User fury mounts after HP drops 3000 series server

Users on both sides of the Atlantic have reacted angrily to last week's decision by Hewlett-Packard to stop selling the...

Users on both sides of the Atlantic have reacted angrily to last week's decision by Hewlett-Packard to stop selling the decades-old HP e3000 server in two years and to cease support at the end of 2006.

The future of the HP e3000 has long been a source of concern for its large installed user base. But HP's move still stunned and angered many IT managers, who said they have built their back-end computing environments, and staked their careers, on the venerable midrange system.

Steve Walker, chairman of the HP Computer Users Association, told "Users are unhappy with the announcement but not entirely surprised. The user group will have a meeting with HP to explore the exact reasons for the decision. We will be looking to ensure that any migration can be done as cheaply as possible."

He warned HP that the move could open the door to rival vendors. "It is a definite possibility," said Walker. "This group of users have been among HP's most loyal users and it's probably only because of their input that this particular machine is still being sold."

Walker was not optimistic, however, that HP would bow to user pressure as it had in the past, and give the e3000 server an 11th-hour reprieve: "I don't see that happening again. I think it's the end this time," he said.

Analyst group Gartner this week noted the problems that e3000 server users face in moving to another platform. HP's MPE/iX Unix OS, which is used on the e3000, will not be ported to new-generation platforms such as Superdome and Keystone, which will in future run on the Itanium Processor Family.

In a research note Gartner analyst Andy Butler said: "Those e3000 customers not already migrating away from the [MPE/iX] platform should start planning to phase out their use of it." Butler said that HP would offer reasonable terms to move users to other HP products. But as with any migration, he said, users were likely to receive competitive offers from rival vendors.

Gartner also observed that the death of the e3000 was an indication that HP/Compaq would look to pull the plug on other non-strategic products during the proposed merger. It suggested that a likely candidate was Compaq's OpenVMS platform.

Users in the US have also expressed anger at the move. John Burke, systems and operations manager at Pacific Coast Building Products in California said the phase-out plan was hard to swallow because HP had laid out a five-year development roadmap for the HP e3000 at an independent user group in August.

"I feel betrayed, because I left the HP World conference with a renewed feeling of confidence that the platform would be around," Burke said. "How can we trust HP?"

The e3000 series was launched in 1972 and with Compaq's OpenVMS-based systems and IBM's AS/400, (now called the iSeries), is one of the last of the old-line minicomputers left standing.

HP made its latest overhaul of the e3000 in February, introducing A-class and N-class systems that offer up to 65% and 35% more power, respectively, than their predecessors.

A five-year road map for the e3000 was laid out at this year's HP World show, an HP spokeswoman admitted. But she said the road map included just two years of specific product enhancements that HP still plans to implement. The other three years were "ideas" and did not represent firm commitments.

Under the phase-out plan announced by HP, the company will continue to sell and enhance the HP e3000 until October 2003. Technical support services for the machines, which run HP's proprietary MPE/iX operating system, will continue until the end of 2006.

HP hopes e3000 users will migrate to its other servers running HP-UX, Windows or Linux, and it is offering a series of discounts and trade-in offers designed to help lower the transition costs.

Some users are expressing doubts that HP's discounts will cover the full cost of migrating. "Five years is not a lot of time to convert lots of home-grown applications that have been built over the years," said one.

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