuttle-hatches at CSY. Having executed HP's exit, he seemed to have atoned by preserving NonStop. It's probably because there's nothing else out there that does what that Tandem-created product does so well.
And so the irony is that the best hope for a surviving HP-built environment will come from a product HP did not create. Migrations from NonStop are thought to be nearly impossible. That thought is one protection from believing their replacement is easy.