Birket Foster is all
about delivering data. In any conversation with the co-founder of M.B.
Foster Associates, he can deliver a dozen points of data related to the
initial question. As the leader of a company with more than two decades of
HP 3000 experience, hes in a select group: business people who have
helped the market grow, mature and be reborn again. The 3000s
renaissance happened in the same period that Fosters company was
establishing Open Database Connectivity (ODBC) as a fundamental capability
of the system. Now a limited version of his ODBCLink is included on each HP
3000 sold, a deal struck with HP in 1996 just a few months after we
first interviewed him. The relationship made his company the leading
candidate to build the subsequent Java Database Connectivity (JDBC) driver
for HP. That turned out to be a project that HP elected to take inside,
instead of contracting anyone to build.
Foster returns to our Q&A
for his perspective on the market changes since 1996. Hes also news
because his firm is piloting a new version of its flagship DataExpress, one
that links queries from the 3000 with data on NT and Unix boxes a
multi-platform join. Hes also chaired the largest group
of 3000 vendors, SIGSOFTVEND, for more than a decade. We think this makes
him a great touchstone on how software vendors do business, a crucial topic
in the 3000 markets future. Three years ago we asked Foster to tell
us how the 3000 could survive. This month we ask him what it will take to
make it thrive: handing its relationships with other platforms, especially
NT, and how HP might attract application developers to a platform before
its Year 2000 tunnel of safety disappears. Schooled in
economics, he can sum up business strategies like Economic
Darwinism that help put the platform outside that tunnel and in the
richest possible light.
What impact do you expect
multi-platform joins to have on the HP 3000 marketplace?
Its a reality that virtually
every site has either an HP 9000, an NT box, or both in the HP 3000
marketplace. As people move NT from its role of file sharing or print
sharing into a role where it might have a departmental or small
application, people want to join the data on their HP 3000s with the data
on their NT box to produce a result. Multi-platform joins are a reality
that needs to happen, one way or another. Either people are already
shipping a file, or the join is being done manually. People are going to
want to do this more auto-magically.
NTs success opened a door
for the HP 3000 renaissance. How has NTs suitability as a
mission-critical platform changed in the past few years?
It not only has not scaled, but it
still needs to get the robustness that people are so used to on the HP
3000. The issue comes down to the Microsoft promise that something would be
enterprise-ready by May, 1998. That never delivered. In fact, the version
that is scheduled for the end of 1999 doesnt even contain all the
features that were talked about in May of 1998.
And the things being left out of
NT look pretty mission critical?
Some of the items, yes. If you had
a feature that was in there to promote the whole platform, it was there
because it made it enterprise complete. If youre dropping it out, are
you less than enterprise-complete? I would say probably. The fact that you
had it in the list of features and youre now removing it didnt
change the fact that it was enterprise-necessary.
The sidebar on this is the 3M
story. 3M has changed the NT deployment strategy and has backed its [NT]
projects out and theyre now committed to building them on HP
3000s. This is a three-year [HP 3000] commitment, starting in December of
1998. They did this because NT doesnt scale. You have sites that run
regularly with 2,000-plus users on an HP 3000, and you cant get an NT
box to do that. One day, if Microsoft fulfills its promises, it will do
that. But today it wont.
What conditions do you think
might lead some HP 3000 customers to move their mission-critical
applications to NT after the Year 2000?
When NT doesnt have to be
rebooted when you install new software. Typically, installing a piece of
software on an NT box brings new Dynamic Linked Libraries (DLLs). The way
that Microsoft has built the operating system and handles DLLs is such that
the majority of the software will require a reboot at the end of that
process. Thats unacceptable if youre running a mission-critical
application and you need to be 24x7.
Once they get to that point, it
will get more robust and wont fail as often. People dont just
move systems for the sake of moving systems. There has to be a business
reason for doing it, and it has to be a compelling business reason that
gives it a priority.
Why do you think 3M wanted to
move their 3000 systems?
They were hoping that the promise
of a lower-cost computing platform would arrive. You have to admit
its a lot easier to actually say, Well, thats what all
the magazines said to do. Nobody has gotten fired for buying NT yet.
Heres 4,000 pounds of paper that said this was the right thing to do.
