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Bill Lancaster


Lancaster Consulting


Taking the HP 3000 Manager to New Limits

Bill Lancaster is working to give e3000 managers more influence in their companies. The founder of e3000 consultancy Lancaster Consulting, he was the driving force behind the new Solutions Symposium training event held this year, the first new 3000-only event on the US calendar in more than five years. Lancaster promoted the idea to Interex and to HP as a way to get more training out to a customer base that’s advancing in age, to create a new middle-class of 3000 manager who’s technically adept but relies on more than tech savvy. To his surprise, the attendees of this year’s show were tech veterans — about twice as many as Interex expected.

Those 3000 managers found plenty to polish in technical skills at the conference, but Lancaster remains concerned the average 3000 manager may be lagging in solutions seniority. Instead of being about technology, he says, the industry has become all about confidence. That calls for a different set of skills, especially in managing the largest e3000 shops.

Those large shops are another reason Lancaster caught our eye. His firm has quietly signed on some of the top technical managers from HBOC after those Amisys experts left the company. As such, Lancaster Consulting now calls on some of the most savvy resources for companies pressing the HP 3000 to its performance limits: healthcare firms with hundreds of thousands of subscribers’ data to manage.

As if that weren’t enough, Lancaster has made close study of the highest capacity storage solutions for the HP 3000, serving on the High Availability Forum in recent years. With HP’s about-face away from EMC in the market, advice on how to proceed with RAID units and disk farms is based on experience from his firm.

He joined the 3000 community after serving as a Russian linguist in the US armed forces, and counts next year as his 20th working with the system. Lancaster served at insurance companies and helped establish the thriving service bureau business at Summit Information Systems in the 1980s, always focusing on the problems of the datacenter manager. In the 1990s he was general manager of Lund Performance Solutions, giving him exposure to the challenges and solutions around revving up 3000s as making them as efficient as possible. Now that Lancaster has assembled performance, management, datacenter and application experience in his own company, we wanted to hear from him about how the system can exceed its current limits.

How do you think the shortage of qualified HP 3000 IT professionals can be reversed?

Move the hands of the clock back. I think we’re going to be looking at an increasingly serious shortage of talent, and not just in our community, for years to come. I don’t think it’s a good impact. Part of the natural life cycle of any product is the fact that there are evangelists out there in the trenches. Not sales people, but people who are satisfied users. The smaller that group gets, the quieter that voice becomes. Maybe it can be somewhat offset by having the greybeards or the accomplished pros in the field become louder, but I think to some degree we’re already a voice crying in the wilderness.

What we have to do is change our collective message out of technology and into solutions and I think we’ll get heard. But people’s hearing has become much more critical. I’m not altogether optimistic about it, which is why we’re trying to do our part to be strong evangelists for the 3000.

Senior management in many companies do not invest their IT organizations with a lot of credibility, or trust them as much as they used to. Part of that is because IT organizations have been irresponsible in that they have managed by frequent flyer magazines. They’ve gone with the latest sexy technology because it’s enhancing for their careers. It’s rare to find to find an IT organization that says “I don’t care about the technology, what I care about is the solution.” That’s why they don’t trust them.

People are just not as available as they used to be. Anybody who is any good, and many people who aren’t, are 100 percent or more employed. People do not have a hard time getting a job in this business. Sometimes employers just have to pick up a warm body to do things, and that means the ability level in general is much less than it used to be. If you gave me 100 IT professionals from 10 years ago and stacked them up with people who had the same amount of experience now, the 10-year-ago professionals would probably walk all over them. They had to do so much with so little. The post-modern people are not as interested in working those kinds of hours. I don’t find anybody that’s hitting their deadlines for any kind of technology implementation.

We tell our clients not to look for technology, but to look for solutions. And to look at solutions that keep their environments simple and sustainable. Simple in that it can be implemented quickly and sustainable in that it can be maintained without outside help.

HP’s big on the outside help these days. How do you think HP’s services based solution will impact the role of computer professionals?

I’m an optimist by nature, and it’s the trend of the marketplace to sell customers basically the bare end of wires that they plug into. They will sell customers confidence they can perform their transactions. Business is no longer about technology. It never really has been. It’s been about confidence, and CEOs and executives have so little confidence in their IT organizations being able to fulfill business requirements that I think this will be honey on their lips. Senior management would love to be able to say, “I’ll give you the money if you give me the transactions. I do not want to hear from IT professionals who have been disappointing me year after year, and have me spending millions.”

