Recommendation includes five-year support guarantee, two more years of new sales
Hewlett-Packard proposed a new chapter for its oldest business computer on November 14, one that advises customers to transition away from the HP e3000 over the next five years. The announcement from 3000 division general manager Winston Prather and marketing director Christine Martino included news of a confirmed date for end of HP support and a halt of new sales in a little less than two years’ time.
HP said it will stop selling new systems on Oct. 31, 2003, ending its distribution of more than three decades of the most reliable business computer in the HP lineup. The company’s contract with North American distributor Client Systems - a company doing business exclusively in the HP 3000 line - has been extended for two more years. The computers will clearly be in service for quite awhile after that date, however, as HP is promising full customer support for the systems through the end of 2006.
“This really is about concluding that it’s time to advise customers of the long-term trend,” said Prather. “It has nothing to do with cost savings or downsizing. This is an advisory type of announcement.”
HP briefed the NewsWire several days in advance of the worldwide announcement to the general press. The announcement included news that HP will provide free unlimited HP-UX licenses for all customers who own the new A-Class and N-Class servers, and transform those systems into equivalent HP 9000 computers. And in the meantime, HP intends to continue selling the system, and upgrading it with projects that have already been announced. It will present papers and communicate with customers at Interex conferences during 2002, and continue its Webcast series with a January broadcast on transition.
“From a CSY perspective and a support perspective, it’s business as usual for the next two years,” Martino said. “It’s time for customers start their planning to move to a platform that will serve their businesses better in the future. HP recommends that customers begin transitioning off the HP 3000 to alternate HP platforms.” HP will be releasing an overview White Paper in the first of a series, “HP e3000 Migration Considerations,” from its Web site. More detailed white papers on transitions to HP-UX will be released in the future.
There’s even a silver lining in the announcement for some HP 3000 customers. The end of support date for MPE/iX 6.0 has been extended by six months to October, 2002, making it easier for companies using the HP 3000 9x7 systems to remain on the platform. HP stops support of that hardware in April, but software support for the systems has been extended as part of the transition. Series 939 and 959 system support has been extended to December of 2003.
The company is also notifying all of its customers on current support contracts by letter. Prather said the division started to brief its top-tier customers on November 9. “They were not surprised, and they really appreciated HP being able to tell them what we see as the future role of the platform,” he said. “At the same time they really love the platform, so there was some sadness in transitioning from the platform.” Prather said these top-tier customers “already have a multi-OS strategy, so they’ve been evolving their applications over time. It is a stake in the ground, but the CIOs I talked to were appreciative of hearing what the future holds.”
No layoffs or downsizing in the CSY division is being planned, nor are any additional technical development operations going to be shifted away from the California 3000 labs. The product has often been pointed to as a profitable part of the HP lineup, but CSY officials said profits didn’t enter into the decision to stop selling the systems two years from now.
The end of the CSY division seemed even fuzzier, despite its announcement of a date for the end of support. “When we get to the point where HP doesn’t need a CSY organization to support the 3000 customers, then we wouldn’t have a division,” Prather said. “We will staff the division to make sure we have whatever resources we need to meet our commitments, and we are committed through December, 2006. We will ensure from both a CSY perspective as well as our support organization and field support we have the staff we need.”
HP will also be helping continue the transition after the end of the support period. “After that, [CSY] employees will transfer to other businesses to continue the transition as well,” Prather said. HP hopes to capture HP 3000 business in its NetServer and HP-UX platforms, but recognizes that competitors will be targeting the customer base. “We will need to earn their business,” Prather said.
HP’s plans on database migration were less specific at the announcement. Prather mentioned HP Eloquence, a revision of the HP IMAGE database that’s been running on HP 9000 servers for more than a year, as an option for companies migrating their home-grown systems. Other customers should look to their application providers, Prather said, for advice and support on how to transition away from the platform. Martino and Prather said a “decline in the ecosystem” surrounding the 3000 prompted the move - and denied that the impending HP-Compaq merger had any effect on the decision to write HP’s last chapter in the 3000 community. CSY made the decision sometime after the last HP World conference, according to Prather. The general manager, who has spent his entire career managing technical and business advances for the platform, said he was saddened by his decision.
“I’m sad, because I’ve been involved in this forever,” he said. “But I feel confident we’re doing the right thing for customers. I can stand up in front of any customer and explain why we’re doing this,” Prather said. “It’s a recognition in general that we’re not going to be able to reverse the trends.” Martino said sales have been declining for the product, although the month of October, HP’s close of its fiscal year, was a record one in North America. She added that the division’s staff has been “going through stages of grief” over the decision. But despite CSY’s melancholy approach to the news, the division remains well in place trying to sell new 3000s to the community over the next 24 months. The immediate future holds no changes for companies relying on the system, HP said.
“We picked these dates that we’ll guarantee availability for customers, and we don’t have any plans to review those dates. We knew that the next question customers would ask is, ‘How long will this be a safe environment?’ That’s why we gave them these dates.” As proof of the safety, HP plans to continue with all of its announced enhancements for the system except moving it to the IA-64 platform. The ongoing PA-8700 project, which is delivering a chip that is expected improve performance another 30 percent over current top ends, will be delivered as promised. HP will also release new A-Class systems during the next two years, offering a performance bump for those low-end servers as well.
HP will also be releasing MPE/iX 7.5 next year, although the future releases of the operating system will be limited to Express updates beyond that, according to Prather. Native Fiber Channel will still be released, along with support for the new Ultrium tape systems and va7400 disk arrays. Possibilities of selling the business to another company and helping to create an Open Source movement to extend MPE’s life still may hold some potential for Prather. “We have a very diverse set of customers,” he said, “and in briefing our top-tier accounts, this doesn’t come up. I don’t believe doing any of that [Open Source] will change any of our recommendations for customers. I feel strongly that the ecosystem is starting to erode, and that right thing to do is move to another platform, hopefully an HP platform.”
But “having said all that, we will try to understand how we can help the evolution of MPE. If it is valuable to customers, we want to understand how we can help them.” Selling the source code for the operating system, as HP once did for the earlier generation of MPE, is also a possibility, “but I want to understand to who, and for what purpose.”
In the meantime, HP expects that a lively market is about to emerge around migration consulting and tools for the platform. “I have a feeling the third-party community will spring to life quickly to develop tools to help with the migration. I think a number of the partners in the ecosystem will look at this as an opportunity. This could bring the ecosystem to life for the transition period.”