The HP 3000: A Personal Mainframe for Everyone?

Published originally in The HP 3000 NewsWire

By Cortlandt Wilson
SIG CONSULT Co-Chair

Imagine an HP 3000 "virtual workstation" -- a standard 918 or 928 with a four-user MPE/ license and a bundle of one or more compilers and symbolic debuggers priced at a reduced cost -- on the desk of very programmer in your IT department. Imagine such small HP 3000 systems, priced in the ballpark of NT servers or Unix workstations, opening up new uses for the 3000. As long as MPE/iX is sold with user pricing based on a minimum of eight users, the market for such systems will be restricted. What if MPE/iX was licensed in a smaller configuration? Imagine the HP 3000 as a high end PC -- what I like to think of as a personal mainframe.

The joint venture between HP and Intel to produce the Merced chip might eventually usher in a new age of scaleable computer architecture. But if MPE/iX is ever ported to the Merced chip, such systems will not be available for years. Why wait? Sure, the 3000 hardware will always cost several times that of a bargain basement PC clone. But the same is also true of high-end NT servers and Power PCs. It might be just my imagination, but I think there is a viable market today for a limited-user HP 3000.

HP has announced a new package for application developers called the Series 918DX, one that can be leased for as little as $200 per month. As co-chair of SIGCONSULT, the special interest group for HP computer consultants, I had the opportunity to advise HP on the 918DX package. I call the 918DX a personal mainframe, and look forward to seeing my PM sitting alongside my PC in my home office. One of the possibilities that arose from our discussions with HP is the prospect of a four-user MPE/iX license for the 918DX. Once that model is in place, four-user pricing could become available to the entire market.

I don't expect HP to price its software and software support for a four-user system at half the price of an eight-user system. During our planning for 918DX I heard some indications that HP's pricing model "flattens out" at the lower end of the number of users curve. It probably is also safe to predict that a four-user license would only be offered on the low-end systems such as the 918 and 928. Another idea to cut cost of ownership is to consider what user pricing might look like if HP offered a volume discount based on software that a customer already owns and pays support for on a larger production system.

In our discussions with HP regarding the 918DX, everyone came to realize that a four-user MPE/iX license is important for reasons other than reducing the cost of software from HP. Reducing the price of critical third-party development software is also an important factor in total cost of ownership. Earlier this year, Wirt Atmar of AICS Research and later Alfredo Rego of Adager promised HP 3000 newsgroup readers their QueryCalc and Adager products, respectively, for an amazing $450 on a four-user MPE/iX system -- when HP offers such a system. The lower-cost pricing is popular: A number of tool, utility and language vendors have come on board the 918DX program at no charge or at drastically reduced prices.

Customers will remember HP World 97 as something like a very good Christmas. But this good cheer need not be limited just to consultants and vendors. The 918DX concept paves the way for other small HP 3000 configurations. Something similar could happen with a general release four-user system. The 918DX came about from a combination of persistence, organized advocacy, broad passionate interest and a good business case. Several HP representatives mentioned the interest shown in discussions on the HP 3000 newsgroup as a key motivating factor.

Interex, the HP user group, has plans to create what it calls forums -- special interest groups dedicated to a defined goal of broad interest, supported by Interex staff. Advocacy for a general release four-user MPE/iX license might be a good use of the forum structure. Consultants and vendors now have the system we wanted. However, if the case can be made, then the "personal mainframe" may be in everyone's future. Persons who would like Interex to take up the cause of a low cost, low end HP 3000 should contact the Interex Advocacy Council at "advocacy@interex.org".

Cortlandt Wilson (Cortlandt Software) specializes in HP MANMAN. Cortlandt is co-chair of SIG Consult, and is an officer of SIG-MANMAN, SIG-Client Server and the proposed SIG POS/iX (Posix).

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