TBT: HP rides into the cloud first on 3000s
November 19, 2015
In the month of November 17 years ago, Hewlett-Packard drove itself into cloud computing with HP 3000s. It wasn't called cloud computing in 1998. Resolving Y2K was still more than a year away. It was a year with a healthy dose of blue skies for the computer, including the lab manager's plan to put MPE/iX on the company's favored IA-64 chips.
However, HP was positioning the 3000 as a solution for a world that wasn't purchasing as many servers as before. It was a situation much like what HP faces today. New 3000 sales were tough to come by, just like Integrity sales of today. Thanks to HP's efforts, customers were moving off 3000s in favor of Unix and Windows and NT. Today they're all moving away from servers of all kinds, leaving the hardware to offsite management and administration. The Cloud.
The 3000's entry to cloud computing arrived in the form of an acquisition. The 3000 division bought Open Skies, a 38-person software firm which had airlines for clients. Not many major clients for the time. Westjet. Ryan Air. But these were lean airlines that wanted to track miles flown and customers served without developing and maintaining a software application. HP had called the concept Apps on Tap earlier in the year. The 3000's CSY division bought Open Skies to show the way, creating an application that could be tapped.
Roy Breslawski made a shift away from CSY marketing manager to Open Skies marketing manager. Breslawski, like his GM Harry Sterling, took the MPE mission seriously enough to disregard the accepted wisdom about the 3000. (Legacy platform. Fading fast. Jobs there a stepping stone.) Instead, Breslawski set up business with an earnest belief about the product's growth prospects.
The Open Skies deal was sparked by the needs of a much bigger airline, though. British Air was tired of being undercut by smaller operators like Ryan Air and EasyJet, so BA set up Go, a low-end carrier. Go wanted Open Skies to host and manage the HP 3000s handling their reservations.
Those systems came to be owned by HP and configured in a separate datacenter. That commitment led Open Skies to ask HP for help in meeting manpower arrangements, which developed into discussions about HP taking over the growing company.
In that era of HP's 3000 stewardship, CSY was a division whose managers were virtually out of the market for new customers for several years. CSY had suffered in HP’s shadows before the company’s Unix fanatics fled in the face of the NT juggernaut. However, the customers’ willingness to keep their minds open about operating environments yielded two surprising years of success for CSY, success that attracted Breslawski’s attention when the division’s marketing manager post came open this summer.
The division’s first marketing manager hand-picked by GM Harry Sterling, Breslawski said when he arrived at CSY in 1997 that he was moving to another durable post – both CSY and HP’s calculator businesses turned 25 years old in that year. Breslawski came to the 3000 from work in HP calculators, and before that, work on the company's first portable PC.
As for Open Skies, it started its HP lifespan being run by Sterling. Open Skies was the company, and its offering to customers was called OpenRes. Sterling said that OpenRes was the first non-airline affiliated system of this type, and added that he expected to be managing the new venture closely in the coming months.
“I’ll be spending a lot of time in Salt Lake City,” he said in 1998. “The product line will really report into the software and services part of HP, because it’s laid out in that kind of business model. [HP vice president and Enterprise Computing Solutions Organization GM] Ann Livermore will effectively be who I work with.”
OpenRes was sold as a product without a price on the HP price list. “It’s a service-based business that’s very individually tailored for every customer,” Breslawski said.
“We’re going for a different business model,” Sterling said. “We’re basically not selling servers — we’re selling transactions. HP will actually host and run the systems. It’s a whole new business model for HP. That’s the exciting part of this. The acquisition was exciting, but also the fact that we’re starting a new business model. That’s something we’ve never done in HP before.”