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Report on a Community in Chaos:
Keeping the HP e3000 Alive
An Interview with Bill Lancaster


In 2001, two events rocked the HP e3000 community. First, at the e3000 Solutions Symposium in February, HP unveiled its five-year plan for the growth of the venerable e3000 system. Nine short months later, HP announced it would end the sales and support of the HP3000 product line. Many wondered what had gotten into HP. Most felt betrayed.

Bill Lancaster, spokesman for the newly formed consortium Resource 3000 heard the rumblings from afar. Shortly after HP’s November 2001 announcement, Lancaster – a 20-plus year veteran of the HP 3000 - left the community he’d done so much to build and support. He felt that HP had abandoned not just a product line, but an important community of dedicated customers. He took HP’s announcement as an invitation to look outside of HP and the e3000 for business opportunities. For the next three years, he successfully indulged in several newer technologies, leaving the e3000 behind for “professional reasons.”

How many others have followed in Lancaster’s footsteps in the three years since HP’s announcement? Quite a few, according to HP sources. To be identified as a dinosaur in the fast-moving computer world is challenging. IBM mainframe programmers have struggled against this moniker for years. Holding onto their careers and self esteem in the wake of new technology and younger, more aggressive programmers who grew up with the new technology hasn’t been easy. Now, many e3000 programmers, system administrators, and system managers face the same dilemma: move, or fade into obscurity. In spite of his successes elsewhere, this past May Lancaster accepted an invitation from the partners at Lund Performance Solutions to reenter the HP e3000 community.

“They wanted me to help them take the company back to its roots,” he said. “Lund also saw opportunities outside of the e3000, and pursued those opportunities with a calculated and targeted marketing plan.

What was missing, though, was the loyalty and camaraderie they’d had with their e3000 customers.” Lancaster says he could have continued with his other pursuits, making more money and increasing his knowledge of newer technologies. “But,” he commented, “I was at a point in my life where community meant more to me than money or technology. I didn’t realize how disjointed the e3000 community had become.”

Reliability and stability take a back seat to open systems Asked about his return to the e3000 after three years working with other technologies, Lancaster said,. “It’s not that it’s an old technology, as much as it is a proprietary technology. MPE is an amazing piece of work, and the new versions of the operating system work just as well in a networked environment as anything else on the market. The e3000’s reliability has been both its biggest draw and its biggest drawback.”

Lancaster observed HP’s insistence that without their guiding hands after 2006, e3000 users would be in big trouble. “Seeing this really got me riled. There’s such a strong community of support available for the 3000 that what HP was saying just didn’t make any sense. I knew we could do something to counteract HP’s message of doom.”

The e3000 has long been known for its stability in a commercial business environment. Where many systems need constant care and feeding, the e3000 simply keeps on running, often in the back room and sometimes under desks. Applications developed decades ago run as reliably as applications developed in the past year. This reliability and the ease with which database-driven applications could be developed created a tight community of users. “This, and a significant decrease in sales,” Lancaster lamented, “ultimately played a part in the departure of HP from the e3000 game.”

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