HP e3000 users disappointed but not surprised

Although its impending death comes as no shock to them, loyal users of Hewlett-Packard’s e3000 server line say they’re not eager to part ways with an IT industry stalwart.

Robert Hilverth, a database administrator at Mohawk College in Hamilton, Ont., which has employed e3000 servers since the early 1980s, which today run the school’s student records and HR applications, said the announcement that HP will discontinue sales of the product by the end of 2003 was expected, but also a disappointment.

“I was not surprised,” he said in an e-mail interview. “HP MPE clients have lost their fervent loyalty to HP and I think that HP sees this trend and is no longer willing to expend resources on diminishing returns. “

Multi-Programming Executive (MPE) is the proprietary platform that runs on the e3000 servers, which were first launched in 1972. Hilverth said declining support for that platform in part led to HP’s decision. “Many MPE-oriented software vendors ported their HP software offering to HP/UX over the years. In today’s world, MPE is not considered as important as an operating system. For example, Oracle no longer delivers its most current database (8.1.x) on MPE. Version 7.3.4 is the latest that is available.”

According to Christopher Koppe, director of marketing at one of the largest application developers for the MPE platform, Montreal-based Speedware Corporation Inc., users of the e3000 and its OS are fanatical for good reason. “It has an incredible low total cost of ownership, and it has a reputation of staying up and running for four or five years (without having to reboot),” he said. “Plus, you don’t need to have a lot of system administrators administering it.

“It’s like Old Faithful – it’s always there, always running, never crashing.”

It also came with native database technology – Image – that Koppe said far exceeded the transactional ability of today’s packaged relational databases.

Most of Speedware’s 3,000 customers use the e3000s, which has a large following in the manufacturing and health care industries, said Koppe. He expects 10 per cent of them to migrate away from it immediately, and others to hang on for various lengths of time. “The platform will live on for 10 years, but a good 40 per cent will be gone in two years,” he said.

Koppe also doubts HP’s migration incentives will save its customers much money. “It’s going to cost them something. It’s not going to be free on the hardware and OS side.”

HP blames “erosion” of its e3000 install base as they slowly migrated to other Unix, Linux and Windows-based systems, for the decision. The company will continue selling certain e3000 servers until Nov. 1, 2003, and will maintain support services – including repairs and ongoing technical training – for the servers until Jan. 1, 2007, the company said. Trade-in credits and discounts toward the purchase of HP servers running HP-UX, Windows or Linux will be offered, and customers who purchased the newly released A- and N-class systems from the e3000 line will receive free conversion kits and unlimited HP-UX user licenses, HP said.

Officials said they are also working with e3000 application vendors to help them transfer their applications and customers to other HP systems, and with developers of third-party tools and middleware to create migration applications and services. Additionally, HP is extending the end-of-support dates for many of its e3000 servers, adding from two months to two years to the servers’ life expectancy. The goal is to insure that customers only have to transition once, said Christine Martino, HP’s commercial systems division worldwide marketing manager.

Kees denHartigh, systems and network analyst supervisor at the Electrical and Computer Engineering department of the University of Alberta in Edmonton, said the passing of the e3000 marks a sad day for HP, but adds that the company made the right and only decision, under the circumstances.

“It does … mark the end of an era for HP (but) to continue to support such a dinosaur is no longer cost effective. This is a message to e3000 users – get over it, get on with it,” he said by e-mail.

Hilverth admitted Mohawk College was already exploring less expensive server options, given that it relies third-party support to maintain its e3000s. However, he said the school will not automatically follow HP’ suggested migration path to HP-UX, and is even looking to Windows NT/2000 as an option.

“Where we recognize the quality of HP servers and commercial Unix systems, we won’t automatically role our systems from MPE to HP/UX or NT on HP servers, if possible. We are now looking at servers as a commodity and are looking for the best price,” he said.

Koppe said any bitter feelings toward HP over its decision are likely to be short-lived, and predicts that 70 per cent of Speedware’s e3000 customers will opt for a Unix port, “most likely HP-UX.”

As well, he said once users make the move, they’ll appreciate some of the benefits of a fully supported OS. “They’ll be on a modern and pervasive platform,” said Koppe. “It’s going to be a much richer environment with a much larger third-party community,” a group that includes Speedware, he added, which is already fielding calls asking for migration support.

In fact, not only is Speedware now fully in the migration business, it will also be among those looking to pick up HP’s e3000 support contracts,” Koppe said.

The e3000 user base has always been minuscule, according to experts, but HP declined to disclose the size of the e3000’s installed base.

HP has struggled to generate enough profit from the e3000 line to maintain the level of investment needed to keep MPE/iX (the latest version of platform) current, the company said in a question-and-answer section on its Web site. The decision to discontinue the e3000 line is unrelated to HP’s planned merger with Compaq Computer Corp., HP said.

– With files from IDG News Service