Do you think HP 3000 application
availability is a condition that would lead customers to move
You have to have the equivalent or
better application on the other side to move. The reason people have
computers is to run applications. Not just the print and file sharing
applications that NT was famous for in the days Microsoft was bragging its
growth rate was 60 percent. That was wonderful to talk about, but when
youre growing from zero, of course the percentage is high.
What are the essential elements
of a data access application in the HP 3000 marketplace?
First of all, you need to be aware
of all of the data types you might run into. Whatever your data is stuffed
away in, you need to be able to access it on your desktop. Thats the
formula we use in DataExpress: all the data to all the desktops.
The other element is that you
dont just have data access. Thats like asking for running water
Ill run a pipe into your living room and youll start
complaining that your carpets getting wet. What you really wanted was
water, but with controlled access, a tap. People asking for open data
access through a box have asked the wrong question. Unless they have a
methodology in place for control, theyre probably going to get a lot
more data than they want.
Do you really want all 6 million
records in the history file to arrive at your desktop? Thats not a
manageable chunk for most people. You want a working subset, so you can
select on that data. Youve got to have the aspects of simplicity and
security covered. Data access is middleware, and will evolve to
message-based middleware over the next five years.
So what makes the middleware
Youve got to enable things to
ask a question, like object request brokers. These are going to be the
place to go, because theres no way people can define every interface
in the world. Each piece of software cant have its own interface.
Thats why theres publish and subscribe methodologies, why all
this stuff works with some form of messaging.
It would mean that any client could
ask a message of any server. And the request broker will actually broker
that request, gather up the data and hand it back.
So far youve got all data
to all desks, and plumbing instead of just data access. What else is
essential for 3000 data access?
The issue with business-critical
systems is that often they were written for programmers by programmers.
End-user direct access was not contemplated. The names might be downright
user-hostile. For a user to be able to access a piece of data and
understand what it means from the name might not be easy. You have to have
a way to build a view that allows you to do a couple of different things.
One, the view should allow you to rename data fields so they can become
something that somebody could use. Another would be a date format, so the
user could understand what that date was. Thats especially true of
the proprietary manufacturing packages on the HP 3000.
Almost every application has its
quirks in the way it stores data. Then users actually have to get involved
in figuring it out. If a user has a state code like TX they know what it
means, only because they use it all the time. If you give them an order
status code of H, what does it mean to you? You have to something to
translate that in the context of the workflow this data supports.
Another item is that its
often not just one table youre looking at. One of the hardest things
for end-users to do is to link between databases. The end users could link
between the tables, but not have to do it themselves. Somebody from IT sets
it up, but then they can get access to their data based on the security and
simplicity components put in place on their behalf.
What about support for things
like Java and non-3000 databases? Do you think those are essential to 3000
I would consider those today to be
optional. We have a number of customers who are looking heavily at Java. To
date, when asked Whats the JDBC application? they are
unable to articulate any commercially available Java application.
Thats an issue.
So JDBC middleware is quite a
bit out in front of those commercial applications? You dont offer
Thats correct. We have a
number of customers who are looking at rolling their own Java applications
on a Sun box talking to a 3000, and we are considering requests for
assisting them with something that would pass a message to our DataExpress
product on the 3000 and return an answer.
Why prioritize connecting to
non-3000 databases above Java access?
Theres been a lot of small
data warehouses built on NT platforms in 3000 shops. They are already
deployed, like a data warehouse application or an inventory application
that was built under Windows because thats what the magazines said to
buy. This application needs access to data on the 3000.
Do you expect when you get
multi-platform joins out in the 3000 marketplace youll have a unique
position for awhile?
I think we will have advanced the
technology sufficiently to raise the bar. When HP was looking for JDBC
vendors, we did look at what it would take to do it. Weve been
looking at JDBC for quite some time. Given our lab resources and what our
customers were asking for, we decided to deliver [multi-platform joins]
first. The timing was right for something that would allow NT boxes to talk
to 3000s, where the database on the NT server would do an optimized join
back to 3000, to pull all the data together.
Stand-alone ODBC utilities are
more common in the 3000 market than the full-featured package you sell. Why
not split out the essence of ODBCLink and sell it separately at
least for the smaller HP 3000 sites who have less to spend on the 3000 and
need native IMAGE access?
