Wayback Wed: The Big Wet soaks HP's show
August 30, 2017
During this week of 2005, a natural disaster the size of Hurricane Harvey sank the launch site of HP's conference debut. Hurricane Katrina socked New Orleans two weeks before the first HP Technology Forum & Expo was to make its appearance on the HP 3000 show calendar. Katrina's loss of life was staggering compared to Harvey's toll. In some way, though, the disruption for that conference devoted to HP business computing felt fated. HP's computer group bore down a storm of change on the Interex user group's shoreline that year, cooking up the Technology Forum all during 2005. The HP-led show was roping in exhibitor dollars which had kept the Interex user group afloat each year.
As of this writing, HP Enterprise has not reported damages to the HP facilities in the Highway 249 corridor where the Compaq and HP facilities are located. The reported rainfall totals are staggering, however, and the hurricane is being declared the worst rainfall disaster in US history.
The company had its history with hurricanes and the Gulf Coast before this week, though. HP got close to Houston because of its Compaq acquisition in 2002. In 2005, Interex canceled its HP World show when the user group folded with millions in unpaid hotel deposits still on the books. At the time, HP said anyone who'd paid to attend the Interex show could shift their registration to the first-ever HP Tech Forum. The event was to be held in New Orleans in the thick of hurricane season. Katrina wrecked the city so badly that HP had to move its new show to Orlando.
The 2005 hurricane rescheduled an HP show that was not aimed to replace Interex's annual tentpole event. The scheduling might as well have been targeted at the user group, though. Interex got notice in 2004 it could collaborate with the DEC-driven Encompass user group on a 2005 conference, But the HP user group launched by HP 3000 customers was 30 years old by 2004. Interex had to go its own way to retain enough revenue from the event. User group leaders averred that the deciding factor was HP's insistence on steering the content and tone of the new event. In particular, the tone was cited by an HP liaison David Parsons. The Interex members had a history of going toe-to-toe with HP's executives in the legendary Management Roundtables.
As they often do, the storms triggered disaster recovery reporting. Before Katrina swept its broom of destruction in 2005, we ran a pair of articles about disaster recovery strategies. Our columnist Scott Hirsh has also weighed in with best practices on DR in hisWorst Practices column written in the wake of 9/11. Gulf Coast weather didn't sink Interex, but the tradition of an August-September schedule for North American HP trade shows was scattered for good by the storm. HP CEOs had a tradition of being in hurricane paths.
I was covering the show as editor of the HP Chronicle. HP had a new CEO that summer, too: Lew Platt. In that 1992 show, conference attendees watched masking tape go up on windows all day long all over the city, most of which sits below sea level. Platt made an escape in front of the storm, but not before one customer after another had to stop for a word while he was on the way to his limo. By 5 PM we were all confined to the Hilton Hotel for safety. We danced in comfort in the ballroom, drinking the city's signature hurricane cocktails and riding out the storm outside. Everyone was told to fill bathtubs before they came to the party, in case the water supply got cut off. We all hoped that housekeeping had been zealous on those tubs.
In the advent of that 2005 storm season we put up a podcast about the intersection of new HP CEOs and hurricanes. Encompass user group's executive director Mary Ellen Smith said at the time the user group was hopeful the storm's damage wouldn't impact the conference. Users could apply for a refund until Aug. 31. A few years later, Hurricane Ike struck Houston. But it did not linger like Harvey has this week.
HP touted its new conference as “the first conference to deliver qualified, consistent education and training opportunities across HP’s broad base of customers, partners and employees.” The claim led one Interex volunteer who’d led the group’s HP 3000 content, Jerry Fochtman, to dispute HP’s promise. What about the 30 years of Interex conferences, he asked?
“I guess everything up to this point over the last 30 years that has strived to do that, with both HP’s assistance as well as partnership, wouldn’t qualify,” he said in an Internet posting. “All this political-speak is just that...a bunch of bull-dung."