HP Discover Barcelona

HP Discover Logo

This week I’m headed over to HP Discover in Barcelona, Spain, thanks to the magnanimity of Calvin Zito.

I’m looking forward to hearing from HP directly, because I don’t know as much about them as I once did. There’s so much going on in technology at the moment that it’s hard to keep up.

You can expect my usual brand of snark at empty marketing bollocks, mixed with genuine enthusiasm for whatever I think deserves it. How much you get of each depends mostly on what HP does.

Blue Cow will once again join me on my travels, which begin later today with a 27(!) hour set of flights from Melbourne to Barcelona on Emirates. Aisle seats FTW!

I was originally going to dig into HP’s financials (as I’ve done in the past for other companies) but this time I’ve decided to reminisce a little. My experience with HP goes back a long way — nearly 20 years — and it’s been a bumpy ride. I’m not a merely passive observer here, so you deserve to know something of my biases going in.

First HP Experience

My first experience with HP gear was back in 1996 working at Vodafone Australia as a Trainee Engineer. I was doing a BE in Telecommunications Engineering and made friends with the Unix and VMS team, who offered me a job after my 6 month internship in the Engineering department was up.

Actually, that’s not quite true. My first experience with HP gear was my father’s HP Reverse Polish Notation calculator (he’s a retired mining engineer) at about 7 years old, and I found it utterly confusing. I do recall the build quality was excellent.

Vodafone in those days was an HP Unix and VAX VMS shop, with a new Windows NT3.51/4.0 install gradually replacing Novell Netware, so while university was all Sun SunOS/Solaris machines, work was HP-UX 9.x and up. I installed Slackware Linux on an old PC so I could have a proper native X-Windows environment instead of relying on Reflection-X.

HP Unix machines back then were all in “classes”. We had a mix of C-class desktop workstations, J-class high-powered graphics workstations, D-class small servers, and K-class big servers. We had some disk arrays connected to the Ks, mostly configured as RAID-5, with some RAID-1/0, from memory. We had special GIS software for planning where to put mobile towers, Oracle databases, and a bunch of other custom engineering stuff. The “what text would you like to send to the person?” operator SMS system was based on a taxi-booking application, which ran on a 2×2 geographically distributed cluster of D-class machines that interfaced to the VMS based SMSCs. I remember it had a C-ISAM database that would very occasionally lose track of where its indexes pointed and had to be fixed by hand(!).

I still have the signoff page from a project I did to install the first permanent Internet connection for the company in Australia. We had an X.25 PAD link for email forwarding, and some sort of SS7 linkage for the phone networks (which remain mysteriously complex beasts to me. Seriously, mobile phone networks are basically magic), but proper Internet access was from a single dial-up workstation sitting in a hallway. I was used to always-on Internet from university and wanted it at work, too. We put in a 64k ISDN link (which I’m pretty sure was an on.net link, but it wasn’t with Internode, so my memory may be faulty) and everyone in the company had access to the Internet from their desktops. Magic.

I’m still pretty proud of that project, and am eternally grateful for the help of my then manager, Greg. He remains the best boss I’ve ever had, and by a wide margin.

Work for HP

HP/Agilent Mug Holder Pic

My HP/Agilent mug holder, which I still use today.

Fast forward a few years (and time at an all Sun shop, with E-10,000s) to 1999 and I ended up working for HP’s Asia-Pacific IT division as a contractor looking after the Unix systems in a mostly Windows NT team. It was Y2K work for the most part, and we did such a great job I missed out on lots of lovely overtime pay because everything just worked, so we got sent home early. Boo. I remember building an auto-download-and-patch module that plugged into the internal software distribution system so I wouldn’t have to manually patch all the servers. It worked a treat.

DevOps isn’t new. ;)

I also did a bit of travel in Asia-Pacific installing MC/ServiceGuard based clusters on, I think, D-class machines, though I can’t recall what was supposed to run on top of it. It was a lot of fun being in Hong Kong for Chinese New Year in 2000.

Sadly, this was part of the Carly Fiorina era, and the destruction of “The HP Way” was in full swing. A lot of the really great HP product engineering ended up in Agilent while HP went on to concentrate more on PCs and printers. There are those who say the “real” HP is now called Agilent.

My personal opinion is that Fiorina was a terrible CEO who broke a once great company, and she’s been followed by a series of similarly awful CEOs who continued on the destructive path Fiorina laid down. I reserve judgement on Meg Whitman’s tenure, but she’s been there for 3 years now, and the split seems to be plan-B from when buying EMC fell through.

The New HP

I have high hopes for the greatness of Hewlett-Packard to once again re-emerge in whatever the structure of HP ends up being post-split.

In the late-90s, HP printers were excellent. They worked, and would stay working for ages. I worked for a national logistics company at one stage, which used impact printers for consignment notes in trucking depots. The printers with HP-JetDirect modules would just work. The terminal server connected ones were the bane of my existence. I still hate printers because of that experience.

HP was the Engineer’s company. Steve Wozniak loved working there! Engineers the world over loved their HP calculators. HP was distinctly its own special thing, and it was a thing that worked, and worked well. HP meant quality, and great engineering. Everyone wanted to use the HP CROs (and spectrum-analysers, and frequency generators) in my lab classes, because they were well designed and solid and worked really, really well. Other brands? They’d gather dust, or get used by people late to class.

I’ve love for HP to become that company again.

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