First, ODBCLink uses technology
that was developed in DataExpress to do its job. Therefore, that is the way
we get leverage on what our lab people do.
Second, from an economics point
of view, our software costs less than the Microsoft Developers Kit,
and people are willing to pay for the Microsoft kit on a small system. We
made a conscious decision to bundle it, because we needed a complete
solution. We knew customers needed the ability to read 6 million records
but didnt want to do it with 5 hours of hourglass time. We also made
a conscious decision that if the customer wasnt willing to make
enough of an investment in this technology, then they probably werent
going to make enough of an investment in the education. It could be called
Economic Darwinism. We know that if a customers in that range, we can
support them and give them value for money, no matter what size platform
theyre on. The issue is not the price, its the value.
Does HP need to offer a version
of ODBCLInk/SE that doesnt need Allbase/SQL and could you
supply it? This is a user request that hasnt died off, even after
years of HP saying it wouldnt happen.
In the long run, people need to
look at how theyd be using [the Allbase/SQL] stored procedures and
triggers anyway. Typically, that would be a better way to manage the data
access in both read and write, to various data source. In the long run, I
believe people will realize the value of SQL. In the short run, people
dont know how SQL works, so they want that layer out of it.
Could we supply it? Yes, for the
appropriate compensation, anybody can build anything. We do know something
about accessing data.
But would you want to do it? Has
the existing bundling deal been good for your company?
This deal has been good for our
company absolutely. Its also been good for the customer base,
and its been good for HP.
You support Oracle access
through Data Express. What needs to happen to make Oracle take off better
than it has in the HP 3000 market?
Customers need to say that
its what they need. Im dealing with a customer whos using
Ingres on the HP 3000. They didnt even know Oracle was available on
the HP 3000. Theyre looking to get out of Ingres. If nobodys
buying [Oracle], you cant afford to develop it. In the real world,
you can no longer assume If you build it, they will come.
Im sure HP didnt
actively invest in having Oracle put on the 3000 without having customers
say, Our main database that we want to live on for our corporate
standard is Oracle, and you need to be there. But the trouble is when
theres no skin in the game, people can change their mind. If the
customers had said, Heres my purchase order, or my 25 percent
down, I want to see Oracle [on the 3000], it would have been a
You talk to customers who use
Oracle in all kinds of environments. Do you have a theory about why they
tend to deploy Oracle in environments other than their 3000s?
Because the magazines said so.
There was a time when the Oracle story was their platform of choice was the
HP 9000. There was a practical reason for doing that. Its still true
today: the HP 9000 represents the number one choice for multiuser business
Unix boxes. If youre a company thats going to run a business
application with multiple users on it, you probably have a 9000 server. It
made sense for Oracle to be doing [development] there first, because
theyve got more people to select from when they rolled it out, and
theyd get better return on their investment quicker.
Why do EDI on an HP 3000 when
there appears to be so more momentum to put the function on a Unix or NT
Youd end up being able to
integrate it back into your 3000 application, so the job controls would let
you put it away and not worry about transferring files all over the place,
and worrying about the differences. For something thats a multi-step
process, its easier to control it on one machine than on multiple
Weve also seen people that
want the reliability of a 3000. While we actually offer the functionality
of a 3000, 9000 or NT for our EDI, people appreciate the functionality that
comes with the EDI package sitting on a 3000.
Is your EDI application
something that could leverage a new HP 3000 installation?
I know that our EDI application has
moved HP 3000s from time to time. People only get those when they already
own 3000s in general, because they dont want to learn how to handle
one more box. Just the other day I was talking to a customer that was
looking at things, and they were so happy when their CAD manufacturer came
out with an NT version of their application. They had the opportunity to
reduce the number of platforms supported to two because NT was there
already, and the 3000s were not going away. They eliminated their Unix
That sounds like customers
dont want to support any more computer environments than absolutely
necessary. What do you think of CSYs philosophy that its okay if
everything isnt available on an HP 3000, so long as HP offers it on
Customers in general have to look
at what the staffing requirements are to perform their business. You
cant put a new platform in for each application. In fact, people
dont even want to handle multiple servers.
Utility and data access
suppliers like yourself are the best-known vendors to the 3000 installed
base. But even with a lot of knowledge of the potential customer, can
companies like yours help drive new HP 3000 sales without applications
leading the way?