So was the Solutions Symposium a way out of that? What’s the big concept behind it, and its potential for changing the 3000 community?

It had to do with helping IT professionals make the transition away from technology centricity and into solution centricity. The timing has grown to be very good for that because of all these other pressures on the marketplace. If people have a resource [like the Symposium] where they can get three hours with [e3000 Web and internet expert] Joe Geiser, who can show them how to install Apache and how to get it going, that’s the simplest way for them to adopt new technology into their organization. They don’t have to become the wizards; they can stand on the shoulders of giants.

It will give people a shorter timeline between becoming aware of new technology and implementing it. People are running too fast to sit down and do these things. We also hoped it would bring a lot of new blood into this market in terms of technologists. We have an informal model for the 2001 Symposium: 30 percent under 30. I’ve spent a lot of time talking with the folks at [3000 distributor] Client Systems and 3kworld about that. They’ve got the ability to significantly help us broaden that age group.

Who will be your target audience for that show — the same IT manager that attended this year?

I think those definitions are going to get blurred. In the Amisys and Smith-Gardner shops of the world, they don’t have any full-time IT people. I’d like them to come in and see the front end of the Symposium, the art of the possible. That will help them become more knowledgeable in working with contractors and staff in a set of meaningful goals for technology introduction. We want to try to evangelize more people than the technical people into the conference.

Has there been any talk of trying to connect the consultant community directly to the Symposium attendees?

I’ve thought a lot about it. We can put them together by bringing in 35 speakers like we did. It was a real uphill battle for some of them because they didn’t buy into the vision. I think we’ve seen it succeed beyond most people’s expectations. As a consultant, the biggest amount of blue sky is your exposure. The best way for a consultant to gain a greater constituency is by serving.

You’ve gathered some of the top technical staff from Amisys, people who left when it appeared HBOC was drifting from the 3000 mission. With the relatively new personnel, what’s the scope of your offerings for the e3000 healthcare community?

About half of our business is with HMOs, and the other half is a mix of everything: Smith-Gardner business, Summit, manufacturing, home-grown stuff. We’re definitely not just focused on Amisys, but we have a great cadre of Amisys talent. We’ve done two or three proposals in the past year to completely take on facilities management. We also just completed a project where we were managing the datacenter for a very large HMO through a transition period.

Mostly what we try to focus on is strategic consulting, giving people direction for the future based on what their business goals are. We help them make the translation from business goals into technical requirement and back again. Phase two is technical implementations and phase three is supporting these technologies in the longer term.

You and your associates have had time to sit with HBOC customers and officials at the recent Amisys user conference. What’s your sense for how the company can rebound now that it’s put Amisys Open onto the shelf?

It was clear that McKessonHBOC Payor Solutions Group has shelved the Amisys Open product. There’s a real difference between shelving something and throwing something away. I will be an interested observer to see how the make this transition. Within their organization they have four initiatives that they are actively working on right now. One of them is “What to do with the 3000, and where is the 3000 going to go.” So they can have a long-term understanding and report back to their installed base and their management at McKessonHBOC before that.

They have put together a strong group of people to help answer that question. There are other questions to be answered, like what technology they will use. They spent four years on the Open product, and they developed a tremendous amount of competitive advantage. Now the question is how much of that technology that can provide a competitive advantage in their marketplace can they port back into the 3000 product. They were in separate loops.

The first step they are doing: to refocus into a single technology platform. If they hadn’t done that, I don’t even think they would have been able to bring the Open product out successfully. You can’t serve two masters. They have a very difficult task, because they also have a very tough market now. Under 50 percent of the HMOs in this country are actually profitable. There’s a new information law called HIPPA, an information privacy statute that HMOs have to become compliant with. Many HMOs are estimating that the work to do that on their information systems is approximately 10 times greater than the work to become Y2K compliant. HIPPA is a huge issue. There is no easy answer about whether Amisys is going to be successful in making the transition. We’ll do everything we can to help them.

