On a November afternoon fifteen years ago, users and vendors met in an Amsterdam conference center to celebrate integration. A handful of companies had melded their HP 3000 applications with the Internet. "All of the users I spoke with were already doing some kind of e-something, whether elementary or quite advanced,” said Adager CEO Rene Woc. One showed off how Java had helped create an interface for a company that was selling parts for power looms. Their customers were all over the world.
The users' presentations were especially notable because they were offered in five languages. Simultaneous translations were paid for by the HP 3000 division, the only time in more than 30 years of conferences I've been able to pick up a wireless headset and hear technical reports translated. Not into everyday C-level language, but into French, Spanish, German, Dutch and English. HP set up two rooms with a total of 10 translators. The vendor was working to encourage 3000 managers to speak the language of the Web. HP collected $365 per attendee to help defray the cost; 90 customers and partners attended from 14 countries.
Users wanted their 3000s to be better connected because they didn't want their systems left behind as IT expansion ramped up. Everyone had escaped Y2K worries by November of 2000. The dot-com boom hadn't gone bust, and in some segments like e-commerce, Web interfaces were bringing genuine innovation for interfaces.
The surge was less certain for companies which had limited their 3000 communications to data swaps over internal LANs. Some were using an intranet, employing the Web technology without exposing the 3000's data to the outside. Others like Lindauer Dornier used the Enhydra Web application server and Java/iX to send the power loom manufacturer's parts data to its customers across the world.
The HP 3000 at the heart of Dornier's operations was plugged in when Windows NT proved too slow. The Windows product that became Windows Server a few years later got dumped in favor of MPE/iX. The meeting "had a lot of flavor of the old days," said HP's Sally Blackwell. The emphasis was not on sponsorships. It was an exchange of information, with HP's help."
HP 3000 Division Product Marketing Manager Loretta Li-Sevilla made the trek from the HP 3000 headquarters, telling customers that “the 3000 is a rock solid foundation for an Internet future. With the 3000 as your platform of choice, that future is unlimited.” There was another 12 months of future remaining with an unlimited flavor.
Going faster than Microsoft: Dornier's Peter Herpich, who’d been managing HP 3000s since 1980, hired an independent consulting group to develop the parts ordering application. He said he learned that Java expertise transfers easily to the e3000, and he didn’t have to look for developers trained in both the 3000 and Java.
His consultants built the application on an NT system, but it performed slowly there. “I said I’m not happy,” he reported. “I said they should bring it to the HP 3000.” HP’s Lars Appel assisted the consultants, and the Java application was ported to the e3000 in six hours.
The company served more than 900 customers across the Web. “For me it was a surprise,” Herpich said. “It’s a success. I have 60 percent of our spare parts orders processed electronically. We have a new communication channel with the customers.”
In 2000 Herpich said he had no faith in Microsoft’s solutions, adding that a problem with a Microsoft system means “you have to install it a-new. I don’t want to use a replacement technology for three years, and then have to reinvest again.” He also noted that, “you don’t need specially trained HP 3000 people to create new applications on that machine. The consultants worked on an order system in Java, and brought it to the HP e3000.”
Enhydra was an open source application server for rapid development and deployment of Java and XML-based apps. The server handled all application operations between browser-based computers and a company’s back-end business applications and databases — in this case, IMAGE/SQL or Allbase and HP 3000 apps written in languages like COBOL.
After his presentation, Herpich joked that he saw the 3000 investment of his company paying off for his staff, too. “I can always tell which of our staff is working with the 3000. They have a tan in the summer, while the other people do not.”