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  1. Technology
September 6, 1988

PERSISTENCE – OR THE ART OF FLY IBM FISHING

By CBR Staff Writer

The Call of the Wild Ranch, barely a dozen miles south of Livingston, Montana, boasts a wonderful stretch of spring-fed stream, teeming with trout and the insects on which they feed. It is pretty well known for such a short stretch of water in a mighty big state – and for one that ranch owner Eva S DePuy will only let 15 people visit on a given day. A diplomatic envoy from Brooklyn went there recently, accompanied by noted fishing consultant, Mr Tom Travis, only to discover that he wasn’t the sole out-of-towner who had heard of this exotic place. Another angler who arrived on the water while the fellow from Brooklyn was donning his wading regalia had come all the way from Paris to test his skills with the fly rod. As it turned out, the Parisian had had the good fortune of visiting the Travis enterprise in downtown Livingston, and there was imbued with the wisdom that led him to DePuy’s prolific creek.

Zen master Some day, perhaps, the fisherman from France will take further advantage of his chance encounter with Travis. This would almost certainly be to his benefit. For Travis teaches wanderers from Brooklyn, Paris, and the other great cities of the world a good deal more than the fishing techniques for which he is deservedly famous. This year, for example, he endowed a student with a rich lesson in persistence, using methods worthy of a zen master. The concept of persistence as taught by Travis is very useful in fishing. It is also the root of success in other endeavours. Persistence is the reason that IBM has been so successful at selling its equipment. The contrapositive is also true, for IBM’s marketing failures imply the absence of proper persistence. Needless to say, the computer user, faced with problems that are usually easier than directing IBM but somewhat more complex than catching a trout, would do well to study persistence. If one has not fully grasped the idea during the course of encounters with IBM’s sales reps or those from computer leasing companies, it may not be too late. There’s always Travis, and a stream in Montanaas rife with fish as the Hudson River valley is with mainframes. There is one small difference between the piscatorial and technological pursuits. Eva DePuy insists that you put the fish back, while IBM makes you keep the computer. Leasing companies provide you with the most interesting combination, however. They make you keep the machine you have signed for sight unseen, and, just about the time you have figured out how to use it properly, they take it back. In order to exercise proper persistence, one first needs to choose a goal. Initially, any one will do, so we suggest something simple, such as catching a trout that is feeding vociferously within a short cast. Or acquiring a mainframe that is faster than you will ever need for less than your budget allotment. Though this latter goal may appear to be unreachable when presented this way, it is pretty much what your basic computer sales rep usually promises. If anything, it is less problematic to be wrong about the computer than about the trout. When the trout begrudges your lure, you can’t blame it on software. Having selected an appropriate goal – which, because the fourth quarter of the year is at hand, we presume is snagging a computer, not hooking a trout – one begins the real work. This is where persistence is tested. Travis observes that a fisherman in a stream full of jumping trout will not catch any fish if he casts first to one, then to another. The way to catch fish, he explains, is to pick one and keep casting. Eventually, it will take the fly. The prospective purchaser, casting for the right deal, must similarly avoid being drawn first toward one deal, then to another that is completely different. Once the user has established in his mind that the system, terms and conditions he has chosen are what he wants, and ascertained that they are indeed available, success will come as a direct result of persistence. There are moments when one’s faith is shaken by a spiteful fish or inflexible salesman. One must persist and thereby

overcome them. Do not try to take justice into your own hands by throwing a rock at the fish. Or at the salesman either, for that matter. Remember that cosmic forces will eventually come into play. The fish and salesman will each be reincarnated as the other. Remember also the lesson of IBM, which grew mighty because it had trained its sales reps to persist. Having discovered that there might be a big market for data processing machines while peddling the 1401, IBM risked its future on the 360, antecedent of today’s mainframes. Hundreds of companies installed 360s, not because they were sure computers would save them money (they probably didn’t), but because IBM persisted in telling prospects that computing was the wave of the future. And even though some potential purchasers gave IBM back another kind of wave, which requires only one digit, (two’s better this side of the water) the company kept going. Today, several computer generations later, it no longer matters whether computers save money or not in an absolute sense. There is no possible way a large enterprise can exist without them, any more than a fish can live without water. Economies in computing, where they can be found, are now relative. Prevailing conditions in the computer business make some goals easier to achieve than others. For instance,some mainframes may be more costly during the remainder of this year than users (and lessors) had generally expected – even the oldies. Lately, a bit of a sellers’ market has developed for owners of 3090s and large 308X machines. The dominant cause of this upturn in mainframe costs is that IBM has priced its 3090S on the high side. This is painfully the case if one chooses to upgrade. The persistent user, however, will find bargains elsewhere to balance a budget distorted by conditions in the mainframe sector.

Corporate headwaters Amazing bargains are to be found in the used terminal market. Large lots of one-model-old tubes are languishing in dealers’ warehouses. Some disks are cheap, but, for crowded shops, they may not be appropriate because they are the least capacious 3380s, the ones that eat up much more floor space than newer models. But what about the shops that have plenty of everything except MIPS? Will they just have to send their managers, hats in hand, to the corporate headwaters from which funds flow? Not necessarily. By delaying mainframe upgrades, or adding older, cheaper systems on an interim basis, the user can wait out a market that is bound to come down. A huge number of 3090s were installed in 1985 and 1986 on leases with four-year terms. These systems will flood the market during 1989, some at the end of their leases, others when users must sublease earlier than they had originally planned. Even though upgrades are expensive, cheap non-E 3090s will reduce the price of E machines. The user that persists will be able to reap the benefit of this glut. Right now, IBM is emphasising processor upgrades more than replacements. But it cannot go to extremes. In order to maintain sales and profits, it will also have to displace substantial numbers of installed 3090s. Otherwise, IBM’s shareholders, angling for higher dividends, won’t persist.

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