Wiping An MPE Past Clean: Tools and Tips
3000 sites of some size still checking in

Who'd ever know where everyone would go?

DeparturesBusiness practices have changed enough over the last decade that even history can't teach us much. When HP dropped its 3000 practices, we all cared about environments and platforms, which OS supported the apps we wanted, and which system maker we could count upon. Then HP embraced Windows to puff itself up, and no platform the vendor created would be as strategic again.

One old story was that customers didn't want to invest in an HP product that was called strategic during an HP presentation. It could easily be the kiss of death. The genuinely strategic parts of the 3000, like IMAGE, never needed that blessing. And sure enough, only about a year after Carly Fiorina anointed the 3000 as a strategic product, HP was pushing it aside.

Fiorina is on my mind today because of a figure related to the destination for 3000 migrations. I told a Computerworld reporter who called about Fiorina last week that I believed that 80 percent of the installed base that left after 2001 didn't land on an HP platform. Long-term, maybe not a good choice.

Not so fast, I heard from a retiring HP employee. My 80 percent was way overstated, because HP tracked where people were going. Nowhere near that percent were leaving HP altogether. 

Sure, to the extent anybody could track moves in a base where HP didn't know more than two-thirds of the customers by the late '90s. "Hey, lots of them are headed to HP-UX. We're working with so many." I'm reminded of the cheery lab reports delivered about MPE XL stability during 1985 or so. Then a one-year delay, while lab management dealt with the less-attractive realities. Whenever the real answer is not popular, effort spent to confirm it will only make you correct. What would anyone in HP do with knowledge that the migration push was separating 3000 sites from HP altogether? HP wouldn't have changed its course.

On to that percentage figure. It didn't come from speculation, just a third-party report of an HP executive's explanation.

In the fall of 2011, Dr. Robert Boers, CTO of Stromasys, told a room of 3000 fans and developers that he wished HP been able support or fund an emulator product earlier than 2009."

In fact, HP eventually wished this at some more executive level than the R&D lab. Boers told the 2011 crowd that HP approached him to wish he'd revive the PA-RISC emulator project that HP's IP unit had roadblocked. ("Give you lab access to trade-secret boot up routines? What for?")

Here's why. By 2009, Boers said, "HP told us that more than much more than half of the systems had been replaced with a non-HP platform." Running Windows on HP ProLiant servers doesn't count for much; not when Dell or Lenovo can sweep in and replace those ProLiants.

Perhaps Boers' story was just a tale HP was telling to get a developer to restart a project that had already cost a pile of money. Or maybe Boers was making it up. But since HP has been and always will be full of people who "can't say more," it's nigh-impossible to fact-check. With everybody having an incomplete picture, then a tale like 80 percent either is "speculative fiction" or "sounds good to me."

"I just never heard many people saying anything other than 'we're leaving for Windows, or Linux,' " Vladimir Volokh told me this afternoon. VEsoft's founder covered a lot of ground, literally, visiting 3000 customers for more than 15 years.

I can retreat back to 66 percent lost customers, but that doesn't change the bigger point. Eliminating HP's futures for the 3000 didn't deliver much to most of the community, except migrations to manage.

Here's another question nobody can answer for certain. If HP in 1999 chose Ann Livermore, the runner-up for Carly's CEO job and someone who knew the 3000 personally, would the system get the ax from HP's futures? Maybe puffing HP up with a merger into low-profit revenues would not have been Livermore's strategy. I can speculate, but the outcome that changed 3000 lives is anything but fiction.