There are some cases where this
does make sense. For instance, even in the case of a database utility, you
could have a 24x7 shop where [a new 3000] is where they could go and
experiment with things for test or development. But the application has to
be there in the first place. Whos gonna buy a machine just to run
Adager or DBGeneral?
You can put add-on boxes around an
existing application for test, development, reporting and EDI purposes. But
the customer has to be convinced that the HP 3000 is right for them and
that its a reliable platform. HP has to make sure it gets that
message out there a lot.
So HP can visit your company
about developing new sales opportunities for HP 3000s but you
dont think theres much a middleware supplier can do until there
is an application out there they could serve?
Thats correct. One kind of
3000 customer is are going to roll their own application, and they need an
infrastructure. HP needs to recognize that its in the find-sell-keep
game for customers and developers. You have to find the customer, sell the
customer and then keep the customer. If you want to do revenue
maximization, you have to be handling all three of those things.
Which ones do you think HP
isnt doing as well as it should for the 3000?
All three. The unfortunate truth on
this is that were at the point now where HP is going after two
marketplaces. The end-user marketplace, but we both know they havent
had an active campaign to attract end users. On the keep side theyve
been doing some of that. But when was the last time you saw a campaign,
other than in very specific marketplaces, for HP to bring in customers?
This is why Im glad to see Kriss Rant aiming at beyond the Top Ten
Do you think theres any
merit in trying to make a business case for Progress to get its
4GL/database onto MPE, as it was doing a few years back before it called
off the project?
That certainly would have given you
2,300 applications to work from, wouldnt it? For a developer,
hes got to have infrastructure including the databases they might
want to use, the networking stuff, compilers and languages. The only people
who care about this are developers, typically very big companies. If the
3000 isnt on a technological par, its in trouble. The trouble
is that CSY has added those things in the last five years. And they
havent done a great job of telling the existing vendors who
have or once had packages on the HP 3000 those things are now
One of the things someone at HP
might try looking at is visiting with the 3000 vendors who sell on the 3000
to make sure they know whats there now. If an end-user who owns 90
machines doesnt know theres an IA-64 strategy going on, then
how do you think the vendor whos working on more platforms than a
3000 and has less than 90 customers got this communication about this
There are opportunities. The HP
3000 is a rock-solid box. And if somebody wanted to be able to do a
business-critical, worry-free application, the 3000 would be a good choice
for a server.
CSY has been saying its an
economic, business decision that leaves the 3000 out of application
developers plans. Does this view that its tough to get a
company to commit to a smaller market in addition to current platforms
make economic sense to you?
You have to look at whats the
incremental cost versus the potential incremental revenue. The incremental
cost to port to the 3000 for somebody whos supporting multiple
platforms is much less than it was. The reason for that is the 3000 used to
be missing tons of things that would make it easy to port in. CSY ran a
great porting center [when PA-RISC began], and they brought a bunch of
things across to the 3000. Steve Capple of the Technology Access Center ran
a great crew. He was there to help the vendors and help them make it
When you take a look at the cost
of operation, the 3000 is one that requires the minimum amount of manual
intervention. If you look at what it costs you in terms of system managers
to support an equivalent number of users for an NT box or a Unix box versus
the HP 3000, the 3000 wins hands down for the least number of bodies. How
do you get that message to the CEO or CFO? HP should be buying space in the
airline magazines about why the 3000 is the best-kept secret in the world,
and how it reduces your cost. They should be doing that, because airline
magazines are what people believe.
What should HPs essential
goal be for the 3000 during the coming 12 months?
To follow a philosophy of
find-sell-keep. Theyve got to make sure theyre finding new
business, theyre selling that business, and theyre keeping the
current business they have. They want to expand the number of people who
understand that an HP 3000 is a rock-solid server and essential to their
Does the HP 3000 need more
applications to do this?
You have to look at what
applications are selling first. Were coming out of the Year 2000
tunnel soon, and that means we have a year and half to two years before NT
becomes real. If NT ships on time, you really cant deploy until May
of 2001. They have until May of 2001 to get their act together, to have a
very good story about why somebody should buy a 3000 and know what
kind of business-critical applications somebody would build on.