The 6.5 release was written for healthcare sites, but some are saying they’re not switching anytime soon. How would you advise a customer with high performance needs to approach this performance release?

It’s nice to have the pressure at the high end of the line, because it’s forcing newer and newer technology into the market. Doing Suprtool extracts is regularly blowing up that 4Gb file limit. People have become much more reluctant to become early adopters. I recommend to my customers that they deliberately move from taking the leap to slowing down. With any release of MPE, I tell customers if you have compelling needs for some of the technologies in that release, then by all means go for it. If you don’t have a compelling need, then always wait for the first update release, and let other people debug it for you. I think 6.5 is a very solid release, but there’s some real fundamental changes way down deep, in terms of memory management and how the dispatcher multi-processes. Let other people deal with those problems, unless you absolutely have to have it. If you do have to have it, develop a working plan to move into it methodically and carefully.

What has your work on the High Availability Forum shown you about RAID options for the 3000 market? How are you advising customers who need large storage now that EMC and HP aren’t cooperating as they once did?

I was always troubled by the unholy alliance between HP and EMC. It was two companies with different DNAs, and it was always a rocky relationship from the field perspective. I never had a lot of confidence the EMC people understood IO in the 3000 world. Most of the time the best you would get with EMC was a wash with Just a Bunch of Disks performance. Now that there is no development relationship between EMC and HP I’m even more concerned that the gulf will grow between disk IO performance realities on the 3000 and EMC’s understanding of them.

The good news is the XP256 offering is a huge performance improvement. I’m seeing early returns that suggest the RAID 5 XP256 performance is better than RAID 1 on EMC. It’s going to take time for it to really penetrate the 3000 market, but I think it will do a great job. I’m very optimistic about the high availability offerings coming out of HP for MPE — both the ones that are available now and the ones I understand will be coming out in the next several months.

Where do you think the new HVD10 SureStore units are going to play for e3000s?

It’s going to be a complete replacement for the Jamaica units, but it doesn’t offer significantly greater availability over the Jamaicas, — although it potentially offers greater performance because of the 10,000 RPM drives. My biggest sensitivity about the new performance is the spindle count; I don’t want to drop them down.

You’ve worked closely with Interex on its Forums and the Symposium. How can this user group continue to have impact on the 3000 community in an era where Internet communication is becoming the norm?

I don’t think the Internet can ever solve any organization’s needs any more than I think a local area network can solve all the needs of an organization. It’s an infrastructure. We need to be real creative in our use of that. I’d like to see us do more in distance learning. I had a small initiative to see if we could do something about Webcasting some of the Symposium tracks. The only way Interex can succeed going into the future is by having a strong tie in to the people they’re trying to serve.

What kind of potential does training present to the 3kworld venture? Can significant instruction get delivered over the Internet for HP 3000s?

I feel strongly that’s true. Anybody who’s planning on doing anything in the 3000 world should have a strong educational component. One leg will be the delivering of the education across the Internet. Different delivery mechanisms for that training is also important.

The Internet can provide a significant amount of assistance in what we’re trying to do. A lot of people have contrary opinions, but I believe there’s no substitute for people getting together face-to-face. Seeing the kind of energy that comes out of that creatively is a great thing. The Solution Symposium is not a one-way street. Resumes get handed out and business goes on.

We’re designed as social creatures, for the most part. We are not people who want to live in a cave and have people funnel stuff into us. It’s got to work in both directions. I personally would much rather go to a classroom setting. Many other people would prefer just to have it pumped though their wire and have it come out on their screen.

That kind of training can give managers control over their resources. You had a long stretch of your career managing Lund Performance Solutions. What are some of the misconceptions about performance you’ve heard from 3000 sites?

People sometimes still think you don’t have to manage performance. You do have to care and feed your systems to get the most out of them. You have to provide some downtime to do things like reorganize your databases and defragment your disk drives.

Isn’t that work that doesn’t get done easily by the less technical staff?

It’s still technical work. That’s why this is such a good time for training. You still have to take care of business. You have to change the oil in your car, even if you can’t do it yourself. You can get somebody to help you do it.

I was in the software business for many years, and I saw that software was becoming commoditized. We haven’t even seen that come to full fruition. The bottom line for me is that the place to be is services. Ultimately, people always need help, even if they don’t need software.


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