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August 27, 2015

TBT: Hurricane lashes Platt's Interex debut

Young retires, Platt named CEOThe annual Interex user conference ended its run in 2005 before Hurricane Katrina chased off the show that tried to replace it in New Orleans that year. Katrina will be much in the news over this weekend as the world remembers the 10th anniversary of that disaster. Interex had often scheduled its conferences for the peak month of hurricane season. The group's luck ran aground when Hurricane Andrew made its landfall in the week that HP planned to celebrate the 3000's 20th anniversary. The storm came ashore near New Orleans, where that party was scheduled.

It was a week when the company's new CEO, Lew Platt, was supposed to make his debut at a keynote in front of 3,500 customers at Interex '92. Platt was only the second man ever to be elected to the top job at HP, and the retiring CEO John Young didn't have an engineer's roots like Platt did. This was an HP insider who was a technologist, proud of his roots, and humble enough to take up a habit of eating his meals in the HP cafeteria.

Andrew_23_aug_1992Young was scheduled to deliver a keynote to the conference, but Hurricane Andrew changed those plans. The storm had just ravaged the Florida coastline with Cat 4 winds the day before Young's keynote was supposed to appear. Young's appearance was transferred to a moment for Platt, just as the leadership of HP was going to pass to Platt by November. But the severity of the storm set even the CEO-designate into flight.

In the plaza in front of the Hilton Riverside Towers, Platt was trying to make his way to a running limo that would get him to the airport before flights were grounded. But one customer after another wanted just a moment of his time. After a handful of delays, his wife Joan insisted on his safety. "Lew, get in here," she shouted from the limo. One of the company's most grassroots leaders had to depart his storm-lashed debut week.

The Series 987 servers were also making their debut that week, the second generation of the PA-RISC chipset for 3000s. HP was pushing the message that MPE/iX was an easy porting destination for Unix applications, pointing out that General Mills had moved a third-party warehouse app from Unix to the 3000. "It had been generally accepted that it was much easier just to buy a new platform for the application," HP's Warren Weston wrote in the HP Chronicle. "However, after further investigation, the decision was made to port to MPE/iX." It might have been the last time the vendor promoted the 3000 over Unix in a public message.

The 3000's operating system was getting its first version that could support Berkley Sockets, technology that I reported in the Chronicle "is aimed at the same target audience awaiting Posix functionality on HP 3000s: application developers who already have programs running on Unix-based systems." Unix was everywhere and on the rise in that time, boiling up like a tropical storm off the shore of its datacenter landfall.

Sevcik at Interex 92MPE/iX 4.0 was "one of the highest-performing commercial operating systems in the industry," said then-GM Rich Sevcik, who'd go on to lead HP's launch of the Itanium chip program. Itanium, of course, was destined to replace PA-RISC. It might have done a lot of that, but HP's hopes for it were so much higher. The manufacturer of MPE/iX was still certain Itanium, which was only on the PowerPoint slides at the time, was going to supplant x86. Sevcik compared the 3000's value to that of IBM mainframes. "MPE is significantly easier to use," he said, "and less costly than competitive operating systems such as IBM's MVS."

HP's 987 got the new PA-7100 chips, which made the 9x7s the next-to-fastest tier of 3000s in that summer week. The big-dog Series 980 was still outperforming the new-processor models. These were six figure 980s. The 9x7s were priced at the low end in a way to attract the rank and file of 3000 users. Incredibly, the 9x7s are still running, although few owners have them in production service.

The company was pumping its installed base to get sales numbers up for the 9x7s. The non-RISC Series 68s and Series 70s, already a decade old, could be leveraged into 9x7s for as little as $3,000 on the low end of the 9x7 line. Trading in the first-model RISC Series 950 for a 9x7 could earn a $50,000 credit.

HP was still hoping to make IBM's midrange customers take heed of the 3000. The company said that in comparing the 3000 to the AS/400, "a mid-level HP system would be 60 percent cheaper than the cost of hardware, software, and support for the comparable IBM system." 

08:27 PM in History | Permalink

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